These Grammy Performances on Faith and Hope Will Lift Your Spirits

These Grammy Performances on Faith and Hope Will Lift Your Spirits

Mary Rose Somarriba

Grammy Performance on Faith and Hope
These Grammy Performances on Faith and Hope Will Lift Your Spirits

After watching the Grammys last night I couldn’t help but be struck by the numerous faith elements, not just in thank-you speeches this time but in song. While many musicians today at award shows continue to speak out in political tones, this year’s Grammys showcased a remarkable number of references to raising our eyes and ears higher. In fact, three songs performed had the word “pray” in the song’s title or refrain.

Sam Smith sings a reluctant man’s plea in the song “Pray” from his new album The Thrill of It All. Admitting, “I’m not a saint,” “Turn my back on religion,” and “You won’t find me in Church [or] reading the Bible,” the singer confesses that his heart still hasn’t been satisfied and longs for something more. “There’s dread in my heart and fear in my bones / And I just don’t know what to say / Maybe I’ll pray… I have never believed in you / But I’m gonna pray.” Smith sings, “I’ll pray for a glimmer of hope,” culminating with the chant, “Everyone prays in the end.” This is one of those songs where its humility makes it all the more powerful.

Among the most powerful moments of the evening was Kesha’s performance of her redemptive ballad “Praying,” which includes clear references to her painful experiences and legal battle with producer Dr. Luke, in which she has alleged years of sexual abuse. Joined by a choir of female stars including Cyndi Lauper, Andra Day, and Camila Cabello, Kesha belts follows her painful recollection of being “put through hell” with notes that lean toward forgiveness rather than revenge: “I hope you’re somewhere praying / I hope your soul is changing / I hope you find your peace / Falling on your knees, praying.” One gets the sense that Kesha herself has found her peace on her knees. “I can breathe again …I found a strength I’ve never known.” Making the Grammy performance all the more powerful was watching the women surround Kesha with a hug—a beautiful reminder of how supportive community can be a sign of God’s love in our lives.

Also on Sunday, Lady Gaga merged two songs from the album Joanne in a memorial to her late aunt. The singer recently released a new piano version of the title song, in which she mourns for her lost relative, while admitting she knows she lives eternally: “Honestly, I know where you’re goin’ / And baby, you’re just movin’ on / And I’ll still love you even if I can’t / See you anymore / Can’t wait to see you soar.” Gaga followed her tearful “Joanne” with a return to her hit “Million Reasons,” in which she belts such lyrics as “I bow down to pray … Lord, show me the way.” Gaga’s music video accompanying “Million Reasons” includes a climactic scene when her sister gives her a gift of a rosary—a sign of hope and healing in the story.

Both Gaga’s and Kesha’s songs were nominated for Best Solo Performance at the Grammys. While there will always be performances about politics and fighting injustice in this world, it’s consoling at times to also hear the songs about looking above and seeking internal peace—especially when the world fails to provide it.

Mary Rose Somarriba is a writer and editor living in Cleveland. Find her at maryrosesomarriba.com

Holy Envy: What This Catholic Learned About Missionary Work from Mormons

Holy Envy: What This Catholic Learned About Missionary Work from Mormons

Brian Grim

“Where did you serve your mission?” That’s a typical question Mormons ask each other. And it’s one I can relate to. I served missions in China, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East, and converted from Baptist to Catholic along the way.

For a married Catholic like myself with four grown kids, that is perhaps a one-of-a-kind personal history. And even Mormons might view it as an unusual mission background. But I think it’s one that many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day can relate to.

On occasion I’ve been asked what I might say to Pope Francis next time I meet him. If given the opportunity, I’d ask him a simple question: “How different do you think the world would be if every Catholic young person aspired to serve a two-year mission like Mormon young people do?”

It’s not just the time young adults spend serving a mission and the lives they impact that makes a difference. It’s also the years of spiritual, financial, and psychological preparation supported by friends, family and congregations that make a difference. This all adds to the spiritual and temporal strength of the LDS Church itself.

It’s not that Catholics don’t have mission programs. They do – FOCUS Missionaries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Maryknoll Mission Volunteers to name a few. The difference is that serving a mission tends to be the exception for Catholics rather than the rule.

Of course, there are aspects of the Mormon approach to spiritual and temporal affairs that make it more possible for them than for Catholics to field a global lay missionary force.

First, Mormons don’t have professional clergy. Their operations depend on volunteer lay leadership at the local level. LDS local pastors (what they call bishops) devote scores of hours each week to attending to the needs of their congregation, or “ward.” And at the stake level, what the Catholics might call a diocese, the leadership is also voluntary.

Second, they have special callings for people to take a break from their careers, often mid-career, and travel to different parts of the world at subsistence pay to head up the work. These mission presidents answer a call that requires them to put their professional lives on hold for three years in order to supervise hundreds of young Mormons getting their feet wet as missionaries. Catholics don’t have a parallel.

And third, active Mormons by-and-large tithe. They give 10% of their incomes as offerings to the LDS Church, which helps make the global missionary endeavor possible.

It’s not that Catholics couldn’t rise to the challenge – they do in countless ways – but such an endeavor would require a paradigm shift in how they approach missionary work.

Nevertheless, one potential advantage Catholics have is that their missionary endeavor is not centralized – not all mission callings need to go through the Vatican. That might seem like a disadvantage to many Mormons, but the closer an initiative is to the local beneficiary, the more likely people are to wholeheartedly support it. Just think of the tremendous benefit of Evangelical Christian missions such as the Gospel Rescue Missions. Their billion-dollar impact stems from the legion of volunteers that help in each city without any central coordination.

These days I’m not working as a missionary. Or, to be more precise, my mission is to promote freedom of religion and belief for all. In that task I’m happy to say there is more direct similarity between Catholics and Mormons.

The Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith said that anyone who “would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics.” In that sense, Joseph Smith was prophetic. We’re all in this together. In the 1960s the Vatican declaration on religious freedom – DIGNITATIS HUMANAE – acknowledged that it is the agency and response of each individual to promote salvation in Christ rather than rely on the government to defend what it deems to be “orthodox” beliefs.

Today, I’m heading the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, which helps businesses, governments, and civil society see the pragmatic benefits of religious freedom. It’s another area where Catholics and Mormons have a lot in common. But that’s an essay for a different day.

Brian Grim is a member of the Roman Catholic Church. As president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, he interacts with people of many different faiths around the world.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

A Celebration of Gratitude, Hindu Style

A Celebration of Gratitude, Hindu Style

By Steve Wunderli, FaithCounts.com Contributor

celebration-of-gratitude
Some 18 years ago I was filming life in a village about twenty kilometers inland of the Bay of Bengal. It sounds romantic, and it was…except for dysentery. We were with a small humanitarian group who had been petitioned by one of the village elders to make the trek from America to his tiny village of Vuudi Mudi. We tagged along to film. Little did we know about rural India: the bad roads, the lack of transportation, no infrastructure, no health care, mud everywhere.

We were greeted by a roadway into the village lined with painted white stones. A banner hung on poles welcoming us, and there were strings of flower petals everywhere. We were the first Americans to visit the village in nearly 50 years. The bus stopped at the center of the village, a small Hindu temple that was not much more than a concrete pergola. All 400 villagers gathered to see us. Their joy and fascination were overwhelming. There was dancing and music on makeshift instruments and everybody wanted to hug us. It lasted deep into the night: the women in layered, flowing colors of bright saris, little kids in cloth shorts or skirts, brass ankle bracelets that kept rhythm with drums and 3-stringed instruments and a cacophony of dented bells, brass horns and rhythm sticks. The night was clear. Coconut trees seemed to bend in on us. We were exhausted. They begged us to share some music of our own. We promised we would have a number ready for the next night and collapsed on the cement floor of a tiny hut. We woke to 30 or more children smiling at us through the window. It was cold. The sun was glowing through the damp haze. It was like waking up in the middle of a 3rd grade classroom. I quickly became attached to one boy in particular. We nicknamed him Coconut because his head was shaved due to lice. He had a deformed hand from falling in the fire as an infant. But his smile could light up the Ganges at night.

Our task was to film daily life: coconut harvesting, fabric dyeing, traveling vendors weighed down with baskets or brass. Our film crew of three bought a whole stock of bananas for breakfast. The vendor kept shaking his head at his good fortune. Coconut led the way, wrangling the other kids and proudly carrying our gear. We tried to pay him but he wouldn’t take so much as a banana. It was his honor to help, he told us.

As soon as the sun began to drop, villagers began gathering at the temple to hear the Americans perform. We had a guitar with a crooked neck and four strings. It was probably the first live performance of Beetles songs in a Hindu temple since the Fab Four visited the Maharishi. We sang the three songs we knew over and over while the kids laughed and danced.

Two days later we were walking the twenty kilometers to the Bay of Bengal for a huge Hindu celebration. Thousands of people thronged the streets. In the early morning it was a river of color, a procession that made its way to a courtyard to picnic and wait for their turn to walk through the temple, light incense, drop flower petals in reflecting pools and thank the gods for their good fortune. These were people who lived two seasons a year; the harvesting season where they worked long days, and the monsoon season, where they waited out the rains in dreary grayness. Their faith was remarkable. Even though they often had to rebuild their homes when the monsoons ended, they had faith that when the storms lifted, the gods would smile on them once again. And so they made the pilgrimage each year to express their gratitude. Most people lingered for days, sleeping around fires and visiting friends from other villages. I sat with a group of children who were listening to one of the village elders tell stories. Through a translator I got bits and pieces of one of the tales, the story of Dhaka Sietma. For many families, the trek takes days. They often travel at night if it is too hot during the day. Children grow nervous about being left behind and falling asleep in the dark. The elder was explaining what happens to such children. Before morning, Dhaka Sietma, a kind of goddess of lost children, collects all of the sleeping children along the roadside and places them by the warm fire of their families.

The morning we left the village, we found Coconut in the same place we found him every morning—curled up on the cold ground outside our hut, his legs pulled up close to his body and tucked under his ragged shirt to keep warm, waiting to carry camera gear. He insisted on serving us and we could do nothing about it. He would never come inside the hut, never take a sweatshirt or a blanket or even a woven mat in the cool evenings. We had even offered to buy him a bottle of Fanta from a roadside shack, a treat I’m sure he’d never had. His service to us was a great blessing he told us, and refused the drink. I have also come to suspect that he didn’t want to elevate himself above the other children in any way. His faith was all he needed–the assurance that whatever the seasons brought, all would be well. No social promotion could replace that. His gratitude, humility, and willingness to serve were the manifestations of that faith.

Love Requires Faith

Love Requires Faith

By Ariel Szuch, FaithCounts.com Contributor

love requires faith
Valentine’s Day.

Blech.

As a single person, I often have that visceral reaction to said holiday in February. Sometimes I wonder why I react that way. Sure, it’s often a reminder of what I don’t have, the gratuitous PDA, the boxes of chocolate with mystery centers that no one actually likes, the crushed expectations, and so on. But if I’m honest, sometimes it’s the idea of a relationship itself that triggers the rejection response.

You see, I hate risk. I don’t like roller coasters because of the out-of-control feeling. I don’t even like the game Risk because I hate staking my success on shaky odds. CERTAINTY. That’s what I’m about. But lots of things in life aren’t certain, and relationships are one of them. Frankly, as much as I say I feel lonely sometimes, when it comes down to it, being alone feels easier—or at least safer—than letting someone in. Granted, in dating relationships there are measures to keep yourself safe from physical and emotional abuse, but in any relationship there will ALWAYS be risk that you cannot control, and it’s that inherent risk in a relationship that makes me shy away.

Thus, I’ve come to realize that love—relationship—connection—requires faith in a few ways.

1. Faith in the value of connection.

The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV), “substance” meaning the “reality,” “the material part” (King James Dictionary). So faith is the concrete action that aligns with a belief in something greater than self. Faith in a relationship context is being willing to step into a place of uncertainty, because it’s in that space that a relationship has the opportunity to grow. Connection is the purpose of our existence, and we must risk pain with the belief that caring for someone is worthwhile, no matter the outcome. That belief helps us have the courage to step into that place of uncertainty.

In one of the first conversations of a recent relationship, I was fighting the tidal wave of fear that made me want to run for the hills when the thought came, “You can’t learn what you need to learn by yourself.” I can’t figure things out on my own and then step into the perfect relationship—it doesn’t work that way. We cultivate connection by moving forward in relationships with people and working on issues that come up in the process.

2. Faith in the power of my process.

I told the boy I liked him…and then immediately panicked. I can’t do this. I need more time. How do I know if I can trust him? The uncertainty and vulnerability of that first step was almost too much for me to handle. In those panicky moments I had to get curious about why I was reacting that way, and it led me to recognize the source as some deep-seated pain that I’ve been sitting on for a long time. I was grateful for loving friends that talked me out of running away and helped me feel my way through the pain to address the core issue. Getting at the root of those problems that block connection requires faith that facing the pain will get you where you want to be.

3. Faith in constant sources.

The ability to exercise faith is certainly influenced by the character of the person in whom you place your faith. I find that my faith in God, He who never turns away, gives me the foundation I need to be able to exercise my faith in relationships with other people. The strength of my relationship with Him determines how much I am able to stay open and vulnerable to other people, because if I base my worth and security off my inherent worth as His child, I can weather the storms of relationships with less perfect beings.

And so I move forward. I’m still scared sometimes, but if I value connection, believe that my process will work, and trust in a higher power, then this is what I have to do. If I want my life to be rich and full of meaning, I have to take a chance on people, because it’s only then that I can experience the exquisite sweetness of connection that comes from two people taking a chance on each other.

Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.

Making Your Life A Masterpiece

Making Your Life A Masterpiece

By Danielle Moran, FaithCounts.com Contributor

making-your-life-a-masterpieceAs a child, I was dedicated to the show “Adventures from the Book of Virtues.” One episode focused on diligence and showed Michelangelo’s determination in all the works of art he created, especially his paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Over the years, I came to admire his other works of art like the statue David and the Pietà. His masterpieces are evidence of how great he was and how great we can become as well. We can make our own lives masterful works of art by following 5 lessons we learn from Michelangelo.

1. “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Michelangelo saw things as they could become; not as they were. Though he started with slab of marble or stone, he chose to see more than that. He chose to see potential and you can do the same. You can find beauty and holiness all around you: in people, in nature, in everything, if you but choose to.

2. “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

Michelangelo gave credit to God for his talents, and in each piece he crafted he showed his love for divinity. Have a heart of gratitude towards God and be humbled for the talents He has given to you. Use your gifts to bless the world, that His light may be reflected in you.

3. “Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.”

Ask God for help. Pray. Even if you just need to pray for a greater desire to love, serve, or work harder; He will help you. Ask and then do. Take leaps of faith big and small. Life is busy but find a little bit of time to be better– smile at a stranger, call an old friend, etc. He will help you to accomplish all that He needs you to do.

4. “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Don’t settle. Don’t take the easy way out. Aim higher and reach further. You are destined for greatness. Believe in that. As you set your goals, don’t be afraid to fail because through the failures you will find knowledge. You will find the way to success. But do not be less than you are.

5. “Genius is eternal patience.”

Masterpieces take time. Be patient. Don’t get angry with yourself or give up when things go wrong. Wait. Stop. Take time and refresh. Be patient with yourself and with others. Accomplishments come over time and with hard work. Keep going.

5 Inspiring Lessons Learned From Helen Keller

5 Inspiring Lessons Learned From Helen Keller

By Audrey Denison, FaithCounts.com Contributor

helen-keller-015 Inspiring Lessons Learned From Helen Keller

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

1. When Helen Keller was just nineteen months old, she developed an illness that resulted in both blindness and deafness. As Helen grew into a young girl, she and her family became increasingly frustrated with her inability to communicate. She learned to recognize her family members by touching their facial features, their clothing, or by detecting the scent of their perfume. Not knowing what to do, Helen’s parents consulted Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with the deaf. He suggested they hire a young woman by the name of Anne Sullivan as Helen’s teacher and mentor. This decision changed Helen’s life forever.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

2. After establishing what would become a lifelong friendship, Anne began to teach Helen the alphabet by finger spelling the sign language letters into the palm of Helen’s hand. The most challenging lesson was to help Helen make the connection between a word and a concept. The world-changing breakthrough happened when Anne pumped well water into one of Helen’s hands while finger spelling the word water onto her other one. At that moment, Helen understood that a word represented a concept or a thing. Soon, Helen began recognizing the letter combinations and this lit a fire within her soul. From that point on, Anne had helped Helen develop a relentless desire to learn. With Anne’s help Helen soon learned how to read Braille, write, and even started trying to speak. With her newfound love for learning, Helen began to have a strong desire to attend college. Although she experienced many trials and hardships along the way, she didn’t allow her physical challenges to set her back from dreaming big and then acting on those dreams.

“It’s a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”

3. If anyone realized the importance of having a vision for your life, it was Helen Keller. One of her many accomplishments includes being the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Helen did not see her limitations as an excuse not to pursue her dreams. Many people go through their lives with perfect vision, but fail to have a clear vision as to where they want to go and who they want to become. Helen did not let her literal lack of vision stop her from having big dreams. Where many people would have used Helen’s disabilities as a setback and would be focused solely on surviving, Helen was focused on thriving.

“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.”

4. Helen knew perfectly that without faith she would not have the strength to overcome her hardships. She learned to grapple with trials both big and small and learned the importance of looking forward to the future with faith and optimism. She recognized that without the faith that Anne Sullivan had in her, she would not have been able to become the accomplished person that she was. Similarly, if Helen did not have faith of her own that fueled her to believe in the beauty of her dreams, then she would have continued to live in darkness. She was diligent in sharing this faith with the world because she desperately wanted others to walk in the light she walked in as well.

“What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.”

5. Many people spend their entire lives chasing the next “big thing” thinking that some thing or person out there is going to make them happy and bring them fulfillment. Helen recognized early on that happiness was not found, but rather created. Happiness and confidence were attributes she championed from within, not things she would magically find one day if she searched long and hard enough. She was an author, speaker, and activist with a spirit of determination that served as an advocate for people with disabilities for generations to come. Helen triumphed over adversity and dedicated her life to helping others. Her legacy and beautiful spirit will never be forgotten.

Audrey Denison is a young professional working and living in Washington, D.C. Contact her at theanticovergirl@gmail.com

5 Surprising Ways Running Can Be Your Spiritual Practice

5 Surprising Ways Running Can Be Your Spiritual Practice

By Mike Fitzgerald, FaithCounts.com Contributor

runningA few years ago, three wake-up calls got my attention. My brother died of cancer, and I was reminded of how important it is to honor and care for our bodies. Not long after that, an acquaintance announced on Facebook that he had walked a mile on his treadmill, in just over an hour—quite a feat considering he was paralyzed with lupus. Then I discovered that a friend in his 70s, who moved like a man half his age, was running four full marathons a year.

These experiences taught me that I wasn’t doing enough to respect my body. I knew it was time to make some changes. I’d admired runners from a distance, but I was afraid to ask my body to pay in sweat. Deep down, I had the ability to run, and I knew it would be great adventure for me, so why wasn’t I doing it?

After thinking about all this for many months, one winter morning, I pulled on an old pair of gray sweatpants, laced up my athletic shoes, and forced myself into the biting January air. I only ran about a mile that day—by sheer force of will. But it felt good afterward and I wanted to do it again.

Running has become part of the natural rhythm of my life. I ran two half marathons this year, besting my time each race. I’ve shed 20 pounds and kept them off for several years. I’ve picked up a lot of obvious health benefits from running and I’ve also gained some not-so-obvious spiritual benefits. Here are five things I’ve learned from running that have helped me go deeper spiritually.

1. Running Helps Me Believe in Myself

Why not have faith in yourself? I’m not talking about being arrogant or self-centered, but holding a straight-out belief that you can expect better things out of yourself. I’ve been dancing with a dodgy disease for over a decade, so when I first got started, running a competitive race seemed only remotely possible. But I’ve run 11 races since I started running again. I’m staring that disease down every day, challenging it with faith in myself and in the resilience of my body. And it’s working.

2. Running Helps Me Believe in Something Bigger Than Myself

Left to its own devices, your body will always want the shortcut. Unchecked it will lunge at corner-store junk food, fling itself on the couch, watch mindless television for hours, glut on weekend-long video games, or plead for something worse. But you are more than your body. There is something infinite inside of you that longs to express itself. Turn off the greed gland and you’ll be able to reach for something higher.

3. Running Heals Me

After a few weeks of getting on my feet and peeling the mattress off my back, my body chemistry changed. My body longed to get out and run and started reminding me to do that often. It liked my lower blood pressure, the lost pounds, and the regular endorphin high. And when I really listened to it, my body steered me toward real food, not the imitation stuff. I’ve started to heal and it feels good.

4. Running Amps Up My Meditation

Lots of runners like to listen to music when they run, but I rarely do. I’ve found my thinking is more clear when I’m running than at any other time, and I’m more open to new ways of looking at the world. I listen to my body and to my inner self. I sort through problems and discover solutions. Almost without fail, I come back home with a feeling of peace and a better sense of balance and well-being.

5. Running Inspires Me to Worship

I’ve gotten in the habit of offering a lot of thanks when I’m running. As I take in the beauty of the world and the miracle of the human body, I can’t hold back the sincere, overwhelming sense of gratitude I have for God’s gifts. Running time is a time I feel connected my Higher Power. With new spring in my feet, I feel a oneness with heaven. It’s helped me come face-to-face with who I really am, and the better I know my true self, the closer I feel to God.

Running, to me, is more of a spiritual practice than a physical one. It has taken me places I didn’t think I could ever go again. It’s a path of peace I won’t be stepping off soon.

Michael Fitzgerald is a husband and lover of all things outdoors. You can reach him at www.michaeljamesfitzgerald.com.

What To Do When Your Church is a PokéStop

What To Do When Your Church is a PokéStop

By Brooke Tait, Faith Counts Contributor

pokemon-02
If you’ve been outside lately it is no secret that the Pokémon Go phenomenon just keeps on going.
Millions of people around the world are playing the mobile game, with 40 million downloads on both the iTunes App Store and Google Play. Pokémon Go is now the biggest mobile game in U.S history. As players visit popular areas to catch Pokémon or gather items, many find themselves directed to church parking lots or places of worship.

Churches are finding themselves at the center of an opportunity to share faith with others. Regardless of the reason people are stopping by, there are many opportunities to learn about faith, to share beliefs–even when playing a game. So as people drop by your church, or place of worship, here are 3 things you can do to help share your faith:

1. Take a Chansey with everyone
Be friendly and smile. It might be someone’s first and only time visiting your church. View each visit as an opportunity to make a good impression and improve relationships within the community. The example you set could impact how they view your church and could determine future visits.

2. Don’t be a Slowpoke
Invite visitors back for worship service or upcoming activities. Don’t hesitate to help others feel welcome about coming back for worship or an event. Signs in front of many meetinghouses clearly state, “Visitors welcome,” which is true for all, even if they are just there to play a game. There is no harm in simply inviting people to return, and it could make a big impact in their lives.

3. Share if they Pikachu
Share what you believe with others. Be open about visitors asking you questions about your faith. Don’t be afraid to share what you believe and what matters most to you. Prepare yourself for questions that are commonly asked about your beliefs or religious practices. Get excited that people are asking questions about what you believe, and why you believe it.

Take advantage of the popularity of Pokemon Go and don’t miss the opportunity to engage with others. Since playing Pokemon Go, I find myself walking through parks, looking at murals downtown I had never noticed before and exploring many churches and cathedrals around my city. It has been amazing how many connections I’ve made with others as we talk about the game. It is easy to second guess talking about faith, or to even share our own beliefs. Pokemon Go continues to bring people together and provides opportunities for people to interact in the real world, so why not share our faith?

Halfway House Poets – Jasmine

Halfway House Poets – Jasmine

My name is Jasmine, but I prefer Pryncez. I love writing poetry. It helps me deal with things that are going on. I also can draw, but it’s based more off moods — mainly if I’m sad or mad. My passion is dancing, though, and it comes second nature. I’m an aspiring artist, actress and model.

My favorite color is hot pink. I love cooking (and eating, LOL), styling hair, and having hair done. I’m a very comical person. A day with me is a lifetime of laughter. I’m from the west side of Chicago. I have two children, Lyric and Lavail. They are my life and air that I breathe.

One thing I want is to give my children everything in life that I did not have. I want to one day be known around the world as that loving, funny, unique, stand-up, stand-out, brave, assertive, intelligent, talented woman that everyone who meets me has grown to know.
–Jasmine “Pryncez” Harris–

Part 4 of 4, The Halfway House Poets: Words of Faith by Former Inmates

Background by Brandon Crockett:
About eight years ago, I began teaching a poetry class at St. Leonard’s Ministries, a halfway house for individuals recently released from prison on Chicago’s near west side. I went there, fresh out of college, with the anticipation that I would cause a paradigm shift for the residents and help them change their lives.

What ended up happening was far different.

It quickly became clear to me that the difference between those who spend time in prison and those who don’t is negligible, at best. True, our circumstances vary, but we all have the ability to choose how we respond to our current situation in the ever-present now.

It is in this that I choose to place my faith. And it is here that freedom is found.

YOU
A poem by Jasmine “Pryncez” Harris

Not really knowing who I was, consistently trying to appeal to my family’s expectations while trying to live in my own identity.
Mad at everything outside and holding everything that hurt within me.
I thought You didn’t love me, but I was wrong.
Every time something went right I knew it was You all along.
When I was left alone in those cells, You stood out.
I thought I had no love, loyalty and trust but I had it from You without doubt.
I remember the first time You spoke to me; it was down the street, You said “be patient”.
I was, but only for so long and then I started to become complacent.
With certain things and specific people that really didn’t matter.
Owning a bruised heart that I allowed to almost get shattered.
Back then my family would never understand what I was feeling.
I had this image inside that was ready to emerge and become appealing.
I had to go “on the block” where I felt free.
It was the only place I felt I could be me.
I could sit outside all night and just clear my mind.
Feel the words and listen to the breeze at one time.
Sometimes I think about my life and what it could be.
But then again, that’s like wishing for a life without You with me.

Halfway House Poets – Jesse

Halfway House Poets – Jesse


From the shore of Cleveland’s Lake Eerie, to the bank of Chicago’s Lake Michigan, I’ve always felt a special wonder for waters — living ponds of motivation and delight.

Originally I came as a six-year-old to live with my father in Chicago’s Hyde Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods. Sixty years later, I still retain in memory the awe of meeting a promising people who were engaged in doing positive things, and all of this juxtaposed to the glory of Chicago’s parks and waterfront.

Over time, tides have risen and fallen. Light breezes have given way to seasonal storms, as I, too, have experienced a warmth found in a family’s love and in education, as well as the cold and desolation found in incarceration — the one my blessing, the other my curse.

Yes, I continue to look up and cling to early inspirations and hopes as my light now dims and my days dwindle, feeling confident and comforted in knowing the next life promises to be greater than the first, and on a far distant shore.
–Jesse—

Part 3 of 4, The Halfway House Poets: Words of Faith by Former Inmates

Background on the series by Brandon Crockett:
About eight years ago, I began teaching a poetry class at St. Leonard’s Ministries, a halfway house for individuals recently released from prison on Chicago’s near west side. I went there, fresh out of college, with the anticipation that I would cause a paradigm shift for the residents and help them change their lives.

What ended up happening was far different.

It quickly became clear to me that the difference between those who spend time in prison and those who don’t is negligible, at best. True, our circumstances vary, but we all have the ability to choose how we respond to our current situation in the ever-present now.

It is in this that I choose to place my faith. And it is here that freedom is found.

KEEPING SAFE
By Jesse Anderson

High winds howl in the black of night,
Shimmying tree branches rise as if in fright.
An omen true of something approaching still,
Ill-fate’s advance, many lives to chill.

The seed was planted very long ago,
Rejected and lamented it continues to grow.
Despite our efforts to keep it at bay,
Fear and doubt plagues us yet today.

Through storms and struggles lives are tossed,
Taking some to the brink, their days near lost.
Prayers for mercy and redemption spring from pleading hearts,
That search daily for warrants of hope, or brand new starts.

For those confounded in nightmarish worlds of gloom,
One thing should give peace and a little room.
When all else has failed, or seems unsafe,
Stability and strength can be found in keeping the Faith.

Halfway House Poets – Charles

Halfway House Poets – Charles


My name is Charles and I’m 43-years-old. I come from Chicago, IL and was born a mixed child. I’m black and Spanish and I came from the Humboldt Park area. I was brought up by two wonderful parents that played a very big part in my life.

I was brought up around music and instruments which gave me inspiration in writing to the beats of both cultures. As I got older, I got interested in poetry, more say “spoken word.” With this, I’m able to surface my inner thoughts and get into the depths of myself and live life as a lyric to the beat of soul.

I’m a man of peace who ignores war and moves forward. Heaven before hell.
–Charles–

Part 2 of 4, The Halfway House Poets: Words of Faith by Former Inmates

Background on the series by Brandon Crockett:
About eight years ago, I began teaching a poetry class at St. Leonard’s Ministries, a halfway house for individuals recently released from prison on Chicago’s near west side. I went there, fresh out of college, with the anticipation that I would cause a paradigm shift for the residents and help them change their lives.

What ended up happening was far different.

It quickly became clear to me that the difference between those who spend time in prison and those who don’t is negligible, at best. True, our circumstances vary, but we all have the ability to choose how we respond to our current situation in the ever-present now.

It is in this that I choose to place my faith. And it is here that freedom is found.

Letter to God
By Charles Brister

I have a letter for you, Lord
My eyes see past my mental windows of vision
That capture moments of doing life inside me timed by the Lord’s precision
Lord, you’re my mission
For you, Lord, I stop, look, and listen
For you, Lord, I stop, look, and listen
For you, Lord, are never forgotten
I’m devoted in faith
And my prayers are never missin’
I sit here before you Heavenly Father, in praise, Lord, not only for me
But for my kids, my family, friends
And even for the ones that play enemy
That’s against you and me
The ones imprisoned by negativity
Lord, protect me from this captivity
Lord, protect me from this captivity
Because it is you that I only see
And it is you, Lord, that sets me free
It is you, Lord, that sets me free
Signed,
God’s Child

Halfway House Poets – Marketta

Halfway House Poets – Marketta

“I am a poet at heart. I love to dance. I am fun-loving, energetic and so into the poet realms. I enjoy poetry slams, cafe houses and all.” -Marketta

About eight years ago, Brandon Crockett began teaching a poetry class at St. Leonard’s Ministries, a halfway house for individuals recently released from prison on Chicago’s near west side. He went there, fresh out of college, with the anticipation that he would cause a paradigm shift for the residents and help them change their lives.

What ended up happening was far different.

“It quickly became clear to me that the difference between those who spend time in prison and those who don’t is negligible, at best,” says Crockett. “True, our circumstances vary, but we all have the ability to choose how we respond to our current situation in the ever-present now. It is in this that I choose to place my faith. And it is here that freedom is found.”

This is part 1 of 4, The Halfway House Poets: Words of Faith by Former Inmates. To see all of the videos, visit our YouTube channel.

“Untitled”
by Marketta

The beginning of my life was happy
God called my mother home in 1994
And my life became crappy.
I lived with my toxic auntie and cousin
A life around drugs, abuse, people stealing from me
And cursing.
I grew up fast, nobody checked on me
End up with 13 years of pain in the penitentiary.
I never gave up on the faith of a mustard seed
Show you how fast your life can be snatched away
So take heed.
Least likely one to go to prison and do time
God had another plan in line.
He purged me to be the woman you see
My faith through all my pain triumphed
A greater me.
I am free from toxic bondage that held me down
I can have a true smile
Instead of a frown.

Relying on Faith to Accomplish Mission Impossible

Relying on Faith to Accomplish Mission Impossible

By Samuel B. Hislop, FaithCounts.com Contributor
Photo Credit: Nigel Riches/Offset.com

Photo Credit: Nigel Riches/Offset.com

I love my faith because it doesn’t like comfort zones and constantly invites me to seek excellence in everything. But those are also reasons I struggle with my faith because, thank you very much, I’m quite happy where I’m at.

Such invitations to excellence are ever-present in my Church, which takes seriously Christ’s New Testament injunction to “be ye therefore perfect.” The most recent example came on January 10, 2016, as I watched Russell M. Nelson (a Mormon apostle) speak to Latter-day Saint young adults around the world. This 91-year-old, whose remarkable health and vitality belie his age, spoke with characteristic precision and conviction about humanity’s—and in particular millennials’—divine heritage and limitless potential.

A third of the way through his talk, President Nelson told us to “expect and prepare to accomplish the impossible” in our lives. This idea isn’t new, yet somehow, as we age and open our hearts, God can continue to surprise us. Spiritual messages we’ve heard all our lives can sneak up on us in new forms suddenly visible with the lenses of experience. And then we are, as Pope Francis says, “surprised by reality, by a greater love or a higher standard” (“The Name of God is Mercy,” p. 66).

President Nelson’s invitation is more than words for me because he has spent his life accomplishing impossible things. He is the father of 10 children (including nine daughters—a task so much more impressive to me now that I have three of my own); he was a pioneer in the field of open heart surgery; he speaks several languages with varying degrees of fluency in order to be a more effective surgeon and church leader; he’s maintained his faith even after losing a daughter and his first wife to cancer; and he helped establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout Eastern Europe during the Cold War years.

But there’s a second and more personal reason President Nelson’s message resonates with me. In my local congregation I, along with my wife, am asked to do the seemingly impossible every week by teaching a group of shy and mostly mute 14-year-old boys and girls.

That Book is “A Bunch of Gibberish”

For me, Christ’s message is one of those things made for the social media age because its fruitful influence in my life makes me want to share it with others. But not everyone feels this way—including some boys and girls in my class. Most Sundays they seem as interested in the teachings of Jesus as our six-year-old is in broccoli.

“What is this book about?” I ask one day as I hold up a copy of the Old Testament.

The students stare blankly or divert their eyes to the ground. It’s as if I’ve asked them some eye-glazing question about the finer points of algebra. Take a step back, I think to myself. More simplicity.

“Do you know who wrote the book?” I ask.

Silence.

“Can you tell me something about what the book contains?” I ask.

More silence.

“Can you tell me anything about this book?” I sigh, but add a smile to avoid a condescending air.

“Hmmm,” one boy grunts.

“I should probably know that, but I’m not sure what to say,” a girl says.

I do the same thing for the other books in the Latter-day Saint canon—the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, the New Testament. They give me the same awkward silence, with the exception of one girl who calls the Old Testament “a bunch of gibberish.”

Sometime near the beginning of this teaching experience, I thought, How hard can this be? I have church teaching experience. And I was once 14, so I can relate to the struggles of adolescence. But my past experience carries me only so far with these boys and girls because both the world and I have changed in dramatic ways in the 17 years since I was their age.

Seeing Through Lenses of Faith

Nearly 80 years ago, a leader in my church said something marvelous yet unbelievable about teenagers like the ones I have in my class.

“The youth of the Church … are eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted,” he said. “You do not have to sneak up behind this spiritually experienced youth and whisper religion in [their] ears; you can come right out, face to face, and talk with [them]. … You can bring these truths to [them] openly.”

That’s a powerful, liberating statement. But I struggle to see the truth of it reflected in my students. If the subject isn’t food, video games, sports scores, boys or babies, they aren’t interested. Yet I accept that church leader’s statement on faith—which is, as a New Testament scripture says, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

So, though I struggle to see, faith is the invitation to look through new lenses—in my situation, to see people not as they are now, but to obtain the vision of what they one day will be. I like to think, as the Christian author C.S. Lewis said, that I teach a class “of possible gods and goddesses,” because it reminds me that “the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship” (from The Weight of Glory).

It’s just as another Christian writer says: “Don’t forget, God loves us exactly the way we are, and God loves us too much to let us stay like this.” (Anne Lamott, “Traveling Mercies,” p. 135)

Faith to Not Be Healed – The Story of Chanel White

Faith to Not Be Healed – The Story of Chanel White

It’s one thing to have faith when the outlook is good, but what about times when the outcome is uncertain or even unlikely? Watch the incredible story of Chanel White, who has faith not to be healed, but to have the emotional and spiritual strength to endure whatever comes her way.

 

Transcript:
I was a very organized individual—nothing, nothing was ever out of line in my life.

I was diagnosed with scleroderma shortly after high school. You know like when you go in from being a total healthy person and like something is just kind of amiss—you know—maybe like one thing going on, but he was just kind of like, “you’ve got scleroderma, and lupus and polymyositis,” and all of these things that I never heard of.

And I at the time didn’t really understand or even care to grasp what was going on. Because I was like, “ok, like I’m sick.” You know? “I’ll get better. It’s fine.” Now I just kind of have to take it day by day.

And I was the kind of person that was like I planned out years. And that’s just not possible. Because at this point you don’t even know if you’re going to get years. You know?

So I mean it takes quite an army to get me up, to get me moving. [laughs] Of course I don’t take all of these at once—but they’re spread out throughout the day.

Noel is more than I could have ever asked for. He is the calm in this incredible storm for me.

I get a lot of people telling me you know, “you just need to call on the healing powers of Christ.” “You just need to pray. And everyone is promised healing blessings.”

You know physical healing just didn’t come for me. But what I did receive was something else. I received emotional strength and spiritual healing.

I would literally, I would sit there and pray to God and just tell him, “I can’t handle this right now. I cannot, I cannot emotionally handle my life.” And I would get this overwhelming feeling of peace. It was literally like a wave would just come over me. And immediately that worry would just leave my mind.

There is no pill that can do that. There is no aromatherapy, there is no essential oil, there’s no food, there’s no diet. I know for a hundred percent fact that that was the Holy Spirit testifying to me that I will be ok. I may not be ok physically, but emotionally and spiritually He is there and He is with me at all times.

7 Life-changing Lessons We Learn from Mother Teresa

7 Life-changing Lessons We Learn from Mother Teresa

By Cheri Peacock, FaithCounts.com Contributor

mother-teresa-life-changing-lessons“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Mother Teresa was a woman of intense faith who fervently believed the world could be a better place, drop by drop, person by person. She dedicated her life to succoring and empowering the disenfranchised, and taught us, through her actions, to cultivate and live an attitude of faith.

mother teresa-04

Make other people happy

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

Poverty, taught Mother Teresa, is not exclusive to being hungry or homeless; it includes feeling unwanted, uncared for, and unloved. Much of the world spends a great amount of time concerned with themselves—even Time magazine labeled millennials as the “Me Me Me” generation. Have the faith to care more for other people—to truly look outward.

mother teresa-05

Be faithful in small things

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Growing up, the phrase “faith can move mountains” was often heard at home and church. While that is motivating, I have discovered that mountains are sometimes moved piece by piece, rather than as a whole. Perhaps my mountain is moved by lifting one shovelful of dirt over and over and over again. Having faith to do the BIG things is important but it’s as necessary to be faithful in small things, those little scoops of dirt. One day, you’ll look and see how far you’ve come and how much stronger you are because of those mounds you’ve been moving.

mother teresa-06

Build it anyway

“What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight; build it anyway.”

Looking at my life, I have, more than once, been paralyzed by fear—whether it be with career choices, relationship or other big decisions. The fear that it might not work out. When seeds of doubt enter the mind, a choice must be made—whether to fight the battle or give in to doubt. Mother Teresa teaches a poignant lesson—it might be destroyed in the end, but the lessons you learn building it will not. Build it anyway.

mother teresa-07

Go home and love your family

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

We aren’t in this journey of life alone. Family members and friends are there to support us, and lift us up. Have faith in them. Don’t rely on your own strength. We need each other.

mother teresa-08

Be the leader

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

Be courageous and reach out of your comfort zone. Don’t wait for the “right time” or for someone else to take charge. You don’t need someone to tell you they need help; just go forward with faith that you can and will change lives through small means and simple acts of kindness, person to person.

mother teresa-09

Faithful is successful

“God had not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”

Wealth, fame, a big house, designer clothes. To the world, this could seem like evidence of a successful life. But, success doesn’t make you who you are. What do you do when the trial mounts and the road is steep? Be faithful in the highs and lows of life.

mother teresa-10

Faith in action

“Faith in action is love—and love in action is service.”

Faith is more than a belief—it’s an action. As we actively develop our faith, we will feel greater love for others. That love leads to service. Take a look at your life. Are you showing love in action?

There are many examples of faithful people throughout history. As we look to them and learn from them, we can live a more fulfilling life.

Cheri Peacock is a graduate of SUU and hiking fanatic. Email her at cheripeacock@gmail.com.

Learning to See the Unseen

Learning to See the Unseen

The Internet knows everything. At least, that’s what we’re conditioned to believe. Instant answers are right at your fingertips when you can’t remember the lyrics to the tune you have stuck in your head or you need to know what ingredients to pick up at the store. But what about the things you can’t see or understand fully, even with the vast knowledge of your smart phone?

Hope. Love. The future. Faith. Are they any less real?

The next time you start to doubt your beliefs or think that physical proof is what you need, take comfort in knowing some of the most meaningful things in life aren’t seen.