Posts by AwakeningSardis

Learning to live life fully awake. www.awakeningsardis.com Musician, artist, thinker, writer, dancer, theologian

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

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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.

 

 

The Next Three Weeks

In early October the fiscal year ends for refugee resettlement for the year in the US and the new year, new budgets and most importantly new numbers of people we will potentially accept will be set.

The US has had a refugee resettlement program since WWII and it’s operated much as it is now since the Refugee Act of 1980.

The program has been under assault in criticism since the campaign and in reality since the current administration has taken office despite none of the complaints being true. The are heavily vetted. They contribute to the US economy. None have ever taken a US life in a terror attack and they, in fact, become good new Americans. I have included facts about refugee resettlement in the graphic below but note that the number of refugees resettled worldwide dropped by over 50% in 2017 when only 1% of the world’s refugees were resettled in the first place. In 2016 the US welcomed 84,995 refugees. The US saw a significant drop to 53,716 as the travel ban was fought out in court and this year because of it’s passing we will resettle just under 20,000 refugees during a time of the highest numbers of displaced people in modern history. Weekly I get emails from our resettlement agencies that no refugees are coming despite hundreds of people in my city being trained, ready and willing to help with their welcome and resettlement. Many have had to close their doors and lay off staff. The infrastructure for the future of welcoming refugees is being dismantled. It is not about this year alone but future years and how we will be able to serve those displaced by war and violence, genocide, statelessness, persecution for their faith, political beliefs, or sexual orientation or gender.

I think of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims, the Yazidis and Christians that were murdered for their faith and taken as sex slaves by ISIS, Syrians being bombed by their own government, Iranians being thrown in jail for converting to Christianity,  the constant warfare in Congo that has displaced many.

America, we can do better. What part will you play in helping influence our nation and our politicians to be a nation that is welcoming to refugees? Pray, speak up, remind people of what is in the Bible about refugees, call your representatives, vote.

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America at its Best

Beauty. I was at the dentist today with a Muslim friend from Pakistan/Afghanistan. Her translator, an Indian Sikh man with a turban and her and myself were speaking in broken bits of three languages. Urdu between them, her Pashto, and my English to each of them. An elderly white lady came through the door with a walker and the Sikh man jumped up to help her. She didn’t look up at him and settled in behind us. A few minutes later as we were chatting about all kinds of random subjects the lady in the walker behind me spoke up and said.. “it is so beautiful hearing you guys speak to one another.” I asked her name and introduced her to my old friend and new acquaintance. She said she was completely blind and could not see us but complimented my Afghani friend on her name. She was so kind and I loved her listening in. I wasn’t expecting it. Joy filled my heart. As we departed ways later we shook hands and said our “God bless you” to one another and I thought .. this is America at its best.

 

 

My Thoughts on the Travel Ban

The SC ruled the travel ban was within the legal authority of the Pres. It’s legal. I am glad for our check and balance system and that the courts saw this case. “It is legal,” they declared, and “allowable according to his powers to ban countries from entry,” but does that make his order good? That is what I want us to think about today. Just because it CAN happen, SHOULD it have happened? Is the travel ban good?

He said it was to make America safe. It was to protect America from people who wanted to harm our country. He said it was because of 911. The original order said: “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”

The US was never attacked by any of the countries on the ban list. None of them have terrorized Americans on US soil. Most haven’t terrorized Americans at all. None of the banned countries contributed to 911. All of the countries involved in 911 were never banned and can still travel freely to the US on varying kinds of visas. If it’s based on a lie and misleading information, can it be good? If it keeps families apart is it good? If it keeps out people fleeing war and persecution, is it good? In 2017 the Catholic Herald and Christianity today said that persecution of Christians was at an all-time high. We followed that by banning countries where Christians are most persecuted. The “Muslim ban” has kept out persecuted Christians. The US received 65% less persecuted Christians this last year because most persecuted Christians come from the countries we have banned entirely. If the ban continues, that is no Iranian Christians coming despite conversation being life-threatening in Iran. A friend came as a refugee before the ban and cannot bring her son over despite the time in prison he just did for his Christian faith. Their country is on the ban list. What about Muslims being banned? Is targetting people for their faith American? Racial profiles are never good and lead to injustice. We can look at our own history and grieve over that. I met a girl last week studying here from Iran and she missed her sisters’ wedding two months ago because leaving the country and coming back was too risky. She would likely get blocked out of the US in the middle of her Ph.D. despite having a student visa, so she had to miss her sister’s wedding. A friend of mine who studied in England is Muslim. He and his family started receiving death threats from ISIS because his wife worked at an international school that they didn’t like their ideology, it’s connection to the west or Christians working there too. They were traitors according to total strangers. He messaged me asking for how to do the refugee process and I had to tell him- the US won’t take you. For months I was given the tale of the threats and vandalism and harm that came on his family with little to advise but keep applying for jobs in Canada, or go live in a refugee camp in poverty and leave his job, car, house, and extended family, “my country has no way of letting you come here legally because your whole country is banned.” He’s a professional in the science field.

The rhetoric of fear that led to the statements: “We don’t know who these people are” is powerful. It was powerful to conflate terrorist attacks in Europe with the US even though the circumstances and demographics were not comparable. It was powerful to tell Americans who didn’t understand that refugee resettlement in the US was the safest, most thoroughly vetted travel system for any person to come to the US already, that it was “dangerous and not secure and unvetted.” Most people had no idea how long we had been resettling refugees, who came, the contribution to our economics and growth in our business sector, that they are saving midwest cities, or that no refugee had ever killed an American. But our ignorance is convenient to manipulate.

As a Christian, I can’t be quiet because it’s about truth. It’s about truth versus propaganda. It’s about the persecuted Christian we have just blocked out permanently. It is about my Muslim friend who got here just before the travel ban, her family getting caught up in it a month later, having their tickets canceled and being blocked because of the executive order sweeping over entire countries. They had been vetted and had a plane ticket to arrive here. As my friend’s family waited for nearly a year for the travel ban to be lifted, they were killed a few months ago.

I want us to be a country of laws, of course, but our laws need to be good. The beauty of democracy is a president and Congress are accountable to constituents who can have their say and challenge unjust laws, unjust orders, and unjust policies and say “We want a different kind of America. One that is kind and generous and honest and good towards people being persecuted.” Our laws need to be based in truth and not in political partisanship power plays. We need to be a country that doesn’t forget we long to be “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!”

What kind of a country do we want to be? Do we want to be a good one or one based on fear and misguided, untruthful, self-protection?

Bad Theology in America

1. Many Evangelicals in the US teach that the government now (and passively accepting whatever they do ) is analogous to Roman occupation in the gospels. I have seen many Christians VOTE for Trump and then pull out Romans 13 or say “God is sovereign” when he does an egregious sin or his appointees do something that is objectionable or ungodly. That is a poor teaching of Romans 13 and God’s sovereignty and out of context. They are not analogous.

2. The American church in sweeping generalization has terrible Bible handling skills. Many are not taught exegetically or how to find context. There’s often thematic teaching or word studies which easily slips into trying to shoehorn a passage into YOUR point rather than doing the work to find out what God has said in it.

3. Mile wide and inch deep theology abounds. We were the country that incubated and housed and exported the “prosperity gospel” which is no gospel at all but rather heresy. In other times in history, the Church would be excommunicating people for such dangerous teaching but in America, we put them on tv.

4. Even the Christians with better Bible handling skills have bought into the lie that we are being biblically faithful when we are “not being political” so you will never hear sermons that touch on anything that might be in the news in politics. What is God not Lord over? What issue does he not have a say on? People don’t know their church history and that there were plenty of faithful -speaking-truth-to -politics men and women out there (Wilberforce, Esther, and Spurgeon come to mind). They don’t know that this view came from around the time of the Civil War when preachers in the Baptist and Presbyterian churches refused to take a side so as not to divide their congregations over the ungodly racism that entrenched this country in slavery. Was it to keep numbers high or to keep tithes in a church bucket? Either reason is ungodly. If the people in the church leave because you are preaching God’s Word and offending them when their sin is confronted, let.them.leave. You have been faithful.

Charles Spurgeon, the famous English preacher would not commune with slave-holding men for their wickedness. The US Southern church BURNED Spurgeon’s books and sermons because of their disagreement in his abolitionist views.

“I do from my inmost soul detest slavery . . . and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slave-holder I have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever one has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and I would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church . . . as a man stealer” (Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 331).

My concerned friends from around the globe ask what they can do. I have always believed what comes out of a man is what is IN a man. A worldview matters. Christians disparage about secular worldviews but we don’t take the time to look at holes in our own worldview. When the Church passively or actively supports policies and politicians that do wicked things,  when we believe things that are not honouring to what the sovereignty of God is, when Scripture is pulled out of context to support evil, we are culpable before God as a people. Bad theology leads to bad practice and bad practice locally leads to bad policy nationally. All people, whatever their worldview need to be campaigning for better policies in the US on a national level, particularly all things to do with our heinous treatment of humans made in God’s image related to immigation right now. But Christians around the globe, we need your theology. We need your good Bible handling skills. I’d love to see a global ad campaign on the American church. Facebook and snapchat ads pointing to sermons and blogs sorting out peoples bad theology. Pastors, Bible teachers, Christians who know their Bibles around the world, we need some blogs, ads, education, sermons on Romans 13 to challenge some nonsense-out-of-context-theology floating around in America. Go.

 

 

On Ethics and Justice

We are living in strange times. There have been assertions lately from certain legal teams that the president has the power to pardon himself or herself.

No, no sir, the president cannot pardon himself. This was decided long ago by the Department of Justice.

“Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.” – DOJ August 5, 1974

The logic should reason for itself that unless we were living in a corrupt country more akin to a dictatorship, self-pardoning would be a gross misuse of power.

We are all, after all, under the law and not above it.

 

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