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One of 18 young confirmands receives a blessing from Belize's Anglican Bishop Philip Wright of Belize City, at St. Andrew's Anglican Church here in San Ignacio in western Belize. Standing is my dear young friend and gifted rector at St. Andrew's Anglican Church Father David, a native of Indiana.

One of 18 young confirmands receives a blessing from Belize’s Anglican Bishop Philip Wright of Belize City, at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church here in San Ignacio in western Belize. Standing is my dear young friend and gifted rector at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church Father David, a native of Indiana. Confirmation coincided with the first Sunday of Advent.

Lord our God,

We thank you and praise you for never giving up on us, no matter how far we may distance ourselves from you.

Just as your Spirit rested on Jesus, we pray that you pour out your spirit on us.

We pray for this Spirit of Christ-like love and peacefulness out of our faithfulness and gratitude to you, for you have so richly blessed us in this, another season commemorating the Love that came down in the form of your Son, Jesus.

Empower us to do all that is within in our powers, wherever we are, to promote peace on earth and goodwill to all in our speech, in our actions, our behavior, in all that we are and all that, with your help, we can be, on this day, in this season, in all the short time that you may bless us with on this good earth you created.

We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.

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Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1,
Year B: Mark 13.24-37

“The sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

— Mark 13.24

"End and Beginning" by Her Greatness the Rev. Jan Richardson, who had her own "Little Apocalypse" with the sudden death of her beloved husband this year,

“End and Beginning” by Her Greatness the Rev. Jan Richardson, who had her own “Little Apocalypse” with the sudden death of her beloved husband this year,

The Rev. Jan Richardson, a United Methodist minister who is gifted artist, writer, spiritual director and speaker, has a terrific take on the gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new year on the church calendar (lectionary).

This is from one of her blogs she publishes every year for Advent Season, “The Advent Door.”

It used to come as something of a shock to me: that a season commonly perceived to be about joy and peace always begins with the end of the world. Every year, on the first Sunday of Advent, the lectionary gives us a little apocalypse. That’s what it’s actually called: “Little Apocalypse” is the name often given to Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives, where he describes to his listeners the events that will take place as he returns.

This time around, as Advent approaches, Jesus’ apocalyptic talk comes not so much as a shock as it does something that feels familiar to me. December 2 will, unbelievably, mark a year since Gary’s unexpected death—a year since our world came to an end, a year since the onset of my own little apocalypse.

The ending of one’s personal world is not the same, I know, as The End of the World that Jesus describes here. Yet the first Sunday of Advent invites us to recognize that these endings are connected; that the Christ who will return at the end of time somehow inhabits each ending we experience in this life. Every year, Advent calls us to practice the apocalypse: to look for the presence of Christ who enters into our every loss, who comes to us in the midst of devastation, who gathers us up when our world has shattered, and who offers the healing that is a foretaste of the wholeness he is working to bring about not only at the end of time but also in this time, in this place.

As Advent begins, is there something in your life that is ending? How might you look for the presence of Christ who comes to you in that place?

    “Blessing When the World is Ending”
    Look, the world
    is always ending
    somewhere.

    Somewhere
    the sun has come
    crashing down.

    Somewhere
    it has gone
    completely dark.

    Somewhere
    it has ended
    with the gun
    the knife
    the fist.

    Somewhere
    it has ended
    with the slammed door
    the shattered hope.

    Somewhere
    it has ended
    with the utter quiet
    that follows the news
    from the phone
    the television
    the hospital room.

    Somewhere
    it has ended
    with a tenderness
    that will break
    your heart.

    But, listen,
    this blessing means
    to be anything
    but morose.
    It has not come
    to cause despair.

    It is simply here
    because there is nothing
    a blessing
    is better suited for
    than an ending,
    nothing that cries out more
    for a blessing
    than when a world
    is falling apart.

    This blessing
    will not fix you
    will not mend you
    will not give you
    false comfort;
    it will not talk to you
    about one door opening
    when another one closes.

    It will simply
    sit itself beside you
    among the shards
    and gently turn your face
    toward the direction
    from which the light
    will come,
    gathering itself
    about you
    as the world begins
    again.

More of Jan’s work (for sale) here and also go here.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

“I’M ENCOURAGED because, ultimately, the problem is not a SKIN problem, it’s a SIN problem.”

— New Orleans Saint Benjamin Watson

Benjamin Watson of the New Orleans Saints: He's not only a gifted athlete but a gifted writer, with something honest-to-God to say about Ferguson.

Benjamin Watson of the New Orleans Saints: He’s not only a gifted athlete but a gifted writer, with something honest-to-God to say about Ferguson.


Benjamin Watson, a terrific football player with the New Orleans Saints, shared his feelings about the Ferguson fallout in such a powerful and discerning reflection that it immediately went “viral” on Facebook, where he published it.

I wish everybody would read it—it reads like a great sermon and begs to be preached:

    At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
    I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

    I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

    I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

    I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

    I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

    I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

    I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
    I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

    I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

    I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

    I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

    I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem.

    SIN is the reason we rebel against authority.

    SIN is the reason we abuse our authority.

    SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own.

    SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn.

    BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being.

    The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel.

    So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.


To my way of thinking, the four most beautiful words in the English language are:

1. God

2. Love (granted: that’s just another word for God, so I repeat myself)

3. Grace

4. Peace

May God who loves you, and whose will is for you to know love, grace and peace, fill your Thanksgiving plates and cups with abundant love, grace and peace today–and every day.

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(Here’s another snapshot from the other side of the paradise, the “paradise” that Belize is famous for being, in a Thanksgiving holiday series designed to help you count your blessings in what is still the richest nation on earth up north of here.)

You won’t find homes with laser garage-door openers in Belize, nor anything like a garage in what is still a “developing” [poor] country, where most people can’t afford a four-wheel vehicle anyway. And most of the four-wheelers you will see are prehistoric vehicles made in the eighties or nineties and prone to break down and break down frequently.

With the price of gas running always between $5 to $6 U.S. per gallon, those who own vehicles keep them parked at home as much as possible, in the yard of a home if not the side of the nearest road.

People here walk, and walk a lot, more often than not burdened by the weight of something very heavy they have to carry. And on the mainland in Belize, the carrying is quite often up and down some steep and very steep hills.

Try lugging piles of clothes to the nearest river or waterway to wash and scrub your clothes with soap on the rocks, and then lugging those wet clothes to your home to hang up and dry, often making multiple trips. And mind you, this country has six months of much and very much rain–which is not conducive to drying your piles of children’s school uniforms and all the other family clothes.

I’m amazed every day at how the poor soldier on through it all, accepting it all for being what it is, never complaining or whining about how hard life is away from the high-dollar resorts, away from the whole Belize that is postcard Belize to the privileged who come and go. (And thank God they do, for Belize would be even more poor without them–although many old-timers will confide late in the evening that life was better, more spiritual and enjoyable before tourists and developers discovered Belize and brought their TVs and, now, their cell phones and computerized gadgets that the kids want so bad: progress is always a double-edged sword in so many ways.)

I thank God every day for what the poor or supposedly “disadvantaged” teach me (“disadvantaged”: there’s a word that needs to be forever deleted, considering how spiritually advantaged even the materially poor kids still can be), for the inspiration they give me, and most of all for my abundance of blessings of so many comforts and conveniences that so many in the world are lacking.

So what are you thankful for?

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(This is another in a series of snapshots, designed to help you count your blessings for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, from here on “The Other Side of Paradise” in Belize.)

In the photo:

This is a hard way to making a living for a single mother of four who nets a few dollars a day selling hard candy, little bags of chips and flavored ice chips from a push cart.

And by the way–in the culture of poverty here, if you offered to push the cart up the hill for her, or offered her money out of charitable generosity, she would look down at the ground–daring not to make eye contact with you–because she would feel “shamed” by you.

Well-meaning Christians and churches from prosperous countries really need to know the cultures they venture into to help people in mission trips. Some never get that, and go barging into countries doing more harm than good.

The same could be said of those who go into poor or ethnic neighborhoods in their own, local cities and towns to “save souls” and do good works, without getting to know the local ways, the culture or the unique struggles of the people who live there, and first listening to what people truly want and need, not what you may think they want or need based on your life experience, upbringing or culture.

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But the point of the picture is that, considering how hard it is just to survive by working hard in so many places in the world–including the U.S., of course–what are you thankful for this week?

Kids in far southern Belize, where there are massive amounts of rain, trudge miles through the wet routes to school.

Kids in far southern Belize, where there are massive amounts of rain, trudge miles through the wet routes to school.

(This is the first in a series of postings for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday from here on “The Other Side of Paradise” in Belize, designed to help you count your Thanksgiving blessings.)

What follows is a report from the Belizean online newspaper Patrick Jones.com:

    The quest for a secondary school education is a daily struggle for children in remote parts of the Toledo district.

    As evidenced by pictures obtained today, students from Jalacte village have to walk miles through mud and water to get from their village to where they can catch a school bus to take them into town.

    And it is not only Jalacte village where the road is in dire need of fixing.

    Many of the other villages also suffer the same problems including Crique Sarco and San Vicente.

    Some of these children, about 50 or 60 of them, attend either the Toledo Community College of the Julian Cho Technical High School.

    students1

    They have to be up at 4 am in some cases to get ready and make the difficult journey from their village to make it out to town for classes.

    And when the day is done, they have to retrace their steps to get back home.

    Then 8 hours later, they have to repeat the process all over again.

    Former students tell of a similar ordeal they had to endure, and it is a situation that continues to this day.

    Some of the roads to some of the rural Toledo villages are so bad that some days the students arrive at school late or some don’t make it to classes at all.

    It is a sacrifice that continues to be made as the boys and girls aspire to gain an education in order to improve their lives and contribute positively to their communities.

What goes unmentioned is that students in Belizean schools are required to wear uniforms, which poses an enormous burden on many parents all over the country to keep those clothes cleaned. It’s very common for there to be at least four children attending school, and most poor kids never get beyond “Standard Six”–the grade for kids 13 or so. (Many fail and repeat grades two and three times.)

Most Belizeans have small, affordable Belizean-made washing machines, but not even many middle-class people have dryers because the price of electricity runs through the roof with good, American-made dryers even if you can afford one (and air conditioning, which is rare in Belizean homes, also runs the bill up). And then there are the many with no electricity–many people in large neighborhoods villages surrounding the big twin towns San Ignacio/Santa Elena, where I live, have no electricity.

So one sees clothes hanging constantly on clothes lines (including my own, since I have no dryer) everywhere in this developing country.

So considering all that, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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