Compassion and caution

David Anderson

If you read my last post, you might be thinking some of these refugees might really be terrorists, the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. And I would say we all should know the vast majority of these people are legitimately in dire straits. We’ve seen the images of the children washed up dead on the shores. How desperate do you have to be to undertake a journey you and your children might not survive? They are running from ISIS. They are victims of terrorism themselves. Still, I am as concerned as any American about keeping terrorists out. So I understand we need more than just, “Love each other, and it will all work out.”

Current policy inadequate

We talk to them. If any part of their story can’t be verified, we don’t let them in. That’s the current policy. A Republican state house representative I happened to meet at a cocktail party said we “dodged a bullet” on the refugee issue when the governor said we won’t accept Syrian refugees. “We don’t know who these people are,” he said. “They live in the stone age. How are we going to verify they are who they say they are?”

I’m not sure “stone age” is accurate. But he actually showed why this policy is inadequate for meeting this need. When people are running for their lives or coming from refugee camps, do they think about collecting their documents? How are we going to be able to confirm every detail they tell about the circumstances that led them here?

Wolves among the sheep?

That’s the worry that’s making people push back against doing more to help. I wish I could dismiss it as right-wing paranoia, but a report on CNN said that one of the attackers in Paris did in fact enter the country by posing as a refugee. So it appears ISIS has figured how to infiltrate groups of refugees. What can we do then with so many people in need, the vast majority of whom are refugees but may have a few terrorists sprinkled in? For what it’s worth, I have an idea….

Vet them, and monitor them

Vet them as much as we can, with the understanding because of circumstances, verifying each and every detail may not be possible.  If I were as desperate as the Syrian refugees, I would not mind it at all if that’s what it takes for you to let me into your country. Go ahead, put an ankle bracelet monitor on me, put a tap on all my phones and computers, put a GPS chip under my skin, assign me a probation officer  – whatever it takes for you to feel safe enough to let me in. If I go back to my country, I’m dead. Just give me a place where I can live like a human being. That’s all I want.

Recruiting Opportunity

In my last post, I appealed to Deuteronomy 10:19 – You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. That may make me sound altruistic and naïve. Full disclosure, I have selfish motives as well for letting in more refugees.

I’ve said for years if we are going to defeat terrorists who call themselves Muslim, we need friends in the Muslim world. If we rescue them when they have nowhere else to turn, how likely are they to be recruited by people who call us the Great Satan? “The Great Satan” saved my life and my family’s lives, Dumbass!

Those who we let in and are found to be trustworthy through vetting and monitoring, why not recruit some of them to help gather intelligence on ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or any other Muslim extremist group that threatens us? They already look like they belong there. They speak the language – and without an American accent. Perfect spy material.

But what do I know? I’m just a Bible scholar.

 

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Strangers in the Land

David Anderson

Most of us have read or heard the story of the Pharisee who asked Jesus what the most important commandment in scripture is. He responded that the greatest command was two-fold: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And also, love your neighbor as yourself. How important are they?

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:40 KJV)

The neighbor, though, is not the only person we are commanded to love.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19 NRS)

Would it surprise you to know that the command to love your neighbor appears only once in the Old Testament, but the command to love the stranger appears 34 times? Is that because it is 34 times as important to love the stranger as it is to love the neighbor? Is it because we should love the stranger 34 times as much as the neighbor? I don’t think so. I think the constant repetition of this command indicates how much harder it is to love the stranger – different race, different nationality, different language, different ethnicity, different culture, different religion – than people we know and who are like us.

Coupled with the command is the reason: because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. The reason is expanded in this command regarding the offering of first-fruits to the LORD.

4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my [father]; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

 8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 26:4-10 NRS)

So every time they brought first-fruit offerings, they reminded themselves,

  1. Their ancestors wandered with no land to call their own
  2. They settled in a foreign nation and prospered there, despite being aliens
  3. The Egyptians treated them harshly and oppressed them
  4. They cried out to the LORD, and the LORD heard them
  5. God delivered them out of bondage in Egypt and gave them a land flowing with milk and honey
  6. Now that they are settled and established in the land, they offer to God the first-fruits of what the land produced for them.

The Syrian refugee crisis is on a scale we have seldom seen in human history. The command of the LORD is clear: Love the stranger, for you were once strangers in a foreign land. Isn’t that the American experience as well? Unless you’re Native American, your ancestors came here as strangers. Why is it so hard now to obey God’s commandment?

There has been so much fear of immigrants in the last several years, mainly since 9-11. If those immigrants are Muslim, forget it. We don’t want them. Fear of the stranger coupled with fear of terrorism. While that is understandable, I don’t think it excuses us from taking in refugees.

Look at the scriptures above again. The Israelites recited these words repeatedly. They made sure to pass them on to each generation, so they would remember it. We were oppressed in Egypt. The LORD delivered us out of bondage and brought us into this blessed land. Notice, in each generation, they don’t say, “Our ancestors were oppressed…” They say, “We were oppressed…and the LORD delivered us.”

Hear the word of the LORD. Love the stranger and welcome him or her. You were strangers once in this land. I am the LORD who blessed you and gave you a home here. Don’t EVER forget that.

 

The Arabic Letter “Nun”

The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene

When the ISIS were about to complete their genocide of the Christians of Mosul in the past few days, they put this mark on the walls of the homes of the Christians — to mark them out for plunder and death. This is the letter “Nun” (ن), the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet (the equivalent of letter N in our Roman alphabet), the first letter of the word Nasara (نصارى : Nazarenes).

nun-arabic-letter

Perhaps I shouldn’t be suggesting this as I have only recently converted to Orthodox Christianity.  Then again, I have not let my lack of years in the faith (or lack of being a part of the Church) be a barrier to sharing my opinion.  But, with the recent events in Iraq, Palestine, and the Ukraine added to other persecutions and evidence of ignorance of our faith; I think “nun” should be adopted as a symbol of the…

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Where is the triangle?

David Anderson

Several years ago, I was part of a small group Bible study. We became good friends. I especially enjoyed playing with one couple’s 4-year-old daughter Karys. It’s fascinating to see how a mind that young works. One day we were outside, and she started talking to me about God. She said, “God is in the trees. And God is in the grass. And God is in the sky.”

I said to her, “And you know what else? God is in your heart.”

“NO!!”

“Yes!”

I think it’s funny that she had no problem believing God is in plants, animals, rocks and sky. But God inside me? Whoah! That’s where I draw the line!

It seems most of us think of God being outside, either above, out there, or all around us. However, some of the spiritual teachers who have had the greatest influence on me taught me to think of God being inside me. In the heart was usually the specific location, which is why I said that to Karys.

My last post was a spiritual exercise to get you to think of God’s position – inside or outside you – in a new way. I recently went through a small group study of a book called Exploring the Way: an Introduction to the Spiritual Journey by Marjorie J. Thompson and Stephen D. Bryant. There is a picture with three drawings of stick figures and a triangle. In the first drawing, the triangle is above the stick figure. In the second, the stick figure has a big triangle in his chest, and in the third the person is inside the triangle (Bryant, 23). If the triangle represents God, then it’s easy to see the three drawings show three different positions of God in relation to you or me: God above us, God inside us, and us inside God. Which of these is true? Which is Biblical?

God Above

In this view, God is out there, up there, above us. We must reach out and look to God to answer from the outside. Some examples from scripture include:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence — When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. (Isa 64:1, 3 NRS)

I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. (Psa 138:2-3 NRS)

I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psa 121:1-2 NRS)

God Within

In this view, we don’t have to look for God up there or outside of us, because God is already inside us.

It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.  (Deu 30:12-14 NRS)

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1Co 3:16; cf. 6:19 NRS)

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27 NRS)

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,1 since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  (Rom 8:9 NRS)

God All Around

In this view, God is both inside and outside of us. God is in the very environment we live in and beyond.

…Indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’  (Act 17:27b-28 NRS)

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  (Joh 15:4-5 NRS)

…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:3 NRS)

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Which of these is right? Each of these views has support in scripture, and there are many more verses we could give to support each one. So I guess the first lesson from this survey is none of them is wrong. In upcoming posts, I will explore how each view of God informs a life of faith.