Archive for November, 2015

Loving the Refugees

November 20, 2015

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome… who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.   You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.   -Deuteronomy 10:17-19

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”    -Luke 10:36-37

 

The rhetoric of the Republican Presidential contestants (whoops! candidates) is disturbing.

The vote of Congress yesterday is disturbing.

The willingness of our leaders to yield to fear is disturbing, and the willingness of our leaders to fear-monger their constituents is very disturbing.

We insist that we are a Christian nation. But it seems we’re only Christian when it’s convenient.

Thousands of Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives. Fleeing a war which has upended their lives. Courageously stepping into new lives in countries far from their homeland.

We sit here in America, in our big safe houses, with our guns at the ready. And we’re the ones cowering in fear.

But let’s forget that. Let’s forget that most of us live in very safe places, places that never see war or violence. Most of us will never know the heartache of knowing the home you love, the place you grew up, has been destroyed. Most of us will never know the heartache of knowing you can never, truly never go home again. Because there is no home to go to.

Some would say that keeping Syrian refugees out of our country is the smart thing to do, that to do otherwise is to invite terrorism into our safe haven. But Christ doesn’t call us to do the safe thing.

“You were strangers in the land of Egypt” God says to the Israelites, and to us. Therefore we must love the stranger in our midst; even more we must welcome the stranger into our midst. Welcome them as the Egyptians welcomed the family of Joseph. Care for them, share your grain with them. Offer them clothing. Love them as God has loved them. Be a neighbor to them by showing mercy, binding their wounds, providing them shelter.

Nowhere does Christ say to turn from danger. Instead he says that following him will be dangerous. So if America is truly a Christian nation, we must not turn from danger, but expect it, face it, accept it.

The problem is, many of us have our own brand of Christianity that is worried chiefly about “my salvation” and being in God’s favor. It is taken as a sign of God’s favor if we’re wealthy, powerful, successful. If we achieve these things, we must be good. And if we don’t achieve these things, we must be bad or sinful. And so, we can’t risk losing what we have because we’d lose proof that God loves us, that we’re in God’s good graces. We become afraid.

Afraid enough to deny access to the freedoms we enjoy to a group of refugees. Afraid enough to consider requiring Muslims to carry a religious ID card. Afraid enough to forget our call to show mercy to strangers, to welcome, feed and clothe them. To love them. As Paul writes,

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers , and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…

And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Consider the more excellent way that Paul proposes. And then consider how we must treat those fleeing from danger as well as those already in our midst who are different. Consider also what God, Christ and Spirit have to say about the strangers in our midst and being a neighbor to those in trouble.

Be not afraid, for the God of love is with us.

 

Being Present in Prayer

November 2, 2015

Anytime I’m in a discussion about prayer, it seems like I hear the same thing: “I can’t concentrate, my mind wanders, I can’t focus long enough, and so I just don’t feel a connection to God.”  It’s a common refrain, and many times I have offered different methods or patterns of praying, because having a deep prayer life can enrich our faith lives. People seem to like the idea that they can “learn” to pray; even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray after they had seen how his prayers connected him with God. And it’s true, you can learn methods of prayer or different types of prayer. But if we want a deeper connection with God, how do we make that happen? Or can we?

Last week I read an article by On Being blogger Susan Salzburg called “Simple But Not Easy: The Right Effort of Beginning Again.” Ms. Salzburg is a Buddhist and teaches meditation; she has practiced meditation for years and studied under a Burmese master named Sayadaw U Pandita. She told a story in the blog I read about going to study with this master and having the assignment of meeting with him 6 days a week to discuss her meditation experiences with him. She diligently meditated each day, making notes and trying to remember how her sessions had gone. But every time she met with U Pandita and described her experiences with him, he always replied, “It is like that in the beginning.”

This article reminded me of how many Christians feel about prayer– as if we should just be able to sit down and pray, and connect with God with little effort. Or that it’s ok to be a beginner– in the beginning; but like our productivity-oriented society, we want to have something to show for our efforts; we want to feel as if something has been accomplished or achieved. In a similar way we talk about “growing” in discipleship or our spirituality– as if discipleship or spirituality is something that can be measured or weighed. And if we’re unable to focus on who or what we’re supposed to be praying about we feel we’ve failed; if we don’t see a measurable answer to our prayer or solution to our problem, we think God isn’t there, doesn’t hear us, or doesn’t care.

But maybe, like Ms. Salzburg, we can learn that it isn’t progress that we need, it’s presence. Being present in the moment whether we’re praying or working or exercising. Listening and watching and waiting for God in our everyday lives so that when we do sit down to pray we’re already clued into the rhythms of God’s world instead of letting the human world distract us. As Ms. Salzburg said, If we make a commitment to living in the present moment, we are always “at the beginning” of whatever it is we are doing, constantly presented with thoughts, judgments, observations, and/or sensations that interrupt up us amidst our daily activities. The challenge is in the choice to accept these things and simply “begin” again, returning to the present moment, or to grip tightly to some idea of what we should be doing and flood ourselves with judgment in the process. In the same way, when in our prayers we try to focus on God and we lose concentration, we can bring ourselves back to the present and begin again. We begin to worry less about “accomplishing” something with our prayers and more focused on being in the presence of God. Which to me, is the very essence of what it means to pray.