Discovering Genshai..

Over the past few weeks I have been reading a book by Kevin Hall entitled Aspire.

I downloaded this particular book, because – honestly -it didn’t seem to heavy, and it was cheap.   I had wanted something that could adequately capture my attention for a few hours but wouldn’t so engross me that I needed to add finishing it to an already overloaded schedule.
I thought the book would be an easy read, and it is true that it is in the end, it proved more story than meat.

The author’s premise is straight forward;   Through stories and linguistics, explores eleven words that, when – the author argues – they become fully understood and put into your daily practice, can help anyone achieve their best and highest self—in goals, relationships, and business.

The author argues that by choosing any of those eleven words, words like passion, integrity, coach and empathy, for example, and focusing upon them you can change any and all aspects of your world.

After reading most of it, I am not sure where I stand on it…   In one breath, I find it full of hyperbole, and sugar.   By oversimplifying a solution for his readers, the author almost oversimplifies the reader’s problems. At times, it is exactly the self help book that gives self help books a bad rap.

As I read the book this past week, I kept framing the solutions that the author proposed in light of some of the problems that I have been witness to in others.   I find myself asking how effective will this solution be in light of the young man battling drug or alcohol addiction, the wife trying to save her marriage, the widow trying to come to grips with the passing of her husband.

I found myself thinking about that young girl I counseled from a half a continent away, who was broken in unimaginable ways thanks to a father, mother and church that failed her in unfathomable ways. To her, I imagine that some of his suggestions amount to little more than gumdrops and lollipops.

Yet, behind the fluff there was something there that kept me reading.   The author suggests that there is a role we play in solving our own problems.   Too often we feel stuck, broken, and lost and look outwards for solutions and steps to take.   In a roundabout way the author suggests that we need to be our own agents of change; and there is some truth to that.   At the same time, he suggests that we fall victim to the power of words;   words that we assign to ourselves and words that others give to us.

Let’s take a moment and think about how the momentum and the trajectory of our lives have changed through the careless words of others;

Maybe you fell in love with dance as a little girl, but someone told you, that you were too big boned to dance.   Maybe it was art, and someone told you that your painting, sketch or drawing looked foolish.   Maybe you had a dream to open up a business for yourself and they said you weren’t smart enough or rich enough to take those steps.

Or consider the careless words we say to ourselves:   I will never be skinny and fit, because I can’t exercise, I am too tired.   I should expect anything better at work, because I am not as good as my coworker.   Maybe I should just shut my mouth when someone treats me like dirt, because I deserve it.

Like the author states there is a power in words that can empower, but also contain a power to cripple.   We as every day wanderers in a world that often chews up and spits out those with thin skin, we need to be reminded that words – when unchecked – can send us spinning.

I am reminded of the words that are attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt; “no one can make you feel inferior, without your consent”.   No truer words have been said, or more frequently forgotten.   The author, by putting this truth front and center for his readers, creates a book that is worth remembering – or talking about at a minimum.

All that said, I am grateful for the author re-introducing me to a Hindi word; Genshai.

The author of the book tells the story of travelling to Vienna, where he meets a man who owns a fabric and textile shop. After shopping and striking up a conversation with the owner of the store, he goes to leave when he is invited him to sign a log the shopkeeper keeps behind the counter.   He has entitled the log “the Book of Greats”. The Book of Greats contained signatures by dignitaries, politicians, and statesmen.   In it was the signature of Mother Teresa, many of Gandhi’s family members and others we would all consider to be great.

After perusing the book and the signatures it contains, the author states to the shopkeeper that he was not worthy to sign his name among such greats.   It was then that the author was first introduced to and began to understand the meaning of Genshai.

The simplest way to define this ancient word is to define it with a phrase.   Genshai is the belief that you should never treat another person – or yourself – in such a way to make one feel small. The example that the author makes is that of someone approaching a panhandler on the street.

If you absent mindedly walk by without noticing, or if you carelessly toss a coin into their cup, you treat the panhandler as small.   If you stop, kneel down, and look them directly in the eyes, as you place that coin in their cup, the coin becomes an act of love.   Only after we have exhibited pure and both unconditional love, do we finally become a practitioner of Genshai.

Genshai means looking at that dirty, out of place person with not only compassion and charity but with love.   It is standing at the doors of the food pantry or homeless shelter, and not asking what they did to get there, but opening the doors with a love that wants to help them without limits.     Genshai means not crossing the street, driving by, or closing your eyes to the ugliness, brokenness, oppression and hurt of those around you.

At the same time, Genshai is not just about how we approach each other.   Genshai is, according to the author, about silencing the war within.   It’s about not listening and believing those ugly things we tell ourselves about who we are.   It’s about refusing to listen to the doubt, and the fear that creeps into our day to day and that tells us that we are not beautiful, not strong, or not worth.   Genshai is the conviction that we will never allow ourselves to be treated small or at the same time, treat ourselves that way.

In the end the author deserves the credit for that simple but powerful reminder.   At the same time, I have to point out where the author fails. He fails when he points to the words, as the source of the power.   He attributes to them some sort of divine power to bounce around in our heads and wreck havoc.

The power that comes to us, when we remember these words comes not from the words themselves, but because they are reminders.   They remind us that we are something greater, something better, and something infinitely more beautiful than the images that we have of ourselves.   We are these things because, simply, we are children of God.   The power comes in reminding ourselves of that lineage.

Too often all of us fall into that trap of thinking a new car, job promotion, beauty makeover, or some level of fame will make us happy.   We think if we can land that perfect job, the perfect bride, or the perfect abs than the rest of it will all be perfect too.

To be honest, these things usually do work, but only for a while.   Yet they won’t last forever.   In the end, our bodies sag, and our cars rust.   In the end, we will see something or someone who is prettier, fitter, healthier, richer and wiser, than what we have.   Too often, as a result we turn on ourselves.   If we were only better, smarter, younger or prettier,…

We could have what they have.

When we come face to face with the fact that our illusions have left us empty our world shakes.

At the same time, these things can be stolen from us. These things can be stolen by people and events can either subtly or profoundly change our lives and knocking us off our feet.   We live in a world where bad things are done to us, or happen without our control, and it can leave us struggling to breathe.

Ultimately, the only words that truly have the power to remove us from either the world created for us, or those of our own making are these: You are a child of God.

True happiness comes from remembering that truth, and choosing to follow Jesus example of compassion, goodness, love, justice and mercy.   The power comes from realizing that whatever you do have, or don’t have in this life doesn’t matter.   The power comes from realizing that you are infinite in power, promise, and potential. The power comes from knowing that you are better, bigger, and more beautiful than the world would have you believe.

The power comes with knowing that you are a child of God, and as such you can stand, with back firm and legs true, and tell the mountains to move. In the end, The power comes from listening to the divinity behind the words. The power comes from the God that whispers those words into your very ears.

As we bring this message to close, I would like to share a story that I first read in a text book for a preaching class some time ago.   The story is said to come from a memoir of a woman named Mary Ann, named the Whisper Test.   With a spirit of full disclosure, I searched for some time for this book and I am not entirely whether it exists or not.   In the end, this may be a bit of lore,

Either way, in that book Bird tells the story of how she met Jesus in the kindness of a teacher, but for me it struck me as the perfect illustration for this message.

This girl was born with multiple birth defects: she had a cleft palate, she was deaf in one ear, a disfigured face, and was severely bow footed. As a child, Mary Ann suffered not only the physical impairments but also the emotional damage inflicted by other children.

The story goes that she is continually bullied and laughed at, and somehow making believe that her cleft palate was the result of some freak accident rather than birth, somehow made it easier for Mary Ann.   When other kids weren’t poking her, she would tell them she cut it on a piece of glass.

She talks about being an outcast, feeling ugly, and made to feel less, small, and of little value.

The memoir goes on and describes the school’s annual and low-tech hearing test.

After sending the kids out of the room, one by one they would return, and the teacher would call them to her desk.   The child would cover one ear, and then the other.

The teacher would whisper something to the child like “the sky is blue” or “you have new shoes.” This was “the whisper test.” If the teacher’s phrase was heard and repeated, the child passed.

One year Mary Ann was in the class of Miss Leonard, one of the most beloved teachers in the school.

On the day of the test, when her turn came, Mary Ann was called into the room.

As Mary Ann cupped her hand over her good ear, Miss Leonard leaned forward to whisper.

Miss Leonard did not say, “The sky is blue” or “You have new shoes.” What she whispered was something infinitely more profound and those few words profoundly and completely changed her life.

Miss Leonard leaned in and whispered simply;   “I wish you were my little girl.”

In that moment, she was not an outcast, she wasn’t ugly, and she was worthless.   She was beautiful. She was special.   She was unique.   She was more than her cleft palate and more than her deafness.

As we find ourselves here in this place, the truth is there is a voice in our heads that we cling too.   It tells us that we are not good enough, not strong enough, not young enough, not pretty enough, or not worthy enough to become the person we are called to be, or that for one reason or another that we are not entitled to the blessings that available to us.

Maybe if we want to change ourselves and our world, we should start with simply task;   embrace Geshai.   Embrace the truth that you are not small, you are not insignificant, and that you are not unimportant.

Embrace the truth that you have power, promise, and potential.

For once and for all, this year, remember that someone has called out to you,

Someone has whispered in your ear.

And said,… You are my child.

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