Here in Brazil, some friends decided to put a new spin on April Fool’s Day. The prank was this: instead of tricking people with an “untruth,” why not encourage people by announcing something that we wish were true.
“We decided to come up with some ‘fictitious’ headlines that we would like to announce. But the good news is that all this is really possible. It could be true.” As Claudio Oliver, the Coordinator of the Casa da Videira Collective, puts it: “These headlines can be true. They are based on lived experiences in Curitiba.”
What follows is my translation and adaption of one such announcement.
Such is “April Folly” in Brazil…..
And yet, we hope and trust that such folly is not “nonsense,” but a reflection of God’s own “foolishness” which the Bible calls “wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25).
The Zero Garbage Movement is on the Move
As of last week, the city of São Paulo no longer has anything to send to its landfills. What’s more, the same thing has happened in Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Port Alegre, and in other 23 capital cities of Brazil. But how does one explain that a city–which until recently produced 13,000 tons of trash per day–has eliminated its garbage problem?
The solution comes out of the city of Curitiba. After years of discussions, plans, and the search for a new landfill area, this solution actually came from the people themselves. The NGO, Casa de Videira, has spearheaded this new direction, inspiring both the “I’m My Own Trashman/Woman” Movement as well as “Landfill Boycott” Campaign. As a result, garbage is no longer seen as a “municipal service” problem, but rather as everybody’s problem. In other words, the people’s solution was simple: Put garbage back in the hands of the people.
Some of you Tikkun-ers have told me from time to time: “Share with us about the people who inspire from your context in Brazil.”
Fair enough. I’ve already posted a link to one other video of my dear Brazilian friend, Claudio Oliver. But I couldn’t resist posting another: a video interview that took place earlier this week in Australia. This video continues the same line of reflection regarding poverty, friendship, and the presence/action of the local Christian communities.
To set the stage, I’ll just mention 2 key themes:
People from all around the world are remembering the nation of Haiti in this time of suffering and loss–some by their prayers, others through acts of generosity and solidarity. Several of my Brazilian friends have asked that we join with them in remembering one of the victims of Tuesday’s earthquake– Zilda Arns Neumann. She was visiting Haiti on a medical mission.
By all accounts, she was spiritual progressive – a rare combination of doctor, social activist, and spiritual leader. (In fact, she was three time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.) Together with her brother, Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, (Cardinal Archbishop of São Paulo), she has stood out as one of Brazil’s contemporary peacemakers.
So, as we continue to pray for Haiti and her people, let us also remember the lives of saints such as Zilda Arns. May her life shine forth a bit more light into this moment of darkness, and may her small acts of love encourage us to do likewise.
In Part 1, our topic was borders.
Now we turn to another kind of boundary: limits.
Take us, human beings, as an example. We are mammals. We bear live young, little creatures that are totally dependent on others — incapable of doing the basics necessary for survival (parents know what I’m talking about). But we are also homo sapiens. That is, we are the creatures who were created to live not by instinct alone, but by sapientia, or wisdom. With the capacity to learn wisdom and with opposable thumbs, we are highly adaptable to our habitat and equipped with an extraordinary capacity to use tools and transform our habitat, as well.
What the wisdom of my Christian tradition tells us about limits boils down to this paradox: We are fundamentally creative, and yet we only flourish within limits.
What the climate change debate (and the 350 campaign in particular) is putting back on our radar is what we should have been recognizing all along: that there are limits to human existence.
1) We cannot survive exposure for extended periods of temperatures above 50o C or below 0o C.
2) We need food and water – after just 3 days without water and our system starts to shut down.
3) We are land creatures who use lungs to draw oxygen from the air. We can swim and even use tools like a snorkel or scuba to stay submerged underwater for a spell, but we are bound to live on land (not too high though, as if we were birds) and not under water (like fish).
Now here’s the kicker that sets the stage for the current conversation about climate change and limits:
Think back to the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.
One of the issues that generated a lot of heat was the immigration debate. While the debate touched on several other issues, such as unemployment and national identity, at its heart the debate centered on this: the rights of those who were not U.S. citizens but live within its borders, or of those who do live outside its borders and are trying to get in. After all, borders are there to establish who’s in and who’s out, right?
Now, fast forward nearly almost one year. Now, in the last quarter of 2009, the immigration debate has taken back seat to another debate: the debate over the global economy and climate change. As a prime example, consider the G-20 summit which took place earlier this year in London, where world leaders tried to figure out how to prop up and even stimulate the global economy without doing further damage to our terrestrial habitat.
If we compare the global economy to the Titanic, the main question that world leaders seem to be asking is not, Who should be allowed to enter the boat?, but rather How can we keep this boat from sinking?
Over the last several years–six to be exact–lots of groups and individuals have come our way in order to experience something of life here in Brazil. We’ve received everything from local church youth groups, to seminary interns, to pilgrims on a journey to “holy sites” on the margins.
It’s interesting that almost all of these folks/groups share certain features, such as:
#1) They have a deep desire to connect with and serve others beyond the borders of the own country.
#2) They are committed to #1 because of their commitment to and relationship with Jesus.
#3) They understand #1 and #2 to be part and parcel of something called Christian mission.
#4) They have a sense that commitment to #3 (Christian mission) is part of what it means to be a faithful Christian, yet #3 involves a complex history that weaves faithfulness with much UNFAITHFULNESS.
#5) They want #1 without the problems of #4.
What we hear a lot goes something like this:
“People everywhere (and U.S. Christians, especially) are hungry to get to know their brothers and sisters in other places. We want to relate to Christians “across the borders” because we believe that we belong together. But here’s the thing: It has got to be more than a one-way, top-down, us-to-them attempt to share some of what we have, or to do something for them based on what we think their needs are.”
In a nutshell, what we hear from our friends who come to Brazil is that Christian mission has to be reimagined and performed differently that the (neo) colonial paradigm–even in its most benevolent forms. There’s a growing sense that it’s just not