St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why the ALS Association's Ice Bucket Challenge is So Cool

(Yes, the pun was intended.) 

By now you have to have seen one if not hundreds of people participating in the ALS Association's Ice Bucket Challenge. In case you haven't, the challenge has people dumping buckets of ice water on themselves while on video, then posting it on social media and encouraging others to do the same. The purpose is to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and to raise money for the ALS Association.  And according to them, it's working- as of August 12 contributions to the ALSA have increase by $2.8 million compared to this same time last year.

Regardless of the money, I have to say that I think the challenge was an awesome idea and has a great Christian aspect to it.  So what does dumping freezing cold water on yourself like a fool have to do with faith?  Well, the answer has to do with prayer, fasting, and self-denial.

When put together, prayer and fasting are the biggest forms of self-denial.  It's no joke that this powerful duo can change your life and the people around you.  Prayer and fasting enable us to turn away from the worldly things that we don't really need, and re-focus our attention on Who our lives actually depend on.  By raising our prayer to the next level, fasting allows us to want what God wants for us, instead of trying to manipulate Him into doing what we want.  When we focus on God and not ourselves, then change for the better happens.

Dumping a bucket of ice water may not be prayer and fasting, but it is an act of self-denial (even if only for a moment).  By giving yourself a few seconds of discomfort (after putting forth all the effort to find a bucket, fill it with ice and water, recite the spiel, and manage to embarrass yourself in front of a camera), you put the needs of someone else (in this case with Lou Gehrig’s Disease) before yourself.  And this is what God calls us to do regularly!  

There's a popular notion that prayer, fasting, or self-denial has to involve suffering, but that's not always the case.  It's OK to enjoy it a little; and just because you might have some fun doesn't make it any less self-giving.  In fact, too much gloom defeats the purpose (see Matthew 6:16-18).  If your self-denial only leads to misery and doesn't ultimately lead you to joy, then you're probably doing something wrong.

For your own enjoyment, here's my Ice Bucket Challenge.  You can here my kids in the background:

Since this is a Catholic oriented blog, it is important for me to note the following:
While the ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research, it does fund at least one study using embryonic stem cells.  This is NOT ethical or appropriate.  In all fairness, the ALS Association does permit donors to stipulate that their contributions not be invested in this study, and I recommend doing so when making a donation.  Another option is to donate the money to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute and designate your contribution towards ALS research.  Regardless of where you donate, please pray for a cure for this awful disease.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Helping the Christians of Iraq

In case you haven't been following or you think religious persecution and martyrdom are things of the distance past, there's a lot of it going on with the Christians in Iraq. 

In July, the members of the extremist Sunni Muslim faction told the Christians living in Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay an extra tax for being Christian called jizya, or flee for their lives.  Since then, there has been burning and looting of churches, businesses, and homes.  Thousands have fled, most with nothing except stories of cruel suffering, torture, even beheadings.

For those who are trying to remain, the character "ن " (which is the letter "N" in Arabic) is drawn on doorways of houses and buildings to tell those of the Islamic State (known as ISIS) where the Nazarenes or Christians are.  This is incredibly similar to Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Holocaust with the Jews forced to wear the Star of David.

In response, many of come together especially on social media.  You may have seen people using the "N" as their profile pictures on Facebook or Twitter.  There's also a new hashtag #WeAreN where so many have expressed their solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq.

So I've been trying to think of what my response should be these last few weeks, and now it's finally come to me.  I designed a wristband to show solidarity, increase awareness, raise money, and remind all of us to pray for the persecuted Christians in Iraq. I don't have a picture yet- they won't arrive for another week, but the silicone wristbands are black with yellow print.  They show the hashtag #WeAreN, say "Pray for Iraq," and feature the Arabic "N."

I will be selling them for $5 each: $1 to cover the cost of manufacturing, shipping, and fees, leaving the remaining $4 going to a Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian agency of the United States Catholic Conference that is providing aid to Iraq and the many Christians who have fled from it.  My initial order is 200 wristbands.  If this works, then at least $800 goes to CRS. (If it doesn't then I'll have to explain to my wife that we're out almost $200!)

Until I can get a more appropriate website up and running, I've setup an e-mail address and Paypal account to receive orders:  You'll notice the new pay button to the right of this article.  Please consider buying a wristband!  I will begin mailing them towards end of the month.  You can order as many wristbands as you like; I have no idea what I'm going to do with 200 of them!  Wouldn't it be great if the demand were so high for the wristbands that I had to get more?

Please consider sharing this post.  The senseless suffering in Iraq might seem like it has nothing to do with you, but if it can happen in a place where Christianity has been for over 2,000 years, then it can happen anywhere and it's going on right now. 

Whether you buy a wristband or not, please do not be silent on this issue.  Speak out in defense of our brothers and sisters.  Pray for our the Christians of Iraq.  Pray for the conversion of ISIS.

Update:   The wristbands have arrived and I've started shipping them out.  Here are some amateur pictures I can share!


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