god help us!

god help us!

Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various forms of pollution, was confirmed Friday as the agency’s next administrator.

God help us! I mean that quite literally — God help us! Because we have now as the steward of  lands that will outlive us and must remain viable in order to sustain the lives of our children and grandchildren a man who has done his best to undercut any attempts to preserve that viability, a man who has favored economic gain over environmental protection. May God help us and may God change his mind!

heart

heart

“We’re going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have … because you have these incredible kids, in many cases.” (Donald Trump)

Heart. Heart, indeed! I do hope “we” — “we” the American people and “we” the government elected to represent us does show great heart! It is an encouraging statement. I will pray that heart does hold sway over fear and suspicion and prejudice and pride, and that the virtues the president sees in such children he will also recognize in their parents and those like them.

protest

protest

“We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country.”
(Donald Trump at a February 16 news conference)

I was glad, so glad that the judicial system stayed the first executive order on immigration and refugees, so glad that our system is still capable of exercising checks and balances, so glad that such an ill-conceived and ill-intended and, frankly, cruel blanket ban was seen for was it is, or rather for what it is not — not us, not who we are at our best, not who, it is my hope, most of us want to be.

But this administration is determined to get its way, which means that advocates for refugees and advocates for a just America and advocates of compassion must remain vigilant and vocal! We must protest, not stand by quietly while people’s lives are disrupted and upended. We must continue to stand not against, but stand for — stand for compassion, stand for the protection of  people at risk, stand for welcome and acceptance and affirmation of people not like us. Or better, stand for defining “us” to include people who are not just like “me!”

It is difficult to keep on speaking up, difficult to keep on protesting, difficult to sustain energy and will and engagement, especially when protest seems futile, when it seems not to make a difference. I do believe voices of justice and compassion can make a difference, but I was reminded that protest is not merely about effecting change, but also and especially about integrity and about faithfulness, faithfulness to the core values that make us who we are. I was reminded by this quote from Wendell Berry headlining the current edition of the The Weekly Sift:

Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.

who is my neighbor?

who is my neighbor?

Do not mistreat a foreigner; you know how it feels to be a foreigner, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would an Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The Lord does not show partiality, and the Lord does not accept bribes. The Lord makes sure that orphans and widows are treated fairly; the Lord loves the foreigners who live with our people, and gives them food and clothes. So then, show love for those foreigners, because you were once foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Do not deprive foreigners and orphans of their rights; and do not take a widow’s garment as security for a loan. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God set you free. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

Stop taking advantage of aliens, orphans, and widows. (Jeremiah 7:6)

The Lord protects the strangers who live in our land. (Psalm 146:9)

Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. (Romans 12:13)

Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them. Remember those who are suffering, as though you were suffering as they are. (Hebrews 13:2-3)

The King will say … “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!” (Matthew 25:34-40)

A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?”

Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?”

The man answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

Syrian refugee children
Photo by Mustafa Khayat
“You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.”

But the teacher of the Law … asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)

faez

faez

Lats October, before the election, I preached a sermon entitled You. It seems particularly apropos now. I concluded the sermon by retelling Faez’ story. The details of his story come from an article by Alex Altman, “A Syrian Refugee Story” (http://time.com/a-syrian-refugee-story/)

Your name is Faez and you are a refugee.

You were not always a refugee.  There was a time when you were happy, at least as happy as you could be, considering.  Considering the turmoil and violence that engulfed your hometown and your homeland.

You lived with your wife in Daraa in southern Syria, walking to your healthcare job each day and returning each evening, even as Syrian army troops and rebel insurgents clashed in the streets around your home.

But one morning, as you walked to work, they stopped you.  They stopped you and accused you of being a terrorist.  They made you raise your hands and they aimed a gun at you and you “felt death upon [you].”

But an old woman suddenly came into the street, pleading for your life and for the lives of those detained with you.  And the soldiers let you go.

But everything had changed.  In your mind and in your heart, everything had changed.  You feared for your life and for the life of your wife.  You knew you had to leave, leave your home and your homeland.  You were a refugee.

You gathered your wife and a few belongings and the next morning you left your home — forever — walking an hour and a half through the streets of the city even as deadly missiles crashed into the buildings around you.

You met the car of a smuggler who drove you to the Jordanian border where you were taken to the refugee camp at Zaatari.  From there you were smuggled again out of the camp and into the city of Amman where you spent two years working “off the books” and waiting for the UN to find a place to resettle your family.

Life in Jordan was difficult.  You were a refugee.  You felt exploited at work and shunned at home.  You received little or no aid and glimmers of hopes for resettlement in Sweden and then Finland quickly faded.

But then they told you you were going to the United States.  You were scared.  It was so far away, so far away from everything you knew.  You would go with almost nothing to a place you knew almost nothing about.  You had never even flown on a plane before.

But you went and now you and your wife and two baby girls live in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. You work third shift at the local Walmart and life is good … considering.  Considering you are still a refugee.

You are safe.  Your family is safe.  You have work.  You have a home.  But you are a refugee.  A Syrian refugee.

Most of your neighbors oppose admitting refugees into “their” country.  In the nearby town of Irving, protesters, armed with masks and tactical weapons, gathered outside a mosque, protesting the “Islamization of America.”

Your governor wants to deny entry to any and all future refugees, quite probably including the six of your own relatives from Syria who were supposed to be relocated to Dallas to be near you.  And a candidate for president of your new home country has vowed to deport any refugees already here and to keep watch lists of immigrants like you, to keep close tabs on refugees like you.  You are worried.  You are worried about your family.  You have a home, but you are not home.  You are a refugee, still a refugee, still an outcast.

Who will see you?  Who will see you?  See not a refugee, not a Syrian Muslim, but see you?

Who will heal the deeper wounds in you?  Who will make you well?

it’s not political, it’s personal

it’s not political, it’s personal

The following is an excerpt from a blog entry (Why We Stand) posted today by Jenny Simmons. Jenny was the lead singer of the Christian band, Addison Road. The band is now disbanded, but Jenny continues to do solo projects and to write books. Addison Road is a favorite of mine among Christian bands (see my review of their song, “What Do I Know of Holy”). Years ago, at a UCC evangelism conference in Kansas City, I met Jenny’s parents.

As Jenny explains in her post, three months ago she gave birth to a daughter, Annie, and today she and her husband will take Annie to “her first peaceful rally,” because … it’s personal. It’s personal, not political.

Tonight we are taking Annie to her first peaceful rally to stand alongside the Refugee and Immigrant community of Nashville. This is why.

I gave birth to our daughter, Lucy, in October at Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Nothing went as planned and I’ve never felt more physically traumatized. That is another story, for another day. When I think back to my five day stay at the hospital there are only a handful of redemptive moments that come to mind. My nurse Miriam is one of them.

I’ve never been treated with as much compassionate love and kindness as I was by Miriam. I’ve also never been pushed harder. Twenty-four hours after my c-section, when I still felt delirious from the drugs and the pain of the epidural lingered in my back, she asked me if I had walked yet. ‘Walked? I can’t even urinate on my own,’ I thought. My face must have conveyed my fears.

“Get up,” she said with the authority of a mother who means business, “You have to walk. You have to take a few steps. I’ll help you. But you must get up. Let’s go.”

This is how I started walking and also how I started using the bathroom again.

“I need to take this catheter out of you, but your mind is not letting me. Your mind is not telling your bladder to go to the bathroom. And that is not good for you. I need you to tell yourself you must get up and go to the bathroom. I will help you. Let’s go.”

She patiently stood by my bed as tears rolled down my face and helped me stand. She held my arm as I inched my way to the bathroom, then she took off my underwear for me when I could not take them off for myself.

Her blend of humble love and forceful mothering were my lifelines to healing.

When it was time to leave the hospital, I cried.

I had never before been so intimately cared for by a nurse. She had become a small part of me, a part of my story. I couldn’t imagine not taking her home with me.

Miriam is a Muslim, Somali immigrant.

***

We will bring Annie to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugees Rights Coalition Vigil and Rally tonight to show our support for the immigrants and refugees calling Nashville home. We will go out of honor and deep gratitude for all the Miriam’s in our community.

This is not political. It’s personal.

It’s not Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Libertarian. It’s not left wing or right wing or any wing.

It’s the way of Jesus. The one who taught us to love the orphan, widow, alien, stranger, sinner. The one who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves …

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