Tag Archives: Refugees

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?

inside

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

 

 

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It’s Raining…

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In our newly-renovated house we have a metal exhaust pipe that releases air to the outside from the vent over the stove.  When it rains, the drops ping on the hollow metal and echo into the kitchen.  Ping…plop…ding.

This rain-music is one of my favorite new house sounds.  A surprise sound – one that slows time whenever I hear it. It makes me pause, waiting for the next metallic “…plop.”

The last few weeks, I have experienced the heart-sounds of raindrops in Clarkston.  We’ve been here seven months.  We’ve been largely just living, entertaining opportunities here and there as they have arisen. But lately, it’s starting to rain drops of opportunity, and my heart gladdens with the knowledge we are growing roots here.

The most beautiful part about these drops of connection is recognizing our powerlessness to generate them.  They are His.

A block party thrown with fun neighbors that pulled from every diverse corner of our city. It was a menagerie of personality and smiles, and it came in the middle of a long and frustrating run of crime in our area.  A bright spot and a collaboration.

A desire expressed by some moms at our kids’ school to learn about this city, its people, and opportunities to connect.  We have luncheon plans brewing for early November.  A chance to share the beauty of this place.

A victory won by Clarkston’s cross-country team at our kids’ school’s invitational meet.  This delightful intersection of worlds generated a dinner at our house with the Clarkston coaches and a possibility for future connection between the teams.  Amazing grace.

Watching where God chooses to stir up growth and where He allows lingering hard soil is fascinating.  We would have chosen other spots to see growth – success for our refugee friend’s job at the school, quicker building for new neighbors in the subdivision, more fruit from a serving fair at church last month.  More success growing from seeds we’ve planned, dreamed, and worked.

…But God.

Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O Lord our God? Therefore we hope in You, for You are the one who has done all these things.” Jeremiah 14:22

A Banner Week

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“We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.” – Psalm 20:25

This has been a banner week in the lives of some of our refugee friends.  As I have mentioned, it’s been hard to know how to invest – where to invest – when to invest – here in Clarkston since we moved.  We have dipped our toes into relationships with new refugee friends, but we’ve certainly not hurled ourselves headlong into anything.

God isn’t bound by our mediocre efforts, though!  He is the Father to the fatherless, the defender of the orphan and the widow.  Sometimes, He lets us participate.  When we do, we are blown away by His goodness to those who live in a state of profound vulnerability.

Sunday, we visited three families here.  Anyone who has visited with friends from other nations knows that three families in one afternoon is a miracle in itself.  Most 10-minute conversations easily stretch to 2 hours of interaction and hospitality (on their part).  There’s no such thing as “quick.”  But God multiplied our meager time.

God provided for the first family we visited by opening up a space at an adult literacy program, Mommy & Me, after registration had already happened.  These African friends have been here only two months.  The dad is brilliantly pursuing growth and life for his family (wife and four small children) through his study of English and through his job on the night shift at the poultry processing plant.  His wife is working hard taking care of their children in this hot, humid, very confusing new place.  Her English is not strong, and we are thrilled that she will have the opportunity to experience 9 hours a week of instruction while her two preschoolers are enjoying a pre-school class of their own.  What a gift – language instruction by masters’ level teachers, community, childcare…all within walking distance of their apartment for only $10 per month.  God is so good!

He provided for another friend with a job!  Amazingly long story, but this gentleman was a “random” connection in a parking lot on a day in March.  He had just arrived in the U.S. at that point, and he was overflowing with enthusiasm to work, pride in the 6 languages he speaks, and tales of the life he left in Djibouti.  His wife and three of his children are still there, but he is here with his oldest son, blazing a trail.  We very randomly ran into him again a few weeks ago.  At that point, he was discouraged by his lack of employment and by the prospect of keeping his 13-year-old son safe in the harsh environment he’d encountered.  That night, some friends joined us in praying for a job for him.  Very miraculously, our kind Father provided him a job that pays more than minimum wage.  And, his work hours are during the day, which is so good for his son.  We met with this African friend Sunday, and yesterday God secured a job for him.  How sweet!

Finally, God has provided restoration and redemption for a widow and her two children who we’ve known for three years.  We met her the night she arrived here.  She was quickly overwhelmed to the point of illness and hospitalization.  When we visited over the weekend, she proudly, laughingly served us food and coffee in her clean apartment. She adeptly holds a job and provides for her two school-aged children in a way that showcases God’s ability to uphold the widow and care for the orphan. He has not let her falter. She is being redeemed.

I’m so humbled.  We are so inconsistent and poor in our efforts to love His wounded children.  This is because we are wounded ourselves.  He is so gracious to pursue all of us with His grace. He allows us to glimpse His tangible power when we fellowship with the apple of His eye – the vulnerable ones who quietly face giant obstacles with faith and resolute determination, even when all of life seems daunting and overwhelming.  What a gift to watch Him delight to do what He does best – to redeem.

Please join us in praying for these and other friends as they do the hard work of adjusting to life in the United States.

A Five Year Walk

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She walked for five years.

A few weeks ago, we attended a meeting for volunteers of World Relief at church.  Our trainer was excellent, and had much wisdom to share about interacting with newly arrived refugee families.  She told many stories to illustrate her points, one of which yielded a refrain that has been rolling around in my head for days and days.

She walked for five years.

This refugee woman, of whom my new friend spoke, walked for five years before she reached a camp.

Can you imagine running from danger, leaving everything, fleeing pain, and then walking FOR FIVE YEARS?

I am an arriver.  This week is packed with necessary arrivals.  I need to arrive at the school (about 15 times, to be exact), at work (at least five times this week), at the bank, at the dry cleaners, at the dog groomers, at the grocery store, etc.  And, each time, I will arrive back at home, open the garage door, step in the kitchen, throw my things down on the desk, and take up the task of all of the mini arrivals within my home.  Arriving at the washer/dryer, arriving at the computer to catch up on emails, arriving at the sink, stove, and refrigerator to make a meal, arriving at the mailbox, arriving at the recycle bin, arriving (thank God!) in my bed, etc.

Really, I’m addicted to loops that close, I think.  To going and to coming.  To leaving and to arriving.  To asking and to answering.  To wondering and to knowing.  To seeing and to understanding.  To planning and to executing.  To wanting and to having.

The last month has felt a lot more like a dusty walk than a neat arrival.  My dad had unexpected quadruple bypass surgery.  I got an out of the blue job offer that was a gift and a crisis, all in one.  Our Clarkston building process has been all question and no answer.  We have an official driver in our home (if that doesn’t create open-ended fear, I don’t know what does!)

I keep thinking…

She walked for five years.

If four weeks of lack of closure has torn me down and eaten me up, what would five years do to a soul?

This morning, I read a sort of caustic assessment of American Christians, but it hit home.  “The problem with Christians is that they have the answer…but haven’t lived the question.” (Ron Austin, quoted by Winn Collier in Holy Curiosity)

Jesus made a habit of asking questions.  When he answered others’ questions, He often did so with confusing parables.  I’m not thinking He was sold on the incessant departure / arrival feedback loop to which I am apparently addicted.  I think He was probably more into the value of a five year walk.

Scripture, especially the Old Testament, is replete with beautiful promises of God planting His people in cities where they will flourish.  He says things like, “He turns a wilderness into pools of water, and dry land into water springs.  There He makes the hungry dwell, that they may establish a city for a dwelling place.” (Psalm 107:35-36)

I ache for those who walk and walk and never find a settled place.  I also ache for those of us who drive and park and pull in and out and never get much from the journey because we’re too focused on the next arrival.

Somehow, the grace of Christ is that He causes us all to dwell, to be established, to be planted, to come home

Thy Kingdom come.