Monday, September 20, 2010

Hungry Spirits, the Koram and a Chance to Peace

The Chinese celebrate on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar the Day of the Hungry Spirits, while the 7th month of the lunar calendar is considered as the month of the hungry spirits. This year the hungry spirits day fell on August 24th. August is normally considered as the month of the hungry spirits (sometimes being extended to September) It’s believed that on the 15th day of the 7th month Heaven, Hell and the world of the living open and connect, thus causing the spirits and ghosts to leave the lower realm, including the dead ancestors to go through the world of the living. As a result, the people, mostly Buddhists and Taoists, execute rites to try to appease the spirits or relieve their suffering. The ancestor worship happens in full, with many people making offerings of food, burning incense, burning of joss paper, and burning papier-mache shaped objects as clothes, gold and other fine objects to appease the ancestors and avoid curses or problems in the family, work, health, etc. It’s a grotesque to see so much food and burnt things on the streets. A real work of witchcraft happening for the whole of the country, with the support and comprehension of the government, even considered as superstition but taken as part of the culture, religion or tradition of the people, after all, it’s better to cover all the bases, isn’t it? Unfortunately, nobody comments on the waste, the rats, cockroaches and other plagues that follow these practices. It’s sad to see so many people slaved by the prison of animism and evil spirits that are behind this celebration to get to be worshipped, due to fear. These practices, indeed, are ways to protect themselves from the evil they believe can attack them if they don’t do them, so that they can’t see that actually they are the ones feeding the evil they try to avoid. I don’t agree with their practices, but I respect their decision, continue to love, pray and serve them, when the opportunity allows me, so that I can show the including, reaching, protecting and saving reality of the Kingdom.

This week we were remembering those that lost their lives at the twin towers of the World Trade Center, on September 11th, due to a terrorist attack. This happened 9 years ago. On September 11th, this year, a friend posted a message at facebook, showing his sympathy to his American friends and to the American population in general, for what has happened and telling how he believes the world would never be the same again. It was a beautiful demonstration of love and empathy for those who suffered and still suffers by the Power of evil. But the comments he got in reply were a show of ignorance and lack of sensitivity. Some were making jokes because he posted 9/11 (as it’s read in English) instead of 11/9, (as it’s read in Brazil) as if this was more important than the meaning of the date. In one of the entries someone commented, not taking in account the pain the date brings, criticizing by saying that the only change in the world after 9/11 was the armed rise of a mourning nation invading other weaker nations due to selfish reasons. Truth be said, one thing do not justify another. Violence doesn’t justify more violence. But the reminder of the loss of human lives is not the proper place to make soulless political statements. It’s the moment to bring consolation and prayer and the proclamation of peace. This only shows what is inside humanity’s heart, even the Christians: a stuck, deep-rooted violence. What have we seen following the 9/11? A world anti-Islam feeling. Even among the Christians, men and women, there was a change in their perspective as they started to see all Muslims with suspicion, as the enemies and deserving to suffer the same violence they had caused, not considering that they didn’t caused (The movie “The Siege”, from 1998, becomes a prophetic moment). Hungry spirits dwelling people’s hearts.

The we have the Reverend Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, Who offers this amazing act of Grace and Love: to burn copies of the Koram in, what he describes, as “not an act of hate or love” in spite of him admitting “we will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats”, in what can be understood that from now on the threats come from him or the Americans Who are still suffering from what happened on 9/11. It’s a good demonstration of what doesn’t mean to be a Christian (at least no the biblical Christianity taught by Jesus). For sure all the Muslims got his point of view: an yey for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, value that they already live for. But what about the message of grace and peace and reconciliation that is the message of Jesus? Where is it? I don’t think they got to see that one. The hurt pride of pastor Jones was very clear, but the humility in extending forgiveness, this is still to be seen. Hungry spirits.

I was in Philippines at the beginning of this year in a evangelistic/social trip. From the many places where I’ve preached nowhere was I more touched than at Santa Cruz, a cemetery at the middle of the city of Manila, with around 300,000 people living on top of graves. I walked around there, looking at those people walking and living around the graves (some of the graves were piled up on top of others turning the cemetery in true corridors of death).We preached and distributed clothes there as people would receive Christ, but during the whole time I was there I kept reminding myself of the Gerasene Demon-possessed man. I always asked myself how someone could live in a cemetery. Only if one is infested with demons, isn’t it? But there I could see people who were living there for social, political, economic reasons. And in the same way as the demons inside the Gerasene man were hungry for his soul, and later hungry to go to the pigs, these people were hungry for a little of hope, social justice and a taste of the Kingdom of God in their lives “today”. But the hungry spirits have kept them bound to poverty, general indifference and rejection. Hungry spirits.

The answer to violence is no-violence. The answer is freedom. The answer is justice. The answer is peace. Matthew 5:3 says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:6 says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The poor in spirit is the one who lost everything, even the vigor in his/her spirit is vanishing. These are those hungry for a manifestation of social justice. Theirs is the kingdom. Not a kingdom that will one day come, but a kingdom that is already here. We have the responsibility to proclaim this kingdom due to our role as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and because we are part of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace who is not burning Korams, or allowing people to live in cemeteries, or disregarding someone else’s pain and suffering. On the contrary, it is a kingdom that leaves the insides of the church and helps to rebuild houses destroyed by tornados, earthquakes, landslides. It’s a kingdom who gives the opportunity for those who cannot support their families, who visits the sick and gives strength to those in despair. This is the true fasting (Isaiah 58). This is the role of the true Servant of God, guided by the Spirit of God (Isaiah 61). He/she rebuilds the ruins and restores the devastated places and the ruined cities (Isaiah 61:4). May we be hungry for the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61; Joel 2:28) instead of allowing the hungry spirits in our souls to be expressed through acts of violence, prejudice, rejection, ethnic pride, denominational pride, religious pride, superiority and intolerance. Let’s give a chance to peace to be expressed through our lives.

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