God–A Tropical, Non-Paradise
By Jean Boucher
Amanda gave me the finger today as she left for school, and it hurt. Maybe there is a law floating around on some cloud of ideals that says it shouldn’t hurt me, a grown man, but it did. She was in the midsection of the school bus, her head in the open window, and as the bus pulled away, she turned back and gave me the finger. She had a plain look on her face, not angry or anything, not smiling either, it was matter-of-fact, here you go, you are getting the finger.
Amanda is probably eight years old, I am not really sure, I never asked. I am a volunteer/observer here at an orphanage in Aquiraz, Brazil, on the northeast coast of the country, it is a tropical non-paradise. What I mean by a tropical non-paradise is that it lacks the grooming. It is not like a hotel here and there, a condo up ahead, a restaurant, a beautiful beach and a boulevard checkered with palm trees. It could have all those things, but that would take some planning and a whole lot of money. This place is wild. As wild is. Not ordered. A chaos of sorts. A field with random brush, mango and coconut trees, a cashew tree here and there, old rotting coconuts scattered along the ground. But in my mind I can catch myself putting order to things, thinking how it could be if I had my way and a bunch of money. It reminds me of the story of the farmer who received a visit from a stranger who had been walking along the road in front of his farm. The stranger, after admiring the fields and well groomed farmland, commented to the farmer that God had certainly blessed him with a beautiful farm. The farmer quipped, “Well, if you think God has blessed me with this, then you should have seen it when God had it all to herself!”
This is what I mean when I say a tropical non-paradise: God, whatever that means, has it all to herself. But I think what has happened to God is that we humans got a hold of her, groomed her, made her pretty, ordered some rows, trim the hedges, and pulled out the weeds. God is now pretty. God is good. God only does “good things,” the way humans have defined “good things.” Or better yet, the way humans have defined God. If God steps out of line, say a bunch of locusts completely strip a palm tree, or three dogs rip apart a kitten, or a hurricane devastates a city, well, that isn’t God, that is something else: something evil and we need to put it straight, order it, and pray to God to save us from it. In other words, pray to God to save us from God. I think this can become a bit of a mind game.
I recently visited my Dad in Melbourne, Florida, and noticed, when going to church with him, that people pray for God to protect them from hurricanes. I live in El Paso, Texas. I have never prayed to be kept safe from a hurricane. Of course, in general, El Paso never gets hurricanes and that is why we don’t pray to be protected from them. And we do not generally pray for those folks in Melbourne either, who really ought to move somewhere else if they want to be protected from a hurricane, because to my thinking, God is sending the hurricanes and I am not sure which part of God is going to protect someone from the other part of God. Or am I missing something?
I would like to get back to Amanda. She is wild. It is beautiful. She is beautifully wild. She has lots of order too; we adults have been working on her, breaking the chaos out of her, breaking God out of her. A sociologist would say we have been socializing her. Hopefully, she heals from her abandoned orphaned past and I really mean that, but there is something in her that I do not want her to lose. It is God, it is wild, it is chaotic, and it gives me the finger. God gave me the finger today, and it was beautiful! It hurt at first, but then I smiled. She’s wild, like me, wild, without order, chaotic, a tropical non-paradise!
Jean Boucher, a border educator and former mechanical engineer, lives in Tucson. Having lived on the margins in both Mexico and Brazil, he likes to write it as he sees it and is hoping we can get God out of our box. Jean has his MA degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and is adjunct faculty at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio.