Loving Your Neighbor and Living Responsibly

Loving Your Neighbor and Living Responsibly. Camilla Bocaniala, Program Director of Polylogos Association, Romania.  Leadership Focus International webinar highlight of the theme: Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living. Camilla Bocaniala said: “We as followers of Jesus have the responsibility and opportunity to be the salt and the light in the world. For me the vaccines and protective measures are more about protecting the other, and in this way loving the other.”

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A Covid Recovery Story

Rev. Frank Herb Stallknecht, retired United Methodist Minister from Houston, TX tells his Covid recovery story. “The nurse told me: ‘Mr. Stallknecht you are a lucky man. I knew I was a blessed and lucky man, but at the same time I knew I’ve taken a vaccine’.”

 

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How Did We Get Here?

We are living in surreal times. Too many are laboring hard to spread lethal disinformation and false narratives. In his opening reflection Liviu Bocaniala asks a question: How Did we Get Here?

Liviu Bocaniala, Artist and President of Polylogos Association, Romania.  Leadership Focus International webinar highlight of the theme: Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living. 

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Balance Between Liberty and Responsibility

“Our liberties have limits when they stamp on the rights of others. What really the anti-vaxxing Christian seeks is the liberty to risk the lives of others. Christianity in this case mean – I want to do what I want to do” saysJyl Hall, Candidate for City At—Large in Kettering and adjunct professor at United Theological Seminary, Ohio.

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Bridging the Gap Between Life and Death

Chaplain Arnold A. Porter

Pastor and Clinical Chaplain Arnold A. Porter, Florida says: “Bible says, ‘My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge’. With Covid you do not leave the hospital the same way you came in. I decided not to debate if the Covid is real or not. I live Covid every day. I take deaths home every day. I sleep with them every night.” Pastor Arnold A. Porter, a Clinical Chaplain who works for one of Florida’s largest hospital groups, explains what it looks like to minister to the severely sick and dying from Covid-19. A highlight of the webinar Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living” presented by Leadership Focus International, October 2021.

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Webinar, Overcoming The Conspiracy Virus

We are all witnessing costly consequences of the conspiracy wars around us. Many people who fall for conspiracies, misinformation, half-truths, false narratives and lies about Covid-19 and vaccination have fallen victims to the endless supplies of spin artists, many of them wearing the clothes of spiritual concern. I am sure you too have friends who are confused because they are swayed by the zealotry of false teachers, pseudo-scientists and religious leaders, who are at this time preaching twisted theologies about supposed spiritual reasons behind their rejection of the urgency to comply with the measures intended to protect lives at this time.

This is why I would like to invite you to our next Focus Conversation on Zoom (it will be available on YouTube and Facebook also), with the title – Overcoming The Conspiracy Virus, this Thursday, Sept 30, 2021, 8.00pm CET / 1.00pm CDT. We need to have this conversation at this time.

A group of international panelists, politicians, social and community activists, mentors in leadership, medical doctors and chaplains will respond to questions: What does it look like to fight for the lives of the infected people in the overcrowded hospital wards? How to overcome political seduction in the struggle against pandemics? What are the teachings and example of Jesus telling us about the relationship between our freedom and social accountability? How to pursue legitimate questions and conversation about Covid-19, wearing masks, and vaccines in the climate of aggressive refusal to engage in public action for a common good? Do vaccines save lives? Why have so many Christians become the enemies of truth, facts and science? How do we move forward? What are we, the followers of Jesus, to be in the midst of the current crisis.

Join us and listen to our panelists: Heather N. Staff, UK; Liviu Bocaniala, Romania; Camilla Bocaniala, Norway; Arnold Porter, US; Jyl Hall, US; Tihomir Odorcic, Slovenia; Zdravko Plantak, US. Moderator: Tihomir Kukolja.

Spread the word. Invite your friends. And pray that our team may speak with discernment very much needed at this time.

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Update, September 30, 2021: Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living, a new webinar conversation by Leadership Focus International. An international team of panelists from Romania, Norway, Slovenia, UK and the US, include artists, social activists, leadership development leaders, a political candidate and a political adviser, medical doctor, chaplain and a theologian. An honest, truthful and insightful conversation worth every minute of watching and recommending to your friends, family members, and your church community. The original title of this webinar was – Overcoming the Conspiracy Virus.

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 Are we Following the Same God? 

In my new, weekly video reflection I am asking a question – Are we following the same God? 

I love to reflect on the lives of men and women like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, William Wilberforce, Maximilian Kolbe, Desmond Doss and many more of the kind. They have shared the plight of the poor, stood for justice, fought against slavery, proclaimed peace and reconciliation, unmasked oppressive regimes, saved lives. Not all died a violent death, but they all gave themselves up in an honorable, dedicated and consuming service to their fellow men and women. They were the true martyrs who walked in the shoes of Jesus of Nazareth. Wherever and whenever this world became a better and happier place, this happened only thanks to the heroes who radiated the image of the loving God in their lives. Listen to hear more, and recommend to your friends. 4.08 min.

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A Letter to My American Friends

“A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was and earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1. Kings 19:11.12.

Twenty years ago to date a group of terrorists shook America and the world. The world has never been the same. Soon after the terrorist attack on New York and Washington DC, I wrote, from Croatia,  the following letter to a group of American friends. On this occasion, when we remember the thousands of lost lives, I would like to share the same letter again.

Dear American Friends,

Like you I too am overwhelmed with the recent tragedy that struck the United States in the form of a vicious terrorist attack. Even now, I cannot help but continue to reflect upon the consequences that are emerging from this incomprehensible tragedy.

I am still shocked by its extent. The pain of the thousands of relatives and friends who have lost their loved ones moves me deeply. I condemn the barbarian act of cruelty that had inspired a group of suicidal murderers to kill the thousands of innocent people. There is no human or divine justification for such an act of cruelty whatever the motives. I pray that those responsible will be called to account.

But I am concerned, too. 

When I see the multitudes of Afghani refugees, hungry and homeless, surviving under humiliating living conditions — men, women and children suffering circumstances beyond their control, seeking safety in an unsafe neighborhood, I wonder if our global conscience will be pacified solely with the tones of humanitarian aid. And when I hear about incidents that involve some people quick to categorize others on the bases of their race, skin and religion, I pray that God may grant us all minds renewed by the Spirit of Christ, who has embraced everyone regardless of our ethnic, racial, cultural and religious differences. The very character of Jesus speaks powerfully against any jihad or holy war, including those with the Christian overtones.

Only yesterday, I received an email from a good friend of mine, an educator who has worked for the past five years as the principal of a Christian educational institution in Pakistan. Last week, he and his family, like many other Western professionals, had to leave Pakistan abruptly. I believe he would understand my need to share a few lines form the email he sent to a group of his friends:

“We have left Pakistan with mixed feelings. Yes, we had to get out due to the unfortunate circumstances precipitated by the events in the USA. Yet we feel so deeply for the people we left behind. In the process of departing once again the truth about humanity has been confirmed. There are wonderful people, everywhere Christians and Muslims, male and female. We were not prepared for the outpouring of the genuine love and affection (mixed with fears and feelings of insecurity) from the people we have served for the past four years. Many tears have been shed. Written, verbal, and all sorts of other, culturally peculiar, expressions of affections have been given to us. In such a short period of time and in such measure, it is difficult to accept it all and process it though our hearts. Our Muslim friends have demonstrated that there are people who are able to show respect and acceptance no matter what. We said goodbye like brothers. We should never ‘box-in people’ into predetermined categories.” 

The events of September 11 will leave long-lasting scars in many ways; not only on global politics, but also on how many understand civil, human, religious and other individual rights and freedoms. I cannot help but think of a question posted by a leading media network recently: “Would you be willing to have your personal freedoms limited if doing so would bring an end to terrorism?” Is this the only alternative we are about to face in the coming days and years?

Ever since September 11, I’ve been asking myself: What have I learned from the many different facets of this until-now unthinkable tragedy? Have I, as someone who had witnessed much of what happened in the former Yugoslavia since 1991, learned enough from our Balkan tragedy so that now I could offer some meaningful insights to our American friends who are going through the stages of shock, pain, mourning, anger and a strong urge to see justice done? How does a vision of Christ who has embraced all, including Muslims, influence the way I relate to other people today? Will I succumb to pressures that are urging me to embrace a tribal mentality, or should I stand firm in retaining a sober and discerning judgment?

I have been meditating lately about the zealous biblical prophet Elijah. Hurt by injustice and indifference of people, overwhelmed by loneliness, anger and lack of direction, he ran into a cave expecting to see God unleashing the full extent of his vengeance against the source of the prophet’s frustration. While he was in the cave, a powerful wind tore the mountains apart, a strong earthquake shattered the land and a devastating fire hit the ground, but God was not in any of them. Instead, God appeared in a form of a gentle, calming, sobering, serene, inviting whisper. The ancient prophet learned that even in the midst of the most alarming circumstance, the quiet, gentle and sobering voice has more power than violence, aggression and vengeance.

In the days to come may God help us all to embrace each other more than ever before with an open heart.

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Ours is not a Tribal God

Today, despite all modern sophistications, we are returning to the age of tribalism just as savage as any in the former, barbarian ages. Bitter rivalries between ideological, political, gender, racial, ethnic, national, social, economic, cultural tribes are defining our days. It is not the war of civilizations that we are facing, but the war of tribes, each determined to settle the scores of the bygone hurts – real, perceived or falsified. Nothing else matters any more except one’s tribal pride. It seems everyone is up against everyone else in this war of survival of the meanest. Listen to our reflection for this week. 

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Speaking Holistically About Life

A homeless person in Houston. Photo Tihomir Kukolja.

I am pro-life, but not only for the unborn. And I wish many Christians who fiercely oppose the legalization of abortion, would dare go beyond a single issue too. It is for that reason, and a few more, that I cannot support  the Texas abortion law, or Senate Bill 8, signed last week by the Texas governor Greg Abbott.

Imagine what a transforming impact an army of Christian pro-lifers would have in the U.S. and elsewhere, if we would all as vigorously defend the rights and dignity of the poor, jobless and homeless among us; a health care reform that would take care of everyone regardless of their socio-economic status or age, even if this meant giving less for the military; legal and illegal immigrants, who are often treated as the scum of the world; overworked and poorly paid workers whose slavery to the greedy international corporate interests makes the extravagant lifestyle of the extremely rich possible; or young men and women sent to distant lands to sacrifice their lives in often dubious war conflicts, such as the embarrassing war in Afghanistan. Those and other are the issues that echo my understanding of what it means to support life in its totality; from the mother’s womb to the time of death.

I know Christians, churches and faith movements that see the organic connection between the Gospel of Jesus and its appeal to love our neighbors radically — near and far, believers and non-believers alike. They are all actively involved in helping, healing and upholding the neglected and the outcast. Their social activism is firmly rooted in a broader affirmation of the Gospel of Christ. They all understand that the embrace of Jesus that leads unto salvation, demonstrated by the cross, is inviting also the entire human family into a big, warm hug. And once one is caught in Jesus’ embrace, one cannot help but embrace others too.

Sadly there are too many Christians who fail to see the bigger picture: one that embraces a holistic understanding of the sacredness of human life. If one is to judge the quality and intensity of social engagement among Christians in the U.S. on the basis of the issues that the most vocal pro-life advocates advocate through public discourse, one can easily come to a conclusion that there are only a couple of issues they are passionate about: protecting the unborn and opposing gay marriages. 

A typical, vocal pro-life advocate lives in a state of cognitive dissonance. While he or she passionately supports the rights of the unborn, at the same time they might have no issue with the policies and actions that destroy the lives of the vulnerable, born and raised in poverty, racially and ethnically discriminated, homelessness, immigrants, refugees and otherwise subjected to the greed of the wealthy.

But a larger view of life, as seen through the eyes of Jesus, informs us that the life of a homeless person begging on the street corner is just as sacred as the life of a president of the state; the life of an elderly person in his or her final hour is just as precious as the life of a new born baby; the life of a prisoner on a death row is just as holy as the life of the most reputable person; the life of a medically uninsured person is just as valuable as the life of a patient fully covered; the life of a wanderer who apparently does not contribute much to the community is just as important as the life of the executive director of a big corporation; or the lives of a Muslim, Hindu, Mormon or an atheist, immigrant or refugee are just as loved by God as the life of a mainstream Christian. And if we claim to be the followers of Jesus, their lives should be precious to us too.

Likewise, we may say that any abuse, degradation, enslavement, character assassination, oppression, humiliation, dehumanization or any other condition by which one human being strips another of dignity and value; or when one person or a group of people are taken advantage of by other group of individuals, government, political, military or ideological system, all of those represent a form of killing. So is the hate speech often buttressed by plausible religious concerns, increasingly in use to demonize those who do not belong to my religious, ethnic, racial or social tribe. None of us is completely innocent of many subtle ways by which we have become accomplices in gradually murdering our close and distant neighbors, often by omission, sometimes by deliberate action, as we condone the circumstances and policies that perpetuate the unjust social conditions.

Maybe the most enlightening New Testament reference that leads us towards a better understanding of how God is inviting us to value human life in its totality and from a holistic and more inclusive perspective is found in the appeal of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, You did for me … For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:40.35.36. NIV

In the eyes of God human life is not only precious at the time before one is born, but always and under all circumstances. The sooner followers of Jesus understand that, the sooner our local communities, churches, neighborhoods, countries and the world might reflect more closely Jesus’ vision for our world, expressed in the prayer He taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!

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