The Pope's Christmas Message

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world, and all men and women, whom the Lord loves!

A light will shine on us this day, the Lord is born for us.

The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us.

The Bible and the Liturgy do not, however, speak to us about a natural light, but a different, special light, which is somehow directed to and focused upon "us", the same "us" for whom the Child of Bethlehem "is born". This "us" is the Church, the great universal family of those who believe in Christ, who have awaited in hope the new birth of the Saviour, and who today celebrate in mystery the perennial significance of this event.

At first, beside the manger in Bethlehem, that "us" was almost imperceptible to human eyes. As the Gospel of Saint Luke recounts, it included, in addition to Mary and Joseph, a few lowly shepherds who came to the cave after hearing the message of the Angels. The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light "that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). And yet all this took place in simplicity and hiddenness, in the way that God works in all of salvation history. God loves to light little lights, so as then to illuminate vast spaces. Truth, and Love, which are its content, are kindled wherever the light is welcomed; they then radiate in concentric circles, as if by contact, in the hearts and minds of all those who, by opening themselves freely to its splendour, themselves become sources of light. Such is the history of the Church: she began her journey in the lowly cave of Bethlehem, and down the centuries she has become a People and a source of light for humanity. Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the "sign" of his saving and liberating presence and to extend the "us" of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

Wherever there is an "us" which welcomes God’s love, there the light of Christ shines forth, even in the most difficult situations. The Church, like the Virgin Mary, offers the world Jesus, the Son, whom she herself has received as a gift, the One who came to set mankind free from the slavery of sin. Like Mary, the Church does not fear, for that Child is her strength. But she does not keep him for herself: she offers him to all those who seek him with a sincere heart, to the earth’s lowly and afflicted, to the victims of violence, and to all who yearn for peace. Today too, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church, in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with the shepherds: "Let us go to Bethlehem" (Lk 2:15), for there we shall find our hope.

The "us" of the Church is alive in the place where Jesus was born, in the Holy Land, inviting its people to abandon every logic of violence and vengeance, and to engage with renewed vigour and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence. The "us" of the Church is present in the other countries of the Middle East. How can we forget the troubled situation in Iraq and the "little flock" of Christians which lives in the region? At times it is subject to violence and injustice, but it remains determined to make its own contribution to the building of a society opposed to the logic of conflict and the rejection of one’s neighbour. The "us" of the Church is active in Sri Lanka, in the Korean peninsula and in the Philippines, as well as in the other countries of Asia, as a leaven of reconciliation and peace. On the continent of Africa she does not cease to lift her voice to God, imploring an end to every injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo; she invites the citizens of Guinea and Niger to respect for the rights of every person and to dialogue; she begs those of Madagascar to overcome their internal divisions and to be mutually accepting; and she reminds all men and women that they are called to hope, despite the tragedies, trials and difficulties which still afflict them. In Europe and North America, the "us" of the Church urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality, to advance the common good and to show respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn. In Honduras she is assisting in process of rebuilding institutions; throughout Latin America, the "us" of the Church is a source of identity, a fullness of truth and of charity which no ideology can replace, a summons to respect for the inalienable rights of each person and his or her integral development, a proclamation of justice and fraternity, a source of unity.

In fidelity to the mandate of her Founder, the Church shows solidarity with the victims of natural disasters and poverty, even within opulent societies. In the face of the exodus of all those who migrate from their homelands and are driven away by hunger, intolerance or environmental degradation, the Church is a presence calling others to an attitude of acceptance and welcome. In a word, the Church everywhere proclaims the Gospel of Christ, despite persecutions, discriminations, attacks and at times hostile indifference. These, in fact, enable her to share the lot of her Master and Lord.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how great a gift it is to be part of a communion which is open to everyone! It is the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, from whose heart Emmanuel, Jesus, "God with us", came into the world. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, let us contemplate, filled with wonder and gratitude, this mystery of love and light! Happy Christmas to all!


Goodbye to the "Living Google"


Savant who inspired Rain Man dies
CBC News

The disabled savant who inspired the title character in the film Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, has died.

Kim Peek, known for his remarkable memory, died of a heart attack Saturday morning in Salt Lake City, according to his father, Fran Peek. He was 58.

Screenwriter Barry Morrow had met Peek at a convention in the early 1980s and based the Rain Man character on him.

Peek was a megasavant who was a genius on 15 subjects ranging from history and geography to numbers and music. Megasavant is a term used for mentally disabled people who show genius-level abilities in several areas.

Yet he was painfully shy, his social skills developing very slowly. He walked with a sidewise gait and lacked basic motor skills — he could not dress himself or comb his own hair.

"It was just unbelievable, all the things that he knew," Fran Peek said Monday. "He travelled 5,500 miles short of three million air miles and talked to nearly 60 million people — half have been students."

The character Morrow created in Rain Man was a socially backward savant with several endearing characteristics, including regular rants about People's Court and refusing to fly with any airline but Qantas.

Rain Man won four Oscars, including best picture and best actor for Hoffman. Morrow shared a best screenwriting award with co-writer Ronald Bass.

'Share him with the world'

Hoffman met Kim Peek while playing the role of Rain Man and was impressed by his ability to remember everything that was said to him.

Hoffman advised Fran Peek, then his son's sole caregiver, not to hide his son away.

"Dustin Hoffman said to me, you have to promise me one thing about this guy, share him with the world," Fran Peek recalled.

Kim Peek eventually went on tour, demonstrating his abilities to dispel misconceptions about mental disability.

He was born in 1951 in Salt Lake City and doctors diagnosed him as severely mentally retarded and advised his parents to place him in an institution.

Yet he learned to read and could read eight books a day, committing large sections of text to memory. He could read two pages simultaneously, his left eye reading the left page and his right eye reading the right page.

In his later years, NASA studied his brain patterns in an attempt to understand his mental capabilities.

Peek's parents divorced in 1975 and his father took care of him his entire life.

The year 2009 is a year of good harvest. And so will 2010 be.

In the context of eternity, life on earth is but a morning dew.
What do you live for?


Without Truth, There's No Inner Light

Turn Lonely Holidays into Feasting Holy Days

By Julie Ferwerda

It happens every year. Seas of lonely singles and hurting people find that the holidays only magnify their pain and feelings of isolation, like tearing the scab off an unhealed wound. While families and couples gather in plain view for festive togetherness and merry-making memories, the ache for many left out in the cold is vast and raw. If you are one of the hurting masses, what can possibly soothe the pain of the dreaded holidays?

Let me begin by letting you know that for the past few years, I could easily fit into the lonely, hurting group over the holidays. First of all, due primarily to divorce circumstances, I've had despairingly inadequate time with my two girls during the coveted holidays in recent years. Add to that, my only sister and her husband suddenly cut themselves off from the family nine years ago, along with their five children. That left a huge and lonely gap in family gatherings since, reducing our get-togethers to just my family and my parents (my husband's family all live either in other states or overseas). And then for the past six holiday seasons, my beloved mom struggled through various stages and treatments for cancer. Last year we spent Christmas and New Year's a thousand miles away at Mayo Clinic while she got more treatment. She finally succumbed to the battle this past summer, so this is my first holiday season without her.

I've had many people ask me, "I'll bet the holidays are going to be really hard for you this year, huh?" You know, even though I have lots of reasons why they could be depressing and downright devastating, this year I have a new attitude—a new hope. Things are going to be different. That's because over the last year I've discovered a secret long forgotten: God-established Holy Days.

You see, long ago and far away, God established special Holy Days called "Feasts." They were at least partly about taking out time to fast from the world and feast on God. They hinged on personal cleansing, intimate worship, and extreme celebration of His greatness. They also foretold about future events—some fulfilled already, some not yet—events that would shape the course of His-story. In a nutshell, these events were completely and totally about acknowledging and honoring our Amazing Creator while getting our eyes off the fallen creation.

But then came holidays. Many of the current holidays we observe are presented to be and even seem like they are about celebrating God, but really at the core, they are not. If they were really solely about God, they would not be disappointing in the least. These man-made holidays focus on people and things—get-togethers, gift exchanging, decorations, greeting cards, romance—and that is why they have the capacity to leave us wanting, empty, disappointed, and lonely. They are designed to be about us—our parties, our traditions, our families, our memories, even our own ideas about worship. But our best efforts at trying to successfully remake Holy Days into holidays, have fallen short.

I'm not saying for a moment that it is wrong to embrace traditions, or to gather as families, or to celebrate life and loved ones. But if we truly want to find fulfillment, celebration, joy, and peace, we must return throughout the year to God's way of making the Holy Days about Him, and not about us. When we get our eyes off the flesh, and focus upon the Holy, there becomes no room for emptiness, loneliness, disappointment, or despair. On the contrary, those days become a Feast for the heart and soul!

In our times, God does not want us to observe His Feast days as just another religious ritual. In the quietness of our hearts, or perhaps behind closed doors either alone or with our families, we can once again learn about the true prophetic meanings and then observe His Holy Days, keeping our celebration purely and simply about Him. It is one great way to begin healing a lonely heart for every day of the year.

God's love made manifest in human hearts. This is the greatest miracle ever known to mankind. This is what Christmas is all about. All the festivities that go with it is supposed to be merely an outward manifestation of the inner joy of the heart.

But nowadays, people are blinded by the material world. New and young generations are oblivious and ignorant of the truth about Christmas and this is why the reverse process is what is happening in them. The "joy" they experience is not genuine and is so shallow and very temporary and is very much dependent on the outward experiences that the season brings.

Failing to see the truth about Christmas, there will be no internalization of it inside the heart, and there will be no genuine light from within that will project outwardly to light the perceived gloominess of these days.

[Matthew 6:22-23] The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

How about you, can your eyes see the truth of Christmas beyond the distortion of the world's materialism? What kind of light is it that is inside of you?


The World Needs Leaders Who Can Empower Rather Than Control

Open Source Activists

By J.R. Kerr
Leadership Journal - Christianity Today

A shift is occurring among the new generation of church leaders. We are thinking and leading differently than the generation that preceded us, but I didn't recognize the extent of this shift until a worship service one Sunday morning a few years ago.

I was sitting in the front row with the senior pastor. He was increasingly uncomfortable with the sound mix in the room and the way the worship was being led. He got out of his seat and walked to the back of the room to adjust everything from the lights and sound to the length of the songs. At one point he actually signaled the worship leaders on the platform that it was time to end a set. He then asked me to go back to the sound booth to make another adjustment.

I froze. I just could not do it.

The founding pastor's expectation that I be involved in everything—even acoustics—was part of a leadership paradigm that had left me weary. It assumed I was supposed to have some degree of control over every part of the church, supposed to have the answer to whatever problem arose. One day, I had a string of meetings that kept me from my office most of the day. Upon my return I met five people whose jobs had come to a halt because they needed me. They all had the information and the skills necessary to do their work, but they lacked the authority—the necessary space—to lead.

This kind of organizational environment expects leaders to know and control virtually everything in the life of the community. Of course we included volunteers in our work. We gathered them into "task forces" focused on a particular issue. We wanted them to feel ownership for the ministry, but we also wanted the task force to meet with a pastor or elder to get a clear picture of the vision and then execute the plan as instructed.

As the source of vision and the leader of task forces, I was increasingly the center of attention and I was increasingly uncomfortable with who I was becoming. This highly centralized and hierarchical view of leadership also left me exhausted. I was tired of trying to convince people to care about stuff, tired of cajoling leaders to give one more night out, one more dollar, or one more skill to the church and its vision.

So when the senior pastor asked me to adjust the sound in the worship service I literally stopped in my tracks. I thought to myself, I cannot keep doing this. So I quit. I quit trying to convince people to do what I wanted. I quit pretending to have all the answers. I quit the "task force" leadership model I had been taught.

From force to source

Over the last few decades, a generation of significant pastors and leaders has encouraged us to raise the bar of leadership within the church. They have drawn heavily from corporate and secular models, and they have elevated the values of excellence and efficiency. But my generation has grown skeptical of these values and the leadership principles that produced them. They are increasingly seen as too corporate, too controlling, and the source of too much consumerism within the church.

My generation is hungry for something more than the 15 principles for building a better team or the 21 reasons why you should be a servant leader. They are not content filling a role on a task force for church growth. They are hungry for more. They want a voice. They want influence. They are a generation that isn't content receiving a vision; they want to be part of shaping and creating the vision. My generation believes in open source influence.

Open source is everywhere and it is changing the world. Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat documents the way open source is changing how software is developed and how news is reported. Past generations went to a trusted authority, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, to find answers to their questions. The new generation logs on to Wikipedia, an open source web encyclopedia that doesn't just provide answers but allows users to contribute their knowledge as well. And the Apple iPhone now has thousands of user-created applications available as a result of becoming an open source platform. The younger generation expects to participate in the creation and formation of products and organizations in a way earlier generations simply did not.

A ministry friend relayed a story that captures the generational shift we are experiencing. He was out to lunch with a volunteer leader from his church to discuss the next layer of the vision for the ministry. After listening for a while, the supporter said to my friend, "You know I am a huge fan of your ministry and I will always support you, but we only hear about your ideas and dreams. We have ideas and dreams too. We have thoughts about how to carry the kingdom of God forward. When do our visions, dreams, and ambitions for ministry get heard?"

My friend retold the story with tears in his eyes, but I felt sick to my stomach. I realized that I have been that kind of leader. I have been the pastor who creates just enough space for people to feel part of the team, but not enough to actually give them authority to shape the direction and look of our ministries. That is the difference between leading via task force and leading via open source. Task forces see people as a way to implement leaders' ministry ideas. Open source sees people as the source of ministry ideas. One model requires leaders to control; the other model requires leaders to empower.

A call to create

I joined the staff at Park Community Church in Chicago with a desire to implement this new way of leading. We were first inspired to actually try an open source approach by Not For Sale, an abolitionist movement working to end slavery in the modern world, and the film Call + Response, which focuses on the same issue. Both the organization and film advocate a decentralized, open source structure to empower a generation of activists.

We decided to host a showing of Call + Response, but because of the film's open source philosophy, we approached the organization of the event differently. In fact we decided not to advertise or market the event apart from mentioning the issue in my sermon just days beforehand. This violated everything I had been taught about executing successful church events. We created no event requests, no video announcements, no flashy marketing or event management tools. Everything was word of mouth through social networking websites.

I had no idea what to expect when the night of the event came. To my surprise over 300 people attended. But our experimentation with open source didn't end there. We also designed the event itself with an opportunity for participants to lead. The gathering concluded with a different kind of invitation: "If the reality that there are 27 million slaves in the world bothers you, then we invite you to help us create a response as a church." This was more than a call to respond—it was a call to create.

What happened next was remarkable. People responded in a way that redefined my understanding of what leadership in the church can look like. Within weeks after the event, volunteers created a new organization called Traffick Free and began to plan a week of awareness events in Chicago. The original gathering of 300 from one church has now become a network of thousands from multiple churches committed to making our city slave free by 2020. This has all happened without the church staff in control.

After one Traffick Free event at a local bar, a member of the Chicago Police Department's human trafficking unit pulled me aside. "How did you do this?" she asked. "How did you get over 200 people to come together to talk about this issue?"

"I didn't," I said. "All I did was focus on empowering a few key individuals. They did everything."

That is the heart of open source leadership. If it had been my responsibility to launch and manage a human trafficking awareness ministry, it would have been squeezed into my schedule between preaching and other pastoral responsibilities. But these open source influencers not only gave the issue more time and passion, they were also able to open doors in our community—like utilizing bars for meeting spaces and developing partnerships with legal offices and speakers—that I never would have been able to as a pastor.

The Traffick Free leadership team is now getting internship requests from high school and college students. They are even receiving letters from senators committing their support. Right now the Traffick Free team is meeting to determine what's next for the ministry. The best part is I'm not in the meeting with them, and I don't need to be. They are able to dream bigger and think more innovatively without me.

From off limits to no limits

Learning to release control and share influence with others may be one of the most sensitive and difficult changes to make in your leadership style—at least it has been for me. In the past I have started a church task force with a very clear goal in mind. The task was decided upon before the group was ever convened, and their efforts were largely limited to that task. Again, this pastor-centered, controlled vision approach to leadership is what I had been taught. But inevitably the group would stray beyond the boundaries established for the task force. They would see an obstacle that needed to be removed or a related issue that should be addressed, and they would be told, "Sorry, that is off limits."

How many times have those two words, "off limits," impeded the work of the kingdom through God's people? What if nothing was off limits? What if people were allowed to speak honestly and directly about the opportunities and challenges they see? And what if we gave away some of our control, trusting God's people to develop their own vision and not just execute ours?

After our positive experience with the Call + Response event, we tried to make a shift toward open source leadership with our singles ministry. The group had been gathering on the first Thursday of the month at our facility for a primarily social purpose. In recent years efforts were made to change the core focus of this ministry to be more external and missional. These changes were attempted by a pastor who was responsible for overseeing the singles ministry. Nothing worked. So we decided to try an open source strategy.

We gave a group of ten singles the freedom to do whatever they wanted with the ministry. This was a huge shift, and I had to repeatedly convince them it was okay to make decisions without my input or permission. But once they really felt empowered, the group changed the meager social gathering of singles into a cultural gathering called Elements that is having an influence all over the city of Chicago. Every month they meet in bars, coffee shops, designer boutiques, and anywhere else they can find available space to discuss issues that matter to our city and Jesus. Elements is drawing together believers and non-believers and developing greater trust and understanding between the two groups. The team has even invited speakers from around the country (who are willing to travel on their own dime) to lead the conversations.

The singles ministry is now having an amazing influence in Chicago, but it's not because of me or any other pastor at Park Community Church. The credit goes to Mike, Lisa, Audra, Andrew, Natalie, Meghan, Dave, Carole and a host of others who have given vision and leadership to this project and others like it. They have built a city-wide ministry with no real budget and very little publicity. All we gave them was permission.

Leaders like the ones I've mentioned are evidence that the world is changing. This new generation sees themselves and their potential differently. They don't require titles and positions to influence the culture. This is a generation of social activists, artists, and leaders who intend to accomplish great things for the kingdom of God. Our responsibility is to make space for them, and that requires thinking differently about how we lead.

J.R. Kerr is the singles/teaching pastor at Park Community Church in Chicago, Illinois, and founder of the Aitreni Group for Social Change.

A leadership that empowers is like the wind. As it blows, it awakens idle windmills, sways the branches and leaves of trees, and it makes windchimes sing too.


Human Cruelty Against Nature

Source: Circulated Email

Denmark is a big shame. The sea is stained in red and in the mean while its not because of the climate effects of nature. It's because of the cruelty that the human beings (civilized human) kill hundreds of the famous and intelligent Calderon dolphins.

This happens every year in Feroe island in Denmark. In this slaughter the main participants are young teens. Why? To show that they are adults and mature.

In this big celebration, nothing is missing for the fun. Everyone is participating in one way or the other, killing or looking at the cruelty “supporting like a spectator”.

Is it necessary to mention that the dolphin calderon, like all the other species of dolphins, it is near extinction and they love to get near humans to play and interact in a way of pure friendship.

In this killing spree, they dolphins don’t die instantly; they are cut 1, 2 or 3 times with thick hocks. And at that time the dolphins produce a grim which is extremely compatible with the cry of a new born child. They suffer gruesomely and there’s no compassion till these sweet beings slowly die in their own blood.

Its enough! Let us all circulate this message around the world until this arrives in every association with the heart willing to defend the poor animals. We won’t only read -- that would make us accomplice viewers.

Let us take care of the world, it is our only home!


While You Were Sleeping


By Casting Crowns

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight

Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save

Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night

America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

United States of America
Looks like another silent night...