Jesus is a refugee (poem)

See the mother in the jungle, tiny baby in her arms,
Running from the soldiers who’ve come to rape and kill
She’s tired from the running, desperate, hungry, full of fear—
How can she know God loves her, and that He walks beside her there?

He is there beside her in the dark and in the cold.
He knows what she is feeling, in the Bible it is told
That He was once a refugee. His parents ran to save His life
From the soldiers sent to kill him in Herod’s infanticide.

The way that God has chosen to loose the bands of wickedness
To give bread to the hungry and to help free the oppressed
Calls us to walk beside her in our prayers and in our hearts:
As the body of Christ, the servant king, it makes her burden ours.

But words and prayers are not enough, no matter how well spoken
God’s love requires our presence so He can walk beside His children.
Even though we’re broken, we are His feet and hands.
We stand in need of grace to obey His commands.

Though she sits in darkness, He came to be the light.
Though she now is hungry, He is the bread of life.
Though we turn aside sometimes or don’t know what to do,
We are all called in some way to help her make it through.

He chose to entrust us with His reputation
And to make us His body throughout every nation
As a king become baby, He risked everything
Calling us to embody the love that He brings….

“I was hungry and you gave me bread
Thirsty and you gave me drink
A stranger and you took me in
In prison and you came to me….”
Lord, when did this happen?
His answer is quite clear
“When you did it for the least of these
It was for me, for I am there….”

Remembering the Vulnerable

I heard about some angels today….a teacher in Kent who bought a couple of pair of shoes for one of the refugee kids (one to wear now and one to grow into), Laurel and Chris who dropped off a microwave and towels and some other things for newly arrived refugees, a fisherman friend who didn’t find a tender to sell his fish to and is bringing over 19 salmon to cut up and take to refugee families in Kent today (people struggling with being on the wrong end of the economic food chain who don’t have rent money or jobs right now), a church in Kent who offers Fred Myers gift certificates to student’s familes, the leadership at Quest who continues to partner with the refugee church and community in a variety of meaningful ways (like paying half of the insurance for the community center so the offerings the refugees raised can help pay rents for those who are recently laid off) An angel at church this morning, an angel named Barb, gave me a big bag of warm socks to deliver to folks. I am SO grateful for angels!  

While many people right now are concerned about their own economic future (and present), those in low skilled minimum wage jobs (especially newly arrived refugees with limited English skills and little education) are experiencing a lot of lay offs, and some are having to relocate to other areas of the country where rents are not so high and jobs may be more abundant.  Tough times for many people, but really tough for those on the bottom. They’ve already lost their country, they don’t have homes to lose, or retirements to worry about.  They’re trying to learn how to get by here and now, learn the language, and develop the skills needed to support their families in this country.  Grateful for freedom and safety, but the challenges to still be overcome are enormous! 

While I was looking for statistics to go with this thought, and (sleepless in Seattle), I found this Shane Clairborne video that is SO worth watching….  It’s six minutes long, but stick to the end-the timely financial perspective (even though it’s a year old) is huge.  The images and the music are both worth it. 

Thanks to the angels who continue to remember the vulnerable, and do something about it!

Persistent Love

Today I am celebrating the moment on Sept. 24, 1970 when my church youth group leader came and asked me for probably the 100th time, if I was willing to commit my life to Jesus, and surrender my options to continued self-direction and self-destruction.  Because of what had happened to her, I said yes.  We prayed together on the steps of the CMA church on a Friday night ’cause that’s where she found this hurting lost sheep.   The struggle then went from “Do I choose faith?”  to “How do I live out that faith?”  Huge step….saved my life.  

She had a unique place of credibility to me at that precise moment, having experienced loss of her beautiful 18 month old daughter just two weeks ago in a tragic accident.  I watched her in the midst of her struggle and loss and incredible pain as she chose to still turn towards God, and not, in the words of Job’s wife “curse God and die.”  If faith in Christ could help sustain her, then maybe, as she had said for so long, and so often, God is greater than we’ll ever know and His love is stronger than we can ever imagine.  I also know now, there are some answers to the “why?” questions that we’ll never get.   Grace became amazing that day as the journey towards life and hope began.

So, today, I am grateful.  I was not always a grateful child.  But today, I am grateful to her, and I am grateful to my Dad. 

What does this have to do with my Dad?  Well,  a few years ago, I was asked to come and sing on Father’s Day at the church he had attended for 75 years at that point.  I didn’t want to go. This was a  setting that held some really mixed blessings in my life, and held some memories I would rather forget, but for Dad I went.  And in the doing of the thing, I had one of those moments where the lights came on, and I realized that because my Dad had always taken me to church as a kid, even when he wasn’t sure he wanted to go, even when he wasn’t sure it made any difference, even when he didn’t think I was paying any attention, even when he was tired, or whatever other excuses hardworking grownups can come up with.  And even though the church was way imperfect, God’s Word was taught there, and God was present in the prayers of His people.  And because of this, there was someone in my life who could offer hope and point the way to faith, even when I might not have been listening to Dad.  For this, I am very grateful.

Illusions Fall (a poem)

ILLUSIONS FALL

 

One I looked upon the world

With glasses colored rose.

I thought peace and tranquillity

Were what I would behold.

I dreamed that having faith

Would be the answer to all needs;

That love would flourish everywhere,

And all men would be free.

 

What I see, in reality —

Is a world that’s sometimes cold,

Full of people crying, hurting, suffering;

Their stories left untold.

And all too often, we of faith

Walk on the other side.

We shake our heads and scurry on.

We say, “The job’s not mine!”

 

A woman is abused:

We say, “Go bake your man a pie.”

Our ears are closed.

We cannot hear

The battered children cry!

They pound their heads upon the wall

And cry out to the town:

“Can’t you hear us?  Can’t you see?!

            IS ANYONE AROUND!?”

 

The frightened child cries in the night

“Oh, who will rescue me!?”

While all of her deliverers say,

“You surely can’t mean me!

I can’t be meant to take a risk

And venture from my safety!

There might be danger in that move;

It surely can’t be godly!”

 

And Jesus sees from heaven above —

He weeps with His heart broken.

He longs to comfort those who hurt,

But can’t wake up His chosen!

We stop our ears and cling to fears

From which we can’t be shaken.

But illusions fall

            If we heed His call

                        To change and be forgiven.

 

Have mercy on us, Lord above,

According to Your kindness.

Continue to open our eyes, oh God!

Deliver us from blindness!

Give us hearts to reach out

In Your mercy and Your grace

To those who need to know

You bear their shame

And their disgrace.

 

(From “Tamar’s Prayer”  1988)

 

 

“…a man is worth far more than a sheep”

Several years ago I had the privilege of hearing a missionary from Palestine preach on Matt. 12:9-13, the story of Jesus getting in trouble with the usual religious hierarchy for healing a man on the Sabbath, again.  Valuing people more than prevailing power structures, religious or nationalistic systems, or political correctness, again…. 

 

The quote above is from Matthew 12:12, spoken by Jesus (NEB). The speaker used this Scripture to share what it is like to live and work in Palestine where each side of the conflict considers the other “worse than animals.”  He speaks as someone living the gospel he preaches.  He and his family live with the people as they suffer under military dictatorship, in a place where bullets used by either side do not distinguish between the religious or political affiliation of those they kill or injure.  I’ve transcribed some of it below, in case someone wants some pretty powerful words to consider, and so I don’t forget his message of hope:

 

           “How do we, as believers, respond to these places of brutality in the world?  What is the first word of the gospel that we bring into places like this?  Mt. 12:9-13  ” Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a withered hand was there.  Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  So he stretched it out and was completely restored, just as sound as the other.  But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”  If we look beyond the issues of Sabbath and healing, and look a little deeper, we will find how the church can respond to brutality.

         

           Jesus asked a rhetorical question….”Which man, if his animal fell into a hole, wouldn’t lift it out on the Sabbath?”.  They all would have treated their animal better than they were willing to treat this man.  In other words, Christ was confronting them with the reality that they were lowering this man to a status of less than an animal. 

           What is it that causes us supposedly sane people to treat other people as less than animals?  I believe we have a suggestion here in these verses.  The Sabbath had been created by God as a blessing, but over time it had become something other than what God intended it to be in Jewish 1st century piety.  It had become a form that had been changed and molded by human traditions, a human construction.  The end result was that they were treating this man as worse than an animal. 

          I would suggest that one thing that causes us to treat our neighbors as animals are human systems, human constructions that have an absolute sense of self-righteousness, the goal of which is to serve their own ends, and anything that gets in their way will be destroyed.  Such human systems can be philosophies, theologies, economic systems or political systems.  But I would suggest that one of the most intoxicating and dangerous is nationalism; those feelings and attitudes that surround us when we think about our nation and the system of our nation.  When the church becomes entwined in a virulent nationalism, or any other human system, it can become complicit with destruction and death. 

         

          We only have to go back as far as World War II and we think of the church in Germany, the birthplace of Protestantism.  Nazism rose on the wellspring of nationalist fervor, and the love for the fatherland and a return to the glory of the fatherland after the destruction of World War I.  Where was the church when Nazism rose to prominence and control?  Sadly, 98% of the church, the vast majority of the church, just became sucked into those nationalistic sentiments and actually became part of the Nazi regime.  There was only a small group of protesting Christians who were willing to step back and say, “There is something evil taking place here.” We are called to be something different.  Our allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom above our allegiance to any other system or philosophy or nationalism.  Dietrich Bonheoffer was the leader of that movement and spoke out, and formed an underground church and Bible college.  He spoke out but most people didn’t.  The remainder of the church became complicit with the destruction of the Jewish people…a terrible tragedy.  Sadly, if we look at our own nation, the church provided the theology that supported the philosophy called manifest destiny, which was a nationalistic philosophy which was the engine that drove the destruction of the Native American people.  The church became a complicit partner in the massacre of a weaker minority population.  This is a tragic chapter in the history of the American church.  When the church became part of a nationalistic system that wasn’t submitted to Christ, the end was destruction. 

          

          Speaking about our own country, one of the great gifts the founding fathers gave to us was the separation of church and state.  It’s not a very popular concept with some people nowadays; it’s become almost a dirty word.  It shouldn’t be.  It is necessary to protect the prophetic integrity of the church.  When the church becomes merged with state and the fusion of images takes place, the church becomes corrupted by the state and loses its prophetic ability to call the state to righteousness.  Indirectly the state becomes sanctified and all its wars become labeled as holy wars because “God is on our side” because the church has merged with the state.  So we should stand and be willing to stand separately.  Our patriotism should be submitted to the spirit of God and never become a disruptive nationalism. 

         

            Turning to the Middle East, let me say, for those who love the Palestinian people and who love the Palestinian cause and understand their concern and humilitation, there is a danger of becoming an uncritical part of their quest for nationalism that can make you unwittingly complicit in your spirit with terrorism.  For Palestinian Christians, it is your responsibility to stand back and to speak to the leaders of their people and say, “This is evil” and call for something else.  There are those who are doing that.  Similarly on the Israeli side, for those who love Israeli nationalism, whether theologically or politically or any which way, if you become so caught up in that fervor of Israeli nationalism, then you to may become complicit in the brutality of the Israeli government to the Palestinian people. They are called to something different, to speak to the leaders of their nation and call them to stop unnecessary and continued suppression of a weaker minority people. 

          

           Christ was a son of the Sabbath but he wasn’t willing to be just caught up in the blind popular affections of his day. He was willing to step out of the system and pick corn on the Sabbath, heal on the Sabbath, and stepped out of what was oppressive, and called attention to what was not of God in the human system that had been created.

          

          How do we respond to places where people are treated as less than an animal?  We respond by remaining steadfast in our prophetic responsibility as a church to speak to what is evil and call it evil and not get caught up in popular sentiment that would compromise that prophetic responsibility. 

         

           How much then is a man better than a sheep?  A stunning verse.  The very presence of that verse in Scripture is the most eloquent statement that humanity often cannot distinguish between human and animal.  What was Christ doing in saying this?  He was affirming this man’s humanity.  I used to think the foundational word of the gospel was that God loves people.  Having lived now in this context of the brutal dehumanization of the Palestinian people and considering the Word, I’ve come to realize there is an even more foundational word of the Gospel.  It’s that you are a person, you are not an animal. 

           

          Where does that gospel need to be preached?  First, it has to be preached in our hearts.  When we go to serve someone, we have to examine our hearts.  We have to look at how we view this person.  Ministry begins in changing our hearts and our attitudes and being able to see those we serve as no longer animals, but as people just like us with the same desires and hopes and failings and interests that we have.  After we have applied that word to our heart, then we look for how to apply it to those we are called to serve. 

        

             The most ennobling act of the human race was when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  When this happened, the value of the whole human race was lifted.  There was no doubt—God was in man.  That makes us important to him.  When we share people’s concerns, weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice, we are saying by our presence, “Your humanity is important.”  Whether it’s in Seattle or on the West Bank, those who no longer see themselves as humans through drugs, prostitution, abuse or oppression need someone to stand with them and affirm their humanity.  It can take weeks or months or years, but they need to be able to accept their life has having tremendous value.  It can be a long journey back to wholeness and hope. But there is hope….”

*****************

His words, his faith, and his example, remind me of my friends in Burma and Thailand and the faith and hope and example they live out, as they endeavor to reaffirm the humanity and the value of those living there under military dictatorship there.    www.freeburmarangers.org

 

 

 

 

How do you find new neighbors?

It was a strange coincidence that our last day at our home church  was September 25, 2003–“Friendship Day.”  As our church celebrated reaching out to their neighbors and shared a salmon barbecue with the community, we were saying goodbye.   The past six weeks had happened so fast we hadn’t even gotten to tell our pastor until that day that we were leaving the community we had spent 26 years in and moving to Seattle that week with our two college-aged kids.  It was a good day to celebrate the friendships we’d enjoyed, and to say goodbye to people we loved.  It was good but it sure wasn’t easy. 

Our whole family was in a time of transition at that point: our son graduated high school in June, our oldest daughter got married in August, the house we had built from scratch and raised the kids in sold, our son and middle daughter were going to start college and needed somewhere to live…and it goes on.  It was like the pot was getting stirred but I didn’t always feel in control of the spoon.  Sometimes I felt more like a little mouse tossed in the toilet after the handle had been pulled to flush it.  My husband had lived in different places, but moving was a new experience for me and for the kids. 

What bothered me most about moving was leaving my church.  These people had been my neighbors.  Kai Erikson in “Communal Trauma: Loss of Communality” defines a neighbor as “… someone you can relate to without pretense, a familiar and reliable part of your everyday environment; a neighbor is someone you treat as if he or she were a member of your immediate family” .  I had raised kids with these neighbors.  We’d helped each other build houses, shared weddings and births, made music together, home schooled kids together, and experienced life together in major ways.  It was disorienting.  I didn’t know who my “neighbors” (in the communal sense), were going to be now, what my connections and point of reference were supposed to be.  I wasn’t even sure how I was going to find out. 

Speaking about the loss of community experienced due to a disaster, Erikson states, “… within so tightly knit a community…where most residents spent their entire lives without ever leaving, the sense of self was so closely tied to a sense of belonging to the community as a whole that loss of community meant loss of personal identity.  The closeness of communal ties is experienced…as a part of the natural order of things, and residents can no more describe that presence than fish are aware of the water they swim in.  It is just there, the envelope in which they live, and it is taken entirely for granted”.  She goes on to add “…those neighborhoods were like the air people breathed—sometimes harsh, sometimes chilly, but always just a basic fact of life”.  The residents in Erikson’s essay had lost their community due to a disaster.  I was being transplanted for happy reasons, but the sense of loss and lostness was similar. 

I was leaving neighbors to whom I was that kind of close to.  The closeness I’m talking about didn’t come from all being Republicans (we weren’t—although the media would probably assume otherwise), or having the same income level, identical theology or similar family backgrounds.  The church included folks with a variety of marital statuses, drug addicts and alcoholics in various stages of recovery, pastor’s kids, business owners and the unemployed.  Some were on public assistance and some were wealthy.  There were folks counting the days to retirement and stuffing their 401ks and folks just trying to figure out how to survive if they lived long enough to get old.  Some wrestled quietly with secrets they did not yet feel safe to share.  There were a lot of kids.  Closeness and a sense of community came from sharing values bigger than our own lives, and when there was conflict, unity (in spite of diversity) was maintained, by choosing to “treat other people the way you would want to be treated.”   

Starting over gives you a chance to reevaluate what you’re looking for, to see with new eyes, to write a new script for how you want things to go.  Seattle was definitely not Whidbey Island—the choices seemed endless. 

 We tried several churches the first few weeks we were here, but weren’t really sure how we fit.  One Sunday morning, I did a web search and found Quest, a fairly new church in Ballard, which is where we work.  The web site gave a glimpse of a church where justice and compassion were part of the foundation, not an afterthought.  For the past few years, we’ve been involved with World Aid, a non-profit group based here in Ballard that sends medical and humanitarian relief supplies to folks in Burma.  Our hearts are strongly pulled towards doing justice in practical, hands on ways.  We figured it was worth checking out. 

Like Andrea Lowenstein wrote, “For me, as for most people in modern society, the question of identity is a complex one.  Some of my identities are old, others are new or in transition”.  Although some of the roles in my life were the same as many of the women at Quest, (wife, mother, daughter, sibling, Christian,citizen, musician, poet, songwriter, employee), other roles were a significant contrast.  Quest  was composed of an ethnically diverse group of mostly single (70%+), college educated people under age 35, who were in good shape.  I’m over 45, uneducated by comparison, slightly round, a mother of three grown children, and have been married to the same wonderful man for 26+ years. 

Still, in spite of the differences, it seems like our place in life is similar to many others in the congregation.  We’re trying to figure out what’s next for this stage of our lives, to find ways to use the skills and gifts we’ve been given to do justice and compassion in a world that has needs wherever you look.  In their reading of the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible (Luke 10:30-37), the vision at Quest seems to be to become the ones who pick up the guy off the street instead of walking by on the other side, who offer acceptance, love and a listening ear, and meet practical needs both here in our city and in other places. Even though we are in many ways different than the majority there, the principles we form our life around are the same.  Quest seems like a good place to find new neighbors.

(wrote this for an English class in 2005-reflecting on it again as we approach our 5th year anniversary of being in Seattle….)

 

Justice or “just-us”?

A friend recently challenged me to articulate what the most important issues to me are this election, and to explain why, as a Christian, I feel those issues are important.  Whew!  I confess to usually being somewhat politically lazy (not feeling like my vote makes any difference…not always doing the actions for responsible citizenship), but after watching friends from Burma who have attained citizenship in the US  demonstrate anew to me the PRIVILEGE I have of being a citizen and being able to have a voice and a vote, I repent.  

Decisions for me usually revolve around to trying to find the principle to base the action on.  The belief and principle that most impacts my coming vote is the firm belief that God calls us to seek justice, and that justice is not spelled “just-us.”  I believe I/we need to interact with the world, our society, our churches, our communities, and our families following the principles spoken of in Micah 6:8, “… What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” and by Jesus in Matthew 7:12, “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.”

I believe God is prolife.  Consistently pro-life…“pro everyone’s life,” not only the lives of the unborn (and their parents), and not only those who are demographically, economically, racially, culturally, or religiously most similar to us.  Putting my faith into practice might mean being more actively engaged trying to make sure human rights such as life, liberty, physical security, education, access to affordable medical care, food security, clean water, and affordable shelter become available to everyone.  I am convicted this is not optional.  

Equal access to education, jobs with a living wage, childcare and after school programs, are important to me.  Jesus said the gospel was supposed to be “good news for the poor.”  How do the economic policies we support affect those on the bottom of the economic ladder, both in the US and to those affected by our trade policies in other countries?  How do these policies affect children and families?

I agree with those who say we need to protect and strengthen marriages.  But maybe if we look first at our own lives and the lives of those we love, and then do what we can to strengthen, encourage, love and serve each other, maybe this will do more to protect and stabilize families than scapegoating other people and throwing stones at them ever could?  

I value religious freedom.  Therefore, I need to be respectful to those who practice other faiths, or no faith.  If I want tolerance and respect, I may have to give it.  

We need national policy that supports the human rights standards of international law and strongly opposes torture and inhumane treatment of anyone.  Sorry, can’t say  that one gentler.  Torture is wrong!  

I believe our power as a nation should be used in advocating for justice and respect for human rights in places like Darfur, Burma, and Palestine (and others) and exposing and bringing to justice those who commit ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity.  Matthew 5:9 says “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God,”  but can peace and democracy really be effectively promoted by starting a war that leads to more people dying and being in poverty, and will leave their country (and ours) paying the price for years to come? 

Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  So, the action part….guess I need to commit to being prayerfully, actively engaged in the system, not taking my liberty for granted and living as though I really really believe that the justice God is concerned about is not for “just-us”.