Archive for the ‘Religion/Social’ category

Come Out

February 19, 2018

Here’s my sermon from February 18, 2018. If you want to listen to it, you can find the audio here.

John 11:1-45

Jesus was hanging out with his disciples in the place where John the Baptist first baptized people, somewhere across the River Jordan. There, people continued to believe in Christ. “’John didn’t do any miraculous signs,’ they said, ‘but everything John said about this man was true.’” This is where Christ and his disciples were when they received word of Lazarus’s illness. Jesus received word from Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s two sisters, whom Jesus also loved, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” An important word to receive, it would seem to us. And, to this word, Christ has a threefold reaction. At first, he says, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” And with this quote, Christ stays put, on the other side of Jordan, days away from Judea, days away from his beloved Martha and Mary, days away from his beloved Lazarus, who lay dying.

His second reaction comes days later, after he travels back to Judea. He goes back to meet Martha and Mary, fully aware of Lazarus’s passing. He goes with the disciples in tow, who are under the impression a mob will be waiting for him, ready to kill him. Why would they think otherwise? They had just been in Jerusalem, in the temple that had a covered porch named for Solomon. There, people had confronted Jesus about his divinity. They picked up stones, ready to throw them at his head until he was dead. He talked them out of it. Then, he talked more, in his usual riddles, which only made the mob angrier. So he left before they could arrest him. Jesus wants to go back. To see this beloved family. To see his friend Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus wants to go back to prove, “Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.” So Thomas says – and if this is the same doubting Thomas found later in the Gospel of John he probably says it with more of a sigh – “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.” So the crew treks off towards Judea to engage in Jesus’ second reaction and third reactions. Though, in order to get to these reactions, Christ has to face his humanity.

This past Wednesday (February 18th, 2018) we saw our 18th school shooting of the year. Well, 18th is the higher number presented in news reports across the country. Some say there have only been 12. Some say as few as 8. Some people go so far to say it does not count as a school shooting if there were not mass casualties involved. So the shooting where only one child was killed last year at Freeman High School in Washington would not be considered a school shooting. Nor would the one earlier this year where a child brought a gun to a school in Los Angeles – thinking it was fake – resulting in three people being shot, with no one killed. Neither of those incidents would be considered a school shooting, according to some peoples’ metrics. Never mind the fact they both included shootings at schools. The number 18, in reality, comes from the metric where a firearm was discharged either in a school or somewhere within the proximity of a school. There may not have been intention behind the discharge of the firearm. Still, there was a firearm discharged, within the vicinity of a school.

Back to the main point: 17 people were killed in Florida on Wednesday. Most of them were students, of course, because students are defenseless. One was an assistant football coach who threw himself in front of students. He sacrificed himself to save the people for whom he cared and worked. Aaron Feis should be celebrated, without a question. He should also not be dead. Neither should the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach, Chris Hixon. Geography teacher and cross-country coach Scott Beigel also should not be dead. He opened his classroom door to let students in for safety and was killed because of that action. Student Nick Dworet should not be dead. Nick had just accepted a scholarship to swim for the University of Indianapolis. Student Alyssa Alhadef, who played for the junior varsity soccer team, should still be playing soccer. Her parents should not be planning her funeral.

Martin Anguiano was a freshman. Fourteen years old. At a vigil Wednesday night, Fred Guttenberg spoke of Jamie Guttenberg, his 14-year-old daughter, in a moving tribute: “I sent her to school yesterday, and she was supposed to be safe,” he said choking back tears. “My job is to protect my children, and I sent my kid to school.” Luke Hoyer was 15 and loved the NBA. He was quiet. He was happy. Cara Loughran was also fourteen. The New York Times was told she loved the beach. Because she was 14. Gina Montalto – like many others – was fourteen. She was in the marching band. Joaquin Oliver was 17. He played basketball in a city rec league and loved to write poetry. Alaina Petty was 14 and in the JROTC. She helped her local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with cleanup after Hurricane Irma. Meadow Pollack was 18 and planned to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton. Helena Ramsay was 17. That is literally all NPR knows about her right now. She was 17. Alex Schachter was 14 and played the trombone in the marching band. Carmen Schentrup was named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. She was 16 when she died. Peter Wang was 15. He was also in the JROTC. According to his brother, he died while holding a classroom door open so others could escape during study hall.

Some of these children we knew some information about. Many we know little to nothing. We do not know much about them because they were only teenagers. We are not supposed to know our full selves when we are in our freshman year of high school, how can anyone else give a proper obituary?

“What did she like?”

“I don’t know. She liked the beach.” She was fourteen! We should not have to ask that question in the past tense! Nick and Alyssa and Martin and Jamie and Luke and Cara and Gina and Joaquin and Alaina and Meadow and Helena and Alex and Carmen and Peter and all the others who have ever had their lives taken from them at far too young of an age should be able to answer those questions in a future tense! “What do you like Helena?”

“Well, I’m starting to develop an interest in biology. But I don’t really know yet. I’m only 17.”

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

There is a picture of a woman reacting to the shooting on Wednesday. She is in tears, clutching another woman to her chest, with her right arm draped around the other woman’s shoulder. Her other arm is lowered, off camera, and also seems to be supporting the woman leaning into her. She is dressed like any other day, in a white blouse with roses on it. She has a large, silver heart necklace hanging from her neck. Her blond hair is askew from the wind and powerful, physical reaction to emotion. On her forehead, she has an ashen cross. “From dust you were created and to dust you shall return.”

It is easy to imagine her falling to the feet of Christ. Her tears cry out, “Lord, if you had been there, these children would not have died.” It is easy to imagine Christ breaking down into tears, along side her, clutching both her and the other woman in his arms, falling into their humanity with them. This is the second act of Christ’s reaction to death.

“When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, ‘Where have you laid him?’

“They replied, ‘Lord, come and see.’

“Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’”

Jesus came to the tomb too late. He could have been there to keep Lazarus from dying. He knew this when Martha confronted him outside of town. He knew this when Mary fell at his feet. Christ came to Lazarus’s tomb and bore the brunt of the emotions thrown at him. He took their pain anger and crawled into the hole with them. Christ loved Lazarus. Christ loves the 17 people who were killed on Wednesday. Christ wept for Lazarus. Christ weeps for the lives lost in Florida.

Christ weeping for Lazarus is an incredibly important piece of scripture. In this moment, Jesus understands his humanity. He has lost one whom he loved. His friend is dead and buried, lying in a tomb. He bares the pain of Martha, Mary, and the ones in their community who weep for their dead friend and family member. In this moment, in this recognition of the pain humanity can entail, Christ empathizes with those around him. In this moment, Jesus exists fully in his human side. The pain of loss is unbearable. He does not comfort Martha and Mary in the beginning. He weeps with them. Jesus of Nazareth is a human who has lost one of his best friends.

This deeply human side of Jesus teaches us how to react when we read the names of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Jesus’ tears remind us of the all-too-real situation that is called humanity. We cry when we read these names, just as Jesus did when Lazarus died. We become deeply disturbed when we hear the moans of pain from the parents of dead students, just as Jesus did when Mary fell at his feet. We feel moved to do something, just as Jesus did when the Jews who accompanied Mary let loose their wails of pain.

We are not Jesus. We cannot bring back Aaron and Chris and Scott. We are not able to stand at the graves of Nick, Alyssa, and Martin and tell them to come out. Jamie and Luke and Cara will not be brought back to life by Christ or us for them to finish school. Gina, Joaquin, and Alaina will not be greeted by their friends and family after they are told to come back. Meadow and Helena and Alex will remain dead and buried. Carmen and Peter will not have another birthday on this earth. We cannot change that because we are not Christ.

Instead, Christ’s third reaction, the call to Lazarus to come out of the tomb is a call to us to continue in our ministry. Lazarus’s time was not done and neither is ours. We are called to come out and go forward, even if the world makes it hard to do so. Lazarus died. With every tragic shooting in this country, we die. And with every death, Christ calls for us to come out of the tomb.

“Come out!” Christ yells to us!

“Argenta, come out!”

“North Little Rock, come out!”

“Pulaski County, come out!”

“Arkansas, come out!”

“Christians! Come. Out!”

We must come out of this tomb. We must go forward in our ministry. We must do our best to make sure this never happens again!

We are called to it by our humanity!

We are called to it by our faith!

We are called to it by the One who created us all!

Come out! Come out! Come out!

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On Empathy

February 8, 2017

Empathy, any chaplain will tell you, is one of the greatest tools of providing spiritual care. And it is a tricky tool to master. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has two definitions for empathy, but the one I am looking at reads, “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, empathy is the attempt to walk a mile in another’s shoes.

Perhaps you know this, but part of my job is teaching empathy. With my position at Prayers Of the People, I go to churches and train people who want to be Lay Ministers and Spiritual Care Volunteers in Houston-area hospitals. These training sessions are two-fold, which you can read about on our website. But to save you that trip, let me explain that the first training is a 9-hour didactic session held in the church. During this first session, my boss and I do our best to go over the basic rules of a spiritual care visit as well as some of the tips. Empathy is the most difficult thing to understand without experience.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we trained thirty new volunteers to start this ministry. As we went through our manual, I covered the topic of empathy vs. sympathy. In our manual, there is a picture of a girl who is covered in mud, with a an upset expression on her face holding a puppy, also covered in mud. When we approach this picture, the trainees are asked, “What do you want to do with this girl?”

Over time, my boss – the President and Executive Director of POP – and her predecessors have found the most natural answer to be, “Clean her off!” in some form or another. And we acknowledge it and say, “Of course. She is very dirty. It does look like she could need a bath. But what if she does not want a bath? What if she is upset because her mother just told her to come inside and clean off and she is not ready to do so?”

This changes the conversation every time. Because if the girl does not want to get clean, then why should we want her to be clean? What about her feelings and desires? What about her intentions for the rest of the day? Why should they be ignored?

And this is a basic way to explain empathy. Empathy starts with listening to the other person in the conversation. What do they want? What does that person need? What are they feeling in this moment? How can we validate those feelings without dictating what we think they need?

When I did my unite of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) – a training course for chaplaincy in hospitals – here in Houston, I had a hard time grasping what empathy meant. For whatever reason, I needed a definition, but could not come up with it. It was not until the end of that 11-week unit that I grasped what empathy meant. For me, it was finding a situation in which I could relate to the other person, without verbalizing it. If the patient was experiencing incredible pain, I tried to remember a time I felt incredible pain. If the patient was missing their animal, I thought about how much I wanted to be on the couch with my cat snuggling on me. If the person was experiencing the loss of a loved one, I remembered when someone dear to me died. The key is to never verbalize the remembered experience, but simply to sit in those emotions with the person in the room. I just remembered how complicated my emotions were at those times and let them sit in theirs.

Perhaps the best example of empathy in the Bible comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 8: “Jesus began to weep,” (NRSV).

Jesus arrives after Lazarus’s death. And he is approached by Mary and the people who had come with her weeping, causing him to weep. To be clear, Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, but it was not Lazarus’s death that caused Christ to weep. It was the weeping of others. He related to the crowds around him, causing him to be in their shoes. Jesus wept because he felt the pain of others.

Empathy helps a chaplain sit with people in all sorts of incredible positions. It allows the chaplain to walk with the person through the fog of it all – without guiding. Empathy helps to understand what the person really needs and how they could get to where they are going. Empathy helps chaplains care for the other person the way Christ cared for those he loved. Empathy is one of the greatest bridges for all human interaction.

An Open Letter…

February 24, 2016

… to the person who reported me to the General Presbyter.

TL;DR version: I apologize for offending you. Let’s talk.

Recently, someone reported to the General Presbyter of the presbytery in which I am currently located how I had posted something offensive on social media. Tons of emotions swirled in my head as I had the meeting with the GP. Anger, frustration, sorrow, and confusion were rampant in my brain and heart. I am not being censured and I am not in trouble in any form or fashion, but I am still very upset about this instance.

And after almost a day of thinking, I am upset with myself most of all. You see, I have spent significant time cultivating my online communities. I have spent lots of time on Twitter and Facebook developing friendships and camaraderie spanning multiple communities and parts of my life. I have developed relationships intended to help the people I interact with and myself grow. Both of my major online communities (Facebook and Twitter) have been developed in a very intentional way.

And I know sometimes I post things people are not going to like. I know I am going to post things with which many will not agree. But, in a way, this is part of my effort. I want to have discussions regarding various topics. I want my communities to interact with me in ways which will cause growth. I do not want to alienate people or separate myself from my intentional, developed communities.

This report came to the GP about my post(s). I do not know which post(s) it was about. From the conversation, I gather it might have been political. But it might not have been. I might not ever know. I certainly do not know who reported the post(s).

But whoever that person is, I want to say something to you: I am sorry. I am sorry you did not feel comfortable approaching me. I feel as though this is my fault. I feel as if I did not fully include you in my intentional community. I feel as though I posted something making you feel as if you could not talk to me about it. If that is the case, please know I had no intention of doing such a thing. You are part of my community and I want you to be comfortable in this place. I want you to know I am open to conversation about any topic or subject I post. And you do not have to confront me in public. You may always send me a Personal/Direct Message on whatever platform I posted the material. I would be happy to talk on the phone or via e-mail. We could Skype or Facetime. I am open to any form of communication about anything I post, as long as it follows Matthew 18.

Social media can be tough to navigate. I understand. It is a platform that seems indirect and distant. But please know a lot of people use these platforms to develop and foster very real relationships. If you are a part of one of my communities, I very much care about you. Even if I do not “like”every status or “favorite” every tweet, I still see you in spaces that I have intentionally created. I want to grow. I want you to grow with me. Let us make these places ones of real community and fellowship.

Again, I am sorry I let you down. I hold all of this on my own shoulders. Let’s talk about what I did to make you uncomfortable.

Reading a Book with Jesus

May 8, 2012

John 5:25 – 29

 

 

In the third season of Mad Men, Betty Draper’s father, Gene, moves into the Draper household, due to onset of dementia. He settles into the room down the hall from the children’s bedroom and the family does their best to adjust to the changes at hand. The beginning of a particular episode shows the grandfather and his granddaughter, Sally, in the room at night with Sally reading a book to him. It’s clear that this is an act of bonding between the two and they seem to be enjoying themselves. They are clearly growing closer.

A bit later, Sally approaches Gene’s room in search of him, but he is not present. She sees his money clip lying on the desk, full of money, and she takes a five-dollar bill from the clip without asking. This causes uproar in the household as Gene is infuriated by the fact that someone stole his money. Sally sees how mad her grandfather is and she is terrified. She clearly knows what she did but she doesn’t want to admit it.

I don’t know if you have ever been in trouble with a grandparent, but it can be a lot scarier than getting in trouble with your parent. You see, grandparents are supposed to spoil you, not get upset with you. When you think of your grandparents, you’re reminded of the times you spent with them when they gave you that extra helping of ice cream; or that time they bought you the toy you really wanted for no particular reason. You’re not supposed to be in trouble with your grandparents and that makes it all the more intimidating. So that’s what Sally was experiencing here. She was scared and intimidated and really didn’t want the wrath of her grandfather focused on her.

As the episode goes on, Sally continues to struggle with her burden. For most of the episode she’s upset and thinking about what to do. Finally, at dinnertime, Sally tosses the money on the floor of the kitchen just before entering. Then, she comes into the room nonchalantly and picks up the five dollars exclaiming, “Oh, grandpa! Here’s five dollars! Is this it?” No one in the room is fooled, not even Sally’s little brother, and Gene glares at Sally. I mean he glares at her.

::Glare at everyone in the room::

It’s the kind of look that you know is drilling into you even if you’re not looking at that person. It was intense! And throughout the whole thing, Sally just hung her head with a look on her face that told us she was on the verge of tears.

Later, as Gene is lying in his bed, Sally comes to say goodnight to him. She tries to say it quickly and leave, but he calls her into the room. He glares at her again.

::Glare again::

This went on for what must have been ages for Sally. Then, Gene does something Sally doesn’t’ expect. He hands her the book they had been reading and instructs her to continue where they had left off. He never says anything about the money.

What happened here?! Gene knew Sally took that money. He knew she was the one responsible for causing all that commotion, frustration, and anger. But he forgave her. He simply handed her the book and continued on in their relationship like nothing had happened.

Gene knew what Sally had done, and judged her for it, with that piercing glare. And that judgment was harsh. Sally knew what was happening and felt really, really uncomfortable and guilty and ashamed. But in the end, forgiveness was given. Instead of putting more strain on their relationship, Gene wanted to revert back to how things were before the trust between them was broken. Gene could see that Sally felt bad about what she had done and decided that she had learned her lesson and didn’t need any more punishment. He wanted to forgive her, to be reconciled, and decided that Sally had been through enough to reach that reconciliation.

This story is going to be what Jesus’ judgment is going to be like when that final judgment is passed. It is going to be awkward. We’re going to have to face up to what we did wrong. And Jesus is going to glare at us. It is going to be harsh. I would put money on the fact that we’re not going to like Jesus’ judgment; mostly because we think of Jesus as a figure that is supposed to bring redemption to us and save us, not judge us. Jesus is supposed to be that grandparent that gives us extra ice cream and buys you that toy you really want and just spoils you!

But that isn’t going to happen. Not at first, anyway. Jesus is going to look at us in a way that is going to make us feel embarrassed and ashamed and guilty and we’re going to have to stand there and take it. We have done, and will do, things that Jesus and God don’t approve of. We sin, plain and simple. We’re human. That’s what we do. We disappoint God and Jesus every day of our lives, and in the end, we’re going to have to own up to those mistakes. There’s no escaping it. We will be judged.

However, Jesus still loves us and wants our relationship to be restored to a relationship that is built on trust. This is why Jesus is going to forgive us. We’re going to have to show to God that we are sorry for what we’ve done. We’re sorry that we took the five dollars from the money clip on the dresser; we’re sorry that we punted a golden lab puppy; we’re sorry that we didn’t try and make things better with the people that we wronged after we took the money or kicked the dog. But in order to get back to that trust we have to show we know what we did was wrong and we have to show it to the people we wronged as well as Jesus. It is going to be a moment of great humility for us, when we walk into the room with our heads down, on the verge of tears, or actually crying, and in some way, show that we know we did something bad.

Then, Jesus is going to hand us the book and tell us to keep reading. Once we’ve shown our humility and tried to make things better, our relationship with God is going to be restored. We’re going to get to enjoy our time with God and Jesus and receive things like more ice cream or awesome toys or staying up past our bedtime. Life will be good again. It will be true life full of love and trust.

But first, we’re going to have to hang our head.

Being Radical for God

December 12, 2011

So I’ve decided to start posting every sermon I’ve done, starting with the one I delivered this past August 14th at First Presbyterian Church in Argenta, AR. Here’s the text of that sermon. I didn’t quite deliver verbatim and I added a little bit more opening, but this is what I have saved on my computer. Everything itallicized was emphasized in the sermon.

And many thanks to Rev. Anne Russ for her help with editing and her suggestions:

 

Shortly before this part of the story the Holy Spirit came down and radically transformed thousands of people, allowing them to speak different languages and communicate freely with foreigners. On Pentecost, there was a mass awakening of people and many of them came to be believers in Jesus Christ, after Peter convinced them that the people speaking in different tongues were not drunk.

The Holy Spirit energized the Apostles into action. They were led to go out on the road and convert as many people as they could through their words and deeds, hence the name of the book, Acts. It’s here that we find Peter and John shortly after they had gone to a temple, spreading the word of Christ. At the temple, they healed a cripple who was begging for money in the doorway. When all the people saw this, Peter explained that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God and the Messiah. Here we enter the part of the story we heard today.

When the leaders of the community heard what Peter and John were saying, they arrested them because they felt threatened. Now, it should be noted that the authority in Jerusalem at this time was no fan of Jesus or the Apostles. They believed that if the word of Jesus Christ took hold in their community, then their way of life would essentially be destroyed. In fact, despite Pontius Pilate’s willingness to let Jesus go, the authorities urged the people to demand His death. Surely Peter and John wouldn’t think that going to the temple, at a time of worship, when everybody was there, would be beneficial to their physical well-being!  They knew that if they were overheard by the priests or captain of the temple that they would, at the very least, be confronted. They probably assumed that if the authorities overheard their proselytizing, they would be arrested. In fact, Peter and John probably expected long prison sentences or even death! But they went out there anyway, because the Holy Spirit moved them. They were radicals. They were going out into their community, in the face of their enemies and spreading the Word of God. They were helping the poor, healing the sick and making changes in the rules that the guys in charge didn’t like at all in the name of Christ.

The Apostles weren’t concerned with whatever consequences lay ahead of them. They were just out there to do what Christ had told them to do. So when Peter and John were arrested, they took it, in what seems to me to be, a rather light fashion. Instead of showing fear or uncertainty, they approached the situation with the confidence that the Holy Spirit had instilled in them. Peter talked defiantly to the panel and said, “Hey, if you have a problem with me curing a guy who is well over 40 years of age because I did so in the name of Jesus, whom you crucified and rejected, then let it be known throughout all of Israel. Because, obviously, this Jesus guy really is the Messiah, if I’m using His name to perform miracles and cure people that no one else can.”

Now, if I was sitting on that panel and was a true skeptic of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that argument wouldn’t have convinced me at all. Putting myself in that situation, I would have thrown them in jail for whatever the prescribed time and washed my hands of their silliness. Instead, the panel debated about what Peter and John were doing, saying that using the name Jesus was the real bad thing here. They asked Peter and John not to do these things in the name of Christ or spread His teachings anymore. Peter and John simply refused, because they had seen the miracles of Jesus and were true believers. Then, something amazing, something miraculous, something totally unbelievable happened – the council just let them go. They simply let them go. Peter and John were free to go on their way and continue preaching the Gospel however they see fit. The two Apostles stood in front of a council that was clearly out to get them, blatantly defied said council and walked away, scot-free. That, my friends, is pretty radical.

So let’s think of some other radicals that we’ve seen throughout history. Some of the names that come to my mind are Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa. All of these people had a specific call in their lives that they pursued in a radical fashion.

Mohandas Gandhi, also known as Mahatma, which means “Great Soul,” pioneered the concept of civil disobedience through total nonviolence to free a nation from tyrannical rule. Gandhi saw the brutal repression of his people by the British time and time again. But instead of inspiring the people of India to fight fire with fire, he did the exact opposite. Gandhi gave his country freedom through love and peace.

The Rev. Dr. King became the leader of a movement that demanded civil rights for a class of people who had never known equality in the New World. Inspired by Gandhi, King used nonviolence to overcome obstacles and gain equality for himself and others. This culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended, for the most part, the rule of Jim Crowe in the South.

Nelson Mandela started his campaign for equality with violence. He was co-founder and leader of the African National Congress, which led several bombing campaigns and other such raids against major South African government and military facilities. Mandela was convicted by the government of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison. Once Mandela was released after 27 years of his sentence, he was elected as president of South Africa and led his country towards reconciliation. Mandela’s administration granted amnesty to many of the people that raped and murdered people on a mass scale. If the people who committed these atrocities would only reveal secret location where victims were buried, so that families could lay their loved ones to rest, then the perpetrators of great violence were forgiven. Instead of focusing on the “eye for an eye” theory, Mandela focused on forgiving them. This radical act took South Africa in a direction that could bring about true reconciliation.

Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun and, for many, the symbol of what true mission work should be. Teresa started her career as a teacher at a prominent school in Darjeeling. She could have stayed in this school and continued to be a teacher, but when she saw the poverty that was brought on by the Bengal famine of 1943 and the intense violence between Hindus and Muslims in 1946, she decided that she could no longer stay behind safe walls. She knew that her true calling was one amongst the poorest of the poor. For the rest of her life, Mother Teresa dedicated herself to making life better for those that had virtually no chance in the real world.

Whether or not you agree with all of the actions of these people, it is important to see that they were all radicals that used ideas outside of the norm to change the world. And that, my friends, is what we must strive to do in our lives as well. We must be radical in order to free the oppressed, bring worlds together and help others in any way that we can. People have said it before, time and time again, but I’m going to say it at least once more: we have to think outside of the box to make a difference in the world. Jesus came to us and told us, as disciples, to change the world in order to bring God’s kingdom here. Therefore, sitting and watching things go on the way that they are is simply not an option any more.

This past Wednesday night at our weekly Bible study, we started with our discussion of some verses from the book of Revelation. In our conversation, we talked about who gets into Heaven and/or Hell and whether or not that whole process is “fair.” We talked about several individuals who, in our eyes, were not “deserving” of entry into Heaven. The fates of people such as Warren Jeffs and Adolf Hitler were discussed. As you can imagine, it was hard for a lot of people to accept the idea that such modern-day “monsters” would be in Heaven. As the discussion continued, I tried to bring some radical ideas to the table. I challenged the group to really think about the positions they were taking by using Alexander Pope’s quote, “To err is human to forgive divine.” By using this concept, we forced ourselves to really focus on whether God would forgive the people and actions that we consider evil. Ultimately, we don’t know whether or not God will forgive these things. We can only have faith in Jesus that all will be forgiven.

As Christians, in order to make the world the place God created it to be, we have to embrace the radical ideals presented here. It is our call to push for change by using aspects that others find unconventional and challenging. Peace instead of violence, sacrifice instead of the easy way out and forgiveness instead of revenge. None of these tasks are going to be easy for any of us to accomplish. It’s not easy to be different. It’s not easy to forgive someone when they’ve wronged you and it’s certainly not easy to give up things in your life to make things better for someone else. But all of these things are what we are called to do. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We should do as John and Peter did and put our faith in Christ, so that we may conquer any obstacles that come our way.

Prostate Cancer

November 1, 2011

Greetings everyone! Let me start off by saying that I’m sure you’re shocked that I’ve actually posted on my blog. I’ve been looking for a reason to start this thing back up and I think I’ve found an excuse: No Shave November.

If you’ve heard of No Shave November, you’re probably aware that in the month of November, lots of guys just stop shaving. Maybe it’s for a reason, maybe not. However, a lot of guys that do this do it to raise awareness of Prostate Cancer. “What,” you might ask, “does not shaving have to do with prostate cancer?” Well, frankly, not that much; except we’re guys so we can grow beards and prostate cancer affects every guy.

When I say prostate cancer affects every guy, I mean it. Every prostate that is out there WILL get cancer, given that their owner lives long enough for it to develop. We gentlemen have an organ that is destined to get cancer. That sucks.

True, prostate cancer is rarely fatal and is very treatable if found early enough. However, it’s STILL CANCER! Plus, we’re guys. That means that we’re not going to go to the doctor enough to get a regular examination. AND, it’s not like we dudes want to get THAT examination ::shudder::. BUT, we need to raise awareness and get men of all ages involved in beating this disease.

“Well, Cameron,” you might inquire of me, “what do you plan on doing about it?” I’ll tell you. Two years ago, I started a fundraiser to auction off my beard every November. Now, this isn’t an auction where I’m going to cut off my beard and donate the hair to someone or something, because that’s gross. Instead, if you win the auction that will last all the way through the month of November, you get to decide how I cut my beard and I have to wear it like that for a week. Last year, I had the beard design of the Rent Is Too Damn High candidate, which looks a bit like this: http://tinyurl.com/65t7nex . With that auction, I raised over twice as much as I had the previous year, something I’m very proud of. This year, I’m hoping to beat last year’s total and really raise some awareness.

So, if you want to bid on a design for my beard, here are the rules:

  • You can make a bid on any social network that I’m on by commenting on one of my posts or sending me a message (you can find me on Facebook [Cameron Highsmith], Twitter [@cdizzle82] and Google +, or you can make a comment on posts found on this blog)
  • The design has to be appropriate (I go to seminary and am actively involved in many congregations in the area, I can’t show up with a giant phallus on my face)
  • My hair is mostly off-limits. I’ll allow my hair to be a part of certain designs, but they need to be pretty legit.
  • This is a consistently run auction. I’ll be posting regularly about what the bid is up to. If you want to bid, you have to have the highest amount at 12:01 AM, December 1st.
  • You don’t have to raise the money alone! You can get groups of people to up the ante!
  • You make the donation yourself! I don’t want your money to come to me, because that’s bad karma. Just go to pcf.org and make the donation (feel free to do this even if you don’t win the auction)!
  • Once the final design has been chosen and the auction is over, I’ll post pictures of my new beard on all the social networks and here on this blog

I hope that you’ll consider making a bid or two on this auction. And if not, just help spread the word about prostate cancer and maybe give a small donation to pcf.org.

Thank you!

Cameron

P.S. This is my beard at our Halloween Party this past Friday. As you can see, it’s pretty rad right now.

Faith.

November 10, 2009

Recently, whilst sitting in church, our pastor delivered a sermon that really struck a chord with me. I believe the title was, “What Do You Want?” I could be wrong though, because it was a few weeks ago, and I unfortunately did not save the bulletin. I did however, take some brief notes during the sermon and saved those. So hopefully, I can remember my train of thought when I was jotting them down and thinking to myself, “This would be a great blog!”

The main topic of that particular sermon had to do with meeting Jesus face to face. If given the opportunity, what would you ask from Jesus. More specifically, what do you want Jesus to do for you?

Think about that for a moment. It’s a tough question. Let’s narrow it down and ask a bit more of a specific question. What one thing would you ask Jesus for? If there were one thing in the world that you could have, what would it be?

Sure, we all tell ourselves that we would ask for something like world peace, or to end hunger. And of course, that’s what you’re going to tell your friends and family when discussing a topic of this nature. But look deep down in your heart. What do you really want? This is an opportunity to really dig down inside your faith and get some answers from yourself.

Your faith, ultimately, is only something that you can define. You’re given several different factors throughout your life that influence your faith (family, friends, empathy, apathy, etc.) but in the end game, only you can decide what you want to do with your beliefs and how to act on those beliefs.

This is why it is important to ask yourself these kind of questions. It’s important in a faith journey to really dig down deep and find out what we’re all about. Are you more superficial than you thought? Or are you as generous and loving as you portray yourself to be? What do you want from Jesus? What do you want from your faith?

Do you want to use your faith to become a better person? Do you think the most important thing about your faith is converting other people to see “The Light?” If you’re converting people, is it because you truly believe that there is only one true way? Or are you just trying to save yourself?

Do you honestly care about others? Are you trying to get that homeless man food and clothes and give him a new start? Or are you just preaching to him because someone told you that is what is needed to be done?

What is the point in your faith? Why do you believe the way you do? Ask yourself these questions. When you ask these questions, don’t just spend a minute on them and then blow them off. Take some time out of your day. Maybe use your allotted daily prayer time to pray about these questions. Take a walk around the block and just tune everything out except these questions. Really get down into your mind and heart and study yourself.

Faith is not about listening to others. It’s about listening to yourself, finding out who you are and then determining how that is going to make you act toward others. I’m not saying to ignore all the factors that determine your faith. But rather, use those factors and your feelings and your mind and your soul to find out what you truly believe. Just because someone has more degrees than you in a particular subject, does not mean that they know what is best for you. They might have studied the subject more, but they don’t know what your mind is churning around.

What is the ONE thing you would ask from Jesus?