Bonus Post: Sorry for Brussels

I woke up this morning trying to begin developing habits of mindfulness. I took a moment to breathe and be grateful. As my current self-help book (Emergence, by Derek Rydall) suggested, instead of saying, “Good God, it’s morning,” say, “Good morning, God.” It actually helped. I got out of bed with feelings of gratitude for the gift of life and breath God has given me.

Then I turned on CNN, like I do most mornings, and… well you probably know by now. Europe, once again, is the victim of terrorist attacks by ISIS. Two explosions at the airport in Brussels. Another at the Metro station. Reports at the time said Twenty-six dead. Twenty-six people who will never again have the opportunity to thank God for life and breath as I had done just a few minutes before. I wanted to write about other things, particularly continuing my series on Pontius Pilate.

A few months ago, I posted a comment on Deuteronomy 26 related to the Syrian refugee crisis. We have some of our presidential candidates calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the country and saying we can’t take any of these refugees in. I argued instead we need to make every effort to let them in. From a practical perspective, we need friends in the Muslim world. People like this:

A few years from now, he might make a good spy for us. And he’s not alone.

We are not fighting a nation with armies lining up together that we can bomb or send tanks against. We are fighting an enemy that is hiding in plain sight – until they decide to carry out their planned attacks.

Here is an example:

June 22, 2015, Hickory, North Carolina: A nineteen-year-old man was planning to carry out an ISIS inspired attack. His plan was thwarted when his father reported him in to authorities. This particular boy wasn’t even Muslim or Arab, so don’t think if we keep Muslims out we’re safe.

The main point is he was stopped because someone close to him found out what he was up to and reported him. The more friends we have, the more eyes we have to root out these moles. If the ISIS recruiters are reaching out mainly to Muslims, Muslim friends are our best defense against them.

Then there is the Christian perspective. Love your neighbor. Love the stranger and the alien. Love your enemies. What does that mean in the face of terrorism? I don’t have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it does not include banning, hating and denigrating entire groups of people because of race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Not a good way to make the friends we need either.

But let’s remember what they really want: Not so much to kill us but to terrorize us. We are going to need to heighten our security, but we need to be smart about it too. Be watchful, but don’t give in to panic and terror. And on this point, I offer one of the best examples of this I have come across.

A friend was planning the baptism of her newborn. She requested specifically September 11 as the date. The pastor was like, “9-11? Why would you want that date?”

She said, “Because that’s the date my husband and I met.”

That’s how you don’t let the terrorists win. Don’t let them take the joy out of your life.

Grace and Peace to you.

P.S. If you’re having trouble believing there are still good Muslims in America and around the world who want to help us, take a look at this: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Muslims-Against-ISIS/1444672609121662.

P.P.S. A lot of good things happening in Estonia. Hear what the Prime Minister says about the Refugee crisis.

“>Starts at 5:00 if you’re in a hurry

.

Between Two Flags

What does it mean to be a Christian nation?

In our church, as in many, there is the church flag on one side and an American flag on the other. I would prefer there not be an American flag in church. I think it’s easy to turn the flag into an idol, especially when it is in a space of worship. Conflating American heritage with Christianity I think is dangerous. I feel it in many ways but perhaps most acutely when I hear the phrase “Christian nation” thrown around with little or no resemblance to the teachings of Christ. Is that the meaning of the two flags in church? We are a Christian nation, and if you don’t believe it “get the hell out”?

My pastor once asked whether it was possible to speak of a Christian nation when Jesus said so little about politics. Let’s say it is possible. If we want to be a Christian nation, he thought that would mean we do not go to war, we forgive the wrongs done to us, and we marshal the vast resources that God has blessed us with toward helping the poor. This includes helping provide for their everyday needs – food, clothing, water, shelter, health care, education – and empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty, both in this country and around the world.

Now if I may add, while Jesus said very little about politics, he had a lot to say about how we treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, and anyone who is a victim of injustice. If you’ve forgotten, read Matthew 25:34-46. He had a lot to say about violence, and he led a nonviolent movement long before Gandhi and MLK. Before the Anabaptists and Amish. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Forgive your brother and sister seventy times seven? He even forgave the people who crucified him.

What does all that mean in regard to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks, torture of prisoners, indefinite detention, deporting children, spying without warrants, women’s health, mass incarceration of African-Americans, and shutting the doors on refugees? What does it mean when candidates talk about bringing back waterboarding and worse? They tell us we have to do this to protect the American way of life. Maybe so, but is it consistent with the Christian way of life?

The American flag on one side, the church flag on the other. They may represent unity of purpose. Or they may represent divided loyalties. Are we serving Jesus Christ or what Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex? If we follow Jesus Christ, we should feel at least some tension between the two flags. If we ever stop feeling that tension, we have most likely turned our nation and its flag into a golden calf.

Addendum – Matthew 25:34-46

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,1 you did it to me.’

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

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.

 

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.