Today, November 1 is known as All Saints Day in some religious circles. Technically, “saints” are all those who have attained heaven. However, most people traditionally associate this day with remembering those officially declared as Saints (St. Patrick, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux etc.). I think that this is an important day to recognize because the Spiritual Leaders, the people who are officially Sainted, are those who we should be looking to for guidance and wisdom about how to live our lives and grow our faith.
You may think that there isn’t a lot of point to talking about the same people all the time, whether we’re talking about Saints or people from the Bible like Abraham, David and Paul. Or that because we spend so much time talking about them we don’t take the time to talk about the things that the regular people are doing with their faith like you and me. I get that, and I agree that we don’t take time to recognize the faith of the individual as we should, and sometimes feel that we’re so busy putting spiritual leaders on pedestals and figure that we could never measure up, which makes us forget that they’re human just like us.
But the simple fact is the faith of the world is built on people both large and small, people who have world-wide stages, and those who just share their faith with a few. Yes, we’re all called to spread the word about God to the nations, but we’re not all called to do it in the same way. We each do things differently and while we’re not all created to be a “Spiritual Leader,” we are all called to use the different gifts and talents God has given us to spread the word in our own way.
Everyone needs guidance, and the Spiritual Leaders like the Saints are there to give us the strength, courage and guidance to know how to handle situations. Don’t be afraid to look to those who have more wisdom and experience, instead celebrate that they were given that gift, that responsibility, and take the opportunity to learn from them rather than rejecting them because they are too well known or you figure you’ve heard it all before.
July 18th was the birthday of one of the great men of the world: Nelson Mandela (celebrated as “Mandela Day”). No one is perfect (Mandela included), but he’s someone who showed throughout his life that he was a true leader. A 2013 article on Mandela called him a “Dissident, Liberator and Statesman.” Those are 3 big titles that all say something important about who he was, but the one I wanted to focus on today is “liberator.”
Mandela knew what it was to be not free, he spent 27 years in prison for his efforts to make South Africa a better place for people. Some people, having had his experience, would throw in the towel and spend the rest of their years quietly, thankful to be free. But Mandela never gave up on his dreams of and plans for a better life for himself and the people he loved, and people around the world too.
We take time each year to remember people like Nelson Mandela and the dreams they had for a reason, a reason that seems more important than ever with the violence over the past few weeks and months around the world. People like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and countless other men and women who have passed on would not be proud of the people some of us have become. I think they would be happy to see that some thing have changed and are changing for the better, but sad that we are fighting on many of the same things that should have already been addressed, and creating issues that shouldn’t be issues and haven’t been in the past.
What it comes down to is that the world is always in need of more people like Nelson Mandela. You don’t have to be in a traditional position of power to make a difference, you have to decide that you’re going to give your best effort to fixing or alleviating the problem(s) you see in the world. Whether you make that effort in jail, on the street, in your office, in a school, or as a president doesn’t matter. What matters is that you choose to step up and let people know that they too can be liberated and choose what they want to make out of life.
In the US we’re really gearing up for the November elections. Candidates are being finalized, sides are being chosen (or rechosen), and people are hoping that the person of their choice will look good to the rest of the country and be the person who ultimately wins. It’s gotten me thinking a lot about winners and losers, and about first and last place. I’m not big on competition. I know it can be good for some things, but personally I prefer to work together rather than against people whenever possible. I know that there isn’t one candidate that we can all agree on, that’s part of the reason it’s a democracy. But I also know that what seems like a victory for one person or one “side” doesn’t have to mean a total loss for the other.
For example, just because your team loses the game, it doesn’t mean they’ll lose the season or that they couldn’t have a personal best number of points in that game. Or just because you didn’t win the cook-off at the fair, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be picked up by a national brand or get great publicity anyway. Or just because you lost this round, it doesn’t mean you can’t win the next.
And sometimes being first isn’t a good thing, especially if you are one of the first people to try something new it might have some major flaws and you’ll experience loss or frustration instead of the great experience you were expecting.
What I think the US needs, and the rest of the world as well, is more working together and less violence and fighting. Competition is one thing, hatred and senseless killing is another. Now is not the time to see who can come out on top of whatever war is being fought, now is the time to learn to work together and bring together all our differences. Choose not to be first or last in the war but to help others make it through to another day alive and healthy. As brothers and sisters of Christ we’re called to lead the way to a better tomorrow, and that tomorrow doesn’t start with more violence or hatred, but with more love.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16
I’m in a patriotic mood with July 4th, Independence Day, being today in the US. So it’s got me thinking about the nation we live in, the other nations around the world, the nation of Israel and nations of Jesus’ day, and about the nation that is yet to come when we get to Heaven/when Christ comes back. With the exception of the nation yet to come, within every nation there are times of unrest and change. I don’t know about you but I’ve been following the news about the UK vote to leave the EU last month and you can’t help but hear about the presidential election we’re gearing up for in November here in the US. Both are of interest to me because they indicate that people have a desire for something different, that they’re telling the world with their votes that they aren’t happy with how things currently are. Maybe the changes that follow won’t be great or what people are really expecting, but not only is it important for us to stand up to what we think is wrong, if we can do something about improving our lives and the lives of others, we should!
What does Independence Day mean to you? Does it remind you of the history lessons you heard years ago about the founding of the nation? Does it make you say prayers of thanksgiving for the brave people who chose to leave their homes and travel by boat to this new land? Does it make you think about what the nation could become? Does it make you think about and pray for the leaders that are in charge? Are you flying a flag at your house, putting a poppy in your car or otherwise visibly displaying your patriotism? We have this holiday for a reason: to remind us of where we’ve come from and to motivate us to make a better future.
What does Independence Day mean to us as people of faith? It’s also a call to remember the spiritual leaders who have come before us and have made an impact on our lives. Throughout the Bible God reminds us to celebrate Him, the good things He does for us, the great world He created for us, and each other and the good things we do. He didn’t create us to be alone, nor to ignore each other. Instead we’re to work together, live together, partner together and celebrate together. What will you celebrate today?
“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.” 1 Chronicles 16:8
This Sunday in the US is Father’s Day. You’ve probably been seeing the ads on TV and maybe thinking about the experience you have had with your dad or dads or the father figures in your life. Whether you’re reading the papers, watching TV or reading a fiction book, more often than not it’s the dad who screws things up or is “evil”. Dads don’t have the best reputation, and it’s unfortunate that I agree that they don’t have the best reputation and that there’s a really good reason for that.
I’ve met more dads than I would like that don’t live up to the responsibility and gift that being a dad is. These are men who don’t see any responsibility towards their children, don’t feel anything for them or about them, don’t show them any love or affection, beat them or their mothers up, and don’t try to give their kids the best chance they can have. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of great dads out there, and there are bad moms too, being a not-great parent isn’t limited to the dads. And even though men have failed over and over as dads, the men of the world are the ones given the next superhero role, looked up to for their “superiority” and seen as default leaders.
Again, don’t get me wrong, women (and moms) fail too. But like I said there’s a reason for the stereotype of men failing as dads. As we look ahead to Father’s Day I encourage you if you’re a dad to step up and let your kids know you’re there for them, let them know you care what happens with their future, and be a good example for them now even if you haven’t been in the past. Choose to be the man that everyone looks up to, choose to do the right thing when you could do the wrong, choose to show your kids in more ways than just buying stuff that you care about them, and don’t be ashamed to be proud to be a dad. Who are you celebrating this Father’s Day?
Would you consider yourself an angry person? How about someone who has lots of friends (real friends, those you actually know personally)? Would those who know you say that you’re a generous person? These are important things to know because like it or not we all deal with other people every day. Sometimes we interact with those we know and other times we interact with strangers. But whether the person is a stranger or a friend shouldn’t impact how you generally act towards them; for example, just because they’re a stranger doesn’t mean you should disrespect or ignore them. No, you may not give them a hug when you meet them like you might a friend, but you’ll still be civil to them.
But there are those who are overly suspicious of everything and everyone else, those who see the world as a half-empty glass, and those who believe that there aren’t many good people in the world. We all have our bad days and misunderstandings or miscommunications, but that’s no reason to assume that the rest of the world is all bad and treat them as such.
You may not fall into the category of those who believe most of the world is bad, but you may have fallen into the habit of being snarky or treating friends in a certain (less than polite) way and it spills over to how you interact with everyone else you meet. You may not even realize you’re doing it.
But James 1:19b reminds us to: “…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” I’m going to pay more attention to how I interact with others this week. You know why? Because it’s not just about those we personally and currently know, it’s about those we meet and the role they may play in our lives in our future too. You don’t know what role a stranger you meet today may have in your life several weeks or months down the road, but if it’s a negative interaction they have with you now that may ruin the opportunities you could have with them in the future. How do you treat others?
Monday was the day in the US that we take time to remember our current and past presidents. Some are famous around the world even today while others some have never heard of or knew they were presidents even if they knew of them. On Monday on one of my other blogs I talked about appreciating them even if they’re not all you wanted them to be because it’s a huge responsibility they took on as president, and while you may think you could do a better job there’s a good chance you’d make some people unhappy with your decisions as well. After all, with just the few people in your life (compared to all in the country or world) there’s a good chance that you make at least one person unhappy in some way each day.
There are 2 realities to go along with being president. First, it’s a huge job and won’t be done perfectly. Even with a team of advisers you’re bound to make at least one less-than-perfect decision or choose the wrong thing even if you’ve done the proper research. So just like you’re not always proud of all you do, there has to be some leeway for the president as well.
The second reality is that the president does need to do a better job. There are many ways that presidents fail the people and the country including decisions that should have been tweaked, people that should have been better supported, and resources that were available that should have been used rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. There is room for improvement in all of our lives, including the president’s.
So let this reality check be a reminder that you can do better as a leader. Let it also be the motivation you need to be more involved in politics. Start with voting in every election. If you’re doing that already sign petitions and send letters to let the president know where you stand on issues. And don’t forget that presidency starts long before they’re actually elected, all come from local offices or other parts of the government, so make sure to share your support and voice with the other people in politics as well.