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600,000 Dying Children

600,000.  That is a greater number than the population of Miami, FL.  Imagine every child in Jacksonville, FL starving to death and there was nothing you could do about it.  All the local hospitals are out of medicine, the local Red Cross is out of food. There is no safe passage for resources to be delivered to you and your family. The local law enforcement is not allowing you to leave Jacksonville and imprisoning those who try.

Now imagine not being the front page story in the national news.

Last month over 30,000 children died of starvation while 12 million of their fellow countrymen stumble toward a similar destination. 600,000 children are dying. Families, and these are family centered people, are being divided in half by decisions of which child they will be able to save and which child will die. The people are facing the worst draught in their region in  60 years, but there major enemy is famine.

“Droughts are ‘acts of God’, but famine’s are man made” Bono of the band U2 said in an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN.  It is true that draught has created a major depletion of resources in Somalia, but it is the human element the keeps salvation just out of arms length.  If there was ever a case of evil oppression, this is it.  The unarmed and out resourced citizens have been overrun by extremist, War Lords, and pirates who have created a power center by cutting off outside assistance. It is because of these people that over the past 20 years many countries have pulled back aid and many aid organizations are hesitant to return.

Over the years, it seems, we as a world have become jaded when it comes to areas like the Horn of Africa.  We have heard the stories about the Battle of Mogadishu.  We have seen the results of massive pirating in the region.  We have felt the frustration of aid being stolen and wasted.  A land torn by civil war. K’NAAN, a Somalian artist, has said we have put up a “psychological fence around our heart”. (see attached video for CNN source)

These may be reasons to walk cautiously, but not to turn a blind eye. In the same CNN interview, Bono said, “We’d rather watch people in the high streets of London fighting police officers while children in Somalia are fighting for their life.  People watch the stock values crumble while I think about our own sense of values tumbling.”  Bono doesn’t dismiss the hardships happening in our lives, but he is saying that loosing his house does not compare with the fear and tragedy of loosing his family.

Perhaps it is not just a jaded heart that keeps us from action.  Maybe we are stunned into believing we cannot do anything and bewilldered by the difficult intricacy of it all. To this Bono responds,

“We should not let the complexity of the situation absolve us from the responsibility to act.”

There are things we can do.  There are things within our control.  We can petition our leaders to do what they have promised to do regarding Somalia.  If you have wondered why I have only posted quotes from two musicians, here is the sad answer:  There was nothing to quote from our politicians.  They are spending an exorbitant amount of resources attempting to find a politically favorable solution to a recession born out of our excess while Somalia needs a solution born out of their paucity.

As we urge our world leaders to take action to provide safe passageway for the needed resources, we must be ready to give of ourselves and our resources. Jesus Christ said that the greatest gift we can give our friends is to lay down our lives.  Laying down our lives is not just about dying, but about sacrifice.  Even if we don’t have money to spare this doesn’t mean we have nothing to give.  Pray. Share their story. Lift up their humanity. Lift up your humanity, and face this crisis head on by refusing to ignore it. Light overcomes the darkness and we were made to be light.

What can you do?

Get knowledge. Petition. Give. Share.

Learn about Somalia and the region

Here is a link to the Anderson Cooper/Bono/K’NAAN interview.

Thursday Night watch Anderson Cooper (who is in Mogadishu) give the latest report at 10PM

Petition your leaders from the ONE.ORG site.

What’s In a Name

Today’s Blog was inspired by a friend of mine’s blog at www.jessicalagrone.com

Stick and string strapped over my bare back perched on my bare feet. Poised at 4 feet tall, I was the greatest toe headed five year old Indian the world had ever seen.  With a collection of caterpillars, locusts shells, and armed with invisible arrows, I was set for adventure. Our suburban neighborhood was transformed into a western landscape.

Playing Cowboys and Indians was a childhood staple when I was growing up. There was never a fixed enemy and I never saw a problem with having cowboys and indians fighting on the same side.  The American Indian held my fascination. There was a mystery and nobility about them that matched the mystic of the mountains that often served as their backdrop.  For this little boy, they were the Yoda before there was a Yoda.

One can only imagine my delight in discovering that I was named after a Paiute Indian, a student my parents taught while living in a remote town in Nevada. My imagination was filled with rich images and pride that I had some kind of connection with a real “Indian”.  What would it be like to meet this man? I would eventually have that meeting.

Twenty years old, long blonde hair, pierced ears, armed with a Chevy Corsica and torn baggy jeans, I headed out West for a kind of pilgrimage.  Part of my four month journey was spent working on a cattle ranch in Nevada where my parents had once taught school.  I immediately asked if Cory “A” still lived in the area.  With raised eyebrows I was told yes.

I eventually ran into Cory “A” while at one of the local rodeos (an event almost as common there as a pick up basketball game is here).  It was not Cory “A’s” best day.  He was passed out drunk in a horse stall.  Talk about an underwhelming first encounter with your namesake.

Like many products and institutions, people are often branded and labeled early on in life.  Valid or not, those brands can make us or break us.  Nicknames, harsh words, accolades, can all seep into our self image and determine the choices we make in this life.  The question every person must face is, “will I define my name or will my name define me?”

As disappointing as it was to see someone I was named after living as a drunk, I was detached enough to know that he didn’t have destiny ownership of how my name was to be lived out.  But how many of us are emotionally entrenched with the brands we are given?  Perhaps you are told that you are “just like your father” and your father is never home with his family and generally living pursuit that degrade and not uplift those around him.  There are countless number of children who give in to that label and decide that this must be the life they are supposed to live. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will maim and destroy me.

The good news is that you do not have to live the legacy of the name you are given.  The good news is that there is a deeper rooted identity granted and graphed into your makeup.  It is the identity of the image of God. Sure, that a big image to live up to, but because God created us he has also equipped us to live it. The promises we are given through Jesus Christ are ones of abundant life, joy, peace, freedom.  These are aspects of the image of God we are given access to simply by living out of the name we are given.  The amazing thing is that it is not a new name God gives us, but our first name.

A name helps us set goals in our life.  Be it a name we write on a paper or one we write in our heart, what we perceive as our identity matters.  In Spanish my name sounds like the verb “he runs” which I suppose is as close is I’ll ever be to having a name like Rerun from “What’s Happening”.  Thankfully, a friend in college discovered that my name has a Gaelic root.  It means, “dweller by the water”.  I decided then that that was who I wanted to be.  I wanted to be one who dwells by the living water of Jesus Christ.

I later met Cory “A” when he was sober.  He was very nice and seemed humbled and surprised that he impressed someone enough that their kid would share a name.  Perhaps he began to see that there was an alternate story for him to live, an image and name that was positive and one that was deeply rooted within.  I saw a spark of recognition in him that day, a recognition that he was more than the image of “drunk” that he portrayed. Perhaps he would see who my parents saw when he was younger, or even better, the image God has called him to be today.

The name of life, the name of the image of God is not just our name; it is our calling.  The apostle Paul tells us to live a life worthy of our calling.  What’s in a name?  When it comes to being defined by God, everything.  It means  joy, peace, wholeness, abundant life.  This name is our birthright, it is our inheritence. Will we be bold enough to live out our calling?  What’s your name going to be?

The other night I found myself watching “Finding Bigfoot” a show on Animal Planet, mainly because there are only so many times you can watch Sports Center in one day. Never the less, there I am watching these simian stalkers in their search for real evidence of this beast. I was pulled into the story with comments like

“Just so you know, one of my claims to fame in the Big Foot World is I was the one who discovered Big Foot’s two wood knocks, and figured out that if you make noise, they’ll respond. No other researchers knew that before because they never went in the field that often.” -Finding Big Foot

Seriously, can you find better T.V.?

These “researchers” were very serious about their sasquatch(sasquatches? sasquatchi?). They found witnesses who gave testimony to their own personal encounters. However, their encounters were of the “bump-in-the-night” variety. Ok, sure, they found a big foot print, but come on… I can make baby feet impressions with the side of my hand and a few forefinger pokes. None of these witnesses had much personal investment or real encounter. They were mostly retelling stories of something that almost happened to them. Without these researchers having a personal life-altering encounter, it is difficult to take them seriously.

I am reading Acts (from the Bible) this week. In the first chapter Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to give them his Spirit and they are going to be his witnesses to the world. A witness to what? As soon as I read this I thought if the disciples had tv and this program on big foot was out (of course they would watch it… it’s Bigfoot) would they have thought, “Great, Jesus disappears and now some camera crew is going to follow us around as we give witness to something nobody else can see”?

There are many people who actually view Christianity in this light and I believe one of the reasons for this is that many of us don’t know what it means to be a witness and are simply telling stories of something that is almost happening to us.

Most of the time when the word “witness” is used throughout scripture, it is used in reference to personal experience. We give witness to something that has happened to us or is happening to us. A witness on the stand is only credible if they were there. Jesus is telling the disciples to be his witness. Jesus is telling the disciples to be, by the power of the Holy Spirit, his active and experiential work and presence in the world. They are to give witness to their personal experience of Christ in their life. In short, they are called to live Christ. This is the point of the church. Luke Timothy Johnson writes in his book “Creed” that “the church is, in a real sense, the continuation of the incarnation, the embodied presence of the resurrected Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (doubleday 2003 pg 256)

In order for the Christian to be an effective witness we must begin by being witnesses to what God is doing in us. The question then becomes, “am I willing to open my life to God?” The rest of the book of Acts is about how ordinary men and women become extraordinary witnesses of Christ. They did not tell about things they “kind of” saw. The gave witness to what God was doing in them. Our call as Christians is not to point to some weird moralism told in folklore and mountain myth, but to actually be the proof of witness to the greatness of God, to be the walking miracle, to be the transformed life. What kind of witness are you giving? Does it point to something that is almost happening to you, or have you surrendered to God in such a way that your life is transforming and a living witness?

Every once in awhile I ask my daughter to tell me a story.  Her animated style is excellent. Sometimes what she says makes sense and sometimes you get what follows:

Once upon a time there was a little bear and a choo choo train came along and they crashed (insert dramatic ‘oh no’ here) but the Bear became sick and he was trapped in a (wait for it) birdcage and went on a biiiiiig yellow slide and then he crashed (oh no) into an (wait for it) Orange! and he looked into the sky and around and around and around and around he goes.

I loved the story and I felt sorry for the bear and was wondering how big that orange must have been. It is delightful to hear children tell stories.  They take a little from this and that and often add details of things that are right before them.  They are unencumbered with logical flow or endings, the joy is in the telling… but only for so long until they are on to the next thing.

Often times our faith journey’s are very similar to my 3 year old’s story telling skills.  We are enthusiastic about telling our story and we sponge up details from all around us, but too often we don’t know how to put our story together.  Our faith stories and what we believe are often fragmented and random experiences that we hardly take time to process before we move on to the next distraction in our life.

Do you ever think about what you believe?  Do you ever think about how what you believe can add or detract from your life? Perhaps the real question is not what you believe in, but what do you have faith in.

Many people point to Christians and do not see a change in their life.  They see people who profess a belief but live with little faith that what they believe is true. They see Christians tell a story with great animation but with no visible conviction and as people who get distracted by the next shiny object or idea that comes their way.

How we respond to a belief is the difference between conversion and discipleship.  The convert says, “that looks nice, I believe that to be true.  I will claim that as my own”.  It requires nothing of them. They can pick and choose and generally do so by adding things incompatible with their chosen belief. Faith, on the other hand, moves us to a place of commitment. Faith means we act on what we believe. Faith moves us past conversion and into discipleship. Jesus didn’t say “go make converts” he said “go make disciples”.  Faith requires us to think about what we believe and interact with it. Faith leads us beyond the glitz of good animation and into a life of depth and purposeful living.

I love my daughter’s stories and they are appropriate for a 3 year old and randomness works for her.  My faith story, however, I want it to have purpose and depth.  Is your life made up of belief or faith? Is your belief peripheral or essential? Is it just a cute story or does it matter?

I read an article today in which a person said that we needed the death of Bin Laden to come together as a nation. Now despite my chuckle at this man’s optimism that our nation has “come together”, I was a little bothered that we would “need” the death of anyone to come together.  What does this say about our needs as a human race that we need something violent to bring us together? My concern is that if it is death that brings us together, then how do we cope with life?

The words that have been circulating around the death of Osama Bin Laden vary: relief, pride, closure, joyful, glee, rejoice, revenge, retribution, etc.  There has been a need for closure for the tragedy of 9/11.  Bin Laden needed to be brought in for justice.  With the death of Bin Laden there has been a welling up of emotions in many people.  I have witnessed the struggle between vengeance, retaliation, forgiveness, celebration, and peace. I have seen my Christian brothers and sisters respond well and some not so well. I have questioned my own reactions.  I have concluded that I see no conflict with loving one’s enemy and forgiveness juxtaposed with the outcome of Bin Laden’s life.  Relief in someone’s death is different than celebration. In short, forgiveness and love does not equal blind tolerance to allow someone to continue to harm others and themselves.

Before I write anymore I would also like to add that after reading how the SEALS accomplished this mission I am amazed at their skill and humbled by the burden they carry in all they do and the burden they must carry now.  I am thankful for men and women like them and at the same time wish they weren’t needed.  I think it is good that Osama was found and though I do not mourn his death, I do not rejoice in his dying.

My concern goes deeper than the internal spiritual struggle. My concern is with the emotional response we expose in times like this.  I remember watching the news in 1993 after the disaster that took place in the Battle of Mogadishu, the one depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down, and the bodies of our soldiers being dragged through the streets. I had to wonder this week how close emotionally we are to that kind of scene.  What would have happened if Osama had been dropped alive in the middle of NYC? Our emotions are responding to rage, fear, assumed patriotism, mourning, frustration, etc.  The one thing we are not responding to is the divinity in our humanity.

The question I am faced with is do we really need the death of Osama Bin Laden to have closure, satisfaction, or security. The sad news is that this event really does not change anything permanently.  The end of the crusades did not stop men from misinterpreting scripture for evil purposes. The death of Hitler didn’t stop mad men from desiring the destruction of others not like themselves.  The death of Bin Laden will not stop hatred from infecting the minds of millions. Just like the silence after a murderer was hanged in the public square, we will simply read the news and go home to await another tragedy and hope for a good vengeance story.

Bleek? A little bit much for even my taste.  Reality? I know that a lot of camping and survivalist gear sold quite well in all the camping sections after the news of Osama’s death broke.  Is there good news? You better believe it.  There is a wonderful hymn that has been pulsing through my ears for about two months now, “my hope is built on nothing less that Jesus blood and righteousness”.  I thank God that I am in relationship with Him, especially in times like these.  The reason is that my hope does not rest in the news of this world nor the government, but that it rest completely in Jesus Christ.

We talk about Jesus’ blood and generally we see that blood as his blood that was spilt for our forgiveness and freedom.  But I see it also in his resurrection, bodily and whole, blood and bones.  He is a God who forgives in his death and invites me to participate in his resurrection.  His resurrection means that I have no fear of death for death is not final for me.  If I have no fear in death and my hope is in Christ, then what do I have to fear in life? Why do I have to wait on the demise of another to find satisfaction in me? I don’t.  My identity if found in him and therefore my security is not found in the tragedies of this world.  I do not have to wait for someone to apologize to me, or be brought to justice for something they have done to me in order for me to find peace. In Christ, I have a peace that passes all understanding and therefore can live out a life of peace and hope. This does not mean I live in denial or that I do this easily, but it does mean that I know where the source of true peace comes from and I have never been let down by Him before.

I am troubled by the man’s statement in that article about a nation needing the death of someone to bring us together because it means we are a nation with much to fear, much to loose, and much burden.  When people live out of that kind of burden it becomes difficult to truly live, to truly trust, to be honest with ones self and one another.  I think there is more to this world and this life and that is the reason I am an evangelist.  I do want people to know Christ.  But my agenda is not in moral superiority.  My agenda is not about propagating law.  My evangelism, which means good news, is about just that; good news.  Hope. Identity. Freedom.  Jesus Christ reminds us of our true humanity which is rooted in his divinity.  God is calling us all to be reconciled to him that we may discover who we really are.  He calls out to us and beckons us not to come together in death, but be unified in life, a life he offers freely. The peace and hope I had before and after the death of Bin Laden is the same, for it is not dependent on the ways of men but an everlasting source from the God of love.

Who Loves Ya Baby?

Your kids are great and all, but my kid is awesome… and for no better reason than she is my kid.  I love my kid and nothing can change or take this love away. Every now and then I will ask her if she knows that I love her while I am tickling her.  The other day I decided to ask her if she knew “how” I loved her. She answered, “you love Mommy!”  I said, “yes I do and that is one way that I love you, but there are other ways too.”

I went on to tell her that I love her by playing with her, and taking care of her, and buying her toys.  She perked up at that one.  I told her that I loved her by feeding her, putting her to bed, changing her diaper, and reading her stories.  I explained that there are many ways that I love her. I then asked her if she knew how she loved me.

What does a child of this age do to show a parent they love them?  She can’t take care of me. She can’t protect me. She can’t buy me toys or feed me. I sat there for a second after asking the question and then told her how she loves me.  I told her that she loves me by trusting me to take care of her and provide for her. She loves me by the excitement she shows when I come home, by inviting me to play with her and her toys. She loves me by depending upon me and desiring my attention.  She loves me by responding to my love.

There is nothing we can give God to earn his freely given love.  There is nothing we can give him that he needs.  But he delights in the fellowship of our play, our laughter.  He delights in the invitation to our mundane and sacred living. He delights in our trust and reception of his guidance and love. In this kind of love there is nothing on our part to “prove”.  It is an action that requires no scheming.  It is a love that requires us to be still and know that he is God.

With no anxiety to prove that God loves me and that I love him, it certainly opens up room for me to love others. Sydney was right; I do love her by loving her mommy.  That’s also how I love God.

Dreaming To Live

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated April 4th 1968.  A horrible act that turned a man’s living into martyrdom.  He was a man who had a dream of racial and class equality, a life where men and women were judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.  A dream that did not die but continues to work its way through life.

Dreams and visions are of vital importance in our lives.  To dream means we must recognize the potential of greatness to come.  To dream means that we stand in the presence of a reality we are not satisfied is as yet completed. To dream means we are not satisfied with ourselves enough to sit and rest.  Many people dream, but few of us live lives that reflect the hope we believe will come.

What made Martin Luther King, Jr. the giant we imagine him to be today is not that he was martyred and it is not that he delivered amazing speeches. What made him a force of hope was not only that he believed his dream, but that he also lived that dream before it became a reality.  He respected others before he was respected.  He was honest with others before they were honest with him.  He did this because he must have known that any dream worth living must begin with the character of that dream in the present reality.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven is here now in part and one day it will be completed.  We talk of “one day” living in heaven and what that will be like. But what use is living in heaven standards “one day” if we are not willing to live heaven standards now? Jesus says we can step into the reality of heaven now.  He says it won’t be easy, but he is with us every step of the way.  But don’t you dream of knowing what it would be like to live in the freedom to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, live as light in a world of darkness, and bring a taste of goodness to a world that feeds on bitterness?  What is your dream?  Are you willing to start living it now?

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