Religion in Cuba: Hiding in Plain Sight

Cuba Religion

The history of religion in Cuba can be said to be “hiding in plain sight.”  While between 40 and 60% of the population is Catholic, other denominations exist, including Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Quakers.  However, according to the US State Department 80% of the population consult with practitioners of syncretic religions such as Santeria.

Santeria

Santeria is an example of a religion hiding in plain sight.  It is the Yoruba religion of the African slaves combined with Catholicism and Native aboriginal elements.  The mask of Catholicism is no longer a separate part of the religion and is now an integral part of their ritual and belief system. This helped to keep alive the native African and aboriginal religions by hiding them in plain sight.  By pairing the gods of the Yoruba religion with saints of Catholicism, slaves kept alive their gods despite the imposition of another religion – Christianity.

slavery

Jesus

A few weeks before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, a 66-foot-tall, 320-ton statute of Jesus Christ was erected overlooking Havana.  It still remains there to this day, hiding in plain sight.  While Jesus looks over Havana, locals can see Him from many viewpoints in the city.  It was recently restored and blessed by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the head of the Catholic Church on the island.

Jesus Christ

Discrimination Ended

In 1992 discrimination based on religious beliefs was banned; this took Cuba from an atheist society to a secular one.  After decades of not being fêted, Christmas and Easter are now celebrated in this island country. Evangelistic Christianity seems to remain very tempered in this nation still wrestling with its revolutionary past and present.

In recent years the government has allowed for the building of large worship and training centers under the auspices of the Methodist church in Cuba.  The further easing of restrictions may allow for more opportunities for proselytization in the future.  For now, the Church is a partner in social programs like hurricane relief and education, helping to draw in more and more members by not only caring for the soul but the body as well. Here, no longer do Christians have to hide; they can just be seen in plain sight.

Cuba Methodist
Frank Fernandez (left) and Jorge Luiz Espinosa mix concrete for a sidewalk at Camp Canaan, a Methodist retreat center near Santa Clara, Cuba. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

If you would like to visit Cuba and its churches, take Educational Opportunities cruises to the island nation with their partner Celestyal Crystal Cruises.

Other Articles about the UMC and Cuba

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/for-methodists-in-cuba-these-are-good-times

http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/New-World-Outlook-Magazine/New-World-Outlook-Archives/2015/May/June/0616cubasvibrantchurch

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/solidarity-and-service-in-cuba

Giving to Support United Methodist Beliefs

Giving

Many of the year-end giving appeals you receive are about increasing tax ramifications for one’s financial gift. These are important and support many great causes. However, as Christians we also realize the spiritual significances of our year-end financial giving to the ministries of our local churches and non-profits.

Year End Giving

Giving is an act of worship. It is an act of faith, of planting what future generations will see grow to fruition.

Our connectional giving provides support to our leaders who face the daunting task of steering the Church towards a common goal of faithfulness, forgiveness and making disciples for Jesus Christ. Connectional giving supports our efforts to minister to a hurting world.

We have organizations within our denomination dedicated to aiding the needy, healing the sick, comforting the stranger and addressing social ills. Our giving helps support these.

The needs are genuine. We are and always have been a connection of believers in need of one another’s generosity.

“For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,” 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NRSV

As United Methodists we are dedicated to these causes. As a denomination we are called to support them.

Investing financially in what God has given us a passion for is one of the ways to participate in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God gives to us so that we might give. In giving we can fulfill our purpose in life – to love as God loved us.

During this time of gift-giving, let us remember our ministries that mean so much to us. As much as God has given you, provide good stewardship and give!

To learn more about how to give, where to give, and the impact of your donations, visit www.umcgiving.org

Meditation Monday: A New Psalm

psalm

A New Psalm

Lord of Heaven and Earth

We stand before you vulnerable and confused.

We are overwhelmed by it all.

Lord help us!

Hear our cry, oh God!

Leave us not alone here.

 

We wrestle with all that is going on around us:

The persecution of our fellow Christians,

The bombing of families with children,

The trafficking of women into sexual slavery,

Floods and wildfires,

Large and small scale acts of violence and desecration.

There is so much to wear us down.

 

Yet we know you are God,

You are the Most High.

It is into Your hands we put ourselves and our brothers and sisters.

We pray and You hear.

We listen and we do.

And though it may seem our little acts have no effect,

We believe that a thousand ripples can cause a tidal wave

Of love that can wash away all that is not Your will.

 

Praise be to our God!

UMC Flood Relief

Flood ReliefOne Drop Of Water That Leads To A Flood

One drop of water is insignificant.

One trillion drops can stop an entire city!

In Louisiana, in a short time, millions upon millions of drops of water fell from the sky inundating the people, their pets and their homes with flood waters. Four parishes have been declared disaster areas because of this flood. There is much devastation and chaos.

Like snowflakes, individual water droplets are singularly beautiful, even innocuous and not all that forceful. But when they get together, their power becomes an overwhelming flood, sinking entire homes and killing people.

One Drop Of Grace That Leads To A Flood Of Love

Yet, just as much as drops of water coming together can wreak havoc upon a community, so too can United Methodists when we come together to bring grace and love to people devastated by flood waters.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is working with FEMA and other national disaster response organizations, including the American Red Cross, Lutheran Disaster Response, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and the umbrella group, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD). They are helping those affected by this flood with warehouse space, cleanup buckets, distribution assistance, and shelter for evacuees—opening hearts, minds and doors to those in need.

Banding together, United Methodists can take on the flood and show people how God is working their midst.

The best ways to help are to assemble and send cleanup buckets and to support the UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response Advance, #901670, with your donations.

And praying, always praying.

Dear God, we pray hope and peace to our brothers and sisters in Louisiana. We ask for your healing touch upon the land that is flooded. May the waters recede and the time of rebuilding begin. We will not forget them now or when the rains stop. Protect them especially the vulnerable. Watch over them. Amen.

Elections and The Common Good

Elections

Elections

For many, elections have become a competition, a horse race. They determine whose person wins and as a result whose beliefs and values are supposedly the best.

Yet elections are about more than who wins or loses. They are a right and responsibility of each citizen who is of age.

Many have fought wars both violent and nonviolent to give everyone the right to vote. We do their sacrifice an injustice by not participating in this democratic system that, while flawed, is better than all the others out there. It is better than coups, monarchies and theocracies.

The Common Good

Elections are also a responsibility. They ask of us to think and pray long and hard about how we are to be in community with one another. Elections are not about winning one for the team, but the common good. They are to make common the good for all.

As a connectional church this is not new to us United Methodists. “Every United Methodist congregation is interconnected throughout the denomination via a unique, interlocking chain of conferences. The United Methodist Church practices representative democracy in its governance.” We understand the rights and responsibilities of our Connection’s common good.

Let us now in each of our country’s electoral process and our Church’s connectional process, seek the beloved community, the common good for all. Let us not only participate in a horse race that does not in the end care for the making of community but only in winning. We are not to vanquish one another but love one another as our God so loved us.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, … Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV

Meditation Monday: Freedom Gate

Freedom Gate

Online there are many videos of animals opening gates humans have used to shut them in. One dog opened his cage door at the animal shelter to achieve freedom. Being a pack animal by nature, he would proceed to open all the other animals’ cages he could reach. The animals would all be loose when the humans returned the next morning. It wasn’t until they set up a camera that they figured out what was going on at night in the shelter.

Another video shows a cow using her mouth and tongue to open the gate to her pen.

In John 10:7-10 Jesus calls himself the “gate of the sheep.” Instead of hemming us in however, Jesus is an open gate to fertile pastures and safety. Jesus is not just the gate TO freedom, Jesus IS the freedom gate.

The Freedom Gate

I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. John 10:9-10 (CEB)

Jesus is the freedom gate; the freedom from want and safety from thieves. It is not a selection process or a way to determine who can and cannot enter into Christ’s presence. All are welcome and saved.

Almighty One, Lord of hosts and the entire world, we thank You for Your infinite love for us even as we continue to not do Your will. You promised us life and life abundantly. Yet too many times we are too scared to go through the gate of your Son, afraid of being shut in, caught, or worse yet, not allowed in. But You remind us that Christ died for all and all are welcome. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Infinite Patience

Patience

Sometimes I think God gets very frustrated with us. We set our sights on temporary things letting the eternal matters go by the wayside. But God in God’s Infinite Love, has Infinite Patience. While every generation thinks it will be the last one because the End is coming, we have yet to experience the End because God is showing His Infinite Patience. If it had been left up to us, we would have given up a long time ago.

But not God, whose mercies are new every morning. God, in His Infinite Patience, desires for all to return to God’s side.

Read more

Meditation Monday: Tradition

TraditionTraditionalism V. Tradition

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. Avoid every kind of evil.  1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 (CEB)

People need tradition. We need them to navigate our way in the world. It lays the foundation for the future but it doesn’t dictate it. But there is a darker side to tradition that often can lead to death, especially with institutions.

Jaroslav Pelikan, scholar of the history of Christianity at Yale defines “traditionalism” as a way of life that kills the vibrant faith of believers. It takes itself too seriously And says there is only one way to do things even if the reason for it is now unknown. “But we’ve always done it that way” is a narrow point of view. Its followers turn inward and become insular with one another.

While tradition gives us a place to stand, it doesn’t anchor us to it. Tradition serves as a starting point. Tradition is constantly evolving as the generations following it add their flavor and understanding to it.

Let our faith be a living, growing faith! Let it be founded on the hope and dreams of those who have gone before us but always ready to expand its boundaries to do the work God has called us to do today.

Dear God, we are in need to a fresh anointing upon our traditions and faith. We want a living faith of the dead, not a dead faith of the living. As John Wesley wrote, “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.”* Lord hear our prayer! Amen.

*John Wesley, How To Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer

ENOUGH!

ENOUGH!

EnoughENOUGH!

The cries and screams of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters go out across this land. When will it end?

“This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.” Lamentations 1:16 (NIV)

ENOUGH!

Our cities’ streets bleed with the blood of young men and women, children, parents and siblings because of who they are. Their judgment is passed upon them outside the courthouse by executioners without authority.

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Lamentations 3:19-20 (NIV)

And yet …

… this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. Lamentations 3:21-25 (NIV)

God is with us. The bitter, the crying, the desolate. In the midst of terror and despair, God is with us. It may not seem so but it is so. For with the weeping and sad ones God holds them in His arms. For those who have passed on from us, God held them as they were taken too soon. For those of us who feel helpless in the face of anguish, God is here. Love is here.

He hides us in his arms
Protecting us from harm

It’s good to realize
God is on our side

God Is On Our Side by Andrae Crouch

If you feel like you’ve had enough, know this truth, that despite how darkness may overwhelm the land and misery prevail, Love is stronger than death. God is Love. Our risen Christ shows us that in the end Love always wins.

Love Is Enough

Love Is Enough

Love Is Enough

A state legislator, trying to justify raffling off an assault rifle at a fundraiser, proclaimed, “You can’t combat this kind of hatred (mass shootings) with overwhelming love. There is only one way to combat this…that’s either to remove or neutralize these individuals.”

Yet being Christians, isn’t “overwhelming love” required of us, even with our enemies?

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. Matthew 5:43-48 (CEB)

But is love enough? In a decade of mass shootings and suicide bombers, is love a powerful defense against self-hatred turned outward?

Love was never meant to be a “defense” against evil. Love has always been an offensive action against bigotry, anger and hurt. (Double entendre intended.)

As Jesus tells us in verse 44, love is an action as much as praying for your enemies is one. It is not a weapon. It is a verb.

Love IS Enough

So what does love do?

In a moment of violence love is the mother out with her son for a night of dancing, throwing herself in front of him taking the terrorist’s bullet. In another, love is a teacher shielding her students.

But love is at its most powerful before situations have deteriorated to the point of bloodshed. It is in the act of loving people continuously that we prevent them from becoming so filled with self-hatred that it spills over into hating others.

We must love these people who seem unlovable. It is in loving that we can combat violence and hatred. Love is enough.

This type of love is not a superficial love. We are talking about a deep visceral love that makes miracles happen. Not in some magical sort of way but like the love shown at other nonviolent protests that have taken place and changed the world. The kind of love that brings people together to become the beloved community, taking care of all God’s children. This is the kind of love all of us can exhibit towards each of us. This love is enough.

We must ask ourselves how we could have loved these people before they lost sight of their divinely inspired humanity. Perhaps if we can answer that question, the need for guns will be obsolete.

Should we try?