Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Compassion…to suffer with…

Sometimes there are almost no words to say. But I have to try.

Yesterday I was shocked and appalled at the current administration’s budget. But I was even more appalled to hear the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, describe it as “compassionate.” Compassionate?!?

This proposed budget includes a huge increase in defense spending–with corresponding cuts to (1) climate change research, (2) foreign aid, (3) public broadcasting, (4) national institutes of health, (5) meals on wheels, and (6) after-school programs…among others. The reasons? They don’t believe in the science that has been widely accepted around the world–and, in the case of Meals on Wheels and after-school programs, they don’t see any demonstrable benefits from them.

Really?

First of all, for many of the kids (and families) who depend on the after-school programs, they provide a safe place, food, and a place where they can get help with schoolwork. Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

And Meals on Wheels provides nutritional meals for folks who may be on the border of having to choose between food and other necessities…folks who may not be able to get out…as well as providing a way for someone to check up on them to ensure they haven’t fallen (or worse). Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

I said yesterday that I believe that the GOP and I use different dictionaries to find the definition of compassion. The dictionaries I use indicate that the word comes from the mid-14th century, from Latin words that mean “to suffer with.” I do not see much suffering with those who are poor…hungry…in need.

And I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited….

Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.

 

Barth and Bonhoeffer…why them? why now?

A couple of nights ago I was having trouble getting to sleep. I kept thinking about Karl Barth and  Dietrich Bonhoeffer…why?

I remembered my preaching instructor (and others!) in seminary liked to quote a statement often attributed to Karl Barth: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” In other words, we cannot divorce what is going on in life around us from what the Bible calls us to do and be. We must be informed both of the news and events surround us but we must also be biblically literate. (Please note–I did not say “literalist.” There is a significant difference.)

With my spiritual advisor, I’ve spent a lot of time reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German pastor in the 1930s. Barth, a Swiss theologian, was forced to leave Germany and return to Switzerland, as Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer took a different path. He came to the United States for post-graduate education at Union Theological Seminary, but returned to Germany in 1931. He watched as Hitler came to power–and was a staunch foe from the beginning. He saw in Hitler a danger to the church, a danger he watched as more and more church leaders either actively supported the Nazi movement or passively stood aside.

In 1933 Bonhoeffer accepted a post in London, but he returned to Germany in response to Barth’s question of him: “And what of the German church?” They needed strong pastors.

Bonhoeffer–and Barth–felt that something had to be done…something had to be said to call Christians to repentance. They were responsible for the formation of the Confessing Church, which basically was a resistance movement. They wanted to preserve traditional Christian beliefs and practices. And in 1934, they drafted a statement known as the Barmen Declaration. In this document, they laid out their position that Christ–not the Fuhrer–was the head of the church. It was a pointed rebuke towards Hitler and his movement.

As I lay in bed, the thought kept coming to mind that perhaps it was time for a Barmen Declaration for our day and time.

I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when I received a link to a statement by Princeton Seminary faculty members related to the Trump presidency and the current political situation in the United States. As I read it, I thought “Yes, this is our Barmen Declaration.” I was pleased that each member who signed it did not feel that they had to agree to every word–that they worked together as colleagues to draft a statement that they were each comfortable signing.

I have seen statements questioning why religious leaders and ministers should be speaking against Trump–sometimes with the specific question of why are we not praying for him? I believe many are praying for him…but also believe that in good faith, they must speak against those policies, statements, and actions that are not representative of who Christ calls us to be.

I am grateful for this statement…and I agree with it.

“He says what I think”

For me, one of the most frightening statements to come out of this year’s election (and post-election) is this: “I (voted for/support) Donald Trump because he says what I think.” Why do I find that frightening?

Let me make a couple of things clear. I do believe that there are legitimate discussions needed about our immigration system. There are too many people caught in limbo, waiting for years for their citizenship applications to be approved. There are challenges with border security that need to be discussed–and that needs to include discussions about the economic factors that cause people to come illegally. We live in a world where there are many, many refugees–and we need to work with other countries to create a policy that acknowledges their needs and fears and tries to find ways to meet them.

However…

When I hear people say that, it usually goes along with negative statements towards those who are seen as “other” in some way. It seems to relate to demonizing others…grouping all members of one race/religion together, while seeing nothing wrong with one’s own race/religion. I hear it in reference to statements about those who are poor and who need help to get back on their feet…those whose sexuality/gender identity is not easily understandable.

And I am reminded of something in the Bible. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is talking to his followers. Not to them alone, but after he has been asked questions by those who didn’t believe in him…who wanted to trap him. They were religious and political leaders of their day, and they found Jesus’ teachings frightening because they challenged the status quo. Jesus taught…healed…challenged.

He told those who were listening to love their enemies…to do good to all…to pray for those who abused them…to give more than they were asked to. He told them to do unto others as they would have done to them. He called on them to be merciful…to not judge…to see the hypocrisies in their own lives before calling out others.

And then…

Then he gave this response: “…it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

So what do our words say about us? What do we really think?

Do Donald Trump’s words really reflect what we think? They don’t for me…

What is happening to my country?

Every morning for the past week I have awakened with this question…”What is happening to my country?!”

It has not been perfect, and yes, there have been issues that I believe need to be corrected. But suddenly I feel like I’ve been transported to another, extremely unfamiliar place–one that has the same language, places, forms of government that I have come to know, but that somehow is off kilter.

And I am just sick.

I spImage result for coventry cathedral crossent some of my younger years in a country that had been devastated by the second world war. One of the places we visited–and that had a powerful impact on me–was Coventry Cathedral, a beautiful building that had been bombed out. But at the front of the ruined building was an altar with a cross…and a prayer: “Father, forgive.”

Forgive our inhumanity to each other…our fear of “the other”…our desire for dominance…there were so many things to pray forgiveness for.

And as a world, we swore we would never let anything like that happen again.

But we did. In Bosnia-Herzegovina…Rwanda…Cambodia…

And again we said, we would never let it happen. We had learned our lessons.

But we haven’t…and I’m fearful that we’re taking the same road…again.

How did those countries get to that point? There are ten steps on the road to genocide. They’re not inevitable; the process can be stopped…but the further a society goes down the road, the more difficult it is. Here are the steps:

  1. Classification – separating people into “us and them” by various categories (ethnicity, race, religion)
  2. Symbolization – giving names or other symbols to the classifications
  3. Discrimination – using law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups
  4. Dehumanization – equating members of a specific group with animals, verman, insects, diseases…using hate language against the group
  5. Organization
  6. Polarization – driving the groups apart, again by using hate language
  7. Preparation – often done using euphemisms to talk about what is being done
  8. Persecution
  9. Extermination
  10. Denial

As I watch the news, I’m afraid we’re heading down that road…and I’m scared. Not so much for myself, but for friends…and for my children and grandchildren. What kind of world are we creating for them?

Seeking to understand

When I was working, we took some training in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits for Highly Effective People. While I don’t remember a lot of it, one of the steps has stayed with me: “Seek first to understand.”

Sometimes that’s difficult…and it’s proving to be so for me in our current political climate. So that brings me to the point of this post…

I know I have friends who voted for and/or support Donald Trump as president. Why? This isn’t a “gotcha” question or the opening move in “who can post more talking points or memes to prove my rightness.” I really want to try to understand.

Especially if you consider yourself to be a follower of Jesus Christ…why?

What is there about this man that called to you?

I will freely admit that there are many aspects that turned me away from him:

  1. His history as a businessman of “stiffing” contractors out of money he had agreed to pay when he signed contracts with them.
  2. His adultery and infidelity.
  3. His seeming willingness to lump all members of a specific religion into the category of terrorists.
  4. His seeming willingness to categorize all members of a specific race as rapists.
  5. His belief that as a “star” he is entitled to do whatever he likes to women and they have no right to object.
  6. His use of divisive rhetoric.
  7. His lying (even when there is proof to the contrary).
  8. His unwillingness to share his tax returns (as every other president for the last 40 years has done), even though he said he would.
  9. His unwillingness to remove himself from his business dealings in order to avoid conflicts of interest.

These are certainly not all the things that concern me–but they are a start. So much of this goes against the values I hold and my understanding of what it means to follow Christ:

The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)

So…please help me understand. Why Trump?

 

The power of love

We’ve been watching the Harry Potter films recently. We saw them when they first came out and I’ve read the books…but it’s been a while, and we were just in the mood.

I have to admit that it’s been interesting watching them as the United States has been leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. There have been a lot of parallels between the two universes…

But one thing keeps coming through…and that is the power of love.–

Yes, there are dark times in the movies–and many of us fear that the United States is facing a dark time. Harry and his friends found themselves caught up in a conflict between those wanted power for themselves and those who wanted to help others be what they had the potential of becoming. Some of us wonder if we are dealing with a similar conflict.

We have struggled with language–and yes, there is a quote from Professor Dumbledore that speaks to me about that:

Words are in my not-so-humble opinion, the most inexhaustible form of magic we have, capable both of inflicting injury and remedying it.

We have seen injury inflicted on individuals…can we find words now that will remedy it? Again, another quote from Professor Dumbledore:

We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.

So who are we? really?

Are we facing a situation like Harry and his friends when Professor Dumbledore challenged them with this quote?

Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is easy and what is right.

I don’t know.

But the power of love…that’s what will get us through. We see that in Harry Potter…and for those of us who are followers of the One called Jesus, we see that in him.

And so…as we move into a new era, I am reminded again of the power–and the importance–of love…and another quote from a wise man of our own time–Martin Luther King:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

May we live in the light and power of love.