Thursday, March 26, 2009

Abortion and the Catholic Church. Almost a year ago I published a post on here in which I expressed my horror at the story of Joseph Fritzl, the Austrian man who imprisoned and raped his own daughter. That case is back round again with Mr Fritzl in court for his crimes. Another recent story caught my attention which has left me similarly aghast, but its closer to us here in Brazil. Maybe, you heard about it. It's the story of the 9 year old girl, pregnant with twins, who was allegedly raped by her stepfather. The girl and her family live in Rachel's home state (Pernambuco) and the aftermath of her abortion - supposedly, on twins in the womb - has caused a furore here and abroad. The controvesy? The Catholic church excommunicated the doctors who performed an abortion on her, in spite of the fact that the girl's fragile frame would not have withstood the pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in Brazil, but it is permitted if there is significant risk to the mother - as there was in this situation. To this, the Catholic line was that she have a c-section, but the babies should live. The Catholic church did not excommunicate the man alleged to have raped her.

I've just read in Veja magazine an interview with the Bishop of Recife who announced the Catholic church's position - that the Doctors and mother, as those who approved and carried out the abortions, should be excommunicated. It is extremely revealing to me - not only on how the Catholic church functions as regards to its laws, but also how the official position is now at odds with the majority of Catholics in the country.

Here are a few pointers from his interview that I found interesting. What this case represents is very much a clash of two worldviews and the Bishop articulates this stating early on that God's law must come first and that the life of an unborn child has as much value as a grown human adult. As it happens, the Catholic church excommunicates people for nine different reasons, but rape is not included in the list. Abortion is included because it is considered to be wilful murder against an innocent. The Bishop goes onto explain some of the other 8 possible reasons for excommunication - physical harm to the Pope, apostasy and desecrating the bread and wine. In other words, excommunication can occur for (to a non-believer) seemingly trivial things while other crimes, so heinous, "appear" to go unpunished by the church.

In a small way, I have grudging respect for the Bishop. He is caught between a rock and a hard place and he is simply the mouthpiece for church law - it was not, per se, actually his own decision, rather the decision of Rome. Also, as I am a Christian who is often misunderstood by people who have no faith and as someone who has made and continues to make seemingly odd decisions based on my beliefs that there is a God and we can know what he wants us to do based on the Holy Sprit and the Bible, I relate to the Bishop and his quandary. He is, in his way, trying to do the right thing. Through the prism of Catholic law and in such a context as this inflammatory story, his words seem calaous and harsh. I can also see in a him a genuine desire to stop abortion (and rape and murder) - as he recounts several "positive" stories of mothers being talked out of potenitally reckless (and illegal) abortions by Catholic Doctors.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that my critique would not be against him as a person. (Veja opens the article by saying that there are those who base their lives on the "Doctrine of Love" and others who live out their lives because of the "Love of Doctrine" - the Bishop being an example of the latter). Rather, I think, it would have to be against Catholic doctrine which elevates certain acts into an untouchable territory liable for excommunication. For me, this contradicts biblical teaching which suggests every sinful act is an abomination to God - be it, on the one hand, a seemingly insignificant "white lie" or, on the hand, a Joseph Fritzl-style lifetime of abhorant acts. Therefore, we all stand accused. But the Christian message is that absolutely anyone can claim forgiveness through Jesus Christ, regardless of their past transgressions. In this sense, none of us can ever be "excommunicated" - Jesus accepts all of us in spite of our position vis-a-vis any established church. My prayer is that everyone in this story - be it those in or out of the Catholic church will come to realise this.

One final note to show what this case means for Brazilian society. The editorial of the Veja issue concluded by saying how thankful it was the church was seperated from the state so that Catholic law was not punishable through state channels. Likewise, the Minister for Health roundly criticized the church's position as being impractical in real life and out of touch with modern society. And one letter from a reader caught my attention. It said: "I cannot believe the Catholic church has taken a decision out of the middle ages. Is it any wonder the protestant churches are growing in this country like a plague?"

POST-SCRIPT: I should say, that I consider myself to be very much "pro-life" in my beliefs, but that being "pro-life" includes honouring the lives of all involved including the little girl as well as the unborn children. Therefore, in this extreme case - in which a young girl is unwittingly pregnant at an age in which she lacks the maturity and even physical development to care for children, and with the health risks involved, I would say that the decision to take an abortion is at the very least understandable. The question is, if I was a Catholic clergyman - would I be able to say that? And if so, would I lose my job?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things I love about Brazil #42: Fuscas / VW Beetles. VW built many of their famous cars in Brazil, and I've realised many Brazilians have a love affair with the little vehicles. For many poorer people, or for students or those buying their first car, a used but reliable "Fusca" or Beetle is your best bet. And then, if you're so inclined, join a society of Fusca owners and paint your car interesting colours (see above), add stickers, oversized tyres and generally "pimp" it. That top car has a sticker on it claiming a 4x4 gearbox. Yeah, right.
Nelson loves "Fuscinhas" mainly due to his fascination with the Herbie films, especially the most recent one.. People have been kind enough to buy him toy VW Beetles which he treasures and he has also taken some of his favourite toy cars to his own personal workshop (ie his Dad) in order to modify and personalise them, just like the real owners of Fusca's do - often with stickers of numbers front, back and sides just like the Disney film model. For his 3rd birthday which he will celebrate in June, why not a Herbie themed party? The only problem: we can't seem to find any of the merchandise/posters/stickers anywhere! Unusual for a Disney franchise, that.

Anyway, Nelson's day was completely made a couple of weeks ago when Teacher Dyego from the language school came over for lunch with his girlfriend. And what should they drive in? Dyego's brand new (for him - but the car is from 1983) metallic green VW Beetle with rims and purple-tinted windows. Nelson and his Dad drew a picture of the car. Can you guess which one it is from the pictures above? Dyego even drove a stunned Nelson round the block in it. Nelson's only comment - "this Fusca makes a lot of bumps!" - a product of sitting in the back seat which is pretty much on top of the engine. So, that's another milestone achieved in my son's short life: first ride in a Fusca.

LANGUAGE NOTE: All this talk of VW's reminds me of something I heard recently. My father-in-law, never one to switch off from the business of teaching English likes noticing how English is creeping into the Portuguese language. And, have you seen the futuristic film Code 46, in which the language of the future is an amalgam of English with several other languages? Well, this is already occurring in Brazil and Steve spotted it. A sentence above a garage which drew on THREE languages: "Faça o check-up no seu Volkswagen aqui".
The Mummy's Club. Rach has started with the help of people from church a playgroup for Mum's on Saturday mornings. Rachel modelled it on "Rainbow Club" - a similar and successful group from St.Mikes in York. It's interesting that this kind of thing isn't done more in Brazil but it seems as if young mothers generally turn to family for advice and support - and then there is the Brazilian suspicion and mistrust of strangers which creates a barrier for Mum's who are understndably reluctant to let unknown people near their kids. But, its slowly picking up and Rach hopes that it will find a niche in the market for young Mums who don't have so many family or friends nearby. There's been a lot of positive support and even an invitation for Rach to go on a TV chat show about it.

GMAIL NOTE: Rach set up a Gmail account for The Mummy's Club but they've recently stopped her sending out group emails because they think it's spam! Rach is a bit grumpy about this and our attempts to contact Google haven't been too successful. Anyone had this problem?

Pictures. Slowly rotating in the sidepanel are some pictures from a recent Mummy's Club.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cousin Daniel arrives. Just got a call from Rach at the airport. Dan is here! Woohoo!

Things I miss about England #42: CDs on magazines. if you want new music in Natal, you download it illegally or you go the guy with the wagon on the beach and you ask him to download it illegally. Cousin Dan could well be bringing me some music mags from the UK with CDs on the front - for many years, this was my way to hear new, legal, good music. Maybe, I'm just a traditionalist, but...

Amusing uses of English. Just been marking more tests. From some tests about parts of the body and ailments... Students had to fill in gaps with the correct words and sometimes the first letter was given as a clue. Expected answers were, of course, blowing/fainted/fainted/throat.

When you have a cold you spend a long time chewing your nose.

I was on the train and lost consciousness. I failed.

I was on the train and lost consciousness. I falled over [sic].

I have a sore toe - it hurts when I laugh.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Life rumbles on. Time is flying by and lots is happening. My cousin Dan is coming out to visit (hurrah!). Gloria got ill again but now is better (hooray!).

I'm keeping busy with my classes and students - one of whom is the state's most important plastic surgeon. With a Dutch name, oriental appearance and Brazilian passport he's already an extraordinary guy, but at the age of 40 he is 5 years short of being able to retire for good. His plan for his retirement is to stay at home (he lives alone), read books and watch films. I'm not entirely sure why he is even learning English, but we're happy to teach him for the money he pays us.

Also, I've started turning the cogs on the machine that will be our move back to England. I've signed up for numerous job sites, freshened up my CV. But, and we're going to really have to trust God on this one as we believe it is Him who is asking us to return, the situation in London isn't so good. Some of the organisations I've wanted to work for have frozen their recruitment in wake of the economic crisis. I got an email today from a great little charity which do education work with children of war torn countries (right up my street!) saying that a job prospect I showed interest in has been withdrawn for the very same reason. Rach's bro and sis are there already but have struggled to get permanent work. We sure have picked a humdinger of a year to return to the UK, but we have faith something will work out. As I keep saying: "we'll build the ark, and God can make it float".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Are these toys really a good idea? Nelson with enough "instruments" (as given by hs great Uncle Andy) to drown out a real orchestra.
Things I miss about England #2: family. It goes without saying, really... we're making our plans to move back to the UK and being close to Mum and Dad, to my cousins and Uncles and Aunts is a fantastic boon to our inklings to leave Brazil. In terms of having my family to visit us here, we've been blessed to have Mum and Dad and, all being well, cousin Dan should be joining us making him the first cousin to make it to Brazil to see us.

Things I love about Brazil #2: family. Rachel's family are wonderful and I've enjoyed getting to know them more and more over our two and a half years here. Rach's folks are a constant source of generosity and encouragement as well as numerous cousins, Uncles and Aunts too numerous to mention individually.

However, two stories that occurred across the Carnaval period really brought a smile to my face and made me grateful for such a joyful and well-meaning bunch of people I get to call my in-laws.

The first was down at Muro Alto (High Wall) where Rach's folks have recently procured a beach house. Lots of family were knocking around including Alvaro (Rach's Uncle) who taught us how to fly a kite, Aurora and family (who were based at their beach house walking distance away) as well as Laulau, Rach's granny. At one point, Rachel and Nelson and the girls found a large snail on the lawn. For quite some time they observed the chap sliming his way over some grass. When Laulau turned up she scolded everyone for playing with the "poisonous" creature. Before anyone could stop her or explain that nobody was about to touch the thing, Laulau had booted the offending critter into the nearest bush. Of course, there was no coaxing him out of his shell after that and three generations of Laulau's progeny (daughter, 2xgranddaughters and 1xgreat grandson) gave her a proper ticking off for spoiling their fun. I chuckled from a safe distance away!

And then, just 10 days ago we were down in Joao Pessoa for Rach's cousins 7th birthday. Melissa and her little brother Johnny (Johnny Pequeno as Nelson calls him) are some of our favourite extended family to visit as our kids love being around them. Anyway, just as the party was in full swing, and Nelson seemed to be a bit under the weather for some reason, who should roll up but Rach's Dad's brother Andy with his family in tow. Andy sat next to Nelson and pulled out a plastic bag claiming there was a present in it for Nelson. (Odd, I thought, as it isn't technically HIS birthday). But, there was. And the first item was a rattle. Like one of those you see kids using in football matches from the 1960s. One twizzle of that thing and the whole party was brought to a grinding hault, all heads turned to our corner by the deafening sound. Oblivious to this, Andy pulled out his second gift for Nelson - a bird whistle. Then 5 minutes later, a toy horn, and then one or two other noise-inducing items including something that made a piercing beep. Why, I thought to myself, would anyone possibly want to give a nearly-3 year old such ear-splittingly annoying toys? The answer, of course: but that's what kids want! Nelson, of course, was happily entertained creating a sizeable din. I'm constantly amazed by Rach and her family in how they prioritise the enjoyment of the kids above their own comfort (Tio Andy's presents being a case in point). This is, of course, a Brazilian trait but it's a good one. Victorian Britain may have given us all from the UK a sense that "kids should be seen and not heard" but Brazilians seem to hold the view that "kids should be both seen and heard".

However, my Englishness got the better of me as we got in the car for the 3 hour journey home. It was getting dark, it was raining and I didn't want any distractions as I drove. Andy's bag of tricks was stowed away deep in the back of the boot.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


M is for music. My mother has very strong opinions about what makes good music or not, especially at Christmas time when well-sung carols should be the order of the day. Unfortunately, there weren't too many examples of well-sing anythings during their time in the UK, with the possible exception of Pastor Gerson's church whose power-house worship group were probably heard by (and probably overpowered) Hillsong, Australia. Also, a 5-piece Baptist church group put on a special concert which we all attended too. That was well done.

N is for Nelson. Rach's brother has moved over to the UK. All of us went to the airport to see him off, just after Christmas.

O is for Orphanage. We took Mum and Dad to visit the orphanage briefly where we help out sometimes.

P is for Pipa (meaning "kite" in Portuguese). The beautiful seaside town, an hour south of Natal. We stayed in a chalet as part of a new development and pretty much had the place, and the enormous pool that came with it, to ourselves. Sunday morning, watching the wild parrots in the trees as we prayed and read and slouched on hammocks will be an enduring memory...

Q is for Quiet. That is to say, not much of...

R is for Rummikub. A good way to while away an evening.

S is for Scrabble. Another good way to while away an evening. Mum and Dad's travel edition was never far from hand.

T is for Table Tennis. And another good way to relax. Dad proved to be surprisingly adept around the table despite his many years, beating his son more times than he lost. (T is also for Tennis, played against Pastor Gerson and his friends one morning. Sadly, the Maclures slumped to defeat in that match-up).

U is for unexpected and unplanned. A large majority of what we did fell into these categories.

V is for Variety. As Mum noted toward the end of our stay - we certainly managed to do a host of different things: from the giant puppet fair to sitting next to a poorly baby in hospital, from seeing the city of Natal from the top of Marcelo and Veronica's skyscraper to swimming in the Lagoon near Genipabu, we crammed a lot in...

W is for wedding anniversary - for Rachel and I, it was our fifth on December 27th.

X is for caiXa. Mum and Dad, very helpfully, managed to bring a new car seat for Nelson from the states. It arrived in a huge box (caixa in Portuguese) which was a bit worse for wear by the time it got to Natal. Fortunately, its contents were in good nick and Nelson enjoyed the pleasures of a slightly more grown up seat (with cup holder).

Y is for youth group. Dad spoke to a crew of 90 young people all fired up to do a mission trip. Rachel translated and the whole experience seemed to be a real encouragement to everyone.

Z is for ZZzzzz. Sleep. We managed to get some in, and we hope Mum and Dad did too, getting the rest they deserved.

...and that concludes the A-Z of adventures with Mum and Dad. God was good to us to give us such an unforgettable time together as a family.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Time is at a premium or why I'm not blogging as much as I'd like. For the first time since starting this blog, I can honestly say I am just not finding the time to update like I'd like. The main reason lately has been that I'm focussing in on taking the government Portuguese exam for foreigners, called CELPE-Bras. The test is in April and I recently bought a fantastic new book which is 400 pages long. It tests all the skills, is very accessible and uses authentic matieral - its easily the best textbook of Brazilian Portuguese I've seen so far. So, any spare moment I'm slogging through that to try and prepare for the test. On top of that, my dear wife is turning her hand to more internet based projects - including our very own Britain Brasil Bridge, an idea (which presently exists only as a group on facebook) to unite Christians (but not exclusively) whose lives are somehow caught between the wonderful countries of Great Britain and Brazil. More on that in another post. Rach is also pioneering several other projects in her capacity as a Mum, at least one of which will involve a blog of sorts.

dılɟ/ɯoɔ˙pɐɟʌǝɹ˙ʍʍʍ//:dʇʇɥ :ǝɹǝɥ ɟlǝsɹnoʎ ʇı ʎɹʇ˙˙˙ʇuoɹɟ oʇ ʞɔɐq puɐ uʍop ǝpısdn ǝʇoɹʍ ı ɟı ƃolq ʎɯ ƃuıpɐǝɹ dǝǝʞ plnoʍ ǝldoǝd ʎuɐɯ ʍoɥ ɹǝpuoʍ ı ˙unɟ ɟo puıʞ sʇı ˙ʞooqǝɔɐɟ oʇ sʞuɐɥʇ ʎɐpoʇ sıɥʇ pǝɹǝʌoɔsıp