Sojourners

We have a tendency to get bogged down and distracted by the great amount of negativity surrounding the biblical texts in our culture and society. Maybe it’s the way Christians use the Bible to devalue women or to promote hate, or maybe you’ve been sucked into the scientific debate that focuses our attention on peripheral concerns instead of the beauty of our text.

One biblical concept that restores my faith in the glory of the bible is the sojourner, or the alien, the person dwelling in a foreign land. The cultural chasm between the biblical world and ours is sometimes difficult to cross, but we are keenly aware of what it means to be a in a foreign land.

The life of the sojourner is challenging, isolating and long-suffering. Last week, Canada declared Mexico a safe place to live. That will cause alarm for any who are aware of the growing violence and organized crime making many cities extremely dangerous places to live.

Canada’s designation is not about the living conditions in Mexico or the safety of travel; it is a statement determining how we are going to treat Mexican immigrants. The statement makes certain immigration possibilities unavailable, most notably the refugee status.

We are keenly aware of our borders and cultural surroundings. We feel out of place when we are unfamiliar with language, cultural practices and the unspoken societal rules. We become vulnerable.

Addressing this vulnerability in the sojourner, Leviticus sets an ethical standard far above the societal standards of the time, and even challenges us today.

“You are to not oppress the alien…you are to consider the sojourner a citizen among you…love the alien as yourself…For you were once an alien in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Law codes do two things. First they determine a minimum ethical standard and dictate appropriate actions. Second, every law code contains a motivation. We are most familiar with punitive measures as the motivation, and the Leviticus law code often includes punitive motivation.

When addressing the treatment of sojourners and aliens, however, Leviticus calls for the highest ethical standards: love them as yourself.

The motivation behind the law also changes its impact considerably. Instead of simply dictating actions, the law continues, “for you were once aliens,” and calls the reader to identify with the alien, to identify with the ‘other.’

Found right in the middle of a strict religious law code is this magnificent concept of the sojourner and a call to empathy.

The practice presses beyond any rule that could be put in place. The practice is to identify with the ‘other.’ The practice is empathy.

When you identify with the ‘other,’ the world changes…first in your own eyes…then through your actions.

A version of this article was published in the Maple Ridge News, February 22nd, 2013.

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God is a Mystery

While talking with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu commented on the greatness of God, saying, “The glory of God is a mystery.” In a world where lives, families, communities and nations have been built upon our knowledge of God, where this information determines our politics, our ethics, our beliefs, and how we treat our sisters and brothers of humanity, Tutu reminds us that God is a mystery.

It is his following reflections that really begin to make us think: “God is actually quite incredible in many ways. But God allows us to misunderstand her…but also to understand her.”

“He can watch us speak, spread hatred, in his name. Apartheid was for a long time justified by the church. We do the same when we say all those awful things we say about gays and lesbians. We speak on behalf of a God of love.”

It is the Christian that can do (and has done) the most damage to the faith of another, or the faith of multitudes. We have watched Westboro Baptist Church drag Christ’s name through the mud, and we’ve watched Christians committing hate crimes, burning down mosques and treating the LGBT community with the kind of hatred only found in the self-righteous Christian.

As Tutu reminds us that part of God’s glory is in God’s “incredible reverence for [our] autonomy,” we are reminded that we can use this freedom and our knowledge of God to oppress God’s people, or we can use this freedom to liberate God’s people.

In these instances and thousands of others, Christianity is used and abused for the sake of power, to control, to maintain the status quo, to promote and sustain the elite. Isn’t it ironic—a little too ironic (sorry)—that God has created a world in which we are given autonomy of thought, belief and speech even at the hindrance of God’s work, yet we use this precise freedom to control and create power structures over others, stifling this God-granted autonomy.

Our God is omnipotent and chooses to love us in a way of pure sacrifice. We, in turn, choose to run with this love and freedom to create and gain power, which our loving God is relinquishing. Ironically, these are our feeble efforts to imitate our loving God…to hate, to oppress, to attack. These are our efforts? This is our legacy? This is our impact on our communities?

In following his thoughts through, Tutu sheds light on religion, “And you have to remember that religion is of itself neither good nor badReligion is a morally neutral thing. It is what you do with it…Religion is good when it produces a Dalai Lama, a Mother Teresa, a Martin Luther King.

He asks, “What does your faith make you do? Make you become?

This is the question to ask of our faith. The fruit of your vine is your witness and the glory of God.

 

Find the full story of Tutu’s interaction with the Dalai Lama in THE WISDOM OF COMPASSION: Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan.

Is the Church Radical? Jesus Was

Reposted from my Maple Ridge News article July 27, 2012.

Jesus was radical, but you wouldn’t always know that by looking at his followers. I am consistently amazed at how Jesus re-envisioned the heart of the scriptures.

Radicals are scorned, hated, attacked and persecuted. Jesus was, as were the early Christians, but most of us today (save those facing intense persecution in places like China) are generally unaware of persecution due to our radical Christianity.

If these are true statements, we need to ask two questions: what was radical about Jesus? and, what isn’t radical about our Christianity?

When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he replied with two. Both of them came direct from the legalistic laws of his misguided adversaries. “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbour as yourself.”

This is not new information to his audience. They know these laws forwards and backwards. The message, however, has been re-envisioned and radicalized. Jesus expands neighbour to include the broken, the impoverished, the outcast foreigner, and even your enemy.

Jesus consistently asked his audience to pause and rethink the religious order, not to refute the law, but to challenge his listener to a higher authority found in the author and the intent.

He was scorned and hated, because his message challenged the status quo and threatened authorities. Jewish leaders feared the passion and challenge, and Roman authorities feared the threat of disruption to societal order.

Christians do have a growing sense of persecution in North America, but I’m pretty sure it’s not because we love our neighbour in a way that threatens the fabric of society.

What if it was?

A recent Nat Geo documentary (When Rome Ruled: The Rise of Christianity) had an interesting story to tell of the early Christians. The radical Christianity, inherited from Christ, which led to their persecution and scorn, may also have had an impact on the growth of the church.

They even suggested that Christians lived longer, fought off diseases more frequently and survived better in harsh times. This documentary attributed much of Christianity’s growth to how they cared for their community, the poor and the outcast.

That is to say that, “love your neighbour as yourself” was a radical message that caused both growth and scorn, liberation and hatred.

What if we did love our neighbour in a way that threatened the fabric of our society? What if the scorn Christian’s faced today was not because of our piety and condemnation but because of our radical love, passion and care for people?

Is there a problem with that? Sure, in the process we will also disrupt the religious order, the status quo of our churches. In the process of living our faith, we’ll probably give in to all of society’s pressures and fall victim to secular culture. Well, that’s what I’m told.

Radical faith has to constantly fight against the human desire to create a new law that makes obsolete the radical message and love of Christ.

The King’s Speech & Expectations

Saturday Jenna and I saw our first movie in a theater since Khaim was born, only our second date night…Yes, it’s been more than a year. It was bliss! Our movie of choice? The King’s Speech. It was quite an inspirational story, but in reflection I’ve thought less about the internal motivations of the individual and more about the external expectations.

None of us can escape the expectations of our family, friends and others in our circle, and in turn we often expect great things from those around us. Communicating and responding to these expectations appropriately is pivotal in our development and growth as individuals and Christians.

Spoiler alert: Although historical dramas are by nature already spoiled, I’ll give you an opportunity to not read on.
Read on anyway

Protecting Faith in Egypt

Egyptian Coptic Christians and Muslims raise a cross and Koran

Egyptian Christians and Muslims Protesting Together (source: NYDailyNews - Abed/Getty)

One of the most uplifting stories I have ever read:
The NY Daily News reports that Egyptian Christian protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square joined hands to encircle and to protect praying Muslims on Friday, the holy day of Islam. When Sunday came, Muslim protesters returned the gesture to Coptic Christians so that they could observe Mass.

You may have to read that again to allow it to sink in. Muslims put their physical bodies between danger and Christians in an act to protect their commitment to faith. Christians stood between danger and Muslims to protect their fellow protesters’ time with God.

Given the less than cordial history between Islam and Christianity, the mutual respect shown this week is a testament to the promise and love that each of our religions calls us to. Always thinking in terms of ‘the other,’ Jesus called us to redefine our neighbor to include also the stranger, and we are to love, care for, protect and respect everyone…regardless.

Community plays a significant role in my theology. As I read and understand the Bible, God’s acts in creation and salvation and the relationship with humanity throughout the scriptures illustrate God’s passion and longing for community. As a relational God, and we being made in the likeness of God, I understand community to be the call of humanity, that is both a community with God and community with God’s creation. In fulfilling our call to community, we are to “love our neighbor as ourself.” When that plays out in the real world around us, our community (local and worldwide) is enhanced with every act of faith as we lift up, help out, encourage, liberate, offer mutual respect and discover ‘the other.’ Not to be lost in that process is our commitment and call to be in community with God. Without doubt when we offer our servitude and humility to all we come in contact with, we also serve and come closer to God.

The events this past weekend provide the epitome of illustrations in living out humanity’s call to community. As Christians on Friday protected the faith and prayer time of ‘the other,’ they extended an unprecedented bridge to community between Muslims and Christians. Furthermore, they were able to provide for that group time to deepen their community with God. Their actions worked in sort of a threefold manner by deepening their relationship with God’s creation, their own relationship with God and allowing others the opportunity to do the same. When Sunday came, the Muslims present were given the opportunity to reciprocate the act of community, and likewise their actions worked threefold in creating and extending unprecedented community. This all of course is without even mentioning their shining example to the world, as this is a story we need to tell again and again as examples of true faith in a world void of the radical respect for one another that we are called to.

It is easy for those of us in the U.S. and other Western countries to dehumanize all Muslims, to strip them of their faith and theology because of our experiences with fundamentalist terrorist groups. It is easy for us to abuse those experiences for political, social and religious gains. It is difficult and trying to “love our neighbor as ourself” and to see the faith and commitment of devoted Muslims. It is difficult to hear and answer God’s call to community through radical respect and love.

Few and far between are the stories of reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, but these faithful followers who understand the theology of community and neighbor give us hope for a more peaceful tomorrow. These Christians and Muslims remind us that we are capable of this respect and community, and our influence can be immediate and far-reaching. How can you display this faith in your community? What would our community or our church look like if we could muster the courage to have this faith daily?

A Story on Hospitality

After a recent sermon on radical hospitality, I made a new friend, Jim. He’s an older gentleman and a little rough around the edges. He shared a story he recalled from his childhood, the perfectly kept memory of radical hospitality…Christ-like hospitality.

Jim met Alfred as a kid, and they quickly became good friends, playing together after school almost every day. It donned on Jim one day that they always went to play at his house, and he realized that he had never even seen Alfred’s house. The next day, he asked Alfred, “Hey, we always go to my house, can we go to your house today.”
“No,” Alfred said, “we can’t play at my house.”
Jim asked, “Why not?” But he was never given an answer. He didn’t mind playing at his house, he just thought it was odd. Jim knew Alfred didn’t have a lot of money, but he didn’t know what that meant.
One day, Alfred broke down and told Jim why they can’t ever play at his house. “Every time somebody comes over to my house,” he said, “they stop being my friend, because we’re poor.”
Jim said, “Dude, I don’t care. You’re my friend.”
Later that summer, before heading out on a camping trip, the boys stopped by Alfred’s house to pick up his gear. Supper was almost done cooking, and Alfred’s family was ready to eat. When they arrived, Jim realized what poor really was. Alfred’s house…was made out of cardboard. From Jim’s telling, I got the sense that this wasn’t a cardboard box, but literally more like the structure of a house built out of cardboard with a sheet metal roof. Instead of just running in, Alfred’s mother wasn’t going to let them leave without having a proper dinner. With everyone standing around, she had Jim sit down first as the celebrated guest. Though he was an unexpected guest, she made sure he knew he was special and welcomed. She took a small amount from each of the servings from the family until Jim had the largest and the first portion. Jim was beside himself.
After they left, Alfred said, “Well, I guess your gonna stop being my friend now.”
“Are you kidding me Alfred? Your family is great. Dude, I’m gonna have to go get baptized for all the love in that house. Dude, my family doesn’t show love like that. Both my parents are alcoholics, and we don’t show love like that, and I’m gonna have to go get baptized before I can go back to your house for all the love in there.”

Young Jim’s response showed the maturity of his current age, and the hospitality he felt might have been equally felt by Alfred, given Alfred’s history of “friends.” When Jesus redefine’s neighbor to include the stranger, and even the enemy, we see our radical call to hospitality. When Jim’s mother redistributes the already small portions of her family to treat Jim as one of her own, we see what it means to live out that radical hospitality today.