Overcoming Fear

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Fear is driving us apart as a country. Fear is leading to an increase in racially targetted hate crimes. Fear drove the massacre in Pittsburgh last week.

Fear does not have to be our future.

I have spent countless hours over coffees, dinners and in-person training and mobilizing churches, individuals, and Bible studies to welcome and do life with newly arrived refugees, offering friendship, giving the gift of time, English practice, a driving lesson or a ride to the grocery store.

I realize it is not always comfortable to start a conversation with someone that is different than you. It is more normal to stick to our tribes of colour, political belief, faith, socioeconomic status, nationality,  and language.

If you want to change this and move past fear or perhaps it is just a bit of social anxiety and not quite fear, these are my first two recommendations:

 

1.) Drink cups of tea. Proximity changes everything. 

I drink copious amounts of tea in people’s homes from near and far. The woman who gave me the cup of tea pictured above does not speak English. I don’t speak Pashto. I have hung out with her twice. We have had a lot of laughter as I try to fake sign my way to understanding, telling her things or asking her abstract questions that are not translated by my hands (I don’t do sign language so it’s more like a Christy game of charades.) Her husband or whoever has been around that is bilingual has translated for us. We don’t share a culture, a religion, or even a language. But tea…. a cup of tea.. it means I am in your space. I am receiving your hospitality. I am giving you hospitality. I am serving you. I am letting you serve me. It is hard to be afraid of people that you eat with and share a hot beverage.

What cultures make you uncomfortable? Who are you afraid of? What would it look like for you to move closer and become more proximate to them? Perhaps start to do your grocery shopping in a local shop of a different ethnicity. Say hello. Ask about foods and products you don’t recognize. Go volunteer at your local refugee resettlement agency or church that runs EFL classes (English as a foreign language). Become a language partner. If you speak English, you are qualified to help someone practice after the teacher gives the lessons. Visit a church or place of worship of a different skin tone or language than you. As we begin to get closer to people, it’s harder for them to seem like the “other” that is so often painted. Drink copious cups of tea and see peoples faces and you will see we have more in common than you realize.

2.) Believe what God says in his Word, the Bible.

This one might be harder for those who don’t trust the Bible or for the skeptics who don’t believe. This is a little insight into my worldview as a Christian.  Embracing people that are different and not looking at the world with fear comes from hundreds of truths in the Bible and in fact the big story arc of Scripture from start to finish that is cemented into my worldview.

First, God is sovereign. This means he is big and in charge of the world. He is not weak or helpless. Nothing is beyond is control or grasp. He has boundless power. He is also good. Knowing God’s character helps me not fear the world around me. I am not afraid of refugees or terrorism. I am not afraid to be a minority as a white person (that’s still a long way off). I am not afraid of the US getting shaped and textured by the next group of immigrants because it always makes us better. I am not afraid of being persecuted or ostracized for my Christian faith even though I believe very orthodox things that are not popular in a secular world. I believe Jesus is the only way to get to God, for one. That isn’t a popular sentiment.

Believing and trusting in God’s sovereignty means I don’t fear what is often feared in our culture. When governors wanted to block Syrian refugees from coming to their states, I saw them as people in need of refuge, not terrorists. The Honduran caravan is full of people who have difficult stories that drove them from their nation with only what they could carry. I need to be quiet enough to hear and see this. They are not a national crisis requiring 15,000 soldiers. A former friend of mine screamed at me about how persecuted Christians were in America and stopped speaking to me (on social media, there was no chance for real engagement from him sadly). I was heartbroken and wished he would have let me share my thoughts. I have done campus ministry and seen faith groups kicked off campus. That does not stop my conviction that Jesus is good news meant to be shared. Some of the most closed-to-Christianity countries in the world are where the church has grown fastest in church history and now. I am not afraid of secularism.

Does the neighbourhood my dad grew up in look different with all of the new ethnicities and religious beliefs present beyond the Italian immigrants of the last century? Instead of fearing immigrants are taking and not giving, ask questions and learn about what they have contributed to the economy. All of these examples of not fearing where many often do fear stem from my view in God’s sovereignty. It allows me to pause and learn instead of jumping to fear.

Another Biblical truth I trust is that people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1). It helps me love my Muslim neighbours when so many are afraid of them.

Early in my time in the UK, for a year and a half, I met weekly with two guys who became friends. We discussed Christianity and Islam almost weekly, them Muslims, my other friend and I Christians. It was a great time of learning and asking one another questions. I am sure once or twice we discussed they would want us to become Muslim. We wanted them to follow Jesus as Lord and God, not as a prophet.

Proximity created friendships and understanding.

I am not a pluralist. I wasn’t then nor am I now. (Acts 4:12) But I can look at my Muslim friends from Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan and love them. When Muslims are flooding out of countries into refugee camps or boats trying to get to Europe, I can see them as people made in God’s image, whom He loves deeply and instead of the fearing for my safety, I can listen to Jesus in Matthew 25 (listen to Jesus… um… read it.) It is a terrifying warning really that Jesus gives at the end of Matthew 25:31-46. It is a warning maybe we should be afraid of not heeding rather than being afraid that our countries demographics might shift with more people who don’t look like us.

 

Proximity and good theology. They are game changers when it comes to fear.

Who are you going to have a cuppa tea with this week? 

 

 

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Mourning

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I got this mug in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. Since ending up back in Ohio, I find myself there a few times a year to salsa dance, often staying with my friend Becky and going to this coffee shop.

Becky, my British scientist friend and I danced in the same circles in the UK together and rekindled our friendship after many years apart when we found we were in nearby US cities. We couldn’t be more different in many ways, but our love of dance and conversations about politics and our cross-cultural US/UK lives have given us much in common. We are allies really.

After I worked with refugees a couple years, Becky asked how she could get involved locally, and I pointed her toward HIAS. Soon my British immigrant friend was befriending and practicing English with a Muslim refugee family resettled by a Jewish resettlement organization and helping them navigate their new American life. It gives me all the feels of joy and happiness still thinking about it.

Until this week.

As you know, a terrorist went after the Jewish Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. He murdered 11 people, many who survived the Holocaust.

“Prior to committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious at HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on Gab, a social-media site popular with the alt-right, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” – CNN

In another post, he referenced the list of synagogue’s participating in the national Shabbat for refugees and said “thanks for the list.” His anti-semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric mixed said the Anti-Defamation League here.

My heart has been broken in new ways all week. I am horrified and saddened for the people who needlessly lost their lives due to this man’s hate. I am sad for the Jewish community around the world that feels this more acutely than I. This was the deadliest attack on Jews in US history while anti-semitism has gone up 57% from 2016 to 2017. 

I am saddened for the refugee communities in Pittsburgh and the family that my friend Becky is friends with, wondering how they feel fleeing war-torn Afghanistan to have terror in the city that should be a safe haven for them because of someone’s hatred of immigrants and those who serve immigrants.

I am sad for our country. This man was given fuel. At the gym this week on the treadmill I saw Fox News talking about the asylum seekers who are looking to us for help with the most derogatory inflammatory language: “invaders” “who were coming to harm us” was the message I saw. Every day I watched them while I exercised, their words were more and more dehumanizing towards the caravan. “Illegals” is the rhetoric used. It’s not even true. The caravan is not illegal. Applying for asylum is a legal process and in order to do so in the US, you need to cross the border at a port of entry to apply. A caravan of people with the intent to claim asylum is not illegal, they are following US asylum law. The president speaks about the central Americans in a way to inflame fears and rally partisanship divides and has consistently used terrible “us-them” towards all of our southern neighbours and refugees from the Middle East. Just this week AFTER the shooting he continued to tweet about the “dangerous caravan” and lie about the people who were part of it, coming to seek asylum, not murder us. How can we speak of human beings as vermin invaders? How can we push and rally fear in people for political power? I only wonder what the Lord’s anger is like towards us as a nation as many manipulate fears in people for power and ratings?

Who is paying attention? Who believes these words that we are under attack?

There are many who believe them. One response is a vengeful hateful murderous act like we saw this week.

I mourn for the loss of lives in Squirrel Hill. I am saddened that murder has to be the fate of people who survived so much already. I mourn for the fear and anger towards refugees we have received as a nation. I mourn for the children from Honduras sleeping on the hard ground in Mexico tonight with their mothers and fathers wrapped around them in hopes that the US might give them refuge from hunger and violence. I mourn those with mouthpieces and voices that reach many but use their platforms to stir fear and hatred and a division between “us and them.” I mourn for the soul of this nation that feels so lost.