In July of this year Mexico elected a new president Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Amongst the many things he directed to the USA he boldly addressed the elephant in the room. “Why can’t the American government and health authorities dissuade the public in the US from taking drugs? End the demand in the US and the war on drugs would be won.” In 2017 in Mexico 29,168 people were killed in drug related violence.
On the day I am writing this, September 20, 2018 I read that this year’s cocaine production in Columbia has reached an all-time high. Also, much to my surprise, the British are now the highest per-head users of cocaine in Europe. Recently drug distribution has extended from the cities into the leafy lanes of the English countryside. This has led to an increase of rural violence and it seems more mid-summer murders are likely.
Through my interest in South America I became aware of the dreadful cost of gold mining in the Amazon basin. The sand beneath the rainforest contains small amounts of gold. In recent years there has been an explosion of illegal mining in countries around the Amazon basin. The mining process goes like this. First the forest is cut down and the soil exposed. Then pits are dug into the sand and pressure hoses turn the sand into mud. Using mercury and cyanide the gold flecks are extracted from the mud. The work is extremely dangerous and many of the miners fall ill because of the chemical they use. What is left is an ugly wasteland of poisoned sand. It is unlikely that anything will grow there for hundreds of years – if ever. The driver of this destruction is the love of pretty things in the developed world of which we are part. These same market forces are behind the search for blood diamonds in Africa.
As I write this I am aware that it is easy for me, a fairly basic man, to say “tut, tut’. I admire these pretty things, but I don’t need them. But what about my computer and my phone? In my world I consider these essentials.
All of our phones and computers need minerals such as tantalum and most of this comes to us from the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). This mineral along with others needed for our industries are mined in hellish conditions, often by children. The proceeds from sales to tech companies have funded most horrific wars and conflicts throughout the region and continue to do so. There is nothing I have read about the slave trade or the exploitation which accompanied the obtaining of spices, gold and silver from previous centuries that is worse than this – worse than what is going on right now! It leads me to think that our love for pretty things and clever devices is so great that we ignore the fact that others die to supply them.
Life is full of contradictions and that’s a fact. And these contradictions are part of all of us.
In a recent conversation with friends, two of them talked of doctor’s visits. They both said their doctor offered them pain relief, when pain was not the reason for their visit. It brought to my mind a social occasion with a circle of friends when an innocent comment shut down the flow of conversation. It was related to the issue of dependence on anti-depressants. Later a friend who was a confidante of some in the room told me she guessed most in that circle were regular users of anti-depressants.
In the US cocaine use has actually declined in recent years. However, the USA is now in the grip of what health authorities name as the Opioid Epidemic. That is, people addicted to prescription drugs, some much stronger than heroin, provided in the first place by Doctors (GP’s). Last year more than 115 people died every day due to accidental misuse of these drugs. This epidemic is not located in the ghettos but spread through middle and upper-class suburbs and it effects people of all ages.
I accept that life can be dull and too much dullness can be deadly. In this reality anything that lifts us above the mundane is attractive. That added lift can come from things that sparkle or clever devices or stimulants. The source of our particular turn-on is something we usually don’t think about.
In the Bible there are many references to wine both in this world and the next. God the source of all good things gives “wine to make glad the heart and oil to make our face shine”. (Ps 104.15) In Sunday School I was told by an earnest woman with hair in a bun, that the wine in the Bible was non-alcoholic. I now realise that in ancient times there was no such thing. Wine then and now can blunt for a while the harshness of reality. And as such it was as welcome as an anti-depressant can be today. However, the Bible has many warnings about over indulgence and views drunkenness as folly.
Over the last twelve years, too much wine has caused me trouble on two occasions – both of them were weddings. On two warm and delightful afternoons, whilst waiting for the happy couple to be photographed, the guests were served wine. My wife said there were other options to drink, but I did not notice them. On both occasions, there were three hours of convivial chat with many sips before the meal was served.
At the first wedding we were seated close to the main table and behind the master of ceremonies. The meal was wonderful, and more wine flowed freely. The Master of Ceremonies was a glamourous, enthusiastic woman who was wearing tight fitting white slacks. She had known the bride and groom for some time and told us that God had brought them together as a couple. When she talked of this divine leading, in keeping with the church she attended, she praised the God with her whole being. Overflowing as I was with gladness wine brings, her vigorous ‘Praise the Lord’s evoked a response in me. I was moved to call out “Thank you Jesus”. I did this twice and was about to do it the third time when a well-aimed kick to my shins nearly crippled me. Later that evening an acquaintance suggested to me that I should be called the ‘Pickled Parson’.
At the second wedding, wine was also abundant. The catering was superb but there was a delay between courses. During one such lull I was getting the feeling that a joke or a comic song would liven up the proceedings. Sensing that this could happen, my wife Pauline told me to go and sit in the car – (commanded me more like it!). Obediently I did this and went straight to sleep only rousing when she came to the car, three hours later.
There is no doubt people are dying so we can have fun. And, on the other hand, if we are not careful, our home-made fun can kill us. But, I accept that alcohol and anti-depressants and the like can brighten the daily grind and help some of us get through the difficulty’s life throws at us. The proper use of mood altering medications (anti-depressants) have saved many lives.
Jesus talked often about bringing joy. “I am come that they might have life and have it in more abundantly.” John 10.10 Now then, you non-religious readers don’t switch off. Let’s put it this way. Jesus said all kinds of interesting things that are not religious which I believe make supreme sense. For instance, fulfilment in life comes through serving others, and that to understand the meaning of life you must have the heart of a child, and hate is overcome through forgiveness and love – and there is much more.
I read that cocaine users are always trying to regain the high they experienced when they first took the drug. They never make it. However, here I am near the end of my life and I experience a bigger buzz from Jesus than I ever did. I have revised and revised what I think he was on about and it just gets more exciting.
And he died that we might have fun (joy)!