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?

From Scarcity to Abundance: Refugee Crisis, Part 2

In the previous blog we explored how our world is governed by the Economy of Scarcity. A scarcity mindset constricts the mind, imagination and heart. Scarcity teaches that there is only so much to go around and we must protect what is yours.

Desperate refugees fleeing civil war and grinding poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and northern Africa are fleeing in record numbers to the gates of Europe. The response of the Hungarian government is a grim example of the scarcity mindset at work. That government has set up razor wire barriers and passed a law criminalizing any refugee who seeks to pass through.

Refugees-Hungarian-border-2015

Is there an alternative to scarcity thinking? Yes. The answer is found in an ancient story. Whether you take the story literally or metaphorically there are lessons to be had.

2000 years ago a healer and prophet named Jesus brought about a miracle. A crowd of 5000 had gathered to hear him. Late in the day his disciples urged Jesus to disperse the crowd so they could forage for food. Instead, Jesus had the crowd break into companies of 50 and 100. Then Jesus took his disciples scarce provisions, 5 loaves and two fish and offered everything he had to the crowd.

At first glance this seems like a hopeless and reckless gesture. How do you feed so many with so little?

Parker Palmer the theologian suggests that this intentional act of vulnerability led to the miracle. Moved by the generosity and selflessness of Jesus and his disciples, the crowd which had hidden away food of their own, began to share with others.

The miracle was that those who had nothing now had enough. Those who had much and a little had enough. And, points out Palmer, by breaking the vast crowd into companies of 50 and 100 it was no longer as easy to ignore or refuse to help. Now the person in need had a name, a story.

This is called the Gospel of Abundance. Translated to today’s refugee crisis, nations of the world have the capacity to solve this crisis. We have the resources to feed and place those who are fleeing war and poverty. We have the resources and capacity to solve the conditions that have led to the wars and poverty.

The Gospel of Abundance tells us that there is an alternative to fear which fuels scarcity thinking. When we act abundantly we make a series of choices: We choose to not give in to fear. We choose to take a risk and share what we have. We choose to open our hearts, minds and imagination to new ways of thinking, new ways of partnering to solve seemingly intractable problems.

Do we see examples of abundance at work? Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Jordan, Turkey have been on the front lines for many months and in some cases for years in housing and rescuing refugees. Germany has committed to receiving and housing up to 800,000 refugees in 2015 at a cost of 6.6 billion dollars.

Welcoming refugees

Such examples of abundance offers an example to the United States. My country has stood largely on the side lines and only recently agreed to receive 10,000 Syrians at an undetermined rate. We are capable of doing so much more.

As a pastor I see local communities of faith being capable of getting involved and making a difference. A committee in the church I serve is researching ways to lobby our elected officials to make our nation more generous. One step is to lobby for ‘The Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act’, now before Congress. We’re also looking into ways to partner and help house refugee families.

Imagine what happens when every church, synagogue, mosque, temple, tribe, city and nation is led by the Gospel of Abundance. 2000 years ago a prophet and healer named Jesus made a choice not to be governed by fear or scarcity. The result was a miracle. That same capacity for the miraculous is found within you and me and the communities we belong to. Don’t you think its time for another miracle?