Friday, November 27, 2009

Everyone Is Religious

When I talk about religion it is usually with mild disdain, but I hope people know that when I say the world "religion" I never mean "faith" or "spirituality." I mean religion as a system of rules or specific details to which someone ascribes extreme importance. I generally don't like "religion" because I believe it is human nature to abuse power, which is most easily done in cultures where religious legalism is embraced. Humans desire to make things black and white, we want absolutes. We want to be God-like; deciding and judging and using the rules as a sort of measuring stick for self-worth and the worth of others. I think its human nature to be religious.

In a previous blog ("Worship") I talked about how I think we all worship things. We derive our self worth from empty things, we choose to be affirmed by flawed humans instead of by a perfect God. I guess this blog is an extension of that blog, but its more about how we humans long to practice some form of religion, even the "non-religious."

Atheism is a religion. It's an incredibly ironic one, but its still a religion. Talk to a full-fledged atheist, and they will attempt to indoctrinate you. They've even resorted to advertisements on the sides of buses, claiming there is no God, spreading their non-faith as if its the one true religion. They know what they believe, they have their metaphors and their logic, their rules and their guidelines. If gives them a smug sense of accomplishment, a sort of lofty attitude which provides a temporary sense of faux-peace. They're better than you. "You don't really believe in all that fantasy crap do you? Talking snakes?"

You ever see those commercials with the sad looking cats and dogs in slow-motion? Sarah Mclachlin is singing "Angel" and words flash across the screen "Will I ever find a home?" and "Why did they hurt me?" They add human words and emotions to tug at your heart strings. The animals look like they're saying these things, and it makes you want to save them. Now I'm not saying you shouldn't save animals, I myself am an animal lover, but some people have made animal-activism a religion. They have replaced animal instincts with human emotions, fears, and metaphysical beliefs. They give the invisible thoughts of an animal human attributes to bring the animals suffering onto same plane as human suffering. Animal activists are always trying to coerce and convert, usually through guilt and personification, new additions to their cause. Once again, theres nothing wrong with their cause, but when it becomes the sole source of purpose for ones life, then life can become unbalanced. In WA State, people found with malnutrition dogs in their care received a penalty of five years in prison. Parents convicted of starving and abusing their thirteen-year-old daughter have been given exact same sentence! I think we can all agree that a child is more important than a dog, but if your "calling" in life is dogs, then I think sometimes you can miss the point. When you enslave and indoctrinate yourself with a religion or a cause, whatever one it might be, you will most likely end up neglecting or negating other very important causes. Some of which, God forbid, are more important than yours.

There are so many religions in America. Consumerism, all sorts of activism (animal, environment, political), exercise, food, politics, sports, gaming. Think about it, if your team loses in sports, is your day ruined? Is your main source of affirmation through your sports team? Favorite band? Yes, I said it, music can be a religion. In America we encourage people to be religious, "Find out what you're good at and go after it," we tell them. Essentially, we're saying, "Find your god, and worship it."

I dare to say that most people who call themselves Christians in America don't actually follow Christ at all. What about the "Health and Wealth" religion? It's pretty popular. The prosperity gospel is a religion completely different than the one Jesus taught in His Gospel. The prosperity gospel says God wants to bless you now, in this life, with cash dollars in your pocket to pay bills, get a new car, a new house. Jesus says, 

"Do not save riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, save riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are."  (Matt 6:19-21)

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Luke 16:13)

A rich man once asked Jesus what he had to do to be saved, and Jesus, knowing that the mans obsession was money, told him "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matt 19:21)

Jesus does not want us to possess more, he wants us to give more.

It might hurt your ears a bit to hear this, but Jesus is anti-religion. The only time he got angry here on earth was at the religious leaders who were so obsessed with their dogma that they had no idea it was the Messiah in their midst. He often times debated with them. They challenged him as he healed a man on the sabbath and as he taught in the synagogue. They thought up new ways to test him but they always fell short. In one story, an "expert in the law" tested Jesus, saying, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Knowing that it was a trick question, and that according to their doctrine all the laws and commandments had to be kept equally. Jesus didn't mention any specifics, he just simplified the law to their dismay. Jesus replied: 

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:36-38)

Jesus was trying to tell them that their religion didn't work. The fact that they tithed so religiously that they gave a tenth of their spices meant nothing, because they didn't "Love their neighbor as themselves." They didn't love God either, they just loved themselves.
Jesus didn't even refer to the religious leaders as religious leaders, he just called them hypocrites,

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:5)

These religious folks who were so showy with their flowery prayers had already received their reward. They were praying for peer validation, and Jesus says, "They have received their reward in full." If validation is what they want, they've got it through "babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."

In Matthew 23, Jesus gets completely fed up with the religious leaders and says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27-28)

What an incredibly convicting statement! He was saying they were so religious and obsessed with their craft, their "obedience," that they were DEAD ON THE INSIDE. He called them hypocrites outright. Do you know any hypocrites? Do you look at them with disdain? So does Jesus. It's so sad when people attribute the loveless actions of hypocrites to the love-filled Jesus. Jesus was anti-religion, because religion breeds hypocrisy. Just like its hypocritical to value a dogs life over a humans life, or to value your exercise over your husband, or your sports team over your wife, or the stuff you get over the stuff you give, or the rules you keep over the God you "serve," or anything else that takes you away from "Loving God, and loving people." Christianity is simply those two commandments. Jesus says that if you can truly do those two things, all the other laws will follow suit. If you can love God and love people with all your heart, you will naturally be doing exactly what you need to do to have peace in your life and to please God. No need for a list of rules. Jesus simplified it, much to our dismay as we humans naturally love specific guidelines we can use and abuse to our benefit.

Perhaps I've journeyed off topic. When I talk about spirituality I always end up talking about Jesus. I feel like I have to, because the preconceptions in our culture are often times so contradictory to written history about Jesus. I've met people who have truly taken to heart the things Jesus said, and I can tell you there is nothing more beautiful to witness. The love and sacrifice and grace and peace that a person like Mother Theresa had did not come from her religion. She did not recieve those gifts from saying "Hail Mary's" or praying the Rosary. She simply followed the simple commandment of Jesus to "Love her neighbor as herself." Because of her humble life of sacrifice, her legacy lives on to inspire generations to come. If a poor nun from  Macedonia can change the world by following those simple guidelines, than religion is completely pointless.

I know this "essay" is completely disjointed, as I've followed my train of thought down a few different tangents, so I'll end it here and leave you with a few of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes:

I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness. - Mother Teresa

I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world. - Mother Teresa

I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor? - Mother Teresa

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa

If you judge people, you have no time to love them. - Mother Teresa

If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one. - Mother Teresa

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love. - Mother Teresa

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Last night the band and I returned home after spending a week in Haiti. My mind is reeling with the places and the people I saw there, so I wanted to share with you some of our experiences in an effort to save these memories.

We arrived at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on November 3rd. There we met Tom (pictured above), a local missionary who lives with twenty two Haitians in Bon Repos, most of them boys he's adopted from a local orphanage and surrounding villages. He's trained them as local leaders and they work for him as an interpreters, ministry and outreach coordinators and teachers. When we arrived at Toms compound (a walled off property containing 3 houses) we were met by the boys. Their ages range from around four to the mid-twenties. We greeted them in the courtyard and as we shook hands their faces beamed with excitement. It was clear that they enjoyed visitors, and even more clear that we looked a little different from the usual church groups. After playing some basketball we were escorted to our rooms, which the boys usually sleep in but give up to visitors whenever they arrive. Over the course of the week we learned the names, stories and dreams of these guys, and after a week I can honestly call them my friends. Never have I met more sincere, loving and driven group of people, each of them are concerned with bettering their community. They truly are the hope for Haiti. On top of all that many of them have a great sense of humor, and we spent much of the week laughing with them.

The average long-term missionary lasts about two years in Haiti, Tom has been there for over fifteen years. His goal with his ministry is to replace himself, and not with white folks, but with Haitians. Haitians who would otherwise have been orphaned and abandoned, left to live in poverty, he gives them the opportunity of an education, a job and a better life. Coupled with a lifelong dream of sharing the Gospel, Tom is driven to meet the needs of the poor. Food, water, shelter and love are among his top priorities. He believes you can't successfully share the Gospel with someone who is sick and starving unless you first show love by meeting those basic needs. I couldn't agree more. Missionaries are often times portrayed as folks who go into third world countries with the priority of making converts, ignoring the basic needs of the people. Jesus Himself served the poor with his life, commanding us to do the same, but we sometimes hear stories of missionaries ignoring verses like this:

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed." (Luke 14:13)

Tom is not one of those missionaries. He truly believes in the commandment to love his neighbor, and because of his sacrifice his neighbors are impoverished Haitians. He isn't solely concerned with their spiritual needs, although the Gospel is the reason he's there. His heart breaks when the innocent die from preventable causes. Through tears he tells us stories of people he's loved and lost. He tells us of the thirty-some-odd children who live at the garbage dump on piles of garbage, sifting through the waste of one of the poorest countries of the world. The poorest of the poor. He tells us he would love to take all thirty of those children home, to give them food and safety and an education, to raise them with hope and faith. Slowly, as he gets more people committing their finances to Jesus In Haiti Ministries, Tom is able to take more orphans and poverty stricken children home with him. Three of the boys we met were recent additions to his family. They've already learned to call him "Papi," and although their english is still poor after only a few weeks they're learning quickly. The boys go to school daily for an education they wouldn't get otherwise. Schools cost money, and an education is out of the question when you don't know where your next meal is coming from. At Tom's they get a family, consistency, discipline, food and an education. They get a second chance at life.

It's a working system. I spent much of the week with Johnny, who acts as Tom's translator. Tom found him when he was fifteen, living with three other boys in a shelter with two cots, the boys would take turns with the sleeping arrangements each night, two on the cots and two on the floor, and then they would switch the next night. They stuck together to gather food, if one boy would find some he would take it home and share it so they could all survive together. These boys have been orphaned by parental death or abandonment, they've all seen and lost so much due to poverty and sickness, but their sense of family is still so strong. Ten years later, at twenty-five, Johnny works for Tom as a full time outreach director, worship leader, translator and charismatic funny man. You'll see a lot of him on the video we are currently editing, singing "The Coldest Heart" at the top of his lungs with a Creole accent (He loved to improvise the words, "Woa-oooh-ooh-ohhh I'm losing weight! I used to be fat.... etc. It is always followed by laughter.) He speaks great english and is passionate about helping boys just like him. The stories go on and on about the boys Tom has raised. Because of him, where they came from and where they are going are dramatically different places. Thats the incredible thing about what Tom does. He doesn't take capable, educated Haitians and put them to work in the poor villages. He takes poor, uneducated Haitians, invests his time and resources into them, loves them like his sons and daughters, and then turns them lose. They have a natural passion and empathy for the people, and it's beautiful to see them have the opportunity to give back.

Tom's ministry has what he calls the "Five Points of Light." They are the house, the orphanage, the garbage dump, the church, and the school. He has dreams that each of these "Points of Light" will act as such, and that they will be beacons of light in a community which desperately needs their physical, emotional and spiritual needs met. The orphanage lives on a committed sum of donations of about $3000 a month. This takes care of and feeds around 125 orphans. It's not nearly enough. Tom thinks that they need about $10,000 to do it properly, but God seems to provide on the meager donations they receive. Tom said when he first discovered the orphanage, the children were sick and starving, everyone was laying around in a comatose state. They hadn't eaten in days. He teared up as he told us the story of how that day he stood in front of them and pledged, "Help is on the way." Since then they've received support, and because of that support the kids have one meal of rice and beans each day. The point is that there are a lot more children who need help, but they can't afford to take any more in. The orphanage is already three times over capacity for the support they are getting.

They recently bought a field and pitched a large tent. The tent houses the school during the week, the youth group on Fridays and the church on Sundays. They are in the process of planning to erect a building, but there is still money to be raised in order to start the project. The school contains around 100 children who get a well rounded and proper education (some of the other schools use textbooks from Cuba, which claim quite a few falsehoods about America and are quite biased in favor Cuba, it was funny to hear some of those falsehoods and even funnier to hear that Haitians actually believed them). The children at the school would otherwise be running naked (or close to it) in their respective villages, with no money for an education or food for that matter. The school also provides water and a meal each day for the students, which is something the other charging schools do not provide. The teachers are paid $100 a month, which may seem like a meager salary but is actually more than what most teachers make. Tom is concerned with getting the best teachers for his kids, teachers with the right attitude and heart for Haiti. Each year they graduate about fifteen students, which frees up room in their lowest grade to accept fifteen more. Tom says there's a long waiting list to get in. They wish to accept everyone, but right now they're at capacity financially and space-wise. The point is there is plenty more good to be done there, for a small monthly financial commitment anyone could allow for starving and impoverished child to receive a meal, water and an education. For next to nothing we can give a child a future. I've been there so I know it works, I've seen my own $25 a month at work in the orphanage, every dollar being spent on the kids. In seeing that I am challenged and convicted to send more money. I don't have much, my debt to wealth ratio is about 20 to 1, but compared to these kids I live in heaven. I can sacrifice at least few more meals out a month so another couple kids can eat rice and beans once a day.

Tom never asks for money. He doesn't like leaving Haiti, but once in awhile he has to head back to the States to raise money. When he does he leaves JiHM in the trustworthy hands of his boys, who run everything smoothly. He goes around to churches in the US to try to raise support, and how is does it is simple: He tells stories. He says what he does, and leaves it at that. He never asks for money, but after hearing about the need people are generally led to help out. He smiles as he tells me the small churches give more. I smile as I tell him I know. The church I go to of around 150 people is the sole source of support for the orphanage on a weekly basis. Without our meager church, over 125 kids would be be starving. Now they can eat, play and live, what an amazing thing! The thing is there is always a need, no matter how small your church, how little you have, you can always make a difference in the lives of people who have less than you. You can make a real difference for real people.

The thing that always blows me away about other cultures is how similar we all are. We all want the same things: hope, health, peace, love and opportunity. We all struggle with the same pressures, some of the specifics are different, but the emotional struggles remain the same. One night I drove to the store with Claudy, the 21-year-old whose room Robbie, Alan and I stayed in. He told me about meeting his girlfriend, about how he used to be and about how she changed him and continues to challenge him. I told him about my relationship, and how much that really paralleled with my life. We talked about honesty and how important it is in a relationship, and discussed much of the same things we've learned from our girls. The thing that always strikes me is how alike we all are. From first world to forth world, from black to white, we all are so very human and real.

The people we met aren't just faces on a television, or on a sponsor packet, they're real people with unique personalities who are loved by God. They are just like you and me. The only difference is that they were born in a third-world, and we were born a first-world. They were born into perpetual poverty, and we were born into opportunity. We have an opportunity to help them, and you can bet we're going to take it. I don't know how exactly, but we're brainstorming possibilities to really garner support for JiHM and Tom's mission. Even if our role is purely educational, our goal as a band will be to see dramatic growth and support for Haiti in general, in the right places and in the right ways. Tom's way seems to work, so we're going to back him.

For more info on JiHM visit

To contribute financially send to:

Suite # 155
10214 Chestnut Plaza dr.
Ft. Wayne, IN 46814
ATT: Pat Hinen