A Call to Action for Syria: The Power of Prayer, Advocacy, and Hope for Peace

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Lebanon_November 20, 2014-32-Edit_November 20, 2014

“Using food as a weapon violates international law, and the United States, Europe, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which all have influence with different proxy groups in Syria, have a responsibility to ensure that civilians have unconditional access to basic supplies.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/12/opinion/agony-and-starvation-in-the-syrian-war.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share&_r=0

In Tuesday’s New York Times article on the Syrian war it highlighted the relief efforts finally able to enter Madaya, near Damascus, on Monday after its residents had been trapped–and starved–for the last three months within the city’s limits by ISIS.  Surely this is an accomplishment, but these provisions will only last so long, perhaps a month.  And, while we must continue to pursue efforts to bring more relief, we must also not get sidetracked trying to band-aid a symptom of the actual issue at hand: a civil war that must cease, now.

Here in the U.S. we have the blessing of being distanced from such an atrocious reality, and the even greater blessing of having the power to take a stand against such an injustice.  So, let us wield this power and embrace the responsibility that comes with it.  Let us stay informed, let us get involved with local and international groups responding to Syrian needs, let us speak up, and let us not cease in hope, prayer and positive thoughts, for they are powers over and against all violence and injustice.

 

Here are some ways to get involved:

-Find a local organization to partner with to help refugees

https://www.whitehouse.gov/campaign/aidrefugees

 

-Organizations to support (Note: refer to numbers in above article for accurate count of Syrian’s who are displaced, deceased, and are refugees):

UNHCR

UNICEF 

https://www.whitehouse.gov/campaign/aidrefugees

The Outreach Foundation

There is likely more up to date information to be found, but here are some basics:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/15/what-you-need-know-about-syrian-refugee-crisis-and-what-us-doing-help

When?!

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Raindrops

When will it end?!  Don’t tell me it’s when everyone of us has been affected by gun violence, when each of us is connected to a mass shooting.  Do not say that.  Let it not get that far. I pray it does not get that far.

Today gun violence hit near my home.  The shock of the New York Times headline “Breaking News: A mass shooting has been reported in San Bernadino, Calif.” made my heart sink and tears immediately rise. At this it all finally hit me.  Suddenly all these horrific acts became really real.  Suddenly all the tears, all the anger, all the grief, agony and sorrow I had not yet been able to express for all these shootings over the last two years were released.

Gun violence has now come close enough to my little world to bridge the gap that had been keeping all the other shootings at a distance.  I have had a taste of this sickness’s symptoms and they are horrid.  The writhing, gut-wrenching grief, the tears, the shock, the anger–the waves of emotion.  Exhausting.  All this, and I merely grew up in the vicinity of the shootings.  How my heart breaks now realizing how much worse it must be for my neighbors more intimately connected with these mass shootings of recent times. And there have been hundreds of them.  In this year alone there have been 355!

When, when will it end?!

But, I refuse to become fearful.  I refuse to let anger fester and hate be forged.  I choose instead prayer and positive thoughts.  I choose hope for change.  May we all join together in this time in the greatest power of all: love.  Let us extend compassion to our neighbors affected by this and other acts of gun violence.  Let us pray forgiveness and blessing upon the shooters that they may be healed–freed–from whatever has caused them to act so violently and that others toying with the thoughts of following a similar course be stopped before they act.  May justice be done and these people be helped to be made right.  Let us not continue to abandon those struggling with their mental health, but show more compassion and advocate for better programs to help them!  And, let us not put more guns into more hands.  History seems to be making it blatantly clear the more guns that are available the more they are being misused. Let us instead educate our society on how to responsibly handle our problems.  And, in the mean time significantly improve and enhance gun license screenings.

But this isn’t about guns.  This is not about too many people in our society struggling with their mental health. It is not even ultimately about people’s lives being pawns on the playground of partisan politics.  All of those are symptoms to the root issue, which is we have become so isolated and disconnected from each other–and in turn fearful and closed–that we can no longer live together well.  We have to revive our community.  We have to practice engaging with each other.  Crossing border-lines, showing kindness, simply smiling at each other again.  We have to assume the best in each other and not be so afraid of being wrong and getting hurt.  We have to learn to honor each other despite our differences.  We have to be reawakened to the truth that it is in diversity we thrive.  It is not in a monoculture or staunch individualism; those lead to extremes–those are to be feared.  What we need is that which Christopher Duraisingh identifies as a “liberating dialogue among diverse communities which would demand a willingness to move beyond our limited and finite horizons, theological and ideological comfort zones.”

I come from a Christian tradition, yet I have learned admiration and even modeling after Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle is something shared by numbers of my neighbors who do not claim the faith, and so I will conclude with these apt words of a universal message also offered by Duraisingh on the call to embrace our pluralistic world and to recognize its diversity for the truly beautiful, not fearful, thing that it is.  “For all of us pluralism can be a rock of stumbling, but for God it is the cornerstone of universal design.”   How might we cultivate “a pasture of permanent openness to the other, and to the plurality of cultures and traditions, however strange and unsettling they might be?  The gospel imperative is always an imperative for a permanent openness to the other, the stranger and the alien.  Hospitality to strangers and mutuality of recognition of the other is intrinsic to the Christian story of God’s love in Christ.  …Our call is to cross boundaries across cultures and traditions that divide us in the pattern and power of the One who crossed every human boundary and broke every middle wall of division in order that the one new humanity …may be brought about.”  Let us cross boundaries, cultivate relationships across party, theology, and culture lines and become unified in community as the one people that we are.

Invitation To Fly

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Trinity Doves_September 19, 2013_KatieA-W_September 19, 2013

Sea of Galilee, Israel

I picked up a book off my bookshelf this morning, The Awakened Heart by Gerald May.  I have had it a couple years now, it as traversed quite a variety of seasons of my heart with me and been a gift and companion along the journey.  And so it remained to be for me this morning, as I continue on, as I am today.

I was so struck by the following words I knew I needed to share them with you all, as well.  In this season of Advent, which Christians observe in preparation of Jesus’ birth celebrated at the end of the month, one is prompted to encounter, explore, and hopefully embrace the areas of darkness in one’s life.  Perhaps this is uncertainty, confusion, feeling lost or distant, numbness, longing.  All the while the encouragement is to let yourself be in this space and with the feelings and seek to receive expectant hope of the love, light, and provision that is coming.

May these words and their promptings stir the soil of your soul.  May they unearth covered dreams, desires, and aspirations, and reawaken the germination process of that which may be yearning to be birthed from you.

“What divine power ever said we should adjust ourselves to the ways of our world?  Is our society so perfect, so just, so loving that it is worth adapting ourselves to?  Think of the great spiritual leaders of history, and think of the most loving people you have known; were they well adjusted?  Were their hearts determined by what was practical and proper?  To state the point positively, what is so wrong with wanting to fly?

“The natural human spirit is irrepressibly radical; it wants the unattainable, yearns for the impractical, is willing to risk the improper.  But as we conform ourselves to the practicalities and proprieties of efficiency, we restrict the space between desire and control; we confine our intention to an ever-decreasing range of possibilities.  The choices we make–and therefore the way we feel about ourselves–are determined less by what we long for and more by what is controllable and acceptable to the world around us.  After enough of this, we lose our passion.  We forget who we are.

“It is imperative, not just for our individual spiritual growth but for the hope of the world, that we begin to reverse this process.  …As a start, try to recover some of your own impossible hopes… Might you not hope that suddenly, by some miracle, everyone on earth could have food and shelter?  …Do you not long for complete love, beauty, and freedom in yourself and your relationships? …Try to sit with some of your hopes for a while; just be aware of them.  See if you don’t begin to feel an expansion of space inside you, a certain enlarging, opening sense of possibility (46-47).”

“Intention, given the grace not to derail itself into superstitious control, becomes a willing, honest turning toward the source of love.  In and through that love, all you need is already given.  You do not need to learn another single thing.  Only allow your spirit to fly (64).”

Day 12_Italy's House_September 30, 2015-148_September 30, 2015

Torre del Mangia, Siena, Italia

 

On Mornings Like This

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Advent SunriseOn mornings like this one my body is not stirred from slumber by an incessant buzzing by my bed. On mornings like this one it is instead sweetly wooed awake, even before the buzz, by the blushed pink that kisses the dark and flushes my windows, and beckons me from beneath my warm covers to something yet even more enticing: the rosey scape of sunrise sparked by love. On mornings like this one, especially, I find myself in awe of how all creation speaks to the truth that hope and joy ignite when light breaks out of darkness.

And so I celebrate all the more on this day. On this first day of Advent. On this day of the Christian new year. This day of light coming–preparing to be birthed–into our beloved world in a whole, new wondrous way.

Arrival

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Arrival 2

Oh, to be met by God! Such longings fulfilled.  It’s that in between waiting time that is so agonizing. And we don’t know what to do. You just seek and seek. You pray and cry and write and pray and find friends to give comfort, you cook you, agonize and you pray more or you sit in silence and get angry with God.

And then, love arrives. Then you see the face of God. Your room is lit up with the pink sunrise and beckons you with great excitement and energy to come out and see it. Your heart is awakened and joy fills the soul. The wind blows and the leaves fall and they twirl down to your face. And then a flock of birds sail across the sky. And then the warm morning breeze tickles your skin with its cool undertone. And you feel whole again and happy again and loved and not forgotten.

Six Pieces, Three Exhibits, One City! Come and See!

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“Woman At Her Balcony”

Hi Everyone!

I am elated to announce in the last month six of my pieces have been selected to be shown in three galleries around Atlanta between September and November!

The pieces reflect the bounty and breadth of beauty in our world, from its landscapes, to lives, to shared experiences such as enjoying a late night hot dog or clamoring into a tiny space to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ birthplace.

Please come check them out, even take one (or more) home to enjoy at your leisure!

I am so grateful for your support and encouragement to help me get to this point.  I look forward to keeping you posted on what unfolds!

Director’s Cut Exhibition

August 26-October 3, 2015; Opening September 25, 7:30-9:30

“Awaiting the Messiah” Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine, 2011

Tula Art Center

75 Bennett St, NW, Gallery B-1 (basement level), Atlanta, 30309

Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 12pm – 4pm (or by appointment)

http://www.atlantaphotographygroup.org/events/2015/8/28/exhibition-directors-cut

Atlanta Airport Show

September 24-November 18

“Lisbon’s Legoland” Lisbon, Portugal, 2014

“Viennese Ventures” Vienna, Austria, 2013

Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

Domestic Terminal Atrium Gallery

http://www.atlantaphotographygroup.org/events/2015/8/24/exhibition-airport-apg-to-atl

http://www.atlantaphotographygroup.org/blog/2015/7/30/airport-show-artists-selected

Women In Focus Exhibition

October 2-November 7, 2015; Opening: October 2

“Green Eyes” Syrian Refugee Camp, Northern Lebanon, 2014

“Woman At Her Balcony” Beirut, Lebanon, 2014

“Personality” Beirut, Lebanon, 2014

Mason Fine Art Gallery

415 Plasters Ave NE, Atlanta, 30324

Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Saturday, Noon to 5:00 PM

http://masonfineartandevents.com/

Prayers For Our World

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The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

“Enliven your people with compassion
that peace and justice
might flourish.”

Thinking of the our beloved world and all who live in it today. Thinking of the turmoil, the violence, the need for peace and for healing. Thinking of one who has “borne the fruit of love” as a leader and reconciler in the Middle East, Jimmy Carter…

With these thoughts I offer this prayer for us all. Thank you Nan Merrill for your magnificent rendition of Psalm 80.

Eternal Listener, give heed to your people,
You, who are our Guide and our Light!
You, who dwell amidst the angels,
shine forth into the heart of all nations!
Enliven your people with compassion
that peace and justice
might flourish.

…May those who have borne the fruit
of love
radiate your Spirit in the world!
May we always walk and co-create
with You…

Restore us, O Holy One!
Let your face shine upon us,
teach us to love!

International Guild of Visual Peacemakers

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International Guild of Visual Peacemakers is one of the most inspirational organizations I have come across. They are “visual communicators devoted to peacemaking and breaking down stereotypes by displaying the beauty and dignity of various cultures around the world.”  Their vision does not just speak to “professional” photographers, but all of us who have become photographers, mostly on our phones.

We live in a more visual culture than ever before and so we need to now consider how our actions affect others and ourselves.  Let us join in such a beautiful vision and I encourage you to take these messages to heart:

“We receive pictures we don’t take them.”  “Practice viewing images responsibly.”  “Be a visual peacemaker”.

Check them out here and join the movement:
http://visualpeacemakers.org/join/

MLK Center July 20, 2012-15

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Lebanon Show_November 18, 2014-6

Exciting News!!

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“Lisbon’s Lego Land” Lisbon, Portugal

Hi Everyone!

Very exciting news: two of my photos were selected for the Atlanta Photography Group airport show and will be in the Main Atrium September 25-November 18.

So, if you’re traveling through Atlanta during that time you can see them!  Otherwise, if you live in Atlanta, perhaps you’ll be so inclined just to take Marta to the end of the yellow or red line:)

I am thrilled!  This is such a huge threshold for me to have crossed and I am still in awe and full of gratitude.  Thank you all for your support in helping me get this far!

For more info and to find out about other photography exhibits in Atlanta check out APG’s website:  https://apgphoto.squarespace.com/events/2015/8/24/exhibition-airport-apg-to-atl

“Late Night Würstel” Vienna, Austria

Seeing With Eyes of The Heart

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Seeing With Eyes of The HeartI have started something new. It has had such a profound, positive impact on my life I now must share it with you:

I have started perceiving people we customarily refer to as “strangers”, instead as “family members I just haven’t met yet”.

That is what I already believe anyway, I’m just intentionally putting it into practice now. It has changed my world!! Truly. I’m convinced it is what changes our world. It transforms our perspective from one that functions out of reactivity due to fear and thus closing off, to one that functions out of responsiveness stirred by love and curiosity, and thus we open up. It’s a more vulnerable way to live, but let me tell you, that vulnerability is what enables us to have the deepest, richest, most treasured experiences life has to offer. Putting this perspective into practice the last two months I have had encounters with people I would say have been some of the most fulfilling and transformative of my life.

Living with this mindset has taught me how excellent and special our stories are–and that each is worth sharing and certainly worth being heard. We really are marvelous beings! Not based on what we do, though that can contribute to who we are in beautiful ways, but we are absolutely magnificent just because we exist–just because we are.

So, I encourage you to go out and try this perspective on for size. Put it into practice and see what happens. Believe me, it takes practice. It is a conscious effort. Such a way of being and perceiving doesn’t come naturally, our instincts lean toward survival which usually results in defensiveness for protection’s sake. Though, practicing love and facing fears changes that. We discover a life far more satisfying than survival has to offer, one that is truly worthy of being called life.

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