“OK, how the hell is he going to pull all that together in a blog?”
Sometimes at night, as I drift off to sleep I think about what I’d like to blog about. You think this is a weird combo? You should see my dreams!
Condoms 3 for $4.50
When we bought our coffee farm eight years ago before we built our house there was a little neighbor kid who showed up every time we visited the farm. He’d trail after Nikki. A cute kid who seemed to be always there. As time went by he grew into a husky 18-year old who has helped us with the coffee harvest every year hoisting 90 pound sacks of coffee on his shoulders like it was no big deal. He recently, naturally unexpectedly, became a father. Or maybe became a father. The 16-year-old girl claims the baby is his, but he insisted on a paternity test and the girl refuses to show him the results. So, once again, I gave him the condom lecture.
I have another gringo friend who usually brings his condoms from the States, in bulk I might add, who ran out and had to go to the local store to buy some. This young Indigenous guy has worked for both of us, and we are equally appalled that he is a father. My friend observed, “Condoms here are 3 for $4.50, that’s $1.50 each! No wonder kids don’t use condoms. How do they expect poor Indigenous folks to buy condoms when they may only take-home $45-50 a week, out of which they need to support a family?” Coke here is about 80 cents a can. We don’t think much about Coke being a “luxury,” but when we give a can of Coke to our workers, often instead of drinking it on the job, they will take the can home to carefully open and enjoy as a treat.
In the States there are lots of places to get free condoms: health departments, hospitals, clubs frequented by young, single folks who love to drink and party. Panama is threatened by poverty, kids having kids, and a soaring birthrate among poor people that just exacerbates the problems. If you can spend billions on infrastructure improvements, why not spend a few hundred thousand making free condoms available? I am told that the new President Juan Carlos Varela wants to introduce sex education to the school curriculum, a subject which is now conspicuously absent. I wish him well since the very idea of sexual responsibility seems to go against entrenched Roman Catholic teaching. Children need information and they need to understand their own development and sexuality and take control of their bodies and future. You can teach all you want … but you also need to provide free condoms!
“I’m sexy and I know it!”
I blogged earlier about the tragic death of my friend Mario Dean. Mario and his brother Renato are not only good friends, but in many ways while they were growing up through tumultuous adolescent years they were like the sons I never had.
Mario’s funeral is today.
I’d like to have been there, not for the funeral, but to support Renato. As a pastor I’ve done a lot of funerals and I hate them. In the six years I served in the South Bronx I buried 21 kids, all under 21 years of age and all who died violently. I hate the idea that somehow the person who died is in a box. No way! No way could you put Mario in a box! I understand the role of our funeral customs in the grief process, but I would rather remember the living, breathing, cool person that I knew.
So, anyhow, the Brothers Dean, Renato and two other brothers, were planning the funeral and the headstone. They agreed on all the necessary information, but then there was a designated area on the headstone for a quote, or something about the deceased. The brothers asked, “What would Mario want?” They knew and I know that the quote Mario would choose, given the tragic and unexpected circumstances of his death, would be “What the *uck?” Obviously the dignified memorial park wouldn’t go with that. So, brainstorming, Renato suggested, “I’m sexy and I know it!” and the brothers all agreed, “Yeah! That’s Mario!” And they got it right! Mario would love it!
And when others are placing flowers on the coffin before it is lowered into the ground, at least one guy will be placing a spray of “herb” or “bud” or whatever you want to call it, on the casket. And Bobby, who has been these guys friend for over fifteen years, is going to place a bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum on the casket. How very Egyptian!
Jesus & Captain Morgan
Actually, if I were going to the funeral, I’d probably take a bottle of Captain Morgan as well. I know this may not be “proper” but I’m old enough to no longer care about being “proper” or worry about “what people may think.” Age does have its advantages! But many adolescent worries and crises were talked through and often resolved sitting outside in our back yard in Ventura, beside the pool, looking out over the city lights, listening to the fog horn or the occasional barking seal, while sipping Coke and Captain Morgan.
Many of Mario’s friends only know the happy, surfer-dude, party hearty Mario, but there was another side of Mario’s personality. He was a very moral, thoughtful, sensitive guy who I think often used his happy-go-lucky image as a cover. There was a time when Mario worried if he’d be a good father: he turned out to be the best dad imaginable. I have no doubt that Mario is with the Lord, “heaven” if you like. Mario’s faith was real, personal, down-to-earth, without the traditional gobbledygook mantras of Catholicism or Evangelical Christianity.
Right now I was scheduled to have been somewhere in the North Atlantic, doing a one-off cruise to get back in the swing of lecturing on board. But a funny thing happened in the Canary Islands. While getting ready for a lecture I lost a portion of my vision in one eye. The ship arranged for me to see an ophthalmologist ashore and when he discovered no anomaly decided it was best that I leave the ship and fly back to the States. Now, after all kinds of tests and scans in Seattle, it appears that I did not have a stroke but just a kind of migraine without the tell-tale headache. So, thanks be to God, I am fine. But in this process they did an MRI brain scan. Despite what my grade-school teachers believed and some disgruntled parishoners along the way may have believed, I have a brain and it is normal. But when you have unexplained symptoms, and they do a brain scan … of course, you wonder, “Do I have a brain tumor? Is this it?” All of this wasn’t helped by a CNN story about a beautiful young gal, 29-years-old, who after her wedding was discovered to have a brain tumor and given 6 months to live. She’s living in Oregon which has right-to-die laws and has pills which she will take when she decides to conclude her life. And then Mario is killed in a fiery head-on crash.
So I found myself awaiting the scan results and wondering, “What if …?”
I’m reminded of a story I’ve used many times in sermons. St. Francis was out working in the garden when someone asked him, “Francis, what would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?” At he answered, “Finish hoeing my garden.” That always seemed like a good way to approach life … and death. What would I do? Probably arrange to spend more time with family and friends, chuck the irrelevant in my life, and “finish hoeing my garden.”
And in this mental wandering I thought, “Yeah, I could sit around in heaven [and I won’t begin to broach the theological discussion of what happens after death … do we “sleep” until the day of resurrection as the Bible says, or are we somehow “absent from the body and present with the Lord” as the Bible also says, and what does all this mean …], but if it were a brain tumor and if I only had months to live, I could look forward to sitting around in heaven and Mario and I could continue our discussions about the meaning of life … hopefully with some Captain Morgan, which they must serve in heaven since it’s so good. [My seminary professors are now rolling over in their graves and my seminary classmates who haven’t already disowned me are probably un-friending me on Facebook at this very moment.]
Pushing this line of thought a little further … what if Jesus, who obviously, given his turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, appreciated a good brew once in a while, sat down and joined us. We could ask him all those perplexing questions that have built up through the years … those “why?” questions like “Why Mario?” and “Why now?” I guess I have so many of those kind of questions I’d monopolize Christ throughout eternity..
OK, there … you’ve got it! Condoms, “I’m sexy and I know it!”, Captain Morgan and Jesus. Who knew?