Monday, July 24, 2006

The Upside of Primitive

I'm still digging rocks out of my shoes and nursing blisters on my hands from a trip I recently took to Mexico with 11 college students. We participated in a vacation Bible school for Mexican children, poured a concrete floor in a small church (Power and Victory Church in Acuna, Mexico), built a latrine for the church and cleared the land around the church of those pesky mesquite bushes. I feel like a zombie today in large part due to the hard work we did all week, but there is something else gnawing at me like a Mexican street dog on a rare scrap of food.

Everything we did in Mexico was as primitive as it gets. We mixed concrete in the dirt, leveled the floor with a 2x4 and dug the latrine with a pick axe and a large rock-crushing steel wedge. The VBS was nothing special, just a few crafts, some games and a puppet show. It was not even comparable with the mega-entertaining VBS's that many churches pull off for thousands of kids each summer. This thing was dirty, gritty and hot. Most of us clean, suburban parents wouldn't have allowed our kids to attend for fear of dehydration. So, with all the poverty we witnessed, the heat we endured and the dirty little kids we hugged and kissed, this might have been my favorite trip ever. And that's where this thing starts gnawing at me.

Why in the world do we think we have to be so sophisticated to get the most out of life? In our culture we constantly hear that without an education, or money or some level of luxury, we can't really be a part of the "American Dream." Well, if being a part of that dream means that we can't find meaning in the primitive aspect of serving each other, the dream is more like a nightmare. Since when did our culture begin to value the almighty dollar over the kind of riches that can only be found in sweating to the point of dehydration for someone else's benefit? When did we start to place more weight on entrepreneurialism than charity? When did the primitive things that taught us things like hard work, community and helping your neighbor get replaced by the sophisticated things that showed us that the bottom line means more than the least of these, efficiency matters more than the process and rugged individualism is better than community support? How could we have been so stupid as to buy into this junk?

Here's how... after all I've shared with you in the lines above, I'd still rather live in my suburban home, chock full of comfy furniture and amenities, than live in a Mexican hut in a bario community. As long as I/we value comfort over community, we're doomed to sleep in the shallow beds we've made for ourselves. When will we begin to see through all the stuff and get to the heart of the matter, which, for that matter, is the heart. How would our culture look different if we got more primitive and actually cared about things that mattered more than things that materialized? In other words, what would happen if we loved each other more than our stuff? Personally, I think we'd be much better off... or do I? Question: If I really felt that way, why wouldn't I live every day like my trip to Mexico? Answer: Because I'm too comfortable living with things just as they are.

Ever get the feeling life would be much better if we were more primitive?


Katy Smiles said...

This is a great post! I've often wondered something similar - but you put it into great clarity - - we do value comfort, things, time . . . way over relationships.
I lived in Mexico for three years . . and I'll have to say that was the saddest thing for me in leaving - I knew that I was going back to the land where people would value me less over all the things they have.

ryan said...

Hey man-
This is brilliant. I can't tell you how many times this keeps coming up for me - comfort. We value comfort above all things. We share prayer requests for comfort. Everything I do is either comfortable in the doing or is done to produce more comfort in the future. And suffering is seen as the ultimate evil - the thing which we should spend the most money and energy avoiding. In fact, the first lesson in the current Crossroads series is about this very thing. You can see it on the series' blog at (Have to warn you that it's been acting up for me lately though.) said...

we do live the good life, which is why it's good to humble ourselves and work as servants to remind ourselves that of those less fortunate and the blessings we take for granted.

Chad Freeman said...

Comfert dulls the silver that the fire of service refines. But to be blunt, my comfert is the most important thing on my to-do-list every morning. It sits right above my selfishness and lust on my list. And, the truth is, the more time we spend intentionally being uncomfertable, the less time we have for the sins that sit with in our comfertable lives we have built!

Anonymous said...

Just catching up on your blogs. This is the best ever! We're all too comfortable being comfortable. We may not be able to be on a mission trip in Mexico everyday, but we can picture the trip in our minds--that is, if we're not already too comfortable for the day.