Chorrillos and Villa El Salvador

June 25, 2008

Interesting day today!

After breakfast, Boris handed us over at 9 am to our guide for the morning, Nieves. Only one person, Pat, went on the excursion to the Nazca Lines. A few others stayed behind to enjoy the day on their own.

Carol, Christe, Val, Sharon, Charlie, Jayme, Dale and I got on the minibus with Nieves and the driver, Marco. Our first stop was Chorrillos, a fishing district, whose patron saint is St. Peter. The bus descended a steep cobblestone street, then took a sharp, hairpin turn to continue down to the shore.

We were told that we could take pictures, but if we took pictures of the people or their activities, they would expect to be paid S/0.50-1.00. We could share, several people taking a similar picture and pay only once. It was quite interesting: the shoreline was filled with pelicans waiting for handouts. Seagulls circled overhead for the same reason, and we also saw a black-headed vulture (not a condor!) feeding on the carrion of some animal that had  white  fur.


There were buckets of fishermen’s catch: small hard-shelled and soft-shelled crabs which crawled on your hand (one vat was teeming with them!), several ugly white-bellied rays, and frog fish, among others. Frog fish have suckers on their bellies which allow them to cling to rocks underwater. Even when caught, it can breathe, because in its natural environment, it would sometimes be submerged, sometimes not, so has developed the adaptation of breathing for a short time out of the water. One of the fishermen took one of these fish and stuck it on a post to show us!


Jayme and I went back to buy shells which were being sold for a few soles. The woman selling them had a pail containing regular and “girasol” (sunflower) starfish. She got one of each out so I could take a picture. The girasol had many limbs but was related to the regular starfish. She also had a pile of dried starfish for sale.


Nieves purchases some “mariscos” (mussels) for the people we were going to visit. Then we headed to a food market.

This place was interesting too – stalls with open bags full of vegetables, grains and seeds, some recognizable, some not. I took a picture of a stall selling several varieties of potato. At a stall selling chicken, one chicken was hung up with all its innards exposed – lives, lungs, intestines, even large testicles!Raw00099


Another stall sold various kinds of sauces – green, red, yellow-white salsas and moles. You could try them with small sticks and then make a choice. The vendor would spoon one’s purchase into a leak-proof plastic bag and tie it at the top.


Afterwards we went to the back where we paid S/0.50 for a small wad of toilet paper and we went into the stalls of the bathroom to squat on seat-less toilets. Then we were on our way to Villa El Salvador.

This shantytown spreads out on a sandy hillside on the outskirts of Lima. Villa El Salvador has a total population of about 350,000, but there are 3 stages. Stage 1 is the most recent arrivals and the poorest. Stage 2 is the middle stage. Some of these people have built more permanent structures of brick and have water tanks on top of their houses. They have dirt roads still, but somewhat more infrastructure. The biggest group lives in Stage 3. These residents have been there the longest, more than 35 years. The main streets of that section are paved; there are even some traffic lights and a lot of thriving businesses. People come from all over to buy things there because the goods are cheaper, have more designs (for example furniture) and the work is good quality.


We drove through Stage 2 and 3 but our real visit was to the Stage 1 group.  Nieves takes OAT groups there often. At the food market, Nieves had budgeted a certain  amount to spend for the residents of Villa El Salvador. However, several of us pitched in more, so she was able to buy 3 large bags of rice and more vegetables ‘ squash, broccoli, potatoes, beans, and a lot of other food.

In Stage 1, there is a community kitchen. Volunteers do the cooking to feed the 80 families living there. They were very happy to receive the food we brought, because their government subsidy of rice and oil was cut off in June because one of the leaders accused them of not sharing the food. Hopefully they’ll get it back in July. They used the mussels and all the vegetables for the pots of stew and soup they were making.


People who live in shantytowns do not own the land, but are basically squatters. The shantytown of Villa El Salvador shows what a community can accomplish when the residents are able to create an infrastructure and start their own businesses with the help of good leaders. In Stage 3, there is electricity, water, etc. in Stage 1, there is very rudimentary electricity, but no water (they have to go collect water from a well and carry it back, or collect the scant rainwater that falls in Lima). Some people in Stage 1 have built homes out of plywood, reeds, plastic, scrap sheet metal, etc. They try to beautify with a few plants and if they’re lucky they have a courtyard to do laundry out back and a few animals.


We also went to the house of a 74 year old woman named Evarista. Her house is very dark because she has no windows, but there is a dusty courtyard in the back. Her husband is 78 years old and was not there because he has to go out and work. Evarista and her husband came from a small rural community in the highlands. They moved to Lima for only one reason: all their children live there. However, Evarista is very unhappy and cried as she recalled the life in her village and the fact that her husband didn’t have to work anymore when they were there.

One of Evarista´s children lives in the shantytown with her children; the others live elsewhere in Lima. Her children pooled their resources to buy her a small stove. She has an electric bulb connected to a bare wire that also connects her TV and clock.


After we visited her, we went to the craft workshop that the residents have. They make crafts to sell to their visitors which consist only of OAT groups that come every week. I bought several things there, including cute little finger puppets of animals, a water bottle holder and a purse. Others spent money there too. One of the women from the community told me they are very grateful to us for buying their goods, because it allows mothers who have children to not have to leave their kids behind to go to work, but instead can work and make their living in the workshop.


While I waited for the others to finish shopping, I played soccer with two very cute little boys, aged about 3 and 4. The younger one soon got tired of playing ball and preferred to throw dirt and watch it filter out of his hands and blow in the breeze.


The older boy, extremely cute, kept up the ball game, but after awhile picked up the ball and threw it to me instead of kicking it!

After we left, all of us felt humbled by these people and their lives. We have so much and they so little, and basically they are invisible to almost everyone. But they keep trying to make their living and improving themselves, and every day is a struggle.


Lunch and afternoon were on our own – kind of a waste, because we didn’t plan and choose well. Dale, Jayme and I ended up eating at a cafeteria in downtown Miraflores district – mediocre food and choices. We had empanadas and some kind of juice. There was a museum I kind of wanted to see, but instead we went to an “Indian market” – what a bust! Big tourist trap, and everything in one shop was just like all the others. Nothing very original or unique.


Dinner that night was at Costa Verde, an elegant restaurant overlooking the ocean, at Larcomar mall also. It was excellent, both food and atmosphere.

We heard about Pat’s trip to see the Nazca lines. These are giant pictures carved in the soil by pre-Incan peoples. The pictures can only be seen from the air because they are so large. These pictures were made for the gods. The way they were made is by removing the topsoil, which is darker, revealing a lighter sandy soil underneath. Some ethnocentric white person wrote a book about this a few decades ago, saying that the Nazca people must have had contact with extraterrestrials, because otherwise how could they know what the drawings would look like? That author grossly underestimated the ingenuity, artistry and calculative ability of these native Peruvians.nazca-lines1nazca-lines4nazca-lines-3

Note: Pictures of Nazca Lines were downloaded from Google Images.

Peru 2008: Dinner and dance show

Evening, June 24, 2008

There’s a Fair Trade store in the hotel where they sell the cutest animal finger puppets! I got a llama and also a pair of gloves. I will return to buy more puppets – I think my students will adore them! They also sell small crèches; I may buy one for my collection although they are a bit expensive.

I had to rush out of the shop because we were leaving to go dinner and a dance show. The restaurant, Dama Juana, is at Larcomar Mall, a very swank area.

Larcomar Mall, Lima

Larcomar Mall, Lima

The mall is under the street, and from the restaurant we had a view of Lima Bay, all lit up as the sun went down. Across the bay is a large lit cross. Boris told us it stands on a hillside and is made out of pieces of metal from the destruction caused by the terrorists – Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), that is. Once they blew up power light towers, and pieces of the metal from that went into making this “peace cross.”

Dinner was buffet-style – very dangerous for people on Weight Watchers! Basically there were three parts – salads, entrees and desserts.

The salads were actually the best part – I loved the large corn kernels, and the fava (like large lima beans) and cubed cheese the best. Also we were able to eat “safe” raw veggies such as lettuce, tomatoes, shredded carrots, and the like. There were also potatoes, of course (the potato originated in Peru and there are over 300 known varieties) with a special sauce. I tried to be sparing with the servings so I’d have room for more!

Entrees included beef chunks, a really good chicken and onion stew, tripe with potatoes, rice and other things I didn’t try.

After the dance show began, I went up for desserts – “purple jello” – actually made from blue corn, which you’re supposed to mix with rice pudding (excellent), “tres leches” custard – even more excellent! – and a small brownie.

pisco sourOf course there were also Pisco Sours served with the meal, so I declined a glass of wine.

The dance performance included folk dances from various regions of Peru, with dancers wearing colorful native costumes. A

Eventually the dancers invited audience participation and naturally they picked on the youngest member of our party – Jayme! It was an Afro-Peruvian dance in which the two male and two female dancers wear a white piece of cloth on the back of their clothes, and their partner tries to light it with a candle! One of the men had trouble doing this because his partner shook her hips so rapidly , but she managed to get HER candle through his legs, pretending to singe his genitals!

Meanwhile, Jayme and a young woman from another table were given candles to try to set their counterparts’ butts on fire! It was very funny to watch! They used part of the song “Préndame la vela” (Lend me your candle) – now I understand that song!


The next dance, Jayme was invited up again, but he wouldn’t go, so Wally – having had enough beer and Pisco Sours to make him quite uninhibited – readily volunteered!


Then I was invited up for a dance in which the purpose seemed to be to stomp and bump one’s partner off the stage with my hips! I did it well the first time, but soon began feeling dizzy from the Pisco Sours and next thing I knew I’d been lifted and was carried off the stage by my male partner! (Fortunately, there are no pictures of this!)

That's me, the gringa behind one of the dancers.

That’s me, the gringa behind one of the dancers.

There were dances from the Amazon region (with snakes, but they used fake ones), highlands lowlands, and coastal areas, influenced by black slaves. It was very interesting and combined with the excellent dinner, well worth the $35 each!

Amazonian snake dance

Amazonian snake dance


The last dance was the most impressive of all – “Danza de Tijeras”. Men dressed in elaborate costumes of the highlands and clicking scissors rhythmically did incredible acrobatics including wide-legged scissor steps, shoulder stands, head stands, cartwheels, back flips, and somersaults, which they repeated across the stage. One even grabbed one of his feet in his mouth while doing flips, and another repeatedly bumped on his spine all the way across the stage – OUCH! While doing these antics, they continued clicking their scissors, rapidly opening and closing the blades with each hand. Amazing!

Danza de Tijeras (Scissors Dance)

Danza de Tijeras (Scissors Dance)


I have to say though, that so far, I don’t have much hope for actually LOSING weight on this trip! We’ll see tomorrow, when we have a free afternoon and I hope to walk around Miraflores.

Next: Chorrillos and Villa El Salvador

Lima City Tour (2008)

June 24, 2008

We had a meeting after breakfast on the top floor of the hotel, where Boris told us some of the history and geography of Peru. He told us about the many cultures of Peru and both he and our city guide, Sheila, said the Inca culture lasted 300 years (not only 100 as the books claim), but that the Incas really consolidated and expanded their empire in the last 100 years before Spanish conquest. Earlier cultures had the artisans who created the pottery and textiles, as well as a lot of gold and silver pieces. The Incas were pragmatists who built on what others had already created, but they also were famous for an architectural style that was functional, durable, and beautiful.

Boris had us choose our lunch preferences and sign up for an evening dinner and dance performance tonight and visit to a shantytown tomorrow. These are extra charges.

Afterward we got ready for our city tour. We walked first, from our hotel in Miraflores to the restaurant where we had lunch, Café de la Paz – the food was excellent! Boris told us things along the way, pointing out landmarks, where to find an ATM, etc.


Church in Miraflores

Across the street from Cafe de la Paz

We took a bus after lunch to the center of town, passing through several neighborhoods that Sheila explained about. Each neighborhood, or “distrito”, has its own flavor and some specialize in selling certain kinds of things or a particular profession. I could tell that Sheila is proud of her people while recognizing the poverty and problems of society. She emphasized that, while many children have to work, most people do something to make a living, whether it’s a regular job or selling something even if they don’t make much money, instead of begging.

miniature bus (Miraflores)

miniature bus (Miraflores)

School is compulsory through 6th grade (primary level), and optional after that – secondary school is an additional 5 years. There are more than 20 colleges and universities in Lima, a city of 8 million. 90% of Peruvians are literate, but private schools, for those who can afford them, are better than public schools, which Sheila admits are not very good.

Plaza Simon Bolivar

Plaza Simon Bolivar

At the Museum of Anthropology and Archeology, we saw lots of school groups. Schools are in session now, with a 2-week vacation in July. I was glad to hear this because it means we’ll get to visit a school later in the trip!

Anthropology Museum

Anthropology Museum

Sheila guided us through the museum with efficiency, mindful of our limited time (about one hour) there. She explained the highlights of the cultures and some of the themes that connected them, with an emphasis on religion and art (textiles and pottery).

Cultural Chronology of the Central Andes, by region

Cultural Chronology of the Central Andes, by region

Moche pottery portraying ocean life

Moche pottery portraying ocean life

I love the Moche pottery, so beautiful!  The faces are so expressive! The Moche were a pre-Inca culture.

Religion: pre-Inca: worship of earth; main god depicted with condor clawed feet, puma head and snakes around it. Inca also worshiped the Earth (Pachamama – mother earth), but also had cult of the sun. An important god was Viracocha, god of the sun.

Quipu - the Inca system of accounting and record keeping

Quipu – the Inca system of accounting and record keeping

Gold and silver: most gold melted down by Spanish, few relics remain. Remaining pieces were gold covered by copper, which didn’t interest the Spanish – they didn’t know gold was underneath.

Gold is now mined in Peru, which has the largest gold mine in South America (and second largest in the world), but the mine is owned and operated by an American company! Only South Africa mines more gold than Peru.

These pictures were taken in the museum courtyard. These are typical plants of Peru.


After the museum, we went to the administrative and religious seat of power at the Plaza de Armas, where the cathedral and presidential palace are located. There were lots of military police around guarding the presidential residence. The changing of the guard happens every day at noon.

Plaza de Armas: Sheila (our city tour guide) explains while group members take pictures.

Plaza de Armas: Sheila (our city tour guide) explains while group members take pictures.



This military presence as well as bars on walls and windows throughout the city are vestiges of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the terrorist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) conducted bombings, killings and kidnappings. Fujimori really cracked down on Sendero Luminoso, and arrested both its major leader and that of another group, Tupac Amaru. Both groups are now in retreat and no longer much of a threat.


The current president is Alan García, reelected after an ineffective first term in the 80s (he couldn’t control the terrorists and the economy was in a shambles), but he was chosen over a socialist alternative.

Presidential Palace. The changing of the guard takes place every day at noon.

Presidential Palace. The changing of the guard takes place every day at noon.

Finally we went to the Convent of San Francisco de Asis, where we visited the catacombs as well as the church with its elaborate gold leaf ornamentation.

Convento San Francisco de Asis - Lima

Convento San Francisco de Asis – Lima

Facade - front entrance, San Francisco de Asis Church

Facade – front entrance, San Francisco de Asis Church

The catacombs were very stuffy and claustrophobic. As we glimpsed into empty tombs and areas where bones were collected, which included a large round pit where skulls and straight bones were arranged in a geometric design, I began to feel sort of queasy from the stale air and from holding my bladder too long.

(Note: The pictures below were downloaded from Google; we were not allowed to take pictures anywhere inside San Francisco de Asis.)

Next: Dinner and dance show at Dama Juana Restaurant

Peru 2008 – Lima

The following is the first of a series of posts chronicling a trip to Peru in 2008 with my husband and son. We went with an excellent travel company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and were in a tour group of about 14 people.

June 24, 2008

We arrived at 1 am local time in Lima after what seemed like an interminable flight. I think I was very restless due to anticipation, exhaustion, and not knowing exactly what time it was. It turns out that Peru is on Eastern STANDARD time, which is the same time as Central Daylight time. It is winter here so if they do observe daylight savings time, it would be during their summer (our winter).

At the airport, we were met by our OAT guide, Boris,  who comes from Cusco and speaks English, Spanish and Quechua – possibly other languages, too – I don’t know. He has worked for OAT for four years. He gave us some information on the 1/2 hour minibus ride to our hotel. The weather in Lima, on the coast, is moderated by the Humboldt Current, a cold current from the Arctic. Therefore, it is cool but not cold and there is not a lot of rainfall although it is currently raining. I would say it’s about 60 degrees F right now, perhaps slightly cooler. This is normal for Lima winter.

Our hotel is the Antigua Miraflores Lima, which appears to be a converted mansion with interior courtyards, decorative pots, plants & fountain in the center, and a vague smell of oldness. It is very charming and accommodating.  Dale and I have our own room with a queen sized bed. Jayme is rooming with an older man from Tennessee named Charlie.

There’s a safe in our room in a large wooden armoire that creaks when you open it. There’s a TV also, but I haven’t turned it on yet. (Later: Dale turned on the TV and found CNN in English! While he took a shower, I watched a program in Spanish which was an interview with the new president of Chile, talking about education and the economy – what I understood of it was very interesting, but it was hard to concentrate. The Chileans talk very fast!)

In our room, there’s a vague smell of urine, or perhaps just dampness. We cannot throw toilet paper into the toilet anywhere and have to use the wastebasket. This is hard to remember but I’ll get used to it – I did this for two years when I lived in Northeastern Brazil!

Our room at Antigua Miraflores Hotel.

Our room at Antigua Miraflores Hotel.

Looking down at the interior courtyard from above.

Looking down at the interior courtyard from above.

These beautiful flowers were the view from the roof on the other side of our room.

These beautiful flowers were the view from the roof on the other side of our room.

More interior views at the hotel:


The dampness is due to the fog rolling in off the ocean. The Humboldt Current has a moderating effect on Lima’s temperature.  However, Lima doesn’t really get much rain. Although it rained this morning, more often there’s only drizzle. Charlie likened it to San Francisco’s weather, but here it’s drier – only 4” of rainfall a year in Lima! Water is therefore a problem and many people have water tanks on top of their houses to supplement their water supply.

I slept well and the nighttime temperature was quite cool – good sleeping weather to be under the covers!!

We cannot drink the tap water, although the locals can, but bottled water is provided to us, a good thing because I need to drink lots of water!

For breakfast, we can order from a menu of items – eggs, tamales, etc. I had the tamal this morning and it was OK, not great. However, also served was warm bread with homemade jam – excellent, a plate of fruit, and juice, also great. Oh yes, and coffee. The coffee was served in small open pitchers and I soon discovered why – imagine Starbucks espresso times two! They also serve a large pitcher of hot water for tea, so what I did was dilute the coffee with half water. THEN it tasted normal – and those  who know my coffee habit know that I enjoy strong coffee!! Anyway, it’s better this way since I have cut way back on caffeinated coffee,  doctor’s orders.

Money- a money exchanger offering a better than anywhere else rate came this morning, and I exchanged $200. The official exchange rate is 2.75 soles to the US dollar.

Next: Lima City Tour

Daily Post: What would you do to survive?

The prompt for today was to read the story of Richard Parker and Tom Dudley. Is what Dudley did defensible? What would you have done?

There are many stories of people in desperate situations resorting to cannibalism to survive. An Argentinean rugby team crashed in the Andes in the 1970s, and there were two books written about their experience, followed by a movie based on one of these accounts. The Donner Party is another famous case, in which a group of pioneers was crossing the Rockies and became stranded in winter.



I always read these accounts with a somewhat gruesome fascination. It is difficult to say what one would really do to survive in such situations, without it actually happening. In each of these cases, including the Richard Parker and Tom Dudley case, the decision to eat another human being is understandable when one considers the alternative. The difference, however, is that Richard Parker wasn’t actually dead when Dudley and Stephens decided to make him the sacrificial victim. They had already discussed having one of the four be sacrificed for the other, and from their point of view, it did make sense to choose the one closest to death, or least likely to survive. In desperate circumstances, “survival of the fittest” reigns supreme.

Possibly Parker would have come out of the coma and survived, but in the moment, he was the one who was easiest and most justifiable to kill. In different circumstances – such as if the others had sufficient food and water – his life might have been spared. Harsh as it might seem, I agree with the difficult decision they were forced to make. It is not a decision that anyone would want to make or a situation anyone would choose to face. Would it have been better to refuse to consider cannibalism and face almost certain death of all four by starvation and thirst? It was either the survival of three at the expense of one, or the death of all four.

Daily prompt (1/22): Mastering the skill of organization

Today’s prompt is: If you could choose to be a master (or mistress) of any skill in the world, which skill would you pick?

Executive functioning: Organization, managing multiple tasks either simultaneously or one after another without getting distracted, keeping my house neat, remembering to do stuff. Basically, I would like to NOT have ADHD, or at least be able to take stimulant medications to improve these symptoms.

It has been very difficult pursuing a career in teaching with poor executive functioning skills. I have managed to last 10 years (and now hanging on by a thread) due to other skills I do possess (and feel blessed to have them): excellent language skills, especially the fact that I speak Spanish (also Portuguese, but not so important where I live) and have ESL/bilingual certification.

However, rarely do I last more than one year in a teaching job, especially classroom teaching. I do much better with small groups or individuals where management of strict routines and structures is not as important. Working with smaller groups allows me to shine in the aspects of teaching that are important, but not noticed or considered a priority by many administrators: compassion and caring for each and every student, and problem solving to help them. This is why most of my students – and their parents – like me and feel comfortable in my class. I work very hard (harder than most, probably), trying to keep up with colleagues whose executive functioning skills are fully intact and taken for granted.

(These pictures show a project that I did with different groups of students for Day of the Dead, depicting scenes of skeletons enjoying themselves.)

Every spring after I lose whatever job I have once again, I consider leaving the field of education altogether. Yet every fall, I’m back in a new teaching job. I can’t tell an administrator that I have ADHD, and usually they never find out. Each and every time I try again to be organized, have consistent routines, manage a group of 20 or more kids. It usually works for awhile, and I feel encouraged by that, thinking I have finally mastered the skill of organization well enough to succeed this time.

But it never lasts. My ADHD gets the better of me, especially as I become tired from working so hard as the school year progresses. Then, because  I changed careers to go into teaching in middle age before I was diagnosed, I regret having been so hasty in pursuing this career. It would be hard for me to do something else at this point though. I really do love education and working with children. And I need medical insurance, so I have to keep working until I can retire.

I wish I lacked a skill that I could master, that someone could teach me. I’m a lot better at teaching than I used to be and can anticipate some of the pitfalls before they happen. Yet maintaining a consistent level of executive functioning is not only impossible for me, it isn’t something I can be “taught.” I can get better, perhaps, at using coping mechanisms – which I have done – but I will never be able to compete with those hyper-focused, super-organized colleagues out there.

Daily prompt (1/18): Home. Soil. Rain.

The prompt for last Friday (Sorry, I do them when I’m inspired, not necessarily on the same day) was:

Write down the first words that come to mind when we say . . .

. . . home. My house. It’s brown and white faux brick on the outside, with a front porch and a deck in back, and a 2-car detached garage.  I’ve lived here for 17 years, with my husband and my son. It’s an old house so it’s got some infrastructure idiosyncrasies, but we have renovated the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom. Home is where I feel comfortable and relaxed. Home is where I go after work when I’m tired, eat, sleep, read, watch TV, write on my computer. Everything that is mine is in this house…somewhere.


The railing of our deck in back of the house recently. It had rained and then the temperature fell, so the raindrops froze into these mini icicles.

. . . soil.  My garden. I have planted perennials in 2/3 of it and love to watch them go through their seasonal cycles. The rest of the soil is bare where I plant annuals in the spring, especially tomatoes.

IMG-20120712-00421My garden in early summer – that tall plant in the front is called “blazing star”. Behind it are a lot of sage plants. (Perennials tend to proliferate!)

. . . rain. The fresh smell when it rains – the smell of the cement sidewalks, the earthy soil, the plant life. I love to listen to the rain falling, very soothing. At the cottage I like to sit on the porch and watch the thunderstorms over the lake.

I                                     Raindrops on the lake.

Acts, Chapter 2, verses 1-21.

(Originally written May 27, 2012)


Acts 2: 1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’


14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

I was the liturgist this morning reading this Scripture lesson. I read it with a great deal of expression and loud enough so that even the old people in the back could hear!

This is one of my favorite Bible verses. It describes the precursor of a simultaneous translator! At the United Nations and other international organizations, the speaker’s words are simultaneously translated into the languages of the others present – French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, etc. Thus the speaker’s words can be immediately transmitted and understood and there isn’t a gap that could cause mistranslations or misunderstandings.*

The lesson or allegory in Acts 2 is that the Word of God is to be spread throughout the world, to people of all nations. No longer is it confined to Jerusalem or Galilee. Of course it didn’t actually happen simultaneously at that moment that people heard the disciplines speaking their own languages; but Peter was calling on the faithful to go to other places to proselytize.

Rev. Co this morning used the metaphor fire as the theme of his sermon (or “message” as it is called now). He had brought one of those clickers that produce a flame at the end of a wand. In fact, after the service, everyone’s pledges were burned in a small Smokey Joe on the front steps of the church. The idea is that no one is going to hold you to giving that amount; it has to be your own commitment to yourself.

This fits in with the theme of the Scripture lesson. The flames and speaking in tongues and all that is to welcome the Holy Spirit into your heart, which only you can do yourself. It invites you to take a risk, to try something new, that the spirit of God will be with you.

Forest fires are not bad for a healthy forest. The fire spreads and burns the debris along the ground, the leaves, weedy vegetation, and keeps the growth of the forest in check – too many trees means overgrowth, a less healthy forest, in which tree branches cannot spread out because there are too many others. Vegetation grows on those trees and there is less energy for the rest of the tree.  A forest fire in an unhealthy forest spreads rapidly and kills everything in its path.

It’s like pinching back overgrown plants. The plant needs to get rid of the unhealthy or dead parts in order to grow better and capture the energy needed for new growth.

So it is the same with us. The energy of our own “fire” can lead us to new ideas, new enterprises, a healthier and expanded life. Just as the tree branches in a healthy forest have room to spread and grow upward, so we can expand our horizons if we have God in our hearts to help us get there.

*Of course, interpreters do make mistakes too, such as the famous incident where President Kennedy heard Khrushchev’s words as “We will bury you” when in fact these words were an idiomatic expression that the interpreter apparently had not heard before, meaning “We will surpass you” or something like that.

For another interpretation, I always like to check out Huffington Post’s online religious column. I found some of the comparisons made between Acts 2:1-21 and other Scripture very informative:

Rev. Dr. Eric D. Barreto focuses on differences and how God meets us where we are. Especially interesting is his take on the Tower of Babel. I have excerpted what I think is essential to understand his message.

Acts 2:1-21 Think Differently about Differences

Christians have often hoped for a time when our racial and economic differences would cease, when in Christ we would all be indistinguishable. Such impulses are earnest but fundamentally misguided. …

Many such interpretations emerge from a misreading of texts like Galatians 3:28. Such readings imagine that becoming Christians means becoming all the same in all ways. …

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Galatians teaches that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26). Our adoption as children of God, however, does not erase our differences. We are not the same, but we are reminded that our differences are not ways to measure our value in the eyes of God and one another.

The story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21 helps us understand how God sees human diversity: one of God’s greatest gifts to the world. At Pentecost, God through the Spirit does not erase our differences but embraces the fact that God has made us all so wonderfully different. …

The final chapters of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapters of Acts finds the disciples and other followers of Jesus regrouping and discerning what a life of faith together looks like after his death, resurrection and ascension. …

These early followers of Jesus gather in Jerusalem along with fellows Jews from around the Mediterranean world (Acts 2:5-11). They are gathered together in one place when suddenly tongues of fire descend from the heavens on the day of Pentecost. The gift of the spirit precipitates an extraordinary event. As the disciples proclaim the good news, everyone hears the good news proclaimed in their own language.

Many interpreters have viewed this Pentecost moment as a direct response to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), a fantastic story that seeks to explain how a people once united by common ancestors eventually became peoples with many different languages. Some have forwarded that Pentecost reverses the punishment God meted out at Babel. Finally, we can understand one another because the Spirit enables all to understand one language.

To me, this is a significant misreading of Babel. Is it really a punishment from God that we are all different, that we speak different languages and live in different cultures? That is, is difference a problem in need of a solution? I certainly don’t think so, and the vibrancy of the world’s cultures is evidence against this misreading of Babel.

Most importantly, if Pentecost were a reversal of Babel, if Pentecost undid the diversity of human languages precipitated by Babel, why would the Spirit enable everyone to hear the Gospel preached in their own languages? Why not cause everyone to understand one, universal, heavenly language? …

Notice what happens at Pentecost. God, through the Spirit, chooses to meet us where we are: in the midst of a multitude of languages and experiences. … Language is rooted in a wider and complex culture and way of thinking and living. Even when we speak the same language, don’t we still have a hard time understanding one another? Imagine then the miracle of Pentecost and what it means for us today.

God meets us in the messiness of different languages and does not ask us to speak God’s language. Instead, God chooses to speak our many languages. God does not speak in a divine language beyond our comprehension. At Pentecost, God speaks in Aramaic and Greek and other ancient languages. Today, God continues to speak in Spanish, Greek, Hindi and Chinese alike.

At Pentecost, God makes God’s choice clear. God joins us in the midst of the messiness and the difficulties of speaking different languages, eating different foods and living in different cultures. That is good news indeed.

Matthew 20:1-16 The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

I have been intending to post a series of commentaries on passages in the Bible. I started it with my Genesis post, comparing creation stories. I wrote this commentary on the Parable of the workers in the vineyard in Sept. 2011, when it was the liturgical passage in Protestant churches across the country. I didn’t think to post it in my blog then, so I am now posting it here.

(Sept. 24, 2011)
Matthew 20:1-16 The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Here is the text of this passage:
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Laborers in the field-11thCentByzantine

This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Rev. Co says “parables are supposed to mess with your mind” and this is a good one because it totally goes against what our society values.

In this parable, those who worked one hour were paid the same as those who worked all day. All were paid what they needed to survive the day, regardless of how long they worked. And I think also, some of the workers may have arrived in the marketplace later, and if it hadn’t been for the generosity of the landlord to hire them as they arrived throughout the day, they would have been out of luck – too late to get a job that day.

Rev. Co talked about the American Jobs Act proposed by Obama – wouldn’t it be a good thing if more people had jobs and money in their pockets? He contrasted this with the Kingdom Job Act: God will give you what you need, whether you do just a little for the church or something glorious. Jesus didn’t care much for society’s rules; he knew that God loved everyone equally.

This parable seems so contrary to the thinking of modern society. However, perhaps we would do well to think of the people who do not have as many opportunities for good jobs and share some of what we have, as did the employer in the parable.

As Matthew L. Skinner (Huffington Daily Post 9/18/11) says in his religion column: “We learn more about God when we travel deeper into the world the parable imagines and consider its other characters. After all, this parable draws all its force and illustrative potential from the dynamics of economic life. Whom, then, should we think the landowner encounters when he’s looking for workers late in the afternoon? What kind of people are the last to find jobs, added to the rolls only when there’s no more labor available? Nothing suggests that those characters in the parable are irresponsible or lazy. More likely, they are unwanted.

“If [we compose] a list of ‘people who have to wait all day long to get hired’ in our current setting, we need to expand it. Add the unemployed and underemployed to the list. Suddenly those who cannot get hired until 5 p.m. aren’t necessarily just people wearing rags or talking gibberish to themselves. Many are college graduates, highly skilled manufacturers, loyal, capable.

“And [what about] undocumented immigrants…who hires them these days? The parable’s landowner might be at risk of prosecution in Alabama, depending on the outcome of a battle over that state’s new immigration law. It’s a severe law allegedly spurred by the national unemployment crisis, but one legitimately wonders how the law’s rough justice squares with a Bible that repeatedly commends hospitality and compassion toward refugees, strangers and other aliens.”