How Gatsby and the Pope Explain My Life Choices

There’s something different about Jay Gatsby.  He’s the only one at his lavish parties not drinking.  He doesn’t yawn and stare with restless eyes.   According to narrator Nick Carraway, what made Gatsby different was his “extraordinary gift for hope.”  I would add a slight variant on that.  Unlike everyone else who wanders aimlessly asking only “What’ll we plan?” Gatsby has purpose.   As my students discovered in today’s chapter, what drives Gatsby, giving him both hope and purpose is love.

And yeah, okay, it’s a fallen love that serves as a poor excuse for his shadier actions and creates false illusions about man’s ability to control his world, but nevertheless, this radical love for another person sets Gatsby apart from the crowd.

Right.  So what does this mini-lecture on 20th century lit. have to do with anything?

Well, for a long time now I’ve been struggling to explain the mission work in Honduras.  I tell people I’m going and the response is usually (and reasonably!) “Are you going to teach English?” Or build houses or work in an orphanage or this or that?

This is the point where I start feeling awkward.  Because I’m not doing any of those things.  No, I’m asking you to donate $10,000 to support me in the “ministry of hanging out.”

Wait. What?

I know.  It doesn’t sound very official.  But it’s the best way I’ve heard this particular Honduran experience described.

And don’t get me wrong. It is an imperative upon us to make sure the physical needs of the poor are met.  We are required by Christ to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  But without love,we’re “a  clashing cymbal.”

Which all brings me back to Gatsby and the mansions, the food, the alcohol, the music, the dancing.  When the party ends, you’re left with characters that are still empty, alone, and broken.  These material goods have failed to give authentic hope or meaning to life.  Love does.

Of course, Daisy’s love will ultimately fail Gatsby; she abandons him.  If he’d lasted a few more pages, I don’t doubt that Gatsby’s hope and purpose would have finally been crushed.

Honduras is a country suffering deeply from abandonment.  Last year as I was walking through the streets of an aldea with a teenage girl, I started asking her about her family.  She told me that she lived with her grandmother because her mother didn’t want her.  Her mother didn’t want her.  Most heartbreaking about this story is how common it is.  Children abandoned by parents.  Wives abandoned by husbands.  A nation abandoned by the Church.

Like Gatsby, our final happiness can’t depend upon other people.   We’re too broken.  Even the most wonderful people leave you when they die.  But we’ve got the secret to happiness forever, our purpose as laid out by the Baltimore Catechism:  to know, love, and serve God.  Notice that we know in order to love and from the love stems forth the service.  Love is always at the center.

Anyways.  I’m going to Honduras because I want them to know that no matter the brokeness that surrounds us, what it come down to is that Jesus loves us.

How will I be sharing this message?  By hanging out.  By singing songs with small kids.  By letting teenage girls braid my hair.  By my horrendous attempts to play soccer.  By watching soccer.  By sharing the gospel in people’s homes.  By celebrating birthdays.  By crying at funerals.  By walking with them in our shared journey to heaven.

As I wrap up, I quickly wanted to touch on how overjoyed (read: SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED!!!!!) I am with our new Pope Francis.  These past couple of days I’ve been blown away by his humility and love of the poor.  Pictures like this:

induce chills.  In it, it’s just so clear, so easy to see Christ’s face in the suffering and Christ’s face in the serving.  I’m going to Honduras because I want to become more like Christ by loving His people.

ha.  easier said than done.


BN:  My English teacher in high school instilled in me the idea that by reading the stories of others’ lives we can better understand how we should live our own.  I wind up sorting through a lot of my own thoughts by reflecting upon the various books I’m reading.  Apologies if that’s not your thing.  It’s mine… and my blog…. soooo it’ll probs happen again.  Just a heads up.


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