A Modest Proposal
by Dennis Smith
Dennis A. Smith, a mission co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (USA), has been living and working in Guatemala, Central America, since 1977. He currently coordinates the Publications and Communication Training program of the Centro Evangelico de Estudios Pastorales en America Central -CEDEPCA-. A 1973 graduate of Wheaton College (IL), Smith is trained in communication and education. He is active in the World Association for Christian Communication -WACC- and the Association of Community Communicators of Guatemala -ACCG-. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote the following in January, 1998. This article was written for Religion Online March 3, 1998.
On Monday mornings, ten or twelve of us meet to reflect on our faith in light of the pastoral challenges we face here and now. We are women and men, lay people and ordained ministers, some with and some without university training.
Recently we have worked on the pastoral tasks that derive from the Peace Accords and the process of national reconciliation in Guatemala.
To encourage you and your faith community in your own pilgrimage, we asked one of our number to prepare this summary of our actions and reflections.
Our thanks to the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America -CEDEPCA- for giving us space in which to assess our actions and cultivate new ideas. If what follows smacks of heresy, we are the only ones responsible for the ideas expressed here. . .
Pastoral Reflection Group, Guatemala City,
Guatemala, Central America
A Modest Proposal
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)
We live in fear
whatever. . .
In fear, they kill us.
In fear, we withdraw into ourselves.
In fear, we lash out at others.
In fear, we have them killed.
(So insidious, our fear
skeletal specters corroding our consciences)
Why so much fear?
Little by little,
confronted with so much pain,
so much abuse, so many empty words,
so many crushed dreams, so much fraud,
so much corruption,
a bit of us has died,
our spirits stagnated.
It’s as if deep inside us
we had flicked off
(little by little)
the switch marked "human sensitivity"
(at the same time)
the switch marked "cruelty"
Cruelty of rich kids mocking
peasants who stand,
needing to cross Sixth Avenue.
Cruelty of the activist mocking
the kidnapped girl’s family:
"It’s about time those rich s.o.b.s
suffer what we have always suffered!"
Cruelty of the matron selling
liquor at the corner store,
leech living off shattered lives.
Cruelty of the functionary,
haughtily serving himself at the expense of others.
Cruelty of the armed man living,
off threats, assaults, arrogance.
Cruelty of we who refuse to see,
reach out to others.
Cruelty of we who refuse to be.
Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
He said, "I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?" (Gen. 4:9)
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,
"And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29)
(once upon a time)
that in our churches and our schools,
in the arms of our grandmothers,
how to open ourselves to others,
how to open ourselves to all of human history.
how to share,
how to live together,
how to love,
how to assume and alleviate the pain of others.
(once upon a time)
(What is impunity
if not the institutionalized absence of courtesy?)
All of this
we learned from Jesus.
You have sown much, and harvested little;
you eat, but you never have enough;
you drink, but you never have your fill;
you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes. (Haggai 1:6)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you cross sea and land to make a single convert,
and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)
(always have been)
Today they wrap their venom
in shiny packages:
They proclaim the sanctity of greed,
the "right" of the powerful
to crush others,
Selling spiritual nostrums
to calm inner clamor,
dispensing sacramental drugs
to assuage all fear.
life becomes mechanical gestures,
smothered screams. . .
Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew." (John 3:3)
To be born anew
is to find oneself,
to be born for others.
To have been changed
lets us exchange "exclude" for "include".
To have been forgiven
lets us forgive.
The life of others is our concern.
So Jesus called them and said to them,
"You know that among the Gentiles
those whom they recognize as their rulers
lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
But it is not so among you;
but whoever wishes to become great among you
must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to become first among you
must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44)
(Spirit of God)
blows where she wills,
has not abandoned us,
is present here, now.
Signs there are. Fragrance, murmurs.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
Those who have eyes to see, let them see.
A group of believers
arrives at the emergency room,
leaves behind their tracts,
takes along their humanity
and a jug of coffee
to share with those who wait.
They get to know other human beings.
Hear their stories,
share their tears, their pain.
Women who say NO!
All violence against any woman
-wherever, whenever, however-
is violence against God’s own self.
Women who say YES!
She has called us to shepherd the flock,
and so we will.
Dignity, affirmation, ministry:
Pentecostals praise God exuberantly.
Now, to fervent hearts,
add a measure of calculation,
combine spirit with truth, roots, identity
(even Sociology of Religion!).
is still fervent.
We understand that alone,
we are incomplete.
So we gather
for action and reflection.
Women and men,
academic and not,
Evangelicals, Catholics, others.
People of good will
capable of proclaiming dependence,
of coming to belong to others.
We have known and believe the love
that God has for us.
God is love,
and those who abide in love abide in God,
and God abides in them. . .
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear,
and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. . .
The commandment we have from him is this;
those who love God
must love their brothers and sisters also. (I John 4: 16, 18, 21)
A New Creed for a New Millennium
(nothing new about it)
The time has come to depose
the identity pushers,
the merchants of hope.
The time has come to tell them:
"Jig’s up; show’s over."
The time has come to cultivate
the quality of being.
We are fragile,
splintered of spirit,
but graced with gravity.
Because in life and death
we belong to God.
confronted with real, personal, institutionalized pain:
real, personal and institutionalized love.
the practice of tenderness,
to celebrate life,
to grieve disgrace,
to extend hands and hearts to others,
to laugh at ourselves
humility, honesty, sobriety.
to defend the dignity of each person.
forgiveness, and to accept having been forgiven.
to celebrate truth,
wherever it might be found.
not to confuse our truths
with the Truth.
to hear, to see, to feel,
to reflect, to do,
to follow the Way
of the Carpenter of Nazareth.
- Dennis A. Smith
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