Saint of the Week – Kenji Nagai (長井 健司)

Kenji Nagai in 2007.

Kenji Nagai in 2007.

Happy Halloween (or All Hallows Eve). Today we’re going to wrap up our exploration journalists who have been killed while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. I certainly have learned a lot in researching the lives and stories of the journalists featured. There are, obviously, many more to be told so hopefully you’re inspired to research some of your own. Today we’ll look at the story of a journalist killed while covering the Saffron Revolution in Burma (also called Myanmar) in 2007.

This week’s saint is Kenji Nagai (長井 健司).

Kenji Nagai was born on August 27, 1957. He grew up in Imabari, Ehime, Japan. After graduating from Tokyo Keizai University he spent a year studying in the United States. When Kenji Nagai returned to Japan he began working as a freelance journalist. He worked as a contract photojournalist for the Tokyo AFP (Agence France-Presse) News. He would often travel to very dangerous places in order to capture the stories he wanted to tell, often about war and it’s effects. Kenji Nagai traveled and worked in countries such as:  Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq. Many of Kenji Nagai’s collegues and friends recall him saying, “These are places no one wants to go to, but someone has to go.”

In September, 2007 Kenji Nagai traveled to Burma to capture the story of non-violent protests and pro-democracy demonstrations of Buddhist monks in Burma. The movement was called the Saffron Revolution because of the color of the monks robes who filled the streets. The protests arose out of an environment of increasing economic distress in Burma. The government seemed to be spending a disproportionate amount of money on its military while many of its citizens could barely meet their basic needs. According to a report by the UN, one out of every three children in Burma were chronically malnourished and government spending on health and education was among the lowest anywhere in the world. When the prices of basic commodities like rice, eggs and cooking oil, began to rise significantly many people began protesting the apparent gap in lifestyles. When the military junta began to crack down on protests, more and more protests sprang up. Initially the protests had been led by students and activists but the countries Buddhist monks joined in the protests on September 18, 2007. On September 25, Kenji arrived in Burma and began covering the protests.  The next day, September 26, the Burmese government began a violent crackdown against the protestors. The military troops surrounded the famous Shwedagon Pagoda and begain attacking a group of 700 protestors with batons and tear gas. It was reported that nearly 300 people were detained and 4 were killed on the first day of the crackdown.

The next day, September 27, the Burmese military began raiding monasteries across the country to try and quiet the protests by arresting more the 700 monks. In response, there were nearly 50,000 protestors taking to the streets in Yangon. Kenji Nagai was in Yangon covering the military crackdown on monks and another pagoda. The government reportedly gave the people 10 minutes to disperse. Around 3pm all cell phone service was reportedly cut which coincided with the time that Burmese military forces begin violently attacking and firing on monks protesting in downtown Yangon. Kenji Nagai was shot and killed during this offensive by the military. Officially, the Burmese military said he was hit by a stray bullet. But, photographs were taken that tell a different story. In the span of about three captured images you can see Kenji Nagai shot on the ground still filming with his camera as a Burmese military solider comes towards him with a gun, followed by an image of him raising his camera with the solider coming even closer and the final image showing him obviously dead and his hands by his sides. The photography who captured the photos would eventually win a Pulitzer Prize for taking the risky photos.

An autopsy reveled that Kenji Nagai was shot by a bullet that pierced through his heart and back. Other witnesses reported seeing Kenji Nagai being intentionally shot for filming the actions of the Burmese military during the protest. Later a video would surface that showed video of the solider shoving Kenji Nagai to the ground and shooting him through the heart, at point-blank range.


More Information & References:
Wikipedia – Kenji Nagai
Committee to Protect Journalists- Kenji Nagai
AboutNews – Kenji Nagai
David Viggers Photography Blog (Reuters) – Shooting to Kill


Why Not Halloween?

(If you feel like you’ve read this before, I’m reposting this from last year because it is one of my favorite and most popular posts on the blog. If you read it last year, please share in the nostalgia with me. If you weren’t around last year when I posted it, enjoy this brand new to you post!)

If you can’t already tell, Halloween is upon us. I’m sure your street is littered with all manner of jack-o-laterns, fake spiderwebs and probably a few obnoxious blow-up lawn decorations. I guess I should apologize to any of you reading this who have blow-up lawn ornaments. I’m sure you are a great person and have a very good reason for having them, I am just not a fan. I have a sort of love/hate relationship with the Halloween holiday and it’s for a very odd reason. What I love about Halloween is the candy and the costumes and the good times. What I’ve come to hate about Halloween is the decorations. My hatred stems purely from the fact that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas come so close together along with the seeming necessity to put up unique decorations for ALL of them. Up go the Halloween decorations for a few weeks only to then be replaced with Thanksgiving decorations which then get quickly replaced by Christmas decorations (which could honestly stay up forever cause, who doesn’t love Christmas and you don’t hate baby Jesus right?). Oh…yeah…and you have to buy and store all those decorations. Call me a stickler…but I’ve enforced a “seasonal” decoration policy in our house to cut down on this madness and minimize my trips to the attic.

For those of you following along, my issues with Halloween are not divided along spiritual/religious lines. I have no issue with Halloween where others might see it as an “evil” or “pagan” day that celebrates Satan or demons and encourages bad behavior. Some people may see it that way, but that doesn’t mean Halloween has to be that. I looked up the history of Halloween on Wikipedia and found this nugget in the description.

“It initiates the triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.”

Triduum is just a fancy way to say three days. You might be familiar with the more famous Triduum, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. Anyways, what I like about this little snippet about Halloween is that the focus is on remembering Christians who have passed on. Those who have finished the race before us in that great cloud of witnesses are who we are called to remember on Halloween and the days following. It’s a time to remember the greater Christian community on whose shoulders we stand. This I think is a good foundation on which to redeem the often skewed perception of Halloween. Because of this idea, I think Halloween has a much better focus that we often miss behind the witches, candy and carnival games.

At it’s heart, Halloween is a holiday about community.

Seriously, what other day can you go around dressed in a costume, knocking on doors and generally expect to be greeted warmly and offered treats? Halloween calls us out of our homes to walk the streets and interact with our neighbors and community. We are encouraged to be hospitable, to be welcoming and offer good things to people regardless of what they look like on the outside.

And some would say that Halloween isn’t a Christian holiday?

So, instead of “bah-humbugging” Halloween because it seems dark, redeem it. Take some time to learn about a Christian who has passed, or share the story of your favorite saint with others. Embrace the community aspect of Halloween and get out of your house or invite others in. Rub shoulders and elbows with others in the community. Invite them to the event at your church (if you have one). Organize a block party, have a BBQ, pass out candy like it’s going out of style (but only the good kind, nobody likes getting raisins in their bucket). Do something communal and hospitable. Be an active part of the greater Christian community and the community you live in. Like a jack-o-latern or candle lighting the way to your door be a light of hospitality that people will flock to with open hands ready to receive our good gifts.

Prayer for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary Time)

Science and Charity by Pablo Picasso, 1897.

Science and Charity by Pablo Picasso, 1897.

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted, prayers come from the Book of Common Prayer, Revised Common Lectionary.

Prayers posted during Ordinary Time will feature art that is often not specifically religious, but art for arts sake. Enjoy!

Saint of the Week – Palwasha Tokhi

Palwasha Tokhi

When I started researching journalists to highlight during the month of October my first list consisted of all men. After realizing that was a bit one-sided, it set out to find the story of a female journalist killed while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. It did not take me that long before I discovered a very recent story of a young woman journalist killed in Afghanistan in response to her reporting. Her story highlights not only the dangers of reporting in the politically, socially and religiously unstable environment of Afghanistan but the added danger of being a female journalist in that environment.

This week’s saint of the week is Palwasha Tokhi.

There is not much information about the early life of Palwasha Tokhi. At some point she worked for or was somehow linked to the German military. At the age of 21 she began working for the Bayan-e-Shamal media organization which had been set up by the German government in 2004. Palwasha Tokhi would work for the Bayan-e-Shamal media organization for five years. Her work as a journalist was unique and almost unprecedented in Afghanistan where women journalists remain greatly underrepresented. This is due not only to the hostility towards journalists in Afghanistan (Seven journalists have been killed in 2014, three were killed in 2013 and two in 2012) but to the high levels of sexual harassment, discrimination and intimidation, including death threats, directed towards female journalists. After her work with Bayan-e-Shamal, Palwasha Tokhi moved from Afghanistan to Thailand in 2012 where she received a master’s degree. After graduating she returned to Afghanistan to continue in her journalistic work. However, almost immediately upon her return she began receiving death threats. Out of fear for her life, Palwasha Tokhi began the process to immigrate to Germany and submitted an application for German residence.

On September 16th, Palwasha Tokhi received a visitor to her house who said they were coming to deliver a wedding invitation. Once the visitor was inside, they stabbed Palwasha Tokhi to death and fled. On October 11th a suspect was arrested but the Palwasha Tokhi’s murder remains unsolved and nobody has been convicted as responsible. Her case joins the over 40 cases of journalists killed in Afghanistan since 2001 whose cases have not been followed by the judicial system in Afghanistan.


More Information & References:
NYTimes – In Brutal Year, 7th Journalist Is Killed in Afghanistan
ToloNews – Female Journalist Killed in Balkh Province
Huffington Post – Another Journalist Murdered As Afghanistan Faces Its Deadliest Reporting Climate In Years (Deutsche Welle) – NATO’s Afghan employees fear for their lives

Our Torn and Leaky Tent of a Church

Tents are great, until a strong storm or a polar bear attack.

The church I attend has been going through a series on Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. Well, the second letter than we *have* in the Bible but that’s for another blog post. Anyways, it’s been good to go through the whole letter and get a feel for the flow of the book and context for its many verses that are plucked out for Christian encouragement, greeting cards and memorial services. One of the verses that’s been rolling around in my head lately is 2 Corinthians 5:1 which is one of the verses that gets used a lot at memorial and funeral services.

We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.
2 Corinthians 5:1 (CEB)

As we went through this passage and the previous famous jars of clay passage, we spent a lot of time talking about how it’s actually through the weakness and cracks in our bodies that God’s glory shines through. In the whole book of 2 Corinthians, Paul is pretty much stating that there is nothing special about him and his body. It’s God’s glory shining through, even in weakness and that these “tents” of our bodies will break down and collapse. Ultimately we look forward to the new, resurrection bodies that will be redeemed by God.

The contrast between a tent and a house in the verse above got me thinking about the differences between the two. Tents are transient, mobile and temporary. A house is permanent, it takes time to build, and the knowledge of a builder to make solid and sound. Our bodies here on Earth are temporary and we all await our resurrected bodies built and redeemed by God, the master builder. I also started thinking about famous tents and houses in the Bible. The two major dwelling places of God came to mind. There was the Tabernacle that traveled with the Children of Israel as they wandered their way to the promised land. Then, once the nation of Israel was established, they built the great Temple which was considered the house of God. The Temple was thought to be God’s permanent dwelling place while the Tabernacle was temporary for the time of wandering and restlessness in the wilderness.

However, the Temple was not a permanent house. It was destroyed.

Not just once.

But twice.

This great structure that was supposed to be the place where God lived was not as permanent as it seemed. Indeed, it too was torn down, like Paul’s image of a tent in 2 Corinthians.

Now, we Christians believe that we as the People of God make up the Temple of God and that God’s spirit has taken up residence in the hearts of his people as it once resided in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and the Temple. We gather together in our church buildings with a desire to worship and serve God in the communities gathered. We do great things and we are living as an example of the resurrected Christ, with God’s Holy Spirit breathed and moving among us.

But, in a way, the Church is still a tent. It is not the end game. There are still abundant cracks and it groans in pain until God’s eternal house comes to dwell with the people of the world. The structures we build now, the church buildings, the committees, the denominations, the communities are all transient, temporary tents which are not supposed to last.

What we build as the Church here on Earth is but a faint glimmer of the reality of God’s true house shining through the broken and torn tents we have erected. Even Jesus died before the resurrection happened. His mortal body was transient and groaning before his glorification in the resurrection body. He performed many great works and miracles here on Earth, but he always pointed to the greater reality that was yet to come. He always directed those who followed him to see the God who was greater and his eternal house that was larger than anything his people could build here on Earth.

We in the Church are not the end game of God and should not aspire to be. Or we may find ourselves with half built, broken towers and unable to communicate God’s desire for redemption to the world. This is a tough temptation for many churches who truly do great things for the Kingdom but expect what they have built to last forever. They think they are storing up treasures in heaven when in reality they have started putting more faith in the treasures they’ve stored up here on Earth. You don’t have to look far to find churches or church leaders who have gotten so involved with the structures they have built that they begin to put more faith and work in maintaining what they have assembled.

The moth and rust always come.

A thief will always break in and steal.

The tent will always rip and collapse after a time no matter how many patches are put in and how many poles get replaced.

Now the one who prepared us for this very thing is God, and God gave us the Spirit as a down payment for our home. So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:5-6 (CEB)

I think Paul’s words ring true for not just our physical bodies, but also for the body of Christ revealed in the Church. The Church is a peek, a vision that comes and goes. What we are experiencing is just the “down payment” the assurance of what is to come. However, while we are still here on Earth we are away from the promised home of God. We, and our churches may need to grow, live and pass on as a mortal life until the true Temple and city of God comes from Heaven and God truly dwells with all people.

May we have the humility to live as the Church in this way.

Prayer for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary Time)

The Jazz Band by Gerard Sekoto, 1961.

The Jazz Band by Gerard Sekoto, 1961.

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted, prayers come from the Book of Common Prayer, Revised Common Lectionary.

Prayers posted during Ordinary Time will feature art that is often not specifically religious, but art for arts sake. Enjoy!

Saint of the Week – James Foley

In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website, American journalist James Foley is shown covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In an act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group beheaded Foley and are threatening to kill another hostage. (Nicole Tung/Associated Press)

In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website, American journalist James Foley is shown covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In an act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group beheaded Foley and are threatening to kill another hostage. (Nicole Tung/Associated Press)

Like I said in last week’s saint of the week post, I’ve chosen for the month of October to focus on journalists who have died either while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. While these are not “saints” in the traditional sense, journalists who have died because of what they were documenting have essentially given up their lives for the sake of others. They felt so strongly about getting a story or pictures out that they were willing to sacrifice their lives so the story could be heard or the photo seen. I belive it is then a worthy exercise to remember and honor the lives of those journalists who have made that sacrifice. Today we’ll look at one of the most recent and most notable journalist deaths.

This week’s saint is James Foley.

Most of us probably had not heard of James Foley until the tragic video of his beheading had hit the news cycles. But his life story is much more than just the gruesome end the world witnessed. James was born in Evanston, Illinois on October 18 in 1973 the first of five children born to his parents, John and Diane Foley. The family would eventually move to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire where James would grow up and attend high school. James grew up a Catholic and graduated from the Jesuit university Marquette University in 1996 with a Bachelor’s degree in history. He would go on to earn his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2003.

James began a career as a teacher in Arizona, Massachusetts, and in Chicago, Illinois for Teach For America (TFA) where he taught prison inmates. After working as a teacher, he decided to change careers and turned towards journalism. He would attend and graduate from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2008. Shortly after graduation, he began to help USAID development projects in Baghdad. James would help organize seminars and trainings to rebuild and restore civil services in Iraq. In 2010 he would apply to be an embedded journalist with the US military in Afghanistan. He ended up being embedded with troops in Iraq where is brother was also serving. Later in 2011 he would become a reporter for Stars and Stripes and was assigned to Afghanistan. After stepping down because he admitted to posessing marijuana in 2011 James began working for the GlobalPost and embedded himself with Libyan rebels fighting in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

While in Libya James and some other fellow journalists were captured by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. In the attack leading up to their capture, James’ friend and photographer Anton Hammerl was killed. James and his other journalist friends were beaten and would be imprisoned for 44 days. While in captivity, James relied on his Catholic faith to keep his spirits up. Talking about how he prayed with his fellow captives, James said, “I’d pray to stay strong. I’d pray to soften the hearts of our captors. I’d pray to God to lift the burdens we couldn’t handle. And I’d pray that our Moms would know we were OK.” After being released, James returned home and talked extensively about his reporting and capture in Libya. During this time, James would also help fund raise for the family of Anton Hammerl. James would eventually return to Libya and would document the scene of Muammar Gaddafi’s capture.

“I believe that frontline journalism is important. Without these photos and videos and first-hand experience, we can’t really tell the world how bad it might be,” he said. “These kinds of things are very important to me.”
-James Foley

In 2012 James returned to work for the GlobalPost and went to Syria to report on the civil war going on there. On November 22, 2012 James was captured along with his translator while leaving an internet cafe in Binesh, Syria. In December 2013, his captors demanded a ransom of 100 million euros from Foley’s family. The GlobalPost reportedly spent millions to try to locate and free James even hiring an international security firm to track his position. In July 2014 the United States launched a rescue mission to try and free James and other captives but the mission failed as they had all been moved by the time the US military arrived. While in captivity, James was subject to regular beatings, torture and even mock executions. James’ family had reportedly been planning to illegally pay an undisclosed amount for ransom when they received an email on August 12, 2014 from James’ captors explaining their issues with the US governments refusal to pay ransoms, negotiate prisoner exchanges and that they planned to begin avenging US bombings in the Middle East by killing their son James. On August 19, 2014 a video was uploaded to YouTube by the ISIS group entitled “A Message to America.” The video begins with news footage of President Obama announcing the US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, it then cuts to a video of Foley kneeling in the desert reading a prepared statement next to a masked man dressed in black. After Foley reads his statement, the man begins condemning the US airstrikes and threatens that any further aggression will, “result in the bloodshed of your people.” The video then reveals the beheaded corpse of James Foley.

Shortly after the video was released, the family posted on Facebook the last “letter” they received from James. The letter was actually a memorized letter that James recited to a fellow captured journalist Daniel Rye Ottosen who was released by ISIS in June 2014. The letter is also posted at the family’s website,

“Dear Family and Friends,

I remember going to the Mall with Dad, a very long bike ride with Mom. I remember so many great family times that take me away from this prison. Dreams of family and friends take me away and happiness fills my heart.

I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.

Eighteen of us have been held together in one cell, which has helped me. We have had each other to have endless long conversations about movies, trivia, sports. We have played games made up of scraps found in our cell…we have found ways to play checkers, Chess, and Risk… and have had tournaments of competition, spending some days preparing strategies for the next day’s game or lecture. The games and teaching each other have helped the time pass. They have been a huge help. We repeat stories and laugh to break the tension.

I have had weak and strong days. We are so grateful when anyone is freed; but of course, yearn for our own freedom. We try to encourage each other and share strength. We are being fed better now and daily. We have tea, occasional coffee. I have regained most of my weight lost last year.

I think a lot about my brothers and sister. I remember playing Werewolf in the dark with Michael and so many other adventures. I think of chasing Mattie and T around the kitchen counter. It makes me happy to think of them. If there is any money left in my bank account, I want it to go to Michael and Matthew. I am so proud of you, Michael and thankful to you for happy childhood memories and to you and Kristie for happy adult ones.

And big John, how I enjoyed visiting you and Cress in Germany. Thank you for welcoming me. I think a lot about RoRo and try to imagine what Jack is like. I hope he has RoRo’s personality!

And Mark… so proud of you too Bro. I think of you on the West coast and hope you are doing some snowboarding and camping, I especially remember us going to the Comedy Club in Boston together and our big hug after. The special moments keep me hopeful.

Katie, so very proud of you. You are the strongest and best of us all!! I think of you working so hard, helping people as a nurse. I am so glad we texted just before I was captured. I pray I can come to your wedding…. now I am sounding like Grammy!!

Grammy, please take your medicine, take walks and keep dancing. I plan to take you out to Margarita’s when I get home. Stay strong because I am going to need your help to reclaim my life.


A fellow reporter, David McKay Wilson from The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y.T would write about James and his faith that, “Foley was a devout Christian who, unlike most journalists I’ve known during my almost four decades in the field, was unapologetic about his heart for social justice and the inspiration he found for his beliefs in the New Testament.”

Today, October 17th would have been James’ 41st birthday. Tomorrow in his hometown they are having a day to celebrate his life. Services are being held at his home church, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, in Rochester, New Hampshire from 9:30 AM to 9 PM. A memorial service is being held at 10 AM and I would encourage you to join in prayer with his family and friends even through we can not be present with them.


More Information & References:
Wikipedia – James Foley (Journalist) – Free James Foley
CBC News – James Foley profile: A ‘committed and brave journalist’
ABC News – Remembering Slain Journalist James Foley
USA Today: James Foley: Beheading victim had deep faith
Religious News Service: Is James Foley a martyr? A brutal death sparks a faith-based debate – NH Home Church Remembers US Journalist James Foley for His Faith; He Prayed Regularly in Captivity