Jan 12, 2007
Pirates of the Caribbean
Luz Maria and I now have seen "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest" twice: one in the United States with my mother and sister, Deborah, and once in Venezuela with Luz Maria's daughter, Wuendy, and Wuendy's husband, Jesús.
I do not mind having seen the movie twice. I have always enjoyed stories of real or imaginary adventure on the high seas, from Homer's Odyssey to the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Herman Melville to C.S. Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader" -- even Acts 27-28, which although a brief account, remains one of the most gripping accounts ever of shipwreck and survival at sea (Rudyard Kipling thought so, too, since he wrote a short story retelling the story of Paul's voyage to Rome from the ship's captain's point of view). Then there is the life's story of John Newton, writer of "Amazing Grace" and other well-known English hymns. He ran away to sea when he was 11 years old and eventually became the captain of a slave-trading ship. On one memorable voyage, his crew mutinied and left him lashed to the mast of his ship and drifting alone on the open water. He prayed for the first time in many years. A ship appeared in time to rescue him and that was the dramatic beginning of Newton's journey back to faith.
But "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" piqued my interest for three additional reasons.
First, it's fun to see on film places that you have visited in real life -- or at least, places that are similar to those you have seen in real life. From what I know of Venezuela's coast, I can testify that the waters of the Caribbean really are that blue and the tropical sun does shine that brightly.
Second, the movie reminded me of when Dr. David Coles of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, came to Caracas and taught a short course on church history, with an emphasis on Latin American missions. During the period when Protestant missionaries were banned from the region, Reina-Valera Bibles (the Reina-Valera translation is the Soanish equivalent of the King James Bible) and Protestant tracts nevertheless showed up in some places. No one is certain how this happened, but one theory is that real pirates of the Caribbean (many of whom were of Anglican, Huguenot and even Lutheran backgrounds), included Bible smuggling among their clandestine activities. I still find this possibility intriguing.
Third, like the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, this one is a fantasy filled with ghostly sailors, sea monsters, cursed treasure and the like. Its metaphysical musings were interesting, especially this one:
"Life is cruel. Why should the afterlife be any different?"
Interesting because, while phantom ships and magic compasses are imaginary, this way of thinking is as real as the crystal-blue sea and golden sun.
Many North Americans, perhaps most, think all religion is wishful thinking, although in a good way. That is, people will believe in myths and legends that make them feel good about themselves and their world, and if that seems to keep them healthy and happy, what's wrong with that? But here in the sunny Caribbean one encounters a darker reality on a daily basis.
In Venezuela it is a common belief that making a pact with spirit beings, even evil spirits, can bring one worldly wealth and power. A majority of Venezuelans are involved in the practice of witchcraft and divination on at least a casual basis. The more deeply one becomes involved with brujeria (witchcraft) or espiritismo (spiritism), however, the more difficult it becomes to break off the relationship. There are people who are afraid of what they have become involved with, but more afraid of what might happen if they tried to get out. There is the quite physical danger of assault on themselves and their families. There are other risks, that whlle quite real have less tangible causes. Psychiatric wards in Venezuela are full of people with problems that stem from their involvement with brujeria and espiritismo, and the drug use that often accompanies brujeria and espiritismo.
Some time ago I read a story in the Barinas newspaper about two infants from different families stolen almost literally from under their parents' noses. One baby was taken in the street and the other, a newborn, from its hospital bed. Those I asked about this story matter-of-factly told me it most likely a professional job and the children had been taken to be sold. The most lucrative buyer would be an illegal adoption ring. Because of the prevalence of contraception and abortion in North America, there are never enough healthy babies to supply all the childless couples who want to adopt. So a black market in babies from Latin America, where birth rates are still high, has developed.
But if the illegal adoption rings wouldn't take them, the children would be sold to one of the cults that practice human sacrifice in order to curry favor with powerful spirits. I do not know whether to completely believe this. I know I really do not want to believe it. But it is all too consistent with a "spirituality" based on an awareness that there is a dimension of life that defies naturalistic explanations, but is based on fear, lust and greed rather than faith, hope and love. It is truly spiritual bondage and a primary reason for mission work here.
Last night I listened to my friend Edgar Coronado lament that so many of his fellow Venezuelans are caught up in this darkness and do not know the light of Christ. Luz Maria and I have been in Caracas this past week, attending an intensive course in systematic theology taught by José Pfaffenzeller, director of Concordia Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I have found the study of systematic theology to be intellectually stimulating since the days when as a small boy I would slip into my father's study to read Franz Pieper's "Christian Dogmatics." However, the discussion really livened up when we got to the topic of fallen angels and the possibility of demonic activity in today's world. Nearly every Venezuelan present was able to relate experiences which were...let's just say uncanny.
Sometimes you hear certain Bible verses read and explained just when needed. At this time of year and in this place I especially recall the first New Year's sermon I heard in the 21st Century, preached by Pastor Phil Bickel at St. Michael's Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Minnesota. It was based on Revelation 22, verse 16:
"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
"Root and descendant of David" of course is a reference to the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. While the implication of the title, "bright morning star" is less clear, once explained, as it was in Pastor Bickel's sermon, it is most comforting to us in our situation. For in the Greco-Roman world, the morning star was called "the light-bearer" or, in Latin, Lucifer. There are two who claim the title "light-bearer" and in this verse Jesus spells out for us who is the real one.
Likewise, in 2 Corinthians 4:4, Satan is called "the god of this world" or "the god of this age", depending on your translation, and in Ephesians 6:12 it is written:
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
But we are promised the victory. The gates of hell will not stand.
We return to La Caramuca tomorrow. Luz Maria's daughters, Yepci and Charli, have been assuming more and more responsibility for the preschool and Sunday school, allowing us time for some travel. But it will be good to see the children again.