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Archive for June, 2015

They’ve destroyed walls and historical sites, but they were unable to destroy the faith of the community. And that’s the good news, that our people are strong enough to leave everything behind and just stay Christians.”

— Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda

There seems to be no end to the fear-mongering about the imaginary “War on Christians” by the likes of Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, Fox News Channel’s self-appointed keeper of Christianity Bill O’Reilly and so many others.

This imaginary “war” has the unintended effect, in my humble opinion, of trivializing and diminishing the very real war being waged on Christians by ISIS.

I’ll share a story with you below about three monks and six students, who’ve taken refuge in an ancient Christian monastery, who are perfectly willing to die rather than flee from the real threat of real persecution by the god-awful terrorists of ISIS.

The monastery where 3 monks and six students have taken refuge rather than run from ISIS sits on one of Iraq's front lines. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

The monastery where 3 monks and six students have taken refuge rather than run from ISIS sits on one of Iraq’s front lines. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

But I’ll preface that with some thoughts about the state and future of American Christianity . . . . .

First, there’s not a Christian believer or pastor in the United States of America — God bless her great national soul — who is under anything remotely like the threat of being killed, nor even having a church shut down or destroyed by anybody, least of all by the small minority of American homosexuals among us.

Even if gay marriage is legalized across the land, Christians in America will carry on, and do so with all their constitutional rights intact. And never mind the constant, shrill warnings from Huckabee and others that gays will seize a Supreme Court ruling as an opportunity to somehow “destroy Christianity and churches in America.”

Furthermore, it’s a sure bet at the casino nearest you that the overwhelming masses of heterosexual American Christians and their families and friends populating America will continue to consume copious amounts of America’s most dangerous drug (alcohol) and indulge in gluttony (no American Christian dare calls gluttony a sin) at the thousands upon thousands of supposedly “Christian” weddings held every weekend in America.

There’s a reason that the movie “Wedding Crashers” (click here for details) was one of the biggest box-office hits of 2005. It resonated with tens of millions of American Christians who could relate to the pagan excesses of so many weddings, and perfectly captured how mindless and hedonistic wedding parties can be.

By and large, a wedding reception nowadays is no tea party celebrated with maybe a glass or two of champagne for toasting and social lubrication.

Wedding receptions nowadays can be as rowdy, and the behavior as randy, as at any Republican convention. (I speak from experience as one who covered a Republican Party convention and made the late-night, all-night party rounds, pre-ministry.)

The smash hit comedy “Wedding Crashers” was one that so many wedding-goers could relate to.

Look, dear reader . . . no priest or pastor is ever forced to preside at the wedding of any couple, be it a straight or gay couple, and won’t be regardless of the much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

I was once asked to do the wedding of a couple who had known each other exactly one month — yes, I said one month — and wanted to get married as soon as they could get their hands on a government-issued license. (Churches and clergy don’t get to issue licenses, for good reason.)

I advised them that they might want to take — you know — more time to get to know each other before they stood before God and exchanged Christian vows in the great covenant, and maybe to take the time to cultivate a church life together.

They got married about two weeks later anyway by a justice of the peace. This marriage occurred six weeks after they met — no kidding — at a big wedding bash. (The young woman was a registered nurse, by the way, and the young man had just received his MBA, so it’s not as if they were a couple of starry-eyed teenagers.)

Nobody forces a pastor or priest to marry two people, and nobody is going to force a priest or pastor to preside at the wedding of a gay couple, contrary to the now widespread and growing belief — thanks to the Huckabees and Grahams — that that’s going to ensue.

Christianity in all its many and diverse expressions in our many and various faith traditions, and all the many varied wedding and wedding-party traditions, from the solemn and sober to the pagan, will carry on — with not one American Christian or person of the cloth being beheaded or any Christian’s house of worship torn asunder by any gays supposedly out to “kill Christianity,” as asserted by Bill O’Reilly, a man who has a strange obsession with killing as evidenced by the themes and titles of his books.

* * * *

The following story from the Catholic News Agency, about three monks and a half-dozen students taking refuge in an ancient monastery, underscores what real persecution and the threat of it is like.

It also underscores what the freedom that comes with devout faith is. Here are three monks and six students living in the shadow of death, but fearing no evil. Nine believers so full of faith and freedom as to be willing to die on holy ground rather than run away.

Their story reminded me of one of the best of Christian movies ever made, “Of Gods and Men.” I blogged about this beautiful faith film, based on a true story, a few years ago. Click here to read that past posting.

One of the greatest Christian movies ever made was the French-made “Of Gods and Men,” based on the book The Monks of Tibhirine, about Christian monks who made the excruciating decision, after a lot of debate and prayer together, to be killed by terrorist Muslims rather than flee from where God had called them to serve peaceful Muslims. I wish every Christian in America would see the movie and read the book.

And so with no further ado:

Here’s the Catholic News Agency report — or click here to read it.

(And there is this related article from USA Today, complete with a video.)

    Erbil, Iraq, Jun 9, 2015 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite the potential threat from the nearby Islamic State, several monks and students in northern Iraq have found refuge in an ancient monastery, certain they are in God’s hands no matter what happens.

    Erbil’s Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda said that those who have chosen to remain in the fourth century Monastery of Saint Matthew have “expressed their faith that this is a secure place.”

    He told CNA June 8 that although these Christians are now being protected by the Kurdish military, their sense of safety is not only due to the military presence.

    “There is a kind of feeling that they cannot express but they at least feel relaxed in a way that even if, God forbid, something would happen, they are in safe hands.”

    The Iraqi archbishop was the main speaker at a Thursday press briefing in Rome regarding the latest developments in his war-torn country.

    Although the Islamic State maintains control over much of the region after seizing the area last summer, and many people in nearby villages have fled, three monks and six students have expressed their determination to remain in the monastery.

    “We can see the battles and the airstrikes from here in front of us, especially at night,” Yousif Ibrahim, a monk at the monastery, told USA Today. “The sky lights up at night, but we of course are not scared. God protects us.”

    In June 2014, the Islamic State launched an offensive against northern Iraq, overruning the nation’s second-largest city of Mosul. In August, it further extended its reach in the regions surrounding the city. The militants have displaced hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims from their homes while slaughtering or enslaving thousands of others.

    The monastery, known also as Mar Mattai, was established in 363 by the hermit Saint Matthew, who had fled Rome during the persecutions of the emperor Julian the Apostate. The monastery is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq. It is currently under the authority of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

    Sahar Karaikos, a student at the monastery, said he is not afraid despite the very real possibility of the monastery being invaded.

    “I don’t even want to think or speak about the destruction the Islamic State would cause if they took our monastery,” he told USA Today.

    Located on the edge of the conflict, Saint Matthew’s Monastery risks becoming the latest Christian landmark to be destroyed by the militant group’s campaign throughout Iraq.

    Archbishop Warda said the destruction of the Christian heritage is tragic, but he is more concerned with the people’s faith.

    “They’ve destroyed walls and historical sites, but they were unable to destroy the faith of the community. And that’s the good news. That our people are strong enough to leave everything behind and just stay Christians.”

    Many Christians have been killed since the militants began their campaign to establish a caliphate. For those who remain, martyrdom remains a possibility.

    Archbishop Warda at the June 4 briefing responded to a relevant question: whether he was prepared for martyrdom.

    He responded: “It’s better not to think about it.”

    “When it comes, my wish is just to be ready. All I wish is to be ready and to have the courageous response like my people have given. Christ is the only wish that we love.”

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This 17 minutes — we’re talking seven . . . teen . . . minutes! — of sixties musical weirdness will put the boogie in your boogie, the jitter in your jitterbug feet.

You’re welcome.

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However, if you prefer to dance dangerously close to somebody tonight . . .

You’re welcome for this Aaron Neville, dark-bar, honky-tonk, soda-shop jukebox classic for some Friday Night Music Therapy.

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When Mitch McConnell asserts that the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) is “the single worst piece of legislation” in McConnell’s lifetime, he’s right.

After all, it destroyed Big Business and Big Banking and, worst of all — it decimated the handful of private health-care insurance companies.

Remember how the health insurance industry used to rake in huge profits by denying benefits to sick and dying people rather than coming through for them?

Those once-profitable private heath-insurance companies are now on life support, drowning in red ink. As you can see from this meme below — which I checked out and found to be accurate, by the way (anybody can make up facts and figures and put them in a meme that looks authoritative) — it’s a wonder that the CEO’s of the health industry behemoths can feed their families, assuming that they can!

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Then again, my guess is that private enterprise’s insurance industry might just suffer through the “socialist” insurance reform law, despite Sen. McConnell’s best efforts to kill and bury Obamacare rather than work with the President and Democrats to refine the legislation.

After all, the President from the start has said that the legislation — like all major legislation ever passed — has some bad and ugly along with all the good, and there is plenty good about Obamacare that most Americans want.

Meanwhile, people in states where governors have refused to accept federal Medicaid dollars have no coverage for terminal diseases or life-threatening illness and injury.

An untold number of those sick and injured Americans who were left without federally subsidized insurance have died as a direct result of those governors’ political games.

That’s not just a sad political fact.

That’s a sad moral commentary on the state of the American union.

Oh well, those stubborn, Obamacare-hating governors* and lawmakers in D.C. are living large and, God bless em, look to be plenty healthy and are well covered if their good health takes a terribly sick turn.

We can only hope that the struggling insurance companies and their CEO’s survive.
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* Meanwhile, residents of states where Republican governors have refused to expand the Medicaid program are still paying taxes to support it — without getting the extra benefits that potentially save lives.

The extra federal money spent on Medicaid goes directly to local health care providers, such as hospitals or physicians, and helps a state’s economy by creating jobs from the new money flowing in. That’s why states are eager to get federal military contracts.

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The name “Rudder” is familiar to Texas Aggies and others with ties to Texas A&M University in College Station, Tx., 20 miles from my hometown.

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James Earl Rudder (May 6, 1910 – March 23, 1970), who was the 16th president of A&M and laid the groundwork for its explosive growth from a little “cow college” and military school with a total enrollment of 6,000 male cadets to a world-class university, is a name familiar as well to military historians and Word War II history buffs.

Here’s why:

    After graduation from Texas A&M, Rudder had been commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in the United States Army Reserve. After being called into active duty in 1941, Rudder took part in the D-Day landings as Commanding Officer of the United States Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion. His U.S. Army Rangers stormed the beach at Pointe du Hoc, scaling 100-foot (30 meter) cliffs under enemy fire to reach and destroy German gun batteries. The battalion’s casualty rate for this perilous mission was greater than 50 percent. Rudder himself was wounded twice during the course of the fighting. In spite of this, they dug in and fought off German counter-attacks for two days until relieved. He and his men helped to successfully establish a beachhead for the Allied forces.

    Seven months later, Rudder was assigned to command the 109th Infantry Regiment, which saw key service in the Battle of the Bulge. Rudder earned military honors including the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, French Legion of Honor with Croix de Guerre and Palm, and Order of Leopold (Belgium) with Croix de Guerre and Palm. He was a full Colonel by the war’s end and was promoted to Brigadier General of the United States Army Reserves in 1954 and Major General in 1957.
    (Source: Military Wiki)

“Rudder’s Rangers” had one of the most important and most dangerous missions in the most important and dangerous invasions that marked the beginning of the end of the war.

Texas Aggies gave an enormous amount of blood sacrifice to their country in World War II and so many other wars (as Texas Aggie Rick Perry reminds us often and good for him for that).

Rudder and men of such quiet but strong character as my Uncle Ruff Titsworth, who along with so many other “common” men from small towns and villages and tight city neighborhoods fought with valor — God help us and God bless them — seem to be in short supply.

More on Rudder’s heroics here.

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Jesus asked Blind Bartimaeus a pointed question: “What do you want me to do for you?” That got a direct faith response.

Jesus was and is The Truth — and Truth is straightforward.

Consider the story of Blind Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark — the first gospel ever written and the shortest and by far the most straightforward of the four gospels. (Mark is an outstanding journalist — he reports the facts and tells the story in a brisk, interesting way and doesn’t waste a word.)

Matthew and Luke took Mark’s quite brief little gospel and copied it pretty much word for word, with their unique additions tacked on to it in order to reach their distinctive communities of Christian readers (Luke was a Gentile, but Matthew was a Jew and his gospel is very Jewish-oriented, and John’s gospel is a whole other loaf of communion bread).

So Mark’s gospel is short and direct and right to the point — much like Jesus himself, who asked Bartimaeus the blind man:

    “What do you want me to do for you?”

This pointed question naturally got a direct answer:

    “Let me see again!”

Most of us in our confused, helter-skelter society have so many wants, we don’t know what we want.

But it’s not because of a shortage of others telling us what we want or what we need to do — politicians and media pundits (ever notice that most of them can’t run their own lives but presume to know what we need or want???) and advertisers and, closer to home, our own friends and relatives can be plenty willing to tell us what we need or need to do, which may very well be their own needs.

Jesus would say:

    “What do you want?”

    “What do you really, really want today?”

    What do you really, really want in your life?

    “What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus might say:

    “Come walk with me and talk to me and get all the stuff that keeps you in turmoil off your chest and let’s figure out what you want that is denying you peace of mind. I’ll give you the courage to change what you can change and have what you want and the peace to accept what you cannot change or cannot have, and the wisdom to see with clear-eyed vision the difference.”

Here is the short and sweet story of Blind Bartimaeus from the short and sweet gospel of Mark, 10: 46-52:

“They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’

“Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

“The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

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So this is the first installment of a new Jitterbuggingforjesus.com* feature we’ll call “Your Belizean Face of the Day.”

This is my young neighbor Ariana, who is “plum cute.”
That’s all she is.

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*Jitterbugging For Jesus is the blawg that is saving the world with its wit, wisdom, provocations and stimulations while possibly (probably!) alienating whole towns, nations, cities and states!

It’s that great!

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Marge Piercy, a writer of serious Jewish sensibilities and a cat lover, with her kitty “Sugar Ray.”

The discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.

“Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”

— From The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems With a Jewish Theme, by poet and novelist Marge Piercy.

Those 14 lines from Marge Piercy, a prolific poet and novelist whose powerful Jewish sensibilities transcend religious boundaries, speak to me from the start, bringing to mind verse 8 from Psalm 34:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Notice how Piercy raises up the power of the tongue for tasting life to the fullest. The “art” of blessing each and every day requires that we pay attention to all the blessings we neglect.

Even that which we curse can be molded and hammered into something new.

Being the Jewish writer that she is, Piercy recognizes that for all the blessings we have at our disposal, pain and suffering are part of the deal.

“Be glad for what does not hurt,” she reminds us. And she urges us to taste the sour and bitter. The Jews have never flinched from facing up to the sour and the bitter, from pain or suffering.

So count your blessings, relish the taste of it all, and get ready to make something new “with eyes and hands and tongue.”

Click here for a few reviews of her 2000 book The Art of Blessing the Day.

And go here to learn more about Piercy in a profile from:

http://www.interfaithfamily.com.

And remember to relish the taste of humor every chance you get:

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Uh, I just realized that the funny photo there, with a reference to bacon (not kosher), might be in bad taste.

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