Matthew 11:28-30 - Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Joshua 24:15 -
Choose this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Justice for all in Manhattan

Much as I wish I could ignore the raging debate on building a "mosque" at  "Ground Zero", the press won't leave it alone, so I was forced to spend a couple hours reading today to decide for myself what is really going on here.

Any of you who know me, know that I am intensely patriotic and committed to Christian faith and tradition at the deepest level.  That doesn't mean I am for the abuse of the liberties of Americans who do not share my faith.

When you peel away the politics, the facts of the matter here are as follows:
  1. Park51 is a proposal for a community center focused at promoting American Islamic beliefs and interfaith dialog, part of which will include a prayer space for Muslims.  There are already other such prayer spaces within 800 ft. of the proposed site where Muslims have assembled and worshiped peacefully for 40 years.
  2. The proposed site is not on "Ground Zero" unless all of lower Manhattan is declared as such.  Much as I understand the scale and impact of 9/11 living near to the city and having worked in and around the site for a couple years after 9/11, I can't abide those that would call all of lower Manhattan "holy ground".  It is a city and business center that has grounds with quite varying levels of holiness, and there are a lot more important things we can do to increase it's holiness then try to keep out Muslims who are already there.  Much as I can get myself worked up over a discussion of the Crusades or the Battle of Lepanto, this part of Manhattan just isn't the equivalent of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ lived, walked and taught.
  3. The people proposing this project are not radical jihadists.  In fact they are just the sort of Muslims that jihadists hate for conceding and pandering to infidels of the West.  The Wall Street Journal says of Faisal Abdul Rauf "Mr. Rauf, a Kuwaiti-born cleric who came to the U.S. in his teens, is an unlikely rabble-rouser. Over three decades, he has denounced terrorism and anti-Semitism, attended "peace seders," and preached democracy and human rights for the Muslim world. His congregation is diverse, bringing together black, Asian and Arab Muslims in lower Manhattan. The FBI once hired him to teach agents about Islam."
People of all faiths died on 9/11.  This center also includes a tribute to those who died on 9/11, including many Muslim Americans.

When we attempt to supress the rights of this group because it makes some groups of Americans uncomfortable (even if they are or become a vocal majority),  we ignore the very best parts of our Democratic and Christian roots.  If we fail to have charity for our fellow citizens, and if we place no value on their religious freedom, how can we claim to be Christian or American?

For a couple other reasonable explanations of what is going on see these articles on the "Ground Zero Mosque" that really is not a Mosque and not at Ground Zero:
I am not naive about the doctrinal or historical divides of Christianity and Islam, nor am I ignorant to the continued danger of terrorism.  I just don't think the debate as it is being conducted is doing anything to advance freedom, America or Christianity, but rather it is damaging all three and is therefore something I cannot support.

Let's let the laws of the land and building codes of Manhattan govern here, and let reason, charity and decency guide the rest of our actions and we'll all be a lot better off.  If the projects proposers decide to relocate to keep the "peace", it may make some politicians happy or feel vindicated, but I don't think any great justice will have been done.

Enter, Stage Left - The Rabbit

Our son Joshua (and his sister Elizabeth) have been in a number of productions at the Rhinebeck Performing Art Center (RPAC).

Joshua just finished up as the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.  Here's links to professional photos by Kathy Cassens of each of the Kids on Stage productions

Congrats to all the fine up and coming actors and actresses.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A beautiful, holy place

The traditional summer vacation is something we all look forward to. Time to get away from our normal routine, spend time with family and friends and all that. Many sites for a getaway come to mind. Sites of great beauty like Yosemite national park. There are sites that celebrate our national history or the arts. Millions flock to Disney and Six Flags parks all over the nation.

Often we are not aware that there are more economical alternatives that also have the benefit of great spiritual significance. There are churches, shrines and basilicas that celebrate our Christian heritage. Some far away and some are quite close. One such treasure of the US northeast is the National Shrine to the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Divine Mercy is a Catholic devotion celebrating the limitless grace and mercy available through our saviour Jesus Christ. It commemorates the private revelation of Jesus to a Polish nun, Sister Faustina. The diary of these revelations has many important messages for our times. In those revelations, Jesus conveyed the specifics of an image depicting his divine mercy that was later depicted by an artist like this.
Our church recently made a pilgrimage to this site, and it was a rewarding and refreshing day. I wanted to share a few pictures to encourage you to check out the devotion and site if you get a chance. This shrine has beautiful sculpture, architecture and artwork to honor many other saints as well.

The shrine is set in the beautiful Berkshire mountains.

The shrine itself looks something like this.

The site has an outdoor altar where a special mass is held on Divine Mercy Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) each year.

It has many other areas for quiet devotions including these tributes to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

You get the idea. I have an album of another 75 or so photos if you are interested - just let me know.

So when you are planning your getaways, be they day trips or extended ones, research the significant spiritual places in the area.  You just may find a little piece of Heaven like Eden Hill.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

And now for something completely different...

I've talked much in this blog about the blessings of marriage and family in my life. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

Here is the light of my life on the day we were married.

Here we are on the occasion of our daughter's first communion, at the restaurant where we had our wedding reception! How's that for coming full circle!
And finally - that "quiver full of arrows" referred to in Psalm 127.

Wisdom from the past on the Blessings of Family

I have posted in the past of the importance of marriage and family in God's eyes as I have come to understand these things. Here are a couple of my favorite scriptures that seem particularly clear on the plan of the Father in this regard.

Psalms 127
1 Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.

2 It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, To eat bread earned by hard toil-- all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.

3 Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth.
5 Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate.

Psalms 128
1 Happy are all who fear the LORD, who walk in the ways of God.
2 What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be happy and prosper:

3 Like a fruitful vine your wife within your home, Like olive plants your children around your table.
4 Just so will they be blessed who fear the LORD.

5 May the LORD bless you from Zion, all the days of your life That you may share Jerusalem's joy 6 and live to see your children's children. Peace upon Israel!

Religious Liberty and Rights of Conscience

Before I start, let me state that I know many friends and family whom I love dearly disagree with me on the points expressed in this post. I respect their views and them. I ask only for the same respect to be heard and understood where possible. If you feel that is too much to ask, this post is probably not for you, so move onto a lighter post. ;-)

We live in a country founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In recent times this has sadly been taken to mean liberty to pursue anything except for timeless truth and spiritual freedom. The press is rife with concerns about the "radical right" taking over the country. This fear shows ignorance of a couple basic facts.

There is nothing radical about the Christian faith, except the radical demands it places on its members to love and serve others. Others here means all your neighbors including those of different faiths, cultures and lifestyles. Note however that loving someone does not mean accepting everything they do. Some things are just wrong for all people at all times and places. Murder is an example. Marrying a close relative is an example. There are others.

The other thing being ignored in these articles and conversations is that this country is not being taken over by Christianity. It was created and founded that way. Our laws are based on Judeo-Christian ethics that assume that basis for their proper functioning. To exclude (and persecute) Christian belief, is to destroy the foundation on which our nation is built. (And yes - I know that some of our founding fathers were not Christian, and were far from morally perfect. That does not negate the history and precepts they were relying on when they wrote our founding documents).

Some view belief in a moral truth, and simple convictions like the fact that sound societies must be built on sound families as a form of discrimination and intolerance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most Christians believe in freedom of speech, religion, etc and simply wish those right's to continue to apply to them. By contrast, those on the political left demand recognition of their views as right, true and superior to all others. Where is the true intolerance there?

Take the debate on same sex unions as an example. The lines on extending financial and legal recognition to significant others and non-marital partners have long ago been crossed and extended. But that is not sufficient for these minorities. Marriage (which is primarily a religious and not a civil union, founded by the Church from God's own teachings on this subject) must be redefined to suit their whims and dispositions.

Why is maintaining the definition of marriage as a relationship between a man and woman important? Is it to exclude same sex relationships and make their members feel inferior? Of course not. It is recognition of a simple, biological fact which hardly needs to be explained to your average rational adult. Only through the natural complementarity of men and women can new members of society come into existence. Same sex relationships cannot generate new families or members of society. Societies cannot sustain themselves, much less grow and flourish without the birth of new children.

Science, and man made contrivances are a poor substitute for God's plan for men and women and the natural family. Study after study in the fields of psychology and social science have affirmed that children develop best in homes with their biological parents and the balanced influence of male and female personality and parenting. Obviously this does not mean that all heterosexual homes are balanced and functional - some are quite disfunctional. The same can be said of alternate lifestyle homes and families.

What is the solution to all this in the end? It starts with the ultimate of American "virtues". Respect for the individual and the rights of all people, which includes the rights of expression and freedom of conscience of Christians.

It continues with the rational acknowledgement that Christian marriage and civil unions are different for the reasons stated above. US Law may choose to acknowledge them as having equal civil privileges. Christian churches cannot ever acknowledge them as equivalent, because to do so would contradict the explicit design of our Creator. To demand the redefinition of a church institution/sacrament to meet civil or social whims and fads is a violation of the rights of conscience of our Christian majority (though by a small margin) in this country.

May God bless our land with compassion, and a willingness to hear and understand one another that we may once again have the blessings of peace and prosperity.

For more on why issues of family, life and conscience are things for which we must stand against the political tides, see the Manhattan Declaration, an ecumenical statement by hundreds of thousands (over 460,000 at present count) of reasonable Christian believers. Don't assume you know what it says and the writers must be religious extremists. Read it first before you judge. Isn't that the ultimate expression of tolerance?

Choosing a church - Does it Matter?

Whenever a close friend or family chooses to join or leave a church, questions arise. What was wrong with their old church? What caused them to join the new? Does it really matter what church we go to as long as we love God in our hearts?

This article addresses the question of what are fundamental reasons for choosing or not choosing a church. While it considers most directly choosing a particular congregation within a broader church, many of the principles apply to choosing one's major denomination and faith as well.

For the Christian, criteria for choosing a place of worship should include the following:
  1. Is the life of Christ visibly present in this congregation, not so much in what they say, but in what they do? Are they willing and able to serve each other and the surrounding community?
  2. Is the Word of God proclaimed honestly, truthfully, regularly? Is there apparent love and reverence for Holy Scripture? This implies knowledge of the Bible in the first place of course.
  3. Is the teaching of the church in accord with the history of the Church in the broadest sense? Is there reference to the earliest church fathers - those who learned from Jesus and his disciples directly and proclaimed the faith in the first centuries? Be cautious of a church that prefers modern "innovation" to truths that have withstood thousands of years of persecution. Is the unity of the Old and New Testaments proclaimed, the contribution of Judeo-Christian history and ethics recognized?
  4. For Catholic churches we must add the criteria of sacramental vitality. The lifeblood of the church flows through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders... Through these vessels the essence of the Holy Spirit is conveyed visibly and effectually from generation to generation until Jesus returns to the Earth to claim his own.

What should NOT be primary criteria for choosing a church?
  1. Are all the current members of the congregation perfect saints? (No church presently in existence meets this criteria).
  2. Which preacher is the most charismatic and dynamic? The prior point refers to pastors/priests as well. They are imperfect humans like the rest of us. They have good and bad days, and may err at times. Many people have left a sound church/congregation over a personal disagreement with the pastor, and this is a mistake.
  3. Which is the prettiest church in town?
  4. How cool is the music?

This second list is not to suggest that places of worship and the liturgy practiced there should not reflect the glory of the creator of the universe. It should be that as much as we are capable of making it.

Aesthetics no doubt do play a major role in attracting people to a church initially, but they will not keep them there. No one will die for the color of paint on the church walls, or the style of music played on Sunday (although they may be willing to bicker over it quite a bit over coffee or in a church council meeting).

What they will die for is the truths proclaimed by that church. That Jesus Christ is fully divine and yet fully human, one god, but also a blessed trinity.

When there is division in a church or community, the root cause is almost always emotional and the vice of pride inevitably rears its ugly head. One person insists something must be one way. Another insists the opposite. Neither can find it in their hearts to listen to the other and understand their point of view enough to compromise. We don't have to look any further then our own experience, and the unfortunate myriad of divergent Christian denominations in existence today to know that this is true.

This brings us back around to the question we began with. Does it really matter what church we go to as long as we love God in our hearts?

The answer is, it certainly matters what faith you proclaim and theology you believe to be true. It should matter so much that you would be willing to die for it if someone tried to deny you that right to practice it, as it did for martyrs from the time of Daniel to those persecuted for the faith in various countries of the world today.

It also matters that you worship in a specific local congregation, and which one it is. Private worship is necessary, but not sufficient. Same goes for communal worship. God created us for a relationship with him, but for relationships with our fellow man as well, and we cannot live in balance unless we are able to nurture and connect both dimensions.

If you are blessed to live in an area where there are multiple churches in your chosen faith, secondary issues of aesthetics can be used to decide between them. If there are no churches in your area that meet the primary criteria, it is worth traveling to find one that does.

Having chosen a community, do not leave it simply because the lectors or music ministry is having an off season. Ask yourself, are you committing as much of your personal talents to the community and liturgy as you could be to make it all it can and should be. A community is only as dynamic and vibrant as its' members, and their willingness to share their unique gifts.

Keep "first things first" and "secondary things second" and you are sure to find a place of worship that benefits you spiritually.

May God bless you on your spiritual journey, and may all roads lead us to the house of our Father in Heaven.

The Value of Life

Imagine a war where the casualties were over a million people a year. Imagine a war where the combatants had no regard for the lives of children or women. If such a war were occurring somewhere in the world, you would do something to stop it, wouldn't you?

That war is going on, and the battleground is the United States of America.

The war is between ourselves and our misguided notion of "freedom" and the fundamental laws of our being and Creator. It is between those who would follow God's law ("Thou shalt not kill") and those who value their own liberty and convenience over the life of another. It is the war against legalized abortion on demand.

Scripture says again and again, that God created us and knew us even as we were in our mother's wombs. (Psalm 139:19, Psalm 22:10, Galations 1:15,...). He also says children are a great blessing (Psalm 127:3). He condemns most strongly those who would sacrifice their own children (2 Kings 17:17).

In the Old Testament, he lays before the nation of Israel a choice. (Deuteronomy 30:16)

"If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land...

If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land...

I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live"

These words seem clear. It could hardly be argued that America is walking in God's ways any longer. We will not even allow his name to be uttered in public.

In the words of Father John Corapi:

"If we do not soon stop the genocide of abortion in the United States, we shall run the course of all those that prove by their actions that they are enemies of God - total collapse, economic, social, and national.
The moral demise of a nation results in the ultimate demise of a nation. God is not a disinterested spectator to the affairs of man."

A nation without God in the public square is a nation without a soul. A nation that despises God's law is doomed. You need only to look to history to see the outcome of nations without a strong moral fabric.

Stand up for what you know to be right. Stand up for life and liberty as the forefathers of this great nation did. And remember - Freedom doesn't always mean the ability to do "what you want". The greatest freedom with the greatest outcome, is when we see ourselves as free to serve others, and ultimately to serve the God that gives and preserves life. That is a freedom that Americans have most uniquely had for the last couple hundred years, but it can be taken away.