Saturday, May 30, 2015

"Children's Crusade"

Jayne Senior is passionate about children.  Her crusade for the children started in 1999. She was a “bored stay-at-home mother” who was mentoring girls in her home town. So she sought and obtained grant from her hometown to start a youth organization which she named “Risky Business”, after the then popular Tom Cruise movie her charges enjoyed.  What started out as this partnership with the Town of Rotherham, England soon began to unravel.  Ms. Senior was much more passionate and persistent than the town officials had ever bargained for.  Over the course of the next decade and more, Ms. Senior was able to identify at least 1,400 girls who had been victims of sexual abuse in her hometown. Stop and read that number slowly. “One-thousand-four-hundred.” Girls. Sexually abused girls.  The more Ms. Senior reported the news about the victims the more she was turned away by the town officials. In fact, eventually the town reacted by simply cutting off the funding for her youth organization.  The police pretty much ignored her findings. But, year after year after year, Ms. Senior persisted.  Her passion for the children never waned. (Source: WSJ, May 2015, Margaret Coker and Alexis Flynn)

It took an independent investigator’s report and a national investigation to finally bring the town officials actions to light.  When exposed they resigned. But along the way, the injustice suffered by the victims of rape and prostitution was explained only by what can be termed somewhere between calculated ignorance and being in league with the devil.  And, if it wasn’t for the work of a Mom who cared for the children; who was passionate for children; one can only guess how many more thousands would be future victims of the sexual abuse criminals in Rotherham.

What if Ms. Senior had said instead, the fight is too big for me?  I have a home to take care of. I have to plan for my retirement.  I have fought long enough for others, now I need some “me-time.” Thank God that the Spirit sometimes finds a heart that is willing to burn with passion for “others.”  If the church wants to become “relevant” to a lost and dying world, it will need ten thousand “Jayne Seniors” who will become passionately persistent about what the world needs now, overcoming evil with justice.  To those of you who read this and are already are engaged in such a crusade for the voiceless, thank you. For the rest of us, it’s time to ask ourselves, is there nothing I am passionate about more than myself? For whom am I willing to engage in a crusade?  To whom am I called to be the voice of God? May the Spirit burn in your heart a passionate vision.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Living and Remembering

Memorials don't just happen. Someone lives a life worth remembering; someone does the hard work or remembering. It takes at least two people to for there to be a memorial: one person who "was" and one person who "remembers". The rest, as they say, is history.

When we think of the people remembered in the United States the weekend of Memorial Day we get a sense of how sometimes history creates our memorials for us.  The women of the South who may have started Decoration Day, the predecessor to what we now call Memorial Day, decorated the graves of those who died during the Civil War. Notably, they decorated the graves of the soldiers from the North and the South.  Certainly the soldiers did not set out to die.  They set out to fight for the cause in which each "side" believed.  They were remembered for dying, yes, but more importantly they were remembered for dying for a cause in which they believed.  A second person or group of persons then had to "remember" their work.  Memorials don't just happen.  It takes effort; it requires sacrifice.

 A woman approached Jesus during supper and poured out a very expensive jar of perfume on him. While some criticized her excess, Jesus defended her action and he created a memorial for her: he said that her act of devotion would be memorialized for generations.  The fact that I am writing about it today proves that Jesus knew what he was talking about.  When the first Passover happened, God directed his people to remember that act of saving grace with a memorial day, and Passover is still a memorial day for God's salvation thousands of years later.  God acts, people remember. People act, God remembers.

Think about the memorial that you are creating.  If you are reading this it is not too late to start the work of living your life in a way that you can be remembered as you hope.  It probably will require some sacrifice: fighting for a cause in which you believe; lavishing love toward God in a way that is so extravagant that the world mocks or scolds you. You are creating a memorial whether you want to or not. People are going to remember you for something!  Live your life in such a way that when someone creates that "something" with which to remember you that it will be pleasing to God, to your family, and to those who never met you.  Memorials don't just happen.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Playing Catch with Phillies Fans

I have known only a few fans of the Philadelphia Phillies.  But the few I do know fit the stereotype the media offers: Phillies fans are fanatics, loyal to the core. Why, they even name their mascot the Philly Phanatic.  The stories of Philly sports fans would fill a book (which I am guessing they already have written, maybe a few times over).

So it must have been the cause of some serious discussion when one national newspaper ran a big story about a little girl, Kate, who was attending the Phillies baseball game in her gray top bearing the Phillies logo, sporting her pink baseball glove, worn to the game in hopes, like all children, of catching a baseball for a souvenir. (Source: WSJ, Jared Diamond, “A Buddy in the Stands”, May 11, 2015)  There is nothing unusual about a child going to the ballgame; that is to be expected. What caught a reporter’s eye was the sight of a New York Mets relief pitcher, Buddy Carlyle, standing in the outfield before the game playing catch with Kate.  Mr. Carlyle, aptly named Buddy, makes a practice on road games of going into the outfield during team warm-ups to find a child with whom to warm up his arm by playing catch. Mr. Carlyle stands in the outfield and tosses the ball over the fence to a child in the stands, in this case Kate.  He invites the child to toss the ball back to him, and then the game of catch begins.  The child, of course, ends up with the souvenir and Buddy Carlyle ends up with at least one new fan.  As Kate told the reporter, Buddy was now her favorite Mets player, while admitting she knew no others.

Mr. Carlyle admitted to the reporter that he is “about as anonymous as they come” in the world of big league players.  That is what got  me thinking.  What made is possible for Kate to take a liking to a man in the “enemy uniform” was that he didn’t have a famous story. He just had a baseball which he was willing to toss. He wasn’t too important or too snobbish to remember that baseball is a game, a kids game played by kids of all ages. Even Phillies fans can be converted to cheer for a Met by a game of catch.

Do you want to attract “fans” for your “team”, people of God?  Well, maybe it’s time to stop trying so hard, and just start inviting people to play catch.

(In memory of the Rev. Dr. Carl Kleis, who loved all things “Philly”; who, upon reading this, would call me to talk baseball, presidents, and finding God with a good catch.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Victorious Mothers

Fatima Bukar is alive. So is her daughter.  Her husband is gone to some unknown location.  Perhaps one day, if not this year, Ms. Bukar will be celebrated by her children as one of the victorious mothers.

When the 27 year-old Ms. Bukar was kidnapped, along with her two-year old daughter, she was forced onto a two-day march into a forest where her captors had established a camp for 300 of their victims. (Source: Wall Street Journal, Patrick McGroarty, May 9-10, 2015)  The mothers survived by hunting for edible plants.  They lived through the horrific choice of submitting to soldiers who offered them the option of slavery or “marriage” to a soldier.  The slaves would prepare food for their masters and then attempt to find nuts or other food on which to survive. The “wives” became the victims of their “husbands” in unimaginable ways.

The captors of Ms. Bukar and her daughter and hundreds of other women and children were overcome by the Nigerian forces, setting the women “free.”  Victory came at a great price.  One mother, baby strapped to her back, was walking to freedom when she stepped on a land mine, which killed her baby.  The horror continued for the captives, even in victory. But, they are now in a place where healing is the goal. They are in a place where the restoration of dignity and a sense of safety is the goal. They are in a place where they can begin to think about what freedom means; and whether the government victory over the Boko Haram will bring them a lasting peace.

Fatima Bukar’s goal as a mother is pretty basic. She told a reporter, “At least now we can eat.” “We” in this case is not only Ms. Bukar and her severely malnourished daughter, but six other children too.  Along the way she took charge of these six children who had lost their mothers.   I wonder if that is about as good as a definition of “motherhood” as you can find: you adopt the orphans and you help them survive until you can find something for them to eat. “Victory” has lots of meanings, I suppose.

“For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (I John 5:4)  God, give Ms. Bukar, a Happy Mother’s Day. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

This Land is Whose Land? Part 2

So then, is it proper to understand that the gifts of the Earth are really gifts from God the Creator, what kind of gifts are they?  If you someone gives you a scarf or tie for a birthday gift you can use it, throw it in the back of the closet or just toss it in the trash. It is your gift, after all. But, suppose your best friend says, “This scarf matches your coat perfectly. Why don’t you use it?”, and she hands it to you. Now, may you throw that scarf in the trash?  When you receive that kind of a gift is there an implied promise that you will not be reckless with the scarf? Did you friend intend it to be yours forever, or only until you got a new coat? Or until your friend wanted it back?

If the ambiguous scarf-gift can cause us so much consternation, how much more the Earth and everything in it? Surely God gave the produce of the Earth as food for humans.  But how are we supposed to treat the Earth, this gift?  Throw it in the trash?  I read an interview with  a man in his 40’s who was taking over a control of his company from his father.  The company is an internationally famous plumbing-fixture manufacturer, but it is also engages is a major player in the golf and hospitality industry. Of all of the things that this new captain of industry could have talked about when ascending to his new post, he chose to say that he wanted to reduce the “environmental footprint” his company would leave on the earth. He said, "Business success doesn't matter much if we can't say we left the world a better place than we found it.” (David Kohler, Sheboygan Press, April 30, 2015)  What we with the gifts from the Earth matters to the Creator and Giver. But it also matters to us.

“A pygmy legend recounts the story of the little boy who finds a bird that sings a beautiful song in the forest. He brings it home. He asks his father to bring food for the bird. The father does not want to feed a little bird, so he kills it. The man immediately drops dead. So, the legend says, the man killed the bird, and with the bird he killed the song, and with the song he killed himself. When human beings destroy their environment, they destroy their own nature too.” Joseph Campbell Source: The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers (inward/outward, April 29, 2015)

As the Woody Guthrie song says, “This land is your land, this land is my land.” True. And, yes, “this land was made for you and me”. But, take care, the Creator is redeeming it.