Posts Tagged ‘humility

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.

 

09
Apr
19

Need Answers?

Shell answer manIf you want to know what is right, just ask me…

… on virtually ANY topic.

Let’s start with DRIVING. I can tell you how fast you should be driving, which lane you should be in, how (and when) to pass, when to put on your turn signal, how much space you should allow me as you merge into my lane, and exactly how often you should wash your car.

In fact, I just returned from a cross-town trip in my car and offered just about every one of these pieces of advice to other drivers I met on the road.

I am sure my wife is pulling my leg when she insists that other drivers don’t appreciate my wisdom.

I can also tell you the right way to raise your children… especially if you are having a hard time with their behavior in a restaurant, grocery store, or other public places.

SPORTS? I’m your guy.

I have all the right answers for the manager (and players) for our hometown baseball team. I can tell the players when to swing at a pitch and when to let it go by. I can tell them how fast to run the bases, how far back to stand in the field, and – importantly – how long their pant legs should be.

I can tell the manager when to take a pitcher out, when to leave him in, when to steal a base, when to bunt, when to bring someone up from the minors, and when to send them down.

I regularly speak this wisdom directly into the TV screen during games, with little to no effect.

I have just as many right answers to offer the coach, general manager, and scouts for our hometown professional football team, too.

Unsure where you stand on any of the complex political issues of the day? Just give me a call at 1-800-KNOWITALL and I will happily illuminate you.

Heck, I have answers for you on finance, hygiene, etiquette, grooming, clothing style, lawn care, faith, food, and patriotism…

… just to name a few.

Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about what a wonderful world this would be if only you would each seek – and then apply – my impeccable guidance to the issues you face.

Of course, I kid.

Or do I?

I have discovered that one of the consequences of living in a world filled with people who are not me, who do not live (or believe) in lockstep with me, who sometimes even seem to REVEL in taking a different path, is that I sometimes find it hard NOT to judge… or take a critical view… of “those people.”

Sometimes I do it under the guise of “offering helpful advice.” “This approach worked for me…I’m sure it would work for you, too!”

Sometimes though I fear I might do it out of a deep-seated need to elevate ME… by diminishing YOU.

When Jesus told us (in Luke 6:37), “Do not judge and you will not be judged…” he was giving us several different kinds of life guidance all at once.

Of course, he was guiding us on helpful social norms. He knew that we can easily become irritants to people who constantly receive correction from us… even when we are on target with our critiques.

But I think the primary purpose of this teaching was to help us each develop GRACE and HUMILITY as a necessary prerequisite for loving our neighbors.

See, if I only see you as a “project” to work on instead of as a fully capable, full-functioning child of God with a rich uniqueness to offer the world, I have committed the fundamental sin of IDOLATRY; that is, I am guilty of trying to remake you in MY image, instead of allowing space for the imago dei in which you were originally created to flourish.

My bad.

So you do you and I’ll do me.

And hopefully, we will BOTH observe a common, respectful Code of Conduct when next we meet on the highway.

04
Sep
18

Leashed Justice

Dog with a leashWhen it first happened, I felt kind of righteous and empowered.

A little later, I began to be unsure.

Later still I just felt bad. And more than a little ashamed of myself.

You see, in my community here in Overland Park, Kansas we have leash laws. This means that when you have your dog out on a walk, you are legally obliged to have him or her on a leash.

It’s not a good idea. It’s not a suggestion.

It’s a LAW.

And happily enough, most people comply with the leash law.

But now and then there are a few folks we meet on the trail who don’t.

When I meet them, I try and speculate on their reasons for ignoring the leash law. I wonder to myself:

  • “Maybe they are new to town and aren’t aware of the leash law.”
  • “Maybe they have extraordinarily well-trained dogs who stay right by their master’s side, or else who come immediately when they are called.”
  • “Maybe their last leash broke and they haven’t been able to afford to go get a new one yet.”

Normally the sight of an unleashed dog wouldn’t bother me. However, the last dog we had (dearly departed little Molly) was VERY aggressive toward other dogs when we were out for a walk. Molly would viciously growl and snap at them and tug on the leash as if to say, “Let me at ‘em! Let me at ‘em!”I worried that an unleashed dog might forget their careful obedience training and respond to her aggressiveness with similar aggression.

Because, you know, they are dogs… animals directly descended from wolves.

So there I was the other day, happily walking Rosie on the walking trail when what did I see but a lab/something or other mix walking up the trail toward us, unleashed. Trailing behind her was her master… holding a folded up leash in her hand.

I paused and had Rosie sit down next to me, warily regarding the other dog. It approached and began sniffing Rosie in a curious, “Hey, what are you all about anyway?” fashion.

As the owner approached I said, tersely, “Is that dog OK?” Meaning is it friendly.

She replied, “Oh yes… she’s fine.”

To which I responded, “You know there IS a leash law in this community.”

The woman seemed a little taken aback by my abruptness. She looked at me and said, “Yes… I know.”

Unsatisfied with her obvious lack of remorse, I pressed the attack. “Well, then maybe then you should try to OBEY IT!”

Bending down to clip the leash on her dog, she sighed tiredly, said, “Have a nice day,” and continued down the trail.

Like I said… my first feelings following that encounter were feelings of righteousness and empowerment. I mean, what the heck?! A law is a law, right? I’M following it… you should too!

But the further the event receded into the past, the worse I felt. Yes, of course, I stood on the side of legality in that situation. But what had I demonstrated to that person by the way I chose to handle the situation? Did I demonstrate kindness? Or compassion? Or anything even remotely Christ-like in the way I responded to her and her dog?

Being the pastoral type that I am, I immediately began flashing back to Paul’s words in Romans 7 and 8. I heard an updated version of his description of the life devoted to serving the LAW compared to the life devoted to serving the SPIRIT.

In those passages, I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t talking about leash laws, but he might as well have been.

But then here is where I went from being mildly mopey about the whole thing to being ashamed and embarrassed; it was the point at which I asked myself, “OK, caped crusader… you seem to be more than willing to speak out loud and clear against the injustices of suburbanites ignoring leash laws. But tell me… are you just as willing to speak out against REAL social injustices? For example, injustices like systemic racism, or economic injustice, or sexism, or homophobia or hunger? Are you willing to risk consequences that might be more serious than a sullen scowl from a neighbor?”

I sincerely hope my answer to that question would be “YES.” And heck, maybe I am preparing myself to do exactly that.

But for now, I think I will pick a different path for our morning walk… making sure I ALWAYS have my dog on her leash.

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Jun
17

Humble learning

Welcome-to-GI

“… but wisdom is with the humble.”
Proverbs 11:2, NRSV

I learned something this past week.

I learned that Grand Island, Nebraska is actually a pretty cool place.

I learned this as a result of spending three days in Grand Island at the Annual Conference of the Great Plains United Methodist Church.

It was a “command performance” kind of thing… meaning that attendance for me was not optional. Fortunately my wife agreed to go along at the last minute.

And since I am persuaded that this kind of thing is good for the soul, I have a public confession to make: when I first heard about the location of Annual Conference, I was not all that excited about spending three days in the town of Grand Island, Nebraska.

In fact it is possible I even poked a little fun at the notion that the word “island” is part of the name of a town in the state of Nebraska. I may also be guilty of encouraging my friends to wear Hawaiian shirts for each day of the conference… as a celebration of “island life.”

But then we arrived in town. And drove around. And met people and saw sights.

And as a result… I learned! I learned that Grand Island is a wonderful, clean, vigorous, engaging city of 48,000 souls on the plains of south central Nebraska.

(I’m still not entirely sure where the “island” part of the name comes in though.)

In the process of learning these things about Grand Island, I learned another important lesson. I learned something about learning.

Here is what I learned: sometimes learning happens when a vacuum gets filled. For me, there was an empty place in my mind called “the location of Grand Island, Nebraska.” I filled that empty space by looking on a map and finding it… right there off of Interstate 80, about 90 miles straight west of Lincoln, NE.

That’s one kind of learning.

But I learned that there is also another kind!

On some occasions, an unlearning has to happen before new learning is possible. That is because knowledge that is askew or off-base has to be corrected, re-shaped, or removed altogether before it can be replaced by something a little more reflective of reality.

In my case, for example, I first had to unlearn (or “dump,” to be a little more scientific about it) my earlier perceptions about the kind of town Grand Island was before I could replace them with the truer, better, more informed picture.

In thinking about these two kinds of learning, I also discovered that people LOVE the first type (the vacuum-filling type), but are not at all fans of the second type (the one that begins with unlearning).

It may be because the second type of learning requires HUMILITY… the willingness to begin by saying, “You know what… I was wrong about that.”

This is not a sentence that comes easily to my lips. I like to feel as if I have a few things figured out at this fine, ripe age I’ve attained. Retracing and retracting are not actions I rush to embrace.

And yet…

… my sense is that the learning that begins with a humble retraction seems to settle in at a deeper place inside me. It feels somehow “heftier”… a little more like WISDOM or INSIGHT than just information.

That may be what the writer of Proverbs meant by saying that “wisdom is with the humble.”

So then where does that leave us?

It would be hard to argue with the conclusion that the world has rarely had a greater need for wisdom and insight than it has today. At the same time, the world seems to be facing a desperate shortage of humility – the key ingredient of wisdom.

Because after all… when you already have all the answers, why look further or deeper?

Fortunately we have the prophet Micah to remind us what is good. And so, in case you have forgotten what he said, here is that reminder once again: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8, NRSV.

To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world: Stay humble, my friend. Gain wisdom.

Abundant blessings;

03
Jan
17

Happy New Day!

party-hats-and-confettiSo here we are… sitting in front of this gigantic, mysterious package; trying to figure out where and how to begin opening it… wondering what surprises, delights, horrors, or joys it might contain.

The mysterious package I refer to is, of course, the package called 2017: the New Year.

Often when presented with a package as monumental as a whole new year, the human instinct seems to run toward the Grand Gesture.

We want to name it. We want to set out a list of goals and projects to be accomplished during its visit. We prognosticate about it and try to guess at its true, underlying personality.

After all, a whole new YEAR is a pretty doggoned big fish to fry. Right?

Well, yes. Sort of.

Except that when the calendar page turned over from December 31, 2017 to January 1, 2017, we didn’t really get a whole new year dropped in our laps.

We got exactly one day.

If you really wanted to be accurate, we got one moment. And then we got the next. And then the next, and so on and so on…

I guess what I am trying to suggest here is that instead of spending excessive time worrying about what approach we will take to the living of an entire YEAR, let’s think instead about how we will live the precious gift of the MOMENT we have right here, right now.

In other words, let’s not fret so much about the vastness of the FOREST around us that we forget to tend to the individual TREE we have here on our hands. We don’t want to miss the beauty and uniqueness it offers.

I believe this is the wisdom of the piece of the Lord’s Prayer wherein Jesus advises the disciples to say, “And give us this day our DAILY bread,” when they pray. (Matt. 6:11, NRSV). He intended it as a reminder to them and to other faithful Jews of God’s provision of a one-day supply of manna for every day of the 40 years they spent wandering in the wilderness. (Exodus 16).

There is no doubt we will need bread for every day we live. But isn’t it also a little arrogant to imagine that we know exactly how many days that will be?

What I am suggesting is that we each take on the New Year as we would take on the new day. Begin it with humble gratitude, thanking God that we have received it. Believe that the day – just like the year – will bring its share of both the expected and the unexpected… the sublime as well as the ridiculous. Ask God to help us find a way to embrace both ends of the day’s spectrum of experience.

  • Pause regularly to stop and look around; take stock of where you have been and where you are headed.
  • Treat each relationship with tenderness and respect… whether it is a close, long-standing relationship or casual or brand-new.
  • Yes, set goals. Name principles you wish were more evident in your day/year/life. List habits or attitudes or worldviews that need to diminish in your life.
  • Proudly claim your membership in the “God’s Work in Progress Club”… not just as an exercise for the first week of January, but instead as a daily discipline.

Imagine what it would be like if we treated every night like New Year’s Eve and every morning like New Year’s Day?

Without the alcohol or bowl games, of course…

What if… instead of anxiously wondering when God’s Great Gift will land on our doorstep, we stopped and woke up to the fact that it already HAS!?

Abundant blessings to you and yours in this new year and new day.




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