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 densmithfam@guate.net. He wrote the following in January, 1998.

This article was written for Religion Online March 3, 1998.


A poem which grew out of a Pastoral Reflection Group in Guatemala City, reflecting on the the relationship between the words of the New Testament and life in a country full of repression and a world full of fear and false gospels.


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

of death,

of life,

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

so secret,

so nameless,

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"


Flicking on

(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,

"public servant",

vocation gone,

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)

One supposes

(once upon a time)

that in our churches and our schools,

in the arms of our grandmothers,

we learned

how to open ourselves to others,

how to open ourselves to all of human history.


We learned

(one supposes)

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

(one supposes)

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)

There are

(always have been)

other gospels.

Today they wrap their venom

in shiny packages:


Be satisfied!



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,

silent desperation,

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,


evangelistic zeal;

takes along their humanity

and a jug of coffee

to share with those who wait.

They get to know other human beings.

Accompany them.

Hear their stories,

share their tears, their pain.

Human warmth,




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!).

Fervor considered

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.

Common union,



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:


We propose

real, personal and institutionalized love.


We propose

the practice of tenderness,





We propose

to celebrate life,

to grieve disgrace,

without apology.


We propose

to extend hands and hearts to others,

without fear.


We propose

to laugh at ourselves



We propose

humility, honesty, sobriety.


We propose

to defend the dignity of each person.


We propose

forgiveness, and to accept having been forgiven.


We propose

to celebrate truth,

wherever it might be found.


We propose

not to confuse our truths

with the Truth.


We propose

to hear, to see, to feel,

to reflect, to do,

to be.


We propose

to follow the Way

of the Carpenter of Nazareth.



- Dennis A. Smith

Guatemala City

January, 1998