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Archive for December, 2010

After being the President of Brazil for 8 years, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leaves his office with an approval rating at over 80%. This is unheard of in the modern world of politics. In many ways, Silva has helped lead Brazil from a country that just over a few decades ago was under military dictatorship to one of the leading and emergent democracies in the entire world.

What is so compelling about his story is that he literally came from nothing. When he was a child, he worked to help his parents, who were illiterate, to sell peanuts. He did not learn to read himself until he was 10 years old. He grew up and started working in a factory and actually lost one of his fingers in the machines. He ended up getting involved in politics and rose to power, but he never seemed to forget his roots and the common person.

While President, he helped to bring down the poverty level from 33.3% to 15.5%. He also helped create many jobs in the Brazilian economy. He also took the compassionate approach and gave amnesty to all the undocumented individuals in the country. Though he is on the left, he took a more practical approach to the countries problems and avoided the extremism of some of the other leftist leaders in Latin America such as Chavez, Ortega, or Castro. He has also put Brazil on the international stage, trying to work through peace talks with countries such as Iran, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. He has not just accepted the policy of the United States, but actually tried to make another Western Hemisphere nation relevant on the international diplomatic stage. A funny story is how Brazil has now required only Americans to get a special visa to match the visa that Brazilians have to get to go into the United States.  

 In Latin America, it is strange to see someone from such a humble background rise to be president of the country. He seemed to have broken through the aristocracy that still controls much of the Americas. It is one of those stories that gives you hope and inspiration. In the midst of our political fighting and division, can you imagine a president having an over 80% approval rating- at the end of his term? It also shows how a common person can rise to great power and not simply fall into the “upper crust of society” but actually change the status quo and try to help bring up others as well. I am no way an expert on Brazilian politics, and I am sure if I was living in the country there would be many things I would disagree with. However, there can be no doubt that he will live in History as one of the great stories and leaders of our time.

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We have heard that it is important to “live in the moment.” The term has become so cliché and seems to be used more as a punch line of joke than of serious advice. However, if we can learn to look past the “connotations” of the idea, we can realize that it is in fact, extremely helpful and practical advice in our attempts to cultivate peace in our lives.

Just think of an event that you had this past week; it could have been a party, time with family, religious service, class, a conversation, etc. Were you really involved in that moment or was your mind off in twenty different directions? So often, we spend our time worrying about the future or regretting the past, that we don’t see the opportunities right at hand. It can be in something simple as driving your car or walking to the store; do you take the time to actually look at the world around you and enjoy the moment you are in, or are you too distracted by all the worries and preoccupation in your mind? How much more at peace would have been if you had spent the 10 minutes in your car admiring the beauty and the world around you rather than focusing on the gnawing and irrational fear that tends to consume your mind?

John Newton once stated, “We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it.  But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.” And Jesus himself stated, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

One of the secrets to finding peace is actually living in each moment and each event in our lives with full passion, grace, and resolve. It is much more than some feel good philosophy; rather, it is essential to growing in peace and purpose in life. As we seek to grow in peace, let us ask the Spirit of God to help us live in the beauty of each moment.

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Many of us love seeing the paintings and nativity scenes and singing the songs of the baby Jesus in the manger. However, the implications of what this has to our life is much more demanding and transformative. In a strange series of events, the Son of God was born in a barn. We have heard the story so many times that it does not even faze us; however, just think about it for a second. The Son of God’s first night was in a dirty, smelly stable. Somehow, I think the significance of this goes far beyond some coincidence.

I believe God was trying to show us who Jesus identified with, who he came to speak for, who Jesus dwelt with in a special way- the poor, oppressed, and simple. On one level Jesus came for everyone, Jew and Greek, rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. We should never lose the universality of that message of Christ, but on another level, Jesus came especially to the common person, the disadvantaged, and the poor. Jesus spoke power and life into the masses, while he usually had words of condemnation and rebuke for the rich and powerful of the day. The question for the 21st Century Church is which group do we identify with? Do we identify more with the poor, oppressed, foreigner, unemployed, and unspoken for or more with the rich, powerful, famous, and “righteous”? The answer to this question is essential in understanding if we are really following in the path of our Master and Redeemer. This Christmas let’s not forget the true meaning of Christmas that the Son of Man did not come into this world to be served, but to serve and give himself as a ransom for many. Let us do the same in our own lives: with our money, time, resources, and passion. On a more social level, let’s make sure our leaders and politicians are ones that address and care about the concerns of the disenfranchised in society, not only the concerns of the rich and powerful.

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Patience has never been an easy attribute to cultivate; however, it seems to be even more difficult for us living in the 21st Century, especially those of us in more industrialized “efficient” nations. If we don’t have something when we need it- right away, we have a tendency to lose our patience quickly. In every society and in every generation, there are advantages and disadvantages. In the past, it might have been easier to have more time with your family and a life of simplicity, but at the same time, the chance to really know the world outside of your little confined village was next to impossible. In the modern age, we have so many more opportunities to learn, travel, and see the world in a new and evolving way; however, with all this blessing comes negatives as well- our simple ability to relax and grow in patience may be one of the greatest disadvantages.

As we seek God in helping us to overcome this deficiency our culture has brought to us, there are simple activities and practices we can do that help us grow in this patience. One of the great ones that I just became aware of is from the book “The Pilgrimage” from Paolo Coelho. It simply involves taking a small time out of your day (10 or 20 minutes) and doing an everyday task like walking at half speed. I tried it this morning while walking from my house to the coffee shop. I decided to just walk at half speed and observe the world around me. I was amazed how much beauty and life I observed by simply slowing down. The need to rush and hurry is restricted in your life, and in the process you find peace. In a strange way, you start feeling and seeing the hand of God all around you. Patience is much more than refusing to lose our temper, it is about relaxing and taking enough time to see the wonders of God around us, often in the exact things we daily take for granted.

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After the recent defeat of the Dream Act, which would have given a pathway to citizenship for many individuals brought to the country illegally under the age of 16, I feel pretty discouraged about the state of politics with the fear and discrimination which seem to run through our system of government. However, it is important to remember that with any movement for justice or any positive social change, there are often large setbacks before the change occurs. Let’s not forget all the struggle African-Americans had in achieving their Civil Rights, women had in getting the right to vote, or the gay community had in simply serving in the nation’s military (which was finally changed). The same is true for immigrant rights.

Perhaps, politicians will not stand up to that call- many are too concerned about the political implications, anger of the nativist voters, and the backlash from some in the community. Because of this, there now needs to be a greater movement outside of just legislation .Now is not the time to back down and accept the status quo. Do you really think the Civil Rights legislation would have passed if it were not for Martin Luther King, the March to Selma, and the bus boycotts? Often change comes from the bottom-up. I think immigrant rights will be in the same strand of history. There is a temptation to simply give up; however, right now it is more important than ever to go out and say that we will not allow discrimination, fear, and xenophobia to define our immigration and overall national policies. Rather, we will work and speak out for justice with even more resilience and passion.

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Before the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette famously stated “Let Them Eat Cake” when questioned about the protests and pleas of the people for bread. She later faced the guillotine for her complete disregard and disdain for the lower and working classes. Today, in Panama City, Florida a deranged man came into a school board meeting with a gun and fired it on the male board members (though fortunately he had a bad aim and missed them, or as his wife claims that he purposely misfired). He then committed suicide. He was upset that in order to keep low taxes, the city had decided to make school budget cuts that resulted in the firing of his wife.

We could choose to take this as in isolated case about a man with a temper and deranged sense of justice. However, I think it sheds light on a greater anger that is growing by many in the United States. As many in the nation continue to suffer, the rich are living in more luxury and excess than ever. Instead of really dealing with helping out the society, many in Congress are more concerned that the billionaires and their descendants keep their billions. The lower and working classes (as well as the ever shrinking middle class) whose concerned are rarely addressed are starting to become angry- and the rich and powerful in the nation better wake up to this reality.

It is amazing to look at countries with more socialist, authoritarian leaders like Cuba or Venezuela. The reason they had such radical revolutions was a response to such a sickening and disgusting inequality and a system of injustice. Those in the U.S. shouldn’t be naive enough to think that something similar couldn’t happen in their own country, unless something is done to create a more just society. This growing inequality will also lead to more violence overall. When people feel they are not given an opportunity or any sense of fairness of justice from the current system, there is a tendency to lash out against the society. If you feel you are constantly being robbed by the current system, there is less incentive not to rob others around you. Just go to any “Banana Republic” with an outrageous disparity of wealth and you will see this is the case (Honduras, Guatemala, etc.).

What happened today was extremely sad; it was so unfortunate that a man chose violence to deal with his problems. However, we should not simply dismiss it; it is part of a greater anger that is growing in a society that has seems to have no conscience in screwing over the poor and working class to enrich the few elite oligarchs in society. If the system doesn’t change, there will be much more violence than there is now. Our society will reap what it sows. Let’s pray that the society starts working for more justice, so that we can have a more peaceful society.

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There are two types of patience. One is the type of patience that is required with the major issues of life- the job you are waiting to come through, the relationship you are hoping works out, or the financial problems that you are still trying to overcome. The other type of patience deals with the day to day annoyances of life that seem to get the best of us in our schools, jobs, and homes. There are four tips that I have learned in my life in regard to the minor day to day aspects of patience which I hope will be of help to you.

1. Have Something to Do While Waiting- One of the greatest sources of impatience is having to wait for something when it should be done quickly. I have found this even more of a struggle in a country such as Costa Rica, where there is far less efficiency than in nations such as the U.S. If I just carry around something so that I can feel that I am not wasting my time while waiting, it makes my level of impatience drop greatly. Some simple ideas would be bringing a book, having some podcasts to listen to, or perhaps just taking the time to pray or simply breathe.

2. Accept the Fact That There is Inefficiency- The inefficacy and time wasting activities that we can control, we should fix. But it is so important to simply accept the fact that some things are not going to be efficient- whether it is dealing with our schools, jobs, or bureaucratic government systems. Learning to accept this causes our impatience and stress to decrease as we stop putting unreasonable expectations on things.

3. Take 30 Seconds to Breathe- Our impatience and stress can be reduced so much by just taking 30 seconds out of our situation to sit and focus on our breathing. Something about this helps bring us back to reality and the greater picture in life. This stressful situation that we are facing will probably be forgotten in a month, if not in a week. It is not worth letting ourselves be impatient and stressed and in the process hurting ourselves and those around us.

4. Look for an Alternative around the Problem- So much of our impatience is because we are constantly trying to change a situation in which there is a huge barrier or wall. We spend so much time and energy trying to resolve a situation by tearing down that wall, when the best option may be finding another way around the wall. If we simply found a more creative way to resolve our problems, much of our stress would be diminished. The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation where your patience is growing thin, try to take 5 minutes think outside of the box. You may be surprised what you find.

In the end, became more patient is not only helpful for us in our day to day routine, it is essential for our spiritual journey and health. As we grow in patience, we spend less of our time with stress, worry, and wasted energy, and we have more of ourselves to give as a blessing and gift to others. Let’s pray for the Spirit of God to help us grow in this area that we may become individuals filled with more peace and grace.

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