Archive for July, 2014

Refugees, Not Criminals

July 18, 2014

 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.    -Leviticus 19:33-34


 Not like tStatue of Libertyhe brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  -Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus (written for the Statue of Liberty)



MP900178845[1]Much has been said and written about the influx of refugee children coming across the border into the United States in recent weeks. This phenomenon is not new, but it has reached crisis proportions as the number of children coming steadily grows and the media has taken an interest in what’s going on.

Some of these children are coming to find a relative who lives here; some of them are coming alone, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

It is true that the facilities for caring for refugee children are overrun. There isn’t enough food, there aren’t enough beds, there aren’t enough judges and lawyers to facilitate their cases. And so they sit in limbo, probably afraid, probably still suffering, maybe wondering where to find that better life that they came for.

Where these children have come from, you see, it’s dangerous. Violently dangerous. Drug gangs and war lords come into schools and villages and take the strong to be used as child soldiers or drug mules. Drug gang fights happen in the midst of villages, putting the lives of everyone in danger. Parents send their children away to a far away land, a land that they think of as the promised land, perhaps never to see them again– just to ensure that they won’t be caught up in this trouble.

One thing that gets lost in all of this is the United States’ culpability via the “war on drugs.” Since the 1970s the United States has spent over a trillion dollars trying to get rid of drug cartels in Latin America, through various means which, while somewhat successful in doing away with larger cartels, have allowed multiple smaller cartels to take over. The drug trade hasn’t been eradicated; it has been changed and moved from place to place. In some cases the US looked the other way  while governments that the US needed, or were friendly with, continued and supported drug trafficking in their countries. In the meantime, the number of people involved in illegal drug use in the United States hasn’t changed significantly, though there has been a change away from drugs such as cocaine and meth and toward marijuana. (Source: David Huey in The Guardian.) And so even though we have had a hand in creating the very conditions that these children are trying to escape, we turn away when they come to us for help.

It’s so easy and tempting  to some of  us to write these children off as “illegals” but what they really are is “refugees” who are coming here, seeking safety and succor and comfort and mercy from the land of the free. When I see these children arriving on our borders, I think of my own children, and I think, “how bad would it have to be for me to put my kids on a bus or a train to go to another country, knowing I would quite likely never see them again?” I can’t even fathom having to do that. I believe most US parents can’t either– with our helicopter parenting and our constant monitoring of our children, we can’t even imagine sending our children off like that.  And so we make judgments– we convince ourselves that those parents don’t love or care for their children as much as we do, that they are lawbreakers who just want to take advantage of a rich nation like the United States.

We also call ourselves a “Christian” nation; but the people who go to the borders to scream their hate at these children give lie to  that ideal. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Jesus Christ of the Christian Scriptures taught the people to welcome and care for widows, orphans and strangers– the reason given in the Leviticus text quoted above is that the people of God were once strangers, aliens in the land of Egypt. As God rescued the people from slavery to the Egyptians, so God expected the people to treat outsiders better than they were treated in Egypt. And Jesus lived the example of welcoming children to be with him, as well as breaking bread and spending time with the outsiders in the society. The Christian ideal of justice, so deeply based in Hebrew and Christian theology, isn’t being served when we turn away refugee children from our borders.

The New Colossus, a poem written by Emma Lazarus to commemorate the Statue of Liberty and raise funds for its pedestal (see above), speaks a vision of America that reflects the Judeo-Christian ideal of welcoming the stranger. The Statue was once a welcoming beacon for people worldwide who yearned for freedom and safety in a new land. We seem to have lost that vision. For those of us who follow Christ, we must work to get that vision back, beginning by holding ourselves accountable for a problem we helped create, by welcoming these refugee children instead of criminalizing them, by stepping up as people of faith in whatever way we can to do justice for them, to show kindness to them, and walk with God in making this right.


A Cup of Cold Water

July 2, 2014

Image“…whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  –Matthew 10:42

A couple of nights ago I was at Kroger, getting a few supplies for the week. You may not know that I live in Tennessee but the church, Community of Faith, is in Kentucky, and I stay with a friend from seminary in a Cincinnati community. I’m in town Sunday through Wednesday, and so Sunday nights I usually pick up a few things for the week. Nothing unhusual about that.

But this week was different, this week I had an encounter that was new, something I have never experienced before.

I was standing in the pain reliever aisle, looking at all of the options; and as I was looking a man came into the aisle as well, looking at the products available there. And as I was trying to move out of his way, he said, “Are you a nurse?” At the time I had no idea why he was asking me this; so I just said, “no, I’m not.” He went on to tell me that he had twisted his knee at work and his cousin had told him to take some Aleve and use some Epsom salts on it. He said, “I don’t want no big bottle, I just need a little bit.” So I helped him find the Aleve, and actually showed him the generic version, in a small bottle, for a small price. I showed him that the ingredient and strength was the same in the generic as the brand name. He said, “you sure you’re not a nurse?” and I said, “no” and then, “but I am a minister” (I almost said, “so I wouldn’t tell you wrong!” but I didn’t.) But when I said I am a minister, his face lit up and he started asking me which church and how long I’d been a minister, and I said that I am the minister at Community of Faith Presbyterian in Covington and I’ve been a minister for about 10 years but I’ve been at COF for about 8 months.

Suddenly his face lit up again, and he got out his wallet and said, “I’ve got something for you.” Now, you never know what people are going to give you, bible tracts or church ads, when someone goes digging in their wallet or purse you just don’t know what to expect. And I never expected what he pulled out to give me– a $20 bill. He said something about someone doing him a good turn, and when he tried to pay the man back he said, “just tithe it.” So he hands me this $20 bill and says, “put this in your collection plate.”

Well, I have to admit I was floored. As I said before, I’ve never had anything like this happen before. So I said, “are you sure?” And he said, “yep, I believe in trying to do good as much as I can. I can’t do much but I do what I can.”

We talked for a few more minutes, and then I said, “do you mind if we pray?” and he said “I’d love that!” And so we prayed together, right there in the middle of the Kroger pain relief aisle.

At this point he had found the Aleve and I helped him find the Epsom salts, and I suggested he put ice on the knee as well. And we parted ways, each saying, “God bless you, God bless you.” We also exchanged business cards– I gave him the church card, he gave me the card for his business– a brick cleaning business, which is pictured along with this blog.  I felt so honored to have had this encounter– it made my day (and my day had been pretty good already!)

When I got home and was changing into my nightclothes, I realized that the T-shirt I was wearing was from a blood drive.  The shirt said “Medic” on the front and back of the shirt, because that’s where I had given blood. Suddenly I understood why he might have thought I was a nurse!

What I haven’t mentioned before now is that we were of two different races, two different genders, probably somewhat different socio-economic and educational levels. But somehow we made a connection, and to me it was like receiving a cup of cold water on a hot thirsty day. Not just the “tithe”, but the fellowship, the engagement, the commonality we found in Christ. It isn’t something I’ve ever experienced in quite that way, or even expected to happen right there in the Kroger. But just being open to the Spirit of God can bring you face to face with Christ in the flesh. Which is what we’re all supposed to be, right?