Monthly Archives: January 2013

“The Hilly Place of Frogs”

Former State Prison Now a Center for the Arts in San Luis Potosi.  Franciso Madero, once a prisoner here, stands in front of the Arts Center

Former State Prison Now a Center for the Arts in San Luis Potosi. Franciso Madero, once a prisoner here, stands in front of the Arts Center

A nearly week long visit of older brother Fred and wife Mary enabled Doug to visit some of San Luis Potosi’s many museums while Kate continued her Spanish classes. One of the museums fascinated Mary in particular.  Having spent a year researching life in a prison in their home state of Minnesota, Mary was moved and quite impressed by the State of San Luis Potosi turning their largest prison into a museum and center for the arts.  But let them speak for themselves.  Here’s Fred’s description of the highlights of our San Luis Potosi touring:

Inside the Art Center/Former Prison Walls the Grounds Now Feature Sculpture and Landscaping

Inside the Art Center/Former Prison Walls the Grounds Now Feature Sculpture and Landscaping

The colonial part of San Luis is wonderfully preserved with large cobblestoned but narrow streets, many of which are reserved for pedestrians. One particularly impressive and moving visit was to a nineteenth century prison built around a central courtyard like the spokes of a wheel. The government has recently turned the prison into a community center for the arts with different areas devoted to painting, sculpture, dance, music…. In the center was a huge American flag with dollar signs and death heads instead of stars.

Following their too brief visit with us in San Luis, we traveled together to Guanajuato.  Kate and I had heard rave reviews of this city’s attractions so we were delighted to discover “the hilly place of frogs” with Fred and Mary.  On the way, we admired the central plaza and ate in Dolores Hidalgo, where Mexico’s struggle for independence from Spain began on September 16, 1810. On that date Father Miguel Hidalgo issued the cry (“grito) for freedom to residents of Dolores before marching on Guanajuato.

Why they marched on Guanajuato is suggested by Fred’s notes on our visit there.  He wrote the following to friends and family: ”According to our guide book, for 250 years from 1558 on, one mine on the outskirts of the present Guanajuato produced 20 percent of the world’s silver. One of the old haciendas, with eighteen formal gardens (Roman, Japanese, Mexican, etc.), we saw Sunday, put even the grand, agriculturally-based haciendas of the Yucatan to shame. We didn’t get to see Guanajuato’s “museum of the sacred inquisition” nor its museum of the mummies (the latter possible because the water is so minerally ladened that cadavers of life-long inhabitants of the area are naturally preserved). Those who have led most interesting lives evidently end up as displays in the mummy museum. After having visited on our way to Guanajuato an artisania (in Dolores Hidalgo, notes Doug) that made 5 feet high ceramic statues of female skeletons in all kinds of garb and dramatic poses, all with identically compelling grins, it was hard to pass up the mummy museum but we did and visited the Diego Rivera house and museum instead. Amazing.

After centuries of mining and building of flood control tunnels in Guanajuato’s canyon, few traces of its pre- Hispanic past remain. Frogs are now scarce.  But the city’s name, “the hilly place of frogs”, which comes from the “P’urhepecha” Amerindian language, is preserved.

Looking up the derivation of Guanajuato’s name led to some other discoveries.  According to Wikipedia, “The government of Mexico recognizes 68 distinct indigenous Amerindian languages as national languages in addition to Spanish.”  Furthermore, while Spanish is the language spoken by the vast majority of Mexicans, it is not recognized as the “official” language of the country.  The 1917 Constitution commits the nation to preserving the status of the country’s “indigenous” languages.  While fewer than ten per cent of the Mexican population now speak an “indigenous” language, the Constitution advocates support of “bilingual” and “bicultural” education.

For photos of Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato, go to the album at:

Click on the Slide Show tab on the right above the photos to enlarge the photos and see accompanying comments.




We Are Connected

The following poem speaks beautifully to the vision which this blog and our work in Mexico hopes to serve.  It’s from Sister Joan Chittister’s weekly postings on her  web site and we print her introduction to the poem and the picture accompanying as well.

Sister Joan’s site is one of several which we regularly visit thanks to the excellent internet service we now enjoy. No interruptions in service at a cost less than half of what we paid in the U.S. has squelched the fear that good reliable internet connection would be sacrificed in our move here.  On the contrary.  We’re now used to reading magazines and the daily Los Angeles Times  in electronic format.  Now if we could just find a good chili cheese dog there wouldn’t be anything missing from our life here.

from Sister Joan Chittister’s Vision and Viewpoint, a weekly “e-newsletter for spiritual seekers and kindred spirits”, dated January 14, 2012

POEM OF THE WEEK: Over the holidays I read Mary Oliver’s latest book of poems, A Thousand Mornings. Here’s a gem:

Poem of One World

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.

– Mary Oliver                                                                                                      White Heron

Photo by: Mark Richardson

The First Missionaries

The Rosca bread eaten on the morning of January 6 in some Mexican households

The Rosca bread eaten on the morning of January 6 in some Mexican households

We’ve just learned about the Mexican “rosca” bread tradition for celebrating the Day of the Three Kings January 6.  Inside the loaf of “rosca” there is hidden a little plastic monkey, a baby Jesus, or a coin, depending on the household.  In some homes, whoever gets the prize has to make tamales for the family.  The Day commemorates of course the Kings’ visit to the manger and  “the adoration of the magi” of the baby Jesus.

So the story of the three kings captured our attention this year. I preached twice on the story from Mt 2:1-12 and described the magi as the first missionaries.  They leave their homeland and journey a good distance in response to what they interpret as a call from God.  But there is a twist revealed in the story of the magi.  Unlike the customary view of the missionary as taking the word of the Lord to a foreign land, it is far from home that the magi find Jesus.

And in our two months in Mexico, our experience is closer to that of the three kings than it is to the traditional view of the missionary.  Sharing in the life of the Disciples churches here (we have yet to visit the Congregational churches in western Mexico) has confirmed that Jesus is revealed in this setting in what are new and different ways for us.

Let me note a feature of worship here that points to an important difference in the way Christian faith is lived out.  In all Disciples churches where we have worshipped, “testimonies of gratitude and petition” are made by those attending.  It seems there are always four, five or more members of the congregation who are moved to come forward or stand in their pew and give “testimony”.  What is typically a brief mention of a concern or a cause for celebration in the States is here an occasion for describing how God has enabled a safe move from the countryside, restored a child to health, relieved a friend from the ravages of addiction.  While it is appropriate to ask for prayers of petition also, much of the sharing testifies to the renewal or reconciliation that has already been enabled by the action of God’s grace in someone’s life.

But the practice of “testimony” in Mexico also involves evangelical (non Catholic) Christians in recounting how God’s grace revealed Jesus’ love and power in one’s life in the first place.  Testifying about how one came to “know the Lord” takes on a different depth and heft where Protestants remain a minority and were in the past persecuted. In Mexico Disciples and other evangelical Protestants pay a price in living their faith.  An example came from a Disciples pastor in his fifties who shared with us the childhood memory of seeing a woman bloodied by the attack of an anti-Protestant mob gathered next to a Disciples church.

Especially in multi-generational gatherings, like the Men’s Convention a month or so ago, some of the personal testimonies aim to lead younger members present to know and claim Jesus Christ as their personal savior.  The Men’s gathering featured a Saturday night campfire where a 78 year old man, “Don Angel”, began the series of personal testimonials by recounting his faith journey.  Converted to the evangelical Christian faith by a Disciples minister in the 1950’s, Don Angel continues to be the only non-Catholic member of his birth family.  While his wife remains Catholic, Don Angel’s son and daughter in law are Disciples pastors, and his grand daughter is in seminary in Puerto Rico, with the help of a Global Ministries scholarship.

The "fogata" blazed on the seminary grounds not far from where we live

The “fogata” blazed on the seminary grounds not far from where we live

Five or six testimonials followed that of Don Angel, the oldest man present at the “fogata” (campfire).  They may have been encouraged by the shaping of the high blazing embers in the form of a heart, another campfire tradition here.  A couple of the ministers present began by noting that a similar camp fire years ago in the same setting had yielded a softened heart open to confessing the work of the Lord in their lives.

So what gifts do we two missionary “magi” have to bring?  Well, one of the gifts WE have already RECEIVED is to be challenged by the question.  And right now, our gift to the churches here seems to be found in being honest  in sharing our own stories of coming to know Jesus and trying to be faithful.