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.

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