What Mauritians Can Teach Us

Marceline has a large, but very old stone in her kitchen. It’s from her grandmother, who got it from her mother – so it has been passed down through many generations. With this stone and its accompanying stone roller she can quickly grind spices, grains, even make tomato sauce as you can see in the picture. What you can’t see is that this stone is right next to the microwave! It’s an interesting accommodation of old and new.

Mauritians know well the strategy of accommodation. With four main population groups – none more than 50% of the population – they have learned to accommodate each other in order to exist peacefully on their small island.

How do they do this you might ask? To begin with, many Mauritians speak most of the languages of each of these four ethnic groups (Hindi with Tamil, Creole, French and English). Our hosts spoke all four languages at home and we observed this was true of neighbors, teachers, store employees, bus drivers and others. To know the language of another is to have some understanding of their worldview and perspective. It takes effort to learn another’s language which says that they are important and worth understanding. But learning four languages? This is normal for many Mauritians and says something about the importance of being able to understand and engage with those from different cultural backgrounds.

Their governmental system also works to accommodate. When candidates are voted into office – if one minority group has no candidates who gain enough votes for office a designated number of “best losers” from that group are automatically given seats. In this way each group is assured of representation in their parliament. It was also interesting to watch on TV as legislators in the parliament spoke English if they wanted to be efficient and concise. They switched to French if they were making and emotional or impassioned plea, but then used Creole to be emphatic. Everyone understood.

Mauritius is geographically about the size of Hennepin County with about the same population – yet Mauritius provides free health care and education for all of its citizens – something we have yet to accomplish in the U.S. Mauritius insists on accommodating each and every citizen with the basic human rights of health care and education.

Even navigating narrow neighborhood streets, Mauritians rarely use their horns, except with a light tap on the horn to say “I’m right behind you.” Drivers allow other drivers the right of way. Accommodation.

Where we stayed, in the area of Rose Hill, we noticed something wonderful – within our immediate neighborhood we heard the large bells from St. Anne’s Church on the corner, the ringing of many small bells from the Hindu Temple on the next street and the call to prayer from the Mosque down the way. In Rose Hill, people of different cultural backgrounds share the same neighborhood, they don’t live in separate neighborhoods or enclaves. While they speak their own languages and maintain their own cultural and religious traditions, at the same time they also share a neighborhood together and know each other as neighbors and friends.

Relationships are not perfect. Racism and discrimination exist, but Mauritians have learned to embrace diversity in ways that the rest of the world has yet to learn.

Below is a picture of our friend Chris. He is a dedicated science teacher, an inventor, great cook and a musician. He and his family extended wonderful hospitality to us throughout our trip – welcoming visitors who were different and embracing diversity. Yet one more way accommodating.

Going forward, it is not enough to simply tolerate differences or to merely coexist. Our survival as a species and as a planet depends upon our ability to embrace and seek out diversity. Mauritians offer this critical skill to the world.

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Grand Bassin Deities

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While visiting Mauritius, we spent an afternoon at Grand Bassin. This is a sacred space for Hindus including its beautiful Crater Lake. It is most recognized for its the bigger-than-life statues at the entrance to Grand Bassin, as you can see the picture above. It is a place that is sacred but also deeply spiritual. A peace and calm pervades the setting.

Raj and Mira were our escorts and our guides for our visit there. They are Hindu and explained for us that Hinduism isn’t merely a collection of beliefs, rather it is a value system and a lifestyle. The shrines and statues in Grand Bassin depict the many aspects of God. There are many images or faces of God in Hinduism.

This visit sparked my interest to delve more deeply into Hinduism and learn more. Each religious tradition has so much to teach us.

We enjoyed the natural beauty of the lake, the memorable shrines and statues, learning more about Hinduism from our friends – and of course the monkey!

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Theology and Consumerism

Photo DesktopNexus.com

Photo DesktopNexus.com

I’ve not posted too much lately because I was asked to teach a J-Term class at the university where I work (think one month, January, fifteen weeks crammed into 18 days!). The course was on theology and consumerism. “What’s the connection?” you might ask. Well . . . everything. How we see God – loving, compassionate and present within each person, for example – influences how we make decisions regarding everything we buy or whether we buy anything at all.

For Christians (and others too) we believe there is an inherent responsibility to consume less in order to relieve the stresses caused by carbon and waste to our planet. There is concern for the 23 million human beings enslaved worldwide to produce cheap goods for industrialized countries. I live in an urban area (Twin Cities) that is sadly one of the centers of human trafficking in this country. Finally, there is a concern about the inhumane treatment given to many of the animals we consume.

In many ways this seems too overwhelming to consider. And yet we have a moral responsibility to do exactly that. However, education and changes can be made slowly over time. It’s a process that is on-going. Choosing to live more simply is a great way to start. It is a way to use less, take care with what is actually used and frees time to learn more about what and how we consume.

So this was the topic of the course. The students were engaged, thoughtful and brought excellent suggestions and ideas to their discussions. I am always amazed at how much young adults are already doing to learn more, help others and the earth. They are inspiring for sure! They inspired me most definitely!

How many planets would it take to support your lifestyle? Here is one of the links a student highlighted that calculates what our lifestyle choices mean for our planet. Get started. Click on the map and find out if you should consider living more simply.

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Christmas Postcards From the Future

Photo: thelittlecorner.tumblr

Do we need Christmas postcards from the future? Maybe, because in order to see how things can be different we need a vision to move toward – to live into. What kind of future attracts us? What would attract you?

Christmas celebrates the incarnation of God (the good, joy, truth or beauty) in the world. This means that reality is fundamentally good and attractive to us – and we are a part of this reality. What about the world, then, attracts us?

This attracts me: a world that moves a bit slower, that is a little gentler, that watches out for each of us – no matter who we are.

Another attraction: a world rich in relationships that are mutually nourishing, deep, strong and transparent. This would be true for all kinds of relationships – with people, with institutions, with the environment.

I think postcards from the future arrive all the time – in our imaginations, in our dreams, in our interactions with others, in events in the world around us. But sometimes we aren’t paying attention, or have difficulty reading the postcard. The postcard is on the counter waiting for us, but we haven’t yet picked it up!

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Christmas Present

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These days Christmas for me is less about decorations and buying gifts and more about experiencing the beauty all around us and being with people I love and who love me. As I have moved more into experiencing Christmas, rather than doing the “tasks for Christmas” for others, the season has taken on a different shape. It’s starts earlier and lasts longer. It’s more enjoyable, peaceful and renewing.

This year for example, we participated in a “Biscotti Blitz” early in the month with a group of friends. We had fun making many flavors of biscotti – then passing them on to others, too, to enjoy. We saw a movie and went to the Jewish Community Theater and experienced a play about Hanukkah and racism. Dinner afterward gave space to discuss the ideas presented in the play and appreciate DH’s take on the performance.

Scattered throughout the season I have been going to Taizé. Taizé liturgy has songs styled in repetitive chant often with readings and candles. It is slow. There are long spaces of silence. The church is darkened. It restores my soul. At St. John Neumann, I can gaze out the large expanse of windows behind the altar and watch the snow covered evergreens, glistening in the night.

Christmas Eve brings midnight mass, Christmas music, readings and connecting with friends. Christmas day brings a relaxed late morning gathering with more friends for brunch.

Year end reminds me to give back since I have received so, so much. A candle is lit. Volunteer projects are considered, donations are made. I have enjoyed the practice of tithing for many years now. It keeps me focused on how over privileged I am and how much of what I have rightfully belongs to others.

New Year’s Eve takes us to another group of friends gathering together. Taize continues well into January. Liturgically, the season of Christmas begins Christmas Eve and lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of Christ in January. So much time to celebrate.

And so it goes. What was one day in my life is now expanded to embrace an entire season. Relaxed. Not too much fuss. Space for long walks in the snow, discussion, candle lights and reading by the fireplace.

Photo: GetGreen365.com

Birch logs or scented evergreen boughs and candles complete my decorating. Christmas Present – for me – means being present.

Whatever your tradition, happy holidays to all of you on the other side of this screen. May you receive peace, health and joy in the year to come.

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