A Litany for Christmas: Seeking Refuge

Ever felt like your life was out of control? Ever woken at 3 a.m. wondering what would become of your life? Have you ever worried over the well-being of those you hold close to your heart?

Response: The Gospel of Luke: ‘In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child’.

Mary and Joseph were homeless, forced by the Roman Empire to go to Joseph’s ancestral home for the purpose of a census. Imagine living under occupation. You are about to have a child and the only refuge you can find is a barn full of the muck, smells and sounds of animals. Can you imagine a more humble setting to bring your first child into the world?

Response: ‘While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.’

manger

Imagine Bethlehem full of travelers. Perhaps Mary and Joseph weren’t alone in the barn that first Christmas. Could it be that other travelers were also in that barn seeking refuge? Could it be that there were other women attending to Mary, as she brought her baby into the world?

Response: ‘And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, a feeding trough, because there was no place for them in the inn.’

We light a candle for Christmas. We light this candle to remember neighbors who are homeless in our own community. We light this candle to remember millions of our neighbors, seeking refuge from violence in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. We remember that Jesus on that first Christmas was homeless, born to parents seeking refuge. We remember that on that first Christmas, hope was born.

Refugee woman with baby

Response: As we journey toward Christmas, we walk with those who are vulnerable. We walk knowing that darkness gives way to the light. Come let us worship the coming of the Christ child, the gift of light.

Refugee Crisis Meets a Crisis of Conscience

We can’t escape the images of refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea and the list goes on. Certain photos have become iconic: A baby boy’s body washed up on a Greek island; an anguished father holding his exhausted child. Some nations like Hungary have placed razor wire, others like France and Germany struggle to make room for hundreds of thousands of the displaced.

Syrian Dad and child

Then last week a terrorist cell brought carnage to Paris. 128 murdered/ executed, 350 plus wounded, a city and nation traumatized. One assailant was believed to be a Syrian.

The response of many around the world was fear. Fear that the tide of refugees contain terrorists. Fear that we need to put up barriers between ourselves and those who are different. Fear that we too are at risk.

In the United States Donald Trump has climbed to the top of Republican presidential poll waving the flag of fear. He’s called for an insurmountable wall being built along the Mexican border. He’s called for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, most from Mexico.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the wake of the Paris attack has called for a halt to efforts to welcome Syrian refugees. He’s called the current 18 month vetting process insufficient. Nearly all Republicans and a significant number of Democrats voted with the Speaker. Over half the Governors support further restrictions.

Fear has a way of constricting the mind and the heart. Many who have voted to remove the welcome mat are people of faith. What are we to make of this?

Jesus understood the power of fear. He understood what it means to be a homeless refuge. In response he told a story whose hero is a Samaritan, an outcast. At a time when an emphasis was placed on religious orthodoxy and racial purity the Samaritan was neither. They were outcasts. Looked down upon by those in power.

In his story in Luke’s Gospel 10: 25 – 37 Jesus tells of a man beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left to die in a ditch. Along comes a religious leader who sees but chooses to walk by. Next is a political leader who also walks by.

It is the Samaritan who stops, binds up the man’s wounds and takes him to an inn. There he pays for the victims lodging and medical care. Jesus ends the story by asking the listeners: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” They replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus replied: “Go and do likewise.”

Good Samaritan pic

It is one thing to say or do the right thing when there is little cost. But as we wrestle with how to respond to the refugee crisis this isn’t easy or cost-free. My faith tradition puts it this way, ‘this is come to Jesus time’. We either believe in Jesus’ wisdom or we don’t. We either believe in the power of love or we give in to the power of fear.

This is the time when we as Jesus followers are called to push back against the fear peddlers. We are called to set aside our fears and step out in faith. We are asked to place our faith in a 2000 year old story that promises to show us the way forward. Will you walk with me?

Scarcity, Fear and the Refugee Crisis: Part 1

Much of our world is governed by the Economy of Scarcity. The Economy of Scarcity teaches that there is only so much to go around and that the wise person takes care of oneself and one’s own first. If anything is left over then you may choose to share. Nations go to war to protect what they have.

The governing principle of Scarcity is fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of someone else taking what is yours. Fear that you must rely on yourself first and foremost. In the United States our mythology of the strong, independent pioneer reinforces this mindset. Libertarian principles both political and cultural reinforce this ideal.

The positive side is that it leads people and nations to strive to be self-sufficient. The negative is what takes place when circumstances are so overwhelming that individualism is not enough.

We are in such a time. According the United Nations there are currently 195 million refugees the largest since World War II. A series of regional wars fueled by political instability, tribal and religious tensions have formed a perfect storm.

Currently hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan, Libia, Yemen, Somalia and other locals are fleeing for their lives seeking the stability and resources of Europe. The response of Europe has been mixed: Italy and Greece have done their best to cope with refugees coming to their shores in leaky boats (3000 are estimated to have drowned in 2015 to date).

Refugees in boat

Hungary has put up barbed wire fences and is moving to criminalize those fleeing to their country. Germany and Austria which have been the principal leaders for a humane response are at risk of being overwhelmed unless other hesitant countries in Europe step up.

Here in the United States the scarcity mindset is at work. After a long silence the Obama administration has offered to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees. In contrast Germany has said it will take up to 800,000 refugees in 2015.

Donald Trump is leading in Republican presidential polling with anti-immigration rhetoric. He is calling for forced deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA (primarily from Mexico and Central America). He is playing the scarcity card that we can’t afford to take care of others problems whether it be people fleeing poverty or war.

Yet the reality is that our world is inter-dependent. Instability in one region has implications for everyone. The Economy of Scarcity offers no answers. Is there an alternative? I invite you to read this blogs next installment. But before we can explore an alternative we must acknowledge the subtle and not so subtle hold that scarcity thinking has on how we so often function as nations, states, tribes, families and as individuals.

Fear drives scarcity thinking. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Stay tuned.