A Perfect God vs. Imperfect Nation

Story telling in film is difficult – not only because it takes enormous resources to produce, but also because when you are finished, everyone responds differently. Some people adore “the baby”. Others despise it … and some don’t even take the time to watch it. Being a passionate but contemplative man, I sometimes spend too much time mulling over negative responses despite the fact that they may be the extreme minority.

I was recently told that ‘Reparando’ is an Anti-Amercian film. Granted, this opinion is the minority in responses that we have received. But I feel the need to respond to it. Because … I love my country and ultimately …  the film isn’t Anti-American, it’s Pro-Redemption.

Although I worship a perfect God and savior, I live in an imperfect nation.

I have never intended for this film to be of interest solely to an American Christian sub-culture. But in the contrary, I wanted this story to speak of God’s redemption in the midst (and in spite) of human political and philosophical motives. Reparando communicates the fact that:

“the US destabilized Guatemala through CIA operations and that there is a connection to the CIA and the United Fruit Company. In the wake of this destabilization, the Guatemalan government responded  disproportionately to the internal threat causing the country to fall into a 36 year civil war.”

Documented history details the US government’s covert exacerbation of the conflict. If I wanted to make an anti-American film, I would have sensationalized the issue. But I wasn’t making an anti-American film. US involvement in the Guatemalan conflict isn’t a political statement. It is documented history.

‘Reparando’ was born out of the adoption of my sons. I saw injustice and had to respond. For three years, I have given every ounce of my free time and resources to telling this story because I care. As Guatemalans, My children have a history and heritage that is both beautiful and ugly. I want them to know the truth.

I have traveled much of the world and appreciate the freedom that we have in the US … to live, love, learn, communicate, worship and pursue happiness. I also appreciate the lives of soldiers who have died to give us our freedom. I love my country and still well up with tears when I hear the national anthem. But I cannot weave my worship of God so tightly with my country that I deceive myself into believing our nation is perfect. We have a long history of imperfections to match our achievements and we can learn from both. We are a nation built on the beautiful foundation that all men are created equal. With this in mind, I can boldly claim that just as I am not perfect, neither are the leaders of my country. We all make mistakes. And unless we honestly embrace our imperfection, we will never realize the need for a savior.

The theme of the film is “victims connecting to the pain of their past in order to help the next generation”. As a story teller, I believe this concept applies to the United States as well. The truth is that both countries were (and are) intricately involved in the issues in Guatemala. Both countries have made mistakes. In spite of these mistakes, Jesus redeems. Shorty is a victim of a war which involves my country. He could have been destroyed. He could have even been repaired and then focused on himself. He could harbor anger in his heart towards my country. But he didn’t. Despite being a war victim, he lives as Jesus to the community in which he is placed and he embraces me as his brother in Christ so that together we can make a difference. Together, we can help repair the next generation. In the midst of imperfection, hope is rising.

Road Trips

If gas wasn’t so expensive, I would recommend that everyone take a road trip at least once a month. I love road trips and often get emotional when taking one. Perhaps I am simply nostalgic – especially when traveling through places I traveled earlier in life. Perhaps it is because I am normally so busy that it is a relief to just sit behind the wheel of a car, watch the landscape pass by and simply remember …

We recently took a couple trips through familiar places to exhibit our documentary, ‘Reparando’. These trips wore me out physically, but they inspired me in many ways. I tried to remember back when I was a child on road trips with my family. Many of the details are now a blur, but I have been able to savor a few vivid details. I remember the distinct smell of my family’s van on hot summer trips from Virginia to Texas back in the early 80’s. The icy air-conditioner blew on my face like a winter blizzard and made my eyes water. I remember imagining I was riding a motorcycle, racing over the hills and jumping ravines next to our vehicle. Somehow this “motorcycle” could fly and I would zoom over the hills and up the mountains. My mind would then imagine being the first explorer to ever set foot in this new territory. As I look back, there were a couple mountains that always stood out to me. I always marked the progress of our journey by these peaks that reached up to the heavens in East-Tennessee.

Somehow we all seem to grow up and have less time to see things the way we did when we were children. But every once in a while, we are blessed with a memory that sparks new thoughts. As we traveled to Philadelphia a couple weeks ago, we drove through east Tennessee and I noticed these same peaks in the distance. They still look the same, but many other landmarks have changed. I noticed new sights (buildings, overpasses … etc.). I also noticed the absence of some familiar landmarks that were evidently removed in the wake of development (most noticeably, the huge Guitar building outside of Bristol).

I had this moment while my wife and children were asleep (they often sleep on trips). As I looked up, I couldn’t help but notice the white clouds dancing across the deep blue sky and it dawned on me. These vapory ghosts are always changing, but I rarely take the time to notice; at least not recently. I have been too busy with work … important work … but work that many times imprisons my mind. These clouds reminded me of the need to do more than take mental pictures of things around me as I plow through a mountain of to-do’s. They challenged me to take breaks, engage with my family and friends and reflect on the things I should be thankful for. This is easier said than done for all of us as North Americans. We are born to be busy. It’s in our DNA. However, James 4:14 says “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

I’m just a white cloud dancing across the sky against the backdrop of an unchanging mountain.

Life is short. I need to focus on what matters … and if need be, I’m ready for another road trip.

Clowning For the King

It is always sad to learn that a friend has died. But, somehow it is even more sad when the cause of death is trivial in comparison to the life they once lived. One of our friends in Guatemala died unexpectedly. His name was Italo and he was a professional clown who spent his spare time serving youth who live on the streets of Guatemala City. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been shot. The streets of Guatemala City are violent. But our friend wasn’t murdered, he drown by accident while swimming in Lake Atitlan. Again, he drowned. This shocks me and I ask myself, “why? What is the point?”

We met Italo a couple years ago on our first Athentikos production trip to Guatemala. He had a magnificently charming personality. We immediately sensed his heart for the youth who had for one reason or another fled their homes to live on the street. His story was beautifully simple, yet so profound. He put on clown makeup to “pay the bills” by entertaining children who had families, so he could take off his makeup and spend his life giving Hope to these street youth. Their somber faces radiated joy when he arrived. He was the family they never had. He brought joy to the joyless, hope to the hopeless, through the love of Christ poured out in life.

In a perfect world, Italo would have continued to share his gifts of life and laughter for years to come. But we don’t live in a perfect world. His life of service was cut short by a seemingly random tragedy and I find myself asking why? With all of the struggle in Guatemala, why would such a “good man” be called up in the middle of such a seemingly selfless life that was making such a difference? How does Italo’s death actually proclaim the truth of the God louder than Italo’s service to the homeless when he was alive?

I can ask over and over, but I simply do not know how Italo’s death plays into the “big story” that is unfolding. I might not ever know the answers to these questions, and honestly, it doesn’t matter in the end. Even if I never know any thing else, I know God wove Italo’s story into mine in a way that gave me a fresh perspective on God’s love. That alone is enough to honestly believe life does have purpose. There are several street youth in Guatemala would would agree with me. Italo brought us joy. From what I know of God, I would say Italo brought God joy too. To quote a friend, “Italo is now … In His Presence … Clowning for the King.”