Friday, October 22, 2010

When worlds collide

There are two big events coming up in Mexico in the next few weeks that make us ask of few questions about what our involvement should be.

On the 31st of October there's Halloween, and then on the 2nd of November its 'Day of the Dead'.

You can easily find good summaries of the history of Halloween, but it basically seems an adaption of a pagan festival from times past. In most cases I think the dominant theme now is consumerism with a 'ghosty' twist.

Thanks to our proximity to the USA, Halloween is becoming very popular here. At the moment there are quite a few decorations up around the place and yesterday at the supermarket I stood behind someone buying a plastic battle axe. (I assume it was plastic!) On the night of the 31st there will be groups of kids wandering the streets asking (or in most cases demanding) lolllies.

The whole thing seems to tap into the growing interest in spiritual 'other wordly' sorts of things which is being reflected in TV, movies and literature.

Day of the Dead is a bit different. Its more tradition than commercialism, more about family than lollies, more religious than fantasy. Its a great example of how the catholicism of the conquistadors has been mixed up with some of the beliefs and practices of the early inhabitants of Mexico. On the day, many people will visit the grave of loved ones, for all sorts of reasons. Some to reflect and mourn, others to celebrate, others to spend time touching up the grave and repainting the headstone.

In the classrooms at school and altar (thats what it is called) is constructed and the kids are invited to place pictures and favourite things of dead relatives on it, and the classroom is decorated in traditional stuff.

This of course presents quite a challenge for the Christian kids and families in the school. Halloween is a bit easier - the simple 'we don't do that' seems to suffice, but when its in the classroom its a bit more difficult.

Also, the altar and the stuff that goes with it is a bit more 'problematic' - if I can put it like that. We can largely ignore Halloween saying its American commercialism - but there is clearly a lot of feeling and belief going around on the day of the dead.

What to do?

Do we encourage the kids to just sit and observe and learn from the culture, or should we be more active that that? Should we say something to the school about what we believe and make a 'stand'? We know we are not of this world and therefore there are going to be things that challenge what we hold true about life, death and resurrection, so how do we respond in this sort of circumstance?

One of the greatest things I've seen recently is a friend who set up a table in her garage with the Two Ways to Live gospel tract displayed on big pictures. When kids came trick or treating, she invited them to take a leaflet, and a lolly, and read through the pictures. Great idea.

I wonder how you might apply this sort of thing in a more public setting, like a school.

We'll go and visit a cemetery on Day of the Dead - its an important part of the culture here and it gives us a great insight into the way people think - but the question of what to say / do / think at school is still churning in my head.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A bad day in Monterrey

Today was a bad day for security in Monterrey - probably made worse for us because the violence was in our area and had a personal connection.

This afternoon there was a major shooting incident very close to our church. Details are still being reported but there are lots of pictures of squads of heavily armed police, helicopters and cars with bullet holes on the TV. The nearby campus of the University which is across the road from our church was locked down for a while and then students were advised to go straight home. I was on the bus going into class to teach for the night when people started talking about it. Most students didn't make it to class - which was completely understandable. Apart from anything else, the traffic was shocking.

But also, it appears that one of the young men from a family at our church was kidnapped on Sunday afternoon (after being in church on Sunday morning) and was found dead this afternoon. I have no idea of the circumstances - but it is of course a terrible thing for the family and our wider church family.

We had hoped that things had quietened down a bit - there hadn't been much violence in September, but it seems things are getting bad again. There were 3 grenade attacks in public places over the weekend, and now this.

As usual - we don't feel threatened and are taking advice for the local people who we know and trust, but overall it wasn't a happy day in our city today.