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Archive for the ‘Refugees’ Category

What if these walls could talk…

Oh miss Elphaba, the things one hears these days. Dreadful things!
 I’ve heard of an ox a professor from Crox no longer permitted to teach who has lost all powers of speech.
And an owl in Munchkin loch a vicar with a thriving flock forbidden to preach how he only can screech.
Only rumours but still enough to get pause from anyone with paws something bad is happening is oz
Something bad happening in Oz
Under the surface, behind the scenes something bad…

…Nothing all that bad
 Nothing truly bad;… It couldn’t happen here in Oz…

The dialogue above is from the musical Wicked, and I could not help but recall these lyrics as I walked the streets of Vienna earlier today.

You see, the area in the city where our student facility is located is the former Jewish section of town.   The bronze memorial plates shown above are in the pavement on the sidewalk just a few feet from the front of our student’s building.  In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, an estimated 65,000 Jews were deported from Vienna to concentrations camps around Europe.   Only 2,000 survived.   Another 800 managed to hide out in the city and were spared from torture or death.   Our students visit a concentration camp site with the program each year, and it is always a sobering experience, but even moreso this year.   Not only will our students have stood in the actual rooms used as gas chambers, as I experienced over 20 years ago as a student, but they currently call home the same streets and even likely the same building as did many Jewish citizens of Austria.   What if you were taken from your home and separated from your family?

Moreso, what would you do if you were a non Jewish citizen of Vienna at the time?   What would you do if you were a non Jewish citizen of Dachau in Germany, or Mauthausen in Austria, or Auschwitz in Poland?   Some protested or helped, at great personal risk or cost, but many turned a blind eye.

As Bernhard reminded me on the plane the other night, it is easier to be a good man when times are good, but hard to not be a bad man when times are bad.   What would you have done?   What would I have done?    What should I be doing now to not promote, or ignore, things that just should not be?   We live in a time of increasing greed, jealousy, and intolerance for human beings.   Maybe it is just part of the cycle of life and society, and a continuation of the hatred spawned by Cain toward his brother Able and the confusion of different tongues spawned at the Tower of Babel.

Regardless, as I sit here tonight, in this building on Gruentorgasse, I can almost hear the ghosts of that time calling out.   It’s something we should not forget.   The residents of this neighborhood in Vienna are doing their best not to, as well.   There is a memorial under glass in the sidewalk about two blocks from this location, and it contains keys taken from residents and shop owners as they were arrested and deported, and the names of their former owners.    Each of these is a stark reminder of the power of hate, and the duty of love.

And may we never sit silent and assume that all is well, when…

Something bad happening in Oz
Under the surface, behind the scenes something bad…

…Nothing all that bad
 Nothing truly bad;… It couldn’t happen here in Oz…

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Wildfires have been raging recently in and around our town. People have lost their homes, and many others have been forced to evacuate. My wife and I found ourselves caught in the middle of it all last night while trying to drive a simple 15 minute straight line from Point A to Point B.

I’ve never lost a house and possessions to fire, but once or twice have experienced the preparation to run thinking in a rural Texas setting. You wonder what to do. Who can stand against such odds?

All of us, however, have endured other virtual wildfires that life has thrown toward us. Some fires are man made; others just happen. And what do we do?

Romans 8: 31-39: What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[n]) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[o] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Chris Tomlin tune “Our God” was on the iPod this morning, and it seems the best way to close these thoughts.

Water You turned into wine
Open the eyes of the blind
There’s no one like You
None like You
Into the darkness You shine
Out of the ashes we rise
There’s no one like You
None like You

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…

Into the darkness you shining
Out of the ashes we Rise
There’s no One like You
None like You.

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…
Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…

And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
What can stand against?

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…
Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…

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“God is subtle, but He is not malicious. I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world.” – Albert Einstein.

I’ve long thought that to be true, but now wonder if He is not often times speaking to us more directly. Take a random walk with me, and see if you agree.

Many of us recall the “Rocky” movie franchise. He started his saga in the slums of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. The movie details him out running past a group of likely unemployed young men standing on a street corner singing “Take it Back”. Four movies later, some good, some less than good, and Rocky is back in the same neighborhood, a rags to riches to rags scenario, but he is still “Rocky Balboa” at the core, albeit changed by time, experience, and the impact of money.

I have experienced in the past 24 hours what I’ll dub “the day of diatribes”, polite though they may have been. This may or may not be considered just one more of the same by the time you finish this reading.

The first diatribe was by a Facebook friend protesting the use of the American flag as a form of forced advertising by a local realtor who placed them in every yard as far as the eye can see.

The second diatribe hit a little closer to home. It was written by a youth minister in Texas about the problem of increasing costs in higher education, specifically private faith based education, and the amount of debt it takes for many to get an undergraduate degree. The university for which I work’s mission statement is “Transforming Lives for faith, scholarship, and service.” Trust me when I say we do not intend for that to be “debt service”, and are listening and seeking solutions to the broad based problem of the higher education industry making our experience affordable and relevant. Pardon my digression from the topic at hand.

The third diatribe dealt with the problem of sensationalism and desensitizing in our mass media, all to get attention and “viewership”. It is a well written piece about things that are good and true, and you can read it at http://www.reddirtchronicles.com/2011/06/rdc-editorial-whatever-is-good-true-beautiful/

The fourth piece, more a reflection than a diatribe, was a personal look at living a purposeful life, and not a life of “Shadow Purposes” as we are so prone to do in this rich society. It can be read at http://www.reddirtchronicles.com/2011/06/chasing-my-shadow-purpose/

The final referenced piece in the “24 hours of diatribes” was my own, preceding this one, mind you. I read an article this morning about the NBA lockout and some of the quotes in a war of mega millionaires fighting mega millionaires over who gets the bigger share of the billions being offered by the masses at the alter of modern day entertainment. I love the NBA, but this article made me mad, and I suspect it will do the same for many fans as what promises to be a protracted labor negotiation fight plays out.

To paraphrase author Donald Miller, I think we all have forgotten that we are just trees in a story about a forest. The forest may be on fire all around us, but we are too focused on the near surroundings and our own concerns to notice.

The global economy appears to be badly broken. We have “stored up treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19) and need to be prepared for a different day and age, even within the lifespan of some current generations. The economic storm is raging as we speak in benefit rich European society, and the tsunami is racing toward us across the Atlantic even now. Societies are in debt up to their eyeballs; we are soft; we are spoiled. And fundamental societal things are changing. We are aging. The balance of trade and who makes and who buys is evolving. Health care is a concern. The U.S. Government won’t be able to pay for it all or fix all that ailes us. All the while, I fear we are standing on the beach arguing over who gets the bigger share of sandbags while we should be moving to higher ground to stay safely out of the coming wake.

Our societies often have found themselves in these moments in history, and it seems they are often ultimately resolved by fighting a war. The U.S. War for Independence; the French Revolution; the U.S. Civil War; WWI; WWII; the Middle East conflicts. Its about a groundswell of the masses when they can’t get what they want and need, and when the establishment is out of touch. We may be entering another “let them eat cake” moment, I fear. Get the picture?

I think the establishment may be catching on. One of the more telling advertisements running on TV today is “More Saving: More Doing; That’s the power of the Home Depot”. We need to realize that David Stanley (OKC auto dealer) does not really lead the way. The Mathes Brothers may have “our style at our price”, but they will never know us by name.

As I began to pour these random reflections down and try to tie them together cohesively, I looked through the “categories and tags” section of my blog site, and a huge percentage of those previously used seemed strikingly relevent. Take a look at all those listed at the end of this and see if you agree.

After an early morning of pondering these thoughts, I got into the car to come to the office and was immediately presented with “Awakening” by Switchfoot playing on my car radio. God is subtle, indeed, and He was speaking right to me.

Face down with the L.A. curbside endings
In ones and zeros
Downtown was the perfect place to hide

The first star that I saw last night
Was a headlight of a man-made sky
But man-made never made our dreams collide, collide

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
You’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening

Last week saw me living for nothing but deadlines
With my dead beat sky
But this town doesn’t look the same tonight

These dreams started singing to me out of nowhere
And all my life I don’t know
That I’ve ever felt so alive, alive

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
You’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening

I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna know that my heart’s still beating
It’s beating, I’m bleeding

I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna live like I know what I’m leaving
I wanna know that my heart’s still beating
It’s beating, it’s beating, it’s beating, I’m bleeding

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
But you’ve been talk, talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening
Dream, we’re awakening

So, where do we go from here, in this digital community, and in each of our own “cities of brotherly love”? Maybe we are a little like that prizefighter who has gone one or two rounds too far, and needs to reset. What is our task? More saving, more doing? Maybe. Less spending, more doing? Likely. More sharing, more caring? Absolutely. Heightened attention spans are in order. We’re awakening. The bar is raised. A groundswell is happening all around us, and a tsunami may (or may not) be headed are way. Let’s move to higher ground and be ready.

Take me back.

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As referenced in last night’s post, I encountered a team of people during my early morning jog on the beach yesterday. They were a clean, well dressed, polite looking bunch. They carried fish net poles. And they were intensely focused. I approached the lady at the end of the column and simply verbalized my two hunches in the form of a question: Jellyfish, or tar balls? She half smiled, half grimaced, and nodded her head in acknowledgement. “Tar balls”, she said.

I never would have known it was an issue. Since that time, however, I’ve been on the internet, and the pictures of this very beach from exactly one year ago are shocking and sad. How they got it cleaned up is a mystery and a marvel. A regular “reconstruction” is what it is.

It is beautiful here today. But I wonder, “how did it look 15 months ago?”. My wife and daughters came to this place at that time, and they raved about it’s beauty and clear blue water. When we arrived here a few days ago for my first visit, they commented about how the water is “not as blue as last time; maybe it is the time of year…”.

How did the accident causing all of this “collateral damage” occur? Because of the decisions of a group of only a few people, primarily those in roles of authority on the Deepwater Horizon rig itself, and some in the halls of corporate power.

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The book I brought along on this trip is “Flyboys” by James Bradley, the author of “Flags of Our Fathers”. The premise of the book is to tell the story of the flight of men, including President George Bush I, who were shot down over the island of Chichi Jima and what eventually happened to each of them. It is a fascinating account, but is almost as much cultural history and a treatise on the horrors and crimes of war (on both sides) as it is about the men he calls Flyboys.

The horrors of war and the mass number of civilian deaths and suffering from WWII are astounding. Even more astounding is how much death and destruction occurred in the final days of each theater of war, mostly because the few refused to read the handwriting on the wall and give up their positions and demands. Millions upon millions, and suffering beyond measure, all because of human pride, greed, and ego. And hatred, lots of growing and compounding hatred.

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The same was true of the civil war, as my kids so earnestly discovered in our tour of Vicksburg earlier in the week.

I won’t even attempt to touch today on the bigger basic points of “original sin”, “death thru Adam and Eve”, redemption, and the like. My point today is about leadership: vision, motivation, and responsibility. There is a management saying that “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. It is a fairly innocent saying, mostly condemning policies and practices that hold people and companies back from achieving to their full potential.

An even more sobering reality, though, is that with bad vision, people will perish. And suffer. Lots of people.

It all starts with one person: Me. You. The other guy.

We are each responsible; responsible to be responsible. And to be loving, caring, and cautious. Can this decision hurt others? Is the desired outcome worth it? Is it about me, or my agenda? Is it driven by greed, lust, pride, anger, and the like?

But, reconstruction can occur. It happened in the Confederate South. It happened in Japan. It happened in Germany and throughout Europe. And it happened on this beach. Yes, scars, remain. Maybe the water is not as blue as it was before. The name Hiroshima will always conjur up images other than the place of beauty it represented 70 years ago and prior. What happened in Dresden should never be. We need to remember.

Scars remain, and diligent people remain to ensure the cleanup happens and that the accidents and incidents hopefully don’t repeat themselves. Leaders are more aware. Constituents are more aware. The memory of the cost is vivid.

So long as time continues, history will repeat itself. Memories will fade. There will be greed and renewed self interest. There will be mistakes. There will be more wars.

But, not here, and not today. We have beautiful friends in Japan. We have beautiful friends in Germany. And it is a beautiful day in Gulf Shores, even a mere 12 months after the devastation, and I can see the morning cleanup crew forming down along the water’s edge, and it’s not even 7 AM yet. Diligence and caring will pull us through.

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I heard this song on the radio during the drive and drop to school and work yesterday. Great lyric vault moment reminder of the blessings from one another, and the realization of this world’s shortcomings, as our friends and neighbors recover from loss:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Blessings. Lyrics by Laura Story.

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