Patterns

Recently I watched a TV show focused on the difficulty of understanding the Trump presi- dency. One commentator offered a suggestion as to why many of us are so puzzled (and aggravated) by the president’s  words and actions.  He said that the human personality is triggered to look for patterns; if we don’t see any pattern, we try to create one. When we can’t see or create a pattern, we become anxious. President Trump doesn’t fit any past pattern of governing. He also doesn’t fit the values that Christians hold dear. Hence the enormous anxiety we feel – which leads to the need to continually dissect the president’s behavior.

That comment stuck with me because a few days earlier I had described to my husband my need to create new routines (patterns) to accomplish common tasks. The memory I have relied on for decades and the pattern of living I am accustomed to are not as reliable as they used to be.  So I am developing new rhythms and patterns to make sure that I can keep my life in order.  My intention is that every day of the week has a pattern.  Obviously things “come up” that deviate from the pattern. I don’t freak out when that happens because I know I can get back on track. This lifestyle may seem boring to some – too much routine and not enough spontaneity.  To me creating patterns of order ensures that what I need to get done will get done so I can be spontaneous when the opportunity arises.

God as a Pattern-Maker

As I was musing about patterns, I was reminded that Creation is really patterns writ large (or tiny) throughout the known universe – and assuredly throughout the unknown universe.  Our Creator God imagined beauty and order in the symmetry and/or repetitiveness of patterns in flowers, butterflies, zebras, snow crystals, spider webs, leaves, peacock wings, pine cones, four-leaf clovers, and bee hives. 

Given our inherent preference for patterns, it is no wonder that continual spiritual formation depends on our creation of patterns. We can intentionally “try out” various soul-training exercises, but if we don’t form a pattern for using them,  it is harder to form a spiritually mature life.

♥  I have learned the lesson of patterns from the prayer of examen:  reflecting at the end of the day about whether events or decisions were life-giving or life-thwarting and then deciding how to implement more of the life-giving  and eliminate the life-thwarting. 

♥  I learned the pattern of forgiveness one angry day decades ago.  As I sat on the edge of my bed, I was very forthright with God.  “If you want me to forgive her,” I said, “you’ll have to make it happen!” I soon realized that I was exactly right.  My role in forgiving is to make a conscious choice; making that choice a spiritual reality is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Since then I have had daily opportunities to repeat that pattern:  be alert to the need to forgive, make a choice to forgive, and await the peace that comes from forgiveness.

♥  Memorizing the 23rd Psalm and saying it every night has created a pattern in my brain and in my heart.  These words fit together now . . . if I leave any out I have messed up the pattern that my brain depends on.  Counting my blessings every night is a way of relieving the anxiety and frustration of life never coming together “properly.”  The pattern of looking for, relishing, and then expressing gratitude for my blessings brings joy back into a sour world.

It seems that the idea of creating patterns is part of the image of God in us.  Our unruly thoughts,  emotions, and behaviors can be tamed if we imagine for ourselves patterns in every experience of life – then fit ourselves comfortably into them.

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From My Reading

You have now heard the gospel that you are accepted by God where you are, that he put you there. You’re in your world to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth—and it is God who makes that possible. You accept the fact that you are finite, that you make mistakes, that you’re not perfect. And in so doing you get on with the work that God has appointed to flow through your life as you become the person he intended you to be.

You see, God has very high aims for you and me. His aim is that each one of us becomes the kind of person he can empower to do what we want. I am going to say that again. You and I are being trained and cultivated and grown to the point where God can empower us to do what we want. Now you recognize that a lot of work has to be done on our “wanter” before that can happen. But that is what life is about. And that’s what we are learning to do as disciples of Jesus Christ” (Dallas Willard in the Renovare Weekly Digest for April 26, 2017).

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“Faith is not a commodity God pours into us but a condition that wells up in us as we go step by sometimes fearful step into the steady practice of the Jesus way. The bigger the step, the weaker in faith we are apt to feel. And the weaker we feel, the more apt we are to experience God’s capacity. Doing what we feel we cannot do, but doing it anyway, proves that what ultimately matters is not so much our faith in Jesus as his faith in us. We can do what is ours to do because God has the capacity to see us through” Kayla McClurg in Sea-
son and Scripture: Luke, Ordinary Time C).

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The key to the fourth Beatitude lies in understanding what the word “righteousness” means. To our post-Puritan, post-Victorian ears, righteousness is a synonym for virtue. It means being moral, behaving correctly. But in Israel of Jesus’ times, righteousness was something much more dynamic. Visualize it as a force field: an energy-charged sphere of holy presence. To be “in the righteousness of God” (as Old Testament writers are fond of saying) means to be directly connected to this vibrational field, to be anchored within God’s own aliveness. There is nothing subtle about the experience; it is as fierce and intransigent a bond as picking up a downed electrical wire. To “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” then, speaks to this intensity of connectedness.

Jesus promises that when the hunger arises within you to find your own deepest aliveness within God’s aliveness, it will be satisfied—in fact, the hunger itself is a sign that the bond is already in place. (Cynthia Bourgeault in  Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations from her book,  The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message).

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Every Family’s Story: A Lost Son

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything there was a severe famine in that whole country. and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said. . . ‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your  hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father” (Luke 15: 13-20).

Is this your story? Have you ever demanded your way? Have you ever left someone or somewhere in anger? Have you ever decided, “I don’t care what anyone says, I’m going to do what I want to do?  Have you ever experienced the equivalent of “spending your wealth in wild living?”  Have you then later “come to your senses” and realized you want nothing more than to return home – to the people who love you? Have you ever wondered, given all the hurt you have caused, how you can go home?

I believe this young man’s story is everyone’s story. We all have left a path, experienced more than we ever wanted to, failed more than we every expected to, and now feel more bereft and alone than we think we can handle.  Can you imagine this younger son’s pain? He demanded his inheritance and spent it all. He lived a wild and unintentional life, governed by his passions. When all his friends left him, he had nothing – except a job feeding pigs and envying their meal. He feels that he has no value; he has squandered his worth and is prepared to live as a servant in his father’s house.

Like the younger son, I have hurt people very close to me.  In a mad search for love and approval and in an attempt to fix the emptiness in my heart, I, for decades, littered my path with people I pulled too close and people I left behind. When I finally “came to my senses,” I was overwhelmed with guilt. I had left broken relationships with seemingly no way to redeem myself.  Counseling helped me understand the mad search, but did little to remove the guilt.  Only a real and honest connection with the Father redeemed my heart so I could come home – broken and somehow whole.

The story of the younger son in this parable is everyone’s story. We are saved from our misery when we hear “welcome home!” from the Father who loves us anyway. Now that we are home, our role as apprentices of Jesus is to open our arms and welcome other broken people into our Father’s house, for He has prepared a home for each of us there.

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Check out the first post in this series of five from Luke 15.  Also  find  information on Margaret Adams Parker’s Sculpture Reconciliation which is located on the campus of Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina.

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Memorial Day – My Father’s Story

Memorial Day is a time to honor the lives and remember the deaths of soldiers who served in World War II. The town of Raritan, New Jersey, where I was born, knows how to do that! Banners of their hometown heroes hang on posts throughout the town. Veterans are honored in parades and their stories are shared in a variety of ways.

This year the Historic and Culture Commission created a Municipal Calendar to celebrate Raritan’s heroes. The month of May features the story of my father, the Rev. Rowland Koskamp, written by Bruce Doorly. I am posting this rather lengthy excerpt from this story to help us remember the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families and their towns and churches during that horrible war.

“Rowland Koskamp, a native of Wisconsin, graduated from Western Theological Seminary in 1940. His first assignment, in September of 1940, was to come Raritan, N.J. to replace the retiring pastor of The Third Reformed Church. He brought with him his new wife Florence. In 1942 Florence gave birth to a baby girl Karen Jane. Rowland (Rolly)  served as pastor until April 1943 when with World War II raging he decided he should be serving with the soldiers overseas on the front lines. He requested a leave of absence from the church to join the army as a chaplain. With his request was granted, he was shipped overseas to England and assigned to the 28th Infantry division to serve as a chaplain and medic. This unit would see plenty of combat.

First, they landed at Normandy in July of 1944, one month after the massive U.S. landing that is known today as D-Day. They took up the struggle to move across France against stubborn resistance from the Germans. The terrain of France was dominated by thick bushes which covered the roadside. These bushes known as “hedgerows” gave cover to the defenders. This made each yard taken a difficult task. On their way toward Germany they would liberate many French towns. On August 29th 1944, they would parade through a liberated Paris to cheering crowds. However, their celebration would be short-lived as the unit soon packed up and fought their way on further toward Germany. They arrived in Luxembourg in November of 1944.

During his service Rowland would earn a promotion to Captain. Then in October of 1944 he was awarded The Bronze Star for his excellent service toward the men in his unit. The citation read “For meritorious service in connection with operations against the enemy from July 29 to October 3rd in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and German.” The 28th infantry needed his services as they had many casualties.

A Schoolhouse Aid Station

A part of a letter he had written home was printed on the front page of the local paper. It reflects his gentle nature, his dedication, and his ability to find humor in the insanity of war. It stated “Our division is finally off the secret list so it can now be told that we’ve been in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and German. We’ve hit the Siegfried Line and for two weeks I lived in one of the pill boxes on the line. What structures they are. Kind of cramped though for a two-week stay. Since that time I’ve established a rest camp for men of the battalion. I had a lot of fun with that and plenty of opportunity to serve the men in it. It was located in a schoolhouse. We served hot meals, gave them sleeping accommodations, movies, and opportunity to write letters. And above all, opportunity to attend services which was deeply appreciated by the majority of them.”

One of the other soldiers staying in the schoolhouse with him happened to also be from Raritan – Joe Sansone. On the morning of December 17th, 1944 the 28th Infantry, like all of the U.S. forces, were caught off guard by a surprise German offensive. Koskamp and others woke to the sounds of nearing artillery. The far off artillery fire gradually came closer and it started to shake the entire house. They did their part in this battle by going out and rounding up the wounded men and bringing them to the basement of the schoolhouse. This building was a good choice for an aid station as the cellar was reinforced with steel and concrete.

An assistant to Rowland Koskamp, Carl Montgomery, who would survive the war told about the battle in the 2005 book Alamo in the Ardennes by John McManus. The raging battle on the edge of this small village had not initially been a cause for an alarm. The Germans had supposedly been weakened to the point that the war would be ending very soon. Also, the 28th infantry had been taking on the Germans for months winning every battle. Carl Montgomery said that “They always had stopped them in their tracks before, and I had no reason to think they wouldn’t this time too.”

However, as the hours went by this battle was turning out to be very different. Later in the afternoon Carl Montgomery saw how the Germans were closing in and he tried to convince Captain Koskamp to leave. However, he would not hear of it. They were caring for an ever- growing number of wounded men in basement, giving them water, cigarettes (often given for comfort to the wounded in those days), and doing whatever they could for them. Carl Montgomery had been Koskamp’s assistant throughout the war thus he could not bring himself to leave him.

Several of the soldiers had retreated to fight another day, but Koskamp, Montgomery, and Raritan’s Joe Sansone had chosen to stay with the wounded. With the Germans closing in Reverend Koskamp and his unit had some reassurance when a U.S. tank positioned itself right in front of the schoolhouse/aid station. However, the U.S. tank quickly took a direct hit from a powerful shell. The tank blew up – the explosion ripped through one of the walls of the schoolhouse. Then a German tank started to fire directly into the building – pumping round after round into the schoolhouse until it was completely destroyed. They managed to avoid injury in the basement. When the barrage stopped, there was nothing left to do but hope to be able to surrender. Their story of how they surrendered was recounted by Raritan’s Joe Sansone: “Captain Koskamp went outside to talk to the German officer. He found the German could not speak English so he spoke to the officer in German or Dutch – I believe it was German, Captain Koskamp could make himself understood and could understand the officer.”

Captivity

Thus they managed to surrender, never a guarantee in the brutality of war. The poor treatment they would receive as prisoners immediately became apparent as the Germans refused their request for them to grab their overcoats. During this battle, which is today known as The Battle of the Bulge, the Germans captured thousands of U.S. soldiers. Koskamp and Sansone were marched with 3000 others to a railroad station. Sixty men were put in each box car.

Joe Sansone further went on tell about their first days as prisoner. “We had no food all day the first day that we were captured. The next day we had bread and water. We had nothing on the third day. On Christmas we received English Red Cross boxes; five of us shared a box.” An eight-day train ride would take them to their POW camp. On their train ride to the prison at one point they were parked at a train stop when some U.S. planes circled around firing at the train. The German guards ran off till the attack was over – leaving the U.S. prisoners locked in the box cars. Some of the prisoners were killed by this friendly fire. The Americans were obviously not aware that their own men were on this train. Reverend Koskamp would survive this round of friendly fire from the skies.

When they arrived at the POW complex the officers were separated from the enlisted men, and Koskamp and Sansone would part ways. At the officers POW camp, which was known as Hammelburg 13B (Oflag XIII-B), Rowland Koskamp took on the purpose of keeping moral up among the men. He did an excellent job. One survivor recalled “He was every man’s preacher. He calmed the griper, supported the downer, let it be known that our present circumstance was only a temporary setback, and that there is a caring God who is concerned and offers eternity to those who call upon him.”

Keeping busy in the camp is essential, yet often difficult as men have little strength for physical activity. One of the things that Rowland Koskamp did was to set up a Toastmasters Club where soldiers would learn to public speak to a group. Each speaker would share a story and those in attendance would evaluate the speaker on grammar and presentation style. These small activities would be vital to keeping moral high in the camp. Camp conditions were not good. The small amount of food they received was terrible. The average man would lose 30-40 pounds.

Another important function that Rev. Koskamp did inside the POW camp was to provide his fellow prisoners updated new reports on the war. As a chaplain he was often allowed to travel to different sections of the POW camp. In one section some Serbian officers had managed to hide a radio. When Koskamp visited their section they would update him on the news that they had gotten from the BBC in London. He would then pass this information along to the men in his section of the camp.

On March 27th 1945 after being prisoner for over three months, they were pleasantly surprised when a group of U.S. tanks broke through the fence of the POW camp. The German guards fled. (A few days before the U.S. army had broken through the German defenses at the Rhine River. A group of 200 men, with several tanks and vehicles were sent dashing forward 60 miles to liberate the POW camp.) The former prisoners quickly looted the German supply warehouse. They also killed and cooked several of the animals that were there for food. They ate to gain some strength and packed what supplies might be of aid to get back to the U.S. forces.

Getting back to safety would still be a challenge. They were 60 miles from the bulk of the U.S. army and the rescuing group had over run their supply line. The escaped prisoners and their liberators along with the vehicles and tanks headed back to meet up with the U.S. Army. Still on enemy territory, with the war ravishing around them, they traveled that night. They had only traveled 10 miles when many tanks and vehicles started running out of gas. In the confusion of war they were not able to meet up with a fuel supply truck.

The men held a conference to decide what to do. It was 50 miles to the Rhine River where the U.S. troops were. But it was just 10 miles back to the POW camp. They figured if they went back to the camp U.S. forces would probably liberate them in a few days. Most men decided to travel back to the POW camp. The simple shelter of the barracks could be lifesaving under the winter conditions. A prisoner returning to his POW camp after a brief futile escape was not all that rare. The Germans usually did not execute the returning prisoner.

Some men decided to attempt the 50-mile journey to the Rhine River. Some stayed at their location with the now-stalled vehicles. Reverend Koskamp would return to the POW camp with the rest of the men. When they returned to the camp, their hope to be liberated in a few days was shattered as the Germans had regrouped, smartened up, and quickly took the U.S. prisoners on a 100 march toward a different POW camp in Nuremberg.

This was a dangerous time to be outside and exposed in Germany. The war was almost over. The U.S. Air Force had full control of the skies and was bombing German cities day and night. On April 5th Rowland Koskamp and the other prisoners were still on the forced march, yet coming near their destination of the POW camp in Nuremberg. His group saw numerous planes dropping bombs on the city of Nuremberg. At first they felt somewhat safe as they were a few miles from the center of the city where the bombs were falling. They were also in the woods.

But soon they marched forward, always with guns pointed at them, and saw through the trees and across an open field that they were just a quarter of a mile from a railroad station. Unfortunately this railroad station was the target of the next load of bombs. (The U.S. had no intelligence reports to inform them that their own men were being marched to a new POW camp.) As the bombs rained down through the trees the men hit the dirt desperately trying for cover. However, there were many powerful bombs dropped from hundreds of planes by a U. S. Air Force that was determined to finish off the Germans. Around 30 Americans were killed in this bombing. Rowland Koskamp, pastor of the Third Reformed Church in Raritan, was one of them.

Back at Home

Back on the home-front in Raritan, Reverend Koskamp’s ongoing travels had been tracked in the local papers. His volunteering to go overseas, his promotion to Captain, his being awarded the Bronze Star all were printed and read by the residents of Raritan. On December 20th, 1944 it was reported in the local Raritan paper that he was missing in action. In March 1945, hope was given when it was reported that he was a POW. In April 1945, his wife had received inaccurate news from a war department telegram that said he had been freed from the POW camp. Apparently some men liberated with him that had made it to freedom did not realize that Reverend Koskamp had gone back to the POW camp with many others.

Thus, with the word from his wife, the local papers mistakenly reported that he was free. The Raritan community was looking forward to the return of their pastor who had served so well in the war. But then Rowland Koskamp’s wife Florence received another telegram toward the end of May, this one sadly accurate, that said her husband had been killed in action. She notified the new pastor of the Third Reformed Church in Raritan on a Saturday Night. The new pastor chose to announce the tragic news of Rev. Koskamp’s death at the worship service the next Sunday morning, May 27th, 1945. Those in attendance were shocked. They had last heard that Reverend Koskamp had been freed.  The war in Europe had ended over two weeks ago as Germany had surrendered on May 8th. No more casualties were expected from the war in Europe, but news traveled slowly in the 1940’s.

The Third Reformed Church held a memorial service to honor their fallen Reverend on Sunday, June 10th, 1945. The church was overflowing with worshipers. At the service excerpts from some letters that were written by the men that served with Reverend Koskamp were read. One from his commanding officer stated “It will comfort you to know that he did a magnificent job as Chaplain of his unit. His praises have been highly sung by his men who love him and honor him.” Another officer who was in the POW camp with him wrote “None of us who were with him at the Hammelberg POW camp will ever forget him.”

The letter went on to tell of the inspiring talks given by the minister and lauded his personal bravery as a soldier and prisoner. Rowland Koskamp died serving his country. He could have stayed on the home-front as pastor of The Third Reformed Church in Raritan, but he choose to go overseas where he felt he could do the most good. He never regretted his decision. In one of his last letters that he wrote home he said “My work is proving most gratifying. I have never regretted my decision to enter it. I do however desperately long for the day when there will be no more opportunities for army chaplains and I can continue my work in a civilian parish.”

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For another story about Rowland Koskamp’s service to his men as they attempted to march to liberation see Communion in a Corral.

 

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Every Family’s Story – Setting the Stage

“Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. Then Jesus told this parable . . .  .

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them” Luke 15: 1-3 and 12 -20).

The story of “the man with two sons” is the essence of the Christian gospel.  It is a simple story, really, replayed throughout history and replicated every day in urban centers, small towns, and rural areas. A father is raising two sons. The elder son is responsible, obedient, and hardworking. The younger son longs long to leave home and explore the freedom in the world “out there.” The father loves both sons, even though they both sorely try his patience.

This story is often called the story of the “prodigal” son, but as Tim Keller has famously shown us in the book The Prodigal God, it is really the story of the “Prodigal father – a man whose love is big enough to encompass the failings of both sons.

The story Jesus tells in Luke 15 is a family story set in the Middle East, with all the cultural realities of the time.  Doug Greenwold of Preserving Bible Times, points out that issues of “family shame and family honor” are up front and center in this story. No “good son” would ever do anything to shame the family and dishonor its name.  “That would be the ‘unforgivable cultural sin,” says Greenwold. So not only is this story about a family, it is a story about a family being observed by many families. It has something to say to every culture and time.

Jesus packs this story full of surprising and shameful scenes. Those who first heard it must have been horrified by the rules this story breaks

The elder son has the birthright which entitles him to two-thirds of the father’s estate after the father’s death. Because the younger son demands his share of the estate NOW, he is essentially saying to his father, “I wish you were dead.”  Why would a son say something so shameful to his father, knowing that it would reflect badly on him and his father to the closely knit village community?  Why did he want to leave home that badly?

♦ As part of his birthright responsibilities, the older son is required to intercede in disputes between his siblings and his father. He is silent. His refusal to step in to mediate the situation is scandalous in its own right.  Why does he shirk his responsibility?

♦ Why did the father give the younger son an inheritance to which he was not yet entitled? Why did he let the young man leave the family and his responsibilities?  What did he say to the elder brother to make it seem all right?  How did he explain this shameful situation to his neighbors?

This Biblical parable could be the plot of a 2017 TV movie:  a selfish son is tempted by  a lifestyle repudiated by his family; an angry brother seethes about the unfairness of his father’s decisions; a father is torn between his two sons; a neighborhood is titillated with gossip about the family’s distress. 

The plot of the Biblical passage focuses on the scene that brings everything to a head:  the son comes home in misery. He has no where else to turn, His inheritance has been spent, he has wallowed in unspeakable sin.  His pride is destroyed, his heart is sick, his very posture reflects his guilt. 

What can he say to  redeem himself to his father?  How will his father respond?  What will the older brother think?  How will the neighbors react? What does this parable have to say about our relationship to God  Stay tuned!  This series of  five posts will continue on Wednesdays.

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Check out more information on  Margaret Adams Parker’s Sculpture Reconciliation (photo above) which is located on the campus of Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina.

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What if We were Put to the Test?

Recently, I watched Silence, Martin Scorsese’s latest movie about two Jesuit priests who travel to 17th century Japan looking for a missing fellow priest. They are befriended by a covert group of Japanese Christians who suffer extreme persecution by the Japanese government which wants to rid the country of Christianity. When several of these faithful converts are killed for refusing to denounce their faith, the priests experience a crisis of conscience and make choices that affect their lives (and the faith they hold dear) until they die. As I watched  this film (and for weeks afterwards), I wondered how I would respond if put to the test of denying Christ or dying.

Persecuted Christians world-wide face that test every day. The sad truth is that  215 million Christians (about 1 in 12) experience some form of persecution in 2017. In many countries the persecution is labeled “extreme.”  The organization Open Doors USA lists eight main “engines” of persecution, saying that they often work in tandem:

  • Islamic extremism – attempts to bring the country or the world under the House of Islam through violent
  • Religious nationalism – attempts to united citizens under a single religious identity.
  • Ethnic antagonism – attempts to force the continuing influence of age-old norms and values shaped in tribal contexts
  • Secular intolerance– attempts to eradicate religion from both the public and private domains, imposing an atheistic form of secularism as the governing theology
  • Communist and post-communist oppression – attempts to maintain Communism as a prescriptive ideology or control the church through a system of registration and oversight inherited from Communism
  • Denominational Protectionism – Attempts to preserve one’s Christian denomination as the dominant or only legitimate expression of Christianity
  • Organized corruption and crime – attempts to create a climate of impunity, anarchy, and corruption as  a means of self-enrichment
  • Dictatorial paranoia – attempts to maintain power by any means necessary, usually without a particular vision in mind.  

Open Doors USA  annually publishes a world watch list, a ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face severe persecution. The worst place on earth for Christians is North Korea which ranks at the top of the Open Door list for “extreme persecution.” * Christians number 300,000 out of a total population of 25,450,000. They are forced to hide their faith completely – even from other family members. Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens. Those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation. Gathering in groups for worship or fellowship is nearly impossible.

Again, I think:  “How would I fare as a Christian in North Korea?”  Here’s a challenging subject for private introspection and/or discussion in small groups of Christians. How would you react if you lived in Syria, a country where disclosure of your faith could put you at risk of death? What if you lived in Laos where refusing to participate in Buddhist practices results in physical or verbal abuse of you and your family? How would you cope if you lived in Tunisia where growing extremism supports violent persecution of Christians, including forced marriages, physical assaults, and vandalism of Christian properties?

What if one or more of the eight “engines” of persecution listed above took over in the United States? What if the persecution of Christians became so extreme that our jobs were threatened or our personal safety was at risk? What if church services or Bible study groups were banned in my town or yours?  Would my faith remain strong? Would yours? Would we stand together and stand up for our faith? Would it be okay to hide our faith publicly while practicing it privately? These may be harder questions than we think! Mulling them over should bring us to our knees in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters. (To learn more about persecution of Christians and find prayer requests check out the Open Doors USA website. )

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*The next four most dangerous places for Christians are Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan.  

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From My Reading

“For Christians, questions of truth and falsehood are spiritual matters.  The ninth commandment states, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness thy neighbor.’ This forbids speaking falsely, lying, equivocating, or designing to deceive our neighbor. It also prohibits speaking unjustly against our neighbor. The focus on care for one’s neighbor recognizes that truthfulness is essential for sustaining community.

Moreover, lying, falsehood, and deceit are understood biblically as essential tools of evil. Jesus calls the devil “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Truth is not merely a preferred practice, it’s foundational to a just social order. Therefore, for objective truth to be in dispute – and falsehoods named as ‘alternative facts’ – is not just a political danger, it strikes at the core of a trustworthy society” (Wesley Granberg-Michaelson in Sojourner, April, 2917).

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“Sometimes staying open to the Holy is just the sheer tenacity of hope, a steady desire not to lose the thread of connection. Thank God we are created with an innate thirst for this relationship and cannot finally be satisfied without it. A contemplative writer once noted that God is on the inside of our longing. God resides within our hope and desire, prompting our growth toward the Light. It seems to be the great task of the Spirit to draw us back to our soul’s magnetic North” (from “On Keeping and Open Heart,” Weavings: A Journey of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. XXXII, No. 1 (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 2017), 21-22.\

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“Loss and renewal is the perennial, eternal, transformative pattern.  It’s like a secret spiral: each time you allow surrender, each time you can trust the dying, you will experience a new quality of life within you” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation for April 24, 2017).

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Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit.  It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus (Mark 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children.  They are little signs of tenderness, affection, and compassion. . . . Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love” (Pope Francis, in the Closing Mass of the Eighth World Meeting of Families,  September 27, 2015, quoted in Mark K. Shriver’s book Pilgrimage, My Search for the Real Pope Francis).

 

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Digging for Truth

This blog now contains over 630 posts.  Here, slightly revised, is a post that was first published on June 10, 2015 – and is even more important today.

Is the Pope a communist?”  This opening line of a Heart and Soul broadcast on BBC radio grabbed my attention.

The first voice on the program, Rush Limbaugh, proclaimed that, yes indeed, Pope Francis is a communist! Then many voices from the Catholic church weighed in, explaining the influences on the Pope’s politics and theology:

◊   Growing up in the poverty-stricken country of  Argentina

◊   Peronism (the nationalist revival begun  in Argentina by Juan Peron which was       associated closely with the  working class and trade unions)

◊   The Jesuit presence in Argentina and the missions by the priests to the                     indigenous Indians

◊   The Jesuit concept that “the real is more important than ideas”

◊   The version of  liberation theology (the gospels always put the poor first, and           the church should too) that is particular to Argentina and is anti-Marxist.

The conclusion reached by the host of the show is that Pope Francis has a different understanding of the role of the Catholic Church in society than other popes have had, but he is not a communist.

This blog is not about Pope Francis. It is about the complexity of closed mindthought required to reach even a minimal understanding of a subject. It is about whether we have interest in and patience to hear all sides before we take an immovable stance. Life in general and politics and religion in particular are much more nuanced than most of us are willing to admit. It’s much easier to say, as one politician recently said during the 2016 Presidential election campaign, “Who would vote for that face?” than to learn about and discuss particular policy issues with the woman behind the face. It’s easier to say “deport them all” than to sit down with those who are affected and hear their stories.

And, unfortunately,  it is much easier for each of us to support bold stroke statements than to deal with the complicated background of most issues. We owe it to ourselves and our world to research the issues facing us, to fact check, and to consider options before we choose our position.  

NOTE:  If you are interested in the remarkable life of Pope Francis check out my book recommendation of Pilgrimage, My Search for the Real Pope Francis by Mark K. Shriver.

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