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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Mar 9 2011

Lenten reflection: Learning to love others more deeply

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.

The Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Lent are not subtle.

Right off the bat, in the poetic language of Genesis, we are presented with the destructive force of evil in action.

It is a theme continued in the Gospel, but with a dramatically different result.

The antagonist in both readings is the devil, and his tactic doesnít vary. The temptation he offers, first to Adam and Eve and then to Jesus, is that of godlike power. You have to hand it to Satan for his consistency.

If the devil always seems to play the same card, it is only because it works so well. It sure worked on Adam and Eve, and we know the results.

Their disobedience represents the disobedience of all humanity ñ a sin that has flourished like a rogue weed throughout history and made suffering an accepted part of the human condition.

But Satanís encounter with Jesus turns out differently. Here the tempter doubles, then redoubles, his efforts but in vain. So why did it work before (as it has so often since), but not this time?

The difference is that Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do. Moreover, he possessed the deep love that enabled him to do it.

Kevin and Gloria in El Salvador

Kevin, a sponsored child in El Salvador, and his mother, Gloria.

In Jesus we see the holiness ñ that is, the wholeness ñ that gave him the wisdom to recognize the tempterís empty promises for what they were.

The irony here is that in refusing the allure of godlike power Jesus proves himself to be truly God-like.

He teaches us that being like God in the authentic sense is not a matter of forcing your will on others but of laying down your life in service of them.

The true power of God is love, and the Lenten journey is one of learning how to love more deeply.

This involves the uncomfortable task of confronting that which is unloving in ourselves, but it is a task we must take on if we seek to become whole human beings.

The CFCA community believes we have something of value to offer on our common journey toward human wholeness. Each of the stories from the CFCA world is, in its own way, about that journey.

They are stories that involve suffering, yes, but they are so much more. Like the story of Jesus in the desert, they are stories about the triumph of loving choice.

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Dec 29 2010

Advent reflection: Modern pilgrims find a star worth following

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

ìWe saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.î (Matthew 2:2)

One of the most interesting things about the brief account of the visit of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew is what is not included. For instance, we arenít told where the visitors came from, how many there were or anything about their backgrounds.

Legend has it that they were kings and that there were three (because of the three gifts), but that is all historical embellishment. Matthew didnít seem to think such details were important.

But he did think other things were important, such as the fact that these travelers were seekers of truth and were willing to go to great lengths to find it.

Another major point is that, while the Magi were prominent enough to receive an audience with King Herod, they werenít caught up in the trappings of wealth and influence. When they eventually did find the Christ-child, they saw past his humble surroundings to honor him for who he was.

CFCA mission awareness trip

Sponsors during the September 2010 Kenya/Uganda mission awareness trip attend a parade led by the Shangilia childrenís band. The sponsors are wearing the traditional Masai regalia.

And, while Matthew doesnít share exactly what land the visitors came from, he does emphasize that they were foreigners.

Perhaps he deliberately left out any reference to a particular country because he wanted them to represent all nations and peoples, but one thing is certain ñ the Gospel writer wants us to know that these foreign gentiles were among the first to recognize the Messiah.

So, while we may not know a lot about the Magi, what we do know is profound. They are defined not by kingly trappings and power, nor even by gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the end, the Magi matter because they hungered for God and were willing to face any obstacle in order to know him. They truly were îWise Menî (if, indeed, they were men!) and they set an example that holy pilgrims have followed for more than 2,000 years.

The CFCA community has our own holy pilgrims. Each year, more than 700 people, most of them CFCA sponsors, travel from the U.S. to visit our projects in the 23 countries where we work.

Like the Magi, they too are seekers. And, like the Magi, they find life-changing truth in the humblest of surroundings.

In spending time with sponsored friends and in witnessing firsthand the work of our project staff to help families and communities lift themselves out of oppressive poverty through CFCAís Hope for a Family program, these travelers behold the same wonder that the visitors from the east beheld 2,000 years ago ñ God truly dwells among and within the poor of this world!

It is good news that begs to be shared wherever people yearn for a star worth following.

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Dec 22 2010

Advent reflection: Share the good news of holy families

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday during the Advent-Christmas season, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own journey through Advent.

ì…let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.î (Colossians 3:15)

A poor young couple is expecting their first child. The authorities tell them to leave their home and travel to an unfamiliar, far-off village.

When they arrive they can find no decent housing and are forced to settle into a ramshackle outbuilding.†There, with animals milling about and nothing but straw to insulate them from the chill of night, the young mother gives birth …

You know the rest of the story. It is a tale we have grown to cherish at this time of year.†It comforts us to hear it over and over again as we connect once more to Christmases past and the manger scenes of our childhood homes and churches.

It is the story of the Holy Family.

But it is also the story of other families, hundreds of thousands of them the world over.†They too are powerless against the whims of government. They too must rely on whatever shelter they can find for the sake of their children. They too struggle against displacement and weather and challenges most of us will never know.

And they, too, are holy.

Yamini and her family

Pictured is the family of Yamini, right, a sponsored child in Hyderabad, India.

At CFCA we call our sponsorship program Hope for a Family. We didnít choose that name just because we liked it, but because it reflects two important truths we have learned over the years from sponsored persons.

The first is that hope liberates people to dream and inspires them to work hard to make their dreams come true.

The second is that the best place for hope to thrive is within the family.

This is good news and we want to share it.†Like the Gospel writers who shared the wondrous accounts of Christís birth, we want to let people know that God dwells among the poor and the marginalized of this world.

And, again like the Gospel writers, we want to invite those who hear us to become part of an amazing story.

Ultimately, the story of the Holy Family is one of perseverance in the face of great challenges.

It is a story of love between husband and wife, parent and child. It is a story of trust in Godís goodness, and reliance on the kindness of other people.

And it is a story with a happy ending despite the harshness of the journey.

The CFCA community celebrates this story. It is our story as well.

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Dec 15 2010

Advent reflection: Embrace the humanity that led to our salvation

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday during the Advent-Christmas season, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own journey through Advent.

ì…the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.î (Isaiah 7:14)

With the Fourth Week of Advent we enter into the final few days of preparation for our celebration of Christmas and the gift of the Incarnation. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims, and as Matthewís Gospel reiterates (Matthew 1:18-24), God is with us!

Try as we might, we can never fully wrap our minds around such a wondrous reality. The best we can hope to do is humbly reflect on what it means, for each of us and for the world, that God has entered into such intimate solidarity with the human family.

Being human ñ that is to say, being a spiritual person with a physical body ñ has its own particular challenges. Humans experience hunger and thirst. We endure sickness and disease. We canít fly without machines, nor can we move through walls.

Unlike our spiritual cousins, the angels, to be human is to be bound by the limitations of the material world.

And, of course, humans are mortal. More to the point, we know we are mortal.

Samuel and his family

The family of Samuel, second from left, a sponsored child from Kenya. Samuel is physically challenged.

No matter how we try to distract ourselves from it, the reality of death is ever present within our consciousness. So much of what we do, for better or worse, is influenced by that awareness.

But there is so much more.

To be human is also to be blessed with imagination and ingenuity. We have the ability to hope, to dream and to work to make our dreams come true.

While we have limitations, we also have the will and the resourcefulness to overcome those limitations in highly creative ways. We are storytellers, poets and visionaries.

We are also capable of great and generous acts of kindness. We are compassionate beings whose natural impulse is to love, and we seek out others with whom we can dwell in loving communion.

Yes, in our sinfulness we are also capable of acts of selfishness and cruelty, but like a magnet that always seeks true north, the genuine inclination of most human beings is toward the good.

At CFCA, we are blessed to be reminded on a daily basis of human goodness. In the resolve of sponsored persons, in the loving support of their families, in the resourcefulness of their communities, and in the willingness of sponsors to invest in their hopes and dreams, we see the best of humanity.

The CFCA world proclaims, with joy, that God is truly with us!

In Jesus we come to know that it is not the denial of our humanity that leads to salvation, but rather the full embrace of it.

May this Christmas be a time to embrace in ever deeper ways the God who dwells within each of us and among all the people of our good world.

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Dec 8 2010

Advent reflection: Invest in the gift of joyful anticipation

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday during the Advent-Christmas season, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own journey through Advent.

ìMake your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.î (James 5:8)

In the second reading this Sunday from the Letter of James (James 5:7-10) we are advised to be patient as we wait for the coming of the Lord.

But patience, though it is a virtue, is also a hard sell in a society like ours that places such value on instant gratification.

Our lives are filled with microwave ovens, instant messages, movies on-demand and a million other little enhancements that fuel our hunger for immediate results.

It seems the more time we save with these gee-whiz wonders of contemporary life, the less time we are willing to invest in the kind of patient waiting that the Advent season calls us to.

Benito from Nicaragua

Benito, a sponsored child from Nicaragua

It might be good for those of us who struggle with patience to ask ourselves just what purpose our impatience serves.

What do we gain from the five minutes we save at the drive-up window? How are our lives richer because we can text and shop at the same time?

Do these abilities enhance the moments of our lives or simply fill them? And, if we are in a hurry, what is it we are hurrying to?

When CFCA sponsors visit the communities where sponsored friends live, they often receive a surprise bonus ñ a valuable lesson in time non-management.

Sponsor visits are causes for celebration in these towns and villages, and the people prepare joyous receptions complete with parades, music and food. But, travel being what it is in developing countries, our sponsor groups are sometimes hours late in arriving.

In the U.S., such delays would likely be cause for anxiety, but in the CFCA world they only increase the joyful anticipation. Where we might be worried about getting off schedule, the people in these communities accept delays as an unexpected gift.

The longer it takes for some gifts to arrive, the more deeply we appreciate them. Ask a pregnant mother who longs to see her babyís face, or the father of a soldier serving overseas.

They know lessons about anticipation that only time and love can teach. They are not always easy lessons, but they are life-changing ones.

As we continue our journey toward Christmas, may we be people of patience. May we wait for Jesus with joyful anticipation, always open to the unplanned lesson, always ready for the unexpected gift.

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Nov 24 2010

Advent reflection: Discover Christ in your daily life

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday during the Advent-Christmas season, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own journey through Advent.

ìTherefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.î (Matthew 24:42)

The season of Advent begins this year with an apparently somber Gospel warning to remain alert in preparation for the coming of Christ (Matthew 24:37-44).

In tone it doesnít seem to differ much from readings we are accustomed to hearing at the end of a Church year ó readings that portend doom for those caught napping on the Day of Judgment.

But while alertness is a virtue, the alertness that God asks of us in this new Church year is not the terror of one afraid to blink for fear of a cosmic reprimand.

Rather, it is the heightened awareness of one wise enough to know that life is short and wondrous and that if you donít pay attention you could miss the good stuff.

It helps to think of Christís coming not just as a future event but as a joyful gift in the present. In truth, Christ comes to us often and in surprising ways through the people and happenings of life, but it takes alertness to see these moments of grace for what they are.

Laya Annamaynolu, Hyderabad, India, and her family.

Laya Annamaynolu, CFCA-sponsored child in Hyderabad, India, and her family.

Do we recognize the blessings that come our way or are we so wrapped up in our hurts and anxieties that we let them pass unnoticed? Do we embrace the Christ who dwells in other people, or do we focus only on their weaknesses and failings?

The attitude with which we approach each day and each person ñ as either a gift to cherish or obstacle to overcome ñ is also the lens through which we view God.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many people see God only as a stern judge? God does hold us accountable, but to focus only on accountability is to miss the point.

More than anything, God wants each of us to be happy. Our faith teaches that true happiness is the natural consequence of living in loving relationship with God and other people.

If we take care of our relationships, the rest will take care of itself. That is one of the underlying principles of CFCAís Hope for a Family sponsorship program.

We believe in building relationships across divides of poverty, culture, language, race and all the other conditions that separate human beings from one another.

When we have the grace to reach across those divides, the face of Christ becomes visible to us in the faces of other people.

This Advent, may we be awake to the opportunities that God places before us ñ opportunities to discover his Son in wondrous and surprising ways every day.

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