On Friendship, Faith, and Martyrdom

Faith Abbott McFadden (1931-2011)

October 6 is the feast day of Saint Faith of Agen.  Few people are aware that there is actually a saint named “Faith” in the martyrologies of the Church.  I took the occasion of her feast day to write about my friendship with the late Faith Abbott McFadden, who was senior editor of The Human Life Review until her death in 2011.   The good folks at Review posted my reminiscences on their blog today.

Faith was a champion of the fight for life, and she was a huge influence on me.  She and I had a 20 year correspondence in which we shared our observations on the changing culture and life in general.  Today’s struggle to create a culture that respects and values human life was central to Faith’s work.

We both understood that to openly identify as pro-life is an act that will get you socially rejected in most social and academic circles. And to persist in doing so – to refuse to trade in the Truth for the shiny objects of worldly “rewards” no matter the price — is where true martyrdom begins. Martyrs who hold that fast to the Faith are willing to shed blood if it comes to that.  That’s the story of Saint Faith of Agen.  Though mention of that saint never came up in our correspondence — I only discovered Saint Faith recently — today I seek to link the devotions of both women.

And so I offer this excerpt from the Review’s blog on the feast day of Saint Faith:

Saint Faith’s refusal to renounce Christ and sacrifice to pagan gods got her tortured and killed. And that’s what true martyrdom is about, really:  refusing to bow down to idolatry under pain of punishment, and even death.  It means holding fast to Faith.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and an old French adage rings truer than ever:  “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”  My favorite translation of that is this: “The more things ‘change,’ the more you get same old, same old, same old.”  Indeed, as we witness the lightening erosion of religious liberty in today’s transformed America, we are increasingly facing the same choice as Saint Faith and all the saints: true worship or idolatry? God or mammon?

Such are the things my friend Faith and I reflected on.  And I can hear Faith adding a stoic “Natch” to all of the above.  I believe her outreach to me — and to everyone — was built on her understanding that God leads us to do his work through friendship, through one-on-one personal relationships, influencing the lives of others as well as our own lives.

I still fall short whenever I try to express the impact her letters had—and continue to have—on my life. And why wouldn’t I fall short? Why wouldn’t anyone who ponders the influence of another person on their life fall short in sizing it up?

I think the answer lies in the eternal mystery of love and the limitless trajectories a life can take. It lies in the fact that every human life is an entire universe of God’s making. There is just no way that the effect of one life upon another can be measured or predicted.

You can read the whole post here:  http://www.humanlifereview.com/9184-2/

 

 

Propaganda and Agitation in the Aftermath of Orlando

Today I talked with Professor Robert Oscar Lopez, about how the Orlando tragedy is being shamelessly manipulated by the LGBT lobby.  Its propagandists immediately shifted the blame for the massacre from the murderer and his stated motives to the claim that “homophobia” among Christians caused it. Such a wild fabrication amounts to the cultivation of hatred, pure and simple.  It was obviously calculated, and an act of war.  Demonizing Christians — and the attempt to institutionalize that demonization —  is alarming.  It serves only to polarize society further.  It’s a dangerous path which, in the end, only serves power elites.  You can listen to the podcast here:

Tyrants Basically Hate Friendship

Ancient City of Aleppo before Civil War

Tyrants and bullies always meddle in happy and healthy relationships in order to destroy them.  Power mongers have always abhored happiness and goodwill.  You’ll find this on every level — from totalitarian dictators right on down to the petty mean girls in a middle school cafeteria.  Relationships are the primary source of power.   And wherever true friendship flourishes, human beings are not so easily exploited by outside influences. This is exactly why totalitarian programs and regimes have always had a keen interest in the extermination of one-on-one friendship – or any personal relationships they cannot regulate and control.

I thought about this the other day when I listened to Melkite Archbishop Jeanbart of Aleppo talk about the devastation of Aleppo and the dire situation for Christians there and throughout Syria. Christians of Aleppo have been leaving in droves since ISIS started fighting government forces there in 2012.  (Just to give you a taste of what’s going on, read the travel advisory from wikitravel. In part it states: “If in Syria, the best advice is to GET OUT.”)  The brutality and bloodshed have been merciless.  And Aleppo — once a magnificent city — is now thoroughly scarred by the fighting. The accompanying photos give a small idea of the contrast before and after.

ISIS attacked the compound of the Armenian Church of 40 Martyrs in Aleppo.

The archbishop spoke about relations between the Christians and Muslims of Aleppo before the Civil War.  Life was good, relations were friendly and people lived in peace.  Then, ISIS injected into the culture a certain “mentality” as it practiced its senseless murder and destruction.   It is a mentality of separation, division, hatred, and violence that has destroyed the co-existence of different religious groups.

ISIS is in the business of sowing ill will and poisoning any chance of trust among peoples because no one in their right mind would ever choose to live voluntarily under such a regime.  Its power can only come about through brute force.  Christians in Aleppo — and all civilians — report feeling safest when in government-controlled areas, not ISIS controlled areas.  So even though President Assad is considered a brutal tyrant among many in the West, many who are personally living through the hell in today’s Syria, including Christians, tend to feel that Assad is at least the best of a sorry lot.

In any case, what we are seeing now in Syria and throughout the Middle East is the recurrence of conditions that promote genocide.  And it’s probably fair to say the recurrence of genocide itself. As we ponder this, we should remember that the conditions that promote genocide always involve propaganda that sows ill will and the demonization of a people.  We see it in the rise of anti-Semitism. And we see it as the Western press promotes a strong anti-Christian bias which also fuels these conditions.  And when the mass media goes along with such things, you get a death spiral.  Worse, leaders in the West who say little and do less about it all fan the flames through their indifference.  This toleration and lack of condemnation of the violence sends a clear signal to the perpetrators that they can get away with as much murder and mayhem as they like.

Indeed, ISIS is doing to Christians just as the Ottomans did to Armenians as they embarked on that genocide that murdered 1.5 million a hundred years ago.  I wrote about this in my April 24 Weekly Standard article “Genocide begins with Groupthink.”  So it fascinated me to hear the Archbishop opine that what we are seeing now with the rise of ISIS looks very much like a re-establishment of the Ottoman Empire.

It’s especially sad to reflect on the fact that there has been very little social progress over the past 50 years.  Actually, it’s been an era of great social regression.   Our best hope is for people of goodwill to remember the link between freedom and friendship, and to persist in planting the seeds of both.

 

Three new articles out today on Armenian Genocide Centennial

Armenians marched by Ottoman soldiers, 1915

Please visit these links to read three articles I wrote, all published today on the commemoration of 100 Years since the Armenian Genocide.

The more I read history, especially of such tragedies, the more convinced I am that it is our one-on-one relationships based in trust that is key to our survival and to freedom.   My article in First Things focuses on that.  My article in The Weekly Standard identifies groupthink as the fuel that allows such things to happen.  And in the Federalist I give an overview of the genocide.
I’ll be writing more about this soon.  Thank you again for following my blog.

 

Centennial of the Armenian Genocide is April 24, 2015

Armenian mother kneeling beside dead child.

As the granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors, I’ve been paying close attention to this year’s one hundredth anniversary of the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.  Lately, I’ve been immersing myself in reading and writing about it.  It’s depressing to say the least.  And draining.

But as the philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And I see a reflection of the Armenian Genocide in the mass slaughter of Christians in today’s Middle East.  So we absolutely must not forget history.  We must respect the historical record and resist all corruption of the language in speaking about that record.

While studying the genocide, I strived to connect all of the dots – the conditions of World War I when it all took place, the actions of the Ottoman government of Turkey to exterminate the Armenian Christians, the political differences among the Armenians themselves, the role of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and so much more.

I am so grateful to my grandfather for giving all of his descendants an extraordinary gift by chronicling his experiences in writing.  I can feel the fear and confusion as he describes how the police arrived in his village in the summer of 1915 with orders for all Armenians to leave their homes before sunrise.  A chaotic caravan formed.  And it was “Bedlam all around! The whining of the dogs, the lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the cows and sheep!  The wailing cries of the women. . .”  The wife of one villager was in active labor during the chaos, and was placed on a cart where she gave birth to a stillborn baby.  On another cart a villager placed his disabled adult daughter who could neither speak nor walk.  Her wailing was loud and pitiful and ended when “a police guard split her skull with the butt of his rifle.”

There are plenty more horrors to add to that one.  But there are also stories of great kindness and miracles along the way. And I am amazed to be able to map out my grandfather’s deportation route from his village in the Kayseri region in central Turkey.  The many places he passed through included a strenuous journey through the Taurus Mountains, the ancient Armenian city of Sis, down to Hama in Syria, and then Aleppo where huge numbers of Armenians were concentrated in filthy camp conditions.  He would later go to Adana and then board a ship from Mersin to get to Smyrna.  There he and my grandmother survived the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922.  They managed to get to Greece, and then, finally America.

Through a great miracle my grandfather and his caravan avoided being deported to Der Zor, which was deep in the Syrian desert where much of the killing took place.

I will have a few pieces published soon on the genocide.  And I’ll post them on this blog.  In the meantime, a great resource to read up on it all is at http://www.armenian-genocide.org/online_exhibits.html

Mulling over the Question: “Who is my Neighbor?”

In my latest Federalist article I reflect on how I watched a manhunt break out during a morning walk.  It led me to consider things both practical and spiritual:  “It was a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — For a Manhunt

FYI, the clip above gives a bit of “ambiance,” though that segment was not filmed on my street.  The action shifted all morning.  But I didn’t even know they were entering houses until I found this clip!  It’s interesting that this was put up by Russia Today news.  (This makes me chuckle a little because it reminds me a bit about the way Soviets liked to do propaganda, and how they would have loved to zero in on something like this to show “very bad Amerika.”)

It was a wild morning for me.  In the aftermath I considered two questions, one practical and one spiritual.  The practical side had me thinking about personal security (as in firearms.)  The spiritual side had me reflecting on the question put to Christ just before his parable of the Good Samaritan: “Who is my neighbor?” And how do people get to be the way they are?

 

Proclaiming the Resurrection: Freedom Through Song, Part IV

Christ is Risen!

This video is from a Beirut shopping mall in 2011 when a group of Christians coordinated the sudden singing of the “Jesus is Risen” song to the surprise of many passers-by.  As we remember and pray for all Christians persecuted in the Middle East and throughout the world, we can take heart through their witness.  The joy and the fearlessness of these singers is contagious and beautiful.  Take in the English subtitles as you hear gospel truth proclaimed in the Arabic:   “Jesus is risen from the dead, defeating death by death . . .”  What a tribute to the power of Love over hate and death.

Indeed, He is Risen!  Alleluia!