MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE HOME VILLAGE. . . . BUS DRIVER WASHES DOWN THE WINDOWS OF THE TOUR BUS WHILE THE TOURISTS ARE OFF SEEING THE MAYAN SITE HERE IN VILLAGE.
Archive for July, 2012
You Are Christ’s Hands
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”
— St Teresa of Avila 1515-1582
“Mystic and poet. St Teresa of Avila lived through the Spanish inquisition but avoided been placed on trial despite her mystical revelations. She helped to reform the tradition of Catholicism and steer the religion away from fanaticism.” (From “50 Women Who Changed the World.” Click here for all 50 and their bios.)
So I made it over to the Big Weekly Market in San Ignacio Saturday where there is row after row of very affordable and healthy bean, veggie and fruit at stalls and under tents. Was a little surprised at all the other vendors, hawking everything from stick-free skillets (bought one) to amazing hand-carved crafts and bicycles.
In the photo above: I was surprised in my pre-move research on Belize to learn there is such a large–and much respected–population of traditional Mennonites in western Belize. Mennonites are of the same spiritual lineage as the Amish (Anabaptist) and are committed to pacifism and simple living whereby they plow with mules and get around (most of them) in buggies, although they aren’t above catching the cheap cabs and even cheaper public buses that I use my own self. It takes 75 cents by bus for me to get to the bustling twin towns of San Ignacio/Santa Elena, which fits my budget fine and besides–some of the bus drivers play American rock classics at about 95 decibels for those sitting up front.
Guess where I sit?
Heading back home to Succotz Village the other night, the driver had “Hotel California” blaring from the boom box he has mounted at the front and he and I and the porter started singing along to Don Henley’s haunting classic song, the one where you can check out any time you like (but you can never leave). I asked the driver if he had any Texas music and at the next stop he pulled out a Freddy Fender CD and played us some “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and some Texas Tornadoes, “Hey Baby, Que Paso?”–another great singalong for a bus ride.
Belize also has a huge number of Chinese who have been here for a long time and own most of the grocery stores and a number of other shops and businesses. I’ve been in some quite diverse countries but Belize truly has to have the most amazing mix of bloodlines I’ve ever seen. Latin, Caribbean, Creole, Mayan, European Mennonites, African and mixes of interesting varieties–they all are here. The small population of over 300,000 includes 4,000 American expats who have permanent residency status, which is easy to attain if you live here 12 months with no more than 14 days travel outside the country in that year, and 4,000 Canadian snowbirds who came to escape the winters. Plus a lot of Brits since Belize was British Honduras until it voted for independence in the eighties. Members of the Royal Family are in some part or other of Belize once in a while–Prince Charles visited here in western Belize earlier this year, in fact, for a commemoration at one of the Mayan sites.
More pix for you . . . .
I love everything about grace, everything that is theological and biblical about it as well as its vast number of other connotations that can conjure up so many feel-good images and thoughts and feelings.
I love the very word “grace.”
Grace is what lifts us to the top of the world, no matter how far down we are.
So let us consider grace more deeply and let us begin by considering the very word “grace,” with all its positive and beautiful implications as opposed to whatever in this world might be destructive or soul-crushing or vulgar, because Lord knows there is enough that is destructive and soul-crushing and vulgar to go around in a world so full of mindless entertainment and time wasted on all the distractions that pull us away from all the grace all around.
EVen the sound of grace is sweet. Who doesn’t love the sad beauty of an accomplished singer singing “Amazing Grace”? (For my money, the best rendition of “Amazing Grace” in modern times is the original recording of the grace-filled Judy Collins singing it a cappella.)
Who isn’t enthralled watching an ice skater or a couple on ice making grace on ice look so casually easy?
What NFL football fanatic (like myself, God help me) isn’t enthralled watching the old highlight films of the most unique wide receiver in pro football history–the Pittsburgh Steelers great Lynn Swan, who trained in ballet as a way of enhancing his athleticism? (The man virtually sailed above defenders, seemingly in slow motion, to pull in passes and then could tip-toe like a graceful ballet dancer along the sideline to stay in bounds. There is a lot of grace to be watched even in watching grown men playing a child’s game as violent as football.)
Remember the beautiful and elegant actress with the world’s greatest smile who left behind acting at the top of her career to marry royalty and become Princess Grace? (If you remember Oscar winner Grace Kelly, your are of a certain age, and advancing).
God’s natural creation, which we simply refer to as “nature” or “the great outdoors,” is full of the bizarre and the violent and beastly creatures who eat their young, but so full of so much beauty and grace as well.
Consider the grace in a flowing stream of clear water from a water hose on a hot summer day. Or the grace you can verily smell in the protein aroma of fresh-mown hay if you drive through the country on the same hot summer day. (If you find even the remote smell of manure something pleasurable, you may be a Texan.)
Grace is innocence; grace is purity.
Grace lifts you to the top of the world no matter how far in the bottom you may be.
Grace is the great free gift from God, who loves us in spite of ourselves.
So earlier and very early on this Fiday I got up and made the 30-minute walk down the Western Highway of Belize to the Village of Benque, where I’ve been trying to get Internet service paid for and installed in my casa in the Village of Succotz, and hopefully they will be installing internet in the aforementioned and spacious and comfortable new home of mine tomorrow–Saturday morning.
Been having to come to Benny’s for internet access and as much as I like “Benny” (whose name is actually Bendigo or something lots more complicated than Benny) and enjoy Benny’s All-Purpose Restaurant, Pit Stop, Bar, Always Cool and Covered Outdoor Cafe, Grocery and Old Fashioned Mercantile, Arts and Crafts Stall, Ice Cream Parlor and some of some of the best milk shakes in Belize, where milk shakes are very popular with the people–yes, as much as I like Benny’s Kitchen I’d rather have Internet at home and not have to hang at Benny’s quite so much.
Did I mention Benny’s has a nice bar and that Belize is internationally known for its exceptional, home-grown and widely distributed beer?
One could hang out at Benny’s too long on cool nights like this.
But I digress. Tomorrow I plan to catch the 50-cent bus ride to the bustling town of San Ignacio where I spent some time looking around and picking up (CHEAP) prescriptions at the friendly pharmacy where Daisy the Pharmacist had ordered the blood pressure pills I take and also generic Lipitor for me. (My doc in Frisco wrote me scripts with refills every 30 days for a year and it was no problem getting the scripts filled here, where meds are a million times cheaper than in the Greatest Nation on Earth, as they are in Mexico and Guatemala and so many other countries.)
I’m going again to San Ignacio tomorrow because every Saturday, the growers and farmers from far and wide bring their fresh fruit and veggies to the much-heralded San Ignacio Market. People go to this market Saturdays, from many miles around, because the produce is so good and the prices so cheap. Or so everybody and his and her dog in Belize tell me.
Sharon, the Californian who operates a relocation service called “Wealth Ships” and makes settling in Belize and other countries very easy for people like me who are moving or have moved overseas, is among the many people who have sung the Market’s praises. She and her significant other Nige live upriver from me in another Village near San Ignacio, and they make it to Market on Saturdays like everybody else. (I’ll have more to share with you about Sharon and how she made the move to Belize so smooth and trouble-free for me in a posting soon. I could have moved to Belize without her quite affordable relocation services, I suppose, but it would have been far more a difficult move without her and Nige, who picked me up at the airport and drove me to my rental in Succotz Village on my arrival in Belize Sunday. And never mind that Nige is Belizean and drives like one.)
By all accounts, going to Market in San Ignacio is simply what you do in the Western region that is the Cayo District (districts are sort of like our states) of Belize. So I look forward to stocking up with lots of fresh and genuinely organic health food tomorrow.
But I digress, as I’m prone to do here at the blog that is saving the world, where stream of consciousness reigns.
After I paid for the Internet service in the Village of Benque Friday, I moseyed right across the street to the Village’s stately white Catholic Church and walked in to look around.
Beautiful and stately and old Catholic Churches, with creaky old wooden pews, really ring all my inner spiritual bells, as longtimers of the Jitterbug Cult know–and lo and behold, when I walked in, there was a Sister sitting in a pew with her prayer book, and she was clad in a very traditional and lovely white habit.
The young Sister and I sort of nodded in acknowledgment at each other and I looked around and then went back and asked her if she minded if I asked her a question and she didn’t mind, and she filled me in on the Church and when mass times are (7 p.m. every weeknight among other times) and who the two priests are and all that.
“So you speak very good English,” I asked the Sister after a while. “Are you Belizean?”
I mean, she has dark skin and looked Belizean enough so I just asked outright if she’s Belizean.
“I’m from Oregon,” the Nun said, grinning.
What a snively nun Sister Joy is. She played this fellow American for grins but I didn’t have a clue she’s a Portland girl. (Well done, Sister.) Turns out her Mom is Filipino, which explained the dark skin. And her being from Oregon no doubt explains why she spoke far better English than your favorite Texas blawger.
I told her I’m from Texas and I could tell she was not surprised because she grinned in a way that said, “I figured that out, dude; you really tawk funny.”
Well, anyway, she said she and two other Sisters live in a convent across from the church’s pretty, fenced-in, hilltop grounds, and I look forward to getting to know her and the other Sisters and the two priests (one is traveling in American currently), even though I did also meet, and was fast friends with, the church secretary, an altar boy who was hanging around today, and some other nice church members.
Also met a nice young parishioner who works at the church who was especially talkative and who showed me around the church and urged me to walk around “our nice village” and the new park down by the River.
“And Guatemala is right down there,” he said, pointing to a whole other nation.
The Village of Benque and the Village across the border in Guatemala have such friendly connections that there is a soccer field, half of which is in Guatemala and half in Belize.
This I have to see someday–a soccer field shared by two countries and their youth.
Interesting part of Planet Earth I’ve landed in here.
I Belize I will like it a lot.
So as hot and especially as humid as it can get here in the jungle villages of Western Belize, the tropical storms can come on fast and hard and linger for a couple hours or more, but they also bring such cool relief and sometimes the cool lingers a good while.
I slept like a Belizean baby last night with the windows open and leftover sprinkling rain lulling me to sleep at 9:30 p.m. (a record bedtime for a night owl like me). I rose at 6 (ME UP AND AT ‘EM AT 6 A.M.!!! NO KIDDING, KIDS!), did some serious writing over morning coffee on the book I’ve delved into writing, and it was still cool on the walk to Benny’s for late breakfast this morning. It’s very cool now in the outdoor cafe at Benny’s where I do more writing when I have the cafe to myself between the breakfast and lunch crowds.
I met the enterprising Benny yesterday, in fact. He’s a local whose name is actually Bendigo. He runs a great restaurant with super food, complete with an outdoor cafe, internet service, bar, grocery and mercantile store. And then there’s the Mayan arts and crafts and jewelry and books on Belizean and Mayan history and culture for sale at Bendigo’s place.
To paraphrase His Greatness Arlo Guthrie’s great sixties song, you can get (almost) anything you want down at Bendigo’s Restaurant. It draws not only locals but all the tourists and young backpackers who come to see the famous Mayan ruins across the river a mile from my rental home.
I haven’t even crossed the river on the charming, hand-crank operated ferry that constantly shuttles vehicles and pedestrians stepping off the tour buses or cabs to drive or walk the one mile to one of the most famous and enduring Mayan landmarks in the world. Almost sad to say that I live here now and haven’t even made it over to ancient and sacred Mayan site–the biggest tourist attraction in town and in all of Belize.
It’s not like I won’t have opportunities to go over there and hang out any time in the future that the Mayan spirit moves me, or to a lot of other Mayan sites in this very Mayan part of the world.
I LIVE with Mayans now.
And they are warm and friendly and wonderful peeps.
You better Belize that.
(this particular of the Mopan River was taken by William Dekker at Panoramio.com; other pictures below by Rev. Paul McKay.)
Been getting settled in here at Succotz Village, you of the Jitterbug Cult.
But figured it was time to check in and let you know that your worthy leader is alive and well and blessed in Belize . . . .
A few more pretty pix of Belize so far can be viewed on the my Facebook page (at Paul David Mckay, with a little k, which makes my youngest born crazy (Dad! OMG! Please change that and get the family name spelled right!!!), but lots more of the beautiful landscape to come here soon enough, and more of the usual, every-day jitterbuggingforjesus.com to which millions of readers around the world have subscribed out of fear that they may miss something totally whack that the leader of the Jitterbug Cult has up and done now. But rest assured, now that he has seen the village jailhouse, he will be getting in no trouble.
The world is my parish.”
— John Wesley,
Anglican priest and founder of the Methodist Movement
A dear friend who subscribes to the wonderful Daily Mutts comic strip on-line–which comes with a daily quote attached to it–emailed today’s Mutts edition to me with a note from her that said: “Today’s daily quote from Mutts has you all over it.”
The daily quote is one from Oprah Winfrey, who said:
“There is no paycheck that can equal the feeling of contentment that comes from being the person you are meant to be.”
Well my dear friend Judy certainly knows me. She knows and seems to understand why I resigned from the security of a perfectly secure job as chaplain, for one of the best hospitals in the world (Baylor in Dallas), to go off to live in a Mayan village in the tropical forest in far western Belize, a mere walk away from the border of Guatemala. (See here for a look at San Ignacio, not far from where I’m settling.)
That move from the security of 62 years of life in the Greatest Nation on Earth–I’m talking about Texas Our Texas (all hail the mighty state and pass the Lone Star Longneck)–will happen this Sunday, God willing and the creeks don’t rise, when I head for a whole new chapter in life in Belize.
I’ve never been to Belize.
I don’t even know anyone in Belize except the American and Canadian expats with whom I’ve developed some online relationships. And I also hired the services of a former California resident who owns and operates a relocation service in the very part of Belize–the Cayo District–where I have a rental house all ready for my move-in.
Being the old newspaper scribe that I am, I’ve done my research on Belize, and I’ve done research about as thorough as one can do, I think, without going there. So I think I do have a very good sense of what the good, the bad and the ugly of life there will be. And the aforementioned contact with the relocation service, thankfully, is quite honest in telling people the good, the bad and the ugly about life in Belize. She’s not selling pipe dreams to people who watch too much House Hunters International and see those dream homes in Belize on that popular cable TV show.
That said, I know–as everyone in the world does–that Belize is one of the most beautiful places on earth; that some of the islands and coastal areas are playgrounds of the rich and famous; and that some of the tropical forests are lush and ripe for adventurous spirits (like me) who love to hike and swim around in dark water caves and . . . well, Belize is one of the jewels in Central America and the Caribbean. Most people know that.
And then there’s Cancun . . . a mere 5-hour bus ride up the coastline. There’s so much to do and fun to be had in and near Belize, and so little time.
But then there’s that whole other laid-back Belize, certain population centers where Americans and Canadians and even some Europeans move down and live well on little money because of the seriously low cost of living. Some retire there, some quit the rat race and move there to open bars or shops or businesses.
Those worldly expats tell me constantly in our online correspondence how hospitable and friendly the people of Belize are, as well as how violent certain areas in Belize are. One doesn’t want to tarry in the slums of parts of Belize City, they tell me, where the homicide rates are right up there with the Juarez, Mexicos of the world.
But I’ve been on church mission trips to build homes for desperate families literally living in cardboard houses Juarez, so it’s not like I don’t have some sense of what the violent and destitute areas of Belize are undoubtedly like.
Every country has it’s good, bad, beautiful and its frightening.
But having seen a lot of the world as a missionary-minded clergyman, and long before that as an ambitious newspaper scribe, I’m going all-out 3rd World with my eyes wide open, always watching my back, never drawing attention to myself among the native peoples unless it is with a friendly smile that I hope will elicit a smile in return.
I find that a smile is the universal language. A few years ago I ventured off on a broken-down bus to a village in Central China where I was the only non-Chinese person in sight. People looked at me like I had just dropped in from a planet yet to be discovered. Not one of them I encountered spoke English. But I just smiled at them. Ninety five percent smiled back at me.
Who knows: Maybe more smiling could save the world from what sometimes seems like sure destruction.
Whatever happens to me in Belize, whatever else I find when I take up the writing life and connect with churches and missionaries in Belize to discern why in the world God is calling me to such a 3rd World country where life will be fun but also challenging and often daunting–I go there knowing that I’d rather be the person God means for me to be than have the security of a paycheck.
I just know I have to go because God is calling me to Belize, and it’s not the first time God has tapped me on the shoulder and redirected my entire life. God called me with a very clear and intense call to a life in ordained ministry back in the late nineties, until I finally gave in to that call and resigned from a plenty secure career with The Houston Chronicle as a reporter whose office wall was wallpapered with journalism awards.
With that resignation and change of life–which shocked kith and kin and coworkers who thought I’d maybe lost my mind–I enrolled in seminary and in a few short years, I got all “robed up” for my ordination one day. It was one of the greatest days of my life.
I tuned out those who said I was crazy or who feared I’d lost my mind.
I’d rather be who God meant me to be or do–and who or what I want and choose to be and do– than worry about what somebody thinks about me.
Contentment and responding to God’s call far exceeded my desire or need for a secure job and paycheck when I left a plenty good journalism career of 30-plus years.
Contentment and responding to God’s calling me to Belize far exceed my desire or need for a secure job and paycheck now.
My friend Judy certainly knows me, having sent me that Oprah quote.
I don’t expect all people, with the exception of clergy people or folks of deep faith who can somewhat understand the deep but intense mystery of a calling from God, to understand why I’m moving out of the U.S.A., quite possibly for the rest of my days. I can rattle off any number of reasons I’m doing this–I want to do some serious writing; I want to immerse myself in the kind of Latin/Caribbean culture and language that appeal to my worldly sensibilities; I want to connect with people of faith who are doing heroic work living with and lifting up folks living in 3rd World poverty of the sort we Americans can hardly imagine.
Those who know me know the other Paul, of course, who loves himself a large time yucking it up with friends over a frozen concoction. There will be play days in beautiful Belize, so don’t worry too much about your favorite blogger, who will be blogging from time to time.
Just stay tuned to Jitterbuggingforjesus.com, the blog that is saving the world with its wit, wisdom, provocations and stimulations while possibly (probably!) alienating whole towns, nations, cities and states.
And come see me. The villagers of San Jose Succotz in the Cayo District of Belize will know how to find me, I’m sure.
Earlier today I posted a poem from “Spoon River Anthology” in honor of those clergy called to do God’s work–ministers who just slug away at it all their lives with little recognition that they would not care to have if they were much recognized for it.
Then later in the day I learned the following news of Methodists doing mission work in The Ukraine who were killed doing the work they were called to do. The story saddened me to no end and I pray and feel for their loved ones.
Here’s the sketchy details from the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, which oversees the work of missionaries working in mission fields way far from their homes.
July 10, 2012—The Texas Annual Conference and the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church learned today that an accident has occurred involving a mission team from the Houston area. Both First United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas, and Lakewood United Methodist Church, Houston, sent church members on the mission trip to the Ukraine to repair a church facility.
This morning, the roof of that building collapsed, causing fatal injuries to David Nevotti of First UMC, Sugar Land. David’s wife, Cathy was also on the mission team, but it is our understanding that she was not injured. The church in Sugar Land has notified David’s three children. A member of the student ministry of the University of L’viv, Illya Onoprienko, was also fatally injured during the collapse.
Rev. David Goran, a United Methodist missionary serving in L’viv as a student ministry director, was seriously injured. Plans are underway to move him to a hospital in Kiev. Rev. Goran and his wife, Shannon Goran, are missionaries of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church and sponsored by several local churches within the Texas Annual Conference.
First United Methodist Church, Sugar Land and Lakewood United Methodist Church have been involved with the Ukraine mission for several years.
Several members of the mission team will be returning to Houston later today.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Texas Annual Conference and Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, jointly release the following statement:
It is with deep sorrow that we share this tragedy. We, of course, mourn this loss of one member of our church family, but also the loss of the young man from Ukraine, who was our partner in mission. May God be with her family and the Nevotti family to surround them with love. We also pray for healing for our missionary, Rev. Goran, and for all those who are suffering as a result of this tragedy, including the communities at the University of L’viv and First UMC, Sugar Land, and Lakewood UMC.
To follow current events these days, one newly arrived from another planet might understandably surmise that the species of men known as “male clergy” must be some kind of criminal sect, or maybe a cabal of rulers who wield weapons called “Bibles” and “church teachings” like hammers over the heads women and children and other humanoids.
But there always have been the working slug clergy in every denomination–the priests and pastors in the trenches, living among and loving wholeheartedly the broken people in their flocks and neighborhoods and communities.
Longtimers here at the Cult of the Jitterbug know my own theology, which recognizes that we all are broken people, trying to get by the best we can in a broken and violent world, all standing in the need of the power and might of God’s endless love, endless grace and tender mercies. With emphasis on the words noting that we are’ALL broken people.’
Some days, of course, I wonder, as clergy, if I’m not beating my head against the wall trying to spread the good news, which is that Christ saves and redeems and heals and renews and all that, to a world of people who willfully turn a deaf ear to the good news. I wonder this knowing, of course, that everyone else called to ministry feels the same most every day.
But then I see such noble clergy in the world, those men and women slugging away in the trenches day in and day out, living among other broken people in their flocks or communities and loving them and showering them with the love of God in both word and deed. Sometimes I see or hear or read about what they are doing in planting the seeds of the Good News of the love of Christ in big ways and ways so small that no one may even notice or ever know, and it inspires me.
I know and personally have known all those working-slug clergy who just keep their holy noses to the grindstones, loving their flocks and communities and the broken world as they find it, day in and day out.
To them I dedicate this old poem, in which a narrator is tramping around in the local graveyard, from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology”"
You are over there, Father Malloy,
Where holy ground is, and the cross marks every grave,
Not here with us on the hill–
Us of wavering faith, and clouded vision
And drifting hope, and unforgiven sins.
You were so human, Father Malloy,
Taking a friendly glass sometimes with us,
Siding with us who would rescue Spoon River
From the coldness and the dreariness of village morality.
You were like a traveler who brings a little box of sand
From the wastes about the pyramids
And makes them real and Egypt real.
You were a part of and related to a great past,
And yet you were so close to many of us.
You believed in the joy of life.
You did not seem to be ashamed of the flesh.
You faced life as it is,
And as it changes.
Some of us almost came to you, Father Malloy,
Seeing how your church had divined the heart,
And provided for it,
Through Peter the Flame,
Peter the Rock.