The Destruction of Near Eastern Christianity


coptic-christiansAs Hamas sent thousands of missiles into Israel and the Israeli government responded by invading Gaza to silence these missiles, our attention has focused upon the Middle East. What you may not be aware of is how horrific a price for their faith Christians are paying in the Middle East.  From Egypt to Iraq, Syria to Pakistan, Christians have been systematically singled out and beaten, killed and their churches set ablaze.

ISIS has declared a Caliphate–echoing seventh century imperialist oppression.  In Mosul, they told Christians to convert to Islam, leave the city or risk being put to death “by the sword.”  An 1800 year old church was burned in Mosul according to reports on Sunday, July 20.  Crosses are torn down and the black flag of ISIS put in their place.  These are not isolated instances in Mosul, however.  Copts in Egypt have similar stories and all of us witnessed how a pregnant woman, Mariam Yahya Ibrahim,  in Sudan was scheduled for execution by hanging because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.  She has since been released after international calls for her freedom but note, she and her family had to leave their home.  Christians have come under fierce persecution with atrocities piling up in Syria.  There is not enough space in this post for the myriad stories of intimidation, torture and execution of Christians.  The destruction of Near Eastern Christians is happening before our eyes. The West and the UN ignore their plight. At the very least, we should be praying for Christians there and finding ways to educate others about their plight.  May God have mercy on them and save them from annihilation.

You can find more information here at the The Week and an article by Professor Franck Salameh, Associate Professor for Near Eastern Studies at Boston College, entitled, “The Destruction of Near Eastern Christianity.” And this Vatican News report on atrocities in Syria.iraqChristianchurch


Refuge in a Profanely Violent World


Charred Cross, Coventry Cathedral

Charred Cross, Coventry Cathedral (Photo credit: SteHLiverpool)

The futility of human endeavors, polluted by profane and violent persons, is never clearer to us than in days like these, when nations war against nations and the leaders of pariah states existing within such nations prefer death to diplomacy.  The 100th anniversary of World War I is upon us.  1914.  This horrific war that introduced mechanized destruction and ruin still echoes through our histories.  Frankly, I have no idea why anyone would embrace what Christopher Lasch (in his book, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics) would call “the last superstition”–the idea that human beings are gods and need only visit the self-help aisle in the local book store; that technology will save us; that progress is our telos, our inevitable goal and end.  That is as misguided an anthropology as I can think of.

Another way to say this is:  we enter the sanctuary on Sundays because we know we have participated in the ruin of the world; because the injustice and violence that consumes so much of the world is the result of a pathetic apathy with “the way it is.”  We know we need God’s mercy and grace to restore us.  Frankly, I’m surprised that there is any space for anyone to sit down in our sanctuary so great are the needs in this age, so desperate the longings and greed of the power-crazed, so frenetic our often pointless activity designed to keep us busy but ever failing to bring resolution and hope to our citizens.  Don’t be fooled—this landscape littered with the gods of ideology, blood-soaked by cruel and zealous practitioners of a Truth that only they possess—is not confined to the Middle East or to the Balkans, Ukraine and Russia. Our own government is captured by the most zealous and cynical politicians in a history that has known some very corrupt and profane congressmen.  As I said, I am surprised people are not lined up to enter a church that offers peace, refuge and a call to the love and peace of God in Christ.

Yes, the world is a wreck. That is not new.  Read the prophets.  Isaiah noted long ago that the earth staggers like a drunk.  My encouragement to you is, get yourself to a holy place, stand in the presence of The Other who is Just, ponder the revelation of God in the lowly and crucified Christ.  Pray for yourself. Pray for your world. And then when you’re finished praying, go back into the world and try to love it as Christ loved it.  Stop destroying and ruining the earth and its inhabitants.  May the love of Christ compel us to heal the world and those around us.  May the Holy remove what is unholy and profane in us.  And may we begin to see in the faces of others the image of God in which, we are assured by scripture, they were made.


Prayer of the Heart


Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Je...

Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in the former Mosque (Cathedral) of Cordoba, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prayer of the Heart

by Michael Bledsoe

You invoke the Divinity

like a man carefully stoking a fire

the cinder is cold

might as well rub two sticks together

and say amen

the Holy is hardly careful

the truth can’t be sold ala carte

others invoke by passion

like burning tires at some intersection

of pain and desire

their shouts and screams

incendiary devices

gas tanks explode and children faint

once the smoke is cleared

the same dirt road, leading into the shanty towns

of heartache and grief

 

some invoke by curse and profanity

Jesus, they slur

pronouncing an absence

icebergs the size of Delaware

broken from the continent of whole

adrift in a sea of resentment and arrogance

that together smell like a crack pipe left on the curb

they stick the needle of secular materialism

into real arms, real hands, real hearts

they’re cruciform and don’t even know it

I

I prefer silence to sound

poetry to prose

the copper penny of faith

to the sterling coin of pride

thin pages of scripture

to op-ed sheets

one wounded hand of one wounded Messiah

to the manicured paws of minions

the chant and prayer of a righteous one

to the pontification of t.v.’s talking heads

Lord Jesus Christ

have mercy on me

a sinner.

 


still vase, translucent prayer


still_vase

 

 

 

For the first time in a long vocation of many years, I provided a “demonstration” during a sermon [entitled, "Silence: The First Gate--Practical Tools for a Spirituality that Keeps You Calm So You Can Carry On. ]

Those of you who attended the June 29th service remember that I walked out from the pulpit and down to the Lord’s Table where a vase of water was placed.  I had a light clipped to the vase, shining from behind it and through the water.  Then I took some dirt and poured it into the vase and stirred it with a large spoon whereupon the water was a very dark brown and the light behind it was blocked out.  But within five minutes or so, one could see the light breaking through the debris and by the end of the sermon, the heavy elements had dropped to the bottom of the vase and the light was quite apparent.

I wanted to follow up that sermon about remaining still and prayerful in order to find a calm in the center of our lives with a few words about “the liturgy of hours.”  That is a technical phrase that refers to the ancient discipline of praying at certain phases of the day.  It is not necessary that you understand the history of that tradition or how it is practiced. It is sufficient for my purposes simply to connect what I taught you Sunday—breathing deeply, praying Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy on the inhale and exhale of your breath—with the phases of the day that were so apparent to ancient Christians.

You are familiar with the two major divisions of a day simply by being alive.  You didn’t need to read a book about this.  Day/Night.  Morning and Evening prayer.  Lauds and Vespers. Whatever you call it, we experience our time day in and out by this major division.  The morning and day begins—we pray the Lord, Have Mercy and breathe deeply  and peacefully for some moments.  The day ends—we pray the Lord, Have Mercy and breathe deeply and peacefully for some moments. We begin the day by asking God to grant us peace and strength. We end the day by commending our energies and actions to God and asking for rest.

You can go a step further and pray noon, at the zenith of the sun and height of the day’s energies.  There are other “prayer hours” but for now, try a week of breathing deeply and praying at morning, noon, evening.  By doing so we mark time as holy. We consecrate our efforts to God. And we benefit by a contemplative life that shines light through us. A translucent life of prayer and contemplation may deepen your life and calm both body and soul.  Here is a brief and pretty Lord Have Mercy by our Orthodox friends.

See you Sunday~