1. A video of my latest  photos. The pictures are from Lima, Trujillo, the beaches of Huanchaco and Chicama, and the cities of Chiclayo, Lambayeque, Motupe, and Reqque. I chose the song “Big Blue Sea” by Bob Schneider because this portion of my trip was spent on the North Coast where some of the best surf is, and where the Anglican Diocese is focusing energy on establishing churches in the region.

     
     

  2. Soy Surfista, Soy Seminarista

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    Three days before I left Texas for Peru, I realized that I didn’t have my best set of surfboard fins. They were with one of my boards in Corpus Christi. So, I called my brother and got him to overnight them to me in Austin. “Wait a minute, I thought this was a mission trip. You’re going surfing?” He teased. “Well, two months in Peru, I mean, come on. Besides, you don’t think I chose the country with some of the longest waves in the world on accident do you?” 

    One of the book marks I have been using is a note from Bishop Reed that he sent me a few weeks before my travels. The note let me know that he’d be praying for me and my family and that he wanted me to enjoy the longest wave in the world. It’s nice to be understood!

    Just two weeks ago, I did surf the longest wave in the world, Puerto Chicama. Not the best wave in the world, but the longest; a novelty that I have now scratched off of my bucket list. The truth is, though, that Peru’s status as a surfing destination was one of the reasons I chose to come here. Not simply so that I could search for waves for two months, but because I have an immediate in-road in coastal countries. I am going to do my best not to be too effusive and sound like some overly nostalgic surf bum, but surfing is not a sport or a pastime, it is a lifestyle. And this fact means that I have a touchstone in every country that has a local surfing population.  Regardless of the fact that I come from a place that is completely different than the place I am going, I have something in common with these people. We share a common lexicon and an understanding of each other’s experiences (in the water at least).

    So it was that the first friends I made in Peru were surfers. Our conversations always began with the primary subject of current surf conditions and the forecast for the next few days. Equipment talk usually comes next: what size board you ride, fin type, wetsuit, etc. Then comes the checklist of spots surfed around the world, places we’ve surfed in common, and once trust has been gained the disclosure of the secret spots where waves are good and crowds are small. After this comes an invitation to surf another spot with them. And, my friendships followed that pattern. But there is another pattern taking shape over the course of these friendships: I have been able to share my own larger culture with them, and receive valuable information about their larger culture. And most importantly, without fail, every one of my conversations with people and developed friendships have led to the question of “what do you do back home.” So, surfing has become a means for evangelism. 

    In Peru, when someone learns that I am a seminarian they always ask, “Are you a Christian or a ________?” The blank is filled in with the opposite of what your faith is. If you were Roman Catholic your question would go, “Are you a Christian or an evangelico?” If you were not Roman Catholic, your question would be, “Are you a Christian or a Catholic?”  Evangelico (or evangelical) does not mean the same thing here as it does in the States, here it is a generic term that we would use for protestant and non-denominational, basically anything except Catholic. I am always amused by the looks I get from people when I tell them that I am both. Most folks have not heard of the Anglican Church and I am always pleased by their responses to my description of the church and its moderate position in the spectrum of religiosity that exists here. Though my first conversations about my religious life were with surfers, my opportunities to evangelize went far beyond these friendships. I have shared Anglicanism with taxi cab drivers, random folks on the street, waiters, hotel and hospedaje owners, members of the South American Explorers Club, school principals, students, tourists, tour guides, and followers of my blog. And though these have been opportunities to share, they have also been opportunities to receive. I was reminded by my own words of who and whose I am. Surfers can be evangelists. Why not, I like to ask, it’s the closest impersonation of Jesus I have been able to muster; walking on water the only way I know how and using my God-given interests to share the good news.

     

  3. "Cross"Roads - Inculturation and Syncretism

    I sat on the floor of the back corner of the chapel. I was watching my candles burn down and intended to sit in silent prayer for awhile… I fell asleep. I awoke to feet shuffling past me. A line had formed and people were taking turns approaching the cross at the front of the chapel and touching it, kissing it, grabbing the mantel that draped from its arms and rubbing it on injured or painful parts of their body. Many people rubbed candles on it and some even touched food and drink to the cross. I had come to Motupe to see the Festival of Santisima Cruz de Motupe. This place has become a pilgrimage destination in South America. And every year on August 2nd, the festivities begin. The celebration commences with a procession from a cave on top of the mountain. This is where the cross was discovered in the 1860’s. Local legend had held that a well-known hermit constructed the cross during the nineteenth century and had left it in a cave somewhere in the nearby sierras. After a three day search, in 1868, twenty two year old José Mercedes Anteparra Peralta located the cross and cave. Miracles have been attributed to the cross over the last 150 years and the festival has grown in notoriety.

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    The festivities surrounding this celebration are rife with examples of inculturation and syncretism. For instance, the procession of the cross down out of the cave follows a very standard format for a Via Crucis. The crowd stops along the way as different parts of the Gospel are read along the way. This is a very traditional way of processing a cross, especially one that is surrounded by such mystery. Where syncretism comes into play is that some of the  chosen stops along the descent were formally places revered in indigenous religion as sacred. So, here at the procession of Santisima Cruz de Motupe we can see how Christianity and what had formerly been Incan/Moche at the time had merged into the same ritual with new meaning.

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    The cross holds a special place in Peruvian popular culture. The Cruz de Motupe is just one instance. Another more common example is the Cruz del Camino. This is a cross that one can find in neighborhoods, along highways, and in churches throughout the country. My first experience with this cross was inside the Museum of Culture. But after seeing it there, I began to notice it in many places throughout my travels. Some of the common elements one will find on this cross come straight from the scriptures.  Most noticeable is the presence of a ladder , lance, and a long stick. These represent the lance that was stuck in Jesus’ side, the wine that was offered to him as he hung on the cross, and the ladder used to bring his body down.

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    Some of the other items found on the CRuz del Camino are dice to symbolize the casting of lots for Jesus’ cloak, a rooster that serves as a reminder of Peter’s third denial, a cloak, as well as hammers, pliers, and nails all of which were used to affix and remove Christ from the cross. These crosses can be found in many places .

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    The cross above is located outside of the Cathedral in Puno. It has some of the elements I mentioned as well as several others. From what people could tell me when I asked about the different symbols on the cross was that some of the variant ones held local significance, which could be evidence of inculturation or syncretism. But without knowing the exact nature of the “local significance” it is impossible to determine which.

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    This cross stands on top of a mountain outside Juliaca. The site below this cross used to be a Franciscan monastery, but the brothers vacated the area and the Anglican Diocese purchased the property several years ago.

     

    My first experience of the Cruz de Techo was driving through the Andes in the southern part of the country. Without exception, every cross that I saw  rested on a rooftop, hence the name (techo - roof/ceiling). Most people place these crosses on their roofs as a form of protection for the home. The hope is that the cross will ward off sickness or destruction from natural disaster. Unfortunately I do not have any photos from homes, but I took the one above in the Museum of Culture.

     

    Regardless of whether the cross is one that is located in a cave, made by hermit and celebrated by thousands of pilgrims, or dressed in scriptural and local symbols of significance the cross itself, just the simple form has a history of syncretism in Peru. Though the conquistadors brought the Christian cross to this country five hundred years ago. the form of the cross was already in wide religious use in the indigenous culture. The Chakana (pictured above) is a symbol that can be found throughout Peru and its similarity to the Christian cross undoubtedly assisted in the locals’ acceptance of Christianity. 

     

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    This last photo of a humble cross in a cave is perhaps my favorite of all the crosses I encountered during my travels. Never mind that it can be found under a cliff on the shoreline of the longest wave in the world… The cross and cave obviously held a special place for surfers and other travelers who happened upon it because there was a pile of rocks resting at the foot of the cross. As if each person had left a prayer reminder in this remote place - a place of prayer and pilgrimage in its own right.


     

  4. Gloria en las Alturas

    Gloria en las Alturas
    y en la tierra paz
    A las almas puras
    Buena voluntad


    After a standing room only church service at Mision de Tariachi I was invited to lunch. The clear blue sky looked stark against the dark rock of the cerros all around. We sat in the grass outside of the church and ate papa hauncaina and tallarin con lomo. I had just taken my first bite when a flock of sheep, driven by two women in traditional Andean garb, paraded through our picnic. It was serene and idyllic. I was so wrapped up in enjoying the scene and realizing where I found myself that my camera, though within reach in my coat pocket, was the farthest thing from my mind. I mentioned to my hosts how tranquil I found the setting and our lunch together. They all confirmed my feelings and offered more food and drink.

    On the ride back to town I picked up a newspaper from the floorboard that bore a striking headline. Padre Luis responded before I could say a word, “Veinte quatro ninos han morido en las alturas este mes.” (Twenty-four children have died in the heights this month.) “Why? How?,” I asked though I knew the answers already. “Exposure, cold, malnutrition, lack of medical services,” was his reply. Padre Luis had just received a hefty donation from a local politician to provide blankets and coats to those who are living in the heights. Securing these resources is not part of the mission focus of his church. Rather, it is part of the daily reality and pastoral care that are part of his job. Padre Luis took me to the bus terminal so I could go back to my hotel in Puno.

    The doorman held the door open for me as I walked up the steps to our hotel. (It is amazing what you get for thirty-five dollars a night here.) After a hot bath, I sunk into bed in our heated room, and under a down comforter I thought about those words: “24 dead children.” Losses like this are not uncommon in this part of the country. In fact, more deaths are expected before winter is over. Particularly for children under five years of age whose bodies are more susceptible to the freezing nights. I held my daughter close to my side as we slept that night - my body warming hers.

    It is hard not to be both convicted and inspired by the clergy and missionaries working in this country. The priests do not receive salaries as North American clergy do. Instead, they make do on small stipends, living in solidarity with the pueblo. Yet their hearts and ambitions are incredibly large. They face the issues of poverty and sickness with a vigor and resolve that is inspiring, and they work tirelessly. The missionaries here are just as devoted as the clergy. Most of them have left homes, families and careers in North America and England to come and live and work among a population that is in great need.

    So, I experienced profound dissonance as my family and I set out on the tourist trek to Machu Picchu. The experience of standing on a mountain peak in the Andes and seeing the ancient site first hand can, and maybe should, be overwhelming. But as we boarded another very expensive bus to take us to the top of the “Old Mountain” all I could do was calculate how much money that one busload of backpacks, water bottles, and wallets represented, and how many nascent lives could one trip to Machu Picchu save. Twenty four?

    I sing the Spanish words of the Gloria at least twice a week. But the opening lines have taken on new meaning for me since my trip to the Andes.

    Gloria en las Alturas – Glory to God in the highest. While these words direct us towards rightful worship in the structure of our liturgy, they also directed me to see God’s glory in the heights. Not just in the landscape, but God’s glory as it is carried in the hearts and hands of his priests, missionaries, and children.

    Y en la tierra paz – and peace on earth. People have come to these heights to see glory and splendor. But does our coming here facilitate peace? It is hard to reckon how peace can be so elusive when violence is so easily and obliviously done. Are the hundreds of dollars that I spent to see an old pile of rocks on top of a mountain justified? Does the first class production of travel industry hide the pains of hunger, shivering, and mourning?

    A las almas puras – to the pure souls. Where is the purity? It certainly isn’t mine. Is it in the poor who are dying unnoticed or am I simply romanticizing poverty?

    Buena voluntad – goodwill. Perhaps this is the key. Do our actions match our intentions?

    I am not sure that I have answers to these questions. I am still unsettled by my participation in tourism. Yet, I am inspired and hopeful by the love and care I have witnessed by those who are committed to working here. So, perhaps even in the presence of death, there is still glory in the heights. But we don’t simply witness this glory, for that is just tourism. We are not called to be spectators; we must be the actors. We must mourn for suffering and work to alleviate it. We must identify systems of injustice and right the wrongs. It is only when we see and engage the world as it truly is, with its pain and suffering, that God’s true glory can be recognized. And when we have done that, there will be peace on earth and all souls will be pure.

     
  5. I called my brother today. It is his birthday. He indicated, in so many words, that I have been slacking on the blog. By “so many words,” I mean he asked, “What are you doing today?” I answered, “Finishing a blog post.” He replied, “Yeah, you’ve kinda been slacking on that one, huh.” We laughed about it. He was right. As I mentioned in my last post, our rigorous travel schedule had made our days busy and time for writing difficult to find. Not to worry though, Bubs, I have several posts ready to deliver and I will have them up over the next week or so.

    But until then, I put this little slideshow together to give my followers a sense of what we have been doing and seeing. The song is aptly titled: “Another Travelin’ Song” by Bright Eyes. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Birthday, Bubs!

     
     

  6. Acclimatizing

    Everybody wants us to be worried.  They see Iona and assure us that she is going to get sick from the cold or have trouble with the altitude when we head up into the Andes. But we have other plans. First we decided to travel slowly; taking buses from one point to the next and spending a few days at new heights in order to let our bodies acclimate to the change in available oxygen and air pressure. In one sense, this has made things easier for all of us as it pertains to how our bodies are feeling, but in another sense it has made things more difficult. Traveling from one point to the next for a few days at a time begins to wear. I cannot count the number of times we have packed and unpacked our bags. And I cannot remember how many nights we’ve “slept” on a bus. And how many different beds have we occupied? I have lost track of what I spent on cabs (they don’t give out receipts, you know) but it isn’t too much in the grand scheme of things. We have lugged our luggage and all the accoutrement that goes along with a one year old on the go from bus to cab to room and back again like a Sisyphus of clothes, toys, diapers, and a car seat. This is not a complaint, trust me. In fact, I appreciate the grind (I never deny some masochistic tendencies).

    We’ve got it made and as we travel around this country and see the people and meet the missionaries, clergy, and lay people that are working here, our blessedness comes more clearly into focus. I do not mean that we realize our comfort and wealth by witnessing struggle and poverty, but we recognize our blessedness because we have been met with open arms literally. At Santa Maria Magdalena in Juliaca, Fr. Luis encouraged his congregation to hug us strongly and hold us tight. And that is just what they did. After the service we received hugs, kisses, and well wishes from every single person in the room. It was lovely. I cannot recount how many times I assured someone that I had learned and received much more from them than they had from my family or me. But they wouldn’t hear of it. They were genuinely excited to receive us as visitors. We recognized our blessings because that is exactly what we received. We were anointed with love and our cups are running over.