Demons rip creation where humans forget their calling

Thus says the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth: They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain. ISAIAH 11:9A

Martìn wanders up and over the hill as the sun sets into the mountains across the way. In a shimmering golden light he walks, switching his stick and calling to his cows, chasing them through the corn. In Canada he might have been institutionalized, or counted as nothing, but here he has a job, and a place. All week long, he has been coming and going with his cows. He was somewhat amazed at seeing a dozen strangers wielding hammers and saws next to the waist-high corn field, but right away he let us know we were welcome in his circle. As I watch him, and hear him call, my heart fills with love, for him, for his skinny brown and black cows, for the whole green valley that slopes down into the stream below. And my heart fills with fury and grief and with a rich and ferocious determination to stand before the monster that, unbeknownst to Martin, is hovering, is threatening, is right-this-minute grinding up these mountains and hills. The monster is there, over the next hill – we can’t see it during the day, but at night it glows and a weird yellow light leaks into the sky.

They sell the righteous for silver, and he needy for a pair of sandals – they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way. AMOS 2:6B

I am watching the sinking of the sun into the Sipakapan hills, in the western highlands of Guatemala. The rest of my youth group has gone into the community leader’s house, tired from a long week’s work. Somehow, with little skill but great energy we have hammered and nailed together a modest processing facility which will begin the community’s development of high-quality export organic and fair trade coffee. They threw a wonderful huge party to celebrate the project completion (15 chickens went to meet their maker earlier this morning), but I stand here alone and quiet now, in awe, and in deep shame.

We are not loved in Sipakapa. When presenting us and our project, community leaders must preface it by saying, “Not all Canadians are here to destroy our land.” Throughout our almost two weeks here in Guatemala, in churches, with youth, with women’s and environmental groups, this is my declaration: “Guatemalans, forgive us. Forgive us for our total ignorance, our abandonment and outright greed. Forgive us for what we are doing to your land.”

Ah you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statues, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right. ISAIAH 10:1-2A

In our name, with the firm blessing of the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala, Vancouver-based Goldcorp company is plowing through the region, wreaking havoc and leaving behind waste. Resource-extraction laws in Guatemala were re-written to favour foreign companies in the late ’90s (in preparation for the Free Trade agreements in the Americas, which always make the rich richer and the poorer yet more desperate). Mining profits are divided: 99 percent goes to Goldcorp and a meager one percent stays within the hands of the Guatemalan State. Who signed that deal?

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land. AMOS 8:4

In November, 2005, operations began at Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine – despite the demonstrated resistance of neighbours in the Sipakapan area (who voted in 11 out of 13 communities to reject the mine) and the strong opposition of the local Roman Catholic Church. The mining process includes the use of cyanide-leaching, and produces an incredible amount of toxic waste. Mining also consumes a torrential amount of water, already desperately scarce in the region. As we toured the area around the mine, we saw dusty, broken-down houses with walls cracked by the explosions in the mountain. We saw the eerie green of the cyanide-waste pool. We saw no schools, health centers, soccer fields or other goodies promised by the company. No one we met had been able to get a job in the mine. Three times we visited the mining office and requested to speak with officials from the company, and to visit the mine. They never got back to us. Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, Mr. Ian Telfer, (president and CEO from March 2005 to November 2006, now chairman of the board) had a take-home salary of $23.6 million in 2006.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. JAMES 5:1-3A

I was curled up in a ball in a safe corner of a friend’s blue sofa, when he asked me if I believed in the Devil. “Oh yes,” I said, without a second’s hesitation, “because I’ve known him.” The Devil is not a horned beast, goat-footed and sulfurous. Rather, as biblical scholar Walter Wink has expressed, demons are “the actual spirituality of systems and structures that have betrayed their divine vocations.” Demons emerge, and rip creation to shreds, wherever humans have forgotten our divine calling to love and cherish all life above all else.

I know these demons. I have given my life over to engaging them. Since 1984 I have walked with the people of Guatemala, as they have confronted genocide and devastating poverty, while the filthy rich, the blind and heart-scarred few, gorge and dance in oblivion on the bones of the many dead. Those rich are local Guatemalans, and as always, foreign exploiters. On a return trip a few years ago I was whining because I love being in Guatemala and I would like to live there again. My friend Hurricane Leo, who sounds like a boxer, but is actually Leocadio Juracan, the former coordinator of the Peasant Committee of the Highlands, said, “Emilie, if you really love Guatemala, go home and work for change there.” The problems of the south are directly related to the greed and practice of consumerism that we live in the north. We must stop.

You see, slavery still exists. It is alive and well, it’s just that we’ve pushed it far enough out of sight so that we don’t have to confront it daily. But, have no doubt about it, our t-shirts, dinner plates, and tooth brushes – delivered by the container-full – our cheap gold necklaces and wedding bands, are all made by slaves while the earth lies dying. Our job, as those in the north and the west, is to wake up and to resist, to create links of love and friendship with others in far corners, all working to preserve the earth, her creatures, and the fragile communities that have built networks of dependence on one another and on right living.

Our goal as Christians must be to stand as witnesses to what the God of Life came to earth to teach us: to sacrifice wealth and comfort, and to build real alternatives to exploitation with communities like Sipakapa. It is our job to say that what is being done in the name of “Canadians” is not okay by us. Martin and his cows are more important than Mr. Telfer and his share holders. Corn is worth more than silver. Life is worth more than gold.

Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. JAMES 5:4-6

The Reverend Mother Emilie Smith is an Anglo-Catholic priest at the parish of St. James in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Her most scary monster is greed.

Issue 7

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 7, Fall 2007, Monsters in Our Midst.

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Issue 7, Fall 2007

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