Author Archives: Love the Stranger

About Love the Stranger

Life takes strange turns. I think that's how God keeps us alert to Him. This blog is about the twists and turns that have taken us to the stranger, in particular. We're on a path to move to Clarkston, GA - a community heavily populated with refugees. We love them - these strangers - and know God loves them, too. We're excited. But, this blog is also about other strange things - like living a blended family life and being being a middle aged suburban mom. "You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt." Exodus 23:9 (NASB)

The Past That Lies Ahead**

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(** Also could be titled “my muddled and momentarily successful attempt at dealing with the pending reality of the dreaded empty nest”)

I learned something interesting this week from my seminary professor. According to him, “for Jewish thinking, the future is what lies behind you, because you can’t see it; the past is what lies ahead of you, because you can see it. Life is like rowing a boat.” (Thanks to Dr. Goldingay)

Well, hmmm.

To understand this, I mentally put myself on a quiet lake in a rowboat and looked up – I saw the shore from which I had come, and I imagined the yet-uncrossed waters behind me, and the analogy made sense. The past is what I see with my eyes in “front” of me, and the future is the uncharted territory “behind” me.

Well, shoot.

Shoot, because I’m a regret person. Someone who stares at the past, hoping it will turn out differently this time.

Some people are anxiety people (they fear the future) and some people are regret people like me (we fear the past). Being a regret person makes getting older a peculiar kind of nasty. The more stuff there is in the past, the bigger the potential landscape of regret gets.

My landscape is about to get really big, really fast. Our youngest son leaves for college in August, but first he leaves for South Africa in June. That means I am less than three months away from the big, the bad, the scary, the ugly, the regret-goes-big empty nest season.

So I walked the dog. (This is what we do when it’s pretty out and we are having empty nest thoughts and trying to work on a Wednesday.)

Our neighborhood is quite ordinary. There are 60’s era homes with carports. There are scraggly azalea bushes. There are overgrown wisteria weeds and random Lenten roses. There are trees whose roots upend driveways and whose shade is way too wide these days. The street where I walk the dog is an aging and haphazard overlay on a once-upon-a-time orderly line of tidy homes – and dreams.

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But today, stretched out in front of me on that street I saw a vibrant explosion of beauty. Everywhere I looked, the sun illuminated color and foliage and life. The road ahead was nearly humming with the spectacular glory of life covering mess and beauty eclipsing chaos that spring always offers.

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All of the sudden, the Jewish “rowboat with the past out in front” analogy came back to me and I envisioned it differently.

Yes.

The nest will empty.

Yes.

The past will yawn wide in my vision, tempting me toward cycles of regret.

Yes.

The messy parts that are beyond repair will show up and show out as I stare at the past that grows in my field of vision.

But.

The past will also bloom.

It will bloom into life.

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The past will yield beauty in the people I’ve loved, however imperfectly or however suffocatingly I’ve offered my love.

The beauty may look good on the chaos.

It might even add charm to the mess.

It will lend a soft overlay of glory to the hard edges of unfinished parenting work. The “I wishes” and the “I should haves” and the “if only I could haves” that populate the past in front of me. They will be there, but on this glorious spring day, I dare myself to look for the blooming beauty in the past that lies ahead, as well.

I think they call that transformation, “redemption.” And so I will breathe deeply, look into the past, and watch for the beauty.

May it be so.

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Cleansing the Temple: An Invitation to Remodel

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We just remodeled our home. It was intense and LOOOONNNGGG and tiring-exciting. Once we moved back in, the crazy hard work was suddenly entirely worth it. Kinda like having a new baby but without the sleepless nights.

Today, in my newly renovated living room, I read the passage from John 2 where Jesus cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. The question on the table (via a church reading plan) was, “What might God want to change in your life based on your reading of this passage?

First, I read with a mercenary eye asking, “Am I engaged in selling stuff I shouldn’t sell?” Hmmm. Dead end question today. Not resonating.

I went back to it.

The story involves a heated, post-table-turned-over conversation between Jesus and some (self-assured) Jewish leaders where He tells them He will tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. They incredulously respond that it took 46 YEARS to build the current temple, so NO WAY he can do a reconstruction in three days.

Hmm, I thought. Interesting. They seem like they have a point. But does this relate to me, other than that I’m (almost) 46 years old? (That’s a long time to work on a temple…it must have been pretty amazing!)

I went back to it again.

The story also involves the Jesus-line, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (2:16)

A house of merchandise. That’s a house of exchange. One thing is traded for another. A dove for a penny kind of a thing. Still not getting very far with this question, church-guide-people. I may just have to give this up.

I went back for a final time.

John reminds us that, “Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.” (2:21)

Here’s where it got interesting for me. Jesus is the temple.

And…our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19).

What if…

What if…

What if my own 46 year old container, the soul-space that is my body, has become a house of merchandise? What if, in the very courts of God inside the temple that is me, I’ve worked for 46 years exchanging stuff?

If I give effort, I earn favor.

If I feel shame, I earn forgiveness.

If I give good works, I earn the option to rest.

If I yield to fear, I earn a sense that danger won’t hunt me down.

If I parent well, I earn kids that turn out ok.

If…

So many earning ifs turn tricks as empty promises in the temple courts of my soul. So many exchanges with high price tags. So much noise – the capitalistic cacophony of a woman doing all she can to finally enter that place of rest, that place of absolution and peace.

When the Prince of Peace has already done it.

Cleansing Temple

Today, Jesus turned over the tables and said to me, “ENOUGH ALREADY! Peace; be still. You can be done trading stuff because I’ve made one final, true, permanent, holy trade – my life for yours – and I’m done. You’re done.

“Daughter – don’t you want the inner sanctum of your soul to be a resonant, open cathedral space rather than a cluttered, crowded trading space?

“My child – I have done the work of your forty-six year lifetime. You can take down the tables. You can put away the counting devices. You can sweep out the tables heaped with effort and works and hopes and fears. You can trust my three-day-renovation to be the guardian of your sacred space.

“Because I am enough. Peace.”

Be still.

May the temple space of your heart be filled with the peace won by the finished work of Jesus on this Lenten day.

Amen.

Faith Containers

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Faith Containers

Last night I searched for the right container to store some leftovers. I knew I had the small lidded bowl somewhere, but it had temporarily disappeared – apparently engaging in the game of hide and seek that plastic-ware, socks, and cell phone chargers play with me.

Whatever. I one-upped the sneaky bowl by using a juice glass and covering it with plastic wrap. Not to be outdone, and all…

Lately I’ve noticed another trend in my life. My faith containers all seem to be the wrong shape and size to hold what they need to hold.

A few months ago I was on a phone call for work with an old family friend who runs a youth ministry. I’d not talked to her for – well – decades, and we were playing a (very quick) game of catch up. As she summarized her heart for the youth she serves, she said something that grabbed me and held on. “We want young people to learn how to read Scripture so that they allow God to define Himself rather than bringing their preconceived definitions of God to their study.”

Well.

Let’s give that a whirl.

So, in 2018, my intention is to read my Bible and record how God is defining Himself through what’s written. It’s been a remarkable exercise so far. Looking for and discovering God’s definition of Himself via His word every day has been like dropping anchor in a new ocean.

But there’s another thing going on in 2018, too – a life-thing.

My life-thing is no big deal in relation to most people’s. It’s just a tension, really. We have a blended family and for the last decade have been working out the hard reality that the dance of parenting/step-parenting/childing/step-childing is elegantly awkward and graciously graceless. Usually we have a pattern:

Same dance, different day.

Same struggle, different resolution.

Same fear, different way to exhale.

But. Our music just changed tempo. A few months ago, my husband took a new job and is traveling a lot
– basically every week.

The already awkward dance of co-parenting a well-meaning teenager who represents the half of our DNA that is emotional and easy to mess with (um…mine) has gotten way more unbalanced. For me. I don’t think the teenager or the husband have really noticed. They do awkward beats, no problem. But not this mama.

 

And so I’ve noticed that my faith containers aren’t holding what they need to hold: faith.

There’s the one that is shaped like earning. (“If I parent well, God will notice and things will go well.”) This container is either terribly shallow or entirely flat, depending on the day.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 12.50.22 PMThere’s the one that’s shaped like resignation. (“God has not answered prayers for our prodigal, so what’s to say that in His mysterious sovereignty He would answer prayers for the young soul still at home?”) This container has a gaping hole in the bottom.

There’s the one that is shaped like distance. (“My lack of insight into how to do any of this indicates that God must not be tuned in and must be very far away.”) This container isn’t a container at all. It’s akin to pouring leftovers down the drain.

Absent a reliable faith container, I encounter the misshapen forms of my own lack: rumination, control, anxiety, regret, frustration, sarcasm, escape, blame. Not pretty.

But today I’d like to say thank you to the family friend who challenged me to re-form my faith containers. To let God define Himself, so that my faith has space outside of myself and inside of something permanent. So that my faith is in what He says about Himself rather than in my pre-conceived, circumstantial assumptions that I bring to Him.

Thank you for reminding me to open my heart and my hands and receive the good word that comes when I lay down my earth-bound, time-bound, attachment-bound notions of God and pick up today’s gracious truth. The truth of a God who provides a container so big that nothing can drain it, a container so personal that every nuance of my being finds a corner to rest, and a container so sturdy that the churning waves of my life-thing can’t unbalance it.

Thank you to God who calls Himself “I Am” and then defines who He is in a million ways that hold.

What is White Privilege?

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I don’t know.

I don’t know because I’ve realized how very blind to it I am.

Three years ago or so, Doug and I sat at dinner with five friends. We were lingering over a post-dessert conversation at the end of a long workweek.

Between them, these friends are terribly high achieving and extremely interesting, not to mention very engaged in deploying their gifts toward the edification of the world around them.

To sum them up in resume form, just from what I know based on casual conversation, I can tell you that –

One went to boarding school.

One grew up in the city as an immigrant and got a scholarship to college.

Three are coaches with multiple state championships under their belts.

One is a PhD.

One is an attorney.

Two are teachers, at least one of whom manages a class size of 40+ on a regular basis.

Two are entrepreneurs.

One is a step-parent.

One is an author.

One grew up in the Midwest and left.

One grew up in Clarkston and stayed.

One is a Bulldog.

One is a Seminole.

One is a millennial.

All of them love teenagers, their family, and mybackyard chickens.

They are my friends. Casual friends. Back porch friends.

And they are also African-American.

So this night, Doug and I sat with them, winding the evening down. The dinner party for the cross-country team that three of them coached slowly turned into a grown-up chat after the teenagers had gone home.

There was much laughter. A lot of proverbial elbowing the others’ ribs.

But there was something else. Something truly mind-blowing for me.

As Doug and I walked back up to our house after we said our goodbyes, we looked at each other and asked, “Have you ever been a part of a conversation like that?” We both agreed. “No. Never.”

As the evening had faded, our forward thinking, educated, just-like-us-in-so-many ways friends had discussed the severe and pressing problem they faced: race.

Not as it related to them. Not really, anyways.

It was about the students they loved.

These students, many of them, were African. And soon would be absorbed into the American culture that would only understand them to be African-American…black men and women entering college or making their way into the workforce.

My friends – these teachers and lovers of students – were discussing how they were doing their level best to prepare the students for the realities of race in America. Students from Congo, South Sudan, Eritrea, and all over Africa, had landed in Clarkston as refugees…largely unaware of the race “issue” in this country. My friends discussed and even lamented how challenging it was to teach the students that, despite the vows to the contrary, all is not equal in this great country. To teach them how to successfully navigate the challenges of failed or failing systems that are poisoned by racial bias. How to be black in America and to do so with dignity, with promise, and with safety.

Doug and I looked at each other, shocked at what we’d overheard. Never in our lives had we had discussions with our teenagers (or any teenagers we love) to prepare them to be “white in America.” No thought of that reality needing any explanation, any caution, any thought about treading lightly or not treading at all. Not once. In all of our adult life, race has never been the thing in an adult conversation that caused us all to nod our heads in assent, knowing “just how you feel.” You don’t “feel” white in America. At least I don’t. I just am white. No feelings attached.

Not so for my friends.

The strong thread of “we must prepare them to navigate this reality” ran through a conversation inhabited by men and women from different states, different economic backgrounds, different educational experiences, and different genders. Nevertheless, all five of my friends know personally and deeply that there is an endemic problem – no matter where they come from or what other kinds of privilege they have experienced along the way.

What is white privilege? I really don’t know. But sometimes I return to an analogy from a blog I read a long time ago. The author said that white privilege is analogous to driving a car on a system of roads designed for car-drivers and that being anything but white is like trying to ride a bicycle on the same roads. Most car drivers aren’t “trying” to mow over, crowd out, speed past, or overlook the existence of the bike rider. It’s just the reality of the system. But it’s dangerous, slow, and extraordinarily frustrating to the bike rider.Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 8.16.15 AM

I, Karen, may not be “racist” in my opinions or my actions. But I exist in a system that caters to me. My whole life – my past, my present, and my future – has been and likely will be navigable, obvious, and relatively safe. If I want to care for my neighbors, especially those of a different race, I would do well to recognize and try to repair the injustices of the system. I would do well to recognize, listen, yield, and give space. I would do well to slow down and understand enough to “feel” my whiteness.

I would do well to talk to the teenagers I love about what it means to be white in America…how to carry their reality as graciously and well as my thoughtful backyard-dinner-party friends want to teach their students to carry their racial reality.

How does faith fit here? More ways that I know, to be sure. But, Jesus was a brown, poor, provincial man on the wrong side of religious systems and political systems. Being crossways with these systems cost Him His very life. His human “otherness” was a very real issue for him.

He was also the Immanuel-God. The God with us. He walked with us and showed us what it means to humbly walk with the “other.” Racism and systemic injustice is not a new problem, but it’s the path of His experience and His example. A path He gives us grace to fumble through. We won’t get it right, but now seems like the right time to embark on the path of humble understanding.

Charlottesville is indicative of so much. So much I really do not even begin to understand.

But I can tell you that as much as I don’t understand my privilege, I have seen that it is real. In this town, where I’m a minority, I see that systems really ARE broken. Racism really IS still an everyday problem. There is still MUCH work to be done.

How to move forward?

Probably over dinner. With a friend. Of a different race, religion, or ethnicity.

And a conversation.

About what the roads are like. And how to work together to make them better.

The New Normal

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The New Normal

We’re tired.

The 24 hour news cycle has worn us all out, and we’ve gone “back to normal,” letting pundits be pundits and Facebook be the place of innocuous and sweet family photos.

Normal is good. It’s good for the blood pressure and the extended family dinners out. It’s good for sleep patterns and long term mental health. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that normal is good.

But.

It’s not good for refugees.

It’s not good that we normalize unfounded fears.

It’s not good that we vilify certain people in large groups in the course of normal conversation.

It’s not good that we figure that large-scale human suffering is normal, as long as it’s not in our backyard.

It’s not good that we pretend not to hear the disturbing political discourse behind the static that we tell ourselves is normal.

There’s a weariness to this journey.

No one feels it more, I would imagine, than the refugee who just got caught in the system and may never get back to normal again.

Today’s executive order is, perhaps, more legally fortified. It’s perhaps less shocking, with fewer immediate teeth. It probably appeases some businesses and lays to rest some fears that permanent residents have.

But.

It’s no less harsh to the least of these – the refugee. Once more, the most vulnerable people group in the immigrant community suffers most because they do not have a voice.

This should not be normal, my friends.

Not on our watch.

Not when followers of the God who bestowed dignity by making men and women in the divine image and then sent His beloved to fight on behalf of the broken – every last one of us – look on.

Please read what my friends at World Relief have to say. Please consider giving to them. https://www.worldrelief.org/press-releases/world-relief-responds-to-revised-trump-executive-order

Please – let’s make standing with the most vulnerable a non-negotiable.  Can we make it normal?

Thank you.

 

Extreme (Internal) Vetting

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Extreme (Internal) Vetting

Well, church people, we’re wrestling. Where is grace and humility in a time when the mixing of politics and religion has become, quite frankly, toxic?

I used to stand comfortably on the political scaffolding on the right.

Now I find that I’m testing my weight on the scaffolding of the other side.

And I’ve come face to face with a new stranger – myself.

After the Executive Order two weeks ago, I descended into full-on pain mode.

I felt frustrated alongside my Christian Sudanese friend who is asking, “What can I do?” to stand for justice for her Muslim friends.

I felt compassionate toward my Syrian friend who proclaimed, “I’m glad to be in America, because in this country they know we are humans. We have human rights.”

I felt helpless with my friends at World Relief who plan to cut a third of their staff locally in the wake of the order, crippling their efforts to care for the vulnerable already in our community.

Because my refugee friends don’t have a voice, I’ve wondered how to speak up.

In my sorrow, I’ve been tempted toward ugliness.

In my passion, I’ve been tempted toward self-righteousness.

In my fear, I’ve become obsessed with validating my views.

And in wonder I’ve realized that I have lost my firm political footing. I’ve become a pilgrim in a middle place.

I see my fellow church friends wrestling too. “How do we filter? What is truth? How does my faith inform my politics, and vice versa?”

A particular scripture has grounded me– a warning that carves out a Jesus-space inside where humility and grace can bubble up.

His timely warning is powerful whether we are politically right, left, or in-between. When we heed it I think we, the Church, have an opportunity in this tumultuous season to be different.

So here we go. Here’s where I’ve been smacked with grace and had to bow in humility in the last two weeks.

In Mark 8:15, Jesus says, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”*

It hit me right between the eyes.

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

Leaven causes dough to rise. It makes small things big. It puffs up. It makes me full of hot air.

The leaven of religion and the leaven of politics leave me bloated. Their leaven makes me self-righteous. (I start to think more of me and less of other people.) Their leaven leaves me fearful. (I begin to assume that that “other side” is malicious in their intent.)

Jesus warns me not to be taken with the leaven of the right or the left.

It’s no secret that the evangelical church is in a strange season. I can’t click twice without seeing another take on how Christians should respond to politics, President Trump, refugees, social justice, national security, abortion, religious liberty, etc., etc. Good that we are trying to “figure it out” and be informed, but I’ve got to ask myself whether I’m just in search of a stronger scaffolding on which to stand. Do I want leaven to rise up in me so that my inflated self-righteousness can silence the very real tensions that exist?

Am I aligning right or left, conservative or liberal, on the moral side of culture wars or on the justice side of the progressive agenda and then puffing my chest out and assigning my stance to God?

Have I elevated one teaching of scripture over another in search of a place to stand and look down on others who don’t see it my way?

Have I looked for clarity in earthly constructs when the paradox of the Kingdom is mysterious and out-of-the-box?

What does it look like for me to live in the tension – to stay off of the scaffolding of pride but still move in the direction of humility, mercy and justice?

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For me, there have been two helpful actions.

First, conversations. I’ve had four or five really helpful, intentional conversations with folks who interpret the world differently than I do over the last two weeks. We’ve shared coffee, wine, or a meal and talked, face-to-face. Each time I’ve been encouraged by the power of listening. I’ve been transformed by the humility of recognizing that relationships trump being “right.” (pun intended)

Second, repenting over for rather than against. (Let me explain.)

Humility and grace aren’t natural by-products of taking stands against. When I check my behavior or beliefs against a list of “people shouldn’t’s” it leads to self-righteousness.

However, when I take James 4:17 to heart and examine what I’m for, something changes. The verse says, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

What flesh and blood neighbor or enemy is God inviting me to be for today – with a good word or deed?

In asking, “What good am I called to be for today?” I am humbled by the magnitude of my own self-absorption. I see the need for the grace of Christ – it must cover my failure to love my enemy or my negligence to even to stop long enough to love a very delightful neighbor.

Today I still feel the pain of my community. I still want to speak loudly on behalf of my refugee neighbors. I still feel sad, angry, confused and compassionate. I am looking at both sets of scaffolding and pondering my place.

But I want to beware of the leaven. I want to seek conversation even when it’s scary. I want to examine my own heart and life in light of what the Man who is Refugee-Carpenter-Miracle Worker-Savior asks me to be for.

I want to hold the tension of my faith, even when this makes my political and religious discourse far more nuanced and even confusing.

These are strange times. May we who claim to be Jesus-followers recognize when we are filled with the leaven of religion and of the Pharisees. May we choose to occupy the spaces of humility and grace as we seek to love the strangers – new and old – in our midst.

Blessings to you today.

Karen

 

* Context: Jesus speaks this caution to His disciples as they are grappling with the fame, controversy, and power swirling around them during the height of His ministry. They have just fed five thousand and then four thousand. Jesus was being pursued by the masses as a political leader and being vetted by the Pharisees as a religious leader. I’m sure it was intoxicating for them to be friends with the Man who might just save Israel from an oppressive government. I’m sure it was mind blowing for fishermen to realize that the Pharisees – the religious power center – were seeking out Jesus, wondering what He would say. The disciples were taken with it, perhaps deeply distracted by it, and He called a time out to warn them about being puffed up with either religion or politics

This article is very helpful in continuing to understand more about the refugee issue as it relates to church and politics: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/february-web-only/why-tim-keller-max-lucado-evangelicals-trump-refugee-ban.html

 

 

An Invitation – Thoughts on the Refugee Ban

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An Invitation – Thoughts on the Refugee Ban

A note from Clarkston, Georgia

(My city is home to nearly 5,000 refugees from all over the world. We have been called “the most diverse square mile in the country” by major news outlets. Doug and I and our family are a minority here, but then again, so is everyone. It’s fair to say we’re a whole city of minorities.)

This climate of animosity makes me want to hide out – to insist to myself that these issues will sort themselves out and that they are above my pay grade. The rancor saddens me deeply.

I write this sitting in my comfy living room with my coffee, enjoying the quiet morning. This is probably what most of my good friends also are doing this fine morning. Most of my good friends are just like me – white, upper class, Christian, and conservative.

In my younger days, I interned twice at a conservative think tank and once for my Republican Senator. I must have answered 10,000 phone calls from people voicing their opinions about issues that riled them up. I bet I mailed 5,000 letters that summer…letters back to people saying, “I heard you. Sincerely, – Your Senator.” Most people would have found this paper-cut filled job mundane. Not this girl. I loved every minute of it.

Later, I taught U.S. Government to seniors at a Christian day school. Teaching that course was my favorite job – ever. It stirs my soul to hear young people wrestle with issues out loud, and I love to touch off a good, well-informed debate. When I took students to Washington D.C., I would always eagerly wait to see which kids lit up over the experience of seeing government in action – there were always a few for whom it was life changing. My kindred spirits. (There was also the kid who snuck off and got his first tattoo on my watch, but I’m not going there today…)

All this to say that I love politics; I love issues; I love debate; I love sharing it with others.

But this love has a dark side. It can make me want to win, want to one-up, want to prove, want to score. It can make me more about me – me being right, smart, informed, and engaged. It can even make me condescending.

Gross.

So this refugee issue is a tough one for me.

It’s tough because I do happen to have a more well-informed perspective than a lot of my friends. Not because I’m better, but because I’m invested where I live, and I live among refugees and the people who care for them day-in, day-out. I want to share my views, but I want to do so from a place of grace and humility.

It’s tough because I want to act, but more than that I want to seek understanding – a process that seems to get short-circuited by sound bites and party lines. I could march.  I’ve marched before – several times – about issues I care about. It’s empowering and powerful. I also know that a peaceful protest is not a replacement for a dialogue, a friendship, a knowledge and love for the “other” (whomever the other may be.)

It’s tough because I know enough to care deeply about this issue, but I also know enough to know that I’ve not begun to understand the journey of the refugee. For me to speak for someone whose journey is so much more rich with suffering than mine feels like I’m cheapening the lives of my friends and using them as a platform for my own voice to be heard. That terrifies me.

It’s tough because there’s a deep isolation to living in the in-between, and sometimes I don’t know how to talk to either “side.” I have friends – true friends with whom I laugh – who try to support families with minimum wage jobs. I have friends who ran for their lives in the middle of the night. I have friends who wear a head covering and value the religious freedom here. I have friends whose children are unaccounted for…lost. These friends don’t know my other friends. Friends whose kids struggle with anxiety and eating disorders and addictions. Friends who seek to love and neighbor well in their jobs, schools, churches, and communities. And friends who become truly exhausted by the rat race of raising kids in a hyper competitive environment. My sets of friends don’t really know each other. And sometimes I don’t feel like I fully know my own friends – in either part of my world. But yet I want to speak today so that one set of friends sees the other more clearly.

So here’s the deal.

I want to simply share what I’ve come to be for – not against. I want to invite anyone at all to come have coffee, hang out, and learn more. We can learn from each other. I know we can.

I’m for facts. There are facts out there. In today’s news environment, we’ve become skeptical of anything being “real.” Facts include the following: Refugees to America are not illegal immigrants. The 9/11 terrorists were not refugees. While terrorism is the war of this generation, the US refugee program is not a wide doorway for potential terrorists. Instead, the program is a proven pathway for people who have suffered under brutal regimes to find a safe home.*

I’m for careful vetting. The fact is that the refugee resettlement process represents a vetting endeavor that takes between one and two years to complete. To come to America as a refugee is the most highly vetted way to come. Already.

I’m for nuance. The issue of immigration and refugee resettlement is a nuanced issue. I’m for people being treated carefully, respectfully and with dignity, because no human beings deserve a label that leads to fear that leads to bias that leads to discrimination. The executive order that halts an already very thoughtful program without any care for the vulnerable people “in process” is not nuanced. In my view, it plays up fears and is reactionary, leaving me wondering what is being reacted against in such a strong manner that it stops the flow of all refugees for 120 days. Every single one. Is there a new, giant threat we don’t know about that justifies this? I really would love to know.

I am for understanding. I’ve read so many articles this weekend from so many perspectives – some are reactionary, some are cold, some are incendiary, some are downright confusing. It seems that it’s incumbent on us to approach these issues from a place of humility when we take strong stands about them. So much of what’s happened this week in the new administration has been confusing to me. I’m not a trade expert. I’m not a health care expert. I’d have to look deeply at many of the issues to know what I think. But in this new era of “echo chamber politics” where we can conceivably only hear what echoes the views of our tribe, let’s be people who seek to understand and who aren’t afraid to read and digest the other side.

I’m for loving the vulnerable, because I believe the gospel, and because I believe that Christ meant it literally when He opened His public ministry by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) Jesus acted boldly toward the broken and vulnerable (namely all of us), even when we were His enemies. This is the gospel, and I believe this is His very work in the world through us, His Church. He told us that we could love without fear – not because the world isn’t scary but because love is bigger.

I’m for conversation. I’d love to have one with anyone, anytime (well, not after 9 pm because we all know I go to bed early…) Seriously, send me a note and we’ll have coffee.

I’m for my friends.

Humbly yours,

Karen

*(There’s a lot out there – including a current National Review article that spins facts in ways that attaches fear to the refugee program. However, the Ohio State student is the only actual refugee who has carried out an attack, and no deaths resulted. That’s one in three million. I’d venture to guess that one in three million Americans at large also perpetrate violent acts.)

 

Here are some more articles for those of you who like to learn more (thanks to Judy Wu Dominick for some of these).

Full text of the executive order signed by President Trump https://www.lexisnexis.com/…/text-of-executive-order-quot-p…

World Relief’s current response:

https://www.worldrelief.org/welcome#welcome-refugees

Thoughts on the response of the church to refugees:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/what-bible-says-about-how-treat-refugees#8W0HcOmwIBJoY2p4.01

Great insight into the current immigration pathways to the U.S. as well as more look at biblical frameworks regarding immigration policy.

http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/preach/faqs/

A factual look at the resettlement program over time from Pew:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/27/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/

An interesting document with information about how refugees fare after arrival in the US:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=13&ved=0ahUKEwiBlOu8t-fRAhVlxoMKHfKICzMQFghjMAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.migrationpolicy.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fpublications%2FRefugee-Facts-Oct-2015-FINAL.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHqcYPa5H6tV1ODayS7_tABTc7GfQ&sig2=eAiELWno7z_jNUsi7I4ypw

The National Review Article I referenced: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444370/donald-trump-refugee-executive-order-no-muslim-ban-separating-fact-hysteria

A helpful analysis of the implications of this EO by Vox staff writer Dara Lind, who focuses on immigration policy:

http://www.vox.com/…/14370854/trump-refugee-ban-order-muslim

How an “America First” policy that essentially shuts out victims of terrorism could backfire on the U.S. – written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

http://www.latimes.com/…/la-oe-lemmon-iraqi-refugee-policy-…

Legal thoughts on the executive order: https://lawfareblog.com/malevolence-tempered-incompetence-trumps-horrifying-executive-order-refugees-and-visas

Take Courage.

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Let your heart take courage.

During Advent, the nativity shimmers with images of God Himself breaking into humanity. We behold a feast of peace, hope, faith, and joy – a table from which our heart can lay hold of courage this day.

There is a father, intent on divorcing his wife quietly so as not to disgrace her, who instead lays hold of faith and obeys, holding steady in the face of so much dissonance between law and grace.

There is a mother, yielding to deep unknown and pondering mystery in her heart, unable to make sense of the raw collision of flesh and heaven happening in her body, yet she yields. She lays him in a holy manger – a heavenly paradox of grime and glory.

There are shepherds, doing their job just like every other night, who are surprised by the music of a heavenly choir. Why them? Their souls are party to glorious bounty beyond any pageant or high-end event in Bethlehem that night. They come because heaven’s music is so loud they cannot help but listen.

And there is a baby. God. God with us. He came to people, beginning with these few – a confused man of faith, a young woman yielding in the dark, men on the clock who couldn’t resist the loud music. He came to you. Let your heart take courage. He is here.

Pause, listen to the angels who cry glory to God and peace to men. Peace to you. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Take faith, take surrender, take joy. May your journeying heart feast on the bounty of God-with-us.

In wonder, believe.

Incarnation Revolution

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Incarnation Revolution

I just read Ann Voskamp’s blog about Yezidi women and their children, living in shipping containers, sharing profoundly gut-wrenching stories of loss and violation. I read it while I was walking our beast/dog/puppy who can pull my shoulder loose in a split second, so I did not even read it that closely – but what I saw at the end of the post rocked my little world.

As usual, her writing painted word pictures that went straight to my heart. As usual, I wondered at the way she galvanizes and graces, all at once. As only the Holy Spirit can.

But I stopped short when I got to the bottom of the blog. There was a banner sharing the name of an organization in Iraq called The Preemptive Love Coalition. No doubt this organization has now received a billion hits on its website, thanks to the massive platform that Ann Voskamp stewards.

The thing is, I know that guy – the Preemptive Love guy. I don’t know him well, but I had a meal with him last summer and those of us at the table lingered over conversation about life and small things.

He’s a guy. That’s it. He’s younger than I am and he struggled into this Preemptive Love place like any human struggles into a mission or a calling. Wrestling and halting…then sure and committed, but oh, so tired.

Mr. Preemptive Love – Jeremy Courtney – was living in Iraq. He was at a restaurant one day and an Iraqi guy asked him for help getting a young relative a heart surgery that she needed. Jeremy balked (“I’m not a surgeon and don’t even really know anything about that…”) but he ended up trying to help the guy out. And a mission was born – a ministry of “love first” to young, medically fragile Iraqis.

This guy. Mr. Preemptive Love. He’s a man. Not a superhero. Not independently wealthy. Not even a doctor. But he moved into the neighborhood and was willing to walk into the problems. And now his website is no doubt crashing under the weight of Ann Voskamp’s readership.

It strikes me that when we read a blog like that, even though Ann says that it’s all of our problem and it’s all of our blessing to care for the pain in the world, we easily assume that someone else (Mrs. One Thousand Gifts or Mr. Preemptive Love or some other large-website-toting personality) will step up to the plate to lead a revolution of resources and logistics.

But guess what? Those people are Ann and Jeremy. They are just people. They walk into hard places and love with the same love of Jesus that you and I struggle to hold to.

Jeremy likes stir-fry. He wears colorful shirts. He’s Southern guy turned Iraq lover.

He’s a leader in an incarnation revolution.

Incarnation. Moving in. Showing up. Getting messed up with the life across the table from you. The kind of showing up that Jesus did when He came.

This incarnation revolution isn’t made up of super heroes or men and women with different skill sets or more margin than we have. Just people.

My heart swells and it breaks tonight. It breaks for the world and the pain. It swells knowing that there is a revolution afoot. May we count it all joy to get really, really messy on the front lines. Alongside men and women not too different from us at all.

Humble, with Good Posture

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adeleDoug and I saw the movie Woman in Gold last night. It is the true story of an elderly Jewish woman who fights to get a Klimt masterpiece, Adele, rightfully restored to her family. During the Nazi takeover of Austria, her very wealthy family was stripped bare of their treasures, including the painting, which had been a commissioned portrait of her Aunt Adele. Newly married, she and her opera-singer husband fled Austria and immigrated to the United States, leaving her ailing father, stalwart mother, and a treasure trove of family heirlooms behind. All were lost to the Nazis.

The woman, Maria, is now a woman’s clothing store-owner in Los Angeles. She resides in a modest bungalow, but her refined tastes now mingle with her intensely focused immigrant work ethic, and, in her 80s, she presents like a perfect lemon icebox cake at a potluck supper…humble, with good posture.

Our friends here in Clarkston remind me of Maria. Each was an owner of a trove of family treasures. Their treasure may have been an education, a career, a specialty. Their treasure may have been a family name, a family system, or a connection to the land. Their treasure may have been a treasure like Maria’s – some work of art, tangible and priceless. It may have simply been something priceless to them – a home, a favorite chair, a picture, an heirloom.

No matter the treasure, it is lost to the ravenous looting of injustice.

Nevertheless, they hold their heads high. Humble, with good posture.

Tomorrow night, the Refuge Coffee Co. truck launch party happens. The trainees at the party will be those who have forfeited treasure, but who face the world with dignity and with the knowledge that they are not who they seem.

There will be others of us at the party who have also lost treasures along the way. We have forfeited small things privately or large things publicly. Loss is universal.

May we learn to walk humbly, with good posture.

May we rest assured that the gifts of this life often come wrapped in the trappings of loss, and may we lean on the grace of Him who urges, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Join us tomorrow night. We’ll be celebrating from 6-8 pm at 4170 Ponce de Leon. We’d love to see you there!