Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cheering on Matthew Campbell

Many of you may have heard the story of Shreveport teenager Matthew Campbell, who has undergone two heart transplants and one kidney transplant. (If not, here's his CaringBridge site with updates)

Well, folks at Centenary College are putting together a rally to support him in his battle. They are asking anyone who is free to come to the Fitness Center at noon Friday to cheer him on. The rally will be recorded and a DVD will be sent to Matthew, giving him a full picture of the support he has from folks here in Shreveport. Chaplain Betsy Eaves asks everyone to "bring banners, balloons and enthusiastic voices." Cards and donations for the family will also be collected.

“In my visit with him earlier this week I reminded him that there are many people supporting him, praying for him and cheering him on,” Eaves said. “I told Matthew that while we could not run this race for him, we believe in him and that there are hundreds of cheerleaders out here.”

How cool that technology allows us to make a video and show support and prayers through audio and video.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More thoughts on Hinckley

The Latter-day Saints I talked to yesterday were sad to see their leader, Gordon B. Hinckley, go, but not distraught in anyway. A couple remarked with joy that he would be with his wife again (the church teaches that families are families for eternity).

Hinckley's experience as a missionary led him to higher authority in the church. He realized the need for better material to distribute to non-believers and he made a career of promoting the church and its teachings in an easy to understand manner.

"He’s always been a great missionary and encouraged us to spread the word about the gospel of Christ and invited anyone who wanted to hear the message about Christ," Shreveport Stake President Brent Merrill said.

It reminded me a little bit of Pope John Paul II. The late pope was widely travelled and a great advocate for evangelism who, even as an elderly man, connected with youth.

Jeffrey Loftin, a Shreveport native now studying at BYU saw Hinckley speak a couple of times. He told me about some of his journal entries after seeing the president.

"At the top it says – I’ve had a constant burning in my chest for 10 minutes," Loftin said.

To Loftin, that was confirmation from the Holy Spirit that Hinckley was a man of God and was speaking God's truth.

"Every time I have written specific impressions from the Spirit. It’s a deep knowledge – every word he says he’s saying for a reason. He’s genuine and open and honest."

Funeral services for Hinckley have been set for 10 a.m. Saturday in Salt Lake City. They will be broadcast on BYU television, which is apparently available on many Sattelite carriers.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mormon leader dies at 97

Mormons around the world and here in Northwest Louisiana are mourning the death of Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1995.

He was 97, but had been in generally good health so it caught some folks a little off guard. Hinckley was known for extensive travel, and enormous growth of the church. He took the worldwide stage during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Read more about him on the LDS site or the Salt Lake Tribune (that site is understandably swamped, but keep trying).

The local stake is still trying to figure out what they might do to honor Hinckley's life, and they are hoping to be able to carry a simulcast of the funeral. I should have some comments from people that met him and others in the church later today.

Friday, January 25, 2008

More than 15 faiths under one roof

Once a year, all the diversity of Shreveport's religious community comes out to educate, share and learn.

This year's annual World Religion Day will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Highland Center, 520 Olive St., Shreveport.

Contrary to popular belief, the religious landscape in Northwest Louisiana is more than Baptists and Pentecostals. We have Hindus, Baha'is and Wiccans. Some of the groups are tiny and often misunderstood, and the event gives them a chance to say this is who we are. Organizers are very strict about discouraging any sort of proselytizing, so you have nothing to fear their.

And if its any more enticement, they have asked me to be the keynote speaker. Some of y'all know I'm a writer, not a speaker so I can't promise any fireworks, but I'll do my best to share my perspective on the local religious scene.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

MLK beliefs

When I walked into St. Luke CME Church Monday to cover the Martin Luther King Day service, I expected about an hour long deal with prayers and a short sermon. I got full-blown church. It was a wonderful service, great singing, good preaching and prayers that we might live out Dr. King's beliefs.

Included in the program was an "Affirmation of Faith" that was taken from the writings of Dr. King. I found it on another website attributed to the United Presbyterian Church. Regardless, I found it powerful, so here it is:

I refuse to believe that we are unable to influence the events which surround us.

I refuse to believe that we are so bound to racism and war, that peace, brotherhood and sisterhood are impossible.

I believe there is an urgent need for people to overcome oppression and violence, without resorting to violence and oppression.

I believe that we need to discover a way to live together in peace, a way which rejects revenge and retaliation. The foundation of this way is love.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. I believe that temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered people have torn down, other-centered people can build up.

By the goodness of God at work within people, I believe that brokenness can be healed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Celebrating 25 years in Blanchard

First Baptist Church in Blanchard celebrated a rare milestone over the weekend - the Rev. James Hill has been pastor for 25 years.

We do have several pastors in the area that have served their churches for decades, but in general, pastors tend to move fairly frequently to bigger churches or new opportunities. Unfortunately, in the craziness that was last week, I left out the notice of the service in the religion briefs. The church historian was kind enough to send a list of Hill's accomplishments, so I hope to recognize him in this space.

Hill came to the church in 1983, and started a campaign to pay off the church debt. That began a series of building projects resulting in a remodeled sanctuary, education building, recreation complex, and in 2003 a new sanctuary. The church also launched new efforts to reach children through children's worship and a child development center.

All the efforts are reflected in church growth. Membership now stands at 1211, and requires two worship services on Sundays. Hill also added four full-time staff positions.

Under his leadership, the church has fearlessly promoted its beliefs in public. In Januaries past, the church has erected white crosses representing abortions conducted. In 2005, it erected a 6-foot-tall, 2-ton monument of the 10 Commandments during the height of the controversy over public displays of the Biblical laws. Hill conducted a 10-week sermon series to go with it.

Hill also presided over tragedy in the church. In 2003, Julian Brandon, minister of senior adults, was murdered. Brandon was remembered during the dedication of the new sanctuary, and at that time Hill told me: "We learned to depend on (God) and love each other," he said. "I wouldn't wish this on anybody, but it helped us draw closer to the Lord that we would have otherwise."

Clearly, his congregation feels close to him as well. Congratulations to Rev. Hill, and apologies for not recognizing the achievement sooner.
Photo: Hill with 370 crosses in front of his church in 1998. Each represented 100,000 abortions. From Times archives

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beyond the dream

Across the city, I'm sure plenty of people will be quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It's a wonderful piece of oratory, but King had a lot more to say. Here's some excerpts from sermons he gave throughout the years, many of which address theological and moral questions that are just as relevant today....

Feb. 28, 1954 "Rediscovering Lost Values":

"There are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. I'm not so sure we all believe that. We never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we just don't jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation, and if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences—we know that. ... But I'm not so sure if we know that there are moral laws just as abiding as the physical law. I'm not so sure about that. I'm not so sure if we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences. I'm not so sure if we really believe that."

July 4, 1965. "The American Dream" delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta:

"Each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from His hands. Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us, and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day, that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth."

March 31, 1968, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" delivered at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.:

"One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.

It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, "That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me." That’s the question facing America today."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Prayers for Unity

Today begins the 100th annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The week was founded by the religious community, the Society of the Atonement, to pray for reconciliation between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church. Each year, prayers, dialogues and celebrations occur between the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (formerly on Jan. 18) and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25.

Since then participation has been sanctioned by both churches and encouraged by the National Council of Churches, which includes dozens of other denominations. This year's theme is "Pray without ceasing from 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and here are Pope Benedict XVI's intentions for each of the remaining days.

18 January: Pray always. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5, 17).

19 January: Pray always, trusting God alone. "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5, 18).

20 January: Pray without ceasing for the conversion of hearts. "Admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted" (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

21 January: Pray always for justice. "See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all" (1 Thessalonians 5, 15).

22 January: Pray constantly with a patient heart. "Be patient with all of them" (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

23 January: Pray always for grace to work with God. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5, 16).

24 January: Pray for what we need. "... help the weak" (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

25 January: Pray always that they all may be one. "Be at peace" (1 Thessalonians 5, 13b)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lesson of life and death

We buried my fiance’s father on Monday.

His death was unexpected and seems unfair. I hate saying that his funeral “was beautiful.” It shouldn’t have been at all.

I last talked to Charles just after Christmas. I picked up the phone to hear “Hi future daughter-in-law” and we both laughed, looking forward to July when it will be official. I didn’t know him well, but the Charles I knew was warm, told great stories, and frequently made me laugh. I was looking forward being part of his family.

He was a committed military man -- so much that his son is an Air Force officer and his daughter married one. After retiring from active duty, Charles spent the next 21 years training young men and women in an Air Force Junior ROTC program. Current and former students filled a couple of pews at the funeral Mass with stiff, blue uniforms and tears creeping down their cheeks.

Now the arrangements are done. The flowers have been laid on the grave and we continue with a gaping hole in our lives.

I’m trying to see where this fits in God’s plan and what I’m supposed to learn. That's the only way I can come close to accepting his death. As my brother-in-law to be poignantly noted during the eulogy, we do not know the hour when God will bring us home. Usually we think of those verses in terms of preparing our own souls. But we must also repair and nurture our relationships. Resolve petty arguments and remind people you care – with more than a standard “I love you.”

I’ve also learned how much the little things matter. No one can do anything to make the situation better, but I’ve had friends checking on me and just to know that people are praying for us is a huge comfort. Please don’t underestimate those things next time you have a neighbor, co-worker or friend lose a family member. The "I'm sorrys" mean the world.

And I hope we learn from Charles himself. The man who raised my beloved believed in God, service, integrity and family. Those lessons will not die.

Questions about Islam?

Sarah Zitterman hopes to provide answers. She and her husband are hosting their second Meet Your Muslim Neighbor Event from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Broadmoor Library.

Sarah is incredibly knowledgeable about her faith. A convert, she can also understand why it might seem strange to people on the outside. And personally, I'm impressed by anyone willing to give up more than six hours on a Saturday to promote understanding of her faith.

The first couple of hours are more open house and then they will have sessions on the basics of Islam, Women in Islam, Islam in America and the Quran and Science. No question is a bad one, so feel free to ask!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy anniversary

Today marks one year of this little journey I call Everyday Faith.

I had planned to do some big reflective piece, but a family emergency has had me distracted all week. Prayers are appreciated.

Instead, I'll just say it's been fun. I've tried to stay true to my mission, which was to find bits of faith in everyday life and to share insights and some of the extra reporting that often gets left out of stories.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. What can I do differently/better/more of /less of in this space? I'm looking forward to another great year in our faith journey.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Justice for one party

Herb Whitlock, who was convicted of murder 21 years ago, walked free today. I wrote about him a few months ago, and my work on his case as a college student.

This is one time in my life, where I honestly almost gave up hope. I always believed he was innocent, but I just didn't know how to convince the state of Illinois. Years of prayers were answered, and today he met his grandson for the first time.

The gospel of John didn't let us down: the truth will set you free.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Praying together and staying together?

My fiance and I are nearly cleared to be married now. We spent Friday evenings and all day Saturday at the marriage prep weekend sponsored (and required) by our church.

It was a good weekend full of all that relationship conversation that usually causes men to break out in hives, but my guy was good. We had some honest conversations and realized we were were in agreement on all the important things (we will probably still have "discussions" about the air conditioning).

One thing that the counselors and lay people brought up was the importance of prayer in a marriage. We go to church together, bless our food, and - I trust - pray for each other in private, but we don't necessarily pray aloud together. One longtime married couple, who shared their story with the group, said their whole relationship changed when they started praying together - they were more honest and better able to tackle the issues of the day.

So I'm asking y'all for your experience. Do you pray with your spouse? What does that look like? And how does it affect your relationship?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama, Huckabee and Evangelicals, oh my!

If the faith and politics stew was simmering before, it has come to a full boil with Mike Huckabee's triumph in the Iowa caucuses last night.

Evangelical Christmas apparently made up 60 percent of Republican caucus goers, and nearly 80 percent of Huckabee's supporters. It makes sense - he's a former Baptist minister.

On the other side, Obama is a Christian with a more liberal theology. Faith came up some, but seemed to play no real role in his victory in Iowa.

So what do you see for the future? In 2004, pundits (particularly those in the Northeast major media markets) were blown away by the "values voters." Will faith continue to play a large role in the mind of voters? Or are we in the media making more out of this than is really there?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Holy snacks?

If snacks are religious-themed, do they count against your New Year's Resolution?

Maggie Martin passed on a little blurb from Rachael Ray's magazine about faith-based treats. I've seen the little mints with scripture verses, but this takes the concept to a new level.

My favorites were Holy Chocolate Hot Chocolate, created by the Rev. Stan Smith, an Eastern-Syrian Orthodox priest in California. The money from the company now supports Smith, so he does not have to take a salary from his church. The website claims that the all natural ingredients combine to form "Heaven on Earth."

And for the kosher foodies out there, there's Thou Shall Snack. The founder loved her grandmother's kosher cooking and sought to create her own snack versions of the treats. She came up with latke crisps, based on the Hanukkah tradition, and a few other goodies. Five percent of the proceeds are donated to charity.

I have not tried either, so I certainly can't vouch for them. I'm not sure whether this exploiting faith or just expressing it in a new way, but it's certainly an interesting idea. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Blessings from the book of Numbers:

The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!