Taking a Stand

Over the past couple days I’ve seen several comments on various social media sites about Planned Parenthood, the Pro-Life movement, and snide remarks about how Christians should respond to the outrage. I usually try to stay out of politics and the general [edit]-storm that surrounds controversial topics like these, but there are times when you must take a stand and let others know where you stand on the issue.

This post is designed to start (or continue) discussions about sensitive topics. This is not an argument where there is a right or wrong side, nor just two sides. If you are interested in continuing this conversation, please do so, but please be respectful. Now that that is over with, let us continue.
:::END NOTE:::

When I was in High School, I took part in the Pro-Life rally in Washington, D.C. On multiple occasions, I wore shirts that stated “Pray to end Abortion” and “Some choices are wrong.”  As a Catholic, I was raised to respect and cherish all life, especially those still in the womb.

My faith tells me that every creation, every individual, is a blessing. I believe that life begins in the womb. I believe that all life must be cherished. I believe that the act abortion is the death of a life, a child.

But here’s the thing: I also believe that it is not my right to force my beliefs onto someone else. I know there are people who believe differently than I do. I have friends who see the world in a way that I never could. And they have shown me that this is not my choice. It is theirs.

You see, I, as a male, will never be pregnant. I will never have that opportunity to bring life into the world (please, don’t argue this. I know science may say otherwise in a couple of years). That being said, I will never have to face the choice of bringing a child into this world or letting it go. My only opportunity will be to love and support those beautiful women in whatever choice they make.

As a follower of Christ, I am called to love and fight for those around me. I am called to support, not to judge.

My place is beside them. I do not have to agree with them. I do not have to understand. But I am to love to my fullest.

Sometimes loving someone means accepting their decision and holding their hand anyways.  Sometimes love is walking them past the shouting crowds. Sometimes love is sitting and listening, not trying to talk them out of a choice, but giving them the safe space to process the choice. Sometimes love is putting aside your own opinions and supporting them. And sometimes it is keeping your mouth shut.

Lately I’ve been asked by a number of individuals what I thought about Planned Parenthood and the current protests against it (aka: do I support defunding the organization). Well, it’s not a hard choice for me.

If it were not for Planned Parenthood, several of my friends would not have the necessary care and support to have given birth to beautiful children.  If it were not for their screenings, a good friend would not have known that she had breast cancer that was caught early enough before it became hazardous to her health. If it were not for their services, many of my friends would not be able to afford preventative medicine.

You see, I support Planned Parenthood. I support them because they have shown love where many people have not.

We say that we are pro-life or pro-choice, but I think it goes much farther than that. The usual argument has nothing to do with being pro-life, it is about being anti-abortion. Or anti-choice. We want people to see the world the same way we do. We want them to act like us, believe the same things as we do, and make the same choices we would. This is not being pro-life.

Pro-life is more than being pro-birth, but making sure everyone around us has the chance to live to their fullest. It is more than a stance against abortion and the death penalty, but a conscience effort to live and give others the chance to do the same.

A friend of mine made a comment that was a bit facetious about Christians protesting Planned Parenthood and it made me start thinking; is that how people view Christians these days? What happened to the love we are called to share?

I believe that love can conquer all.

Do I believe that abortion is wrong? Sure. But that will not stop me from loving to the fullest. Nothing will.

This is my stance on the issue. Yes, I believe it to be wrong, but why should my beliefs be forced upon those around me.

Just some thoughts…


Lessons from Kingdom of Heaven

Last night I watched the movie Kingdom of Heaven with my dad. You know, the movie where Orlando Bloom is a blacksmith who becomes a knight during the Crusades and ends up as the defender of Jerusalem. It’s one of my favorite movies. Not because Liam Neeson plays Godfrey de Ibelin, the baron who once fought for two days with an arrow in his [edit in case of sensitive eyes]. Or because the love story between Sibylla (played by the beautiful Eva Green) and Balian de Ibelin (Orlando Bloom). Though those are some of the interesting parts of the movie.

The reason I love this movie so much is the fact that it shows us the struggle of faith, the doubt in religion, and the quest to bring good into the world, to be ones best at all times, even when that means personal sacrifice.

If you have not seen the movie, go watch it. There may be some spoilers and I do not want to be held responsible for ruining anything for anybody. I know the movie has been out for 10 years, but you never know if people have seen it or not.

The movie takes place in the Holy Land during a time of uncertainty, as Saladin and the Saracen army threaten the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On top of this, the Templar Knights, led by Guy de Lusignan, are trying to provoke a war by slaughtering Muslims left and right.

A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move for himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at that time. This will not suffice. Remember that.
– King Baldwin IV

King Baldwin, the leper king of Jerusalem, reminds Balian on their first meeting that a man’s actions are his and his alone. It is a reminder that every man is responsible for making the choice to follow the demands of those who claim to rule us or the commands of our Father above, Abba.

Each one of us bears this same responsibility. Do we follow the path that society tries to force us down, or do we seek out the stepping stones that God has put before our feet to find the journey stretching out before us? This is a choice that we must answer.

God has called each of us to be His hands and feet. To take up the weapons of love and become warriors in His name.

Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.
– Godfrey de Ibelin

That is the oath Balian took to become a knight. A slap to the face was so that he would remember it.

This is an oath that we should all live by. To love through our actions. To show our faith through protecting those around us. Even those that do not believe the same things we do. To stand when everyone else runs to hide behind the walls of protection. To ride out against a foe that outnumbers us to give others the chance to escape to safety.

Balian takes this oath to heart and tries to bring good wherever he goes. And though he struggles with his faith, he succeeds in building a better world for those under his protection.

At one point, after spending the night listening for God on the hill where Christ was crucified, he admits to his fathers friend, a Hospitaler who remains unnamed throughout the move, that he has lost Religion, that God has abandoned him.

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion, I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and of goodness. What God desires is here (pointing at his head) and here (placing a hand over his heart) and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.
– Hospitaler

Every time I hear this quote, I smile. These words were something that I struggled to discover for some time. They echo in my heart, telling us that if we do not live out our faith every single day, we do not truly know the desires of God. Religion has brought some of the greatest love to the world, but through the actions of men and women who have warped it into an abomination, it has also been used to pour out hatred, violence, and death.

Religion has been warped to spread war, but if we truly want to live the lives that God calls us to live, we will find ourselves fighting for love. And peace.

The movie ends with the siege and fall of Jerusalem, an epic battle of wills and strategy. After Balian threatens to tear down every religious building, temple, and holy place, Saladin responds stating that this might be for the best. He then goes to remind Balian that the city is filled with innocent women and children, granting them safe passage back to Christian lands in exchange for the city. With the safety of those under his protection secured, Balian surrenders the city.

As they depart, they share the following words:

And peace be with you

The entire move reminds me that we (Christians) are not so much different than those who are of differing faiths. As Balian and his father approach Messina, we hear a priest shouting “To Kill an Infidel is not murder! It is the path to heaven!” As my dad heard this, he turned to me and stated that his was the same rallying cry we still hear in the Holy Land. And when Balian spots a number of Muslims praying, he asks what their prayers mean:

“Subhana Rabbi’l Adhim.” Praise be to God. It is proper to praise him.

To which, Balian states: Sounds like our prayers.

I don’t believe we are all that different. That we are capable of living together in peace. That the lines drawn by religion can be erased through the love of faith. And that our actions prove stronger than our words.

One of my favorite characters in the movie is Nasir, a man we assume is a servant, but is revealed to be a leader of the Saracens with Saladin. After Balian spares his life, he returns the favor. After seeing the righteous actions of Balian as he fought to protect innocent citizens caught out in the open before the Saracen army and the defense of Jerusalem, Nasir returns a horse to Balian and then asks him a final question before the movie comes to a close:

… and if God does not love you, how could you have done the things you have done?

And I’ll leave it there.

God Bless and PEACE

Heroes, the News, and Little Things Lost Along The Way

Last week, while enjoying our family vacation at Edisto Island, SC, my parents found a waterlogged camera in the sand. After prying open the case, I discovered that the memory card had been protected and that it contained over 1,800 images of family, friends, and adventures. As a photographer, I knew how important images can be, so I made a simple post on Facebook in the attempt to locate the owners of said camera.

After posting, I left it alone and kind of forgot about it for a couple days. There were more important things to do, like running across the beach with my four year old niece and nephew and taking naps on the hammock with my five month old addition to the family (another nephew). It wasn’t until a good friend from school messaged me (very urgently) saying that I needed to check my ‘Others’ folder. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an ‘others’ folder in the Facebook Message system.

In that folder was a message from an excited and relieved mother who had lost her sons camera in the ocean several weeks earlier. I had found the owners of the camera. I could send it back to them, returning their memories and hopefully bring a smile to their faces.

But the story didn’t stop there. My Facebook post had been shared more than 47 thousand times. Somewhere in those several thousand shares, the local news station out of Charleston caught wind of the story. They wanted to interview me. And they aired the story on the ABC 4 News in Charleston. It was also aired in the owners hometown on the ABC 11 News in Raleigh, NC. Then, somehow it got picked up by Good Morning America’s news blog thingermojig, and the ABC National News website. Even KLOVE Radio shared the story on air.

Most people (I think) would love all the attention, but I feel torn about all the publicity. I didn’t post on Facebook with the intention to become famous, or get more friends, likes, or whatever. I posted because it is what I felt like I should do. If I had lost a camera, memory card, and all the images that it contains, I would hope that someone takes the effort to return it to me.

I feel like I’m going to forever be remembered as the guy who got the camera back to this family. But I am so much more than that. I would rather be remembered as the guy who brought happiness through a simple gesture of kindness. Or the dude that makes people smile and laugh. Or simply as an uncle. A loved one. A blessing.

As I was driving back to Virginia, I was wondering why this story was making such a big splash. Why was this story more important than all the others? I know, everyone likes a ‘feel good’ story, but what makes me returning a camera more special than a young man who spent the past several hours loving a good friend, talking them out of taking their own life? Or the wildland firefighters who are returning home after two weeks battling the flames? Or the 16.6 thousand volunteers who poured into New Orleans to continue serving, ten years after the city was left in ruins? Or the thousands of National Service members who have dedicated a year of service to our nation, serving in schools, through conservation, and in the wake of disasters?

I asked myself why I am the hero and not the rest of these individuals? And I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t. And I’m still struggling with it.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Black Hawk Down, and I think it applies:

A friend of mine asked me before I got here, just when we were shippin’ out, he asked me “Why are you goin’ to fight somebody else’s war? What, do y’all think you’re heroes?” I didn’t know what to say at the time, but if he asked me again, I’d say “No.” I’d say there is no way in hell. Nobody asks to be a hero. It just sometimes turns out that way.

Nobody sets out to be a hero. It just happens. You find a camera and search for the family to return it. You sit and listen to a friend’s struggles and you are there to comfort them in the darkness. You become a nameless volunteer and change someone’s life through your service. You smile as you pass a stranger on the street. You hold the hands of someone who just lost everything to the wrath of nature and you act out of love. And you become a hero to someone else.

You may never get the recognition. Or you may run from it. But it doesn’t change the fact that you made someone smile, you saved their life, you shaped their world. And that, my friends, is what loving is really all about.

The Challenge

I am sitting here on family vacation looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and I wanted to share a thought or two while it is still quiet. It’s been a long year. It’s been rough and, to be honest, there have been times where I loose focus on things that really matter in life.

Several weeks ago, I finished my last and final year as a Corps Member with AmeriCorps, having served the past two years with the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT). Before that, FEMA Corps. And before that, NCCC. I’ve had the adventure of a lifetime, something I wouldn’t trade because these experiences have shaped me. In that time, I have struggled with Faith, with people, challenges, and with discovering who I am and who I want to be.

Recently, I reconnected with my old roommate from college and a beautiful young lady and good friend who recently returned from a year in the missions field. I hadn’t seen my roommate in almost 5 years, so there was a lot to catch up about over dinner. This included side comments about how I was the only one who was eating flesh (Vegan-speak for eating meat).

The conversation went back and forth as we caught up with one another and shared our experiences and journeys with one another. We talked about faith and missions and churches and jobs. We shared our hearts with one another as we relearned about who was sitting across and beside one another. Five years changes people, but somehow we are still the same person as before.

As we embraced one another as brothers and sisters in faith, a friendship that goes beyond blood-bonds and distance, I smiled.

Since finishing my time with AmeriCorps, I have spent time holding my new nephew and watching him be baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve sat in quiet looking out over the beach here at Edisto. Sang and played music with my mother and her sister. Read for hours. And compiled a video montage of this past year with the ERT.

I’ve also woken up each morning with the reminder that God has granted each of us another day here on this Earth.

Something my friend said has stuck with me: God has a plan. This doesn’t always mean we are going to be happy, or safe, or feel like this is part of the plan, but we have to trust that God knows what He is doing. If we accept what is before us, the challenges and difficulties that come with our jobs, the people we work with, and the stress of living, if we take all that with a smile, knowing that it is an opportunity to grow, then maybe we can start to see that it is all good.

Someone once told me that you must wake up every morning and remember that each day, each breath, is a gift from God. So what are we going to fill it with?

It is easy to sit down and give up. To complain to no end about the injustices of the world and the terrible things that go on before our eyes. But what good does that do? Does it reveal God’s love through our actions?

When I dedicated my life to following the teachings of Jesus Christ and accepted a relationship with God, I made the choice to be His hands and feet. To be an example of His love. Every single person who calls themselves a Christian, a follower of Christ, made the same choice. And that begins with accepting the gift of love from our Father, Abba.

Each morning that we wake up, each breath that we take in, should be a reminder that God loves us. And once we fill our hearts with this love, it will begin to pour out unconditionally onto all those around us.

It’s not always easy. There are people in our lives who are difficult, who are combative, who would rather see us fail. But we are still called to love them. There will be people who don’t share the same beliefs as us, who don’t want to believe in God, who actively try to turn us away from Him. It is not our place to convert them, to argue in circles. We are called to love them. And God will reveal Himself through this love.

It is a challenge. But I look out over the waters, and remember the mountains of Montana, the open fields of the grasslands, and even the shattered landscapes scarred by wildfires, floods, and tornadoes, and I can see God working through it all. And I smile because I know I have seen another glimpse of His love in my life.