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Archive for July, 2013

From my friend Francine’s wonderful, usually upbeat blog “Francine in Retirement.” There’s an awful lot of hurt and terribly hurtful commentary in the land today. Grace & peace to you and all who are hurting, Francine.

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God uses, and has always and forever used–going back to the time of Genesis–the most unlikely people to speak prophetically to the people of this broken and violent world.

People like the very young Mary (click here for her Magnificat), the mother of Jesus, and other unlikely girls.

She plans to keep standing up to the Taliban who are hell-bent on killing her--and but for the grace of God almost did kill her.

She plans to keep standing up to the Taliban who are hell-bent on killing her–and but for the grace of God almost did kill her.

“I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child.

“I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.

“I do not even hate the talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.”

— Malala Yousafzai, who was shot at close range by Taliban gunmen in October while leaving school in Pakistan because of her campaign against the Islamist Taliban efforts to deny women education, in speech at United Nations on her 16th birthday.

<By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS | Fri Jul 12, 2013

(Reuters) – Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year for demanding education for girls, marked her 16th birthday with a passionate speech at the United Nations on Friday in which she said education could change the world.

“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution,” said Yousafzai, speaking out for the first time since she was attacked.

Wearing a pink head scarf, Yousafzai told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and nearly 1,000 students attending an international Youth Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York that education was the only way to improve lives.

Yousafzai was shot at close range by gunmen in October as she left school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, northwest of the country’s capital Islamabad. She was targeted for her campaign against the Islamist Taliban efforts to deny women education.

“They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed and out of that silence came thousands of voices,” she said to cheers from the students gathered at U.N. hall.

“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born,” a confident Yousafzai said.

She wore a white shawl draped around her shoulders that had belonged to former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated during a 2007 election rally weeks after she returned to Pakistan from years in self-imposed exile.

“I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child,” she said.

“I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists,” she said. “I do not even hate the talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.”

Yousafzai presented Ban with a petition signed by some 4 million people in support of 57 million children around the world who are not able to go to school. It demanded that world leaders fund new teachers, schools and books and end child labor, marriage and trafficking.

Ban said that the United Nations was committed to a target of getting all children in school by the end of 2015.

“No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change this picture,” he said. “Together, let us follow the lead of this brave young girl, Malala.”

TIRED OF WAR

U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said Friday’s event was not just a celebration of Malala’s birthday and of her recovery, but of her vision.

He invoked “her dream that nothing, no political indifference, no government inaction, no intimidation, no threats, no assassin’s bullets should ever deny the right of every single child … to be able to go to school.”

Brown described Yousafzai’s recovery from the attack as a miracle. The teenager was treated in Pakistan before the United Arab Emirates provided an air ambulance to fly her to Britain, where doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate.

Unable to safely return to Pakistan, Yousafzai enrolled in a school in Birmingham, England in March. Her mother wiped away tears on Friday as she watched her daughter thank all those who helped save her life.

Pakistan has 5 million children out of school, a number only surpassed by Nigeria, which has more than 10 million children out of school, according to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt on Yousafzai, calling her efforts pro-Western. Two of her classmates were also wounded.

The Pakistan Taliban, formally called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), formed in 2007, is an umbrella group uniting various militant factions operating in the volatile northwestern tribal areas along the porous border with Afghanistan.

Under Taliban rule in neighboring Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women were forced to cover up and were banned from voting, most work and leaving their homes unless accompanied by a husband or male relative.

“The extremists were and they are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women,” Yousafzai said. “When we were in Swat … we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Vicki Allen and David Storey)

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Not sure why this didn’t show up in some subscribers’ mailboxes but here it is again–today’s wrap-up in the series of 7 biblical meditations on the materially poor–the spiritually poor, which afflicts all of us, will be a whole other series.

Jitterbugging for Jesus

This is the seventh “Noon Wine” reflection in a series on material poverty, with some final thoughts.

Stay tuned for another series to come on “spiritual poverty,” the other kind cited so often in the Bible including Revelation, that terribly misused, abused and misunderstood book-end to the book of Genesis.

SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 15: 1-18

KEY VERSE: (11) “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” (My italics for emphasis.)

* * * *
Christians intimate with the bible will recognize the verse cited above, from Deuteronomy 15: 11, because of something the very Jewish Rabbi Jesus said:

    “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me” (Mark 14: 7). (Again, with…

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Take a little trip . . . with me, low riders, on “Rojo.”

Think of me as your free Belizean “park and stride” travel guide.

Mahogany Resort, Bullet Tree Village.

Mahogany Resort, Bullet Tree Village.

The weather Saturday and Sunday was picture perfect here in western Belize.

Saturday I mounted my trusty red steed “Rojo,” my red motorbike, over to the nearby river village of Bullet Tree, and tramped around for four or five miles taking pictures of the picture-perfect day.

Started at the Mahogany Hall Resort, which is a quiet and scenic little gem of a riverside hotel and bar.

Belize has a few of the super resorts that are always on the media lists of the world’s greatest–like the two eco-resorts owned by Francis Ford Coppolla and also the nearby Cha’a Creek Eco Lodge that I’ve featured a few times here because it’s so near and accessible to me.

But Belize has scores of much smaller, budget-friendly places like Mahogany Hall, partly owned by my Belizean friend the owner of “Mr. Greedy’s” but mostly owned by his mom.

Tubing n the Mopan River in front of the beautiful little Mahogany Hall Resort, Bullet Tree Village, Belize

Tubing in the Mopan River in front of the beautiful little Mahogany Resort, Bullet Tree Village, Belize

The terribly relaxing riverside lawn area at Mahogany Hall, below the little resort hotel and bar and restaurant and overlooking the Mopan.

The terribly relaxing riverside lawn area at Mahogany Hall, below the little resort hotel and bar and restaurant and overlooking the Mopan.

The Rio Bar and Restaurant at Mahogany, which my Belizean friend Mr. Greedy of Mr. Greedy’s Pizzaria in San Ignacio sometimes refers to as “Greedy’s 2.” He owns a piece of the mahogany bar/eatery but his mom is the boss.

Of course I went and explored the lonely country road a couple of miles past the Mahogany Resort to follow some of the lonely roads and trails just to see where they go–exploring rural roads is either an obsession or a compulsion of mine. Always was. But there’s worse ways to spend a picture-perfect day.

These creatures are so skittish--didn't mean to scare yaw off.

These creatures are so skittish–didn’t mean to scare yaw off.

What the Belizeans call “a mercy seat.” Walking these roads and sitting on a mercy seat gives one a chance to catch one’s breath and get still a while.

Meanwhile, back at the village center.

Meanwhile, back at the village center.

Sunday I got my motor running and rode Rojo over to what is one of my favorite rural getaway areas around the cozy and popular little rustic resort at Clarissa Falls, not far from where I lived for six months in Succotz Village, near Guatemala.

Down from Clarissa Falls, not too shabby this lodging hard by the beautiful Mopan and a ways down from Clarissa Falls Resort.

Down from Clarissa Falls, not too shabby this lodging hard by the beautiful Mopan and a ways down from Clarissa Falls Resort.

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What is that?

What is that?

Oh, just another little riverside attraction in the odd little country of Belize.

Oh, just another little riverside attraction in the odd little country of Belize.

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Another humble Belizean House of God. No problem leaving the musical instruments and equipment exposed to all the world. No way to lock up all these open-air churches anyway.

Another humble Belizean House of God. No problem leaving the musical instruments and equipment exposed to all the world. No way to lock up all these open-air churches anyway.

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Until next time . . .

Until next time . . .

when we wrap up our “Noon Wine” series on the poor and poverty . . . .

Happy Trails

Happy Trails

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Or . . .

Or . . .

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This is the seventh “Noon Wine” reflection in a series on material poverty, with some final thoughts.

Stay tuned for another series to come on “spiritual poverty,” the other kind cited so often in the Bible including Revelation, that terribly misused, abused and misunderstood book-end to the book of Genesis.

What special sinner would Jesus neglect, reject, denigrate or demean with hostile words and actions? The homeless drug addict and lazy, absentee father hanging on the street with a bottle? Or the alcohol abusing adulterer and "family man" who is in church every Sunday with his family in the family's own pew? Which neighbor of ours does God not love and call us to love and care about?

What special sinner would Jesus neglect, reject, denigrate or demean with hostile words and actions? The homeless drug addict and absentee father hanging on the street with a bottle? Or the alcohol abusing adulterer and “family man” who is in church every Sunday with his family in the family’s own pew? Which neighbor of ours does God not love or expect us to love and care about?

SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 15: 1-18

KEY VERSE: (11) “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” (My italics for emphasis.)

* * * *
Christians intimate with the bible will recognize the verse cited above, from Deuteronomy 15: 11, because of something the very Jewish Rabbi Jesus said:

    “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me” (Mark 14: 7). (Again, with my italics for emphasis.)

Matthew 26: 11, of course, gives a condensed version. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying only that “you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” John gives the same short-handed quote of Jesus in his gospel version as well. (See John 12:8 here.)

The quotes about perennial poverty from Matthew and John are the ones invoked routinely by Christians with all kinds of self-serving, ulterior motives. They typically want to downplay a command from God, which is to show love for God by showing love and care and kindness to the poor. They typically cite the condensed gospel versions from Matthew and John for political or economic reasons–or maybe out of fear of the fact that they are a disaster or two away from being thoroughly broke and losing everything.

I submit that it’s that fear and insecurity driving much of the widespread hostility toward the poor in America, the nation that still has, far and away, the most financially and materially prosperous people in the world, bar none.

Only two things in life are guaranteed–God’s extravagant love for us all, and death. Lifelong prosperity and financial security for even billionaires can’t possibly come with a 100 percent, money-back guarantee (even though, admittedly, billions of dollars make for a pretty solid, personal safety net).

That’s why I suspect that so many Christians can turn a blind eye to the poor, or demean them as “bums” and misfits undeserving of charity or loving-kindness. It’s a fear thing, an insecurity thing, that lies beneath the many currents of contempt for some, if not all, of the poor.

I suspect that an equal number of well-to-do Christians don’t want to pay the cost of the self-sacrificing discipleship that Christ demanded, even though Jesus tells us that to whom much is given, much is required. (He said that; you could look it up.)

Granted, there is such a thing as lazy poor people who game the systems of government and charity. They will always be with us.

But there’s such a thing as greedy, me-first people, and people of all kinds who game government systems for further gain.

Wall Street and Washington D.C. are running over with them.

To paraphrase Deuteronomy 15: 11, “there will never cease to be the needy and the greedy on earth.”

America does have her share of lazy people, whose numbers include, unfortunately, a countless number of lazy Christians who can justify their hostile attitudes toward the poor by lifting up the scriptures, totally out of context, about the poor being always with us.

I suspect, admittedly at the risk of sounding righteous and judgmental like a preacher or something, that the lazy Christian doesn’t care to be intimate with the whole of the Bible because it requires the time and commitment of digging deep into the Bible with actual Bible reading and study.

So the lazy Christian picks and chooses scriptures from the Bible that he may have heard some other lazy Christian repeat, such as “the poor you will have with you always.”

As the “Church Lady” of Saturday Night Live used to say, “How conveeeenient!”

Becoming intimate with the Bible--and not just a few scriptures lifted from texts to justify what we want to believe about God--is not for the lazy Christian.

Becoming intimate with the Bible–and not just a few scriptures lifted from texts to justify what we want to believe about God–is not for the lazy Christian.

Someone once asked Billy Graham what it means that Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Rev. Graham actually cited the key verse (Deuteronomy 15: 11) that I cited at the top of this posting.

“The Bible repeatedly commands us to help the needy, and condemns those who take advantage of the poor,” said Graham, who’s never been of the “prosperity gospel” ilk. He preached against hyper-consumerism, materialism and spiritual poverty in America from the start. (Click here to see the full context of his quotes I’m citing.)

The operative phrase in that Billy Graham quote is “the Bible repeatedly commands.”

God and Christ and the Bible leave us no wiggle room to show anything less than love and care for the poor. You won’t find any biblically convenient loopholes.

God was speaking to Moses when he made the clear commandment to open our hands to the needy in our land. Jesus never commanded any less and Matthew and John never expected any less with their condensed quotes. They knew very well that God expects us to help the poor and never mind that the poor will always be with us.

Billy Graham goes on to say:

    “You and I live in the most prosperous society the world has ever seen—-and yet hunger, homelessness and poverty are still a tragic reality for millions every day. At least half the world’s population lives on the edge of survival because of the effects of poverty.

    “How can we remain indifferent to their plight? Ask God to show you ways you can help those whose lives are crushed by poverty.”

Indeed, if we ask God to show us ways to help those crushed by poverty and to be in ministry with (not for) the poor–if we knock at the door and ask what we can do with the unique gifts and graces as well as the money that God blessed us with–there will be an answer.

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This is the sixth in a series of seven scriptural reflections on poverty and the poor, not intended make any Christians feel guilty or shame them into taking up a radical life of serving the poor like a Dorothy Day or a Mother Theresa–serving might be as simple as being a barber and giving free shaves and haircuts to the homeless . . . with payments in hugs. More on the intent of this series in the final wrap-up posting on the poor coming soon.

(For Sister Lora, “Nun on a Chicken Bus,” con amor.)

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SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 58: 1-9

KEY VERSES: (6, 7) “Is not this the fast that I choose . . . Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

The other side of Paradise: The one-room home of a Belizean friend at San Pedro, the popular tourist island and home or extra home of many of the rich and famous expats. As a priest friend of mine said of this house, "It's like so many of them in Belize--one big tropical storm or hurricane away from non-existence."

The other side of Paradise: The one-room home of a Belizean friend at San Pedro, the popular tourist island and home or extra home of many of the rich and famous expats. As a priest friend of mine said of this house, “It’s like so many of them in Belize–one big tropical storm or hurricane away from non-existence.”

To start out this posting I want to refer you back, dear reader, to the prior posting in this series.

It included a quote I’d like to unpack from a Baptist Standard interview with Dr. Scott Wang, a physician who brings his considerable powers of medical and spiritual healing to the poor and working poor in Garland, Texas.

And mind you, I aim to tease out the good doctor’s statement from my own theological and personal point of view, not Dr. Wang’s, whatever his may be.

Dr. Wang said the following of the poor and working poor patients that he serves (with my italics for emphasis): “They don’t have as much materially to cover up their pain.”

As I see it, acquiring more possessions, shopping till dropping, “movin’ on up” and arriving at some sprawling dream house–perhaps on the island of false security that something like life in a supposedly safe and but insular gated community brings . . . . well, possessing and acquiring ever more riches and possessions can cover up and bury all kinds unresolved stuff within a wounded soul.

Dr. Wang went on to say in the interview that because the poor lack material things to “cover up their pain,” a lot of pain and raw emotion will pour out out of them if you build a trusting rapport with them and really hear what they have to say about their hardships and struggles.

Longtime readers at this blog know that I’ve condensed my theology into this tagline:

    We’re all broken people, doing the best we can, or the best we know how to do, in a broken and violent world, with all of us standing in need of God’s healing power of endless love, endless grace and tender mercies.

To expand on that I’d say that our brokenness, and that of the world; our nagging “dis-ease” in and with life; our “baggage” packed with unhealthy habits and patterns that keep us stuck in the same unhealthy or self-destructive ruts; all of our pain, anxiety, fear and insecurity we harbor and try to bury deeper within ourselves; all of our craving for someone’s unconditional love on this earth; all of the psychological “stuff” that we cover up with everything from over-drinking, over-eating and over-sexing to over-shopping and hyper consumerism–it’s all enough to keep us feeling vaguely alienated and ever-more vaguely, if not outright, dissatisfied.

So we want and need more in our pursuit of happiness and peace of mind, or think we do, thinking that one more, higher paying job that we might hate will put us on easy street and relieve all our problems–or at least a house with a pool and jacuzzi will finally help us cope with problems if they do arise.

But of course, as the salesman, retail companies and their advertisers know, we get what we want, only to want more.

A character in a short story by the wonderful Kentucky writer Bobbie Ann Mason tells another character,

    “You got so many wants, you don’t know what you want!”

All too often, the harder we work to succeed and have more, the more stuff we want, the more callous our hearts grow toward the poor. It can make us willfully blind to the many ways that the fixes are in against the poor simply “pulling themselves up by the bootstraps.”

MLK Jr. said it’s a cruel thing to tell a man to pull himself up by the bootstraps when he has no boots.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in relationships with the poor and working poor in the U.S. and other countries, it’s that they want to earn money and have the same basic possessions that we take for granted. I’ve found that they just want to work and have enough good, healthy food, clean water and some sewage, decent clothes, decent housing, reliable and comfortable and affordable transportation, and good schooling for their children.

Most of the poor I’ve gotten to know want nothing more than enough to keep their young off of mean streets and away from the temptations of escapism from poverty through drugs and alcohol and the lure of “easy” money in drug dealing, prostitution and casual, unloving and potentially destructive sex.

Like anybody else the poor, who are caught up in the many vicious cycles of poverty that are hard for the “haves” to know or comprehend, above all want their children to have lives more comfortable and convenient than their own, without the crushing, relentless, desperate struggles it takes just to survive another day, week or month.

The vast majority of the poor want to live and raise children and enjoy their lives and families in neighborhoods, communities and nations in peace, with peace on earth and good will toward all.

And that’s where Christians, the peacemakers, with all their Christian love of God and equal love all of their neighbors of the world–our “own kin,” as Isaiah mentions in the scripture reading–come in.

Or is that so much Christian talk.

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Your Jitterbug July 4th thought for the day, fitting for any day is:

Always be yourself–be your independence–and don’t let anyone–any group, any political party, any media take your mind.

But as for this day, be thankful a million times over if you’re an American.

And have a happy and safe and blessed 4th, America–I love you and miss you!
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