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In this New York Times photo by Steve Payne: Palestinian Dr.Izzeldin Abuelaish, with his son Abdallah, looking at a photo of Bessan, one of the doctor's three daughters killed by an Israeli bomb in 2009. His story of faith and forgiveness is remarkable.

In this New York Times photo by Steve Payne: Palestinian Dr.Izzeldin Abuelaish, with his son Abdallah, looking at a photo of Bessan, one of the doctor’s three daughters killed by an Israeli bomb in 2009. His story of faith and forgiveness is remarkable.

Palestinian physician Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has every reason to hate the Israelis.

    “On January 16, 2009,” he writes in the article from Plough below, “just four months after the loss of my wife, an Israeli tank bombed my home in Gaza, killing three of my daughters and one niece. There was no reason to kill them. They were girls armed only with love, education, and plans. I raised them to serve humanity. They were drowning in their blood in their bedroom, their bodies spread everywhere.”

Dr. Abuelaish is the author of I Shall Not Hate.

If only Christians everywhere were to make that their mantra. . . .

“I shall not hate . . . I shall not hate . . . “

The only thing God hates is hate itself.

Here’s his article from the fine and serious Plough Magazine:

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“Better Than Hatred”

A Bereaved Father’s Call for Peace

Izzeldin Abuelaish

Posted Thursday, July 24, 2014, Plough Magazine

I was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp. As a child I never tasted childhood. I was born to face misery, suffering, abject poverty, and deprivation. However, the suffering in this world is man-made; it’s not from God. God wants every good thing for us and he created us for the good. But just because suffering is man-made, there is hope. It’s the hope that we can challenge this man-made suffering by not accepting it, and by taking responsibility. I can’t challenge God, but I can challenge someone on earth. And you can do the same.

    People can deprive you, imprison you, or kill you, but no one can prevent any of us from dreaming. As a child, I dreamed of being a medical doctor. Through hard work I achieved my dream. Now I fight on a daily basis to give life to others. There are others who live to fight. Is this the purpose of our existence: to fight and to end others’ lives? A human life is the most precious thing in the universe. I know from my practice as a gynecologist how hard we work to save one life. Someone else can put an end to a life in seconds with a bullet. Each human being is a representative of God on earth, God’s most holy creation. We must value human life and be strong advocates of saving human life.

This world is endemic with violence, fear, and injustice. We often mention that one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand people have been killed here or there. But people are not numbers or statistics: we need to zoom in to think of each of them as a beloved one. Each person who is killed has a name, a face, a family, a story.

    I was the first Palestinian doctor to practice medicine in an Israeli hospital. Many Israelis see Palestinians only as workers and servants. I wanted them to see that Palestinians are human and that we are not so different. Medicine has one culture and one value: the value of saving humanity. Within the walls of a hospital we treat patients equally, with respect and privacy, wishing them to be healed. We don’t design treatment according to their name, religion, ethnicity, or background, but according to their disease and their suffering.

Why don’t we practice this equality outside of these institutions? Inside them we are angels and we remember that we are equal. We need to practice it outside. The happiest moment in my life is when I hand a baby to its mother; the cry of a newborn is the cry of hope that a new life has come to this world. There is no difference between the cry of a newborn baby of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Druze, or Bedouin parents. They are the same.

The most difficult time in my life was one four month period while I was working at this Israeli hospital. On September 16, 2008, I lost my wife, Nadia, to acute leukemia. It was sudden, taking only two weeks. I felt it was the end of the world. I believe that a mother is everything in life. The mother is the main pillar of the house; she is the one who gives, sacrifices, and builds without limits. In the loss of a mother, we lost her big heart, kindness, mercy, and love. But I couldn’t change it; I had to move with it. I was blessed to have six beautiful, bright daughters and two sons. I continued my work.

Then the unexpected happened. On January 16, 2009, just four months after the loss of my wife, an Israeli tank bombed my home in Gaza, killing three of my daughters and one niece. There was no reason to kill them. They were girls armed only with love, education, and plans. I raised them to serve humanity. They were drowning in their blood in their bedroom, their bodies spread everywhere. I wanted to see them. Where was Bessan, whom I saw a few seconds before? Where were Mayar, Aya, and Noor? Mayar was number one in math in Palestine and planned to follow my path and become a medical doctor. She was decapitated. I couldn’t recognize her. Where was Aya, 13, who planned to be a lawyer, the voice of the voiceless, to speak out and break the silence? Where was Noor, 17, who planned to be a teacher?

At that moment I said that God sees this tragedy, and it will be invested for the good. I asked myself why I had been saved; if I had stayed a few more seconds with them, I would have been gone. It was God’s mercy and plan that I was scheduled to be interviewed live on Israeli TV. My cries were heard through the world.

Even when the whole world seems dormant and paralyzed, God is awake. God is alive. At that moment I directed my face to God, the one who is alive, awake, and strong. I didn’t feel angry. I only felt that I couldn’t accept what was happening and asked what I could do. At that moment I swore to God and to my daughters: I will never rest

Even when the whole world seems dormant and paralyzed, God is awake. God is alive. At that moment I directed my face to God, the one who is alive, awake, and strong. I didn’t feel angry. I only felt that I couldn’t accept what was happening and asked what I could do. At that moment I swore to God and to my daughters: I will never rest

. I will never relax. I will never give up or forget you. How can I forget them? They are my beloved ones and I miss them.

I believe I will meet my daughters again, and they will ask me, “What did you do for us?” Until then they are alive in me, and I will meet them with a big gift, and that gift is justice for them and for others. I must prove that their lives and noble blood were not wasted. That they made a difference in others’ lives. That they saved others. But to do that, we can’t use bullets and bombs like the one which killed them.

    The bullet is the weapon of the weak: it kills once. You have the strongest weapon. It’s your wisdom and your kind, courageous words. Words are stronger than bullets. We need to say the right word in time. What is the value of saying it afterward? What is the value of treating patients after they have died?

The first message of support came from my fourteen-year-old son, Mohammed. While I was crying he looked at me and said, “Why are you crying? Why are you screaming? You must be happy.” I said that he didn’t know his sisters had been killed. How can he tell me to be happy? He said, “No, I know my sisters are killed, but I know that they are happy there. They are with their mom. She asked for them.” That fourteen-year-old Palestinian child could teach world leaders to be patient. I thought that if he said that, I don’t need to worry about him. He knows his way. And I too have to move forward. As Einstein said, life is like riding a bicycle. To keep balanced we must keep moving. I kept moving faster, stronger, more determined. Not looking backward, only forward.

I wrote my book I Shall not Hate because people expected me to hate. Maybe I have the right to hate. But we are blessed to be human, to have choices in life between the dark and the light, between what is right and what is wrong. If I want to bring my daughters justice, is it with hatred? Is it with darkness, with blindness?

    Hatred is a disease that eats the one who carries it. It is poison. It is a fire which burns the one who started it. It is cancer, a self-destructive disease. It’s a heavy burden with which you can’t move forward. It makes you sink deeper. Don’t allow this disease. Build a shield around you. Don’t allow hatred. I said that I shall not hate, meaning that I’m not going to be sick. I will never be broken or defeated by this disease. I will challenge it and take responsibility. Don’t blame others, but take responsibility and move forward. Be angry, but in a positive way. When you see something wrong, don’t accept it. Ask, “What can I do to change it?” Don’t feel so angry that you lose control and then regret it. We need a constructive, positive anger that energizes us.

Whatever you do makes a difference. Don’t say it won’t impact others. The patient needs action, a prescription. They don’t need words. Everything starts with words, but these words have no meaning if they are not translated into action. It starts with small actions. First make a difference in your local community. Speak out. Evil flourishes in this world when good people do nothing and think they are far from risk. What do you hear? What do you see? Does it harm human beings? This world is becoming smaller and smaller. We live in one boat. We must not allow anyone to do harm to this boat or we will all sink.

Your freedom depends on mine. No one is free as long as others are not. We must stand for the freedom of all. We must speak out about the freedom of all – freedom from need, ignorance, poverty, sickness, and fear. In memory of Bessan, Mayar, Aya, and Noor, I established the Daughters for Life Foundation for the education of girls and women from the Middle East. Social and economic challenges should not be a barrier to girls’ education. In these girls I see my daughters’ dreams and plans being fulfilled. I see these girls as my daughters. God took three daughters and one niece from me, but has given me hundreds more.

Me and Lil Pete: just a couple of wild and crazy bush boys that got together

Me and Lil Pete: just a couple of wild and crazy bush boys that got together

No Paparazzi! No Paparazzi!

No Paparazzi! No Paparazzi!

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Your sermonette of the day as posted on my Facebook page this morn:

    Tom Wolfe, the writer and social critic who so brilliantly captured the moods and attitudes of whole decades beginning in the early sixties, was quick to dub the eighties as “The Me Decade.” It was a time when everything became all about Me, Me, Me. But really, we’ve never come out of that decade. We’ve been stuck ever since in what the Canadian preacher and Wesleyan scholar Victor Shepherd describes as “Selfism.” Even the church and church people, at least in Western culture, haven’t been spared the infection of Selfism, which, as Shepherd says, measures everything under the sun by what it does for me. Selfism according to Shepherd is about “how it affects me, how it amplifies my sense of self-importance, how it caters to my being recognized and congratulated.” The bad thing about Selfism is that it feels like personal freedom, and Lord knows Americans above all worship their freedom and their right to pursue (my) happiness. But freedom according to the God, Christ, the Bible and the Christian tradition isn’t about the freedom to be ME in terms of my right to be free, but the freedom to be all about God and service to others. Christian freedom is freedom from every kind of bondage to sin and sin–or separation from God–more often than not boils down to Selfism, to being all about ME and what I WANT rather than God’s will for universal love, grace, mercy, justice, and peace on earth, good will to ALL. Freedom in the world is all too often just another word for license, the license to be what I want, do what I want, take what I need. It’s about Me first and then God and then others. Worldly freedom is about my right to be me and about MY happiness; Christian freedom is the gift that keeps on giving the utter Joy that comes with being liberated from the chains of Selfism itself.

    My friend and colleague in ministry David Weber posted this in response on Facebook:

    “I used a term yesterday in describing much the same phenomenon–in AA it is called ‘terminal uniquism.’ It leads to death or tragedy, always.”

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Stories that make you go “Wow!”–in a most sickening way from the Texas Freedom Network:

    Dave Welch, head of the far-right Houston Area Pastor Council and one of the leading voices of anti-gay hate in Texas, is calling for “imprecatory prayers” as Houston officials review petition signatures from supporters of overturning the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance.

    Imprecatory prayers are those that ask God to burden, curse or even destroy wicked individuals and institutions. They typically are tied to the Bible’s imprecatory Psalms, such as Psalm 109:9 (“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”) and Psalm 137:9 (“How blessed will be the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”).

    In an article emailed to supporters over the weekend, Welch writes that city officials are nearly done determining whether there are enough valid petition signatures to put repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on the November ballot. He calls on repeal supporters to pray while city officials finish that work:

    “PRAY – imprecatory prayers for the Lord to oversee every detail and every person involved, to expose any impropriety, to bind spiritual forces of darkness in the city and to send confusion into the enemy camp.”

    We’ve seen more and more prominent religious-righters call for imprecatory prayer in recent years. In 2009, for example, California pastor Wiley Drake issued a call for imprecatory prayers for the death for President Obama. That same year, former Navy chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a religious-right hero, urged followers to offer imprecatory prayers calling for the death of the Rev. Barry Lynn, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Two years ago, far-right evangelical leader Scott Lively celebrated the destruction of a strip club in Springfield, Massachusetts, as an answer to his calls for imprecatory prayers to “re-Christianize” that city.

    We’re not sure what in the world Welch means with his calls for imprecatory prayers regarding the HERO repeal effort. But whether or not he really wants the destruction of anyone (or any institution) in Houston, his call is chilling and dark. History is full of disturbed people who have done horrible things in the twisted belief that they were carrying out God’s will.

The Houston City Council passed HERO in May. HERO bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, race, religion, military status and other characteristics. City officials have until early next week to announce whether Welch and his allies gathered enough valid petition signatures to send HERO’s repeal to voters.

    Another sermonette: As long as there is a living God--and there is and always will be a living, loving God--peace in a place even as violent as the Middle East will never be impossible. But peace on earth, even in places as seemingly hopeless as the Middle East, requires our working for it even if we don't live to see it. It begins with visualizing peace and then doing everything from praying to petitioning to advocating or activism or whatever means available.

    Another sermonette: As long as there is a living God–and there is and always will be a living, loving God–peace in a place even as violent as the Middle East will never be impossible. But peace on earth, even in places as seemingly hopeless as the Middle East, requires our working for it even if we don’t live to see it. It begins with visualizing peace and then doing everything from praying to petitioning to advocating or activism or whatever means available.

    ON A HAPPIER, MORE INSPIRATIONAL OR LIGHTER NOTE OR TWO:

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    Until next time from here in Bush country ....

    Until next time from here in Bush country ….

    Peace & Pineapples be with you.

    Peace & Pineapples be with you.

The French Christian Jean Vanier is considered by many of his admirers--count me among them-- to be a living saint for his creation of a global movement called L’Arche. A half century ago, people with Down’s Syndrome and other mental and intellectual disabilities were still shut away in institutions, but Jean Vanier envisioned a model of religious community with them at its heart. Today, disabled core members share daily life and spiritual community with non-disabled “assistants” at 137 L’Arche communities in 40 countries. These have become places of pilgrimage, transformative for those involved - and for the world around them.

The French Christian Jean Vanier is considered by many of his admirers–count me among them– to be a living saint for his creation of a global movement called L’Arche. A half century ago, people with Down’s Syndrome and other mental and intellectual disabilities were still shut away in institutions, but Jean Vanier envisioned a model of religious community with them at its heart. Today, disabled core members share daily life and spiritual community with non-disabled “assistants” at 137 L’Arche communities in 40 countries. These have become places of pilgrimage, transformative for those involved – and for the world around them.

Jean Vanier may be the greatest man you never heard of.

His kind don’t get heard near enough in this callous world.

So check him out in this in-depth, 2013 interview with Kristin Tippett.

Or at least read and mull on these excerpts from the interview–and mind you, the excerpts are from the transcript of an unedited, free-wheeling radio interview . . .

Jean Vanier, a former military officer who became a Christian philosopher devoted to living with and serving people with disabilities. His L'Arche communities for the disabled are located in places around the world.

Jean Vanier, a former military officer who became a Christian philosopher devoted to living with and serving people with disabilities. His L’Arche communities for the disabled are located in places around the world.

On hiding our pain and weakness:

    “We don’t know what to do with our own pain, so what to do with the pain of others? We don’t know what to do with our own weakness except hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist. So how can we welcome fully the weakness of another if we haven’t welcomed our own weakness? There are very strong words of Martin Luther King. His question was always, how is it that one group — the white group — can despise another group, which is the black group? And will it always be like this? Will we always be having an elite condemning or pushing down others that they consider not worthy? And he says something, which is quite, what I find extremely beautiful and strong, is that we will continue to despise people until we have recognized, loved, and accepted what is despicable in ourselves. So that, then we go down, what is it that is despicable in ourselves? And there are some elements despicable in ourselves, which we don’t want to look at, but which are part of our natures, that we are mortal.”

Just as his friend Mother Theresa dedicated her life to the poor, the Christian philosopher Vanier dedicates his life to the disabled.

Just as his friend Mother Theresa dedicated her life to the poor, the Christian philosopher Vanier dedicates his life to the disabled.


On our fear of people with disabilities:

We are a frightened people. And, of course, the big question is, why are we so frightened of people with disabilities? Like a woman who said to me just recently, asked me where I — what I was doing. And I said that I had the privilege of living with people with disabilities. And she said, ‘Oh, but I could never work with people.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘Well, I am frightened of them.’ It touches very — and I believe we’re in front of a mystery of the human reality and people who are very deeply disfigured in their face, in their body. And so — and it’s the fault of nobody. It’s a reality that is there. And maybe we can work things out and discover what gene it is and so on. But the history of humanity is a history of people being born extremely fragile because sickness and death is part of our — of our reality.

On children, power and our educational system:

The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. That if I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more. But does this tension between the doing and the being — and when you have power, we can very quickly push people down. I’m the one that knows and you don’t know, and I’m strong and I’m powerful, I have the knowledge. And this is the history of humanity.

And that is all of what I’d call the whole educational system, is that we must educate people to become capable and to take their place in society. That has value, obviously. But it’s not quite the same thing as to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves. So the equilibrium that people with disabilities could bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart.

Children. You see, maybe a father is a very strong man and businessman, and when he comes home, if he gets down on his hands and knees and plays with the children, it’s the child that is teaching the father something about tenderness, about love, about the father looking at the needs of the child, the face of the child, the hands of the child, relating to the child. And the children, the incredible thing about children is they’re unified in their body and in — whereas we, we can be very disunified. We can say one thing and feel another.

And so as a child can teach us about unity and about fidelity and about love, so it is people with disabilities. It’s the same sort of beauty and purity in some of these people — it is extraordinary — and say, ‘Our world is not just a world of competition, the weakest and the strongest. Everybody have their place.’

We are frightened of people with disabilities, Vanier says, which says a lot about our brokenness and our yearning to be loved above else.

We are frightened of people with disabilities, Vanier says, which says a lot about our brokenness and our yearning to be loved above else.


On Jesus, John the Baptist, God and vulnerability:
My experience today is much more the discovery how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if as the Epistle of John says that God is love, anyone who has loved in their life knows they’ve become vulnerable. Where are you and the other person and do you love me back? So if God is love, it means that God is terribly vulnerable. And God doesn’t want to enter into a relationship where he’s obliging or she is obliging us to do something.

The beautiful text in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation: “I stand at the door and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter.” What touches me there is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down, but waiting. Do you, will you open? Do you hear me? Because we’re in a world where there’s so much going on in our heads and our hearts and anxiety and projects that we don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. So I’d say that what touches me the deepest, maybe because I’m becoming myself more vulnerable, is the discovery of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.

The other element, which is probably, again, linked to that, is that the only thing that’s, what I see important for myself is just to become a friend of Jesus and nothing else. And the whole I think of the mystery of Christianity is just living with Jesus the way Jesus lived in Nazareth with his, with Mary, his mother, and with Joseph. A relationship. John the Baptist was strong, he was powerful. He was prophetic.

[Jesus] ate with people who are caught up in prostitution, with tax collectors, with lepers and all that. I mean, there’s something so simple about Jesus that he is disarming. We don’t quite know what to do with it. Because frequently, we would want a powerful Jesus who will put everything straight, who will cure everybody, who will do everything that we tell him to do. And it’s not like that.

On his close relationship with Mother Theresa:
She had a lot of anguish, you see? And to bring anguish, which she had, and then to think that it doubted her faith, she never doubted her faith, but in her prayer that she lived anguish. This is what everybody lives. I mean it’s — this is human reality. And I think when Mother Teresa was writing and telling these — and I still feel upset because she said that should be destroyed. And we didn’t take seriously what she had said. But she was obviously a woman of great anguish.

And so when you’re a great anguished, your prayer will be anguished. I mean don’t be surprised and don’t make a big thing out of it. I mean this is the reality of everyone. And she’s telling us now stop thinking about this anguish. Just get on and start loving people. We must listen to what she said, which was we will be healed by the poor. So let’s get down to it.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

— God

Slow down, be still and seek direction to the one place that matters--the presence of God.

Slow down, be still and seek direction to the one place that matters–the presence of God.


My friend Gerry Straub, who blogs at Gerry Straub’s Blog, says today:

    “We live in an age where modern transportation allows us to go anywhere we want; ironically, we live in an age where many have lost their sense of direction.

    “Our society gives priority to material progress over moral growth and to the efficiency of getting things done over social responsibility. While technology is important and can be good, what we really need is the wisdom that comes from God. Instead we get tweets that say nothing.”

I hate to quibble, Gerry, but the fact is that tweets often say way too much in the limited number of words allowed in a single tweet.

There’s now not a news cycle that goes by that we don’t get either an apology or a defiant stance following some quickie tweet circulated by some politician or political aid, some over-paid and over-spoiled jock, or some celebrity (who may be famous for nothing more than being famous), or some news and media figure or knee-jerk pundit, or some flash-in-the-pan who is currently basking in Andy Warhol’s prophetic prediction of everybody’s “fifteen minutes of fame.”

And then there’s Facebook and all the other social “connection” forums (social “disconnect” forums?) that have opened such golden opportunities for knee-jerk, reactionary responses to every event and pseudo-event happening every minute of every long day.

America has indeed lost her sense of direction, and lost the ground that nurtures wisdom, in no small part because of her loss of quiet time.

We’re now bombarded with so much 24 hour news and commentary–a huge portion of which, when broken down and analyzed, is not really news or news commentary at all–that it’s too much for us to begin to pause and think about, or seriously reflect on, current events, and the challenges they present.

And then there’s the constant entertainment we live for–a huge portion of which, when it too is broken down and analyzed, is not really entertaining us at all. It’s just the TV blaring in the empty family room while we stand at the bar in the kitchen scarfing down Big Macs and Fries and playing games on our magic phones.

Her Greatness the writer Annie Dillard famously wrote, in her infinite, spiritual wisdom, that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Those words don’t appear at first glance to be very profound words, and yet they speak volumes.

We now spend our days living in endless “news cycles” peddled by media that thrive on ratings to keep us jacked up, pissed off, worried sick, desensitized, demoralized, dehumanized, and living for the weekend so that we can escape to some ever bigger football stadium or a taller, shinier casino that promises us fortune enough to build ourselves more false security in a world where no amount of security can possibly be bought, sold or erected.

We spend our days as if the meaning of life were . . .

    “Here I am.

    “Entertainment me.

    “Now.”

Modern transportation, as my friend Gerry says, can get us anywhere, and fast, even as we keep losing our sense of direction in an ever louder world.

To paraphrase a musical prophet, we’re living our days like so many rolling stones, with no direction home to what might be interpreted as the presence and the wisdom of God.

Be still and know that God is God, and if you can’t stand the holiness of stillness, just know that in this day and age, stillness in the holy side of life takes practice.

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“I’m a lean, mean, hugging’ machine,” says Tim, a restauranteur, multiple Gold Medalist in the Special Olympics and hugger.

Check out the feel-good video:

Your Sermonette of the Day:

    How desperate, gloomy and doomy the world appears these days, as it appeared in biblical times, in medieval times, in the Depression and World War era, as now and forever. And yet 2,000 years ago, the light shone in the darkness and darkness could not overcome it. Radical love prevailed over evil on the cross; radical love will prevail in some of the gloomiest and doomiest places on earth today. Pray. Be the peace you wish to see in the world. Practice love, grace and tender mercies. Practice truth and courage, not fear. I am not being Pollyanna Paul when I say that everything is going to be all right whenever and wherever radical love is put into practice in this violent, broken world of violent, broken people (myself include) in need of God’s grace, love and tender mercies.

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Your Jitterbug Thought for the Day:

    “Compassion is not sympathy. Compassion is mercy.

    “It is a commitment to take responsibility for the suffering of others.”


    –Joan Chittister, OSB, in Seeing with Our Souls

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Your Jitterbug Photo of the Day:

Woman making tortillas at her hearth in a village near Melchor, Guatemala

Woman making tortillas by candlelight at her hearth in a village near Flores Island, Guatemala

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“We do not understand all that these children have experienced in their home countries or in their arduous journey to our borders. We do know that their plight breaks the heart of God.

“Children are some of the most vulnerable members of the global community. Many come seeking to survive. They all need our compassion and care. At a time of concern about a struggling economy and national security, it is easy to give in to fear and to let that fear, rather than God’s heart, shape our hearts and our response. ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.’ (II Tim. 1:7).

“As followers of Christ, we have the power and wisdom of God to care for these unaccompanied children.”

— From a pastoral letter issued by the seven Texas bishops of the United Methodist Church

Click here to see the whole letter from the Texas bishops, including my own Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Annual Conference.

Also see here.

And here too.

I moved to Belize two years ago today, with a big suitcase, a carry-on suitcase, a 40-liter backpack and my MacBook Air.

I had been to many places in the world, including far-flung parts of Russia (and Siberia) and China and places in Mexico from the resorts at Baja and Cancun down to the poor and dangerous areas of Juarez and Chiapas, sometimes on newspaper assignments, sometimes on church mission trips, and sometimes just to travel off the beaten paths in the world.

But I had never set foot in Belize–and did not know a single person in Belize–except for some acquaintances I’d made online in researching what Belize is really like to live in–until two years ago today, when I moved here.

An American clergy friend on Facebook asked me the other day why I came here. I told her there were many reasons, some simple and some complicated, but almost all boiling down to spiritual and theological reasons.

I wanted to strip down and simplify my life, get closer to God through the calming influence of God’s green earth–through nature, that is–and Belize is certainly a dream for an eco-conscious nature lover and spiritual adventurist.

As eccentric or crazy as this may sound to some people–even to many Christians in America’s unique, heavily sanitized Christian culture–I wanted to live in the midst of poor people, to know and observe material and spiritual poverty as a way of knowing God better.

Belize is by no means the poorest country in the world. There are far, far worst places. But it is nonetheless a “developing” country. Its 50 percent unemployment rate doesn’t even begin to give an accurate hint of the hardships in life for so many people living in substandard housing alone.

It’s also part of Central America, which, as you may have heard in the news lately, has its share of poverty. I’m within walking distance of Guatemala’s border town of Melchor. It’s a very, very nice town, especially as the world’s border towns go.

After 10 p.m.–even as early as 9 some nights–you can sit in Benque, Belize, right across the river from Melchor–and hear gunshots.

“Home before dark” takes on new meaning when I’m in Melchor, as much as I like the place.

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    Living life in fear, anxiety, stressed to the hilt with a false sense of security on some kind of work treadmill that you hate being stuck on–living for the weekend–that’s the stuff of regrets down the road in life. (That said, if you’re happy and content with your 8 to 5-ness, good for you! But according to recent studies, you’re in the minority in America now.)

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I’ve had an affinity for the poor all my life. It’s just how I’m made. And when I say I moved to Central America because I wanted to know God better by knowing the poor better, what I mean by that is answered in Jeremiah 22: 16.

You could look it up.

* * *

I moved to Belize partly because I could. My children are grown and on their own and prospering. I had nobody to support in this world except me. I had precious little money and life savings or retirement benefits, but I had (and have) zero debt.

I had nothing to constrain my free spirit, which always yearned to be freer and then some.

Having zero debt, and keeping zero debt, makes you feel far richer and freer than many prosperous people feel, regardless of how much money or savings they have.

Besides, the cost of living in BZ is such that one can live comfortably and conveniently on $1,500 a month. Some places, you can live like a king or queen on $2,000.

Me, I ain’t rich but Lord I’m free. (Hat Tip: George Strait.)

* * * *

I wasn’t the least bit afraid of moving with precious little income to a third world country where I’d never been because I figured out years ago in my spiritual and theological discernment that throughout all the times when I was broke in my life–and I can say I’ve been “dead broke,” Hillary darling, more times than I care to remember–God provided for me a thousand times when I least expected to be provided for.

I stepped out and landed in Belize largely on faith that God’s gonna take care of me in the end, no matter what jam I get in or how low my bank account gets when I return from an occasional spontaneous, “what the hell you only live once” trip to the beach.

I subsist mostly on faith still, not being anxious for tomorrow as to what I shall eat or what I shall put on. “Consider the lilies of the field, how their neither toil nor spin.”

That’s from Matthew 6.

You could dust off your Bible and look it up.

* * * *

As I told my new Facebook buddy, I was driven to move to Belize in no small measure because I’m an adventurist and a traveler, not a tourist. I wanted to live like an adventurist and traveler rather than a tourist passing through life on the guided tour–look to your right and you might want to take a picture of that–without really experiencing or feeling and knowing life.

Opportunities for adventure in Belize and the rest of Central America are endless. You can take buses or even hitchhike in most parts of these countries without feeling the least bit threatened. But then, there are those certain areas in Central America where you are living at your own risk just by being in them, especially after dark.

It’s a lot like America in that regard.

Chicago is a wonderful, beautiful great city–one of my favorites in America–but certain parts of Chicago are as dangerous as certain parts of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador or neighboring Mexico, or as dangerous as parts of even Belize City or touristy San Pedro island after a certain hour.

The news gives a terribly distorted view of cities and countries identified as the “world’s most dangerous” sometimes.

I know Belizeans who have it in their heads that America must be a dangerous, scary place. They get American news here too.

* * * *

As I told my FB friend, in my career in hospital and hospice ministry to people laid low by illness, injury or impending death, I heard people almost every day speak of their regrets, regretting that they had worked so hard, that they hadn’t done this, that did never quite mustered up the courage to do that or to go here or there and see this or try that or break out of the humdrum, 8 to 5, terribly unsatisfying life that seemed so secure, with security guaranteed.

I heard so many people facing death or disability say they regretted that they didn’t quite really live life to the fullest. They lived too much in fear of the unknown to take any calculated risk at doing what would have made them genuinely happy and fulfilled.

I sold everything I had and left behind a well-paying job with great benefits in a great American and Texas city to sort of freelance ministry with people who, in their struggles to survive–many of them–live with more joy and gusto and the bold courage it takes them just to be happy than those breaking their necks to keep up with the mortgage, the bills and the Joneses back home.

A radical change in life of the sort that I took ain’t for everybody and, in a real sense, I personally felt called by God to be where I am.

But living life in fear, anxiety, stressed to the hilt with a false sense of security on some kind of work treadmill that you hate being stuck on–living for the weekend–that’s the stuff of regrets down the road of life. (That said, if you’re happy and content with your 8 to 5-ness, good for you! But according to recent studies, you’re in the minority in America now.)

I have to say, by the way, that I didn’t just pick up and come down to exotic Belize. I researched and planned a move here for the better part of two years, taking full vestment in a retirement account into account after that two-year mark was reached.

The “Holstee Manifesto” meme at the top of this posting says that if you don’t like your job, quit. Anybody who does that without another job or a really thoughtful plan for supporting himself or herself is on a fool’s run.

But by and large, the manifesto contains a pretty good code to live by, or one that’s worked for me anyway.

So I’ve been in two years in Belize and I’ve heeded a call from on high and managed to have my much-needed fun and taste adventure and live with risks and fulfilled my own unique need simply to see where the trails off the beaten paths lead.

I calculated the risks, did my homework on Central America, stepped out on faith and embarked on this life adventure at 62.

Now I’m 64 and younger than I was two years ago.

No regrets.

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