Monthly Archives: November 2015

Vive la France: How should Christians react to refugees?

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Unless you live under a rock (an increasingly attractive lifestyle option), you have by now seen the horrible news about the terrorists attack in Paris that came on the heels of the mass migration of millions of refugees entering Europe from war-torn regions in the Middle East, such as Syria. We now know at least one of the terrorists had blended into the population of refugees before the attack and that ISIS has said they have many more Jihadi terrorists among the refugees. The attack has caused many Americans to re-examine our immigration and refugee policies.

I have some nagging questions that begin with the premise that the Bible’s instruction that we are not to mistreat the “foreigner/alien/stranger” in our land still holds true today. (See Exodus 22:21, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, and Deuteronomy 10:18-19.) How can we live this out when terrorists have infiltrated the ranks of foreign refugees in Europe, and may soon do so in America (if they haven’t already)? America has already received Syrian refugees. Should we deport them and/or refuse to accept any more given the violence we saw in Paris last week? Does the Bible imperative to welcome the “foreigner” assume that foreigners mean us no harm? Are we under the same Biblical obligation to Middle East refugees during a time of war, or is the Biblical imperative regarding aliens in our land even more crucial DURING a time of war when emotions are raw and some people might feel tempted to lash out against all Muslims? Does the Biblical imperative only apply to aliens who are in our country, thus releasing us from any obligation to accept more refugees? Do Scriptures about the treatment of aliens in the land only apply to ancient Israel? Is it the Christian thing to accept more refugees from the Middle East even if it puts an unknown number of American lives at risk? Is ISIS a real threat to our nation’s survival if they go unchecked? Should we receive women, children, and elderly refugees and turn away young men of military age if they come from Syria? Could we create safe zones in Syria, run by the United Nations or NATO, to house refugees until the conflict is over? Is our first consideration the safety of our fellow citizens? Or as someone in the Bible once asked: Who is my neighbor in the midst of this mess?

President Obama attempted to take the high road recently by saying that American values do not permit us to refuse refugees based on a religious test. He vows to continue receiving Syrian refugees with the promise that they will be thoroughly investigated before they are allowed entry, though he did not elaborate how the background investigation is to be accomplished on refugees who come from a country on the other side of the planet. He’s asking us to trust him and the federal government. I can’t peer into President Obama’s heart, but his credibility is suspect given that 85 percent of American Muslim voters picked President Obama in the 2012 election. Don’t get me wrong, I know it is quite possible that many republican leaders would pander to Muslim voters if 85 percent voted for the GOP.

So what are we Christians to do? First, we must end our short-term attention spans. The news cycle will eventually move on from the Paris attacks. The hashtags will play out and we’ve already changed our Facebook profile pictures to include the French flag as the background. We made ourselves feel like we accomplished something. But have we?

We will elect a new president in a year, long after the slaughter in Paris is mostly forgotten. We must pay close attention to what the candidates say about how they would deal with terrorists and the threat, if any, posed by refugees coming to America. We should pray for discernment to identify which candidate is looking out for America’s best interest, not just their political party or crony business interests. Mostly we have to pray that the person we choose for our next president is in alignment with God’s will.

On a personal and local level, we are fortunate because most of us will never have to make tough decisions about our national immigration and refugee policies. All the Bible asks us to do is treat our neighbors, including our Muslim neighbors, with the same human dignity with which we would want to be treated. That said, my hope is that all people in America would embrace our national motto of E Pluribus Unum, which means out of many, one. In my lifetime I have witnessed America become a nation of enclaves. We continue to segregate ourselves according to race, nationality, economic status, religion, lifestyle choices, and political ideologies. We do so because we are more comfortable with our own kind of people. And that’s probably ok to some degree, just so long as we all strongly identify as Americans. Perhaps we have entered a season when America should cut back on immigration and only accept the most desperate cases in order for our current immigrants and refugees to assimilate, thereby creating a greater sense of American homogeneity (a dirty word in today’s PC world where we worship multiculturalism as the cure for all that ails us) and loyalty. In any case, I do not believe we are obligated to totally disregard our safety and national security, though God does want us to remember his will is that none should perish.

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Conditions Are Right: Transcending Busyness

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The HVAC system was not working when I arrived at work this morning. I find it difficult to work under such barbaric conditions where the mercury is expected to dip to an icy 55 degrees. Come to think of it, I find it difficult to work under ANY conditions these days. In any case, certain conditions in life come whether we’re ready for them or not. The Bible refers to such conditions as seasons.

In his book If You Didn’t Bring Jerky, What Did I Just Eat, author Bill Heavey pauses for a serious moment and describes his encounters with men who have survived extended combat: “Such men tend to be low-key to the point of self-effacement. They have transcended any need for the approval—or even the attention—of others. Any questions about their identity, or worth, or place in life have already been settled. They know that each breath is a gift.”

I never experienced military combat, but I will be sixty next year, plus I’ve been married for over 25 years . . . which in a just world would qualify me for a Purple Heart (just kidding, sort of). At this age, many of my questions about life have been answered. The desire for the approval of others and the insatiable drive to carve out a place and identity in life has turned out to be, well, satiable. When you’re no longer committing all your energy to prove yourself or impress God, it becomes much easier to love.

There was a time in my life when, vocationally, I was on top of my game. My work was golden and recognized by my peers. Empathy came easy, but deep love and concern for others often took a backseat to career aspirations. Those career agendas are fading in this soon-to-be latter season of life. Lately I find myself engaging in the futile attempt to recapture the magic of youthful experiences. Still, there is hope that the future has some special moments to look forward to as time becomes more precious. I see this change in others, as well.

We take my mother-in-law to family functions and out to dinner now and then. She’s in her eighties and quite frail. During these excursions I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena: elderly people (total strangers) will often stop and hug my-mother-in-law while engaging in small talk. It’s as if the elderly (the wise ones) know that they are in a season of days and hours, unlike the young who live in a season of months and years. The elderly take time to connect because they know all too well that time is a finite gift from heaven. They are not quick to cut off a conversation because they have other things to do. I caught myself getting impatient the other day when we left a restaurant and my mother-in-law stopped to chat with an elderly lady at the door of the eatery. I had “important” things to do at home. After a while, the two embraced and I was eventually able to go about my “important” business.

In an instant, in the blink of an eye we all enter that season where my mother-in-law currently lives. I can feel the inevitability of it coming. I hope my kids are patient with me in that season where the shadows grow long.

Dang those spooky Druids

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Well, another Halloween has come and gone. Thank goodness no virgins were sacrificed to a Druid god in my neighborhood; which either says something about the quality of my neighbors or the shortage of virgins in this part of town. In any case, some of my fellow Christians can now turn on their porch lights and come out of hiding from deep within the bowels of their own homes where they hid last night to avoid supporting this pagan holiday by refusing to pass out candy to little children. Sigh! This debate in the church about whether or not to participate in Halloween has been going on for as long as I can remember. It’s the choice between a celebration of life or celebrating death. And the Bible is very clear about things like astrology, divination, witchcraft, sorcery, and other occult practices—Christians ARE NOT supposed to participate in these things. I get it.

Still, I wonder if we separate ourselves too much from the same world we are supposed to reach by refusing to participate in the levity of passing out treats to small children knocking at our door. Do we know the difference between children going trick-or-treating and adults participating in a séance to talk to dear old Uncle Joe who passed away twenty years ago? I hope so. And yes I know that by ignoring Halloween’s pagan history and treating modern Halloween as a harmless children’s activity we possibly send the perilous message to our youth that the occult is a harmless pursuit. But by hiding in our darkened homes on Halloween night I suspect we are not endearing ourselves to our neighbors. We become those religious kooks who live down the street.

I work for a Christian organization where we have a harvest celebration instead of a Halloween party. Imagine my surprise when one of my co-workers stated that she would not participate in the harvest celebration because it was just renaming the pagan practice of Halloween. She took the day off rather than have anything to do with this “pagan” celebration at a stalwart Christian organization. I admire her zealotry, misguided as it might be. I could be wrong on this issue, but I have yet to feel led by God to stop passing out candy on Halloween/Harvest eve. Hundreds of years ago the Pope attempted to reclaim the Druid pagan celebration that has become Halloween by giving it a Christian identity. Today we can actually participate in reclaiming the pagan holiday and making it a Christian event we call a harvest celebration (what could be more Christian than harvest?), or at least give the world an option of choosing between the two. Fall is a beautiful season. Let’s not give it up so easily to Satan’s domain. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my astrology reading. (Got ya!)