Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Greenland, Icebergs and...the Greek Orthodox Church?

Greenland, icebergs and…the Greek Orthodox Church? You betcha. Last September Patriarch Bartholomew sponsored his seventh water-borne symposium in the series “Religion, Science and the Environment.” The Patriarch is committed to being a good steward. To that end he has sponsored symposia around the world. This past symposium was titled, “The Arctic: Mirror of Life.”

The symposium highlighted a timely ecological crisis while bringing together religious leaders from around the world. They included Jews, Christians, Jains, Sikh, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. For this year Inuit and Saami leaders from the arctic also joined the symposium.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew lead the leaders in common prayer. The icebergs and the coast of Greenland were the backdrop for this group of world spiritual leaders. While the services were moving the reason for being there was sobering.

The most dramatic change was been the rapid rate at which the ice shelf is melting. The ice shelf is the smallest on record and the meltage is believed to be the result of global warming. The loss of ice will effect the culture and way of life of the Greenlanders. It will also result in rising water around the world. The fear is that the result will be the disappearance of smaller island nations and the swamping of lowland coastal areas such as Bangladesh and Florida.

The members of the symposium sailed around Greenland, a trip of over 750 miles. The trip ended with services at the ruins of Tjodhilde’s Church. This is the site of the first church in North America. It was built in 1000 C.E. by Eric the Red’s wife, Tjodhilde.

Patriarch Bartholomew stated, “What must immediately take place is repentance, together with the change of life that accompanies repentance.” May it be so.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Is the Election Over Yet?

Well, the Florida Primary is almost here. Super Tuesday is almost here. I love politics, I love democracy. I do not like this system of electing a president.

I do not like a system of campaigning that involves at least two years of a candidate’s life. I can not believe all of the financial resources, the human resources and time spent that could be used for something important.

Don’t get me wrong, picking a president and picking them intelligently is important. That is not what this is about. This is about selling a candidate. This is about selling candidates who change their position to match the electorate and then call that being a leader. This is about candidates who apologize for past discrepancies between their record and their current position. Worse they apologize for any past discrepancies in their record and the party line. What about integrity, values, and standing up for what you believe?

Never mind that the majority of Americans are moderates. Most Americans want a strong defense, they want limited government but they also want services from that government. Never mind. Once the candidates run for president they run for the extremes. Moderates are viewed as “liberal” or “conservative”. It never occurs to these folks that neither word is a bad word.

So, there is not enough money for education or health care. There are not enough resources to do something to stop the genocide in Darfur. There are not enough resources to improve the infrastructure of America. But there is enough money for 24 months of campaigning. There are enough soap boxes to talk about what is really important, namely them.

The world is in a mess. Our country has challenges from all fronts. It is important that we know as much as possible about our candidates. That does not take two years. European nations can pull off an election in six weeks.

So, I will watch and listen. I will decide and decide and decide again between now and the conventions and between the conventions and November. Just please, please, please, let them all take a day off of campaigning.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Snow, Fort Wayne and a Good Dog, Yes!!!

Good News, Bad News, Good News.

Good News: I was walking my dog Reese in Foster Park early yesterday morning. The Good News is that it had snowed. The sky was clear and deep blue and the moon, three fourths full, was shinning as if it’s only purpose was to make me smile.

Reese is a great dog that follows secret trails. She sniffs out the rabbits, ground hogs, raccoons, possums and red fox. She follows their trail by scent. I am always amazed to see her catch a trail and then follow this invisible trail as it loops around, loops back, goes here and there. Well today there was snow on the ground and there were tracks. I could finally see the trail she was following.

The Bad News: it was -5 degrees, a little cold for a before breakfast walk. However, that also meant the St. Mary’s River was frozen. The sheets of ice that had moved were now frozen in place. Ice was jutting around, sheets of ice (river) were on top of other sheets of ice and it was all covered with snow. Reese and I looked down at the river, it was a beautiful sight.

Reese is not just a trail dog, she is (or rather was when she was younger and had better sight) a looking dog. She would stop, sit and watch birds in trees, she would watch airplanes and helicopters. So, looking at the river was natural.

I was also a “looker”. I was looking at the trees. It is January and they are all bare, naked to the limbs. During gray overcast days this just adds to the sense of depression. However, not today. Today the black silhouetted trees against the deep blue sky looked like something from an art gallery.

Good News, Bad news and, oh yeah, the second Good News. Last night Reese demanded a late night walk. I got my coat on opened the door and it was snowing. This was a beautiful snow. The kind of snow that looks like a combination of Ivory Soap flakes and crystal. It was thick, every step we made left large prints. Reese did what she always does in the snow, she rolled over and made “snow bears”. We walked, ran, discovered and played. So the last Good News? It is always Good News to have a dog when it is snowing.

Thursday, January 24, 2008
Searching for Common Ground

A Common Word: A Bridge Between the Islamic and Christian World?

As stated earlier, on 13 October 2007, 138 Muslim leaders called for a dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders. The open letter to the leaders of Christianity is known as “A Common Word Between Us and You". Some have criticized this proposal as not representing a broad enough spectrum of Islam or not representing the countries that are most identified with the War on Terror. However, a reading of the document disputes this. The signatory members represent universities, NGOs, nations, religious organizations and humanitarian organizations. The leaders in fact hail from around the globe and include members from:
Nigeria, Chad, Jordan, Morocco, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Mauritania, France, Syria, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Algeria,
Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Russia, Slovenia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Germany. Gambia, Malaysia , Pakistan, Egypt, Oman, Iraq, Canada, Switzerland, Brunei, United Kingdom, Croatia, Palestine, Belgium, Ukraine, Kosovo, Indonesia, India, Uzbekistan , and Syria.

The letter points out that half of the world’s population consists of members of these two world religions. The writers believe that without dialogue, without peace between these two faiths there cannot be peace in the world. They then identify the common ground on which to dialogue. This includes Love of God and Love for Your Neighbors. The writers point out that these two tenets of faith can be found over and over in the scriptures of both faiths.

Over 300 Christian leaders from around the world and from various denominations have responded positively to this initiative. On Nov. 19, 2007 the Vatican responded, stating, "Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely the belief in one God.” A working meeting is scheduled between the Vatican and members of the open letter.

Those critical of the letter or at least pessimistic about its impact have elucidated a number of concerns. These include that a reading of the document makes it clear that the signatories view their faith more favorably than Christianity. However, when have leaders of faiths or denominations not viewed their faith or denomination as superior to others? If they do not hold this view why are they the leaders of that faith?

Another concern is the discrepancy between love of neighbor and the human rights violations and religious discriminations of Christians by Muslims in some Islamic nations. While this is a valid concern the counterpoint would be that Islamic citizens also are the target of hate crimes and discrimination in Christian nations. The call for dialogue is not to deny problems but to open up a forum to solve problems.

A reading of the blogosphere will reveal numerous articles that bring up the Muslim massacres of minorities over the centuries. There is no value in denying history. At the same time the counter point could easily be the religious wars of Europe, the Crusades or imperialism in the name of God. There is enough guilt for everyone. The signatories are asking to focus on the tenets of each faith and not the failings of each faith’s followers.

I remember citizens in Iran, Jordan and Egypt standing in solidarity with America after the attacks of September 11th. I remember Islamic scholars denouncing the terrorists and I remember Americans asking why Muslims weren’t standing up to terror! I did not understand how those responses could be ignored and I do not understand how this current offer to dialogue, to attempt to bridge differences can so easily be viewed as suspect.

Father Dan Madigan SJ, founder of the Institute for the Study of Religions at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome and member of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims, points out that the Christian West distorts history when they point to Islam as the “greatest threat to mankind”. His arguments to the contrary include:
In the past 15 years millions of Christians have been killed in Africa by fellow Christians
A Catholic missionary is “dozens of times” more likely to be killed in Latin America than in the Muslim world
The 20th century witnessed the murder of millions of Jews by people who grew up in Christian nations

There is no doubt that we are living in a new age of martyrdom. The plight of Christian minorities throughout the world is a very real and serious concern. There is no doubt that many followers of Islam fear their faith is being threatened by the secular West. However, we might do better to respond not only as theologians and religious leaders to this call for dialogue. Perhaps we need to respond as the parents and brothers and sisters of those who have died, of the innocents. There has been too much suffering, too much killing and dying. The plight of Christians and Muslims just trying to live in the world, the death of our loved ones and the tenets of our faiths demand that we talk to one another, that we talk to our neighbors.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Here I am Lord

Here I am Lord, St. Josephs Cathedral Choir, Hyderabad, India.

Pray for Christian Unity: Over and over, and over and...

This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We, all Christians of various denominations and Rites, are to pray unceasingly for unity. We are to recognize that there is more that unites us than divides us, there is more that we agree on than we disagree on.

I agree but it is difficult. We all know that we are right and yet it is not about us! We started out as one church but when were there not divisions? Certainly Saints Peter and Paul knew of divisions. Were we to follow the Law, stay kosher, and follow all the old commandments? Were the Gentiles, the Greeks free of the Law and yet open to salvation? Certainly the Church Fathers knew divisions, otherwise why all of the Ecumenical Councils? Certainly the Bishops and Metropolitans knew division, the Bishop of Rome was first among equals and yet the councils met everywhere except Rome.

Disunity has resulted in so much loss. The churches of the East and of Northern Africa are diminished in size but not in contribution to the Body. Yet where is our support and appreciation of these churches. We (many Christian denominations) send missionaries to the lands of the Eastern Churches to make them like us, Western. Why are we not helping them survive as a testament to their heritage and contribution to all of us?

If there were not divisions than why so many Romes? First Rome than Constantinople the Second Rome, then Kiev and then Moscow the New Romes. Schisms, Reformation, Inquisitions, Holy Wars, all in the name of one God, one Church. Yes, let’s pray for Christian Unity!

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is the result of the ecumenical movement. It is an attempt to heal the divisions within the Church. We are to reflect on: "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." We are to reflect on: “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20) In the United States this year the Society of Atonement marks one hundred years of praying for Christian Unity.

In 1894 Cardinal Mercier wrote the “Testament of Mercier”. This is the foundation of Unity Week. The Cardinal stated,
In order to unite with one another, we must love one another;
in order to love one another, we must know one another;
in order to know one another, we must go and meet one another.

You can tell when unity is present by its gifts. The Council of Churches in Sudan consists of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Episcopalian Church, African Pentecostal Church, African Inland Church, and the African Interior Church. They have been instrumental in negotiating a peace settlement that has ended a 21 year civil war, the longest war in African history.

The Roman Catholic Church and various Orthodox leaders have cautiously but continually been exploring points of unity. Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics continue this important dialogue. Peace Churches find ways to work with one another to achieve peace while not minimizing their important theological differences.

All over the world one can find examples of denominations sharing resources and personel in an attempt to feed the poor, heal the sick and advocate for justice. Still, the divisions are real and they interfere with these good works.

So, again, let us pray for Christian Unity.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day: Looking Back, Moving Forward

So today was Martin Luther King Day. I don’t really like holidays, they interfere with my normal life. I am an Ordinary Time type guy! However, I really do like MLK Day.

I grew up in a family and a neighborhood that had very little respect for Civil Rights or diversity. I am only different (so are they now) because of a young child’s assumption. I remember watching Dr. King on television. I had never seen so many African-Americans in my life. My neighborhood was poor but all white. I didn’t know what to make of this guy. Then my hero started talking, Walter Cronkite. My friends had different heroes, Johnny Unitas, Willy Mays, I had Walter. Looking back I am amazed I didn’t get beat up!

Anyway, Walter seemed to treat Dr. King with respect. I thought Walter was the smartest man on the planet, he explained the space program to me. So if Walter liked Rev. King than so did I. It was the beginning of my interest with diversity and it was all based on a little assumption.

I know we have a long way to go before we ever achieve Dr. King’s dream. I also know we have journeyed a long way over the years. The Church really is a Universal Church. The counties with the greatest growth in church membership are in South America, Africa and Asia. There are very few of us fair haired folks there! Growing up I remember Christians that had a hard time with integration. Now I receive the Eucharist from a priest from Africa, I make confession to a priest from India and I seek out the blessing of both. Inequality and hatred are easy to find but change is also easy to spot when you don’t take it for granted.

So today the university celebrated MLK Day. We started with a Mass. The music and the homily were both inspiring. Then we had a celebration of the arts. The celebration covered the life span. We had Apollo Theater Living Legend, Mr. Al Stiles and we had the Shee Kristyle Dancers who ranged from preschoolers to high schoolers. It was great.

Mr. Stiles was walking, talking, singing and dancing history right before our eyes. If I go look at my CDs and records he has worked with many of the folks I listen to. Mr. Stiles has worked with: Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Gregory Hines and Josephine Baker. He sings, he dances and he inspires.

Mr. Stiles has done it all. He was part of the Jazz scene of the 1930s and 40s. He played in New York, Chicago, L.A. and Vegas. He played the clubs, including the Apollo and the Cotton Club. He danced, sang, did radio, appeared in movies and recorded. He also entertained troops when he served in the Army.

However, that was not all there was to this incredible man. He also started the first black radio station. He was a union man who became president of a union. He started his own business. He was a husband and a father.

Mr. Stiles is an inspirational speaker. He developed a talk on “The Daring Person”. He lists 21 attributes of a daring Person. A few of these attributes include:
Dares to do something for the first time
Believes in his final success
Acts in spite of any timidity he may have
Never surrenders his individuality

Mr. Stiles had his family with him. It was clear they loved and respected him, how could they not.

The next performance was from the dancers. The young ones were cute, the older ones polished and talented and all were disciplined and appeared to enjoy what they were doing.

The show was organized by Drs. Ann Hernandez and Matt Smith, they really out did themselves this year!

MLK Day is not a day off, it is a day on. That means staff, faculty and students joined together in volunteering their services to the community. This year that included volunteering at: The Center for Non-violence, Love Community Center, Vincent House, Children’s Hope Hospitality House, St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store, Lutheran Hospital Children’s Wing and the Boys and Girls Club.

It was a great day of remembrance of a great life, of witnessing a great life, of seeing new talents develop and of giving back to our communities. So thank you Dr. King, Walter Cronkite, Al Stiles, Matt Smith and Ann Hernandez!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Difficult Time to Be a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew or a....

Well, it looks like it is a difficult time to be a Christian. In India the National Commission for Minorities determined that the deadly attacks in Orissa were preplanned. The attacks, the acts of Hindu fanatics (not to be confused with mainline Hindus) have now spread. Only weeks after the attacks in four districts of Orissa province attacks have now occurred in neighboring Chhattisgarh. The attacks were very specific and focused on a health camp that was accused of participating in conversion ceremonies.

On 15 January a missionary priest was shot and killed in Cotabato City in the Philippines. The priest, Father Jesus Reynaldo Roda, was killed by a suspected Abu Sayyaf extremist. The priest had been threatened in the past but never asked for a transfer. Father Roda was known for his generosity and kindness and Catholics and Muslims joined together at Holy Rosary Church to mourned his death.

Cotabato City is located in Mindanao and is part of the Muslim Autonomous region. The outpouring of support came from locals and Islamic leadership. The fear expressed is that the priest’s death reflects the heightened tension between Christians and Muslims in the Philippines.

Lebanon’s Chaldean Christian churches are now filling up. Not because of converts or a growing native Lebanese Chaldean population. Rather, refugees from Iraq’s Christian population are finding their way to Lebanon. While the number of Iraqi refugees to Lebanon are small in comparison to Iraqi refugees to Syria and Jordan the numbers are still stretching the resources of the Lebanese community.

So, it is difficult to be a Christian at this time. It is also difficult to be Muslim in many parts of the world. It is difficult to be a Jew, not only in the Middle East but the familiar face of anti-Semitism can again be found around the world. It is difficult to be a Buddhist in Burma. It is difficult to be a person of faith today and even harder to be true to your own faith and still respect the faith of your neighbor. And yet, what other acceptable alternative is there?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

East African Religious Leaders Pray for Peace in Kenya

The death toll in Kenya now stands at 600. Opposition leaders have called for continued protest of the election results. Religious leaders throughout Kenya are now calling for a mediated solution and not confrontation. Anglican and Catholic leaders are standing shoulder to shoulder in their stance against further violence.

Catholic nuns, members of the Association of Sisterhoods, have called on people to consider the humanitarian catastrophe that will ensue if the present course of action continues. They have especially asked people to pray and consider how their actions will impact women, children and the poor.

The sisters have called on the Opposition to seek justice not in the streets but in the courts. To that end, Kofi Annan and a number of African statesmen are expected to arrive in Kenya to negotiate a peace.

The Catholic international peace movement, Pax Christi has expressed its concern over developments in Kenya. The organization expressed its sadness over the loss of life, the displacement of peoples and the upheaval of a nation that had been a model of democracy for Africa. Pax Christi also called for international negotiations and an honest acknowledgment of ethnic strife in Kenya.

In an act of Catholic solidarity with the people of Kenya the Catholic religious leaders of Tanzania, Ethiopia and Eritrea are praying for peace in Kenya. From Dar es Salaam to Addis Ababa to Asmara Catholics are praying for peace. Episcopal leaders in the surrounding nations are also joining other Christians in praying for peace in Kenya.

This is not some abstract or geo-political gesture. Kenya has been the center of many conferences for the participating religious leaders. They know and love Kenya and describe the people of Kenya as welcoming and generous. The sadness they feel is real.

So tonight leaders from throughout Africa will begin to arrive in Nairobi. Their task will be daunting and necessary to help both sides view compromise as problem-solving and not losing. Let us join with the leaders of East Africa in praying for their success in softening hearts, opening eyes and making it possible for the beginning of healing to take place in Kenya.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Secular Franciscans, Solar Cookers and Darfur

Harness the Sun: Solar Cookers
Living in Darfur: Mattafix with Intro by Desmond Tutu

Ask and then listen! That is what yesterday taught me. I was meeting with my formation director, John Cooper and our small group of folks from our Secular Franciscan fraternity, the Holy Family Fraternity. We were answering the questions in our study guide. Mainly we were talking about the positive values of Franciscans, peace-making, valuing all of creation, appreciation of beauty and joy. We were especially focused on the humility of the Incarnation and the sacrifice/gift of the Passion.

All of this then came down to a question of application. If we are grateful then what are we doing to show or express that gratitude? Our fraternities, like all fraternities are suppose to be involved in service projects. We have been having some difficulty finding a project we can all agree on, that meets our abilities and time limitations. We wondered if perhaps we should have multiple projects and then report back to the fraternity on what we actually accomplished. The balance was between doing and not becoming fractured. Still the apostles had multiple missions they worked on. The early friars were all over the place, hence their dramatic growth. Both groups made sure them came together to then discuss their accomplishments and challenges. Perhaps that was a model we should consider.

After our meeting we walked over to Campus Ministry and joined the entire fraternity for our regular monthly meeting. Today was special. We had guest speakers, Stephen and Sheila Harrigan. They are members of Fellowship Missionary Church. Sheila is a local nurse. Stephen grew up in Western Africa and is very involved in humanitarian issues related to Sudan and Darfur. Today they were demonstrating the reasons and uses of Solar Cookers.

Steve explained that in the refugee camps fuel for cooking is scarce. Folks have to go outside of the camp to find trees for cooking. The area is desert, what few trees that can be found will be dug up, even their roots will be used for cooking fuel. The problem is, when the women go out into the desert looking for wood the Janjiweed militias rape them. The women can not admit to being raped, so they return traumatized and simply state they were beaten. Should the male refugees go out looking for wood, men and boys, they are killed. Solar cookers are one answer to a horrible situation. The cookers allow folks to simply use sunlight to cook food, there is no need to go out and place one’s self in danger. There is no need to increase the already rapid rate of deforestation.

Steve showed two videos of training Darfur refugees in how to use of the cookers. The cookers are ingenious. They are made of cardboard, reflective material and glue. The food is placed in pots painted black to hold the heat. The pots are place in plastic bags to hold the heat and deflect cooling wind and then the food is placed on the cardboard cookers. There they sit for a few hours and then the food, the rice, millets, breads, cakes, soups, stews are cooked! It was so simple, so inexpensive and so “do-able.”

Steve lived and traveled throughout Africa, his impressions were formed by a desire to care for others. Steve and Shelia were clear, we are called to care for our Islamic brothers and sisters who are hurting. They were clear that there is nothing simple or to be gained by playing the “us-them” game. The current government is trying to survive. It is not the government that allowed Al Queda to live in southern Sudan. It is not the government that sold southern Christian Sudanese into slavery in northern Islamic Sudan. Some of the very people that are being helped in Darfur were involved in the slave trade. The Janjeeweed are only one of multiple groups in conflict. This is a nation in transition that has also suffered greatly from a generation of civil war.

Steve spoke of the refugee problem in Khartoum. He told us how southern Sudanese who could, fled to the capital and now the outskirts are suburbs of poverty and huts. These people spend one third of their yearly income on food fuel and increase the deforestation of the southern Sudan which is rain forest. The solar cookers are of use to these folks as well.

So, our guest told us how we can offer one simple bit of assistance to the people of Darfur. How we are called upon to help our suffering Islamic brothers and sisters and should feel compelled to come to the aid of our hurting Christian brothers and sisters in Sudan.

We were looking for a project. Well, we have options. We can assist in the marketing of Darfur Solar Cookers. We can help make the cookers. We can donate money to purchase material and transportation of the cookers. One cooker cost $5.00. A cooker, two pots and a year supply of bags costs $30.00. $30.00 and a mother or daughter can avoid situations in which violence and rape are likely, valuable trees are not cut down and family financial resources can be spent on health or educational needs.

We asked what service projects we could participate in and then we were told. Can’t get any clearer then that!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Feast of the Epiphany: the Light and the Gifts

So today is the Feast of the Epiphany. That is the time we recognize the ‘shinning forth”, the incarnation. It is also the time that we recognize the Magi appearing to honor the infant Jesus.

This year however the Feast has multiple meanings. For the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese this is the end of our Jubilee Year, the 150 year anniversary of the Dioceses. It has been a memorable year. A Jubilee Cross made its way to every church in the diocese to be venerated. It was even at the University of Saint Francis. When it was time to move on to Precious Blood Parish it was escorted down Spring Street by students from USF and Precious Blood. This was the year of the pilgrims as seminary students and lay members walked and prayed from South Bend to the Cathedral in Fort Wayne. This was the year of celebrating Bishop D’Arcy’s 50 years of being a priest. The Mass was breath-taking. This was the year of the Eucharistic Congress at Notre Dame University. Today ends that incredible year.

The Diocese is worth celebrating. For a quiet little Hoosier diocese we have a special history. We started under the Bishop of Quebec and then under the Bishop of Baltimore, then Bardstown Kentucky (a very cool town) and finally of Vincennes. It was not until 1850’s that the Dioceses of Fort Wayne was created.

During those 150 short years we have had an impact that is far bigger than our numbers or geographic location would indicate. We have had impressive bishops including Luers, Dwenger and Knoll. We are home to the University of Saint Francis but to be honest the rest of the world knows us as home to the Catholic Harvard, Notre Dame University. The only Hoosier Saint, St. Theodore Guerin was instrumental in starting the Fort Wayne Catholic School system. Today our local Catholic Charities serve refugees from Burma, Afghanistan, Chad, Sudan, Somalia and a number of other counties. Our Universal Church is in fact becoming universal as we continue to welcome priests to our parishes from around the world. Our Sunday Visitor located in Huntington impacts Catholics all around the nation.

On a far more personal level, the Feast of the Epiphany is also the day our local Secular Franciscan Order, the Holy Family Fraternity celebrated its Christmas holiday season. We had a special Mass at USF. Afterwards we had great food, thoughtful presents and fantastic fellowship. We also have a lot to celebrate. Two of our members, Kathy Harpel and Shirley Bertels made their final professions this past year. We had a guest speaker talk about the plight of the citizens of Darfur and we made contributions for solar cookers for the refugees in Darfur. Events included a tour of the Bass Mansion and a retreat. It has been a good year.

So what do all of these events and people have to do with the Feast of the Epiphany? If the Epiphany is recognizing the “shinning” into the world then everything that follows are the fruits of that shinning. If the Epiphany is celebrating the Magi and their presentation of gifts to the infant Jesus than we are also celebrating our gifts, to one another and to the child. It has been a great year and it has been a great day.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Years

So, one year ended and another began. It is all very arbitrary but it marks the times of our lives.

Today is the Feast of the Mother of God. It is also a Day of Prayer for World Peace. There are plenty of things to pray for.

The election has gone very badly in Kenya and has dissolved into tribal violence. The President suddenly “found” enough to votes to win an election. The opposition is responding with protests and the two sides are now attacking one another. Last night folks took refuge inside a church and then the other side set the church on fire. The situation is very bad and neither the European Union nor the U.S. has congratulated the President on his “election”. At this time over 350 people have been killed and 75,000 have been driven from their homes. The nation is on the verge of civil war.

Yesterday in Sudan shooters opened up on a car clearly marked with U.S. Embassy emblems killing the Sudanese driver and the American ambassador. It is not clear if this was a random act of violence or anger over the U.N. taking control of Darfur.

Christians have been killed in Turkey, Iraq, and India. Christian communities are being harassed and dwindling in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

Somalia continues to suffer from civil war, warlordism and an ineffective Ethiopian occupation.

Pakistan is in chaos, Iraq continues to suffer on a daily basis, Afghani violence is increasing and the possibility of reverting, at least in some provinces, to rule by the Taliban is a real possibility.

New Orleans is ready to claim the title of the deadliest city in America.

So, Let us Pray.

So why be happy about a New Year? Because that is not the entire picture.

Within a year we will have a new president. No matter who is elected it looks like he or she will take global warming seriously.

Moslems and Christians have begun a serious dialogue.

Mennonites continue to serve in the Middle East, supporting the Christian churches that already exist and have existed for 2000 years instead of trying to make them into American style Christians.

Humanitarian organizations continue to serve those in need, around the world despite increased and deadly attacks on the volunteers.

Individuals, as they always have, are making a difference.

Jim and Judy Larson continue the labor and love intensive work in Thailand of serving young women who were prostitutes.

Emmaus Ministry in Chicago continues the labor and love intensive work of caring for young male prostitutes. This is an organization that sees itself doing the work Christians were called to do, to care for the outcasts. This is an organization that includes Baptists, Catholics, lay people, clergy and students.

Barb O’Conner and JustPeace are working, well, for peace in an ever more violent world.

The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Mennonite Service Committee, the Civil Air Patrol and a host of other professional-volunteer organizations created to help those most in need respond quickly whenever the call for help is made.

We all know the people and ministries that are making a difference. This list could go on and on. What is important is that we remember our own sources of inspiration so when we read the national and international news we experience anger at injustice, anger that makes us want to do something. The alternative is to feel anger and want to strike out or worse, feel overwhelmed and simply give in.

So yes, we must pray for peace but this is also an appropriate time to pray in thanksgiving for so many people doing so much good.