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Chile Spring 2014: The World is a Book

Lee Camp  | 

Following is a blog by Lee Camp, professor of theology and ethics, faculty member for the Lipscomb program in Chile this spring.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page,” or so says Saint Augustine. 

Camp_Chile_2And when I think, looking back on fifteen years of teaching at Lipscomb, of the many chapters of the “world-book” I have been allowed to read, often along with my wife Laura and our three sons, I am filled with deep gratitude:  wandering the streets of Old Jerusalem for weeks, in and out of the hidden depths of an ancient city still filled with markets and butcheries and vendors, Hasidic Jews and Orthodox priests and Arab Muslim barbers;  pulling teeth in our makeshift dental clinics in the far reaches of Guatemalan jungles;  exploring the never-ending riches of London with eight students in the summer of 2005, and then scurrying in anxiety to make sure they were all safe when the Tube was bombed the last Thursday of our sojourn;  navigating the other-worldly sounds and smells and sights of Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque dominating the skyline;  shepherding incoming freshmen, along with the Lowrys and Scobeys, through England and Scotland, reflecting upon the long Christian tradition from which we all have been nourished.

And now finishing up this fifteenth year of teaching at Lipscomb, I find myself in a most delightful and new chapter of the  “world book,” with eighteen most outstanding students perched at the bottom of the world:  in Chile, a land over two thousand six hundred miles long, averaging only one hundred ten miles wide, the Pacific Ocean running the full length of its western border and the Andes Mountains running the full length of the east, the south running to Patagonia and the Strait of Magellan and on to the sea and thence to Antarctica. 

If Chile is a world-book chapter, it is a thrilling one, full of the pathos of indigenous peoples exterminated by the Spanish, the Spanish colonialists rising up to throw off the cloak of the Spanish Royalists, and the not-so-Cold-War conflict between communists and capitalists.  The people are warm, and yet many still apparently suffer extensive post-traumatic stress disorder from the years of the Pinochet dictatorship, his ruthless years a classic case study in the ways capitalism and democracy often fail to be good bed-fellows.  The geography is diverse, from the driest desert in the world, the Atacama in the north, to the glaciers and rain of Patagonia in the south, with the rolling central valley full of vineyards and lakes and the rambling, eclectic world-class city of Santiago, the snow-capped Andes always within sight.

There is, indeed, something about reading the “world-book” that is more immediately compelling than a text read in a class-room:  one does not simply let mere words run across one’s consciousness and then too soon out of one’s memory;  here one sees, encounters, tastes, feels.  Here we see the forts and hand-crafts and linens of the Incans, a once-mighty empire long vanquished by the Spaniards;  here we encounter the reality of our own cultural conceits, realizing that our own land is good, but many others are too;  here we taste llama and empanada and shellfish cooked over hot rocks buried in the ground of Chiloe Island;  here we feel—or at least we seek to practice empathy—with those who have been “disappeared” by principalities and powers turned demonic, torture and oppression rationalized with words about security, and justice, and love of country.

And here we feel the exhaustion of hiking more miles than we thought we could up Frenchman’s Valley in the wilds of Patagonia, perched at the very end of the world; here we taste the parched lips from sand-boarding on the dunes in the Atacama’s Death Valley;  here we encounter a hospitality and a kindness of an old farmer and his wife who welcomed us to their table, spread with more victuals than we could ever consume in one setting, and our students singing a parting song of Spanish blessing;  here we see vistas and peaks and valleys, old churches and skyscrapers, gauchos on donkeys under chupallas and ponchos.

What a way to get to celebrate fifteen years of teaching, with eighteen students who are delightful, articulate, kind, and gracious, all of them much better in Spanish, and numerous other things, than their professor!  This season has been a moving chapter in my own book of life, reminding me of the hundreds of students whom I have been privileged to teach, and who have taught me much in the process. 

Camp_Chile_1There is a great privilege in teaching college students, in learning alongside them, and especially here, living in community with them:  all old enough to manifest a maturity beyond their years, and all young enough, naïve enough, to still see it all with the poet’s eye, and thus be delighted with the wonder of life.  So I sat in the lounge of the old resort lodge in Patagonia our first night in Torres Del Paine park, and reflected thus:  that all is gift, and glorious.


-- Lee C. Camp, professor of theology and ethics at Lipscomb University, and the host of the Tokens Show, a theological variety show.  See more pictures here.