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El Gringo

El Gringo

Perhaps our feeling of isolation and disconnect with God’s people is an indicator that we have misunderstood our role in our communities.

Three flights and one endless bus ride later and I’m officially nowhere. And right in the middle of it. The snow-peaked mountains outside my window remind me that this retreat and wellness centre is somewhere in the Andes of southern Chile and a million miles away from board meetings and church budgets.

I’m here by myself on a Henri Nouwen / Thomas Merton kind of thing. And as I wait for the whisper of the Spirit in the silence, I can’t help but hear “El Gringo” in the conversations. My Spanish is about as good as my New Testament Greek and people don’t even try English up here (down here?). So I am El Gringo.

Surprisingly it’s hard work to go through the day unable to communicate what you’re thinking. This morning when I ordered tea with milk I got a pot of hot milk with a tea bag in it. (I think Starbucks charges like $7 for that.)

But through my endless linguistic and cultural blunders, I’ve come to realize that what I long for, what I desire, is to be understood. Not just when ordering tea in South America, but when doing life at home, in my community. I want to be known. I want people to get me. I want to be understood.

Do you ever feel that as a pastor or a Christian leader most people can’t understand what you go through? Have you come to accept that the isolation of not being understood is just part of the vocation? If any part of you says yes, doesn’t it seem oddly dysfunctional that God would desire or expect those leading his people to spend life feeling like Gringos? (I think it’s different from the biblical theme of Exiles. What do you think?)

God longed – I might argue needed – to be understood. That’s why he spoke a language (or Word) that everyone could understand; humanity/incarnation. At the centre of our faith is this reality that in order to be understood by those identified as His people and perhaps more urgently to be understood by those who weren’t yet His people, God became human.

Perhaps our feeling of isolation and disconnect with God’s people is an indicator that we have misunderstood our role in our communities. Is it possible that we’ve actually believed the hype that we are more spiritual or closer to God than Joe the plumber? (no political innuendo intended, I’m Canadian.)

What are some appropriate ways for us to become more human in our communities and parishes? What are the masks, stereotypes and reputations we need to loose so the people whom we love and so desperately want to understand, have the opportunity to understand us?

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