Tuesday, July 05, 2005

How about that 4th of July Picnic?

Our 2005 4th of July Picnic was AWESOME! So many "red" visitor nametags. A sweet spirit of fellowship. Great food. Old fashioned picnic games. A truly multi-generation turn-out. The body of Christ serving together.

Many thanks to all who helped make it our best 4th of July picnic ever and a special thanks to Tim & Karen Weaver who led the All Church Events (ACE) Team in preparing food for 600+. No small task!

Personally, during these BIG events I am savoring God at work among His people, but also worrying about who might be falling through the cracks. Who is lonely today in this setting with 600 people?

What did you see and experience yesterday? What was going on in you? Your feedback and suggestions are always welcome!


Brian Wong said...

I missed the event, but it sounds like you guys had a great time. Glad to hear it. Maybe next time...

Suzette Lyons said...

Hi Tim,

I usually feel a little out of the loop at these occasions. I seem to spend most of my time chasing my little ones around and not so much time connecting out side my family.

I did have the greatest time playing with the little parishoot. We would have been a little bored except that we got your daughter Sage to join us. She know quite a lot of games. It may be days before I fully recover, but each sore muscle has a fond memory that goes with it.

Wayne and I both agreed that it was the best family time we have had in awhile.

Anonymous said...

Hello I just stumbled by and noticed your interest or curiosity pertaining to those who may not have been feeling as much mirth yesterday, and as I had already taken the time to write down my thoughts, I'll go ahead and share them with you:

Grace, mercy and peace.

Just thought I would share some things that I take in to thought this time every year. The issue is that every year when I see all the celebration, beer, barbeque's, and ecstatic celebration, that I am reminded that there are still way too many who do not share in our mirth. I'm reminded of the time when I got out of the military just before the rest of my crew was getting ready to venture onto what was still potentially a extremely dangerous mission, and only to get home and have my room mates wanting to through me a "party" because I didn't have to go. Somehow I just found it really difficult to "celebrate" while others were still suffering the thought of not being able to return to see their families again as one senior enlisted father had confided in me.

So it is in that way that I share the following speech with you in hopes that it reminds us all again to take a moment to pause and remember not everyone in this country (like those immigrants currently being detained without due process) or those that suffer under the burden of our national self interests (NAFTA/CAFTA) are feeling much like celebrating today.

So and if their are still so many bound both economically and physically as a result of this nations policies, how is it that I can celebrate? Rather I choose today to "Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them..." (Hebrews 13:3),

Blessings and peace.

Historical Document
"The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" (July 5th, 1852)

Click here for the text of this historical document.

During the 1850s, Frederick Douglass typically spent about six months of the year travelling extensively, giving lectures. During one winter -- the winter of 1855-1856 -- he gave about 70 lectures during a tour that covered four to five thousand miles. And his speaking engagements did not halt at the end of a tour. From his home in Rochester, New York, he took part in local abolition-related events.

On July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester's Corinthian Hall. It was biting oratory, in which the speaker told his audience, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." And he asked them, "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?"

Within the now-famous address is what historian Philip S. Foner has called "probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass' speeches."

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."


“‘If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)


And here is a follow-up I wrote to one persons response:

> To your thoughts, I add the thought that "We are so lucky that we
> can't begin to realize how lucky we are."

Thank you for the reminder, but I believe I already know how preciously fortunate since but for the grace of G-d I could have been a resident in
Faluja, or the father of a traditionally Muslim family living in New
York waiting on their application for citizenship when the father was snatched up on nothing but a pretenes, locked away without even a phone call, and deported back to Pakistan after six months, while stranding his family in the 'States to try and figure out how they would take over paying the bills without an income. Believe me, if I don't know how "lucky we are", are certainly appreciate how blessed I am that I haven't had to endure that kind of abuse. But as I'm sure you will agree, with great blessing comes great responsibility, and for me one way of acknowledging that means keeping a solemn place in my heart every 4th of July for those whose freedoms have either been denied or trampled on. Just like I knew how fortunate I was back when I was discharged from military service and released from my commitment to go on that dangerous mission. The question for me is not whether not I appreciate how good I have it, but whether or not I appreciate how bad many others still do.

For example, going back some sixty years, if you had grown up with some Japanese neighbors next door who had become as close as family to you and one day without warning they were snatched up and taken to a concentration
camp in the desert, their home confiscated and given away to someone
with political connections, would you still feel like setting off fireworks and making merry on the 4th of July? Or would you like Frederick Douglas count it as a day to mourn?

Put another way, yes we (you and I) are enjoying an exceedingly
fortunate and comfortable life, but at whose expense? This troubles me enough to stop every 4th and consider those for whom our "manifest destiny" meant genocide (ie. African slaves and American indigenous peoples). So it is at times like this that I confess no desire to get up and dance for joy, but rather to puting my "shoulder to the plow", to continue a solemn effort bringing about healing and reconciliation with the harms of our past, and toward social justice today that we might avoid doing further harm again tomorrow.



Tim Weaver said...

Karen and I were talking on Monday evening about how there were so many wonderful helpers that made this possible. We expected to be really worn out by 3pm just when the clean up was starting, but thanks to all of the help (including the vital organizing and planning help) we were still cruising.

The Lord gives strength. Sometimes extending our own and sometimes bringing others to carry the burden. The thank you's go to many.

poretz - I think there is time for both and we should do both. We should enjoy what God has given to us as well as contemplate the serious life and death issues that surround our country and how we came to have these freedoms. I believe that the Lord's Supper calls us to this. Celebrating the joy of what God has given to us as well as being mindful of the great price that He paid for our salvation.

Kevin Heldt said...

Excellent point Tim Weaver! I was trying to think of a fitting response to poretz' post and I think you nailed it. I think Ecclesiastes' "For everything there is a season..." applies here. I don't think it all incongruous to have a day celebrating our hard-earned freedoms (secured mostly by people we'll never have the honor of meeting), the very freedoms that so many in our world are denied, even in the midst of such injustices as poretz mentioned. In a fallen world such as ours, there will never be a shortage of tragedies to point to. In celebrating Independence Day, we are not (or at least we should not be) donning rose-colored glasses and calling all things good nor denying that much evil has been done at the "hands of lawless men" (and even ourselves), but rather affirming that God has accomplished much good through the men and women of this nation and honoring the sacrifice of those who have laid down their own freedoms and even lives in service to others. Though the world remains far from perfect, their efforts were not in vain.

Anonymous said...

“poretz - I think there is time for both and we should do both. We should enjoy what God has given to us as well as contemplate the serious life and death issues that surround our country and how we came to have these freedoms.”

Hi Tim. Yes I agree, and that was my point. Thanks for taking the moment to share.

“I believe that the Lord's Supper calls us to this.”

This sounds a bit esoteric. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the jargon of your religious community. But no matter, the statement appears to be an affirmation so I guess that's “a good thing”.

“Celebrating the joy of what God has given to us as well as being mindful of the great price that He paid for our salvation.”

Now here however you leave me really confused. I wrote of why I felt empathy and common cause with Frederick Douglas in choosing to mourn on the 4th rather than celebrate. You affirmed that you “think there is a time for both, and that we should do both.”, but then in this last sentence you appear to pull a “bait and switch” taking the opportunity to somehow replace the concerns I wrote of with the price “God paid for our salvation”(???).

First, what happened to that part of “both” (that I wrote of) that you started out by affirming??? Please don't take this personally but it just seemed like you were trying to play a “trump card” as a means of evade the reality of “my side of the story”, a move that's not very polite or respectful in my opinion.
Second, that sounds an awful lot like those who gave thanks for delivering the land of America into their hands when they had just finished massacring the indigenous peoples that occupied the land they wanted:

Hi Kevin. Thank you also for giving of your time. You noted that you “think Ecclesiastes' "For everything there is a season..." applies here.” and of course it does. It always applies. But the point I was raising was that I found common cause with Frederick Douglas in that just as in 1852, the 4th of July today for some still appropriately represents “a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). You continue:

“Which I don't think it [at] all incongruous to have a day celebrating our hard-earned freedoms (secured mostly by people we'll never have the honor of meeting),”

Here's a couple excerpts of history which I find more than just a little disturbing in how those who were supposed Christians explicitly did not earn our freedoms the hard way, but took to the easy way of acting as criminals:

"Some Puritans argued that the land belonged to the Indians. These forces were excommunicated and expelled. Massachusetts Governor Winthrop declared the Indians had not "subdued" the land, and therefore all uncultivated lands should, according to English Common Law, be considered "public domain." This meant they belonged to the king. In short, the colonists decided they did not need to consult the Indians when they seized new lands, they only had to consult the representative of the crown (meaning the local governor)."

"Not able to enslave the Indians, and not able to live with them, [they] decided to exterminate them. Edmund Morgan writes, in his history of early Virginia, American Slavery, American Freedom: Since the Indians were better woodsmen ... and virtually impossible to track down, the method was to feign peaceful intentions, let them settle down and plant their corn wherever they chose, and then, just before harvest, fall upon them, killing as many as possible and burning the corn..."

"Mason proposed to avoid attacking Pequot warriors, which would have overtaxed his unseasoned, unreliable troops. Battle, as such, was not his purpose. Battle is only one of the ways to destroy an enemy's will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same end with less risk, and Mason had determined that massacre would be his objective."

These atrocities are even chronicled, indeed lauded with praise to God by William Bradford, someone who is portrayed in Christian American history books for home schoolers (I saw them myself at a friends house) as one of the shining examples of this country's earliest “Christian founding fathers”:

"So the English set fire to the wigwams of the village. By their own account: "The Captain also said, We must Burn Them; and immediately stepping into the Wigwam . . . brought out a Fire Brand, and putting it into the Matts with which they were covered, set the Wigwams on Fire." William Bradford, in his History of the Plymouth Plantation written at the time, describes John Mason's raid on the Pequot village:

Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie."

So please forgive me if I am not easily persuaded. These testimonies call into question the very nature of how noble and “heard-earned” the foundation of our freedoms and privileges really are. In my opinion these and so many other testimonies point to what should surprise no one: that at every turn we took the easy and even more sinful route to our prosperity which more often than not came at someone else's expense.

“In a fallen world such as ours, there will never be a shortage of tragedies to point to. In celebrating Independence Day, we are not (or at least we should not be) donning rose-colored glasses and calling all things good nor denying that much evil has been done at the "hands of lawless men" (and even ourselves),”

This I readily accept and appreciate.

“but rather affirming that God has accomplished much good through the men and women of this nation and honoring the sacrifice of those who have laid down their own freedoms and even lives in service to others. Though the world remains far from perfect, their efforts were not in vain.”

Like Martin Luther King, Bishop Romero, Senator Paul Wellstone, and those human rights workers murdered in Mississippi when they went to help register voters? (just to name a few off the top of my head) Yes I remember them, and do praise God for their courage and sacrifice, but their lives were cut short, and their work, no our work, is far from finished. No I do question the vanity of stopping to light off fireworks to celebrate when these people and others like them were stopped dead in their tracks by the bullets of injustice. Would it have been appropriate for the "good Samaritan" to party while the victum lay on the side of the road? No, if I will celebrate, indeed honor these heroes and heroines, then I will do so in my daily struggle where they left off to “*do justly*, love mercy, and walk humbly” with my God. (Micah 6:8, Isaiah 1:15-17)

So to that end in His service to "the least of these",


Wayne Lyons said...

Poretz gives us lots of things to think about, not a bad thing.

I personally thought the 4th of July picnic was wonderful. I especially enjoyed the large number of families with children and the amount of participation by all.
I brought my wife, children, mom and aunt.
Great idea who ever thought of having the seniors get first helpings of the food. The new sound system sounded great.
This is our third year at Meadow Park for the 4th and it just keeps getting better every year.

Kevin Heldt said...


I don't expect the following to set forth perfectly everything I think on the subject. Nor am I trying to persuade you of anything (I am glad you so sincerely accept the responsibility to continue the work of good men and women who have gone before) -- I just wanted to clarify a few things and maybe raise a question of my own.

First of all, (and Tim W. correct me if I'm wrong) I believe Tim's point about Communion is that it is another example (not the same example) of where we approach something with a certain amount of tension, where we "do both": on the one hand we bask in the blessings secured for us at the Cross while on the other hand we are sobered by our sin which exacted such a price from our beloved Savior. So likewise, we can approach something like the 4th in a similar way: celebrating the blessings we enjoy in this country by the grace of God while being sobered by the sacrifices of brave men and women who have fought and who still fight to attain them.

Now for the clarification: if I'm reading you correctly, you have serious reservations about being too joyful about the accomplishments of this nation whose beginnings contain the sort of horrors you wrote about. There is no doubt that unspeakable atrocities have been carried out "in the name of God" throughout history -- the 18th century is by no means an exception. And of course, there is no excuse for these actions and there is nothing in them to celebrate. When I think of the good God has accomplished in and through this country and in and through the heroic acts of the brave men and women of this country, it's clear to me that these good things have occurred in SPITE of those other actions, certainly not because of them. God always works good in SPITE of the evil actions of men. God gives me good air to breathe in SPITE of the part I've played in filling it with angry words. He gives me hands and feet to serve Him in SPITE of the fact that most times I use them to do anything but. "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" There are no grounds for boasting, not as an individual, not as a family, not as a country. So what is there to celebrate? The grace and mercy and love of God poured out upon people. The 4th, then, in my view, is a time to celebrate God's blessings to and in this country. It's not about eulogizing the founding fathers, for the good things they did God did through them, and the bad things they did were against His will. And it's not about denying that horrible things transpired during that time period. Even now men continue to commit atrocious acts in the name of America and in the name of God. But God still works in SPITE of that.

The bottom line is that God worked through and in spite of the actions of men to make a nation that has arguably experienced more freedom and liberty and more common grace than any before. Acts 17 attributes the rise and fall of nations to the sovereignty of God:

24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

It is therefore ultimately God we praise when we give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy and it is the same God we approach on bended knee to plead on behalf of the victims of injustice.

A parting question: if you agree with Solomon in Ecclesiastes that "for everything there is a season" then when is it time to "laugh" and to "dance"? I sincerely doubt there is anything good on this earth worth celebrating that hasn't been at least partially marred by man's sinfulness. If we wait for perfection to celebrate, that time will never come this side of heaven. Again, this doesn't mean we just take a naive optimistic approach to everything. What it does mean, I think, is that we take an approach of complete trust in our Lord to work all things for the good, to set all things right in the end, and that in the meantime, we let Him help us with these heavier loads.

Andy Gibson said...

"He's dropping some thought-provoking bombs and others are responding. Fun stuff . . . don't miss it."

Sure is thought-provoking. But is it good for this forum..the church..and the effort to try and get more of the body to "blog"?

I don't think it is, and don't necessarily think it is fun.

But I might be in the minority?

Suzette Lyons said...

Wow - The conversation sure got interesting after my last post. I also was wondering if this was the right forum. After reading Pastor Tim's later post saying go ahead I really want to comment.

The first thing that came to my mind in reading poretz post was an equally horrible issue that poretz did not bring up. When I first became aware of this issue I felt the same way about it that poretz does about his stated concerns(which all are horrible things).

It's an issue that hits my heart - abortion. It hit me hard when I came to terms with the fact that unborn children are not blobs of tissue they are human beings with feet and hands and a heart beat and brain waves. They are the image of God and He loves them dearly. It was not easy for me since 24 years ago at 17 I had an abortion. I really thought I was the only person who would ever do such a thing. I was shocked to learned that 1.3 million babies are killed by abortion in the US every year. And 43 million babies have been killed by abortion since the early 1970's in the US. That is a lot of loss of life. Later I read on John Piper's web site that 30 million babies are killed every year world wide from abortion I was overwhelmed. That is almost a billion babies in thirteen years.

I was in a great crisis. I was thinking - How do I get up every morning? How do I eat? How could I sleep? What could I do to stop it? How could I not be horribly depressed every minute of every day knowing that during each minute thousands more were dying? How could I not spend every moment working to stop it? With a lot of prayer and crying out to God I finally have some peace. Here are some of the verses that helped me:

Romans 8:28 says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

This is a great mystery to me, but it is a promise to which I cling. I have to trust that God is big enough to work everything(even my own sin)for good. I have to seek His will for my life and make it my highest priority to do His will(not an easy thing).

The verse that came to mind in reading poretz post was Romans 12:15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

That is also not an easy verse to put into practice. I have cried out to the Lord many times to teach me what it means. How in the world do I rejoice when so many bad things have happened and are happenig right now and more each minute. People starving, being tortured, those killed for their faith in Christ. The web page for voice of the martyrs if full of stories and pictures of dear brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering. How do I buy Chritsmas lights or clothing with out wondering if slave labor was used to manufacture them.

I thought Tim W’s reference to the Last Supper was not a side step, but a really relevant point. Christ suffered incredibly. He suffered the most horrible death imaginable. He also took on all of our sins. I know the weight of my sins. Almost impossible to stand up under. Multiply that by billions – no wonder he was sweating blood the night before His crucifixion. It’s impossible not to mourn thinking about the degradation and humiliation and pain he suffered; and thinking about why – because of me – my sin. But Christ did not just die He was also raised - victorious over death. I am saved and have everlasting life. I have His love and the Father's providential care. How can I not rejoice? What an amazing wonderful delightful thing it is to contemplate.

I rejoice and I mourn and I trust God – I believe that he is bigger than I can imagine or understand and that His word is truth. I must pray Lord use me to ease at least some of this suffering and help me remember that the outcome is sure. In the end God wins and evil is overcome by good. Praise God!

Phillipians 4 has also helped. "4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Again I am reminded that God is bigger than all of this tragedy. Rejoicing in God's creation and celebrating the good in our lives and the good our nation has accomplished is really worship of the Creator as all good things come from God.

evil with good.

Anonymous said...


Looking at the comments by Brian and Andy, maybe I should also try and see if I can help clarify some things...

There are certain times of the year when certain holidays come up that I encounter feelings of grief and remorse over certain issues that I feel constrained from sharing with those around me, and likewise feel obligated to hide what's really dominating my thoughts and disturbing me about the holiday. Thus I wind up doing what we are all so well at doing, I put on a happy face and suppress the other stuff. But you know what? In doing so that can really make one feel quite alone, even in a crowd of any size.

So it is when I was surfing around the blogosphere that I happened up this page with its' reference to the 4th of July, and noticed your pastor expressing his concern for those who may be feeling as though they were lonely or falling through the cracks on a day when most the rest of the evangelical community finds great cause for celebration, and he even took it a step further asking:

“What did you see and experience yesterday? What was going on in you?”

Now I realize that this invitation was probably, no, most likely pointed to those within your community, so I apologize if I just “jumped in from out of nowhere” and imposed my statements into your space without introduction or even a formal invitation. I just felt like that invitation could have easily applied to me and I thus thinking of myself offered what I did as a response to the invitation, even though it likely meant for those in your congregation and not some “outsider”. So again I apologize for invading your space.

Now I have, and I cannot edit what I posted, so we have all had the opportunity to experience this moment, I should probably finish up and be on my way. So if you will allow me, I'll get right to it.

First, I would just like to thank Wayne for merely acknowledging the offering of my thoughts as “not being a bad thing”. Thank you as that simple small act was such a tremendous blessing. I don't exactly have the words to describe it, but if I did they might appear like “thank you for not offering a short (appearing glib) corrective for me inferring that I am either out of touch with Jesus or that my theology or historical appreciation is lacking. Thank you so much for just simply acknowledging that my thoughts may be worth consideration.

Second, Kevin, thank you very much for taking the significant part of your day to compose such a long and thoughtful response. I especially appreciate your clarifying how you and your community idiomatically view certain Biblical phrases in relation to the issues I presented. I really felt out of the loop there for awhile. In addition I also especially appreciated your explanation of what the 4th meant to you, and how you could see it as cause for celebration. I still don't think I can adopt that point of view, but it was lovingly and helpfully offered as an option, and I do expressly appreciate that. There are sticking points for me, but rather than prolong this discussion at the expense of those who expressed grief over it, I will leave it at that for now.

In answer to your last question though, I'm not looking for perfection to celebrate, but rather finding it difficult to find joy in celebrating a day that for many represents a triumph of sin or evil, a day that celebrates freedom by way of theft and genocide to others. Imagine if Hitler had won, Germany had become some great empire and this day was to mark the day they finally conquered. Could you blame some Germans for mourning the loss of Bonhoffer and lamenting the day rather than celebrating it with fireworks? Remember there were lots of churches there lock step in support of the government. Could some within those congregations been having this conversation two hundred years later?

Sorry, I ramble again.

Finally, in reference to Andy and Brian's remarks, friends I'm sorry if what I wrote disturbed you or spoiled the “fun”. But you must know that “life together” isn't always easy or fun, but has it's ups and downs. Therefore shouldn't we strive to continue improving relations with each other during all the different seasons of life and not just try and live as though it is sunny all the time? I bid you well.

Blessings and peace,


Kevin Heldt said...

Suzette, thanks for your vulnerability and honesty. I think the church needs lots more of that, and I appreciate you sharing your heart.

poretz, I'm glad that my post helped explain where I was coming from. I guess the main difference in our views is that when I think of America's Independence Day, I'm looking more at the overall picture of what God has accomplished through this country. How its founding principles acknowledge that there is a God, and that He gives value to all mankind (even if practice didn't and hasn't always backed that up). I see the principles and beliefs that this country was built upon to be good things, and to be largely in keeping with what God says about mankind in His Word. That is the primary reason I don't think your Hitler analogy holds. Though I see your point and think there would be some similarities between the way the people in that hypothetical situation and you feel, the bottom line is that if Hitler would have won, that state would have been built upon principles diametrically opposed to the will of God: a utilitarian empire in which the elderly, infirm, and disabled people have zero value to the state and should therefore be purged. In that world, the people who were in agreement with the governing principles would look back upon the atrocities of the Holocaust and, with deadened conscience (deadened humanity) declare them "right" and "just." That contrasts greatly with the situation in America where I, as a citizen who stands by the governing principles of this nation, can look at the horrors that your brought up and emphatically pronounce them "bad." It's much the same struggle that many non-Christians have to deal with when grappling with the Christian faith alongside poor examples of Christian living from their neighbors on the "inside": coming to see the truth of God's Word in spite of its often poor reflection in His followers. That's why everything ultimately must come back to Jesus -- the one true and perfect example.

One last thought from me on the topic: I'm currently reading the Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (a book that I think should be required reading for every Christian -- I can't believe I haven't read it before now) which is the story of a Christian family in Holland who helped Jews during the Nazi occupation and who were ultimately taken to a prison camp themselves. Basically every page is a bucket of ice water dumped over my head as I see the "bigness" of God in these people's lives. They "get it" that God has a pattern of working triumph out of defeat (the Cross is the ultimate example) and they're not concerning themselves with how they can possibly rejoice in the face of such evil. They automatically rejoice because they see, somehow, God's hand working even in such horrendous situations. As Suzette said, God is bigger than every situation, than every tragedy, and there is always something we can celebrate if we rest in Him.