I Will Do No Harm

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Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday as I watched the death toll rise to over 4,400 from the 7.8 earthquake that rocked Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh and India, my heart was so heavy. Over a million people are desperate for food and shelter in the aftermath. I thought about the Nepalese Gurkha guards that protected us at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Their gentle, sweet smiles welcomed me every day as I passed through security points. I also saw them when we were under threat and they instantly went into the warrior mode they are famous for. Willing to lay down their lives to protect us, they made me feel as safe as I could be in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Then images of looting and physical violence in Baltimore raised my anxiety level. To someone with PTSD, these scenes bring on flashbacks, increase the startle reflex and entice nightmares to creep into fitful sleep. Every time I heard a loud noise I would jump. Even my allergies got worse and I had to use my inhaler several times.

Stories of political misconduct and conflicts around the world also filled the news. Around the globe, I saw atrocities, persecution of Christians, poverty and disease. I watched as hundreds of refugees fleeing the spread of terrorist groups in Africa drowned when their overloaded boats capsized.

I was so overwhelmed with all this devastation and violence that I just wanted to go to my camp and retreat from the world—forever. I can so understand the desire of disenfranchised people to go live in the woods in a little shack, far away from the world and the people who live in it. I was there.

Then an amazing thing happened. On Fox news a feature on peaceful protesters walking down the street singing “I will do no harm to anyone until the day I die.” I was riveted as I watched the dignity and calmness of these people as they walked down the street. Over 10,000 people participated in nonviolent protests. I watched over 100 religious leaders walk arm in arm – Catholics, Protestants, Muslim and Jewish—all united to face the violence with prayer. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched them kneel in the street to pray as one. As they continued to march their numbers swelled as others joined them, even some of the looters stopping to walk with them. I saw reports of members of the community boarding up business and trying to protect what was left from the rioters. I saw an elderly Vietnam veteran who stood up to rioters and backed them down.

This is the news I needed to see. This is the goodness and the best of people that reminds me that courage and faith will always prevail in the fight against evil. This is the hope of humanity. It balances the violence and devastation that the media likes to highlight. I have to believe that heroes will always stand up and face down evil. Everyday people that became extraordinary in the face of adversity. I realized I cannot go hide in the woods and isolate myself from the world. I can’t save the world but I can try to make my little corner of the world better. That is all I can do and maybe, that is enough.

Christianity Under Attack

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Who will separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Romans 8:35

Another day and another account of Christians being persecuted and killed. This time 12 African migrants on a rubber boat trying to get from Libya to Italy were thrown overboard by fellow passengers, while other Christians on board saved themselves by forming a human chain. Fifteen Muslim passengers have been arrested in the incident.

The world was shocked when the terror group ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a beach in Tripoli, Libya, releasing the directive to other Muslims to “behead a Christian to gain your salvation, so kill Christians wherever you find them.” At this time the fate of upwards of 150 Christian hostages, many women and children, kidnapped in Syria remains unknown.

Since January 1, 2015, almost 400 Christians have been killed in 24 separate attacks in 9 different countries. And these are the ones that have been reported and it is feared there have been many more deaths that have gone unreported. The Vatican estimates that Christians are the most persecuted group in the contemporary world with over 100,000 Christians being violently killed annually because of some relation to their faith. According to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith, most living in Muslim-dominated countries. Of the world’s three largest religions, Christians are the most proportionally persecuted with 80% of all acts of religious discrimination being directed at Christians.

Every year, the Christian non-profit organization Open Doors publishes a list of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is the worst. The 2014 lists the top ten offenders as North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen.

In spite of the horrifying reports of genocide of Christians our nation’s leaders remain chillingly silent. President Obama, a professed Christian, has not shown any rage or called upon any country to help stop this onslaught against innocents being killed and persecuted merely on the basis of their faith. In fact, on two occasions, he seemed to go to lengths to chastise Christians. In February he admonished attendees at the National Prayer breakfast that, “Unless we get on our high horse and think this (religious persecution) is unique to some place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” Comparing current Islamist extremist atrocities to religious wars fought 500-1000 years ago seems ludicrous and patronizing. Response to his remarks was swift, with many saying this underscores the perception that Obama is out-of-touch with America.

Undeterred, at the Easter-themed prayer breakfast earlier this month he once again used his position to deliver a facile, preachy slap to Christians saying, “On Easter I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian I am supposed to love, and I have to say that sometimes when I’ve listened to less–than-loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned.” I say, “Physician, heal thyself.”

As our first black president, Barack Obama was in the perfect position to heal our nation and help narrow the divide between the races that still plagues our country. Instead, this winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has steadfastly wasted every opportunity to heal and has set back race relations decades. As a Christian I would have liked to see him use the time of Easter, the Christian’s most holy day, to show the world how a Christian acts, not with a holier-than-thou arrogance but with an attitude of forgiveness and love. I didn’t see that. Instead I was encouraged by the words of Pope Francis who has expressed hope that the international community does not look on, “silent and inactive”, in the face of the unacceptable persecution of Christians around the world.

What concerns me the most is Obama’s refusal to acknowledge and condemn the almost weekly killing of Christians , and in many cases, Jews. His focus seems to be solely on appeasing our enemies in the Middle East, which will only lead us down a dangerous path. I admit Christians have committed atrocities in the name of Christ but instead of using ancient deeds to denigrate the current genocide of Christians shows an amazing lack of responsibility. To say every religion has committed atrocities lets everyone off the hook, including Obama. Mr. President, move on up to the 21st century and man up as the leader of the greatest country in the world; a country that was created on the tenet of religious freedom, and call out the countries that harbor these Islamic extremists who are committed to wiping out Christianity in the most brutal ways imaginable. Enough is enough, unless you want to go down in history as the modern day Pontius Pilate. If you are concerned with leaving a legacy, remember not many people name their sons Pontius anymore.

Why Can’t We Be Friends

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Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there have been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else.

It is distressing to daily see adherents of the three largest religions in the world being slaughtered and condemned in the name of religion itself. Religious intolerance is nothing new. It exists in every religion, every denomination and every sect. We see intolerance with Catholics against Protestants, Sunni against Shia Muslims and Reform against Orthodox Jews. I was raised in the Baptist faith and even within that belief you have conservatives, moderates and liberals who vehemently defend their points of views.

I have been unable to attend church since returning from Afghanistan. First, it is difficult for me to sit in a crowd of people with my back to the door due to my post-traumatic stress, but the second reason is that organized religion no longer appeals to me. I used to take comfort in being with fellow believers. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20. I never totally agreed with everything in my religion. I do believe women can be deacons and preachers.  After all, it was to women who Jesus first gave the Good News –Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here. Mark 16:6. Not only did he give them the Good News but he commanded them to go tell the disciples. If Jesus entrusted women to give one of the most important tenants of the Christian faith to his disciples, who would be tasked with spreading the Gospel to all corners of the earth, then I believe God can still call women to his service today.

I don’t judge or condemn gays. While I hate abortion I still think it is a women’s right to choose – I just wish women would understand that innocent babies shouldn’t have to pay for what they perceive as a mistake. I believe the Old Testament is a wonderful book of history and it contains wisdom we can still live by today, but I also believe that when Jesus came to earth as a man he negated many of the complicated rules of sacrifice and worship set forth in the Old Testament. Jesus became the sacrifice and if you read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, eyewitnesses to Jesus’ teachings, then you see Christianity in its most pure form. I turn to it often when I feel weighed down by lengthy sermons that go to great lengths to interpret his words. I don’t believe his teachings need to be interpreted. They just are. He reached out to common people and spoke so that anyone could understand his teachings.

If you look at a comparison chart of Christianity, Judaism and Islam you will be astounded that there are more similarities than differences. They are all “Abrahamic” religions that trace their origins to Abraham in the Hebrew Bible. A really good site to compare the history, tenets and beliefs of these religions is: http://www.religionfacts.com/islam/comparison_charts/islam_judaism_christianity.htm.  It is very interesting reading and may help to clear up some misconceptions.

Now instead of the comfort and peace I once felt in church I can only see the divisiveness and intolerance. I just cannot emotionally take on the negativity at this point in my life. I miss the fellowship of other believers and knowing that I have that support system. I miss the songs of my childhood; the old songs from the Baptist Hymnal are so precious to me. I cannot hear The Old Rugged Cross without tears coming to my eyes and my heart soars when I hear I’ll Fly Away sung with full-bodied gusto. Every week I say this is the week I will go back to church, but every week I know that I am not ready. I am still too fragile because I have seen firsthand the atrocities that are committed because of religious intolerance. I am afraid, not of the church or the congregation, but of myself. I am afraid that I will not be able to turn the other cheek when I hear hypocrisy or judgement of others and that I will rise from my seat and unleash a tirade against the perceived offenders. Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with that judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Matthew 7: 1-2. I know I should not judge, but I do and until I feel like I can attend worship with a loving and forgiving heart I choose to do my worship in private.

As I am facing the demons of PTSD, I can feel myself getting stronger in some areas and weaker in others. It is a long, painful and lonely journey and by the grace of God I will find my way back. What I pray for every day is for the believers of the world to coexist in peace and tolerance. Pope Frances recently said, “Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers.” If the people of the world cannot do this, then we are on a path to self-destruction and I do not believe that is the goal of any religion.

Sharia Law and Women

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Silence never won rights . They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below. – Roger Nash Baldwin

Imagine this scene.  A Christian woman is accused of burning her Bible. An angry mob drags her from her home shouting God is great. Instantly a crowd gathers and begins to berate her as it is whipped into a frenzy by the accusers.  Her eyes are filled with terror as she tries to shield herself from the blows of the ever increasing mob. No one tries to protect or rescue her from this hideous attack even though police officers are present.  Blood runs down her face when someone hits her in the head with a brick. As the violence escalates, she is hit with bats, stomped on and run over by a car before being dragged behind it. Then she is set on fire and her limp body thrown on the bank of a river where onlookers take pictures of her mutilated body.

In a real situation we would ask her if the accusations were true, and if they were some people would be shocked and angrily denounce what she did, but they wouldn’t kill her. A few true Christians would go to her and listen to her reasons for burning the Bible. Perhaps she is grieving or going through a personal crisis and feels God is not listening to her. Most people would just shake their head and walk away. Modern Christianity condemns the sin but not the sinner. Redemption is always within reach.

Last week in Kabul, Afghanistan  28-year old Farkhuna was accused of burning a Koran and the above scenario was her fate. Investigators have found no proof at all that she burned a Koran and have concluded she was totally innocent. It is reported she had disagreed with the local mullah for his selling charms to women at the mosque, resulting in him making the false accusation. He has since been arrested along with 12 others including nine police officers. A prominent  Kabul cleric praised her attackers and said the  crowd had a right to defend their Muslim beliefs at all costs. He stated “I am warning the government not to arrest those who did this, because it will mean an uprising.”

Obviously the billions of dollars the United States has pumped into Afghanistan to promote rule of law and insure human rights has been a shocking failure. While President Ashraf Ghani condemned the killing and a public outcry called for more arrests, I am skeptical that justice will be served.

In 2009, an Afghani woman named Gulnaz was raped by her cousin’s husband and she became pregnant. She was then charged with adultery under Sharia law and sentenced to 12 years in jail. She was offered the chance to be released if she married her attacker. She refused. The decision resulted in world-wide criticism for Afghanistan’s horrendous human rights violations. American attorney, Kimberley Motley, submitted a pardon application to then President Hamid Karzai and eventually she was released. Most of the women in prison in Afghanistan are there for “moral” crimes –rape, adultery and failure to obey a husband.

While I was in Afghanistan I came to understand the word “chattel”. I was on a mission to do a market walk and I was waiting in our armored vehicle while our security force scanned the market to make sure it was safe for us to get out. I amused myself by watching the activity in the market out of my window. A man in a white Toyota pulled up near us and I saw that he had three goats in the back seat of the car. He got each goat out and tied them up near a stall. Then he went to the trunk of the car and opened it. A woman, I assume his wife, got out of the trunk wearing a royal blue burka, a garment that completely covers the body and only has a small grill across the eyes. It was a warm day and I don’t know how long she had been shut up in that trunk but a burka is hot and smothering. I was sick in my soul and I thought, “This is what chattel is. She is not even good enough to ride in the front seat. She is not even as valuable as the goats.”

If we heard of such things happening in the U.S. we would be shocked. A woman beaten and burned, a rape or locking someone in the trunk of a car-these would be considered crimes and hopefully someone other than the victim would be held accountable. And considering there is a 97% illiteracy rate in Afghanistan, the people who beat and burned Farkhunda have probably never read a Koran. A Christian loves and reveres their Bible, but the book itself will never mean more than the words it contains, for they are something that cannot be destroyed. A Christian carries the word of God in their hearts and those words include forgiveness, tolerance, love and peace. If Muslims want the world to accept Islam as a peaceful religion then they need to stand up and condemn the atrocities that are being committed in its name. Religious fanatics exist in every religion and they certainly don’t speak for everyone, but to say nothing is a form of passive approval and that is unacceptable.

Pray Without Ceasing

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For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. – Saint Teresa of Avila

This week presidential maybe Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had his Christian faith mocked by the liberal blog, Political Wire, published by Taegan Goddard. Under a snarky headline “Walker Has Not Communicated with God,” Goddard wrote:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) frequently says he’s waiting for “God’s calling” to run for President, so he was recently asked under public records laws to provide “A copy/transcript of all communications with God, the Lord, Christ, Jesus or any form of deity.”

Walker’s office responded that no such records exist. Goddard then promoted his story in social media with this tweet:

Gov. Scott Walker’s office was unable to provide any transcripts of his conversations with God.

These comments brought a firestorm on Goddard and he eventually deleted his mocking tweets from Twitter and betrayed his ignorance of basic Christian beliefs when he seemed genuinely confused that Walker believed prayer could be used to communicate with God. He simply did not know how prayer works. Hard to believe that anyone, even an atheist, would not understand the concept of prayer.

From the earliest recorded times mankind has lifted up its eyes and understood that there is a higher power and communicated devotion in some way. Every religion recognizes prayer as a way to commune with God. There are 650 prayers listed in the Bible with about 450 recorded answers to prayer. Christians like Gov. Walker understand the principle of discernment–-the process of determining God’s desire for the direction of our lives.

At first I was outraged by Mr. Goddard’s mockery of one of the basic tenets of the Christian faith but then I began to feel pity for him. I personally cannot imagine my life without prayer. All my life I have had so many prayers answered. Sometimes the answer has been no and it might be years before I can see the reason why and the longer I live the more I see a pattern for my life– pain, sorrow, joy, love—all interwoven with a complexity that is awe inspiring. To me prayer brings peace. It brings forgiveness. To be without prayer would be a living death devoid of hope.

Sen. John McCain relates how he and his fellow POWs had “church” every Sunday while in captivity in Vietnam. After the midday meal and after the guards had departed, the senior officer would signal it was time to pray together by coughing in a way that signaled the letter “c” for church. Orson Swindle, a fellow prisoner said it was a solid stream of thought among those there. They would silently say the Pledge of Allegiance, the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer and anything else they’d want to say to get them some help. All of this was done in silence because if the guards heard them talking they would come in and start torturing them. Prayer was the way they shared Christian fellowship and it gave them the strength to survive until they were released.

I’ve always admired people who could pray eloquently, but prayer doesn’t have to be eloquent. It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be sincere. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing and I believe the simple prayers that I utter throughout the day are heard and acknowledged. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit will intercede and pray for us when we are too overcome to pray for ourselves.

Every day we see ISIS capturing and killing Christians. It is monstrous to think that a group of people have perverted one religion to justify destroying people of another religion. I am heartsick as I pray for these martyrs daily but I am comforted by Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. I know each Christian who is killed is in the arms of God.

So instead of being angry with Mr. Goddard I am going to pray for him. I am going to pray that God will open his eyes and reveal his greatness and love so that he can also know the power and beauty of prayer. I am going to end this blog with my favorite prayer – the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen.