When Jesus was Homeless and a Refugee Too

Donald Trump was elected in part by tapping into the fears of a white culture which is projected to cede majority status by 2040.  This along with rapid changes in the economy and shifts in social norms left many feeling dislocated.

Mr. Trump seized upon the fear by creating scape goats. With broad strokes he identified Mexicans as ‘pouring over our borders’ and sending ‘rapists, murderers and drug dealers’.   He’s called for a national registry of Muslims and a halt to accepting immigrants and refugees from Islamic countries.

Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country,  he’s called for mass deportation.  In Nov. 2015 he called for a ‘Mass Deportation Force’ to deport or incarcerate those deemed to be illegal.  In November 2016 he set a policy within his first 100 days in office, to begin deporting 2 – 3 million undocumented neighbors with police records.

The result will be families and communities torn apart.

By making undocumented neighbors and refugees our collective enemy, Mr. Trump can divert attention from underlying issues that confront us: A globalized economy, environmental stewardship, inequality of: wealth, education and health care.

How are faith communities responding to such fear based rhetoric?

Many of my fellow Christians have embraced Trump’s message.  Evangelical leader Franklin Graham (son of Billy) has gone so far as to say that ‘Donald Trump’s election is of God’.

Really?  What are we to make of the following passages:

God calls people of faith to remember that they once were strangers in a strange land and they must, must welcome the stranger as an expression of covenant faithfulness (Leviticus 19:33-34)

  We must “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)

  We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27)

The church I serve, First Baptist in Beverly,(https://www.fbcbeverly.org) takes such passages to heart.  We’ve chosen to reject fear and embrace those whom others would cast aside.  This Christmas season we’ve placed a banner by our entrance:  Immigrants & Refugees Welcome.

photo-refugees-welcome

This banner is our response to the anti-immigrant/refugee/Muslim rhetoric that has coarsened our public life.  Inspired by the Christmas story in Matthew 2:13-23 we remember that Mary and Joseph were homeless when Jesus was born.  That the Holy Family fled persecution by King Herod and found refuge in Egypt.

Today untold millions are seeking refuge from violence, violence, misery.  Minority groups within our own nation feel under threat.  How can we not offer welcome?

We don’t know how the next few years will unfold.  But we do know that we are guided by an ancient story that has captured our hearts, expanded our imagination and graced us with courage.

Courage to say ‘yes’ to love and ‘no’ to fear.

Christmas is coming yet again.  Hope reigns. Praise God!

(For more information on how you or your faith community can get involved for causes of justice: http://faithfulamerica.org/  or, https://sojo.net or, http://cwsglobal.org or, check out Beverly Multifaith Coalition on Facebook or,  look for partners in your local community)

 

Antidote: Peace of Wild Things

Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~ Wendell Berry

photo Ipswich River

Last week feeling overwhelmed by the darkness of political discourse and the horrific images of yet another act of gun violence in our nation, I retreated  to the river.

The Ipswich is a gem just 15 minutes from my house.  With a few friends we slipped from one world into another.  Unplugged via canoe and kayak we moved with the water.

Soon we fell silent as we opened ourselves to the mystery and beauty of nature. Our companions?  The whistle of a hawk, the prehistoric screech of the Great Blue Heron and the slap of a beaver tail…letting us know that we were approaching their home.

We paddled slowly allowing the busyness and tension of life to slip away, at least for a time.   As the poet writes, ‘we came into the presence of still water, the peace of wild things’.  And indeed, for those moments, we rested in the grace of the world and were free.

The Practice of Encountering Others

We live in a fearful world. We read about or experience random acts of violence. In a 24/7 news cycle we may become suspicious of those we don’t know and tempted to surround ourselves with those who are familiar and make us comfortable.

The flip side is that it is often the stranger, the one we do not yet know, who offers a blessing. I recently flew with a family member who became ill while on the plane. Seated next to me was a physician from Turkey. He offered compassionate advice that helped my family member feel better. He and I then spent the next two hours of our flight talking about his life as a secular Muslim in Turkey and my life as a pastor in Massachusetts. We exchanged our email address to continue the conversation.

I also enjoy getting to know my neighbors who are homeless. The church I serve provides meals several times a week to neighbors on the streets or who simply want company. This past week I talked fishing with a few men who worked in the fishing industry in Gloucester and now are on the streets. I learned much from these men and now when we see each other in our shared neighborhood we know each other’s name and greet each other as friends.

Two women

To often we separate ourselves from one another. It is easy to pre-judge the other without knowing their story. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, ‘An Altar in the World’, believes that encountering others is a spiritual practice. It is this practice that leads us from fear to freedom, from ignorance to knowledge, from resentment to friendship. How to start? Start with ‘hello’.