Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cultural Divide

One phenomenon I am seeing in Latin America in particular, and to a lesser degree in Africa, is a separation between church music and the music of daily life. This is deeply concerning to me because I believe worship is a way of life we are all called to. It is our primary purpose for being. And so we need to learn to worship in every word we say, every action we take, every thought. How can we do this if we see worship as something we do in a specific location or on a specific date and time? This is where having this cultural divide leads.

The cultural divide between Sunday Christianity and everyday living is wide already in the United States. And churches have been fighting against it heavily for a decade now. In Ghana, West Africa, at least they still have the holistic view, arising from African traditional life and beliefs, that all of life is spiritual and therefore, who you are spiritually, relates to who you are in every moment. This is helpful in fighting off the cultural divide. But in Latin American churches, particularly in Brazil and Mexico, what I see too much of is American songs from Vineyard and Integrity, translated into Spanish or Portuguese, using the same instrumental style and arrangement as the original American recordings. In the meantime, the rich musical traditions of Brazil (bossa nova, forro, samba, etc.) and Mexico (mariachi, nortano, etc.) are being treated as outside and worldly. Christians see these as things Godly people do not associate with, and this is to the great detriment of the church's relationships with the world they live in. It is leading them into the cultural divide. Now Christians listen to this music at work, shopping malls, street corners, on the radio, etc. But they just associate that with the secular half of their lives.

Why is this a problem? Because the Bible teaches that Christianity is a way of life. You cannot be a Christian in one area of your lives and not others. And because of the rich musical culture of these countries, and the connections people make with music to various activities, this creates a divide. Anyone who avoids these traditional types of music as sinful will have trouble relating to everyone else. And those who try and move between the two worlds find themselves pulled in two directions. Even worse, Christians lose touch with their own culture. And this not only hurts witness by creating a sense that Christians are set apart, different, or even "geeks" but it creates a situation where Christians find themselves unable to relate culturally to those whom they feel called to witness too. Furthermore, people being witnessed to often think they have to leave the music they love and everything associated with it to become Christians. And that is a very challenging thing to do. So... many give up.

Ever since our first workshop in Ghana in July 2000, I have worked to help natives look at their music through new eyes and critical eyes, but not culturally critical, asking questions about quality: How do the songs we sing match up with the Biblical message we are promoting? How does the musical setting/language/style match with people's daily experience? How does it further the teaching of the pastor? How can we use songs more effectively? Do the lyrics tell us everything we need to know or leave unanswered questions? And so on and so forth. And I have encouraged them to write songs for congregational use. Some have been successfully adapted into the churches, including some I wrote or cowrote with students. And some have been retired because of failure to answer questions.

As I prepare to work in Brazil and Mexico, I know of movements that are started in Brazil to use traditional musical styles and redeem them in Christian's eyes. There are people teaching the truth that all creative gifts are from God even if they are used sinfully by depraved humanity. But the styles themselves are not evil and if used with good lyrics and written with care, can be useful to churches. I hope this movement has started in Mexico also. I hope they can make the music their own and really use it to connect people more fully to the church and to their daily lives. This can only serve to make them stronger Christians and be a stronger witness to the world. And the world needs that more than ever.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Architecture and Dining in Cuidad Juarez

Okay, I just got back from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, on the border with El Paso, Texas. I know it is a border city but I was simply shocked how many American restaurants there are there. Not to mention Walmart, Sam's Club, etc. Carl's Jr., Burger King, McDonald's, Applebees, Denny's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Long John Silver's....and the list goes on and on! And one of the missionaries there told me that TACO BELL was all the craze in Mexico City when it opened two years ago. I mean, there are Taco stands everywhere that sell the genuine article, much better quality shells, etc., and they are eating at Taco Bell?

Don't get me wrong, I just ate at Taco Bell this weekend, and I like it, but not compared to the REAL thing. It amazes me. The reason he gave is that anything American is popular down there. And I have seen McDonalds in Rio De Janeiro as well as a few other things. But the abundance was surprising. Okay, so we share a border of several thousand miles, but still, it was a surprise.

We ate at Denny's (for some reason the missionaries wanted to) one morning and they have the same silly menu items we have here. The Slim Slam (Is it EL Slim Slam in Spanish)? Unfortunately, since I had the English menu, they did not give me the Mexican insert, so my breakfast was not authentic. That is a little disappointing because I always try so hard to eat authentic food wherever I go and experience the culture. Especially in this case, because I only had three days there. BUT it was still a good fellowship and meeting I had with Mexican pastors and the missionary during that breakfast, so a fair trade, I'd say.

As for the food, the mole with Empandas (?) was not my favorite. The sauce itself was just not something I am crazy about. I did eat a lot of it, but I just did not feel crazy about it. On the other hand, Huevos (Eggs) Rancheros I liked. I also enjoyed enchiladas and sopapillas. I enjoyed tacos as well. Great fresh tortillas. Good guacamole. Excellent Margaritas. Try the pina colada! WOW! Never had one before like that.

Cuidad Juarez was an interesting place architecturally. There were some amazing manses with huge gardens, surrounded by fences. There were some grocery and shopping centers similar to American ones, but most reminded me more of Brazil. More streets were paved than there are in Africa, though. But there were speed bumps everywhere. Apparently this is the favorite method of speed control. The other thing is that the traffic system is nuts and people do what they want anyway, so things get chaotic. But I will save that for another post.

Another thing that struck me was that Mexicans must just build on whatever land they can find because there were shacks that looked like they were in illrepair or close to falling down next to fancy new stores that looked brand new. I guess land is expensive and hard to come by. But yet there were whole empty fields in areas. It kind of surprised me to see so much mix, because usually I have seen it concentrated in Rio De Janeiro or Belo Horizonte or Accra, Ghana. Groups of similar poverty and groups of nicer buildings. Never so mixed. The other thing is that I was well aware that what I was reacting to might be considered a middle class home that just hadn't been painted or was not well maintained on the outside but was nice inside. So I honestly don't trust my own impressions.

Anyway, I did have a good time in what I assume is an upper middle class home. And went to the daughter's soccer game, which they lost 11-0. I came away with genuine Mexican art originals drawn by Carla, the middle daughter. She and Diana were so adorable! HE HE And fun to play with. I can always manage to bond with the kids first.

I will try and do a series of posts on my impressions from the trip. This is the first. Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, November 04, 2005


by Debbie Eynon Finley

This article is reprinted by written permission of the author. It recently appeared in BRAZZIL magazine and is quite relevant to our discussions here.

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but I have found the lines at Carrefour, (Brazil's version of Wal-Mart) to be slow. Very, very slow, especially, compared to shopping in the US, unless you are shopping at the Albertson's near my old house in Austin, Texas.
There is one advantage to shopping in Brazil though. They let the people with children, the elderly (idosos), and handicapped skip to head of the line or go in a special line. My friend always makes sure to bring one of her toddlers shopping with her for this very reason.
Since my husband and I have no children, and are in good health, I've been trying to get my eighty three year old Aunt Ruth to move in with us. Although in Brazil, her name would be pronounced "Hoochie", which is her main reason for not wanting to come.
One day I was behind an elderly woman in line. She said that she was eighty, but, that when she first got in line she was only sixty, which is why she didn't feel right about standing in the special line.
Even if only one or two people are in front of you at the Carrefour, it can take ages to check out. The cashier will usually need to do one if not several time consuming activities.
The price check. This buying hurdle occurs when an item isn't priced. The price check requires the cashier to summons a store team member to roller skate over to their register. If the price checker can safely reach the cashier without having to field customer inquiries, and without knocking over merchandise or customers, the process moves to stage two.
Stage two is the committee meeting between the cashier, the price checker, and the non-priced item. If the two employees are about the same age, often in their early twenties, this may progress to stage three. Otherwise, the employees skip to stage five.
Stage three includes a personal conversation between the two employees about how long they have been working at Carrefour, and whether they like their job or think it sucks. If the two employees are of the opposite sex and or attracted to each other, this may develop into stage four. Otherwise, the employees skip to stage five.
Stage four is when the mutual attraction intensifies and flirting begins. Non-bogus phone numbers and e-mail addresses are often exchanged. They may even plan an upcoming date at the mall.
Stage five is when the price checker pulls out his compass and map of the store or Never Lost Satellite system, and ventures out to track down the price.
Stage six is when the price checker returns to the cashier with the price. Both employees separate until the next business or social encounter.
After a price check is completed, this raises other potential, time delaying issues. Does the customer still wish to purchase the item? For instance, do they still want the box of ice cream bars that have turned into a puddle?
During one of my price check torments, I was in line behind a couple who had just gotten the price for a six-pack of beer. The couple had a long discussion as to whether or not they would still like to buy the six-pack. Although I don't understand much Portuguese, since communication is 70% non-verbal, I could fill in the blanks.
"That beer has gone up two reais! You don't need it and it's not in our food budget. And, why do you want to buy those chips? "
"Because, I like them."
"No, it's because you want to snack in front of the TV at night, instead of listen to me talk about my day. We aren't buying them."
So, that price check wasted an hour of my life, an hour that I could have been watching The O.C. (Orange County). But, on a positive note, the price check for the six-pack of beer resulted in a date between the young cashier and price checker. I hear they're expecting a baby and are engaged to married.
Another frustrating checkout obstacle is investigating customer's money to see if it's counterfeit. A sweet looking older woman was trying to pay for her groceries with about twelve various bills to make up about 60 reais or twenty seven US dollars.
The cashier had to examine each bill front, back, sideways, and standing on one leg. Then the cashier's version of a lie detector test, was to look her with both eyes like Hannibal the Barbarian.
When the cashier's findings were inconclusive, she repeated the process until it was time for her lunch break. Then, she took the woman's cash and signed out of her register.
Another clog in the checkout process, is getting behind someone who is paying bills. Beware, that if there's a short line with only a few people, it's because the other customers have psychic capabilities and are avoiding that line at all costs. They can instinctively sniff out a shopper in line with bills to pay.
I got in line behind a woman who was not only paying her bills, she was also paying her sister's and brother's bills. She had seventeen siblings. I was so impressed by the sisterly love that she showed her family members that I asked to take her picture, (I keep a digital camera in my purse, since I still consider myself a tourist). We have it in our photo album next to a picture of President Lula, the president of Brazil (large South American country South of Florida).
Another hold up in line can be caused by getting behind a new foreigner or estrangeiro like myself shopping at Carrefour for the first time. I had been in Brazil for three days when I decided to take my first shopping expedition. I managed to drive myself to the store without setting the clutch on fire (it only smoked a lot).
It was not until it was my turn in line that I learned that my fresh fruit and vegetables had to be weighed in the produce section. Then, it took me fifteen minutes to figure out if the cashier was asking me whether I wanted paper or plastic bags. That's when I noticed that Carrefour only has plastic bags.
I didn't know that I needed a pin to use my new Brazilian credit card. I did have a pin for my new debit card. But, I hadn't figured out that when using a debit card at a store, you only enter 6 not 8 characters of your password.
It was my next shopping trip that I learned they'd be asking additional questions in Portuguese that I couldn't read. The machine requests the day, month, or year of your birthday. But, never all three. That way management feels that you'll be less likely to expect a birthday present.
Now, my only option left was to pay with cash. I took out twenty various reais bills from my wallet, which had to be cleared as not being counterfeit. From the depths of my purse, I shoveled up and sorted through a fistful of Brazilian coins mixed with US coins from home, and Euros from our vacation last summer to Holland (small European country East of New York).
Leaving behind a few of the higher priced impulse items, I managed to scrounge enough money to pay for my groceries and get through the line. It's nice that Brazilians are so patient.

This article was written in a humorous vein and should not be taken seriously.

© D. E. Finley 2005.