Hope

Defining a Hero

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A while back I wrote Defining a Monster (click here for link to post), this is my follow up:

My 5 year-old nephew runs into the room slamming his fists to the ground, pretending as though he were the star of an action packed blockbuster. Our masked vigilante valiantly fighting the evils of the world that’s located inside his vivid imagination with his staggering height and built muscles, which also only exist in his vivid imagination. He’s still at the age where he thinks that finishing off his potatoes will bring instant results to his muscle mass. I remember being little and constantly thinking of stories in my head, I look at him and just think of the wheels that must be turning. The momentary bravery it takes to fight the elusive “bad guy” that he’s created, and then the innocence of the hero that suddenly needs milk with his brownie and pizza.

As we entered the new year, I noticed a lack of excitement that normally accompanies the determination that somehow gets harpooned into our souls when the clock strikes midnight. It was as if we spent all of 2013 sailing closer and closer to Cape Horn, and as we stood on the ship deck counting down the minutes to midnight we contemplated the dangers of the waters soon to be traveled. Instead of the ball dropping in time square, we saw the high winds, the sharp rocks, the daunting icebergs; all of the dangers ahead would surely find us to be inexperienced sailors in well over our head, and they would undoubtedly take advantage at every possible turn. I don’t think it’s a secret, 2014 is not a number known for its coming joys for America.

Since the new year we have faced insurance difficulties, as well as an updated projection from the CBO for what we should expect for future full-time job loss due to the ACA. The expected numbers more than doubled, and the part time epidemic is set to take hold due to insurance regulations.  Additionally, yet another poor job report was released last week that seems to prove the pessimistic economists to be prophets. I’ll definitely be talking about some of those issues in the coming posts, but today I wanted to do something different.

I am not always the most delicate in my deliverance of opinion. I find the truth to be best when it’s laid out bare; admittedly, concerns over the brittleness of eggshells rarely infiltrate my mind. Reason is of the utmost importance to me, to a fault I might add. There’s no denying that God has His hands full with me and my unbridled skepticism, I surely earn my place on the cross daily. Have you ever played 20 questions with a 5 year old? Now imagine your patience level by question 50. Now tack on a couple million questions and you might have a feeling for what God endures from this daughter of His.

Issues & debates are puzzles, puzzles need to be solved. Period. I have to shut that part of me down sometimes, followed by walking away due to the fact that shutting that part down is normally not a process I’m willing to perform twice. My tolerance level for discursiveness is not what one would note as “desirable“, for me it’s like taking the organized puzzle pieces and throwing them on the ground in an attempt to complete the puzzle. It doesn’t make sense. More so, I find that we are far too delicate in matters that call for unabashed truth, and often brash in matters that call for delicacy. It’s the human condition colliding with Christianity that I wrote about in my last post. So while some may charge me with being too critical of the Christian, “my own kind”, I’ve always been more apt to lean on the side of logic and ignore the social norms of Sunday night potluck positivity.

Growing up I loved things that glowed in the dark; stars on a ceiling, secret notes on black paper, etc. (Clearly I was meant to be a spy.) But I always remember those things being so dull when all of the lights were on. You couldn’t see them or admire their contributions to the dark in a fully lit room. We used to run and find a room that had no windows, the darker the better; every step into the darkness made the secret words on black paper easier to read, every bit of sun that disappeared made the stars brighter. Some may accuse me of dwelling on the negative, or obsessing with the world. That’s their opinion. I don’t dwell on the negative, I just care deeply about those swallowed up by the negative. I’m not obsessed with the world, I simply hurt for those in its grasps. And sometimes, I turn off all the lights and look in the darkness for that glimmer of light that refused to buckle in to the black. My admiration for those glimmers of light and how Christ used them outweigh any assumptions of my obsessions with the repugnance of the world in my mind. To be honest, I am filled with hope, overflowing with gratitude for my Savior, and breathlessly amazed at how He moves in this world. As the song goes, I pray that my heart continues to break for what breaks His.

SO, in honor of the approaching sharp rocks, I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than to write about a few men that saw danger and met it with heroic determination. In a world where Iron Man is idolized and Thor is worshiped, sometimes the most heroic of men go unnoticed. Right now I’m content with my nephew’s infatuation with Captain America and his powerful shield that brings down the evil that stalks the world, but someday I hope his adoration and interests are held by men who didn’t need a shield; men with hearts that shook the world more than The Hulk’s mighty fists ever could. The logic that appealed to the natural instinct of self-preservation in these men was trumped by the logic of human worth and hope, which is itself an act that defies the idea of a Godless world and speaks to the greatest form of proof for Him that we can experience daily. That is why sometimes it’s a good thing to acknowledge the dark.

We do not know what a Jew is, we know only men.” – Words spoken by Andre Trocme when asked by the Nazis to produce a list of Jews. Andre lived in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France during the Holocaust. He, along with his wife, were responsible for helping what is believed to be over 4000 Jewish refugees find homes in his city. He, as the “spiritual leader”, encouraged the townspeople to do the work of God. He continued to tell his followers that when the Nazis came and took him away – for his refusal to provide a list – that they were to continue in the effort to save as many as they could. He woke up every morning to the realization that his life could end, or that he would be imprisoned, and everyday his ethical convictions drove him to continue. Thankfully, he survived the war and passed away in 1971.

Giovanni Palatucci was an Italian Police Official and chief of the Foreigners’ Office. He was put in charge of the Adriatic seaport of Fiume (Croatia). In 1938 the anti-Jewish laws were put into place, and he disobeyed said laws. He forged travel papers for hundreds of Jews so that they could flee persecution. In 1943 the government fell and was occupied by the Nazis. He was ordered to arrest the Jews and have them deported to concentration camps. Simply defying orders would have led to his termination and be of no help to the Jews, so he devised and executed a plan to have over 5000 Jews sent to a refugee camp that was managed by his uncle. He then destroyed records of all the refugees, and they were saved from the imminent doom that would have met them in Nazi concentration camps. He died at the age of 35 after being arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp for his actions. He knew what his actions would cost him if exposed, and yet he charged ahead with a bravery that would put us all to shame.

Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese Diplomat. As vice-consul for a Japanese consulate in Lithuania, he kept his country updated on the actions of both the Nazis, and the Soviet troops. Once the Nazi invasion of Lithuania began, the Jews were scrambling for ways to escape the Nazis that were rounding them up like cattle. It is unknown how many Jews Chiune saved, some speculate that it was 5000, others believe a more accurate number to be 10,000. He was issuing visas to anyone that came to him, writing them for 18 hours a day, violating direct orders in the name of human compassion. Even while he was en route to the train station after being reassigned, he was handwriting visas and throwing them out the car window for desperate Jews. Many of the passports in the crowd were still unstamped when he boarded the train, so he threw his official stamp into the crowd for them to use. Hence why the number of Jews he saved is impossible to even try to calculate.

“I cannot allow these people to die, people who have come to me for help with death staring them in the eyes. Whatever punishment may be imposed on me, I know I should follow my conscience.” – Chiune Sugihara

Chiune Sugihara was finally recognized in 1985 for his heroic rescue of so many Jews. He passed away in 1986.

Does it not concern anyone else that these men disobeyed direct orders, put their lives on the line, one actually losing his life, and yet we don’t speak out about issues because we don’t want to be “divisive” with our dinner party friends? Does that not get to anyone else? Slavery, persecution, etc. are taking place all over the world, and who we vote for decides if we’re going to continue financially supporting those acts. You don’t even have to hide persecuted individuals in your home and disobey the laws of your country, you just have to say the truth! You just have to speak! Educate! Stand up for what is right!

In the next year many families will face financial turmoil. They’ll take on an insurance payment that is equal to, or possibly exceeds, the cost of a mortgage payment. They’ll cut, scrimp, and will no longer save. Is being low on money the worst thing to happen to a person? FAR from it. But this is just the beginning. Families will not be able to afford their deductibles, people will go without healthcare. Healthcare will continue to decline as it becomes less care and more of a conveyor belt health service. People will become numbers, elderly will be declined the care they desperately need. Businesses will start preparing for the ACA, jobs will be cut, unemployment compensation will be insufficient. Families will lose their homes or get creative in their living situations. These are just the facts that we have to step back and recognize them for what they are.

How many of us have heard (or said), “God is in control, I’m not going to concern myself with worldly issues.”?? I know I have heard it PLENTY of times.

The problem: The bible is full of action against evil.

God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless. As I said earlier about my need for rationality, I look at the world and ponder the theory that silence from Christians is what’s needed, but I find that ideal lacking in any evidence that would substantiate its viability. I’m not asking you to spend this year hiding Jewish refugees in your walls, I’m just asking you to have conversations, to try and educate those around you. Speak the truth. If you don’t know what to speak of, then research the issues plaguing this nation, connect with those who know about those issues and ask questions so that YOU can spread the word. What our government is doing to healthcare has happened elsewhere. What our government is doing to guns has happened elsewhere. What our government is doing with police power has happened elsewhere.

All of those attempts to “reduce crime”, “increase affordable healthcare”, and “make the streets safer” don’t work. In all actuality, those supposed “efforts” make things far more dangerous, careless, and elitist. If you pointed to a wolf and said “that’s a sheep, trust me!”, I still wouldn’t approach the “sheep” because common sense says that it will kill me. Pointing to the ACA and saying that it’s affordable healthcare doesn’t make it affordable, nor does it guarantee that my family will receive healthcare; as a matter of fact, it does the opposite for many hard working families.

Prepare yourself for the midterm elections, learn about your candidates. Don’t just research their opinion on one topic that will benefit your wallet, research what they stand for and how it will affect the rest of the world. The powerful governments “elsewhere” were strengthened by a populous that only cared about themselves, let’s not be that populous. I’m going to make a good number of blog posts about some of the candidates. If you live in a state and would like specific information on candidates, please message us.

Take a moment to thank God for men like Trocme, Palatucci, and Sugihara. Our world can be a dim place, it can be filled with overwhelming hatred and a callousness that makes us weep for the innocent lives that become trapped within its grip for reasons unanswered. But there are heroes that forge through the darkness regardless of what lies wait in the shadows, those men exist in our world today as well. Would you have the fortitude to be one of them?

Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign in sabotage.” – C.S. Lewis

-  MB

Hero

Merry Christmas, Bronislava.

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I was going to write a blog post today simply talking about Christmas, the true meaning of the Holiday, and all of the hope that accompanies this time of year. It would have been laced with joy, hope, and extravagant appreciation for family, friends, and my Savior. I would have ended it with a dramatic cliché signoff similar to a Disney Christmas movie.

But then again, we’re talking about me here.

Well, it is December 23rd and I woke up this morning with a list of things that I desperately need to get done before Wednesday. Finish wrapping presents, clean my house, stop at the store, make a dessert, etc. the list goes on. I’m sure you all feel about the same. Often times when I’m feeling stressed I go to various websites and read stories, for example: persecution.com and abundanthopeinternational.org. Simply to bring me back to earth and make me remember how blessed I truly am. But today I did not have to look up a story, because one came to mind that I had read before, and I feel the need to share it with whoever will listen.

Stick with me, because I’m going to bring this back to hope, joy, and above all, extravagant appreciate for my Savior. The road to get there won’t be as fun, but like I always say, we appreciate the sunrise more when we see the darkest of nights.

I’m currently 26 years old, working a full-time job, and coping in an America that is crumbling around me. I have bills, I have stress, like everyone else…I have bad days where coffee becomes my breath of life in the morning and receiving it intravenously for a couple of hours straight is slightly tempting. But today my thoughts traveled back to 1941, to a girl who was almost my age.

Bronislava was a Jew that lived in the village of Dnepropetrovk, Ukraine. She was married to a Ukrainian, and she was blessed with two baby boys that were five & two. Bronislava rang in her 25th birthday with her feet frozen to the ground, holding her children close to her. German soldiers laughed as they held up the cases of ammunition meant for whoever still remained alive from her village to see, ammunition that they had to retrieve after running short the night before. As the few hundred left of her village stood, waiting for their turn to die, the Germans had been collecting bodies all night long from the massacre that started the night before; it would be completed now that the reloading was taking place. The soldiers had gone for ammunition as casually as one would go to the store for eggs.

Anyone with a loved one could not even begin, nor wish, to imagine the fear. I’m sure that she held her children close, breathing them in for what would be the last time. Still concerned for her child, and after standing all night in the cold, her weary arms were forced to set her five-year old son on top of a man who had already been shot the night before. The man was dying, but his body created a warm place for her child to sit while they awaited their fate, as opposed to the muddy water that was now ice blocks holding her feet to the ground. The two-year old in her arms was lying still, breathing against her neck; I imagine that the thought of this being the last time she would ever feel that flooded her mind like a tsunami swallowing a city. She had carried her child from her home while they were being wrangled up and mocked by Ukrainians who stood proclaiming that the Jews were finally getting what they deserved. While the corpses of mothers and their children laid there, human beings believed that THIS is what they deserved, simply because of their race. This is something I can’t even fathom, I can’t imagine being her. But there she stood, holding her children and begging God to spare their life while the rain turned to snow overnight.

Bronislava was saved by her pretty face. A German soldier came and broke the ice from around her feet, collected her children and told her that she was too beautiful to die. She walked away with her two children while the rest of her family was executed and thrown into a mass grave, including her sister and her young niece. She was eventually given a fake passport after escaping her captors. The passport said she was Ukrainian, and she hid living in a barn with her sons and husband (her husband, being Ukrainian, was never taken to the field of death) for the remainder of the war. Forever she would vividly remembered the screams; the children that were trampled during the madness, then thrown into a grave while still screaming for their parents. The horror was insurmountable.

What saved her? God? Can we say that God granted her freedom and still call him good while her young niece was soon after riddled with bullets and thrown into a mass grave? Can we? We see homeless, we see murder, we see death. Where is God? We say He is good, we say He is peace, we say He is kind, but for the child that is found strangled by a madman, where is He?

After the war was won, Bronislava came out of hiding and said the following to a police officer, “I live only for my children and for the day the Hitlerite beasts would be punished. But no, they are not beasts. For beasts do not gnaw on those who are down, and anyone who throws living children into a grave is not worthy of being called a beast.” I can’t imagine what she saw, not just the death, the pain, the suffering, but the look of evil in the eyes of men while such horrid acts of hatred and pain took place. To think that men performed these deeds like we perform house work. To laugh in pride and show a child the ammunition they would soon use to annihilate their family is not only evil, but blinding evil, unprecedented evil. To think that human beings are capable of joy in those moments is unapologetically appalling to us.

Right now you are thinking, “Gee, thanks for this Christmas post!”…But friends, is this not something to remember? That while we find kids who are upset over their IPod data size, the color of their new laptop, or the number of gifts under the tree, we forget that all over the world pain is screaming “where is your God?”; and we are tasked with giving an answer. This Christmas many will flock to homeless shelters, they’ll not worry about the side dish that was a little over done; they’ll worry about getting something – anything – in their stomachs. This Christmas thousands of families will sit under a Christmas tree and wonder why their child was stolen by cancer in the last year. Missionaries will pray for peace over people who do not know of such a thing as peace. A woman will cry out to God in the captivity of a sex slave trade that is alive and flourishing. The atheists will find justification in his beliefs by questioning the moral character of God, by perpetuating the ideals of a loving creator gone mad with power. A Christian will do the same with gentler wordplay, but will end by insinuating that God is somehow still magically good despite all evidence. We’ll fumble for the words to defend our Creator and Companion like He is on trial for the deeds of the Devil.

Where are you, God?”, will be shouted by the thousands, silently felt by those mourning, and prayed by those awaiting a death sentence in a foreign country for simply obeying Him.

The truth, in all its unshakable reality, is that this world is random in its suffering, and it is cruel; because of who we are, not because of who He is. Whether it is pain brought on from ourselves, pain from disease, or pain from the horrid acts that are unjustly brought upon us by the free will of others, it is not His to own. But alas, we label these acts as a betrayal of God. Blaming Him for the sin that we allowed to overrun our earth like a spreading wildfire. I sometimes wonder if the atheism C.S.Lewis held onto until his conversion later in life had something to do with the death of his mother as a child. He stated the following:

Children suffer not, I think, less than their elders, but differently. For us boys the real bereavement had happened before our mother died. We lost her gradually as she was gradually withdrawn from our life into the hands of nurses and delirium and morphia. And our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister, whispered conversations. With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security.”

I follow a lot of kids on Facebook that suffer from cancer, it reminds me to pray for them and their family whenever I see their updates. A post update from one of the parents a few days ago shook me to the core:

“They gave her a couple days to a couple weeks to live. My heart is breaking. I sit here looking at her face trying to remember every contour of it, I breathe deeply against her skin trying to always remember her smell. Every time she speaks I try to listen for the different way she says certain words so that I never forget. I keep putting my lips against her warm skin because I never want to forget how that feels. I’m devastated and I’m hoping that I will wake up from this nightmare.”

Pain in its most volatile form can be witnessed daily in this world.

I find hope in the knowledge that we label such things as cruel, unusual, and horrid. That we feel the wide array of sorrow. Why? Have I lost my mind? No, there is an intellectual side to the argument that I believe to be overlooked and waxed over by overwhelming pain. If there was no good to aspire to, if there was no peace, and if there was no joy, we would not yearn for it. The hope that we crave in those moments of desperation is real, and we feel its absence like it’s been cut out of us and we are attempting to hold the wound shut. Why? Because it’s real. We ask, “Where is the good?”, because we know there is good. Imagine the emptiness in a world truly abandoned by God. Imagine a world where we look upon evil and find no fault, no wrong.

The fall of man welcomed pain and suffering. But STILL in our sin He found a way to offer us willing love. Love that, while we could be left to wallow in our pain and suffering gave us a way out. Love that danced through the gates of heaven hand in hand with the child once riddled with bullets by the hatred of Hitler’s men… Because Love deemed her worthy, Love refused to let that be her end. Bronislava’s young niece was not defeated by the man waving the ammunition in her face; God may not have stopped the bullets, but He stopped that from being her end. In the same way that He used Bronislava and her witness to shine a light on the evils that happened that day, to be a voice for those who suffered.

There is a rampant disease in today’s church that in its arrogance would blame the horrid acts done under the free will of man on the character of God – and while I won’t go into detail on this blog post – I will say that I find it to be the most harmful attack on His character I’ve yet to witness. If we successfully merge the beauty of God’s love with the evil of Satan’s work, we’re failing. There is also a feeling of cold apathy in today’s church, we wish to remain in the dark to such evils, in our “Potluck Party” bubble, per se. Uninvolved in the worlds suffering because our own little world has been overcome by our personal wants and desires.

This week when you celebrate your family, hold them close and be thankful for what you have. Pray for those suffering, and remember those who faced evil and lost in this world, and remember the God that saw the pain and suffering we brought on to ourselves and STILL wanted more for us despite our lost state. Live thankfully, as though His hope is what keeps your lungs breathing, His promise is what keeps your heart receptive to seeing the absence of Him in this world. I pray that if you don’t know Christ today, you feel this hope that is calling you. Darkness is the absence of light, Christ’s hope is written on the hearts of all men…It’s the thing that says “this is wrong, there’s more in store.”

Christmas has been glamorized, but we forget that all of the above is why He did what He did. Why He had to be born, why He had to walk among us, and why He had to pay our fine. When Jesus entered the world as an infant so long ago, he did so for Bronislava’s niece, and for the man that took her life, that maybe someday He would find hope. He did so for those suffering from disease. He did so for the woman facing persecution in Egypt, for the child left abandoned, for the Mother clinging to her children in a concentration camp, for the Father trying to make ends meet, for the family who is hungry, and for the family that has plenty. That is what Christmas is about.

We must meet the uncertainties of this world with the certainty of the world to come.” A.W.Tozer

So the question is never “where is He”, but “where is He not?”…Even when it feels like hope is lost, our longing for hope is His presence shining through and calling evil exactly what it is. Evil. He could have left us to our own demise, but He didn’t. He could force us to love Him or hate Him, but He doesn’t. He could have left us in a world where evil is all we know, where there is no absence of hope because there is no hope to be found…

But He didn’t.