Advent calendars don´t exist here, so I made one as part of our drive to put some meaning into Christmas celebrations. It is essentially a stack of 25 cardboard tubes cut from kitchen-roll inners. They are glued together in a house shape; I borrowed the idea from here . I bought some chocolate moulds and spent a few hours melting and setting chocolate shapes. I made some little cards with a sentence from the Christmas story on each one. Here’s a thing; there is an almost complete correlation between north American home-schooling mums and people who make Bible verse cards to go into their advent calendars, the result of this is that the only half-way decent ones I could find all use the King James version of the Bible. I don’t know if home-schooled north American children are any brighter than any others, but I’m not convinced at my six year old's ability to read or understand the KJV. So here is my alternative, but I did crib the images from other peoples’ sites, so definitely don’t do anything commercial with this or we’ll all be in trouble.
Spring is here, the sparrows are nesting in our roller blinds once more, and it seems to bring out my own need to be creative, so I have made spicy chutney (also unavailable in Argentina), and figured out how to batter my own fish, and Joni and I have made smartie cookies, and a junk model pirate ship.
We went on Scout camp last weekend where all the activities focussed on teamwork, so we made water rockets, and mud sculptures amongst other things. Joni brought back six little fish scooped out from a horse trough, so having decided they were too small for battering (see above) we have spent the last couple of days gathering bits to create them a habitat (“We should put some stones in so that they’ll think it’s real..”) in a small tank which he chose as his reward for finishing his latest star-chart for reading and being helpful.
Meanwhile, having wondered for literally years whether San Francisco has enough ministry potential to hold us here, suddenly we find ourselves working in not just one, but two fledgling church-plants, two different groups of people, very different social starting points, but both equally keen to have us. Martin is teaching in one on Thursdays and in the other on Sundays, while I am helping plan children’s holiday club activities for the summer, and running a workshop on autism on the 12th of December both on behalf of one of the groups.
A couple of weeks ago we received a report back from the people in the north who were checking out options for us up there. There are two possible locations, one is Humahuaca which is where we were designated to go in the first place, and with hindsight we probably should have stuck to our guns and plonked ourselves there back in 2005, but now we are less convinced about it than the other option which is in Jujuy, a bigger city (comparing population statistics probably about the same size as Newcastle upon Tyne) with what appears to be some interesting ministry projects. That said, the suggestion was that we should go to see both options in the last couple of weeks of November since Argentina in general will shut down from December to March (yes really, it’s amazing how the economy here survives at all but let’s not go there!). However, we haven’t managed to organise a trip yet owing to the volume of commitments here, which then also begs the question as to whether we need to move at all. So, all in all, we have made progress in that we now have a couple of concrete options on the table, but ironically we are also at a point where staying put appears to be a stronger contender than it has ever seemed in the eight years that we have so far been in Argentina. Does God play brinkmanship? Answers on a postcard.
And back to creating, in case I ever needed proof that my paltry talents pale into nothing before the master Creator, here are just a couple of the species of birds that we see just over the road in “our” plaza:
I know, I'm supposed to be writing about other things, but I wanted to slip this one in first…
I have been fascinated by the feedback from our latest newsletter. There have been far fewer respondents than usual, but of those who have answered, the common thread has been to tell us to “Be Careful of the Mormons”. One might therefore infer that some of those who didn’t comment are also uncomfortable with the idea that we might be cavorting with the enemy. Or maybe everyone’s just busy at this time of year.
So, I wanted to try and provoke some thoughts. For those who aren’t up to speed, the details are this; we’re Evangelical Christians, allegedly missionaries, in Argentina, and we’ve been inviting the Mormon missionaries in to get to know each other and do a bit of “Comparative religions” over lunch.
My key question today is; where is the real danger? If, for example the newsletter hadn’t mentioned Mormons but had simply said that we were hosting lunch for our neighbours, I’m certain that the response would have been wholly positive, and almost definitely wouldn’t have included a single Shakespearean warning. So why is it that the Mormons are more dangerous than the nice normal secular consumerists on either side of us whose gods are their automatic garage doors or their kids’ academic grades? Put it in other terms; of the good solid Christians who were at the University CU with me, and even at Bible College, of the percentage of those who are no longer going anywhere with their Evangelical faith, what is the ratio of people who have converted to any other religion including Mormonism, compared to those who simply settled down as comfortable middle class materialists?
And not only is comfortable materialism far more successful than any other religion at keeping people out of church, it has also made itself more than at home inside the church. It is perfectly possible to take on pretty much every self-centred materialistic value of my average secular neighbour and still be considered a solid and useful Bible-believing – even Bible-teaching – member of my congregation, whereas of course if I gave the slightest hint of revering the Book of Mormon as the word of God, I’d be out of the door with a church-warden’s boot up my bottom faster than I could say “And also with you”.
So I wonder why it is that we perceive the Mormons to be more dangerous. I suspect it is because we see them as “other”, with their uniforms and insistence on referring to each other as Elder so and so. Whereas of course our neighbours are nice normal people like us who just happen to be a bit wrong on the details when worship their new car instead of the one true God of salvation. If this sounds flippant, it isn’t meant to be, exactly the opposite in fact. I know there is a spiritual battle and there are forces of darkness in places we know not where. But it seems to me that the insidious and unchecked values embodied in easy materialism pose far more of a danger to the building of God’s Kingdom, possibly because they are insidious and unchecked, than any number of black-suited corn-fed missionaries trying to convince us with tales of gold-plates and bilingual spectacles. I was going to say maybe it’s a question of strong or weak faith; is your faith strong enough to withstand the Mormons? But apart from sounding ridiculously arrogant, it isn’t even true, because actually if my faith isn’t strong enough to stand an orange squash with the Mormons (and that’s the real issue; by the time you’ve eliminated all the other stuff that they aren’t allowed to drink you’re reduced to sugar and tartrazine), but anyway, if my faith isn’t strong enough to have a conversation with with Mormons without putting myself in danger, then I should probably think quite hard before inviting any of my other neighbours in for mulled wine and mince pies. Macbeth Macbeth beware Macduff. Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.
Once again the three Scout groups of the city came together to make a Fleur de Lis out of bottle tops as a fundraising project. This year it is in support of a local baby with a health condition needing expensive treatment, so it was nice for the Scouts for once actually to meet in person the recipient of their efforts. The bottle tops are boxed and sold on, and I’m guessing that the money-generating part happens when they are recycled.
We had front page coverage on the local Sunday paper, I’m copying and pasting below from their web version, or you can find it on this link.
03/11/2013 - 21:13 hs. | Locales > Sociedad
SOCIEDAD Un certamen televisivo de baile popularizó a los “niños piel de cristal” o “niños mariposa”, aquellos que padecen una enfermedad poco frecuente que hace que su piel sea muy frágil, que al mínimo roce se le formen ampollas muy dolorosas. Paulina Bertoli, una beba de tan solo un año de vida, sufre esta patología y toda su familia se moviliza incansablemente para poder someterla a los más actuales tratamientos. Pero el esfuerzo no es solo de los suyos, sino también de mucha gente y en especial, de los scouts Consolata, Cristo Rey y Daniel Ñáñez que ayer armaron con tapitas una “Flor de lis solidaria” y gigante en la Plaza Cívica para ayudar a Paulina.
And here are a copy of pics of the project in progress taken by Victor, district Scout leader, which I’ve “borrowed” from the District Facebook page;-
I received a certified letter from the University regarding my qualifications. It was written in dense legalese, so I took it to a friend to help me to read it. It confirms that I am “en tramite” (being processed). It explains that my qualifications have passed through the Faculty of Humanities, that the University will convene an examinations panel to determine the outcome of the process, and that they will let me know the result, which if successful, I will need to pay them a sum of money in order to claim any certificate. So do I need to do anything? I asked my learned friend. No, he says, technically you just have to wait to hear, although if I were you I would give them a ring in a week or two to chase it along.
So I waited, and sure enough nothing happened, so a couple of weeks down the track I started ringing round. The initial paperwork was presented in the Rectory, so I started there. No, they tell me, if the letter says that it’s gone to Humanities then you need to speak to Humanities, here’s the name and number of the academic secretary. Day one, academic secretary not there. Day two, speak to academic secretary. She isn’t sure but agrees to chase it, can I phone back tomorrow? No problem. Day three, passed all over the building in search of the academic secretary, apparently gone AWOL. Can I get someone else to help you instead. I don’t know, let’s try. I tell my story. Oh yes I can put you through to blossom in a different office. I tell my story again to blossom in the different office. Ok let’s take your details. That reference number can’t possibly be correct we don’t give out reference numbers beginning with 6. Well this is the one written on the paper in my hand and that is definitely a 6. Sniffs dubiously. Well can I have your surname then. C-A-N-T. Can you spell that please? I just did; C-A-N-T. T-N-C then what? No, C for Casa, A for Avion, N for Noviembre, T for Tango. C-N-T but it doesn’t have any vowels in it…. skim over the next ten minutes for the sake of everyone’s sanity, suffice to say I’m deeply grateful my name isn’t Cholmondeley or Worcester… Cant, Hazel Barbara? (Alleluia) yes that’s me. But that paper work has never come to Humanities, the system here says it’s at the front desk at the Rectory, you need to phone them. But the letter I have here says it’s been to Humanities and the Rectory says I should phone you. Well I don’t know anything about any letter and you need to phone the Rectory.
So I phoned the Rectory. Initially officious lady becomes increasingly sympathetic as the story unfolds. Sound of scraping chair, person rising to their feet and bellowing across a crowded office… anyone know anything about this…? Turns out the person who took the original paperwork has just popped out, can I phone back in half an hour? Believe me I will phone back every half hour for as long as it takes. Half an hour later, the response from the Rectory is that they are waiting for a response to the letter that they sent me and I need to respond to that letter before they can progress the matter any further. What, you mean the letter saying that I should wait for you to let me know the outcome? Yes that letter. So, please can you dictate to me exactly what the response is that you’re missing? To say that you’ve received the letter.
Dear University. I have received the letter. Please can something else happen now. Lots of love and kisses.
Having anathematised Microsoft to the abode of the damned a couple of posts back, today we redress that balance as I freely admit to being totally in love with one small, sweet, inconsequential little feature of Windows; changing wallpaper. Go to control panel, select personalization, desktop background, slide show, and how often you want the picture to change, and it will transform your desktop background into a kaleidoscope of memories (depending on what photos you have stored on your box of course). I love every time I go to the computer and seeing “oh I remember that…”, “look there’s so and so…”, “hasn’t Joni grown…”. The other day I arrived to a picture of the Nazca lines seen from the air, and once I’d recovered from remembering how that was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, I got to thinking “flipping heck, I’ve flown over the Nazca lines, what a ridiculously privileged existence have I been blessed with”.
Gratitude is a good discipline, I think we find what we’re looking for, whether that be reasons to criticise or reasons to be thankful. I know if I can find just ten things to thank God for each day, in less than three years they will have added up to ten thousand. I also know that I’m not disciplined enough to keep counting them in any formal sense for a whole three years, but I am trying to be more consciously aware of God’s daily blessings around me (starting with wall-paper by Windows, and the Nazca lines).
Today I am giving thanks…
… For my daily early-morning dog-walk along the lane, sharing the peace with our plethora of local wild-life, guinea pigs, woodpeckers, caranchos and chimangos (two varieties of birds of prey), and the beautiful tijeretas which have once again safely migrated back from who-knows-where to spend the summer here;
… For the two kilos of potatoes that I have dug out of our garden, (even more so since the original seed potatoes came free), and the successful garlic experiment, not to mention the sweet-corn and butternut squash plants that are just starting to push through. And I positively purr when Joni says “the things we grow in our garden taste much nicer….”
… For my English conversation students, because I enjoy work, and because they pay for our kids’ swimming lessons. I also give thanks when they go on holiday and I have a free hour. Work is a blessing, and rest from it is another one!
… For Maxi, the small autistic child who I have just started working with. May that be a fruitful relationship for all concerned.
… And more than anything else for the blessings of watching my own kids growing and learning every day, each in their own…
Mummy mummy can I do that with you?
I’m not sure, it’s just a one person job really.
Ohhhhhhh, you never let me do anything you always have all the fun.
Ok, come and do this bit for me.
And what fantastically fun thing was I selfishly trying to keep for myself? Cleaning the toilet! Is it too much to hope that his enthusiasm might last till he’s 15?
Simple maths would suggest that if I answer more emails than I receive, then eventually the backlog should clear. But for some reasons the maths isn’t working. I’m starting to suspect my inbox of breeding.
I don’t normally swear on-line, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade and Microsoft truly are a bunch of (word to rhyme with) bankers. I had to sign into Martin’s Skype account, and then when I tried to sign back into my own it gave me a load of guff about needing to update my security information which I had to do at this web address. Now, I understood that Microsoft are web giants, but apparently they don’t have anyone who is able to produce a hyperlink, since the only way to get to the given web address was to write it down with a biro on a piece of paper and then type it back in, since I wasn’t even able to highlight it to copy and paste, let alone click on it. I thought maybe there was some sort of security reason why they wanted people to type it in, but well, see for yourself https://account.live-int.com because although I’m not an IT professional, I am able to produce a hyperlink, and you will discover that clicking it merely takes you to a sign-in screen. Here I attempted to sign in using my Hotmail account (Microsoft own Hotmail), but I have long-since stopped checking the Hotmail email address after I decided I didn’t need any adverts for penis extensions (i.e. about two minutes after I opened the account, given Microsoft’s non-commitment in dealing with the spurious use of their products). And apparently this short-sighted lack of interest on my part means that I no longer have an account with Microsoft, which is rather inconvenient if I ever want to sign into Skype again. Fortunately I did manage to find a work-around, but I am not sure how long this loop hole may be available for, so if I disappear from Skype, at least you know why. And the moral of the story is
keep reading those medical ads. if anyone feels like writing a good competitor for Skype that isn’t dependent on having a Microsoft account, I’ll be the first in line.
Apart from that, the week was taken over by writing a sermon and organising a birthday party for a 6 year old and twenty-five of his friends. Both went fine for different reasons. The sermon is up under the sermon’s tab at the top of the page (it’s in Spanish). The party was in Spanish too, it looked like this;
Tomorrow I have to teach English and go to the bank which between them will take care of the morning, but if you are a sender of any of the hundred-and-five outstanding mails in my inbox (and those are all genuine mails since the nice man at Usermail has a nifty device which strips out the penis extensions – in a manner of speaking – do take note Microsoft) then I promise I will get to you at some stage in the hopefully short-ish-term future.
To anyone who diligently read our newsletter and then obediently moved across to the blog for the promised update, I apologise for not writing it sooner. Friday I was in Santa Fe, meeting with the University, as described in said newsletter. The bit I didn’t mention was that we were then on camp with Scouts for the weekend, so Friday evening onwards was a whirl of cutting out stuff for activities, packing other stuff for me and the kids (kids as in mine and everyone else’s) followed by a weekend of running around after them all (ninety six in total; the three San Francisco cub packs plus my progeny).
Meanwhile, back to validating qualifications. We went to do the sworn statements during which two friends had to agree that I am indeed a professional of special education. The policeman at the desk said, that’s ridiculous, how can these people possibly be asked to recognise you as a professional of special education if the whole purpose of the exercise is that the University is supposed to be doing the recognising? To which I smiled and confirmed that the same thought had indeed occurred to me. Oh well, he said, if that’s what they want, let’s get it done. So we did. After all what would a tiny western mind and a lowly policeman understand of these lofty matters?
Armed with my folder containing its two-inch stack of paper, I met with my contact at the University of Santa Fe. He took all the paper out of the folder, swiftly realised that his stapler wasn’t nearly up to the task, put everything back into the folder, filled out a form, produced another document, and we hand-delivered the whole bundle to a different office located within the bowels of the admin block. And now I have a number. If you’re reading this in the UK (or probably anywhere else other than Argentina) you may not realise the significance of having a number. This means that I am now officially “en trámite” (“en tra-mi-te”; undergoing bureaucratic process). This means that I exist, I am part of a bigger system, someone is taking responsibility for dealing with my case, and if anyone asks, I can quote an official number at them which is often sufficient to suggest that positive proof is on my side. In actuality a reference number is no guarantee of a swift resolution, or even of any resolution at all; they still might say no, or furnish me with another list of hoops to jump. But I am now further on than I have ever previously managed to progress with any of the myriad of institutions upon whose doors I have bashed to date, so at least until they say no, I can enjoy my new status of being “en trámite”.
As writers of Christian song-lyrics descend to unfathomed new depths…
As with Calvin, the revenge of the Killer Bicycle has been an on-going theme in Joni’s life for quite some while. However, having banished it to the darkest corner of the garage for several months, it appears to have learnt its lesson (helped by Joni growing a couple of inches in the interim). It was finally brought out of its dusty exile this week, and of course now he can’t get enough of it;
Danny comes along for the ride, and to wipe chocolate down Daddy’s back by way of a side-show;
Everyone’s a winner!