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“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
—Mark 1: 40-42

Hands_of_God_and_Adam
I grew up in a time when gasoline was a little north of 20 cents a gallon and doctors made these things called “house calls”—which tells all you need to know about how old I am.

Our family physician was Dr. Hansen, a pleasant but serious-minded and gentle giant of a man with big but delicate hands. He seemed to lumber forward when he walked into our house to see my aged grandmother, with his ever-present stethoscope around his neck and his well-worn doctor’s bag in hand.

Then again, maybe the hometown doc wasn’t as big a man as I remember from boyhood, when dutifully he came to our house any time that my elderly grandmother “Nannie” fell ill. Maybe he looms large in my mind now because everyone saw him as such a towering figure in our town. Even now I look back on him as a giant presence of peace and calm, compassion and grace. I still think of him sometimes in my ministry when I’m at someone’s sickbed or deathbed.

This was a role model who modeled God’s sheer grace.

* * * *

I remember how Dr. Hansen would pull up a chair beside my “Nannie’s” bed, then take a hand of hers and swallow it up with one of his own big hands while gently placing the other palm on her head. In the manner of Jesus, he literally laid hands on her.

“Are you feeling poorly today, Ms. Chasteen?” he would ask softly.

“I am, Dr. Hansen. I’m so glad you’re here,” she would tell him.

“Well tell me why you feel so bad; are you hurting somewhere?”

I remember being impressed even at such a young age by that proverbial “bedside manner,” where the physician used no tools other than the calming influence of his presence—and his taking my grandmother’s hand—while making his initial diagnosis. Only after some of this fully engaged contact with my grandmother would he take his stethoscope to her chest, or gingerly place a thermometer under her tongue.

Dr. Hansen’s presence and touch did not in itself “cure” my grandmother of what ailed her, but it did bring her the curative relief of spiritual healing that could only enhance the physical healing.

One only has to scan the relatively short gospel of Mark, with an eye to all the touching going on, to grasp the power of healing touch. The presence and the hands of Jesus were spiritual weapons that his enemies were powerless to deal with—there was just no way to “disarm” this prince.

So the fear-filled persecutors punched nails through those tender palms of the carpenter-turned-healer, on the assumption that they were putting such dangerous hands out of commission forever. Turns out it wasn’t the end of Christ that they thought this crucifixion would be. Crucifixions, after all, had always been a reliable means for ending a life.

Yet the power of the hand of God, which could not be eliminated even in death, was passed on to the apostles in a matter of days after the resurrection, when Jesus breathed the powers of the Spirit of grace and healing upon them (John 20: 22).

Jesus still touches lives with his healing presence, and through the hands of doctors and all kinds of caregivers through their hands and hugs and mere, compassionate presence.

The power touch, appropriately applied+ holds the endless power of God’s healing grace.

    *If touching and hugging is “too long and too strong,” it’s not appropriate with someone you don’t know or don’t know very well. Be mindful that not all people like to be touched or hugged. It’s a good idea in giving care to someone laid low by illness, injury or grief of any kind to ask, “Would you be comfortable if I gave you a hug right now?” Or, “I feel like holding your hand if you’re comfortable with that. Is that OK?” If the person is not comfortable do not touch–not physically. The important thing is to touch the other’s heart, mind and spirit with your compassionate presence.

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A reminder that not all NFL football stars are a menace to society.

The fiercest player on the field–and now the highest paid in the NFL–is a class act and genuinely good role model.

J.J.

J.J.

"Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things...as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.”  ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin  (HAT TIP: Peggy at Ecumenicus.org)

“Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.” ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (HAT TIP: Peggy at Ecumenicus.org)



Your sermon of the day, and I promise it won’t be long-winded:

My friends, all you need is love.

It’s all that matters in life, to love and to be secure in the knowledge that you are loved and cared about by God and others.

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.

And may peace be with you and all who read this on this the day the Lord hath made.


Belize’s relations with Guatemala have been complicated, and often bitter, for many reasons, going back hundreds of years. As recently as twenty or thirty years ago there were real concerns that Guatemala might invade Belize, which Guatemala has never really recognized as a nation–Guatemala has always claimed that most of the land in BZ belongs to Guatemala.

And then there’s the invasion by looters and poachers.

If you have about half an hour, this 2009 documentary about an expedition exposing the looting and poaching issues in Belize’s Chiquibul Preserve is very well done, even if you don’t catch but 10 minutes to get a grasp of what’s at stake.

Following the vid is a more recent report of an exhibition that exposes the issues with Guatemala from Tony Rath, a world-class photographer . . .

A Tony Rath photo of a waterfall in the Belize's gorgeous Chiquibul Forest, a huge preserve that is home to exotic animals, Mayan ceremonial sites in the many elaborate cave systems and all the wonders that Mother Nature has to offer.

A Tony Rath photo of a waterfall in the Belize’s gorgeous Chiquibul Forest, a huge preserve that is home to exotic animals, Mayan ceremonial sites in the many elaborate cave systems and all the wonders that Mother Nature has to offer.

Poor people from Guatemala’s poorest regions aren’t just crossing the border into the U.S.

They’ve been sneaking into the rainforests of Belize Chiquibul Park for years, looting and stealing and destroying the fragile environment and its exotic birds and wildlife.

Tony Rath, a trained marine biologist and longtime adventurist, is a world-renowned photographer and videographer who first visited Belize in 1979 and took up permanent residency here in 1988.

His gorgeous photos and underwater videos of all the natural wonders of Belize never cease to impress and astound.

He’s also not too shabby a writer.

He recently penned an essay, complete with a package of photos, about his participation in a reconnaissance expedition into Belize’s Chiquibul National Park–that natural wonderland that is under siege by neighboring Guatemalens living in utter poverty who are essentially raping the land and stealing Belizean treasures to cash in on them.

    “The rangers,” Tony explains in his reporting, “call them “Xateros”–poverty stricken people from Guatemala risking everything to harvest fronds from the xate (pronounced shatay) palm tree for the floral industry.

    “Wikipedia says 400 million xate stems are exported to North America and Europe every year. Populations of the palm in Mexico and Guatemala have been over collected, so now Xateros illegally cross the border from Guatemala to cut the abundant leaf in Belize. But as we observed, xate is only one resource under pressure from the Xateros. Picture a pristine landscape defiled by illegal logging; looting of archaeological sites; extraction of gold; hunting of wildlife; harvesting scarlet macaw chicks for the pet trade; milpa farming; marijuana plantations and even survey lines complete with fluorescent-tip orange stakes.”

Tony Rath on the illegal logging he and rangers found: "This is what illegal logging looks like, #Chiquibul, #Belize. The poachers load the best cuts on horseback, leaving 80% of the mahogany to rot. We encountered 5 more of these crime scenes on the road in - all fresh; then the poachers would fell trees to block the road so we couldn't follow them to the [Guatemala] border."

Tony Rath on the illegal logging he and rangers found: “This is what illegal logging looks like, #Chiquibul, #Belize. The poachers load the best cuts on horseback, leaving 80% of the mahogany to rot. We encountered 5 more of these crime scenes on the road in – all fresh; then the poachers would fell trees to block the road so we couldn’t follow them to the [Guatemala] border.”

Here’s what Tony was up to on this expedition:

    “I was taking part in a reconnaissance expedition into the deepest part of the Chiquibul National Park (Chiquibul) to lay the groundwork for a larger expedition next year. The Chiquibul is the largest protected area in Belize covering more than 265,000 acres of tropical broadleaf forests in the southern Cayo District. To the east lies the nearly 150,000 acre Chiquibul Forest Reserve, and to the south is the 100,000 acre Bladen Nature Reserve. The great Maya site of Caracol lies in the middle of the park. Doyle‘s Delight, the highest point in Belize (3675 feet), occurs on the southern edge of the park. The Chiquibul is also home to one of the last nesting sites of the scarlet macaw in Belize. And an estimated 540,000-square-foot Chiquibul Cave System, the largest in Belize and the longest in Central America, is a treasure trove of geological and archaeological wonders. In 2007, the Belize Forest Department and a local non-governmental organization (NGO) – Friends of Conservation and Development (FCD) – entered into a co-management agreement signifying for the first time an actual management of this unique and pristine landscape.”

Read the whole report, complete with those fabulous photos the master takes, here–it was quite an adventure.

Mother Mary would have been pushing age 50: so what gives with that young face created by Michelangelo here?

Mother Mary would have been pushing age 50: so what gives with that young face created by Michelangelo here?

One of the beauties of pregnancy is seeing “the glow” that an expecting mother takes on at a certain stage–a radiant beauty and grace that comes from deep within her expectant soul. Her face seems to radiate with God’s grace. (I recently emailed my youngest daughter, who is expecting, to tell her she has that “glow”–it’s definitely there!)

I’ve observed over the years that so many passionate Christians who are truly excited about Christ and their faith journeys have a certain “glow.”

I’ve also observed that many such passionate, grace-filled and radiant people aren’t prone to grumble or gossip about the pastor’s allegedly boring sermons or the church’s latest program or the proposed color of the carpet in the new sanctuary.

Such Christians are ministerial self-starters who stimulate and inspire the pastor himself or herself to be more passionate and excited for Christ. They lift up the congregation to a higher, more vigorous level because they are passionate about the only thing at church that matters:

    Christ Jesus.

We’ve all seen those Christian disciples who are way up in the years who have so much passion and vigor that they seem far younger than their age and who, indeed, can run circles around people half their age or younger.

In Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” Mary the Mom of Jesus looks very much younger than Jesus himself, even though she had to be pushing 50. Asked why he presented such a young Mary, Michelangelo said, “Those who are passionate for God never age!”

There’s something at church or in your faith walk that you can do that awaits your initiative–your passion–to ignite it and excite others for Christ. Once you find your own passion, you have the power to be the minister, with your unique gifts and graces and talents, that you are called to be. (And we Protestants, by the way, are Protestants largely because we believe in the ministry of all believers.)

You and all of us who are Christians have the power to inspire the body of Christ–and that’s what the church is: the body of Christ, as imperfect as it is.

Find what it is in your faith walk that gets you excited; explore those things that you think might fire up your passion on behalf of Christ. Find what gets you waking up in the morning and saying, “Oh God!” in an energetic, vigorous way, not “Oh God!” as in, “Oh, God–not another Monday.”

And may you, like Mary and those vigorous, youthful and radiant “old folks” at your church whose faces radiate in the manner of Old Man Moses, be forever young.

    Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them.

    — Ex. 34: 29-31

I do love me some Belize, but I didn't come expecting to be altogether secure. Fortunately, as bad and violent as crime is in Belize, the vast majority of people are ultra-friendly and peaceful--and deserve better law enforcement.

I do love me some Belize, but I didn’t come expecting to be altogether secure. Fortunately, as bad and violent as crime is in Belize, the vast majority of people are ultra-gentle and peaceful–and deserve better law enforcement.

Here’s another “Other Side of Paradise” story that they won’t tell you in those shiny “Come live in paradise” brochures and TV commercials:

Police in Belize are generally (a) brutal, (b) corrupt, (c) outrageously incompetent, or (d) some or all of the above.

Mind you, I have met and know a lot of extremely nice, courteous cops who may not be brutal or corrupt. But the police are just under-staffed and woefully under-trained and under-discipined

When I was researching Belize online and thinking about moving here, I asked an expat who blogs, online, about the awful law enforcement. I knew it was awful from reading Belizean newspapers online, which are riddled with crime reportage and frequent reporting about law enforcement

The expat’s reply was, “You’ve seen the Keystone Cops movies, haven’t you? Don’t expect the police to come to your rescue.”

Here’s an excerpt from the news in Belize City today from http://www.patrickjonesbelize.com, which covers police and crime news like a blanket:

    Aaron Hughes reporting: Belize City police face a truly outrageous allegation of brutality amid concerns of use of excessive force in several incidents in the past few days.

    “West Canal resident Armani Bailey, the nephew of well-known Justice of the Peace Grace Flowers, reported that he was taken from his home by multiple officers in a black Toyota 4Runner and driven up the George Price Highway to Mile 4, at Belizean Beach, where officers allegedly threw him into a garbage container with trash and water and tried to drown him in it, then left him for dead.

    “One of the officers even threatened to kill him with a bullet to the head.

    “They also pushed around Ms. Flowers and another relative, an 84 year old who they pushed to the ground.

    “Once again, the Professional Standards Branch has been called in to investigate.”

    Senior Superintendent Edward Broaster reiterated that if the investigation finds the allegation to be true, the officers in question would be disciplined.

    This is one of four complaints made to authorities about the behavior of the Police in the last few days.

    Officers in Precinct 1 and 2 are the primary alleged offenders.

    The Police normally ramp up operations around major holidays and are known for taking in young men and practicing a little bullying to keep them in line.

    But Broaster says there was no such operation this time and the Police are moving away from that kind of activity as part of their community friendly approach to crime solving.

    According to Broaster, the “Not In My City” campaign addresses the issue of community spirit and cooperation with law enforcement.

    Asked if that may be damaged by the allegations of brutality, he said they are doing their best to warn officers away from excess.

    Officers are told before going on operations to avoid unnecessary engagement with citizens.

Remember on this day of remembrance–a day when our country and others are gearing up for the escalation of war in Iraq and Syria–that prayer is a powerful spiritual weapon.

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These are from The Book of Common Prayer:

    For the Human Family
    O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
    through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
    human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
    infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
    unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
    confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
    your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
    harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
    our Lord. Amen.

    For Peace
    Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
    but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
    strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
    all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
    Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
    glory, now and for ever. Amen.

    For Peace Among the Nations
    Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the
    world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among
    them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they
    may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    Amen.

    For our Enemies
    O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
    our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
    deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
    your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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