Patria es humanidad.

I’m reading a book right now for my book club. It’s the Dr. Paul Farmer story, Mountains Beyond Mountains. Basically, it’s the true, ongoing, yet-to-be-finished story of a man whose mission in life is cure the world.  The phenomenal and wonderful thing about Dokte Paul is that he plans to do this one patient at a time, until all people are healed.  Simultaneously, this week I’m attending my denomination’s area annual gathering.  Annual Conference is 3,000 United Methodists worshiping together, meeting about the life and polity of the Church, networking, and learning about the current reality of the mission of the church in the world.  We talk about some very important things, some very boring things, some things that make me want to tear my hair out at the roots.  The most interesting thing to me, though, is not what happens on stage during legislation or worship, though I geek out about that, for sure.  It’s the side comments and conversations that happen on the street outside the auditorium and at the ice cream shop.  People are hopeful.  They’re often bored.  There are a lot of rolling eyes and yawns.  But, the things that stick with me and make me perk up are the snarky comments.  More than a half dozen times this week, sheerly by the accident of where I was standing, I have heard people say, “That’s stupid, impossible.  We can’t do that.  There’s not enough money.” Or, “That’s unrealistic… we can’t possibly change the health care system/work toward the end of poverty/be unified as a Church…”  In other words, insert your cynical response to hope and faith here.

Tracy Kidder, the author of the Dr. Farmer biography, relates a conversation she had with Paul, the man who has over the last twenty years, one person at a time, redefined and entirely transformed how we deal with the global disease pandemics of AIDS and TB.  They were traveling in Lima, Peru, and Paul saw a sign thtat read “patria es humanidad,” which means “the only real nation is humanity.”  Farmer said, “I think that’s so lovely.”  She said, “I don’t know, it seems like a slogan to me.”  His response was, “I guess you’re right.”  The author said, “I felt as though I’d punched him.  Among a coward’s weapons, cynicism is the nastiest of all.”

Here was a man who has accomplished miracles for the desperately ill and poor.  He’d changed whole systems through will power, faith, and trust in the goodness and need of those with whom he was working.  He’d done it with creativity, dynamism, and admittedly the bending and breaking of many rules.  He’d never said something was impossible, or stupid, or unrealistic, or that the resources were not enough.  In fact, Paul often stated that the problem wasn’t lack of resources but their distribution.  If we all really lived as though the only nation were humanity, the problems would not only have solutions, they would be moot.  Rather than thinking outside the box, Dr. Farmer had decided that the box was no longer necessary at all in order to orient himself and his work.  Operating from a position of confidence, optimism, and trust, rather than from their hateful twin – cynycism – , he had and continues to transform the world.  But the United Methodist Church won’t be a part of that transformation, have a voice in it, extend our hands helpfully and courageously, if we allow ourselves the snark.  If we continue to be cheerfully cynical, bitterly backbiting, untrusting and unfaithful to the gospel which promises us God’s love, support, and Spirit if we work with integrity and courage, we will fail.  We will die.  We will preach empty words to empty churches.  There really will be not enough money, we’ll never transform anything, end poverty, or be unified.  But it’s got to start with the conversations we have together when we gather as a Conference.  This is my prayer.  May it be so, this week at Conference.

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