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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Haiti’s Heroes

In Non Profit on January 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm

“Never stop being courageous.”

These were the last words I wrote to my sponsored child, Anne-Cherley Amilcar, in a letter I composed after hearing about the earthquake in Haiti. Anne-Cherely is Haitian and although she lives nearly 30 miles north of Port-au-Prince, we continue to wait with bated breath for word of her safety. The entire country, already in peril from abject poverty, has been hurled even further into a miserable horror that threatens every human being within its boundaries. Though all are vulnerable to great suffering, the greatest vulnerability belongs to the Haitian children. Prior to the earthquake, the number of orphaned children in Haiti was estimated at nearly 450,000. It is unconscionable to even try to comtemplate an increase in such a number, but the post-quake increase is certain.

Fortunately, there are heroic organizations, such as Compassion International, who have been attempting to assist the needs of Haiti’s impoverished children over the course of many years and have done so with much success. It was through C.I. that we found our Anne-Cherley and it is through them that we will continue to offer our support. They are going to need it. There will be childhood development centers that will need to be rebuilt and sadly, staff and volunteer positions that will need to be refilled. For those who are longing to offer some kind of support to Haiti, this is definitely a trustworthy and nobel organization to consider.

Of equal standing as a highly effective and reputable outreach to Haitian orphans is a non-profit called Danita’s Children. The organization began over ten years ago when Danita Estrella spontaneously traveled to Haiti with nothing more than a strong sense that she was supposed to go there to offer help. She had no idea how to implement her desire but she knew she was purposed to go. After a year of wandering from volunteer position to volunteer position, she was still unsettled. There was a haunting sense that she was not walking out the level of service that was rooted in her heart.

But the ambiguity of her journey vanished on a day emblazened in her memory forever.

As the story goes, she was sitting at a café table eating her food when she suddenly felt the imploring stare of an underfed boy fall upon her. She looked over and lifted her hand to signal that she saw his need and wanted him to wait for her. Her intent was to order him food and then take it to him, however, there was a man who saw this interchange and became enraged at the boy. He took a whip and began to strike the child. Danita, busy ordering the food, heard his screams and instincively shot up from the table and ran to the child’s rescue. She grabbed the brutal man by his collar and shook him with all her might and then ran to the boy, picked him up, comforted him and bought him food to eat. It was then that she knew her purpose. She decided right then and there that she would open an orphanage for abandoned children.

What began with a small plate of food for a hungry frightened child has developed into three homes that house 75 orphans, a school that provides education to nearly 600 children and a meal program that feeds 17,000 each month. As glorious as all that is, Danita has refused to rest. Right now, her organization is in the midst of building their very first children’s medical center. It is without a doubt that when that mission is completed, Danita will continue to create even more paths of provision for Haiti’s children.

Danita is my hero and it is because of people like her, those who have committed themselves to serving the needs of Haiti’s most vulnerable regardless of personal cost, it is because of such people that I was able to write words of strength to Anne-Cherley. Heroes have great courage and I pray for our little girl to hold onto hers.

The courageous will find each other.


Book review: Alone with a Jihadist

In Church and State, Military on December 7, 2009 at 10:48 am

At the risk of being a spoiler, the last paragraph in Aaron D. Taylor’s book, Alone with a Jihadist, left me with such optimism, I must reveal it now.

“… why wait till the age come? The world is crying out for peace today. Let there be peace on earth – and for the love of God – let it begin with the Church!”

Last month, shortly after Cara and I founded Lifted on Eagle’s Wings, I was reading one of my daily newsletters and found a Sojourner’s column written by Aaron D. Taylor. I was so impressed with what he had to say, I sent him a short note of praise.

We communicated in short emails and I ordered his book. I must be clear from a personal place. I never thought for a moment this young Pentecostal evangelist, from the most conservative place theology could imagine, would resonate with me for an entire book. I ordered the book more so I could understand that “other side” of Christianity. It was a way for me to sit back with my maturity and my Christian confidence with my answers about God and be ready to refute every point this person made.

Taylor shocked me to the point that I am recommending his book to atheists. Yes. The wisdom, honesty and Biblical truth that he illuminates in his book astound me.

Taylor has traveled the world as a missionary. He answered a call to be part of a documentary called Holy Wars and spend a day with a radical Muslim jihad. His book touches upon his experience but expands upon the idea why Christians should never go to war. Never. Never kill, never fight with violence. Even after sitting down with a powerful extremist who considers it his mission to destroy our nation, our religion, and us, he still feels we should never go to war, to never fight violence with violence.

In the United States, we hold democracy side by side with our Christian teachings. We believe that we truly are One Nation Under God. We Trust in God and we fight for that freedom. Our flag waves side by side with the cross. It’s interesting to note that the largest democracy in the world is not the United States, but India. Yet, we Americans consider democracy our God-given right. It’s easy to trace the origins of such a mindset. Our currency, our pledge, our justification for our actions all refer back to God, from our earliest memories. Not much unlike the schooling of Muslim. They also learn at an early age about their faith and their nationalism.

One of the most informative statements from the first chapter reveals the views a jihad holds towards American Christians. “You still haven’t described how you would implement the Bible as a way of life or in government… What is godly government? I don’t understand… I don’t expect you to know the reason why you don’t know because the answer is not in there… Let me tell you what we do with homosexuals, okay? They are to be taken to the top of a mountain and thrown off and killed. It’s capital punishment. For the one who is an adulterer, if they are unmarried, a hundred lashes. If they’re married, stoned to death. This is Islamic Sharia. It’s comprehensive… I’m trying to be honest with you because you are holding a completely corrupted message that doesn’t tell you what to do in these situations.”

The jihadist’s point was that the Muslim religion is very clear how to deal with aberration. Christianity is unclear, therefore an invalid form of government.

The jihad continued, about America, “Nothing is addressed. Evil is allowed to run rampant, okay? And you just keep propagating peace and love and all that sort of thing and it’s not really good enough…”

With that sort of introduction, the book humbles the most militant Christian. As the book continues, Taylor examines why militant and Christian need not include violence.

Taylor repeatedly cites Biblical evidence to make the case for peace. Jesus turned the other cheek, preached for us to love our enemies, and even rebuked Peter for defending him. Jesus never endorsed violence. Instead, He gave us the gifts of scripture, worship, and love.

Taylor also juxtaposes the American Revolution for freedom from England with the peaceful non-violent evolution from Canada and Australia. He considers the financial cost of war versus peace. He addresses it all.

Highlighting peaceful revolutionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and even American writer Henry David Thoreau, Taylor explains a different way, a truly Christ-like way. He probes our nationalism, our faith, and our core beliefs in a way that remind us indeed that Jesus did not just come to forgive our sins, but instead to teach us how to live.

I highly recommend his book if you’re a Christian who just doesn’t understand why we shouldn’t violently fight the evil forces of our world. I recommend this book to anyone who embraces the idea of peace, but doesn’t know why we bother. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever questioned why we are at war. 


Holy Halloween

In Holidays on November 3, 2009 at 7:26 am

This past Halloween, I was getting ready to drive over to a church function designed to offset the satanic influences of the trick-or-treat season when it occurred to me that many Christians seem to be in a mode of combating national holidays instead of just celebrating them. There are those who are aggressively obvious about their agenda while others, like my church, take a more friendly and inclusive approach. Regardless of the intensity, in general, there is usually a dual mission of attack and atonement attached to the Christian holiday effort. 

Par example: 

Thanksgiving: We attack poverty by handing out free turkeys at the food bank; which atones for the indulgence of eating our own.

Christmas: We attack secularism by wearing pins declaring Jesus is the reason for the season; which atones for the maxed out credit cards used to purchase our presents.

Easter: We attack pagan influences by sharing a Passover dinner, watching Passion of the Christ or putting tracts in a basket; which atones for the chocolate covered bunnies. 

It’s not that any of these activities are wrong, per se, yet there’s a tinge of penitent artifice that doesn’t feel exactly right either. Like a spiritual splinter you don’t know how to pull, you live with the discomfort even though it threatens to fester. 

For years I struggled with donning a good attitude about Hallowthanksmas and Feaster… as if the irreverent names don’t say it all.

When I first became a Christian, I loved Christmas most, Easter second, Thanksgiving third and Halloween, never. As my theology deepened so did my desire for a more meaningful connection to the holidays yet I wasn’t sure how to have an orthodox practice that didn’t alienate friends and family; most of whom love waiting for Santa Clause, dressing like demons and coloring eggs. A few years of trial and error passed and much frustration ensued. What was once joyful became burdensome to the point that I didn’t want to celebrate anything. Wearing a Jesus pin at Christmas felt more like a political campaign than an expression of loyal love. Having a Passover dinner specifically on Easter just to counter the Ishtar Bunny felt less than authentic as well. 

I’ve had a consistent opinion that declarative statements about Jesus should be bravely made any time of the year and if we’re going to acknowledge our Jewish roots -and believe me I think we should- then why not do it in congruence with the Jewish calendar instead of solely when it’s time for rabbits, baskets and eggs? A similar suggestion with Thanksgiving: why resort to handing out free food only once a year when people are starving the other 364 days as well?

I hear you quite possibly saying, “Yes, fine Cara, but surely you can see that Halloween is a different matter. It’s a satanic day of celebration for crying out loud and it’s our duty to either disparage it or counter it or engage it with an activity that is a combination of the two!” 

Really? Exactly where does it say that in the Bible? Be salt and light, perhaps? Okay, but again, that should be done throughout the year, not just on Halloween, right? Where does it say to seek out the evil holidays and counter them with your own? Scripture doesn’t say any such thing. In fact, Paul pretty much tells us in 1 Corinthians to celebrate whatever we want to celebrate but to do it in such a way as to be mindful of others who carry a different opinion so as not to cause them inner turmoil. In short, have fun but don’t hurt anybody when you do it. 

And that’s the part of scripture that has brought me to where I am today… relaxed. I see any and every holiday as an opportunity for sharing a little bit more of who I am and what I have with those God has placed into my life. I see it as nothing more and nothing less than an excuse to accentuate the fruits of the spirit in a celebratory context. I still like to joke around about the obvious contradictions our holidays bring but no longer do I carry cynical vexation towards them. 

As for parenting, I tell my children to live each day for the glory of God. That includes Halloween. So, they are allowed to enjoy trick-or-treating but my daughter can’t dress like a little Lolita and my son can’t dress in the grotesque. This rule applies for the day after Halloween, and the day after that and the days beyond those. Consistency is what I go for. 

And authenticity? Well, yes that too is important so I’ve made it a point to teach my kids the history behind the holidays we celebrate. For instance, they know that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25th and that the resurrection has nothing to do with Easter and that Thanksgiving was proclaimed by George Washington, affirmed by Abraham Lincoln and enacted by F.D.R. They know these facts but they also know that there is a deeper spiritual truth far beyond the subcutaneous data-points of life.  That truth rests in God and when you’re anchored in Him, he’ll put the Holy in any holiday.

Honoring our Christian faith during increasingly worldly holidays 

This past weekend, like many other families around the nation, we celebrated Halloween. While personally, Halloween is not a favorite holiday of mine, I do receive joy from seeing the children dressed in costume, and call me crazy, but I am completely amused to see the sugar high (for at least the first hour or two) that kids get. I’m not particularly interested in being frightened and I personally do not enjoy dressing in costume, but I’ve never had a problem with the holiday.

Until recently. 

Like many Christians, I *know* that Halloween originally was a pagan holiday. For many, it still is. It never really bothered me. I also *know* that Christmas didn’t really take place on December 25th. That doesn’t stop me from celebrating (like the other 364 days) the birth of Jesus.  I am strong in my faith and have no concerns in the superstitious teachings that I light a jack-0-lantern to scare away the evil spirits looking for my soul. I carve and light jack-0-lanterns because they look cute. The evil spirits can find my soul any day of the year with or without a lit pumpkin. I am responsible for guarding my soul. My God tells me that I only need to rely on Him. Ghost stories and spooky tales don’t frighten me.

What frightens me more is the increasing commercialization of any holiday, Christian, government or pagan. We are inundated with the advertisements to spend, spend, and spend in order to display an appropriate level of celebration. We are encouraged to eat unhealthy foods in gluttonous amounts to join the festivities.  We are not respecting our simple and healthy gift of life. 

At His birth, the only light shining on Jesus was the Star of the East. He didn’t have moving displays of reindeer, snowmen and Santas lighting His stable. He received three gifts, not 87. He came into this world humbly, and I wonder how He feels about the pomp and circumstance that surround our celebration of His day. I wonder indeed “What Would Jesus Do?”

As a culture, we focus on material displays of celebration. We buy, spend, and consume at alarming rates in the name of whatever holiday we are marking. The wastefulness is appalling. The disrespect for our bodies, our temples created in God’s image, is frightening. Our very choices of celebration are an anathema to what we are celebrating, no matter what the origins.

As Christians, we are expected to live humbly. We are asked to live in this world and not of it. Yet, we join the chorus of the world and flash our conspicuous consumption with very little substance. How can we express joy without wasteful consumption? 

What are your plans for the next few months to celebrate and still remember your faith?