The Heart Inside You

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My kid, like his father, is a movie watcher. Also, like me, he watches the same movies over and over again. He makes his old man proud, loving all my favorites. From Star Wars to Marvel to thirty-year-old Disney movies, I have found my partner in motion picture appreciation. While it is quickly being replaced by, “Coco,” his latest fixation has found itself in nonstop replays of Disney’s “Moana.”

While few can resist the lure of a Disney/Pixar movie, this was a particularly fun movie for me. I am a lifelong WWF/WWE fan. So, The Rock playing the role of Maui was a delightful aspect to this movie. In this story, Moana Waialiki, the daughter of the village chief, must locate Maui, a demi-god, who has brought a curse upon the sea over 1,000 years ago by stealing the Heart of Te Fiti – the mother island that possesses the power to create life and brings other isles into existence. Once Maui, a shape-shifter, acquires his magical fish hook, he and Moana set off to face Te Ka, a demon of lava and fire which rises from the sea like a volcano, who guards the island.

Maui fails to defeat Te Ka, sacrificing his magical fish hook to ensure Moana a chance to deliver the heart to the island. Upon arrival, Moana discovers the entire island of Te Fiti is missing, replaced by the shape of the goddess gouged beneath the water. Looking back, Moana notices a spiral symbol on Te Ka’s chest as it rages and understands. Holding the heart in the air, she attracts the attention of Te Ka in an attempt to save Maui’s life. Moana instructs the ocean to allow Te Ka to come to her and she walks to meet Te Ka face-to-face.

What Moana has come to realize is that Te Ka, the rage-filled monster, full of anger, hate, and destruction is actually the goddess Te Fiti herself. The backstory here is Te Fiti was once full of love, and that love manifested itself in her giving her heart to others through her creation of islands, the wind, flowers, trees, and all the other things the seafaring people of the South Pacific loved. However, Te Fiti’s heart was taken from her. That those she loved stole her heart changed and transformed her over time from the loving, giving beautiful goddess of creation to the fiendish legend known and feared as Te Ka.

Pixar is a master of placing the feels in their movies. Each outing to a Pixar movie almost guarantees a tug at the heartstrings at the very least. However, this movie in particular was different for me. I know what it is like to have your heart stolen from inside you. I know what it is like to have your heart taken from someone you loved and gave your all. I am sure many of you do too. How many of us have allowed the pain of what someone did to us or took from us turn into a hate-fill, raging, bitter monster?

When those we love wrong us, it causes significant damage to us, and we react in different ways. Having my heart stolen from me sent me into a full-blown spiral. I was drowning, and I pulled anyone who tried to help me under the water as well. The danger of becoming a monster was real. I was blessed that hate and rage did not transform me, but it took years waiting for my Moana to come along and restore my heart.

Our lives, our hearts, revolve around whatever we place at its center. If we set a job at the center of our lives and we lose our job, our world falls apart. If we place a person at the center of our lives and that person leaves or is taken from us, our heart breaks and our world falls apart. Anytime we place something of this world at the center of our lives, we run the risk of losing our heart. There is only one constant that will never leave or forsake us. That constant is God, and when you place Him at the center of your life, it does not matter if the other things go or are taken. Your foundation remains firm because all those things are not the center of what makes up your world.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Granted, I was blessed to have a foundation in the Word and a surrounding of friends to keep me from that road. So, I did not become a bitter monster, filled with rage and toxicity destroying all in my path. But I know people who have. I am sure you do as well. Ta Ka was fortunate enough to have someone like Moana who was brave enough to confront her and restore what was taken from her. I will never have what was taken from me returned. It is lost forever. The best I can do is pass on to others what I have learned.

Much like my last post which discussed the hidden things people go through that lead to suicide, we need to be like Moana. Brave enough, caring enough, and willing to get involved in the lives of people. Don’t let people in your life suffer alone, wallow in their pain alone, do life alone. What happens if, like me, they never get their “heart” back? They will need someone like you to lead them out of that dark place to find a new purpose in their life. We need to be reminded, as Moana reminds Te Fiti, “They may have  stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you.” Be willing to cross the ocean and take on the monsters of this world affecting the lives of others. Make the world a better, brighter place.

Unknown Parts

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The news of Anthony Bourdain’s death came to me as I was driving. My wife’s cellphone notified her of a news alert. She gasped as she read the screen and said, “Anthony Bourdain is dead.” I sat there in silent shock. The news did not yet reveal the circumstances of his death, but I suspected what would come next – suicide.

I knew that would be the report. I did not personally know Bourdain, but I knew his type. A few years ago, my life fell apart. I lost everything that was anything to me, and I did not know how to make it even minute by minute. I was a mess. I was going through counseling at church, but that was only helping me hold onto my faith, not get through the grueling hours of day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong, I needed that spiritual reinforcement, but it was not enough. So a then-friend (that’s another story), and somewhat recovering drug and alcohol addict, told me about A.A. and N.A. meetings he attended. He said he seemed to get some internal peace through them.

Since I was not an alcoholic or addict, I did not see how this was a feasible option for me. However, time went by, and I learned they had these “open meetings.” These were meetings that were open to the public to attend. Most outsiders that joined these hour-long sessions were students and medical types – nurses, psychiatrists, and the like. So one day, he invited me along, and I went. What I found there changed my life forever.

I discovered people who were just like me. They were broken, lost, confused, and looking for a way to function, day to day, in life and find their way. Much like Edward Norton’s character in “Fight Club,” I found myself in these meetings. Not only did I find myself, but I also found my relationship with God and people. My church meetings helped me to maintain my belief in God. These meetings enabled me to develop my relationship with Him through my storm. More than that, I learned that these people, this group of outcasts people belittle and condemn, were some of the most loving, accepting, and giving people I’ve ever met.

This company of anonymous train wrecks became my lifeline. They taught me how to build my life back by giving it away. I learned from them that getting out of my own life and helping others is the only way to heal my wounds. The work I do now with UnFinished International was mainly developed within the walls of that little building on Brown Street. I was not an addict or user. I did not suffer from an “ism,” but I was accepted nonetheless because I was broken in other ways, just like they were.

As my life progressed and I began to heal, God started opening doors for me and the world. I met my now wife, and we commenced years of international travel. This is why Anthony Bourdain was somewhat of a mini-hero to me. The guy came from nothing and became a global traveler and raconteur after my own heart. That is not to say I place my rubber stamp on all his beliefs and ideas. I do not, nor do I yours. However, you don’t have to believe what I believe or think like I think for me to respect you. Anthony Bourdain experienced people and places with love and a passion for understanding them. He, at least professionally, was a man after my own heart.

When I heard the news, I knew it was inevitable. I was heartbroken. That Bourdain took his own life harkened back to my days in those walls with men and women I came to care about who had their lives ravaged by drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, and all the other things this world throws at you. My heart went out to a man who lived a life I love to live, and, in the end, it was not enough to save him. He left behind an 11-year-old daughter and many friends who loved him dearly.

Once the news hit, social media did not disappoint in its ability to disappoint. What shocked me the most, and I still do not know why I was shocked, were the comments from people who called themselves Christians. Some of the most horrible remarks about Bourdain’s death came from the posts and comments of fellow Christians. “One less junkie in the world,” “Another liberal blowhard out of the way,” “This guy was a piece of trash,” “Can’t believe people are upset he died,” “He took the coward’s way out.” These are comments from people in the identical posts that talked about being a Christian.

I feel there are far too many of us out there who don’t understand what people go through. People just don’t get the “there, but the grace of God go I” mentality. Mental illness is an actual disease. More than that, it is a tool and an attack from our enemy. People want to throw it out there as a gun control tagline or use it to place others in some kind of caste system. This is not how Jesus would handle the broken. Bourdain was an atheist himself, and that, too, breaks my heart. We, as Christians, are too often too content to let others suffer and die in their sickness. When I went through my dark place, plenty of Christians came to my aide, but so did a lot of atheists and agnostics.

I am not a proponent of the current level of celebrity worship in our society – even church celebrity worship. But I admired Anthony Bourdain’s desire to make the world a better place by sitting across the table from another person and discussing differences over a meal. As he put it best himself, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” So many Christians scream about “making America great again” when they don’t even know their next-door neighbor’s name. It’s time to care about people again. It’s time to stop judging and name-calling, and living in your bubble. Jesus went into Samaria and ate with tax collectors. Country Club Christianity is failing. Bourdain may have hated religion and been resolved to die without it, but your neighbor might not.

Anthony Bourdain may not have represented many of my personal or religious convictions, but I am sad he is no longer bringing the world into my life. Bourdain came into our homes week in and week out, showing us it was ok to share a meal with someone different. We could really use some of that right now. So I suppose I will now resolve to stop living vicariously through him and just get out there and do it myself. Perhaps I can save a few people along the way. Maybe you can too.

“There are people here who need help…”

Missions-HeaderA few weeks ago, a friend on Facebook who posts a lot of SJW statuses and memes posted one that hit close home for me. The photo had what appeared to be children in Africa on the top, and what was supposed to be a homeless person in America on the bottom. The meme called out Christians, asking the age-old question, “Why do you have to go to the other side of the earth to help people when there are people who need help right here in America?”

It’s not a new question. In fact, I even hear it asked by fellow Christians all the time. I tend to answer this question differently when discussing it between Christians and non-Christians. In the case of UnFinished International, the answer is somewhat easy to provide as we help both. We support kids in Kenya that need help, and we have programs for kids and parents right here in our backyard.

It’s often a moot point to enter into a discussion with many people on the topic, however. Most people who have asked me about it did not support anyone anywhere and were only trying to incite an argument or offend me in bringing this up. However, as Christians, we do need to understand the basic principles of working and supporting in international missions. Particularly in today’s environment as the world becomes more and more nationalistic. Why should we as Christians support organizations and church projects and programs that send money to help those outside our own country?

Most Christian organizations will point to Acts 1:8 when defending their mission work. He said to them, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The, He, being Jesus, we really don’t need any other reason as Christians to be “witness” to the end of the earth. However, the Bible actually addresses the subject long before Jesus gave this mandate. In fact, Jesus Himself discusses two instances of this occurring.

In Luke 4, Jesus stands before a synagogue and reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Once He finishes, he says to the congregation, “I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Clearly, this passage tells us that there were many widows within the borders of Israel. However, God did not send the great prophet Elijah to any of them. God sent Elijah to minister to a widow outside of Israel. Likewise, we are told there were many lepers within the borders of Israel during the prophetic times of Elisha. But God sent Elisha to cleans not an Israelite, but a Syrian. During the times of two different prophets, there were people within each prophet’s country that needed both provision and healing. However, God did not send neither Elijah nor Elisha to any of them. God sent both prophets to do his work internationally.

Why does God send us to care for people in other countries when there are people who need help right here in our own country? There are many answers to this question. However, for this post, I will only point out one. God’s love is unconditional. God’s love, mercy, and grace are not based on where you are born. God has no obligation to provide for only those who live in America, or Israel, or any other place for that matter. God’s love, mercy, and grace are available to all, especially children with special needs or disabilities in the darkest of places.

Now, that is not to say those in our own country are not able to receive provision and healing from God. What it does say, however, is they are not the only ones who should receive it. When God called Elijah and Elisha to go outside the boundaries of Israel to do His work, they did not argue with Him. God called them, and they answered. They understood it does not matter who you are, or where you live. They understood that God so loved…. the world.

We as Christians are called to help the least of these. We are called to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. Many times, that will lead us to places we had not anticipated. We are called to be a light in the darkest of places. While there are indeed plenty of dark places here in the United States, God is not a God exclusively of America. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul teaches that the local and international body of Christians is made up of many members. So, what we must understand is that we are missing out on the blessing and fruit of God’s work when we are not pouring into international missions. As Shannon L. Alder  put it, “One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”

God and Country

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Mere months ago, many who called themselves, “Christian,” found themselves severely upset over the removal of monuments dedicated to individuals who fought against the American flag. These people, Robert E. Lee, etc., formed a rival government and led a Civil War against the country of the United States of America. This group of people founded their own flag and killed American Patriots dedicated to preserving the nation. Hundreds of “Conservative Christians” lined the streets of America and pontificated on social media against the removal of monuments and statues honoring these individuals who lead a revolt against the American flag.

Fast forward a month later. Suddenly, “Christian Patriots” are offended that football players are either taking a need during the National Anthem or not coming out to the field at all. My first question is, where were these offended before 2009? Why 2009? Well, let’s look at a bit of history.

Before 2009, not a single football player took the field before the National Anthem being played. Up until 2009, every single player on every single team remained in the locker room until AFTER the singing of the National Anthem. Until this point, the National Anthem would be played or sang, then the team would charge out onto the field in a grand spectacle of fireworks, fanfare, and paper displays strategically placed for that key player to burst through in a great display of domination. No one was offended, and no was in the news decrying the absence of football players on the field during the National Anthem. What changed? What made football, and every other sport, put their players out for display during the Star-Spangled Banner? Marketing. Good ole fashioned Capitalism.

The average cost of a Super Bowl ad was $5 million for thirty seconds of the 2017 game. That is $167,000 per second for an ad in the Super Bowl. Advertisers must see value in broadcasting to football fans. Consider, from 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense paid the NFL $5.4 million to put players on the field during the National Anthem and flag ceremonies. The National Guard followed suit, paying the NFL $6.8 million from 2013 to 2015 for player representation during military presentations. Before 2009, NFL players stayed in the locker room for the National Anthem, but no one seems to remember that. So, why the change?

This subject is a much deeper topic than I can get into on this individual post. However, we cannot overlook the relationship between the effect of Super Bowl ads and the paid presentation of NFL football players during the National Anthem. The DoD and the National Guard began a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign in 2009 to the fans of sporting events. Much like Michael Jordan selling Nikes, the thought was that sports fans watching their heroes saluting the flag would become more patriotic as a result. This performance was billed in government documentation as a “recruitment expense.” Even the “surprise welcome home” events are a part of this paid marketing. Yes, the government pays the NFL, MLB, and others to do these “surprise” welcome home events during their games. John McCain himself penned a letter condemning this practice. The current outrage that players do not participate in the government-funded activity is proof their marketing dollars are worth the expense.

This attempt to gaslight the public, and us as Christians, to become enraged over a football player not coming out to the field, or taking a knee during the National Anthem, is nothing more than a successful attempt to lure us into blind, unconditional support of the government institution. This manufactured anger over a flag that we wear as bikinis or use to wipe the ketchup from our mouths as a napkin at Fourth of July BBQs takes our focus away from what is real and relevant. Jesus never swore allegiance to the Jewish State. Our Christ never got offended at someone kneeling before the Flag of Rome. Jesus respected Caesar and what belonged to the government, but His allegiance was to the Kingdom of God.

We as Christians have become easy prey in attempts to gaslight groups into outrage over things that are wholly insignificant relative to the Gospel. There is a significant difference between, “God and country,” and “Christ and Kingdom” and Christians need to understand that every issue does not require a response. Jesus spent most of His ministry ministering in silence. We as Christians have become debaters instead of demonstrators. The “Take a Knee” issue has become but one in another matter in a long line of misguided attempts to drag us into the secular culture war. Jesus never fell for this, and neither should we.

The “Take a Knee” issue is not about patriotism; it’s about racism. Racism is wrong, and we as Christians should stand against it, and we need to stop hiding it behind things like patriotism. If you are uncomfortable with diversity, you’d probably hate Heaven anyway. The issue of black football players taking a knee has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with racism in America. Christians should not allow patriotism to cover the sin of racism.

I fly an American flag in my front yard every day of the year. I love my country and admire patriotism. However, the National Anthem is not a hymn. Patriotism is not forcing people to stand and salute the flag. Patriotism is creating a country where people want to stand and salute the flag. Veterans fought for freedom, not a flag. We as Christians need to live lives that draw people to Jesus and taking to social media over every issue is not the way to do that. Jesus did not address every issue. In fact, most of His ministry was worked out in silence. We should be so wise as to model His behavior.

 

 

 

 

 

A Community of Tomorrow

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I lived in Orlando for almost five years. Since moving to Houston, I have made a purpose of returning to the City Beautiful as often as possible. This endeavor leads to at least two trips across the Gulf a year in attempts to stay as connected as possible to what I consider my adoptive home.

I would be a liar (as if I am not other times in my life) if I denied Walt Disney World did not play a huge part of my excursions back to Central Florida. Mickey Mouse is not my sole reason for returning, but he joins my list of friends, activities, the church I attend in Orlando, and various other sirens that call me to return.

Of all the things that go on in Walt Disney World, Epcot hands down is my favorite of the resort activities. There are many reasons for my love of the second-built theme park within the San Fransisco-sized Disney resort, and the primary one has nothing to do with Mickey Mouse.

International Diversity

I am a huge proponent of travel. Travel. Travel well. Travel often. Travel exposes people to views, opinions, cultures, and most of all people that are different than us. Too many of us never experience the world outside our own hometown. The world is so much bigger than your neighborhood. However, international travel seems much too huge an endeavor for the average joe.

Epcot follows a “two parks in one” model with Future World on one side and “World Showcase” on the other side. World Showcase consists of eleven pavilions featuring different countries from all parts of the world. One can spend all day walking the semicircle of World Showcase spending time in each country as you go.

The pavilions are staffed with Cast Members from the respective countries. Now, there is a Disneyesque manner in which each country is portrayed. However, a visit to each pavilion will put one in contact with actual people from somewhere other than Anywhere, U.S.A. Some pavilions show films educating viewers of the country, and all have restaurants featuring samples of local fare.

We are living in a time when the world is growing and shrinking at the same time. This situation provides many opportunities to pull each other together. However, there are just as many, if not more, trying to pull us apart. Diversity is a beautiful thing, but it is something one must experience to appreciate. I am fortunate in that I have eleven stamps in my passport (so far). However, most people feel they cannot accomplish a tour of the world.

The reason I love Epcot is it allows people to go on a trip to one place and meet a widely diverse range of individuals. It provides experiences in their culture, even if it is in a Mickey Mouse way. Time has taught me experience changes people. Travel changes people. Walking the pavilions of Epcot provides an opportunity for Disney guests to expand their minds and take in a plethora of new ideas, food, music, and most of all, people. I feel an exuberance wandering from “country” to “country” I cannot find in one location like I can inside Epcot. My love for this theme park actually has so little to do with Disney and so much to do with my growth as a person.

One cannot grow as an individual, thoroughly love, and fully take in life inside one’s bubble. This world and the people who live on it were beautifully created, each in their own way. Get outside your comfort zone, talk to people not like you, learn why they think the way you do. Don’t spend your life in the same bland room everyday. Life was meant to live in color. We each get to choose what kind of community we will live in tomorrow. Do what you can to make it a better one.