Tag Archives: Greg Mortenson

Saint and Sinner – Stoning Greg Mortenson

How do you use stones?

This is a rare second posting, but I want to respond to all the recent accusations surrounding Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools.   The mission of his foundation, Central Asia Institute, is to build and support schools in the isolated mountain villages of Afghanistan and Pakistan.   Mortenson has received incredible publicity and significant donations for this work.  No one denies that he and his foundation have done incredible work for the children of the region.

However the TV show 60 minutes and the author Jon Krakauer have made substantial and credible accusations that Mortenson partially fabricated some of the stories in his books and that he has mismanaged funds.  Mortenson has not totally denied these accusations, but continues to stand by the work he has done. 

I cannot discern who has the total truth in this tempest.  I suspect the truth is somewhere in middle.  

What disturbs me is how quick I was “to judge” Greg Mortenson.   I felt this incredible disappointment as I read the Jon Krakauer’s report and saw some of the major blemishes on the “saintly” portrait I made of Mortenson.  I discovered that my hero has feet of clay.  But this should not surprise me.

Greg, like I, grew up a Lutheran and one of Martin Luther’s contributions to our spiritual heritage is the concept of saint and sinner: simul Justus et Pecator or simultaneously saint and sinner.   We are all sinners by our actions.  We all have self-serving hearts that seeks only our interests.  Greg Mortenson is a sinner just like me.  When Jesus was confronted with the woman caught in adultery he responded by asking the person without sin to cast the first stone.  Her accusers all slipped away one by one, leaving her alone with Jesus.  He did not condemn her, but sent her away to sin no more.  (John 8:1-11)

Greg Mortenson will need to be held accountable for any mismanagement he has done.  His foundation will need to take drastic steps to rebuild the trust that is being eroded by these reports.  I am praying that such steps will be taken wisely and courageously.

But I also want to state that Greg is still a saint in my eyes.   Our sainthood is not based on our reputation, but on the grace of God.   I am praying that Greg will find his faith and mission strengthened and renewed by God’s Spirit, just as I am praying that prayer for myself and my congregation.  After all I prefer stones to be used in building schools, not attacking reputations.

Stones into Schools Questions

In my last post I wrote about patience.   A true model of patience is Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute.

Greg Mortenson’s Stones into Schools

Greg Mortenson’s second book, Stones into Schools, will be the subject of  the book club that my wife Carolyn and I are hosting next week.   Greg spent time growing up in Roseville, MN and became a mountain climber.   His first book, Three Cups of Tea, describes how he found his calling building schools in isolated mountain villages of Pakistan.  It is a thrilling adventure story.  In the second book, subtitled Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Greg continues his incredible story of patience and persistence. 

My wife crafted some discussion questions that I encourage you to use for your own reflection as you read Greg’s book.  The questions cover the first 100 pages (which is what we are discussing next week).  Feel free to leave a comment on any question.

  1. Mortenson says, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”  Do you agree or disagree?  Explain
  2. Were you surprised with Mortenson’s comment that religious scholars of Islam have told him that, “Murder and suicide are two of the most unforgivable sins in Islam?”  Why or why not?
  3. Mortenson says that in order to get things done in Pakistan and Afghanistan, “It is essential to listen with humility to what others have to say.”  Is this something that anyone anywhere can do to work for peace?  Why or why not?
  4. Mortenson says that his work demands patience and that “any wise village elder will tell you, anything truly important is worth doing very, very slowly.”  What could we, in our fast-paced American culture, learn from this philosophy?
  5. Does the quotation, “last place first” philosophy (p. 35) of the Central Asia Institute make sense to you?  Why or why not?
  6. How did Mortenson’s upbringing in Tanzania prepare him for his work today?
  7. Reread Sardhar Kahn’s poem on pages 99-100.  What are your thoughts and response?