BE NOT AFRAID

This is the official theme for Respect Life Sunday1, which is always celebrated on the first Sunday in October.  In fact, October is Respect Life Month. If your church isn’t celebrating life this month…find another church.

I never thought here in the United States of America that any citizen would be afraid to take a stand for life.  It’s the first inalienable right mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and we, as Americans and Christians, have the right and the obligation to defend it. If we do not, it could be taken from us.  We are living in a time where the 1st Amendment2 is under attack along with common sense, civility, morality, basic science, and possessing a spine. Why are we so quiet when we should be up-in-arms?

Abortion is murder.  There is no way around it.  It brings about death—period.  A fetus in the womb is a little human. What would happen if someone had the audacity to destroy a field of cocoons before the mature butterflies could emerge?  We all know what would happen.  Social media would light up, celebrities would be outraged, and news outlets would interview lepidopterists to tell you how butterflies impact the planet.  Death threats on the fiends and their families would ensue, and Jimmy Kimmel would be crying on his talk show.  I just used the example of butterflies but I could have substituted any animal3.

The most vocal among us are the hundreds of thousands of mainly young people who march through the streets of Washington, DC each January, braving the cold, snowy, or rainy conditions, to participate in the March For Life, the largest pro-life event in the world.  Although huge, it’s rarely if ever covered by any mainstream media outlet in the 40+ years of its existence.  Why?  Because they don’t want you to see it, hear it, or even know about it. And thinking about what abortion is and does makes everyone uncomfortable.  Well it should.  Murdering babies for the sake of convenience is the real inconvenient truth.  These pro-life advocates are fervently trying to shine a light on the millions of murdered innocents who can’t speak for themselves.

Remember the parable of the lamp in Mark 4:21-25? “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.  Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear! Take notice of what you are hearing. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you.” How do you think Jesus delivered this story?  Did he sit with his head down, muttering quietly about truth, light, and a visible Church?  I doubt that.  I’m positive he stood, raised his voice, and was physically expressive.  He wanted his message to be heard, understood, and spread. There were no microphones, TV, radio, or the internet. Jesus was not timid and quiet.  Jesus was a revolutionary.  He upset the olive cart.  He rocked the boat. Get that image of the get-along, go-along, hippie Jesus out of your head. He had to be a mesmerizing and energetic speaker.

Yet, here we sit silent, except for a few, while Planned Parenthood profits off the murder of and selling of babies and their body parts.  Those self-taught investigative journalists who exposed PP are facing jail time and God bless them—they don’t care. And we should be just as fearless.  Nothing changes unless we demand and enact the change.  We’ve all heard the excuses: “I don’t want to upset so-in-so. She’ll start a war with me on Facebook.” “Nobody is going to listen to me, I’m just one person.” “You say it for me.” Stop it.  The time has come for every person to stand up and speak out. The more we remain docile lambs, the easier it is for them to keep chipping away at our rights.

It’s already happening.  Can someone give me the definition of “hate” speech?  The First Amendment protects all speech, not some, all and especially speech which makes you uncomfortable. Do you think speaking out against abortion isn’t provocative?  Go to any college campus and just walk around with pro-life literature. I won’t even suggest that you engage in debate because you’ll never get that far. There is a good chance you will be assaulted, physically and definitely verbally, and tossed off the campus. If you’re a student, you’ll be sent to the Dean of Students and be given a lecture on misogyny, and when and if you can go to a “free speech zone”, along with being publicly shamed and shunned. Ask your kids if you don’t believe me.

Think of all those Christians—men, women, and children—who have been and still are being martyred for their faith.  We, in the United States, are not subject to anything remotely like this.  However, many of our brothers and sisters are being denied a seat at the table because they practice their faith, which is in violation of the 1st Amendment. One needs look no further than Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. Professor Barrett, who is a nominee to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, was drilled on her faith and how it would impede her judgement should she serve on the bench.  Senator Diane Feinstein (D) California stated, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” Big issue=abortion. Senator Dick Durbin (D) Illinois was blunt and asked, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”4  I guess the good senators never heard about the unconstitutionality of religious tests as spelled out in Article 6 Section 3.

The science against abortion is staggering. Fetuses, by 8 weeks after fertilization react to touch and by 20 weeks can feel pain5, yet the abortions continue and in some states, babies can be aborted just before delivery.  Will “abortion” after birth be next? Iceland aborts 100% of babies born with Down syndrome6.  Here in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  report a decrease in children born with Down, even though survival rates are up from 10 years old to about 47 in 20077.  Sympathetic judges are sentencing parents who murder their disabled children to ridiculously low sentences. Where do we draw the line?

Oh, that the dogma should live loudly in us all.

 

1 For more information and resources visit: http://www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/respect-life-program/2017/respect-life-digital-resources.cfm

2 https://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/

3 The Lion Sleeps Tonight https://lifelinesbylucie.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/the-lion-sleeps-tonight/

4 Chicago Tribune Editorial: Durbin, Feinstein and Catholic judges September 11, 2017

5 Doctors on Fetal Pain www.doctorsonfetalpain.com/fetal-pain-the-evidence/

6 CBS News on Assignment “What kind of society to you want to live in?”: Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing. Julian Quinones, Arijeta Lajka August 14, 2017

7 https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/downsyndrome/data.html

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Hush

1968 Deep Purple, right?  Also a traditional gospel song, Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name.  The kind of hushing I’m writing about is in regard to the clergy.  I can’t tell you how many times, over the course of the years, I’ve witnessed confused parishioners approach their parish priest and ask them, “Father, which candidate promotes our values and beliefs?” only to be told that they can’t give an opinion.

When did priests and pastors lose their 1st Amendment right to free speech and why?  The Founders were clear that everyone, including religious, have the right to free speech.  If it wasn’t for the Black Robe Regiment during the Revolutionary War, which consisted of clergy who gave inspired sermons that the American Revolution was a righteous cause, to some even leading their congregations into battle, we would probably still be English subjects1.

Civil War researchers acknowledge the importance of the clergy as well.  The war made it acceptable, if not obligatory, to speak out against slavery.  Churches, both clergy and congregations, played a major role in the Underground Railroad.  So what happened?

Is it because of separation of church and state?  Thomas Jefferson, credited with these words, was referring to the separation of church and State, (emphasis on the capital S).  He was easing the fears of religious clergy that the newly formed government would not inflict a State-sponsored religion on the country, as there was in England.   That’s what the Pilgrims ran from.  It was what our country was built on; freedom to practice and live out the religion of your choice wherever you live and whenever you want with no restrictions.

It’s no accident that our first civil right states:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech…  (emphasis on prohibiting the free exercise thereof.)  It means no man can stop you from practicing, speaking, or living out your religion.  So how can Congress or any agency in government curtail a member of the clergy’s 1st Amendment, God-given right?  The answer is they can’t—not as long as the Constitution is the law of the land.

Silencing of churches begin in 1954 when then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) decided that tax-exempt entities (mostly consisting of houses of worship) should not be allowed to speak out on politics or lose their tax-exempt status.  Why would he do this and why did Congress go along with it when it states clearly in the 1st Amendment that Congress shall make no law…  Hmmm, let’s think.  Could it have anything to do with Johnson’s re-election campaign that faced stiff opposition from conservative Christians?  Or perhaps it was about silencing pastors, especially black pastors, during the civil rights movement?  It’s certainly strange that from 1788, when the Constitution was ratified, until 1954, preachers, pastors, and priests were free to exercise their right to free speech when speaking directly to their congregations.  Coincidence?

The Johnson Amendment, which many contest is unconstitutional, has been facing significant push-back the past few years from pastors who are willing to challenge the law and participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday2, an event that takes place on a date leading up to Election Day.  The movement began with only 33 clergy members participating and has now swelled to 1,800 members and counting.  Priests and pastors that pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor are no longer bowing down to man and giving up their God-given right.

It’s our obligation, as American citizens, to be educated and defend our way of life.  This includes the clergy, as so many in the congregation are thirsting for truth and guidance especially since government-run schools are no longer teaching US history.  Since it’s not learned in schools, it’s up to everyone to educate themselves on both our history (good and bad) and the Constitution.

Freedom doesn’t come free, just take a trip to Arlington National Cemetery and look around.  We as a nation and as a people are in trouble.  We can no longer close our eyes to the attacks on life, privacy, free speech, and religious freedom.  It’s time to wake up those who either can’t or don’t want to see. It’s time to take a stand.  This is especially true for the clergy.  It’s that Moses moment.  This election year I will not violate my conscience.  I’ll stand by my principles and beliefs.  It’s that MLK moment.  I will not give in to misplaced anger or give in to violence to push an agenda conceived by man.  I will not call out for a king3, because he alone can’t make a nation great.  I will put my trust in God and not man.4   It’s time.  To quote John Adams, “Liberty once lost, is lost forever.”  To everything there is a season.  A time to keep silent, and a time to speak.5  Now is the time to speak.

 

1Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Religion and the American Revolution, Library of Congress. www.locgov/exhibits/religion/rel03.html

2 An event sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) a Christian legal group based in Arizona.  Visit www.adflegal.org for more information

3 1 Samuel 8

4 Galatians 1:6-10

5Ecclesiastes 3:7

Going To the Chapel of Love

Everyone knows this song made famous by The Shirelles.  It’s iconic.  I don’t know how many countless brides have sung this song to themselves or have had it played at their rehearsal dinner or reception.

With all the disturbing stories out there I had to write something uplifting and I think I found it.  Last week I visited the campus of Notre Dame at South Bend, Indiana in the hopes of touring the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  However, two weddings were scheduled that day so all tours were canceled.  As we were leaving the campus, the bridal party from the first wedding was just starting to leave the basilica.  Instinctively my girlfriend and I walked back to get a look at the bride.

As a mom, I’m patiently waiting for one of my daughters to get married.  There is just something about a wedding.  Every bride is radiant in her gown.  Some have long trains.  Some wear a veil while others do not.  The groom, always handsome in a tux or suit, and the bridal party is also equally beautiful in the color of choice.  Flowers are everywhere and the priest is forever waiting for them at the front of the church.  I never miss an episode of TLC’s Say Yes To The Dress.  I know exactly what kind of wedding gown each of my daughter’s would choose.  We all remember our own wedding.  It’s the one day we look like and are treated like royalty.  For the record—I cry at every wedding.

They say you can’t stop love.  Well this story proves it.  Nothing could stop Fadi and Rana from getting married at their local church.  I wish you could see the pictures.  The bride is gorgeous in her pure white, beaded, ball gown.  Her white rose bouquet is cradled in the crook of her left arm and with her right she holds on to her tall, dark and handsome groom in his dark suit.  The church is packed with guests (standing room only) and white flowers dot each aisle.  The maid of honor is striking in hot pink.  It was a traditional Orthodox Christian wedding, complete with crowns for the bride and groom.  The priest’s garments were robin egg blue and trimmed in gold and he donned the traditional tall, gold, domed crown in the orthodox style.

Sounds like any wedding.  So what is so special about this one?  I said nothing can stop love and nothing could stop this bride and groom from getting married in their local church.  Not a 4-year civil war.  Not the fact that they are a Christian couple in the Christian community of Hamidiyah in Homs, Syria, under attack by Islamist fighters.  Not that they were forced to flee their home town, but returned to get married in their church. Not even the fact that their church was destroyed.  Ah, now I have your attention.

St. George Church in Hamidieh Homs, Syria was among 10 churches destroyed in May 2014.  The church was reduced to rubble after countless airstrikes had destroyed it.  Although there is no longer a roof, there are partial walls and an intact foundation.  A folding table with a white tablecloth substitutes for an altar and that was good enough for Fadi and Rana.

Their wedding photos were featured on the church’s website and later picked up by several people on Twitter and shared around the world as a sign of strength and resilience.  One tweet from Bassem states, “U can destroy their church but u won’t destroy their spirit.  First wedding at St. George church Hamidieh Homs #Syria.”  Several people from around the world tweeted back, including The Christian Yahwist who tweeted “The church buildings might have been destroyed but it was in Syria that home churches were born 2,000 years ago.”  I’m sure this story is very inspirational for those Christians still living in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.  It’s also heartening for Christians in the US where religious persecution has not yet begun.

Love is indeed astounding.  Especially the love God has for us.  There is no doubt He was present at that wedding and for that matter, all of our weddings.  Many couples today choose 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding.  I also know that spousal love is not the same love that St. Paul speaks of.  For that we need to go to the root of the word.  The original word is the Greek – agape.  It was translated into Latin and kind of came out charity, but it doesn’t mean charity either.  Agape has no equal word in the English language, in fact it was a word that was not used much in Greek-speaking communities, however it is used 320 in the New Testament.  That tells you something right there.  This love is more like the love of God.  Think John 3:16.

Today while you’re sorting through all the evil and gut wrenching stories in the news, remember that God loves us like no other.  No matter what comes our way He will always be there.  They can destroy our churches, burn our homes, ridicule and ban our traditions and beliefs, even take our lives, but they can never take Him away.  They can never conquer the Spirit.  And one other thing—I’ve read the book, including the last page.  I know how it ends.

Congratulations Fadi and Rana on your wedding.  I hope you have a blessed and glorious life together that includes several children.  Thank you for sharing your joy with the rest of the world.  You prove God cannot be confined to one place.  He cannot be compartmentalized.   He is the great I AM.  He is everywhere and everything.  You also prove as Christians we don’t need decorative domes, roofs, or ornate walls.  All we need is a solid, intact foundation of faith—just like St. George Church.

From the USA to Syria with love.

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If you’d like to view some of the pictures from the wedding go to:  http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/07/19/syrian-combatants-may-have-thought-a-churchs-destruction-would-stop-christian-worship-these-newlyweds-proved-them-so-wrong/

Sources:

Albawaba, The Loop, A Couple in Syria’s Homs Got Married In A Church Turned To Rubble.

Daily Mail UK by Caroline McGuire for MailOnLine, ‘Life Continues Despite Destruction and Death’ July 30, 2015

The Blaze, Syrian Combatants May Have Thought a Church’s Destruction Would Stop Christian Worship. These Newleyweds Proved Them So Wrong, by Sharona Schwartz, July 19, 2015

Patheos Christian Crier, What is Agape Love by Jack Wellman, May 2, 2014

Catholic Answers to Explain & Defend The Faith, 1 Corinthians13: Charity or Love? February 17, 2013

It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish

I was watching AD the Bible Continues, a fabulous series on NBC this spring, produced by Roma Downey, a devout Catholic and her husband, Mark Burnett.  AD dramatizes the first half of Acts of the Apostles.  It’s gritty and extremely well done.  If you’re a Christian and want to grab the attention of millennials used to watching TV shows such as Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, AD is the way to do it.  The show prompts you to pick up the Bible and read it for yourself, which is awesome.

Back to AD the Bible Continues…a few weeks ago viewers were introduced to Saul of Tarsus.  Saul, a devout Jew, wasn’t taking the “blasphemy” of the new believers in Jesus lightly.  He was intent on tracking them down like animals.  He was there when the first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death and he reveled in the bloodshed and thirsted for more.  His plan was to murder every last disciple.  After going house to house in Jerusalem and pulling out every man, woman, and child and throwing them in prison, Saul finds himself on that road to Damascus committed to find any believers who had scattered after his attacks.  However, things didn’t go as planned.  Instead of Saul finding the followers of Jesus, arresting them, and dragging them back to Jerusalem, Jesus finds Saul and everything changes.  Saul went from being the hunter to the hunted and from persecuting believers to becoming one of them—and not just any one of them.  Saul, or as we know him, Paul1, became the energizer bunny of evangelism.

Out of all the people in the New Testament, I find St. Paul to be one of the most fascinating.  The apostles knew Jesus.  He was their friend.  They lived with Him for three years; they were there through His many miracles, teachings, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and His Ascension.  Paul, like us, did not know Jesus in the physical sense, and like us, he was blinded from the truth.  His letters to the early churches are deep.  How many of us listen to Paul’s words but never truly grasp their meaning?  If you’re lucky to have a pastor who explains in detail or a teacher who has great knowledge of the Bible I can guarantee Paul’s message will leave you speechless.

Paul’s message is great, but what of his life after meeting Jesus?  It was a tremendous journey filled with peril, sacrifice, torture, imprisonment, and the joy of spreading the word of Jesus Christ and converting the Gentiles, and ultimately ending in martyrdom, which he knew he would face.  He knew his mission and he went after it with a zeal matched by few.  Even when his worldly life was coming to a close he kept his eye on the prize, as summed up in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight to the end, I have run the race to the finish, I have kept the faith.”  How many of us at the end of our lives can say that?  St. Paul began his life as a not such a good person, but he finished as a rock star.  It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Speaking of television shows, there is a new one premiering this summer called Proof.  It’s very similar to its predecessors; They Came Back, Resurrection, and The Returned.  All are fantasies about “life after life.”  Unlike AD, which is Bible based, Proof is based on an actress portraying a doctor who has gone through the fictitious death of her son, a fictitious divorce, and a fictitious rift with her fictitious teenage daughter.  An actor portraying a billionaire with fictitious cancer, who is facing fictitious death, hires her to find answers from psychics, ghost hunters, and people who have experienced near death experiences2.

Yesterday I read that researchers at the Mayo Clinic believe they’ve “cracked the code” to happiness3.  Do you know what it is?  The research shows the biggest hindrance to being happy is too much thinking about one’s self.  Really?  Jesus said that over 2,000 years ago!  Love others as you love yourself.  People in the US are screaming for truth.  They are yearning for God; they are looking for answers but instead of seeking Him, they rely on supernatural fantasy put out by Hollywood because somehow that’s more believable than the Bible?  They’ll take the word of fiction writers over that of God?   I keep hearing about the new evangelization.  How and when do we begin?

The problem is we can’t evangelize unless we actually stand for something.  We can’t preach the Word unless we live it.  You can’t succeed with a church full of “cafeteria-style” Christians and expect to show the world this is what it means to be Christian.  This little light of mine can’t shine under a basket.  You can’t pick and choose the laws that are to your liking.  Several churches that bend to the pressure of the culture find that out the hard way.  Their numbers go down instead of going up.  I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.  It does not mean I hate gays.  I believe in the sanctity of all life, including life in the womb.  It doesn’t mean I hate women who’ve had an abortion.  Nobody wants to offend anyone.  I certainly don’t.  St. Augustine said, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”4

In order to evangelize you must believe in something—I mean really believe.  Stand strong in it so firmly that you would die for it because you know it’s true.  I recently heard a story about a father in the Middle East who was given the opportunity by ISIS to spare his children if they converted to the Muslim faith.  He went to his priest for guidance who told him to go ahead.  God will understand if they converted.  The man rushed home only to find ISIS asking his children who they believed in and before the father could intervene the children shouted “Jesus!”

My journey and yours is not yet over.  For years it’s been relatively easy in the United States to be Christian.  Not so any more and I fear it’s going to get worse.  In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.”  It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Will you fight the good fight?  Will you finish the race?  Will you keep the faith?

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1 God did not change Saul’s name to Paul, a popular myth.  “Saul was a born Jewish and his Hebrew name was Saul, but because his father was a Roman citizen (and therefore Saul inherited Roman citizenship), Saul also had the Latin name, Paul.  After his conversion he was determined to bring the gospel to Gentiles, so he dusted off his Roman name and became, Paul, a name Gentiles were familiar with.”  Catholic Answers To Explain & Defend The Faith.

2 TNT.com

3 CBS New York newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/6/05/researchers-cracked-code-happiness

4 St. Augustine Letter 211 (c.424)

The Holy Spirit—The Parachute

Not a song title, and yes I know it’s the Paraclete.  I remember one of my daughters coming home from school one day, telling me she learned about the Holy Spirit in religion class.  I asked her who is the Holy Spirit and what does He do?  She answered immediately and enthusiastically. “He’s a parachute!”  Each Sunday when our priest recites The Divine Praises before Mass, I chuckle to myself when he says and I repeat, blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.  I think of my daughter’s parachute.  I don’t remember if I corrected her or not but maybe in her youthful innocence she was right.

The world was amazed and awed by former President George H.W. Bush’s parachute jump last year in honor of his 90th birthday.  I must admit, for a man who can no longer walk because of Parkinson’s disease, it was inspiring.  However, he was tethered to a member of the All Veteran Parachute Team.  I’m not taking anything away from our former president because tether or no tether, it’s scary.

I didn’t think much of it until today.  Today is the Feast of the Ascension and that means Pentecost is just around the corner.   With that realization, the Holy Spirit decided to pay me a visit and that small still voice whispered in my ear, “being a Christian is like jumping out of an airplane”.

So I thought about it and as usual the Spirit is right.  Nowadays, when we step out of our comfort zone and dare express our opinions, isn’t it a lot like jumping out of a plane?  Especially if, ONE: you talk about your faith, and TWO: you actually live it.  Free speech and freedom of religion are not what they used to be.  The Founders had a reason for placing those two protections in the first amendment.  They were the very bedrock of our country’s founding and the Constitution.  It’s sad and dangerous that Americans do not know their own history and those in power prefer to keep it that way.

A couple of weeks ago, while commenting on an acquaintance’s Facebook post, ironically about past presidents, the topic came up about presidents who were born poor.   I commented that the poorest presidents in my lifetime were either Nixon or Bill Clinton.  However, two other people disagreed.  Within seconds I was labeled a racist, homophobic and a member of a hate group.  I don’t know these people so I asked them how they could come to such a hateful conclusion of me.  They both responded because of the pictures I posted and some of my likes.  The argument between these two strangers and others on the page became more heated so I exited the conversation.

Later, I went back and looked at what strangers could see of me on Facebook.  Practically all of my posts and pictures can be viewed by friends only, but there are a few that I don’t mind sharing with the public.  So what classified me to be included in those detestable camps?  I found a few pictures of Jesus, my church, and two “likes” for a pro-life group and the Catholic Church.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been attacked on Facebook.  It happens all too frequently by faceless cowards, shrouded with the cloak of anonymity.  However, I was once threatened by someone I knew, someone who I classified as a friend.  Why?  She was on Facebook spewing hate against Jews, Christians who are not Catholic, and a well-known pastor from another Christian denomination who I personally admire.  I told her I did not agree with anything she said and I had friends from those Christian denominations who live their faith.  She then emailed me.  She was furious with me, threatening me with personal harm and calling me every name under the sun.  And to make matters worse, she is a Catholic!  I stood by what I believed and I told her I’d pray for her.  To those of you who are Facebook savvy, she then promptly “unfriended” me.

Yes, being a Christian is exactly like jumping out of a plane.  I mentioned President Bush was tethered to a veteran jumper.  Like Bush, we too are tethered to a veteran, except ours is even more reliable.  Our parachute is the Holy Spirit.  Remember that when navigating the not too friendly skies of living Christian in today’s society.  And if your child comes home from school or from their religious education class and tells you all about The Holy Spirit, the Parachute, don’t correct him or her.

Days Go By

Keith Urban makes some of the best uplifting, fun music in country music.  Unfortunately, I can’t say this article is upbeat or fun.  With each passing day I find myself at times mystified, angry, and depressed all at the same time.  Why can’t my fellow American citizens, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists etc. see what is happening in our world?  The systematic extermination of Christians in the Middle East and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe are very real and very dangerous.  Is it because it’s “over there” as compared to here?  Yes, I write articles, post on Facebook, and tell everyone I know.  Yes, I’ve gone to www.nasarean.org and ordered up pins and wrist bands blazoned with the Arabic letter N or ن that ISIS is forcing Christians to wear, much like the yellow Star of David that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.  However, it’s not enough.  I keep asking myself why anyone isn’t shouting this from the rooftops.

I was hoping with the condemnation by Pope Francis more people would become outspoken but so far the silence is deafening.  There are snippets of information on the news, but in most cases they don’t acknowledge the men being slaughtered are Christian.  I was watching The Blaze TV this week and to his credit Glenn Beck played a small portion of the gruesome film of the latest group of Christians being gunned down by a firing squad or being beheaded.  I watched with one eye open.  The images and sounds of men being beheaded with knives was something I’ll never forget.  As ghastly as it was it should be seen by all.  It should be in every newspaper and on every news show.  Other tyrannical dictators did their dirty work in the dark.  These evil savages are making slick videos and distributing them across the globe.  What’s the matter with us!  Wake up!

A Coptic Christian priest was also on the show.  I was heartbroken when he said he couldn’t understand why his fellow Christians in America have not spoken up for them.  Beck made an interesting point.  If the slaughter was happening to Catholics, Baptists, or Methodists, would we pay attention?  So I thought I’d find out more about the Copts and what they believe.  Coptic means Egyptian.  The Christian community was founded by the apostle Mark who went to Egypt to evangelize the word of Christ around 42 to 62 AD.  At one time Egypt was 100% Christian.  The country switched from being a 100% Christian nation to a predominately Muslim nation after the Arab invasion around 639-642AD1.  They were given the same options we hear today – give up your Christian faith and embrace Islam, pay a huge tax, or die.  Their message hasn’t changed throughout the centuries.

In 1992 it was estimated there were over 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt2.  They continued practicing their faith until the great “Arab Spring” when the Muslim Brotherhood took over the country.  Immediately persecution of Coptic Christians took on a whole new level as well as the destruction of ancient archeological finds, churches and religious artifacts.  It didn’t take Egyptians long to figure out this was not what they wanted and they tossed President Mohammed Morsi and the Brotherhood out of power.  President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a military man, is a much better replacement, but there is still much work to be done.

Coptic Christians observe seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Confession, Orders, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick.  Divorce is not allowed.  Services are held in churches on Sunday mornings.  There are four parts to their service: 1. Preparation prayer – altar boys incense the church while chanting; 2. Offering – prayer is said over holy bread; 3. Preaching the Mass – priest reads sections of the Old and New Testament as well as giving a sermon; and 4. Reconciliation prayer. The fifth component is called the Believer’s Mass. This is when the congregation has communion3.  Sounds a lot like our services, doesn’t it?

Their feast days are also very similar.  Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, which is an official holiday in Egypt. It’s celebrated by the Pope in Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo in the Coptic language, which is almost extinct. Copts fast for 210 days of the year – Fast of the Nativity Christmas is 45 days, Fast of the Apostles, Fast of the Virgin Mary, Fast of Nineveh and of course Lent.  In addition to these fasts, they also fast every Wednesday and Friday. On Holy Thursday Copts visit and pray in seven Coptic Churches after Mass4.

They practice their religion just like us.  Their traditions are just like ours.  They are Christians—they are us.  Coptic Christians are being crucified, shot, and beheaded by ISIS.  Women and girls are being raped, forced into marriage with ISIS fighters, sold into sex slavery, and worse. We must get this message out.  Share it.  I would even urge you to watch the video of the massacres.  It’s easy to turn away, but we must see and we must speak up.  In the words of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who preached against the Nazis and was later hanged in 1945, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us innocent.  Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

This weekend, our church will be selling pins and wristbands with the Arabic letter N or ن for a small price, but what a big message it sends.  We stand with the persecuted Christians.  We are people of the Cross.  We follow Jesus the Nasarean.  We belong to a large family of Christians that come in a variety of colors.  We are many but we are one.  I urge you to go to your Pastor and let him know it’s time to speak out and educate the congregation against these evil acts being done to our brothers and sisters simply for the crime of being a Christian.  Don’t let another day go by without taking a stand against evil because one day our grandchildren may ask us, Grandma? Grandpa?  Where were you?  Did you know?  Did you do anything to stop it?  Will you hang your head in shame or will you answer proudly, yes, I was there.  Yes, I knew.  Yes, I stood.

1 Encyclopedia Britannica, Egypt From The Islamic Conquest to 1250

2 The History of Coptic Christians in Egypt, an Overview of the Coptic Christians of Egypt, Lara Iskander and Jimmy Dunn

3 The History of Coptic Christians in Egypt, Coptic Sacraments, Coptic Services, Lara Iskander and Jimmy Dunn

4 The History of Coptic Christians in Egypt, Celebrations and other traditions, Lara Iskander and Jimmy Dunn