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March 03, 2009

Daily roundup

’Amazing Grace’: The musical

AmazingGrace Anyone who lives in the Philadelphia area might want to check out this production next month. The subject matter is hard to beat, and having seen J. Mark McVey as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, I can vouch for his immense talent. If anyone here is able to go, let us know what you think!

(Image courtesy of the Sellersville Theater)

March 02, 2009

A Better Future

We are living in troubled times. Some Christians believe that we are, in fact, living in the end times. But whether Jesus is coming back tomorrow or a thousand years from now, our task--to be good servants, faithfully doing what He has called us to do today--doesn't change. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way: "It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; in that case we will gladly stop working toward a better future. But not before."

How are you working toward a "better future"--as measured by Kingdom standards--today?

February 25, 2009

Daily roundup

A Primer for Lent

As a neophyte to the liturgical calendar, I was honored when my pastor asked me to compose a devotional on Lent. As I researched the observance, I stumbled across some excellent "textbooks" on the subject from those whose eyes have had a little longer to adjust to the bright and rich world of Christian tradition. If you, too, need a primer for Lent, here are a few excellent places to start:

  • "On Keeping a Holy Lent" by Craig Higgins provides a basic history of Lent and casts a vision for how we can make the observance count in a modern context
  • Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson peers into the paradox of Lent: that true fasting can lead to richer feasting
  • "Nothing for Lent" is a 40-day devotional by Prison Fellowship International that connects the sorrow and joy of Lent to the life that can spring forth in prison.

And, if you're interested in my stab on the topic, you can read it here at Common Grounds Online.

Chasing the American ’Myth’

Scratchbeginnings Is the American Dream a myth? Adam Shepard doesn't think so.

In 2006, the recent college graduate did a 365-day experiment in homelessness. Leaving home with just $25, a sleeping bag, and his notebook, he worked his way to a furnished apartment, a car, and $2500 in just a year. Here's an excerpt from the intro to his book Scratch Beginnings:

As you're going to see throughout the course of my journey, this is not a modern day rags-to-riches, get-rich-quick story. “I made a million, and you can too!” Nope. Too cliché, and, ironically, too unrealistic. Mine is the story of rags-to-fancier-rags. I'm not an extraordinary person performing extraordinary feats. I don't have some special talent that I can use to “Wow” prospective employers. I'm average. My story is very basic, simple. My story is about the attitude of success. My goal is to better my lot, to provide a stepping stone over the next 365 days for everything else I want to accomplish in my life. I aim to find out if the American Dream is still alive, or if it has, in fact, been drowned out by the greedy and the lazy.

So, here we go. You, my audience:

The dad who can use this book when his 12-year-old is complaining about not having the latest video game. The 15-year-old who doesn't quite understand why he or she has to study so hard and take “all of these worthless classes that I'll never use in real life.” The recent college grad who – drowned in student loans and limited opportunities (and, of course, living at home) – is searching for any little bit of strength and direction. The 72-year-old grandfather who already has a firm grasp on the concept of my story and has doubtless lived many of these same experiences. The 32-year-old mother of two who is working multiple jobs just to get by. The one making the sacrifice so her children can have a shot at the American Dream that she gave up on long ago.

You, the underdog, sitting behind the 8-ball, wondering when your number is going to be called.

And me, with my personal belongings on my back, ready for the craziest adventure of my life....

(Image © SB Press)

February 23, 2009

Novelist Calls ’As We Forgive’ Life-changing

Novelist Mary DeMuth just posted a fantastic review of As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda over at RelevantBlog. Check it out:

As We Forgive by Catherine Claire Larson is one of those life-changing books that will linger with you the rest of your life. It’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not for the hard-hearted or those bent toward stubborn unforgiveness. It’s primarily a story of hope.

During 100 days of 1994, 800,000 people were brutally murdered in Rwanda—a genocide swifter in execution than Nazi gas chambers. Imagine Denver and Colorado Springs—every man, woman and child—suddenly gone from our population and you’ll appreciate the scope of the horror. (And go look on a map of Africa. Trace your finger due South of Uganda, due West of the Congo and you’ll appreciate how little this country is.)

As We Forgive shares the stories of genocide survivors, recounting the unspeakable. But it does not stop there. Larson pulls back the curtain of the most ostentatious acts of forgiveness I’ve witnessed, where genocide survivors choose to forgive those who perpetrated such violence.

Together, through reconciliation practices and restorative justice, they are rebuilding their country from the ruins of hatred—all on the back of the One who still bears the scars for our sins today.

I came away from this book changed, deeply moved, and inspired. Having seen the power of God to help people forgive the seeming unforgiveable, it gave me hope that my own wrestling with forgiveness would end in hope. I also appreciated that none of the forgiveness modeled was simple or easy or quickly won, nor does the book purport that reconciliation is merely forgiveness while forgetting. For true restoration to occur, the person perpetrating the atrocity must first fully own his/her own sin and grieve it as such. And for the person who was sinned against to heal, he/she must revisit the place of grief in order to heal.

All this dovetails beautifully into the message God’s been birthing in me—to help people who suffer silently to tell the truth about their pasts, to choose the difficult path of forgiveness, in order to heal.

If God can reach into a genocide victim’s heart and offer peace; if He can transform a murderer into a productive member of a reconciled society; then surely He can transform your pain today. That’s the patent hope this book gives. It’s a gift to all of us. And I pray it’s a gift all open.

DeMuth's latest novel, Daisy Chain, hits stores in March. In it she explores the suffocating power of family secrets in a novel that some are comparing to To Kill a Mockingbird and Peace Like a River. DeMuth's Family Secrets blog is seeking to help others who have struggled with a secret that has a death grip on their lives. Obviously there's a clear connection to the secrets which plague us and a need to forgive ourselves, others, or confess the guilt we carry.

(Originally posted at www.asweforgivebook.com)

Take a Lenten Journey with Prison Fellowship International

The President of Prison Fellowship International, Ron Nikkel, offers a compelling glimpse into the wilderness journey of repentance in this week's Conversatio Morum. You can read it here. And we're also so blessed that our brothers and sisters in Prison Fellowship around the world have contributed their voices to a 40-day Lenten Devotional guide. You can download the entire guide here.

If you aren't familiar with the amazing work that Prison Fellowship is doing around the world, I invite you to take some time and read some of the stories on PFI's website. Time and again I am amazed at how God is using the faithfully offered fish and loaves of people in countries with so little, to feed his multitudes with the spiritual food that these prisoners, their families, and their broken communities so desperately need.

As Bread That Is Baked

Polycarp On this day, 1854 years ago, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna who was linked to John the Apostle, was martyred.

I use the verb "martyred" because, as The Martyrdom of Polycarp tells us, it took some doing.  After being betrayed by his servant, Polycarp was brought before the proconsul who urged him to "swear by the Fortune (the guiding spirit) of the Emperor; repent and say 'Away with the Atheists.'" 

Not being an atheist, Polycarp simply said, "Away with the atheists." The increasingly irate proconsul told Polycarp to "swear and I will set you at liberty; reproach Christ." To which the elderly bishop replied, Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?

That's when things became interesting: After continued refusals to renounce his faith, Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he was tied to the stake, he prayed,

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.

Continue reading "As Bread That Is Baked" »

Thought for the day

I cannot see, my God, a reason why
From morn to night I go not gladsome, free,
For, if thou art what my soul thinketh thee,
There is no burden but should lightly lie,
No duty but a joy at heart must be:
Love's perfect will can be nor sore nor small,
For God is light -- in him no darkness is at all.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul

February 20, 2009

BreakPoint Worldview Magazine: Against the Flow

Ocean_river Growing up near the ocean, I learned early on about currents, the kind that can pull a child under and leave her choking on a mouthful of salt water. A childhood friend of mine misunderstood her parents once when they warned her about the undertow. She heard “under toad.” And the explanation of something which can pull you under and drag you off course fit her mental picture of a large underwater toad grabbing at her ankles. It frightened her from enjoying the ocean for years to come. Later on, when she realized her mistake, we used to laugh about the evil “under toad.” And though her mental picture changed, she never underestimated its strength.

When I got to college, one of my mentors used to often talk about Christian discipleship in terms of currents in a river. He would say that you learn quickly that staying still is actually moving backward. The only way to move against the flow is to paddle hard.

This month’s issue of BreakPoint Worldview Magazine reminds me just how much we need to paddle hard to live in alignment with God’s ways. Thankfully, we don’t paddle in our own strength. The Holy Spirit empowers us in this difficult counter-cultural journey. But paddle we must.

Continue reading "BreakPoint Worldview Magazine: Against the Flow" »

February 18, 2009

’A love supreme’

Johnson family Getting shot in the mouth by a teenage robber might turn some people against their fellow human beings. C. Kenneth Johnson let it inspire him to adopt eight at-risk children and foster 144 more.

And he has done it all as a single man, too busy to look for a mate, he says, figuring that the chances of finding someone willing to help raise so many troubled children would be slim to none.

"When I look back, I can see that it was a lot of work," Johnson told me. "But I didn't think about it that way. I just did it."

While in his care, none of the children was neglected or abused. They did not run away from home, skip school, commit crimes or otherwise disappear through the cracks of a dysfunctional child welfare system.

Nothing bad to report. You might even say that when it comes to adoptions and foster care, no news is good news -- except that if you want to know what it really takes to help children in need, you need to know about people like Johnson.

Go here to read more about this incredible man.

(Image © Courtland Milloy for The Washington Post)

And a Little Child Will Lead Them

Liaspeec Remember the 12-year-old girl whose videotaped pro-life speech became an Internet sensation? More of her story is now available--and it's one amazing story.

I'm reminded in hearing little Lia of another young one--David, who could not stand by and let the name of his God be blasphemed day after day. Sometimes it takes innocence to see injustice and evil as stark and ugly as they truly are.

For the full story, go here or here.

(Image © LifeSiteNews)

Don’t know much about Columbanus

Disc-tm1 "Anyone who thinks sixth-century history just isn’t their thing hasn’t read up on Columbanus," writes Stephen Reed, in the introduction to his interview with T. M. Moore for the latest edition of the Discourse podcast. Find out what was so interesting and important about this Irish missionary by listening at this link.

(Image © BreakPoint)

February 17, 2009

Daily roundup

’As We Forgive’ on the Road

Catherine Andy Emmanuel Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, interviewed Emmanuel Katongole, the co-director of Duke’s Center for Reconciliation, and me at last week’s National Pastors Convention in San Diego. Later that day, after a screening of the documentary film As We Forgive, director Laura Waters Hinson and World Relief President Don Golden joined Crouch, Katongole and me for another panel discussion.

I really appreciated the deep questions Emmanuel Katongole raised during both interviews. He is a deep thinker and it is evident that raising the tough questions is part of his forte.

I read Katongole’s deeply engaging Mirror to the Church on the plane ride home. I highly recommend it. In it, he pushes the reader to face facts squarely and to realize that the reason that many Christians in Rwanda failed to protect their fellow man in the 1994 genocide was that the stories of their culture had a deeper grip on them the reality of their faith. Katongole raises this reality up like a mirror to the West. He asks us to consider what stories in the West have a deeper grip on us? Where in our experience, he asks, does the blood of tribalism run deeper than the waters of baptism? If you think of tribalism not in its common association, but in almost a metaphorical sense, you begin to see how profound his question is.

It was also a great pleasure to meet Andy Crouch. His encouragement concerning my book meant so much to me. He shared in front of the convention crowd that the book brought him to tears as he read it in Starbucks. And he shared with me privately how much he appreciated the artistry of the book. That was rich encouragement to someone who has labored long and hard in the crafting of this book. If you haven’t read Andy’s Culture Making, it is an absolute must-read. It recently won top honors in Christianity Today’s 2009 book awards, along with another book by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice called Reconciling All Things.

Speaking of encouragement, my interview the week before last with New Testament professor Reggie Kidd over at Common Grounds Online certainly buoyed my spirits. Here’s just a snippet from that interview. Reggie Kidd writes, “When I pick up an ‘issues’ book, I don’t have high literary expectations for it. Because I know you and your love for words I wasn’t terribly surprised, but I was nonetheless delighted, at the lyrical hand you brought to this work. Page after page of my copy is marked with phrases I simply wanted to hold onto ...” You can read the rest of the interview here.

Earlier that week Tim McConnell also reviewed As We Forgive. He writes: “What struck me in reading was the fundamental truth that forgiveness is unnatural; forgiveness cannot naturally follow what these victims endured. It is not natural for a girl who has been mauled, raped, and left for dead to grow to offer forgiveness to her terrorizers. It is not natural for a boy who watched his father and family killed by neighbors he knew to turn to them with grace and favor. Forgiveness is an intervention. It is some sort of divine intervention that must enter from another plane of existence.” You can read the rest of this review here.

(Originally posted on www.asweforgivebook.com)

February 16, 2009

Daily roundup

Fighting for the Unborn: Lessons from Wilberforce

Wilberforce For every issue, it seems, there is always good news and bad news. For the pro-life movement, the good news is that the U.S. abortion rate has been falling for over a decade and now is at its lowest level since 1974. And the recent raft of life-affirming movies, like Juno, Bella, and Knocked Up, is an encouraging sign about public attitudes.

According to Pew Research, although a slight majority of Americans (54 percent) favor legalization, the vast majority (73 percent) believes that abortion is morally wrong in some, to nearly all, circumstances, with six out of 10 believing that the number of abortions should be reduced. Less than one-fourth consider abortion a non-moral issue. Given that contraception use held nearly steady during the past decade, the falling rate of abortion exhibits a growing uneasiness with the practice.

The bad news is that, even at the reduced rate, an abortion is performed once every 25 seconds, totaling 1.2 million per year. And, with a new administration that is the most abortion-friendly in history, the fight for the unborn just got harder. Continue reading.

February 13, 2009

Developing our Spiritual Appetites

From Ken Boa's Daily Encouragement:

"Developing an appetite for secondary goods can suppress our appetite for the things that are most important.... Some people do not have much of an appetite for spiritual truths because they have filled themselves with lesser things."

How are you developing an appetite for spiritual truths? What "lesser things" do you need to set aside so you can find the best God has to offer?

February 12, 2009

Daily roundup

February 11, 2009

Daily roundup

February 10, 2009

Daily roundup

Trust

It has not been a good day.

Almost the first news that hit my inbox this morning was that a dear friend was on the way to the ER. Just over an hour later came the news that another friend has a daughter in the hospital with horrific burn injuries. As I write this, I'm still waiting for updates on both situations.

It's been a good time to keep in mind "The Last Column" by writer and blogger Michael Dubruiel, who died unexpectedly last week. Michael was the husband of Amy Welborn, who published the column on her own blog. A sample:

While in Washington, D.C. several weeks ago, I ran into an old friend, Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, with whom I have collaborated on several books. We met after a Mass for pro-life leaders at Trinity College. It was exactly five years and 10 days from that night in Orlando, FL when Father Benedict nearly lost his life in a tragic accident, and almost four years to the day that I spent a week with him in New York, assisting him in putting the finishing touches on a book that he co-authored with Bishop Baker.

Working with a very frail Father Benedict at the time, I was reminded of an interview that he had given some years earlier at EWTN with Doug Keck on Booknotes. During that interview, when Father Benedict’s book Arise From Darkness was first published, Doug asked Father Benedict to elaborate on something that Father had called the “big lie” in his book. The “big lie,” Father Benedict said, (and I’m paraphrasing him at this point), is to think that if we say all the right prayers and live  correctly, then nothing bad will ever happen to us. Sadly, there are many good people who have lost their faith by believing such a lie, and that makes it a big one indeed!

One only has to think of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, and how much He suffered on the cross, to correct one’s view on this matter. In our own day, there are many whom we know have lived saintly lives, many who have prayed much, and yet have suffered too.

There's much more -- please take a few minutes to read the whole piece -- but the key line is this:

What is the opposite of the "big lie"? Trust.

It has not been a good day. But I'm doing my best to trust.

Thought for the day

It's not quite as catchy, and you won't find any bracelets or bumper stickers with the acronym WIJD on them. But it perhaps asks a better question than its more familiar counterpart. "What would Jesus do?" is a good question, but it doesn't have life. The heart of the matter is similar, but more pointed: "What is Jesus doing?"

The WWJD phenomenon has turned the attention of millions toward the character and works of our Savior, so it is certainly a useful question to consider. But there's a subtle implication in it: Jesus is our example, a teacher who lived long ago whom we are left to emulate. In a sense, that's true. Jesus is our example: "Be imitators of God . . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us," we're told (Ephesians 5:1-2). There's more, however: "If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit" (John 15:5). "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). We don't just have an example, we have an Inhabitant. There's a world of difference.

Chris Tiegreen, "WIJD," February 10, The One Year Worship the King Devotional

February 09, 2009

Quotes for the Day

Two quotations from C.T. Studd:


1. Christ's call is to save the lost, not the stiff-necked; He came not to call scoffers but sinners to repentance; not to build and furnish comfortable chapels, churches, and cathedrals at home in which to rock Christian professors to sleep by means of clever essays, stereotyped prayers, and artistic musical performances, but to capture men from the devil's clutches and the very jaws of Hell. This can be accomplished only by a red-hot, unconventional, unfettered devotion, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Lord Jesus Christ.


2. When we are in hand-to-hand conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil himself, neat little Biblical confectionery is like shooting lions with a pea-shooter. God needs a man who will not let go and deliver blows right and left as hard as he can hit, in the power of the Holy Ghost. Nothing but forked-lightning Christians will count. [Emphasis mine]


February 06, 2009

Daily roundup

February 05, 2009

Bishop John in the ’Washington Times’

Rucyahana Today, the Washington Times ran a wonderful profile of our very own Bishop John Rucyahana, Chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. One haunting quote:

I was speaking to prisoners at Gitarama. And I said to them, "Close your eyes. Remember yourself hacking people. Remember them lifting up their hands begging for their lives, and you hacking their hands and arms and cutting their necks."

In about 10 minutes, everyone was crying, sobbing. I said, "Open your eyes. That which makes you cry is what God wants you to repent of."

(Image © Kevin Morrow for the Washington Times)

February 04, 2009

Daily roundup

February 03, 2009

Clicking Life Away

Click Clicking through life sometimes tempts me: when I’m stuck in an endless row of red lights, when I can’t escape a monotonous task, or when I get writer’s block and a deadline is breathing down my neck. Sometimes I wish there was a button that would melt the winter blues into summer sunshine, or fast forward from the end of a season finale of Lost to the next season’s premiere.

In the 2006 film Click, Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) gets that chance. A materialistic workaholic who postpones camping trips with his kids and wishes away his father’s incessant chatter, Newman obtains a “universal remote control” that does just that. At the beginning, he dabbles with his newfound power, fast-forwarding through his morning shower and muting his wife’s loudmouth friend. But soon his power woos him, and like any addiction, it demands increasingly more of him.

Soon he finds himself fast forwarding through what he expects to be a 6-month work project leading up to a big promotion. He releases the button at his promotion party only to realize that actually, some two years have passed. While he was on “autopilot,” his kids had entered their pre-teen years and his marriage had begun to crumble. He tells himself that it’s time to give up the remote, but it’s too late—like glue, it has attached itself to him. He tries to break it, but it re-materializes. He tries to leave it alone, but it has already been programmed to fast-forward through showers, traffic, arguments with his wife, hard work at the office, promotions. He “wakes” up again, 50 pounds heavier, divorced, and a multi-millionaire. A few short clicks away, Newman’s life cruise-controls to its dismal end.

Of course … he gets a second chance to live again and make it right. But it’s a sobering thought.

I sometimes wonder about the ways I might be clicking through life, missing out on a chance conversation because of a demanding checklist, or overlooking a neighbor in need because I don’t take the time to look past their impressive cars, or brushing off a gas station clerk because I’ve got somewhere more important to be.

These are the invisible checkpoints of life--the pop quizzes that reveal the most about our priorities.

(Image © Columbia)

Deep Calls to Deep: Poetic Language

It's difficult for me to explain how much poetry revives my soul. Sometimes I feel like we are self-deceptive. We try to pretend that our hearts are much shallower than they really are--that life really is just about making it through the day, getting out the door on time, who wins the game, who makes us laugh, what we had for dinner. The frenetic pace that characterizes our lives keeps us distracted from the deep places that sometimes open up like yawning chasms in our souls. Slowing down can mean we have to face those depths--depths which frighten us because we don't know exactly what to do with them.

Poetic language doesn't shy away from those depths. The psalmist David compares his longing to a deer panting for water. In that same passage (Psalm 42), David says "Deep calls to deep in the roar of the waterfall." I hear in those words the depths of David's soul, searching for the Creator of that depth. Certainly the One who made the mighty rush and roar of a waterfall can quench his thirst, can fill him in those deep places, can fill us too.

Aside from David, one of the poets I love best is Rainier Maria Rilke. Sometimes I hesitate to share the treasure of his works because I'd rather hoard them for myself, my own personal treasure trove. But I'm feeling generous enough today to share a few pearls.

I've read different things about Rilke's theology and I'm not sure who's got him nailed right. But even if he was not a true believer, I read his poems and the words fit my experiences and longings as a true believer. Here are just a few of the phrases he uses to describe God, from various poems:

Continue reading "Deep Calls to Deep: Poetic Language" »

February 02, 2009

’Not For Sale’

Wish you could find the time to curl up and read on a blustery winter afternoon? Looking for something to do during those lengthy work commutes when the weather just isn't blustery enough to stay home? How about something that feeds the soul while engaging the mind?

Each month the great folks over at ChristianAudio.com make available one of their wonderful audio books for free download. January 2009 had members fascinated and encouraged by the Oswald Chambers biography Abandoned To God.

And this month David Batstone's inspiring book on the fight against the modern-day slave trade, Not for Sale, is available. You've probably often heard us at BreakPoint addressing the issue of human trafficking (here, and here, to name a few instances). The issue is real. And disturbing. Mr. Batstone's book provides an excellent overview of just how real it is. So head on over to ChristianAudio.com and download the book for yourself! And while you're at it, check out this review.

January 30, 2009

Daily roundup

January 26, 2009

Grace begins another presidency

It's hard not to be moved by the rich voice of Wintley Phipps belting out the familiar lines of "Amazing Grace," but I was struck, watching this clip from the National Prayer Service, by how moved our new president--already known for his reserve--appeared to be by the words and melody filling the lofty spaces of the National Cathedral.

Artist Andrew Wyeth Dies

Seaslide Amidst the Inauguration festivities last week, many people probably missed the news item that contemporary artist Andrew Wyeth had died at the age of 91. 

Wyeth, thankfully, didn't follow many of his Cubist or Dadaist contemporaries in painting ugly, depressing, or nonsensical items. In fact, Wyeth's paintings were permeated with with dignity and life, and something else. Writing in Trinity Forum's journal, Provocations, T. M. Moore says that while Wyeth did "not appear to be a religious man," his work was imbued with a spiritual sense. 

T. M. continues, "[W]hile Wyeth proposes no certain conclusions about the nature of spiritual reality, yet he shows himself to be keenly aware of its existence beyond the merely subjective, respectful of its potential, and hopeful as to its prospect." 

To paint, Andrew Wyeth said, he had to "put his foot in truth." The Truth he put his foot into, whether he finally acknowledged it or not, is our Creator who imbued heaven and earth with His glory.

(Image courtesy of the New York Times)

A Weekend to Remember

Mi dr uchyahana The weekend of January 16-18 found, I'm sure, many Americans eagerly preparing for the Inauguration of our new president. However, three members of my family (my husband, daughter, and I) were happily doing something else that weekend -- attending the Wilberforce Weekend Conference where Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda was honored as the recipient of the 2009 Wilberforce award: "As chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, Rucyahana organized the Umuvumu Tree Project, a nationwide program to prepare perpetrators and victims of the genocide for face-to-face meetings."

It was an honor to meet a man who has led so many others to find forgiveness and redemption, not only in God's sight, but in the sight of those they have harmed. His is a powerful witness to the true power of Christ to change hearts and minds and to heal our most grievous wounds. In his acceptance speech, Bishop Rucyahana made one statement I will never forget. Christians tend to say "I accepted Christ as my Savior." But Bishop John reversed that. He said, "Christ graciously accepted me and has called me to a mission." (And all God's people said, "Amen!")

While attending the award ceremony was certainly a highlight of the weekend, it was not the only bright spot. All the conference speakers -- Chuck Colson, T.M. Moore, Mark Earley, Ken Boa, Glenn Sunshine, Robert George, Fr. Robert Sirico, Art Lindsley, as well as a host of my fellow Centurions -- brought incredible words of hope and encouragement for the dark times in which we live. 

Chuck likened these times to a "perfect storm" -- one that offers Christians great opportunities for demonstrating the goodness of God and the greatness of Christ to our friends, family, and neighbors. He reminded us that "Christians do the best of things in the worst of times," and he encouraged us to let God consume us, for "if God consumes you, there's no room for worrying about yourself." 

My family flew out of Washington, D.C., on Sunday night as many supporters of our new president were flying in. Don't get me wrong:  I'm praying for President Obama because I love my nation. But this weekend reminded me that his power -- whether he uses it for good or ill -- is minor compared to the power we have in Jesus Christ.

As circumstances in the nation continue to decline, and as more and more Americans suffer as a result, it would be easy to give in to the sin of despair. Instead, we need to see this "perfect storm" as a chance to be "the good news incarnate" as Jesus intends for us to be until He returns to establish His Kingdom. For all these reasons (and more), January 16-18, 2009 will be a weekend I will remember forever. Even more importantly, I'm praying that God will show me how to live what I learned: this is certainly no time to be a "hearer" only.

(Image courtesy of ASSIST News Service)

Leon’s Mite

090109-bolivia-water-hmed-1p.small Leon shines shoes for $3.50 a pair. From that, he still chooses to give to help others. What a great reminder in these tough economic times: If we bring God what we have, He still multiplies it.

(Image © MSNBC.com)

January 23, 2009

When you’re in Liberia feeling lonely

Christina Get to work building a community, like my friend Christina Holder did:

Jesus didn't wait for people to invite Him into their communities. He created His own communities. He asked people to join him.

From a young age, Jesus was establishing community. He went to the temple at the age of 12 and began preaching the word of God. I love the account of this in Luke. Scripture says that Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the teachers” (Luke 2:46). Jesus didn't pass by the temple and wait for someone to call Him inside. He climbed the temple steps and settled into the midst of the people with whom He wanted relationships ...

Grasping the way Jesus called people to join Him in what He was doing has changed the way I have approached community-building in Liberia. Instead of lamenting how some people haven't reached out to me, I decided to start calling people to join me in what I was doing.

In the six months I've been in Liberia, I started a dance class for women at my church. I began a writer's group for people who want to become better writers and who need encouragement to start or finish their writing projects. I organized a war art show with a group of young Liberian artists as a way to bring more awareness to the arts in Liberia and to help Liberians begin to heal from all that they have experienced during Liberia's 14-year civil war ...

In building my communities, I recognize that maybe I won't always feel included or feel like I belong. And the reality is that communities are often filled with people who don't get along. But I know I'm making the right steps as I try to follow Jesus' lead.

(Image courtesy of Christina Holder)

’Defiance’: Life is beautiful

Defiance I was out of town last weekend, so I wasn't able to see Defiance, which opened on Friday, until this week. The film is based on the lives of the Bielski brothers, who not only led a cadre of resistance fighters, but who eventually came to shelter more than 1200 Jews in the forests of Belarus during World War II. 

Before I headed to the theater, I checked out this review. Though the reviewer is rather neutral on the film's value, the comments were more illuminating. One clueless fellow said, "Enough Already.  Who are these films supposed to appeal to anymore?"

Thankfully, other responses showed more wisdom: "These films, and the novels, essays, poems, and books of nonfiction on the era are all 'supposed to appeal' to thinking humans who continue to ponder the nature of humankind, what we owe one another, and how we might prevent this happening again." Another commentator simply observed, "We will have 'enough' Holocaust films after six million stories are told." I'm hoping that the wiser voices about the value of seeing Defiance will prevail.

It's not an easy film to watch, and well deserves its R-rating for violence and language. Yet, it's the very grittiness of the film that makes it so valuable. The film doesn't gloss over those moments when the Jewish survivors choose revenge over compassion, but it also shows the danger of doing so as they risk becoming as cruel as their collaborating neighbors and the Germans. The film forces viewers to repeatedly ask, "What would I have done if I had been in their shoes?" It makes us pit our ideals (often formed in peace, security and comfort) against the reality of unwanted moral choices foisted upon us by war. As Sam Thielman says over at World, "The ethical complexities of the movie make it worth chewing over." 

But Defiance does more than that. Some of the best scenes in the film are those that show these desperate, isolated survivors forming a new community: They share food, they build shelters, they nurse the sick, they protect the unborn, they fall in love and marry, and they worship together. The film most strongly reaffirms the responsibility of the strong to protect the weak, but it also reminds us that there's more to life than mere survival. 

In a simple scene near the end of the film, as the Jews flee deeper into the woods, Daniel Craig's character (Tuvia) stops for an instant to soak in the beauty of the forest.  It's a telling moment that reminds Tuvia, and us, that life -- even at its most difficult and dangerous -- is indeed beautiful.

(Image © Paramount Vantage)

January 22, 2009

’Sometimes we’re called for a long fight’

Brownback.jpg Senator Sam Brownback recounted the story some of you might remember from the film Amazing Grace, where William Wilberforce was close to a victory over slavery until someone slipped opera tickets to his allies on the day of the vote -- and he was in for another 20-some years of fighting. He also mentioned the story from John 5 of the man who was ill for many years before Jesus healed him. We can lament that "We were so close" to victory; we can wonder why God would take so long to act; but in the end we have to recognize that "sometimes we're called for a long fight," and refuse to give up.

(Image © Gina Dalfonzo)

Makes you think

Video © CatholicVote.com, via HotAir

January 21, 2009

Daily roundup

Posting may be sporadic tomorrow, as I'll be attending Blogs4Life downtown. (I believe you can watch the webcast at that link.)

January 20, 2009

A Chance Encounter

Inaugural oath As I was drinking a hot chai at the Atlanta Bread Company this morning, I happened to overhear a black grandmother talking on the phone about her daughter, who was attending the Inauguration. She was telling the person on the other end of the line about her daughter's glowing account of the festive and hopeful atmosphere in D.C. The grandmother said, "The tears just keep welling up in me this morning. I'm just so happy to see this day." 

I couldn't resist. When she was off the phone, I approached her and made some comment about what I had heard. I told her that, as a white American, I can appreciate the historical significance of this day, and celebrate just how far our nation has come in racial matters, but I know I can never fully understand what this day means to black Americans. She nodded in agreement, and when I told her that I'm praying for our new president, she thanked me. We spoke for a few minutes more, and then each went about our day.

I have many, many misgivings about our new president, based not on his race, but on several key issues. Time will tell whether God has allowed Mr. Obama to become our president as an instrument of cursing or blessing, of divine discipline or divine renewal. However, I want to be wise and gracious enough to realize what this day means to my fellow Americans whose skin tones are darker than my own. The election of our first black president gives them a hope for the future of their children and grandchildren that I've always enjoyed as a white American. I'm more than happy to see the day when it's their hope, too. 

(Image © Jim Bourg for Reuters)

January 19, 2009

Teaching ’Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ in Africa

As an English teacher, I have taught Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" more times than I can count. Aside from its value as a landmark document on human rights from a Biblical worldview, it is quite simply one of the most perfect examples of an argumentation essay one can read, and therefore serves as a great model for students to emulate.

The most recent lesson took place in May 2008 while I was acting as a visiting teacher at Kankan University in Guinea, West Africa. The students had learned about Dr. King, but they had never had a chance to read this letter, or to hear from an American who was old enough to remember both segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. (You know you're getting old when you lived through the history lesson you're teaching!) It proved to be a wonderful occasion both to grieve over the darker aspects of America's history and celebrate just how far we've come as a nation. 

An analysis of the letter would take too long for this post, but I urge all our Pointificators to spend a few moments today reading Dr. King's remarkable words, penned in response to other clergymen who saw him only as a "trouble-maker," not as a man of deep faith who knew that God calls Christians to be counter-cultural. The distinction he draws between just and unjust laws -- and the way in which he personally modeled a Christian's responsibility in the face of unjust laws -- is one we all need to embrace.

Martin Luther King, Jr., on the role of the church

Martinlutherking_1241812c Words even more relevant now than they were then:

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators." But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963

(Image © AFP)

January 16, 2009

Gentlemen

Montalban McGoohan As you probably heard, we lost two good ones this week: Ricardo Montalban and  Patrick McGoohan. They had a lot in common: they both played iconic pop culture characters (Khan and The Prisoner); they were immigrants (although McGoohan was born in Queens -- who knew?) who "made it" in Hollywood; and both were remembered fondly at their passing.

But the similarities went beyond that -- they were both Christian (Papist Division) gentlemen whose faith was noted in their obituaries. Montalban was married to his wife for 63 years (!) before her death and McGoohan had been married for 57 years at the time of his.

Montalban received of one the highest honors a Catholic laymen can be bestowed: he was made a Knight in the Order of St. Gregory the Great. He made it clear that his faith was the most important thing in his life. During the '70s, when the sexual revolution was in its heyday, he spoke of the importance of fidelity and life-long commitment. He was a well-known pro-lifer and was described as a "religious and moral anchor for many in the Hollywood scene."

McGoohan created one of the most memorable television series in history, The Prisoner. Yet in some ways, McGoohan is better known for the roles he turned down than the ones he played. One of these was Bond, James Bond. Why? On account of his faith. As his obit in the Washington Post tells us, "Mr. McGoohan, a married and devout Catholic, insisted on avoiding Bond's womanizing or cold violence."

Describing his other iconic role, John Drake of Danger Man, a.k.a., "Secret Agent Man," McGoohan had this to say:

"When Drake fights, he fights clean," Mr. McGoohan once explained. "He abhors bloodshed. He carries a gun, but doesn't use it unless necessary -- and then he doesn't shoot to kill. He prefers to use his wits. He is a person with a sophisticated background and a philosophy. I want Drake to be in the heroic mold, like the classic Western hero -- which means he has to be a good man."

How good? He conditioned his continued participation on Danger Man on all kissing being removed. He already had a wife, and apparently that was good enough for him.

Perhaps because he understood what makes a hero, McGoohan also could play the villain. My, could he play the villain! His Longshanks (Edward I) in Braveheart was one villainous villain, complete with defenestration. 

As they say, we probably will never see the likes of Montalban and McGoohan again. Watch The Prisoner, join me in yelling "Khaaaaaaaaaan!" and thank God we had them as long as we did.

Requiescant in Pace

(Image courtesy of MyFox Philadelphia)

The Enforcer

Gary Haugen and the International Justice Mission continue to make waves, landing 12 pages in the New Yorker with an in-depth profile, "The Enforcer," by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Samantha Power. Here's a snapshot (Gary had just returned from Rwanda after witnessing the aftermath of the genocide):

In church, his mind drifted into calculations of how long it would take a machete-wielding gang to wipe out the congregation. Although the Salvation Army, World Vision, and other Christian organizations fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless, no Christian organization that he knew of had heeded the Bible's appeals for justice ("Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out"). He resolved that Christians serving God had to do more than pray for the victims of cruelty; they had to use the law to help rescue them. "This is not a God who offers sympathy, best wishes," he later wrote. "This is a God who wants evildoers brought to account and vulnerable people protected--here and now!"

January 15, 2009

’Look what God did’

Last night, the local news here aired a story on Sifa, an orphaned Rwandan girl brought to the United States by members of my church for a badly needed operation on her jaw. I was moved and inspired by this courageous little girl when she stood before the church a couple of weeks ago to thank everyone who's been helping her. I think you will be too.

To read more about Sifa, click here.

January 14, 2009

More on forgiveness

Raising Flagg I also have a brand new copy of Catherine’s book. I’ve not yet had time to give it more than a brief skim, but Catherine is a talented writer (of course, regular readers of this site already know that) who brings the stories of people shattered by evil acts of murder and mutilation to life. 

The book, as you know, is about the Rwandan genocide and the healing of a nation. While most of us will never perpetrate acts of genocide, sin cuts through every human heart. Catherine's message is profound: It is only through forgiveness through Jesus Christ, that any kind of reconciliation can occur. 

She says that by extending forgiveness to the wrongdoer, the injured person can help toward the healing of the offender’s sin-sick heart. As one of the victims of malfeasance put it, “Forgiveness is a gift one gives to change the heart of the offender.” 

Catherine presents readers with a larger picture of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is,” she writes, “a social action with social ramifications.” 

This concept might be easier to understand on a smaller scale. In the movie Raising Flagg, Flagg Purdy (Alan Arkin) and his longtime friend Gus Falk (Austin Pendleton) get into a fight over checkers, sheep, and a water well that soon comes to a head in litigation. The whole community becomes embroiled in the affair and chooses sides. Purdy wins the lawsuit—but becomes the community pariah. 

When Purdy realizes that the whole community is against him, he experiences a crisis which leaves him depressed and convinced he’s dying. 

Fortunately, Purdy's stalwart wife, Ada (Barbara Dana), helps in reconciling the two warring friends. Even though Purdy took Gus’s property through a legal technicality, Gus makes the first move toward reconciliation. Eventually, Purdy does ask Gus to forgive him, and the two resume their friendship.

In her book, Catherine relates stories of people who have started the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. These are real people who have had heinous crimes committed against them or loved ones. Some of the people have had their whole family murdered, and most of them knew the perpetrators. Is forgiveness easy? No, but as shown by both the works I've mentioned, it is necessary for reconciliation--and it is through this act that what Satan meant for evil, God will use for good. 

I urge you to buy a copy of Catherine's book and read about how the Rwandans are going about the task of healing the nation fractured by evil, one person at a time.

(Image © Cinema Libre Studio)

January 12, 2009

Daily roundup

January 09, 2009

Daily roundup