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“I’m a lean, mean, hugging’ machine,” says Tim, a restauranteur, multiple Gold Medalist in the Special Olympics and hugger.

Check out the feel-good video:

Your Sermonette of the Day:

    How desperate, gloomy and doomy the world appears these days, as it appeared in biblical times, in medieval times, in the Depression and World War era, as now and forever. And yet 2,000 years ago, the light shone in the darkness and darkness could not overcome it. Radical love prevailed over evil on the cross; radical love will prevail in some of the gloomiest and doomiest places on earth today. Pray. Be the peace you wish to see in the world. Practice love, grace and tender mercies. Practice truth and courage, not fear. I am not being Pollyanna Paul when I say that everything is going to be all right whenever and wherever radical love is put into practice in this violent, broken world of violent, broken people (myself include) in need of God’s grace, love and tender mercies.

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Your Jitterbug Thought for the Day:

    “Compassion is not sympathy. Compassion is mercy.

    “It is a commitment to take responsibility for the suffering of others.”


    –Joan Chittister, OSB, in Seeing with Our Souls

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Your Jitterbug Photo of the Day:

Woman making tortillas at her hearth in a village near Melchor, Guatemala

Woman making tortillas by candlelight at her hearth in a village near Flores Island, Guatemala

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“We do not understand all that these children have experienced in their home countries or in their arduous journey to our borders. We do know that their plight breaks the heart of God.

“Children are some of the most vulnerable members of the global community. Many come seeking to survive. They all need our compassion and care. At a time of concern about a struggling economy and national security, it is easy to give in to fear and to let that fear, rather than God’s heart, shape our hearts and our response. ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.’ (II Tim. 1:7).

“As followers of Christ, we have the power and wisdom of God to care for these unaccompanied children.”

— From a pastoral letter issued by the seven Texas bishops of the United Methodist Church

Click here to see the whole letter from the Texas bishops, including my own Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Annual Conference.

Also see here.

And here too.

I moved to Belize two years ago today, with a big suitcase, a carry-on suitcase, a 40-liter backpack and my MacBook Air.

I had been to many places in the world, including far-flung parts of Russia (and Siberia) and China and places in Mexico from the resorts at Baja and Cancun down to the poor and dangerous areas of Juarez and Chiapas, sometimes on newspaper assignments, sometimes on church mission trips, and sometimes just to travel off the beaten paths in the world.

But I had never set foot in Belize–and did not know a single person in Belize–except for some acquaintances I’d made online in researching what Belize is really like to live in–until two years ago today, when I moved here.

An American clergy friend on Facebook asked me the other day why I came here. I told her there were many reasons, some simple and some complicated, but almost all boiling down to spiritual and theological reasons.

I wanted to strip down and simplify my life, get closer to God through the calming influence of God’s green earth–through nature, that is–and Belize is certainly a dream for an eco-conscious nature lover and spiritual adventurist.

As eccentric or crazy as this may sound to some people–even to many Christians in America’s unique, heavily sanitized Christian culture–I wanted to live in the midst of poor people, to know and observe material and spiritual poverty as a way of knowing God better.

Belize is by no means the poorest country in the world. There are far, far worst places. But it is nonetheless a “developing” country. Its 50 percent unemployment rate doesn’t even begin to give an accurate hint of the hardships in life for so many people living in substandard housing alone.

It’s also part of Central America, which, as you may have heard in the news lately, has its share of poverty. I’m within walking distance of Guatemala’s border town of Melchor. It’s a very, very nice town, especially as the world’s border towns go.

After 10 p.m.–even as early as 9 some nights–you can sit in Benque, Belize, right across the river from Melchor–and hear gunshots.

“Home before dark” takes on new meaning when I’m in Melchor, as much as I like the place.

————————–

    Living life in fear, anxiety, stressed to the hilt with a false sense of security on some kind of work treadmill that you hate being stuck on–living for the weekend–that’s the stuff of regrets down the road in life. (That said, if you’re happy and content with your 8 to 5-ness, good for you! But according to recent studies, you’re in the minority in America now.)

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I’ve had an affinity for the poor all my life. It’s just how I’m made. And when I say I moved to Central America because I wanted to know God better by knowing the poor better, what I mean by that is answered in Jeremiah 22: 16.

You could look it up.

* * *

I moved to Belize partly because I could. My children are grown and on their own and prospering. I had nobody to support in this world except me. I had precious little money and life savings or retirement benefits, but I had (and have) zero debt.

I had nothing to constrain my free spirit, which always yearned to be freer and then some.

Having zero debt, and keeping zero debt, makes you feel far richer and freer than many prosperous people feel, regardless of how much money or savings they have.

Besides, the cost of living in BZ is such that one can live comfortably and conveniently on $1,500 a month. Some places, you can live like a king or queen on $2,000.

Me, I ain’t rich but Lord I’m free. (Hat Tip: George Strait.)

* * * *

I wasn’t the least bit afraid of moving with precious little income to a third world country where I’d never been because I figured out years ago in my spiritual and theological discernment that throughout all the times when I was broke in my life–and I can say I’ve been “dead broke,” Hillary darling, more times than I care to remember–God provided for me a thousand times when I least expected to be provided for.

I stepped out and landed in Belize largely on faith that God’s gonna take care of me in the end, no matter what jam I get in or how low my bank account gets when I return from an occasional spontaneous, “what the hell you only live once” trip to the beach.

I subsist mostly on faith still, not being anxious for tomorrow as to what I shall eat or what I shall put on. “Consider the lilies of the field, how their neither toil nor spin.”

That’s from Matthew 6.

You could dust off your Bible and look it up.

* * * *

As I told my new Facebook buddy, I was driven to move to Belize in no small measure because I’m an adventurist and a traveler, not a tourist. I wanted to live like an adventurist and traveler rather than a tourist passing through life on the guided tour–look to your right and you might want to take a picture of that–without really experiencing or feeling and knowing life.

Opportunities for adventure in Belize and the rest of Central America are endless. You can take buses or even hitchhike in most parts of these countries without feeling the least bit threatened. But then, there are those certain areas in Central America where you are living at your own risk just by being in them, especially after dark.

It’s a lot like America in that regard.

Chicago is a wonderful, beautiful great city–one of my favorites in America–but certain parts of Chicago are as dangerous as certain parts of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador or neighboring Mexico, or as dangerous as parts of even Belize City or touristy San Pedro island after a certain hour.

The news gives a terribly distorted view of cities and countries identified as the “world’s most dangerous” sometimes.

I know Belizeans who have it in their heads that America must be a dangerous, scary place. They get American news here too.

* * * *

As I told my FB friend, in my career in hospital and hospice ministry to people laid low by illness, injury or impending death, I heard people almost every day speak of their regrets, regretting that they had worked so hard, that they hadn’t done this, that did never quite mustered up the courage to do that or to go here or there and see this or try that or break out of the humdrum, 8 to 5, terribly unsatisfying life that seemed so secure, with security guaranteed.

I heard so many people facing death or disability say they regretted that they didn’t quite really live life to the fullest. They lived too much in fear of the unknown to take any calculated risk at doing what would have made them genuinely happy and fulfilled.

I sold everything I had and left behind a well-paying job with great benefits in a great American and Texas city to sort of freelance ministry with people who, in their struggles to survive–many of them–live with more joy and gusto and the bold courage it takes them just to be happy than those breaking their necks to keep up with the mortgage, the bills and the Joneses back home.

A radical change in life of the sort that I took ain’t for everybody and, in a real sense, I personally felt called by God to be where I am.

But living life in fear, anxiety, stressed to the hilt with a false sense of security on some kind of work treadmill that you hate being stuck on–living for the weekend–that’s the stuff of regrets down the road of life. (That said, if you’re happy and content with your 8 to 5-ness, good for you! But according to recent studies, you’re in the minority in America now.)

I have to say, by the way, that I didn’t just pick up and come down to exotic Belize. I researched and planned a move here for the better part of two years, taking full vestment in a retirement account into account after that two-year mark was reached.

The “Holstee Manifesto” meme at the top of this posting says that if you don’t like your job, quit. Anybody who does that without another job or a really thoughtful plan for supporting himself or herself is on a fool’s run.

But by and large, the manifesto contains a pretty good code to live by, or one that’s worked for me anyway.

So I’ve been in two years in Belize and I’ve heeded a call from on high and managed to have my much-needed fun and taste adventure and live with risks and fulfilled my own unique need simply to see where the trails off the beaten paths lead.

I calculated the risks, did my homework on Central America, stepped out on faith and embarked on this life adventure at 62.

Now I’m 64 and younger than I was two years ago.

No regrets.

The corrupt live a life enveloped in a sense of security, with a sense of well-being, money, and then power, vanity and pride. But who pays the price of such a life of corruption?

“The poor pay it.”

— Pope Francis in a homily on I Kings 21**


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Meanwhile …. corrupt, conservative politicians and their allies in the corrupt press continue to scapegoat immigrants and the poor for all the nation’s economic and social issues….

In news you might have missed or payed scant attention to since corruption by the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and vulnerable is just how America rolls, there have been a few signs of justice maybe rolling around the corner for the corrupt fat cats that are in charge of Washington and in charge of the country ….

That’s assuming that our President finds the guts to finally bring white-collar criminals to justice in the criminal courts.

These “landmark federal fines” are just the price of doing business in thoroughly corrupt America now.

WASHINGTON — Citigroup has agreed to pay $7 billion as part of a landmark settlement with the Justice Department for misdeeds associated with the sale of mortgage-backed securities tied to the 2008 financial crisis, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday.

The agreement includes a $4 billion penalty, which Holder described as the largest penalty of its kind and “appropriate given the strength of the evidence of the wrongdoing committed by Citi.” The company will pay $500 million to state attorneys general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The remaining $2.5 billion will go to help consumers struggling with mortgages and other problems from the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

    “Despite the fact that Citigroup learned of serious and widespread defects among the increasingly risky loans they were scrutinizing, the bank and its employees concealed these defects,” Holder said in a statement Monday.

    “The bank’s conduct was egregious. And under terms of this settlement, the bank has admitted to its misdeeds in great detail.”

    Because of the bank’s assertions that its “toxic financial products were sound,” Holder said Citi was able to pad its own financial position.

    “They did so at the expense of millions of ordinary Americans and investors of all types, including other financial institutions, universities and pension funds, cities and towns and even hospitals and charities,” the attorney general said. “Ultimately, these investors suffered billions of dollars in losses when Citi’s false and fraudulent claims came crashing down.”

Holder said the agreement does not “absolve” Citi or its employees from possible future criminal charges.

“We believe the size and scope of this resolution goes beyond what could be considered the mere cost of doing business,” he said. “In fact, it was not all inevitable in the these last few weeks that this case would be resolved out of court.”

The bank has been under investigation by federal authorities for faulty mortgage securities that fueled the housing bubble a decade ago.

The Monday announcement came just before Citigroup’s second-quarter earnings report.

    Last year, the U.S.’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase, settled a similar dispute with Justice, paying out $13 billion in a settlement..


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**The pope does point out that we’re all susceptible to corruption. He also condemns corruption not just in business but in the church and politics. See more here.

Patrol agent reads the birth certificate of Alejandro, 8 -- the only thing he brought with him as he and others crossed the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, June 18, 2014. More than 52,000 minors traveling without parents have been caught crossing the border illegally since October -- many, like Alejandro, hoping to join parents or close relatives already here. (Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times)

Patrol agent reads the birth certificate of Alejandro, 8 — the only thing he brought with him as he and others crossed the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, June 18, 2014. More than 52,000 minors traveling without parents have been caught crossing the border illegally since October — many, like Alejandro, hoping to join parents or close relatives already here. (Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times)

Dear God, how distressing it is to see 50,000 children and young women–who are fleeing the parts of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that are killing fields–being played as political pawns by politicians pandering to Americans’ lowest instincts.

In this case, these are not desperately poor people from those countries willing to risk life and limb over thousands of searing hot miles, aiming to sneak into our country because they are willing to be exploited for their cheap, stoop labor by Americans who are plenty willing to pay them slave wages so that we the well-to-do in America can eat and dress well at low costs and have people to scrub our toilets for us, hammer out houses to enrich our construction businesses and boost our economy, pick our food and pluck our chickens, wash our dishes and bus our tables at our restaurants, make up our beds and nanny our children for us so that we can have fulfilling American lives.

No, this crisis on the border is not about Central Americans sneaking in at all, much less invading like so many barbarians at the gate.

These are kids surrendering at our border in hopes of attaining asylum under an asylum law, a law tailored to care for these very kids from Central America.

A law that was desired by and signed by that compassionate conservative that Americans would love to have back in office, now that he’s been gone for years and memories of his considerable number of failed policies have dimmed, George W. Bush.

* * * *

So who in this bitter, xenophobic political argument America is having is calling for repeal of the American law that gives automatic asylum to any man, woman or child who makes it to our shores and borders from Cuba?

Rick Perry? John Boehner? Ted Cruz? Marco Rubio?

Anybody?

Why is a Cuban child’s life so sacrosanct that we’ll find room to absorb the child in south Florida, while the life of an 8 year old Guatemalan boy or a 10 year old Honduran girl–who has seen family members and other children in their schools get literally get chopped up with machetes–is not quite so sacred and too expensive to absorb?

Isn’t any child’s life valued as sacred in America, the one nation supposedly under God?

* * * *

I don’t see how rabid, anti-abortion politicians like my own Gov. Rick Perry, who speaks so emphatically about the “sanctity of life,” can so emphatically keep pushing the simplistic solution of sending these kids back to where they came from as fast as we can get them back to where they came from.

The solution is as simple as that in his mind, and in the simple minds of others: we just send them right back to the death traps and killing fields from which they came to “invade” us, or to “break into our country” like nasty little baby burglars intent on robbing us and our treasury and giving us tuberculosis to-boot.

Ick. Look at those disease-riddled kids from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, countries whose lands we’ve raped and peoples we’ve exploited for God only remembers how long now.

Apocalypse Now: Governor Perry and his sidekick in the ally in the Press Sean Hannity, patrolling the border on the lookout for 8 year old children from Guatemala seeking asylum under a law passed by George W. Bush's signature. Talk about a photo op; the Guv knows how to get it.

Apocalypse Now: Governor Perry and his sidekick and ally in the Press Sean Hannity, patrolling the border on the lookout for 8 year old children from Guatemala seeking asylum under a law passed by George W. Bush’s signature. Talk about a photo op; the Guv knows how to get it.


This “invasion,” in their minds of Rick Perry and others, is somehow the intentional conspiracy of a (Kenyan-born, secret Muslim) President that they seem to suspect of somehow mailing out invitations on White House stationery to the kids to come to America for whatever reason the President might want the crisis of 50,000 children to grapple with. (The Texas governor was once asked if President Obama is a Christian and Perry said yes, he believes the President is a Christian. God must have been relieved to learn this from our Holy Guv.)

Whatever it takes to whip up the emotionalism and passions of xenophobes and racists who can’t even stand the sight of desperate, helpless children flashing on their TV screens–whatever it takes to win a majority in Congress in November and the White House in 2016, well … if it means using children as political pawns in political games that solve no problems, so be it.

Until next time from here where I live 10 minutes from millions of allegedly dangerous little, disease-riddled Guatemalan children ….

God bless you and God bless Central America and the broken, sin-filled world so desperately in need of the grace and tender mercies of our political gods who promise to save us in November.

(Click here for factoids from down here:

http://youtu.be/IINfbN81h6c

)

Impressive take on the evolution of dance in America ….

Even if there is no Jitterbug dancing per se . . .

Photo from Tricycle, the Buddhist journal

Photo from Tricycle, the Buddhist journal

The Zen teacher and poet Thich Nhat Hanh was asked, “What do we most need to do to save our world?” His answer was this:

“What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mountain Pine Ridge, BZ

Mountain Pine Ridge, BZ

    “What does it feel like to be alive?

    “Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly backup, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!
    It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation’s short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.”

    ― Annie Dillard, An American Childhood

Belize's endangered Ocellated Turkey, an endemic species in the tropical forests of far northwest Belize, has refuge at the Chan Chich Eco Lodge and the neighboring wildlife preserve at the Gallon Jug Estate

Belize’s endangered Ocellated Turkey, an endemic species in the tropical forests of far northwest Belize, has refuge at the Chan Chich Eco Lodge and the neighboring wildlife preserve at the Gallon Jug Estate

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

— Wendell Berry

Jaguars are spotted weekly at the remote Chan Chich Lodge and the closely guarded wildlife preserve on the Gallon Jug Estate in BZ.

Jaguars are spotted weekly at the remote Chan Chich Lodge and the closely guarded wildlife preserve on the Gallon Jug Estate in BZ.

“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief… For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

— Wendell Berry

Young bush farmer heading to town alongside the George Price (Western Highway) in Belize. He and his grandfather raise cattle, goats and lambs and grow fruits and vegetables on 55 acres along the Mopan River.

Young bush farmer heading to town alongside the George Price (Western Highway) in Belize. He and his grandfather raise cattle, goats and lambs and grow fruits and vegetables on 55 acres along the Mopan River.

“The primary motive for good care and good use of the land-community is always going to be affection, which is too often lacking.”

— Wendell Berry

Pig feed time.

Pig feed time.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,

to front only the essential facts of life,

and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,

and not, when I came to die,

discover that I had not lived.”

— Thoreau

Back to the wilds of the bush.

Back to the wilds of the bush.


“Let Evening Come”
BY JANE KENYON

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Night at San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, BZ

Night on the beach playground at San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, BZ

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