Posts by AwakeningSardis

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

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. 
I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its Spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as
long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
… I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the
anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

… In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than
man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.”
They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century….

~ Martin Luther King 
Letter from a Birmingham Jail

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Why the Christian should care about public policy.

Politics is a dirty game.

It is divisive usually, but now especially, so it is not surprising that I hear many of my fellow evangelical Christian slate off politics for the gospel.

“I don’t do politics. I am a gospel person.”

I can appreciate that. The gospel is the good news of Jesus for all people. I can see why it is attractive to be about Jesus over what feels like the most divisive parts to our society. I would say in large part, that describes me as well. I can hardly think of a friend of mine who is not a Christian who has not been encouraged to consider Jesus by me. I don’t want to play the partisan games of politics that can isolate the message of Jesus from people.

But we make a mistake when we confuse the concept of politics with policy. Politics is the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group. It refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance—organized control over a human community, particularly a state. The control of political parties, the partisanship divides, the mudslinging can have us reject the whole system and stick our heads in the sand about public policy.

However policies affect people. They affect lives. They can be good. They can be terrible and destructive. Whilst I understand the Christian that may want to stay away from the partisan divides, may I encourage you to lean into understanding the policies that have been made by our governing authorities and the policies that are sitting in congress waiting to be approved.

Many of these policies the church and the Christian should wade in on and be a prophetic voice. We should use our democratic opportunities to call the governing authorities to rule wisely and in a way that treats people made in the image of God like they are image bearers.

Another way to understand public policy instead of the word “politics” we should think about policies being a code word for ethics. Do we have good ethics in the way we govern and treat one another? Are we being unethical in the way that we conduct ourselves with our own citizens or citizens of the world?  

Ethics are entirely in the realm of what a Christian should care about in the world. Though parties can support them and do, our ethics should be above a particular partisan argument. We should continually ask the question about “what is right” and “what is wrong” in the world. What is good? What is ethical? At times, it is pertinent for the church to speak and to call our government to a higher standard of ethics, to do what is good instead of what is wrong.


“He has told you,
O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Deserving my Citizenship: Reflections on grace and generosity

How much have you considered where you were born and its impact on your life?

My reflections started when I was young. We would visit poor villages in Mexico to visit family friends of my grandparents and mother or relatives of my aunts and uncles and my mom would lecture me before we went, “Christy, people are going to offer us hospitality and they will give you the best they have. You are to eat whatever they offer and say thank you. No complaining and no comments if it’s not what you are used to.”

I didn’t understand words like “privilege” back then. My mom didn’t even use those words. Yet, there were life lessons that began to be built into me that I didn’t have language for yet. I didn’t have a passport back then and yet I could enter and exit the US freely every other year to visit Mexico because of my white skin and birthplace and because it was pre-9-11 days. I never went hungry in my middle class family. Some of the families I dined with on these visits went hungry at times.

My dad had a good job my entire life with the exception of one layoff when I was a baby but he still found work during that time. He is a hunter and in my memory he’d always get an extra hunting tag each year to hunt in a neighbouring state and get the meat processed and given to a family out of work that we knew from somewhere in the community. I hadn’t experienced a dad without work but my parents saw those in our community that might be lacking. I was still slow to appreciate this.

As I got older and got that passport and began to travel extensively, I saw the privilege of my birthright, how easily I could visit countries without a visa because I came from the US and how friends would be locked in place, unable to travel because they were born in this patch of dirt over there instead of my patch of dirt over here.

Once more the realization of privilege started to dawn on me although this time I started using the word.

What do we do with privilege? How do we relate to others who have less privilege? The shock that strikes me is often privilege leads people to lord it over others with phrases that show a lack of understanding of even their own circumstances and how many factors contributed to them having the access/wealth/mobility they enjoyed that they did not create themselves in the fullest sense of the word.

“Why don’t people just work?”

“They should wait their turn and come the legal way.”

“We need to lock down our borders.”

I could have been born in poverty. I could have been born to parents who did not have access to the kind of job that my dad had access to. I could have been born in a country that is rife with civil war or corruption or just isn’t high enough on the eco-system of countries to have the freedom owning a US passport gives me.

But, without any merit of my own, I was born in circumstances that gave me opportunities in life that others can only dream of having and often have to fight to obtain.

What does it mean to wield my privilege for the sake of others? The more I see the grace in my circumstances, how God gave me opportunities I did not earn or deserve, the more it moves me to not hoard them but to steward the power and grace I have been given for those who do not have the access that I have been given. I am also finding it humbling to remember that while I have privilege and access to travel, it does not make me wiser than those who do not, how do I posture myself to learn from those in different circumstances?

I started reading an interesting book on the movement of peoples. This stood out to me and has made me consider my privilege even more in light of what is happening globally with immigration.

“Accordingly, it is also an explicit and extended meditation on how knowledge developed and deployed by Western experts is used to evaluate the particular circumstances of people from poor regions of the world whose lives will be fundamentally altered depending on the ultimate decision about their refugee status. In the settings examined by the authors, knowledge is not retained for contemplation by those in the “ivory tower” but is used to make what may often literally be life-or-death decisions.

The essays also hint at some of the paradoxes of globalization. In the twenty-first-century world, knowledge, as well as data, money, and media, flow across national boundaries with unprecedented ease. However, the flow of people across boundaries has perhaps never been more regulated. In sub-Saharan Africa, the continental home of many refugee crises over the centuries, a common response to unhappiness or crises was for individuals or whole communities to move. It was only in the twentieth century – with the creation of national boundaries developed by the colonialists and subsequently ratified by independence leaders and the ensuing development of notions of citizenship tied to politically defined boundaries – that the concept of “refugee” was even possible. There seems to be every indication that the movement of people will continue to be closely regulated by all nations and those, especially in the West, who have some ability to police their borders will continue to try to control population movements through administrative mechanisms.” – Adjudicating Refugee and Asylum Status: The Role of Witness, Expertise, and Testimony (pp. xv-xvi). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Again.

We need to sit down and have a family conversation America.

Portland Oregon, December 22, as 2019 was fast arriving, another black man was racially profiled, had the police called on him, and he was shamefully kicked out of a Doubletree hotel he was staying at as a guest.

His crime? Talking on the phone to his mother in the lobby while black.

The US feels more divided than ever. When we say “Black Lives Matter,” people hear instead that we are against the police. When athletes take a knee in civil protest at a game to remind people of the injustices that face unarmed black men and women every day as they experience deadly encounters with the law, the president rails against them to garner support.

Our civil liberties and our constitution matter. It matters that we give people the freedom to express protest. It also matters that we look at how we (as non black people) are reacting to our fellow citizens that takes away their right to exist and move about freely.

I want us to pause for a second and ask “why?” Why do so many Americans see a black man and think “threat.” Why have we been conditioned to do so? What can we do differently so that this shameful treatment stops happening? Do we meaningfully check our assumptions? Do we even see when we have them?

Recently I read about James Comey starting his time as FBI director by adding training curriculum to new FBI trainees at Quantico on the history of the FBI abuse of power and authority towards Martin Luther King Jr. Future agents and analysts have to look at their agency’s deep shameful sins and see how lazy legal work, abuse of power and the law, unequal treatment of different races, and profiling of minorities led to injustices in their history. I could not be prouder or love them more as an agency for doing this hard work. It takes courage to look at a personal history and to try to learn from it. The LA Times covered some of the curriculum here.

It is time the rest of us do the same. The next time you see a black person and begin to think threat, pause, and ask yourself “why?” Ask yourself “why am I wrong?” Question your assumptions and feelings. What could it cost them in life or dignity if we act on our false perceptions?

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.

 

 

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.

refugee resettlment