Posts Tagged ‘generous

04
Oct
19

The Guatemalan Giggle of Grace

Guatemala 2016 (9)In my life, moments of grace have come in many different forms.

The compassionate word. The gentle glance. The understanding touch. The sweet smile.

My heart will always reserve a special place for that day when grace came in the form of a giggle.

It happened in 2003, on my first trip to Guatemala. This was a trip with two professors and 11 other students from Saint Paul School of Theology.

It was not a mission trip in the traditional sense that phrase has come to be understood. The seminary called it an “immersion trip.” The purpose of this trip was to immerse the participants in the history and culture of a place heretofore unfamiliar to us.

We were not going there to do anything in particular. Rather we were going to Guatemala to learn. In fact, the professor who served as the primary trip organizer encouraged us to think of this as a “reverse mission trip.”

What he meant by this, he explained, was that we were not traveling to Guatemala to bring something TO the people we would meet there. Instead, we were going there to receive something FROM them. That something was their stories, their perspective, and a glimpse through their eyes of the place they call home. It was an outlook he hoped would counteract the usual paternalistic attitude most Norte Americanos take when traveling to this part of the developing world.

After two days of lectures in Guatemala City, our group hit the road. Our first stop was in the town of Chimaltenango to meet with three of the principal leaders of the “Heart of Women’s Cooperative.”

In our semester of reading in preparation for the trip, we learned a lot about the inhuman horrors of the 36-year Guatemalan civil war. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book, I, Rigoberta Menchu provided graphic detail of the arrests, mass executions, torture, rape, and destruction of the indigenous Guatemalan people at the hands of government soldiers.

But we all agreed afterward that until we sat in the same room with two women who actually LIVED that experience, we had no clue what it was really like. These women told us, through tears, of how they watched husbands, fathers, and sons hunted down and slaughtered… About how the women of the village all had to band together to figure out how to survive in the war’s aftermath… and about how they had been propelled to begin their cooperative by a vision of peace for their children.

When they finished speaking, I wanted to speak to these brave women directly and thank them for taking the time to share their story with us. I wanted to look directly into their eyes, take their hands and express my gratitude.

The only obstacle was my limited high school Spanish vocabulary. I knew “Thank you” (gracias) because, duh… who doesn’t? But since I didn’t know the word for “story,” I hurried over to find one of our translators. Fernando, our primary translator was talking to someone else at that moment, so I found Jamie, the high school son of one of the professors. Jamie had been taking Spanish in school for eight years and so was very fluent. I said, “Jamie… quick: how do I say ‘story’ in Spanish?”

Without hesitation, he turned to me and said, “Cuento.”

I thanked him and went back to the women. Taking their hands one by one and looking into their eyes I said, “Gracias para su cuento. Gracias para su cuento.”

To my great surprise and dismay, my heartfelt thanks did not produce the response I expected. The women nodded to me, turned shyly to one another and began giggling.

I turned around, puzzled, and sheepishly made my way back to the bus.

Once on the bus, I found Fernando, the other translator, and explained to him what had just happened. When I finished my story, Fernando threw back his head and added the impact of his laughter to my already fragile ego.

“Oh, Russell,” he said between guffaws. “The word cuento means something like ‘fable’ or ‘fairy tale.’ So, in essence, you just told those women, ‘Thank you for your fairy tale.’”

Which started Fernando laughing all over again… at my expense I might add.

At first, I was just sick. I thought, “How could I say such a stupid thing? These women just finished pouring out their hearts to us, telling us about the most horrific period of their entire lives, only to hear the dumbass gringo come up and thank them for their FAIRY TALE! Jeez! If someone said something that stupid to me, I think I’d want to punch them right in the face!”

“They should send me home right now before I do any more damage.”

As I sat there wallowing in my pool of shame, I suddenly paused and remembered the giggle that passed between those women. Yes, I realized, they knew I had used the wrong word for “story.” They knew I should have said, “Gracias para su historia,” instead of cuento.

But they weren’t mad at me.

They were amused. They knew I was trying to express gratitude even as I failed miserably to do so.

Their giggle said, “Poor Yanqui and his botched SpanishBut he’s trying, isn’t he?”

It was then I realized that in that giggle, I had received grace.

Gracias, mujeres. Via con dios.

 

27
Sep
19

The Love Loophole

Jesus-facepalmI love you.

At least I know I am supposed to love you. It is one of the central commands of the Christian faith I profess. (See John 13:34, John 15:12, Romans 12:10, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 1:22, etc., etc.)

And yet I have to admit; I am not always sure what I mean by that.

But you don’t even know me!” you are no doubt saying. “How could you possibly say you love me?”

Good point.

And then there is this question to consider too: how do I distinguish my love for you– a (mostly) complete stranger – from my love for Joan, the woman with whom I held hands, stood before God and a room full of people nearly 20 years ago and exchanged solemn vows?

And while you’re tussling with that one, here is another mind-bender: Is there – should there be – any discernible difference between my love for those of you readers who are warm and wonderful human beings and my love for the monstrously bad eggs of the world?

I know what the answer is supposed to be. I know I am called to emulate Christ and ladle out heaping helpings of unconditional love to every one of you with no consideration given to the life you’ve led, the people you’ve harmed, the Nobel Prizes you’ve won, or the cancer you’ve cured.

Would it shock you to hear me say I fall woefully short of that benchmark EVERY SINGLE DAY?

Didn’t think so.

It almost sounds like a humanly impossible job description to fulfill, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

And yet, there it remains; front and center in the preaching of the One I follow.

Easy for you to say,” I grumble under my breath. “You’ve got all that God-dust flowing through your veins. You weren’t ever susceptible to rage, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or greed like the rest of us.”

And yet even before the words are out of my mouth I know I have never been more off base.

Maybe,” I think, “I can use my thimbleful of Greek language skill and fulfill Christ’s command by philia-ing some folks and storge-ing others while I agape the really super-worthy ones.”

Even as I say it, I can see Jesus facepalming and shaking his head, charitably pitying the depth of my intransigence.

Look, Russell… if my words aren’t clear enough for you,” He says, “why not take a listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas. My buddy Tom once said that authentic love means to ‘selflessly will the good of another.’ Does that help at all?”

Hmmmm. Intriguing.

“So, Jesus,” I ask. “Are you suggesting it might be possible to ‘selflessly will the good’ of a stranger, or a psychopath without feeling all warm and fuzzy toward them? Seriously?”

“When did you ever hear me say that love has anything to do with your feelings?” he says, mercifully declining to add the word “knucklehead” to the end of his sentence. “Love is a VERB. It is much more about what you DO and much less about how you FEEL.”

So go… get out there and do some love. And stop trying to find a legalistic loophole to squeeze yourself through.”

Thanks, Jesus. I’m glad we had this little talk.

 

Now comes the hard part…

06
Feb
19

MINE!

Eating an appleI hoped my wince went unnoticed.

But then I realized I was dealing with one of the most perceptive, most eagle-eyed people God ever created; my wife Joan. And so of course… she saw the wince as soon as it happened.

And in that same moment, I came face-to-face with a persistent, uncomfortable truth about myself.

Namely that I don’t share well. At all.

Hers was a perfectly reasonable request. I was sitting there at the table with Joan, eating and enjoying a luscious, ripe apple.

She then calmly reached out her hand and said, “Let me have a bite.”

And I winced.

I winced because my first gut response to my wife’s request was, “NO! I don’t want to give you a bite of my apple! I have every one of these bites mapped out in my mind and I intend to enjoy every single one of them!”

What a schmoe! I mean, who doesn’t give their spouse – or even an unrelated total stranger for that matter – a small morsel of food if they ask for it?

Which compels me to confess: sharing has been a problem for me for a long time… especially when it comes to sharing food. Sometimes I think I must sound like those seagulls in the movie Finding Nemo continually screaming, “MINE! MINE! MINE!”

And when my sweet wife asks me why I am so singularly bad at this simple human practice, my stock answer is, “Because I was the oldest of five kids! I had to fight tooth and nail for every mouthful at the family dinner table. It was HELL, I tell you!”

But that’s not completely true. Yes, I was the oldest of five kids growing up. Yes, times were tight now and then. But no, none of us were ever as deprived as I sometimes like to portray.

My stinginess bothers me. And yet, it persists.

It also causes me to wonder: is sharing anything like athletic ability… that is, something you’re either born with or not?

Somehow that doesn’t seem right. Surely sharing can be learned, can’t it?

Maybe my problem is that I attach too much importance to the item in question. Maybe – in my feverish and slightly out-of-kilter mind – I imagine that this apple, or this piece of key lime pie, or this book, or this Coca-Cola, or this $20 bill, is the key to my ultimate well being in the world and that letting go of even a small portion of it will do irreparable harm to my soul.

Whatever the case, I am sure my behavior in the matter of sharing is the exact opposite of Christ-like. Because when Jesus sat down and told the people there on the side of the hill, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things…”(Matt. 6:31-32, NRSV), I’m pretty sure he was talking to me, too.

Actually, he is even a little more direct in Luke’s gospel: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.”(Luke 3:11, NRSV).

Busted!

I really don’t have a good answer for the origins of this personality flaw of mine, but maybe “where it came from” isn’t really the important issue here.

Maybe I just need to ask for your prayerful intervention as I simultaneously implore the Holy Spirit to do a little transformational work on me from the inside.

But I am curious…

  • Do you share well?

  • Have you always been a good “share-er”, or did you learn it later in life?

  • What helped you become better at sharing?



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