Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.-Numbers 20:17
We had just sat down for dinner. We hadn’t seen our friend for a while and finally, after several unsuccessful attempts, we could have a quiet evening together. As usual, our conversation led to our encounters with the children in the streets. Our friend has always been interested in our work. She considers herself an agnostic for the time being. She hasn’t quite found her spiritual home yet. However, this does not hinder us from speaking freely with her about our religious experience. We often share the spiritual lessons that we believe God is teaching us through the children. We don’t do this to do this as an attempt to evangelize her. She is aware of this. In reality, it has never been an issue. She is free to talk about her doubts and spirituality in the same manner with us. We speak so frequently about the children and teens that she even knows the children and teens by name, even though she has never met any of them. We were about to share an incident with Alex when all the sudden we heard loud and rowdy noises coming from the streets below. It sounded like our street was being invaded by a mob. The city has been in a turmoil for the past few days. There has been a sudden change of government recently. Many consider it to be a coup and they tried to legitimize it by impeaching the present president. Everything was made official on this day. The president was legally impeached. The whole procedure happened in such a dubious way that it has made people question the authenticity of Brazilian democracy. The people have taken to the streets to reclaim the whole democratic process. People of all ages shouting their chants of discontent. In the streets their voices interrupted our meal and talk. Being the curious beings that we are, we left our dinner table to see the commotion in the streets from our window. Then we heard the gunshots.
The police were heavily armed and they were shooting rubber bullets at the protesters. We heard bombs of tear gas being fired. We were quite surprised that they were doing this in our residential area. The protesters became disoriented and started running away to escape the stinging affect of the bomb. We felt strange watching this from a safe place in our apartment. Maybe we should be down below with them. These people were protesting against a grave injustice. It was partisan politics at worse. The protest was not in favor of the president: very few people thought that she was doing a good job. However, I have to resort to a cliché and say that “two wrongs do not make a right”. The democratic process needed to be respected. This protest was a call for re-election. We watched this drama of violence and politics unfold from the comfort of our living room window. The police successfully dispersed the crowd. The excitement slowly died down but the sirens and helicopters continued to haunt our neighborhood. We had to shut all the windows before we went back to our meal which was slightly cold by now. Thankfully, I prepared something that would be good at room temperature as well. No reheating was necessary. We could just sit and resume our conversation about Alex. It was really about his pet dog. It seemed like trivial subject compared to what we had just seen.
A few days ago, we saw Alex sitting alone at the steps of the cathedral. He has been spending more time with us. He was never seen without his little puppy, Princess. She was about three months old. We were really impressed by the way he had been taking of her. He had proved himself to be a very conscientious pet owner. He took her to the vet to get her shots. He used a large part of his money which he gets from begging to buy her the best dog food for puppies. This was good thing because he had less money to buy paint thinner. He carried her around wrapped in a blanket so that the cold winter breeze would not bother her. It was quite a delight watching him take care of his pet. Therefore, he was without her on this day. We sat down and waited for him to approach us which he did almost immediately. He was visibly upset. He told us that someone had stolen Princess. We could see that he wanted to cry but he held himself back. He sat in a silence for a while. Then he turned around and told us that it happened at night when he was in a deep sleep. He returned to his pensive mood. We sat there with him in silence. Finally he looked up and asked if I could go with him to help him look for the dog. He thought that there might be a possibility that it might been wondering around in the area where they usually slept. The children sleep under a highway tunnel. In order to get there, we have to cross two busy and dangerous roads. Alex wanted me to go with him. He could have done this on his own but he did not want to be alone today. I said that I would go and we set off together.
As we were walking to this place, Alex muttered a prayer which he kept repeating until we got to the place. He was pleading to God to keep his puppy safe and sound and he wanted to her back. It was a heart breaking prayer. Unfortunately, I felt almost certain that his dog was not going to be there. Nevertheless, we searched high and low and never found it. Eventually we gave up and walked slowly back to the cathedral. Alex was silent. I could see the disappointment and hopelessness in his eyes. I wanted to say something to comfort him but nothing came to my mind. I just walked beside him in silence. I put my arm around him and he just kept quiet. He did not stay long at the steps. He was too distraught. He went away and we did not see him after this for at least two days.
The President’s impeachment and Alex’s new lost puppy are the two events that happened this past week. The media covered the former and it was in everybody’s mind including us. On the other hand, Alex’s crisis was not newsworthy. It is an incident that only we knew about and now our friend knows as well. Alex’s world is simpler than the president’s. He has very little to give him pleasure in this life. His puppy brought him some joy and meaning. Now, it is gone. Alex has only drugs and nothing else. The president, on the other hand, might have felt humiliated and betrayed. She lost the chance to run a large nation. However, the truth is that she hasn’t lost much. She never had the power to begin with. She did not lose anything except her pride. She still has many things intact. The fact that there are thousands of people protesting around the nation is a sign of her wealth (I am using this in the broad sense). Maybe more people are expressing their support for her now than when she was actually the president. She may have lost her executive powers but she is not poor and forgotten. Alex, on the hand, remains forgotten and unknown. Losing a tiny puppy has made him poorer than before. It wasn’t just about a puppy. It was about being alone in this world. For a brief moment, Alex believed that there was a warm living thing that would be with him in the streets every single moment of his life. This dream was shattered. The dog was stolen from someone who barely had anything. The media will never report this tragic story. It operates on a different political realm where only the rich and famous matter. Our political realm includes people like Alex, the lonely and forgotten. This is why we are not in the protest. We did not want the political climate of this or any country to distract us from walking on the King’s Highway. We shall not turn to the left nor the right but keep our focus on the road to His Kingdom. Alex is our guide to keep us on this road.
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.- John 18:36
I feel like I should make something clear at this point. I do not intend to say that Christians should not be involved in political life of the country or even participate in protests and boycotts against injustice or the ruling party. I am not saying that they should either. The Holy Spirit is present in each one to guide us in our political involvement. We should not define political action in the restrictive manner of this world. We are not apolitical. We are very active politically but not according to the standards of this world. We walk in a different political highway.
We love this city. We love it despite of its pollution and traffic and lack of nature. However, we always need to be clear of who we are in this world. The crime and violence does not impede us from participating in its community life. Our friends consider us as “Paulistanos” (name given to those born in this city) at heart. We are proud of this. However, we are here because we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is present and real here. Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers come and go. They make promises that they cannot keep and most of them are not necessarily dishonest people. They believe like Pilate when he thought that he had the authority to decide on the outcome of Jesus’ life. The answer is always the same. They have no power except for what is given to them by God. Some people put their faith in them because they have no other choice. However, Christians are aware of a greater and eternal Kingdom. Our vocation is to be politicians of this Kingdom but we don’t take our cue from the politicians of this world. Unlike them, we don’t believe that it is up to us to materialize the Kingdom of God. It is not our prerogative to do this. It is already here present and active because the King of Kings is present through the Holy Spirit in this world. Our vocation is walk in this world as the Light of the gospel. This Light is to guide all peoples to walk in the highway that reveals the Kingdom of God. We don’t make God’s reality happen in this world. We are called to recognize its presence in this world.
I am saddened by the President’s impeachment. She is a human being and no one deserves to be humiliated publicly in this manner. However, I am not going to the streets because of this. We will go the streets everyday to protest against abandonment and isolation. We don’t need to carry signs. We don’t need to chant slogans. We don’t need the media or any public attention to achieve our goals. We just sit and wait at the steps of the cathedral. We wait for young children who have lost their treasured four-legged companions and want a parent to be with them in this tough and difficult moment. We wait for the Holy Spirit to bring the ones that are looking for the Kingdom to us. Personally, I have participated in protests against the government before. I ran away from rubber bullets. I suffocated on the fumes of the tear gas. I must admit that it is very frightening and exciting at the same time. It gives me feeling that I am doing something concrete. However, this feeling doesn’t last. In my soul, I know that there is a real and powerful way to make a difference in this world. Being with Alex on this sad day was a most powerful reminder of this. It seems like something trivial and some people might wonder how I say this about looking for a puppy. It wasn’t about the event. It was about the person. Being with Alex changed something in my soul. I can’t quite explain it yet, but it has kept me walking on the King’s Highway and discovering what it means to be a citizen in the Kingdom of God.