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Praise Wal Mart, Best Buy, Macy's, Gap and raw American greed, capitalism and consumerism, from whence all blessings flow. And God bless America our Christian nation! Amen and pass the gravy.

Praise Wal Mart, Best Buy, Macy’s, Gap and raw American greed, capitalism and consumerism, from whence all blessings flow. And God bless America our Christian nation! Amen and pass the gravy.

Thankful today for Jimmy Kimmel for his delicious roast.

And Lord deliver me from the bitter taste of retail giants opening on one of the most sacred of great American holidays.

To get to Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, where I camped Tuesday night, with only God and creatures that go bump in the night for companions, you drive from San Ignacio/Santa Elena through the quaint and beautiful villages of Christo Rey and San Antonio and a few more miles up you reach "The Junction," where the scores of signs point the way to the resorts, bars and grills and popular sites for adventurous types like yours truly. Scroll on.

To get to Mountain Pine Ridge, where I camped Tuesday night with only God and creatures that go bump in the night for companions, you drive from San Ignacio/Santa Elena through the quaint and beautiful villages of Christo Rey and San Antonio and a few more miles up you reach “The Junction,” where the scores of signs point the way to the resorts, bars and grills and popular sites for adventurous types. Scroll on down

So your favorite blogger the Jitterbugger is now mo-bile, having purchased his landlord Alex’s 2005 Dodge Ram that he bought in Texas years ago.

I traded in my trusty red steed Mojo the red motorcycle in the truck deal because Alex the landlord, who’s become a dear and close Belizean friend, wanted a two-wheeler to toddle around town in. I needed a 4-wheeler to get around the country and to escape to rustic and massive adventure places like the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. Won’t have to rent trucks anymore when my wanderlust can’t be contained!

(The truck has a butane converter, btw, so it runs on natural gas or petro with the flip of a switch. You actually find a lot of them in Belize where the price of gasoline and diesel both run between $5 and $6 U.S. a gallon–one reason I rode buses, taxis and the motorcycle, with occasional truck renting, for a long time. Places for butane fill-ups aren’t hard to find in the populated areas. An engine on butane will stay in top condition for like, forever, requires little maintenance and is famously eco-friendly. But that’s another interesting story for another day.)

See still more on Mountain Pine Ridge here and here also for the Wiki blurb.

It’s God’s Country, and it’s close to my home in San Ignacio–and closer still now that I have a pickup truck to navigate the pre-historic roads up there.

Tuesday was a national holiday in Belize, celebrating Garifanu Settlement Day. The holiday is a huge event in those parts of Belize where there are big numbers of Garifanu people. Here in western Belize, where the people are more likely to be Mayan or various Latino and Spanish speaking bloods, it’s just a quiet holiday where people stay home and take a rest.

So it was a good time to take the truck up to the nearby mountain wilderness country, where your blood pressure goes lower the higher up the steep and rugged roads you go.

It’s a great place for camping, which I did Monday night, all alone, by a nice, cool stream.

Postcards follow:

This is good information to have--the last place for cold cerveza--if you're traveling all the way to the Caracol Mayan site, the largest and most popular of Mayan ruins in Belize.

This is good information to have–the last place for cold cerveza–if you’re traveling all the way to the Caracol Mayan site, the largest and most popular of Mayan ruins in Belize.

This is Marcos, a farmer in San Antonio who was hitching a ride. I dropped him off near the junction at a farm where he was hoping to buy a John Deere tractor from another farmer. He offered to pay me but something tells me he needed the money more than I do.

This is Marcos, a farmer in San Antonio who was hitching a ride. I dropped him off near the junction at a farm where he was hoping to buy a John Deere tractor from another farmer. He offered to pay me but something tells me he needed the money more than I do.

Stopped at the grocery store in San Antonio, though, to buy water, snacks and chicken breasts for barbecuing on my Mountain Man retreat in the wilds of Pine Ridge.

Stopped at the grocery store in San Antonio, though, to buy water, snacks and chicken breasts for barbecuing on my Mountain Man retreat in the wilds of Pine Ridge.

Belize has had an exceptionally rainy year and the whole country was under water for weeks upon my return from a trip to the States on Oct. 27---the very day that massive flooding started for weeks. It killed tourism as the bus riders from the cruise ships and trekkers and tourists had to cancel because so many places, including Mountain Pine Ridge, were cut off. The weather in Belize for the past week has been sunny and nice and very nice and the country dries out rather quickly in the peak hours of tropical sun. But the red dirt/red mud roads up in Pine Ridge still have bridges that look like this one, where I said a little prayer. (Lord may this mud bridge hold up two more times, for me to cross and me to return tomorrow. Fortunately the bridges held, which goes to show once more that there is a God.

Belize has had an exceptionally rainy year and the whole country was under water for weeks upon my return from a trip to the States on Oct. 27—the very day that massive flooding started for weeks. It killed tourism as the bus riders from the cruise ships and trekkers and tourists had to cancel because so many places, including Mountain Pine Ridge, were cut off. The weather in Belize for the past week has been sunny and nice and very nice and the country dries out rather quickly in the peak hours of tropical sun. But the red dirt/red mud roads up in Pine Ridge still have bridges that look like this one, where I said a little prayer. (Lord may this mud bridge hold up two more times, for me to cross and me to return tomorrow. Fortunately the bridges held, which goes to show once more that there is a God.

Parked the truck on the side of the main road and followed this sign down an inaccessible road to see what was there.

Parked the truck on the side of the main road and followed this sign down an inaccessible road to see what was there.

I came upon this ...

I came upon this …

and this ... turns out this is a long forgotten picnic area that turned out to be suitable for my pumping up the air mattress and unfolding the sleeping bag  under the old thatch roof. Was also a picnic table in OK condition and a fire pit for barbecuing nearby. I decided to play Mountain Man at this spot for the night. And slept well except for an occasional fright from the strange creatures that go bump in the Belizean night.

and this … turns out this is a long forgotten picnic area that turned out to be suitable for my pumping up the air mattress and unfolding the sleeping bag under the old thatch roof. Was also a picnic table in OK condition and a fire pit for barbecuing nearby. I decided to play Mountain Man at this spot for the night. And slept well except for an occasional fright from the strange creatures that go bump in the Belizean night.

Stopped at His Greatness Francis Ford Coppola’s famous and fabulous Blancineaux Eco Resort on the way home Wednesday, and glad I did. Because of the recent flooding and cancellations there were precious few guests around, except for a few expats, like this couple, who live in the area and who drop in for the long afternoon lunches and wine sipping at Coppola’s.

I had the whole resort to myself for tramping around for a couple of hours, and an ice-cold Belikin to hydrate.

An expat couple who had dropped in for a meal at Coppola's nearly empty resort.

An expat couple who had dropped in for a meal at Coppola’s nearly empty resort.

It’s vital that a Mountain Man stay hydrated in this climate.

So until next time, thrill seekers … Salud!
image

Belizean turkey bird.

Belizean turkey bird.

Barber shop in the village of Benque, Belize, just across the border from Guatemala. And always remember--you got-ta, got-ta have soul.

Barber shop in the village of Benque, Belize, just across the border from Guatemala. And always remember–you got-ta, got-ta have soul.

Just another Belizean swimming hole

Just another Belizean swimming hole

Moon near the village of Silk Grass, Belize

Moon near the village of Silk Grass, Belize

Just another loud mouth Belizean howler monkey

Just another loud mouth Belizean howler monkey

Just another Belizean hammock

Just another Belizean hammock

R.I.P. Dr. Dave Schmidt, a surgeon who struggled a long lot of years with a grueling illness--and with Christianity that rubbed him raw. His brother Fred Schmidt has written a short, readable book that I hope you will read and discuss with other Christians.

R.I.P. Dr. Dave Schmidt, a surgeon who struggled a long lot of years with a grueling illness–and with Christianity that rubbed him raw. His brother Fred Schmidt has written a short, readable book that I hope you will read and discuss with other Christians.

A long time ago in my newspaper days I interviewed members of an organization whose name grabbed my attention:

“The Brazos County Bereaved Parents Association.”

It turned out that this was a combination support group and social club for couples who all had one terrible thing in common–they all knew how it felt to lose a son or daughter.

I vividly remember one of the fathers in the organization who said:

    “To tell someone who’s had a son or daughter die that ‘it’s God’s will’ or that ‘God must have wanted another angel in heaven’ is like pouring acid on an open wound.

    “I know that Christians have good intentions. But sometimes it takes all the restraint I can muster not to tell some happy Christian with good intentions to go to hell.”

It was Christians with such good intentions, including some clergy, who drove the bereaved father out of the church.

It was Christians with their tired platitudes that drove a man named Dave out of organized religion as well. That was Dave Schmidt, a surgeon, who waged an eight-year struggle with the brain cancer to which he finally succumbed.

My friend the Rev. Fred Schmidt, Dr. Dave Schmidt’s brother, has written a book that I wish every well-meaning Christian, clergy included, would read. It’s entitled The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Faith in Hard Times.

* * * *

So what are we to say to one who is suffering raw, excruciating pain from a death; from a life-crushing cancer; from a wrenching divorce; from the torment of a loved one who’s turned monstrous in addiction to drugs or drink?

If we stop and think about it, how consoling is it to someone laid low by pain and suffering to assure them that “God never gives us more than we can handle?” If we stop to dissect that tired, old Christian platitude, doesn’t God–whom the Bible tells us repeatedly is the God of tender mercies–come out looking like a monster for inflicting pain on someone in order for them to “handle” it?

And how comforting is it to spiritualize someone’s grief right off the bat, rather than just being present with them, listening to them, and sharing their pain by just being there. Might our quiet presence be better than throwing out a Bible verse at them?

And yet there’s often the well intended urge to say something such as, “Don’t worry–the Bible says that all things work for the good of those who trust in God. And I know you trust in God!”

Granting that it’s hard just to sit with someone in pain and hear and share the pain, such platitudes aren’t really helpful and in fact can be harmful. They fall under what my friend Fred Schmidt describes as “happy, clappy Christianity.”

Fred says in the video above that he’s tired of that kind of happy Christianity. His beloved brother Dave, in his cancerous condition, grew especially tired of Christians, including clergy, “blowing smoke up my ass.”

Christians with platitudes really, really rubbed Dave raw, as they did the aforementioned, bereaved parent who had lost his precious child.

* * * *

Fred, an Episcopal priest, seminary professor and theologian, has written extensively over the years about Christian caregiving issues such as what to say–or what not to say–to people in grief. The Dave Test takes us intimately into the personal lives of him and his brother, for redemptive purposes that can make us more compassion-minded caregivers to those laid low by pain and suffering of all kinds.

Sometimes there’s just no feeling better–there’s no way that someone can rescue you from your anguish or make it go away–as when you’ve got a life-threatening tumor in your brain. The grief that a tumor produces is a giant of a bear to wrestle with physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically and–this is where the well-meaning Christian full of platitudes can sprinkle a little acid on the wound–spiritually.

I’ve always said that the Bible is a book of realism, not escapism. The characters in it weren’t “happy, clappy” types who sentimentalized about God and God’s love. They were realists who plunged into the depths of suffering rather than running away from the real dread and drag of it. Nothing underscores this Biblical fact any better than the 150 Psalms in the Old Testament, two-thirds of which get rather raw about the realities of life and our relationships with other people–and God himself/herself.

When Jesus, in his anguish, asked God why he, the Father God, was forsaking him–Jesus his very Son, of all people–Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22.

The Bible, which is loaded with the reality that life can be utter hell sometimes, challenges us to step out into some deep and daunting waters rather than wade around in shallow theology and platitudes.

Granted, joy in life is a big part of God’s endless gift of grace. By all means, let us rejoice and be glad in this day the Lord hath made. But aside from the fact that joy and sorrow are two sides of the same Christian coin–and whole, wonderful books including the Bible have addressed the linkage between joy and sorrow–there is a time for joy and a time for sorrow, a time to talk and a time to show up and just listen.

Job’s friends sat with him in silence for seven days, weeping with him and feeling his pain. They were doing Job a great pastoral service–until they started talking.

What a far different story it would be had the friends said simply, “Job, we can’t imagine how hard this must be for you. We’re here for you.”
* * * *

Fred’s book The Dave Test is a raw and thought-provoking reminder that there’s no place for shallow thinking about God out in the raw depths of life, when and where people are drowning in grief. Shallow words about God can be counter-productive by producing the unintended consequences of not allowing someone to feel the pain to which they are sometimes entitled.

It’s their pain, after all, and not ours, and the best we can do is stay present and listen and be the kind of friend who just let’s the pain lift a bit off the chest. Fred’s book points this out, in fact, by raising the question, “Can I be a friend?”

* * * *

The Dave Test challenges our spiritual and caregiving values and habits by raising up that friendship question, and nine more questions in as many chapters, asking:

(1) Can I say “Life sucks”?

(2) Can I give up my broken gods?

(3) Can I avoid using stained-glass language?

(4) Can I admit that some things will never get better?

(5) Can I give up trading in magic and superstition?

(6) Can I stop blowing smoke?

(7) Can I say something that helps?

(8) Can I grieve with others?

(9) Can I walk wounded?

(10) Can I be a friend?

Those questions, and Fred’s reflections on them in this short and very readable book The Dave Test, are designed to make us think, or re-think, how we do the Christian compassion thing with people who have been waylaid by grief. What I’ve always respected so much about Fred Schmidt, since meeting him at the United Methodist seminary where he once taught and I once studied, is that he writes and teaches with the tough mindedness of a theology professor and the generous spirituality of genuinely caring pastor.

What I’d give to see that Christian tribe increase.

* * * *

The holidays are fast approaching, and it’s no secret by now that the holidays that are supposed to be the hap-hap-happiest time of year can be the most depressing time for masses of people, Christians included.

So now is a good time to order The Dave Test, and to use it to make an unflinching assessment of how spiritually equipped you are in giving spiritual and pastoral care to grieving people. It would be a good read for study and discussion in a Sunday school class, Bible study group or book club.

Buyers and readers should know that there is some language in The Dave Test that some might find to be raw.

But then, bearing the cross in the walk to Calgary was no stroll in some happy, clappy Christian theme park, either.

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My Super Bowl rings. OK, I can dream, can't I? These five--five!--Super Bowl rings actually were hard-won by a former Dallas Cowboy defensive team great who shall remain nameless to protect his privacy. I know, it's hard to believe there are former Cowboys alive who have bunches of Super Bowl rings, but there are. This particular Cowboy star from back in the day made me give them back to him but I immensely enjoyed my 15 minutes of Super Bowl fame posing with five--five!--Super Bowl rings. BTW, am I a bad-ass or what?

My Super Bowl rings. OK, I can dream, can’t I? These five–five!–Super Bowl rings actually were hard-won by a former Dallas Cowboy defensive team great who shall remain nameless to protect his privacy. I know, it’s hard to believe there are former Cowboys alive who have bunches of Super Bowl rings, but there are. This particular Cowboy star from back in the day made me give them back to him but I immensely enjoyed my 15 minutes of Super Bowl fame posing with five–five!–Super Bowl rings. BTW, am I a bad-ass or what?

Just a simple girl from Venezueala.

Just a simple girl from Venezueala.


According to A.P., newly crowned Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela, took up her duties twirling in a jewel-studded swimming costume valued at $1 million.

Said Islers–clad in the $1 million swimwear:

“I’m a simple girl.”

This is good news for the simple-minded people of the world.

Pope Francis: A simple boy.

In this photo: Pope Francis embracing a disfigured man in St. Peters Square.
The pope took the man’s face in his hands, kissed him, and gave him a blessing. The pope is following in the footsteps of his namesake St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his devotion to humility and to the poor–and for famously kissing a leper. Pope Francis has washed the feet of 12 criminal offenders, visited slums in Rio de Janeiro and turned down papal housing to live among the lay people.

This is Good News for the simple people of the world.

Myrna baking in her kitchen on Christmas night last year with her familia. The weather was clear and cool during that Christmas week in that norther BZ village of San Luis, near the Mexico border.  Last week the thatch roof over this kitchen caved in from rain. So goes life in Belize.

Myrna baking in her kitchen on Christmas night last year with her familia. The weather was clear and cool during that Christmas week in that northern BZ village of San Luis, near the Mexico border. Last week the thatch roof over this kitchen caved in from rain. So goes life in Belize.

Since I returned from the States to Belize on Oct. 27, the rainy days and nights have way out-numbered the sunny days and starry nights.

It was just last Monday that the one-way “low bridge” into this river town of San Ignacio was finally repaired and reopened because of flooding. That relieved the traffic jamming at the iron “high bridge” that normally leads one way out of town, after many days of the high bridge doing service as the one way in and out of town.

Yesterday, the low bridge disappeared under flood waters, again. Saturday is market day and market day today was “muy mojado”–very wet–and as hard as hard rain on the vendors’ pocketbooks, again.

The newly repaired "low bridge" leading into the population and market center that is San Ignacio in Belize is under water, again.

The newly repaired “low bridge” leading into the population and market center that is San Ignacio in Belize is under water, again.

I got home after market time earlier today to find this posting on my good friend Sheri’s Facebook page from Austin, where she’s involved with missions work at her United Methodist Church:

    “Today I am grateful for all the opportunities I have living in this country.

    “No, this country is not perfect…that would be impossible as it is made up of imperfect folks just like me. I am buoyed by generous, compassionate people I come into contact with everyday. The people seek to find ways to make this a better place to live and work and thrive. I am so grateful I am just a tiny part of it.”

I spent Christmas week last year in a little village with my Belizean friends Myrna and “Pops,” who live in the sugar cane region of northern Belize near Mexico. I called Myrna the other dad and she rather nonchalantly mentioned that the thatch roof over their house had caved in from the rain.

They weren’t hurt, but they’re living with neighbors till they can recover.

It's the rainy season in Belize, but there's rainy seasons and then there's flood years.

It’s the rainy season in Belize, but there’s rainy seasons and then there’s flood years.

I picked up a local paper yesterday and saw the story and picture of a villager I knew when I lived last year in the ancient Mayan Village of San Jose Succotz. The story was that my friend there had drowned trying to cross flood waters in his canoe.

I never knew him well, but well enough that the stories of flood casualties in Belize–and news of whole villages that have been accessible only by boats and canoes since I returned from Texas because of the rainiest year since 2008–struck close to my home.

Did I mention there’s been a big outbreak of dengue fever in BZ for weeks on end? (Off Mosquito Repellant–never leave your Belizean home without it.)

    There’s always two ways to think about America–with attitude or gratitude.

    The sun is peeking through the clouds now and I am welling up in this funk of mine with gratitude.

Rain or shine, shopping on market day is a must for many in the San Ignacio/Santa Elena area.

Rain or shine, shopping on market day is a must for many in the San Ignacio/Santa Elena area.

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