Apr 20 2011

Lenten reflection: Making sense of the empty tomb

Larry LivingstonHere is the last of the Lenten reflections from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope you have learned from and enjoyed these as much as we did!

The tomb was empty. That was the one thing everybody agreed on.

But why it was empty was an unanswered question, and plenty of rumors were going around.

Some claimed the body had been stolen, though by whom and for what purpose was unclear.

Then there were odd stories of people alleged to have seen him in various places, fully alive. Some claimed to have actually spoken with him, and two even swore they had spent the day traveling with him and that they had shared a meal!

But, at the end of the day, all that most of the people of Jesus’ time knew for sure was that the tomb was empty. And what were they to make of that?

It is the same question every Christian has had to wrestle with since that first Easter morning more than 2,000 years ago. Each day we stand at the entrance to that empty tomb. And each day we must decide what to make of it.

Walk2gether in Peru

Two children join Walk2gether in Peru. Walk2gether is part of CFCA’s mission to share grace and compassion with those living in poverty.

Like the adage about whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, how we choose to interpret the empty tomb comes down to perspective.

Do we see a symbol of suffering, failure and death? Or do we see a sign of promise, hope and renewed life?

How we answer those questions makes all the difference.

The world continually presents us with circumstances that we can choose to see through either the lens of hope or that of hopelessness.

War, suffering, poverty ñ these abound and there is no denying it. But for those with Easter vision, there are countless stories of love and compassion to be witnessed in the midst of those brutal realities.

The deepest joy of CFCA is that we are blessed to be agents of that Easter vision.

The members of our community ñ sponsors, sponsored persons, staff and friends around the world ñ have chosen to pitch our tent in the camp of life and hope. For nearly 30 years that tent has stood as a sign of God’s grace and human compassion.

Like Mary Magdalene, we have heard Jesus tenderly speak in the friendships between sponsors and sponsored persons. Like Thomas, we have touched the wounds of poverty and witnessed the courage of those who have risen above them.

And like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we have walked and broken bread with Jesus in the person of the poor, and yearned to tell the world about the wonders we have seen.

So, do we dare believe in the fantastic tale of a God who would die for us ñ and with us ñ and then lead us to new life beyond our dreaming?

Do we have the courage to walk with those who choose the path of hope? Do we have the fortitude to be witnesses for life in a world so obsessed with death?

Welcome to the empty tomb. Now, what do you make of it?

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Apr 13 2011

Lenten reflection: Embracing the reality of the cross

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Palm Sunday marks our entry into Holy Week, the most sacred time of the Church year.

Now are we invited to begin our annual trek into the depths of the paschal mystery, the central reality of our faith.

Some will keep this week’s opportunities at armís length, for reflecting on the suffering and death of Jesus is not a pleasant exercise.

But for those willing to embrace the spirituality of these coming days, there is much to be discovered about God, the human condition and ourselves.

Part of that discovery is, of necessity, uncomfortable. We are not only asked to witness the drama of Jesusí Passion, we are drawn into it as central characters.

We are there in the crowd, shouting ìhosannaî as Jesus enters into Jerusalem. But we are also there at his trial days later, urging Pilate to condemn Jesus to a criminalís death.

This is the perpetual crossroads at which we find ourselves, challenged daily to make decisions that either reverence the Christ who lives in others ñ and in ourselves ñ or contribute to further isolation, suffering and death.

We rarely recognize it in such solemn terms, but this is where we are. It is part of the price we pay for being human.

It is easy to rationalize the role each of us plays in the continuing sufferings of Christ, but Lent exists to teach us otherwise.

Like it or not, we are each complicit in the effects of sin on our world.

Our complicity ranges in degree from willful ignorance to obstinate selfishness, but it is always there ñ tugging at our souls, tempting us to look no further than our own appetites.

And because we so often give in to that temptation, Christ continues to suffer in the poor and vulnerable.

God wants us to know this ñ to own it ñ but not to fill us with useless, toxic shame. Rather, God wants us to know how good we are despite our sinfulness and what incredible things we can accomplish when we allow Godís grace to flow through us.

CFCA strives to be a witness to human goodness and to the grace of God. The members of our community, both sponsors and sponsored persons, understand that the nature of blessing is to return increased to the one who sent it. They have known resurrection and yearn to share it with others.

And how much more does God yearn to share resurrection with us! But first things first.

We cannot own resurrection without first owning the cross, and this week is about the cross. Each of us must respond to the reality of the cross. We must lean in to it.

It isnít easy. It isnít pleasant. But take heart.

For Easter awaits.

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Apr 6 2011

Lenten reflection: Rising again from small, everyday ‘deaths’

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Some of the most interesting characters in Scripture are also the ones we know least about.

In the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent we meet one of them: Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary.

Lazarus, we are told, had been in the tomb four days, a fact which distinguishes his story from those of other Scriptural characters who were raised from the dead.

The Gospel-writer wants to make it clear that what happened to Lazarus was no ìnear-deathî experience. Lazarus was dead. Very dead.

But at the command of Jesus, he was alive again, coming out of the tomb wrapped in bandages with a cloth covering his face.

Ariana in Mexico

Ariana, foreground, a CFCA sponsored child in Mexico.

Not fair. Not only are we cheated out of knowing what Lazarus might have said on this wondrous occasion, we arenít even allowed a glimpse of the expression on his face.

What do you suppose it would have been? Gratitude? Confusion? Perhaps even anger at having been brought back? We just donít know.

And that, I suppose, is how it must be. Ours is not to know what awaits us when this life has ended, but to trust in Godís promise that it will be good.

Our task, rather, is to face the various smaller ìdeathsî that life presents ó broken relationships, loss, personal failures, the list goes on ó and to allow God to raise us from them, stronger than we were.

If we do that, we need have no fear of the final death.

But rising from these day-to-day deaths isnít easy, and it takes wisdom to recognize our own ìtombsî ó those aspects of our behavior that keep us from joyful living. It also takes the courage to answer Godís call to come forth from those tombs.

Lent is a gift from a loving God that helps us see our tombs for what they are and break free of them.

It is a time to be raised, through acts of personal discipline and generosity, from the selfishness of sin into deeper, life-giving relationships.

For nearly 30 years, CFCA has served as a path into such relationships. Through our Hope for a Family sponsorship program, we offer people a way to connect with others that blesses both sponsors and sponsored persons.

We seek to help liberate people from the insidious twin-tombs of poverty and indifference, and we are deeply grateful for the hundreds of thousands who have joined us in that liberation.

We may not know much about Lazarus, but it is a pretty good bet that once the cloth was lifted from his eyes the first thing he saw was the joyful faces of Jesus and the others who loved him.

It is a great image and one for each of us to reflect upon.

Just look at the good things that wait for us outside the tomb!

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Mar 30 2011

Lenten reflection: Opening our eyes and hearts to a new vision

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Part of the genius of Jesusí ministry was that he didnít spend much time trying to convince people. He just spoke the truth, did good things and let the chips fall where they may.

Those open to Godís grace were drawn to him. Those wrapped up in their own wrongheadedness fought him.

In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Jesus heals a man born blind. You would expect those who witnessed this to be astonished and overjoyed.

But for those looking to condemn Jesus, it was just one more piece of evidence to use against him.

Their issue was the seeming audacity Jesus showed in healing an undeserving person. If the man was blind, they reasoned, it was obviously punishment for his sinfulness or that of his parents.

Such perverse logic let the movers and shakers of society off the hook for their failure to help the disadvantaged.

If the blind, lepers, widows and others who were marginalized deserved their fate, then changing their condition would violate Godís will.

Stycy in India

Stycy, a sponsored child in India.

For those with wealth and influence ó who, by implication, must be Godís favored ó it was a cozy belief system. But it was also wrong, and Jesus had no problem in naming it as such.

By healing the blind man Jesus put his critics in the absurd position of denouncing as evil an action that was clearly good.

In so doing, they exposed the illogic of their beliefs and proved themselves to be the truly blind ones.

Their blindness, unlike that of the man now gifted with sight, was all the more tragic because they stubbornly chose to remain in it despite the opportunity for conversion offered by Jesus.

Now, as in Jesusí day, hardness of heart keeps some from seeing past their own narrow interests.

But the good news is that generous, loving hearts are opened up to new vision every day.

CFCA sponsors often tell us how sharing in their sponsored friends’ lives has given them new insight into the talents, gifts and potential of those living in poverty.

Those who are sponsored tell how sponsorship has given them permission to see a future full of hope.

For both groups, CFCA is an avenue of a brighter vision, and we take great satisfaction in that.

As we continue our Lenten journey, let us each take a deep look into our own hearts.

May we allow Godís word and the companionship of others to penetrate our moments of blindness and flood our lives with warm, loving light. May we have the courage to see clearly and act justly.

And may the Christ ó he whose passionate love cures all variety of blindness ó always be our guide.

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Mar 23 2011

Lenten reflection: Discovering our best selves

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Last Sundayís Gospel presented us with the image of the triumphant Moses, standing in serene dignity alongside the Prophet Elijah at the Transfiguration of Jesus.

But in todayís first reading, we see a very different Moses ñ one close to throwing in the towel.

The reading takes place early on in the 40-year trek of the people of Israel through the desert on their way to the Promised Land.

Tired and thirsty, they grumble against Moses as the one who brought them out of Egypt. Considering their previous existence as slaves, the collective short memory of the people must have exasperated Moses considerably.

Still, it is hard to work up much sympathy for Moses because, whenever the people grumble at him, his response seems to be to grumble at God.

It is in his conversations with God that we see glimpses of the insecure person Moses truly was.

Moses is one of a long line of reluctant biblical heroes. In the tradition of prophets like Jonah and Jeremiah, he tried to talk his way out of Godís call.

Bob Hentzen along Walk2gether

CFCA President and Co-founder Bob Hentzen witnesses a sunrise in the Andes mountains along Walk2gether.

But, as with the prophets, God did not take Mosesí ìnoî as his final answer.

Of course, God does take no for an answer, and would have taken it from Moses if that was truly the desire of Mosesí heart.

But God knew that, despite his doubts and fears, Moses really did want to lead. He just needed a little divine push in order to discover his best self.

Mosesí dilemma is ours as well. We too sometimes need help discovering our best selves. We too often find ourselves at the crossroads between safe choice and the risk of accomplishment.

Sometimes we fear failure and sometimes we fear success. Whatever our fears, it usually just seems easier to avoid the risk.

But there are times when that ìsafeî choice isnít really so safe and life compels us to take leaps of faith.

We see this every day in the CFCA world when parents living in poverty decide to send their children to school instead of into the fields to work, or when communities join together to learn new ways to generate income.

As courageous choices help these people rise from oppressive poverty, we are reminded of the good that comes from saying ìyesî to the God of the possible.

As he dealt with his thirsty, grumbling community of wanderers, Moses probably regretted his ìyesî to God. It surely wasnít the first time he felt that way and it wouldnít be the last.

The important thing is that, no matter how he felt at any given moment, Moses remained faithful to his commitment to God.

In so doing, he also remained faithful to his best self.

May this Lent be a time for each of us to discover and embrace, in ever deeper ways, our best selves.

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Mar 17 2011

Pizza inspires CFCA sponsor to give for Lent

CFCA sponsor Mary Heinsz writes:

Last year during Lent, John and I decided that our almsgiving would go to CFCA.

We picked “pizza”…and every time we ate pizza during Lent, we rounded up what we spent. At the end of Lent, we sent a check to CFCA for the total.

Pizza is so common to us here, and it could be surprising how much we spend on it in 40 days.

We take the simple act of ordering a pizza for granted. Each time I ordered pizza, I thought about how lucky I am and how easy my life is. Others don’t have that luxury.

Maybe something else works better for another family: trips to McDonald’s, a movie out ó something that you do with ease and take for granted. Use it to help you appreciate what you have, and to give back to others who are less fortunate.

For me, this was a great exercise in what almsgiving for Lent should be. I appreciate how wisely CFCA uses the funds, and how the organization puts so little to salaries and fundraising.

If there is a place to post this so others might think about this idea as a means to give of their bounty for Lent…please post it there!

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Mar 16 2011

Lenten reflection: Learning to listen for the voice of God

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Simon Peter is one of my Scriptural heroes, and not because he was Jesusí right-hand man or the leader of the early Church.

Rather, it was because he somehow managed to become those things in spite of himself.

The Peter portrayed in the Gospels is a mess of impulses, the guy who always says or does the wrong thing. Todayís Gospel reading about the Transfiguration of Jesus is a classic example.

The story begins with Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a mountain. There he is revealed as the Son of God and Messiah, more worthy of honor even than Moses and Elijah, the two great heroes of salvation history who suddenly appear with him.

For the three disciples, this is a moment to be savored, not interrupted. Yet, Peter being Peter, he canít stay quiet.

Without truly understanding what is happening, Peter blurts out an offer to erect some tents. In so doing, he comes close to stepping on God the Fatherís profound affirmation of Jesus as beloved son.

It is easy to critique Peter after the fact, but I suspect that a lot of us would have reacted similarly.

Many of us, like Peter, have difficulty knowing how to respond in graced moments. We too struggle with the tendency to over-analyze and overreact.

Violet and Audrey in Kenya

Violet, left, a sponsored child in Kenya, shares a quiet moment with Audrey as the two play together. Violet is sponsored by Audrey’s parents, Eric and Sarah.

And we sometimes speak when we would be better off listening.

Thankfully, Godís grace has a way of sneaking through even our best efforts to block it. Sometimes we are forced to pay attention by big and traumatic events in our lives.

But, every now and then, that grace also catches us in quiet moments when, for whatever reason, we are just ready to listen.

For nearly 30 years CFCA has been gently helping people to listen better. We invite sponsors and sponsored persons to listen to one another and to be mutually blessed through their communion.

We seek to facilitate graced conversations where the voice of God might be revealed in new and beautiful ways that help build a more just, more peaceful world.

This Lent we invite all the members of our community to listen well and be attentive to the surprising voice of God.

It may be a voice of challenge or it may be a voice of affirmation. We do not know what that voice will say to you, but we do believe that it waits to be heard.

Simon Peter eventually did become the leader that Jesus knew he could be. In the end, he succeeded because Jesus never gave up on him and because he never gave up on himself.

And because he finally learned to be still enough to listen.

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