On Friday, as I walked a community college campus with two YWAM students, we met a woman in her late thirties or so and asked if we could give her a holiday blessing. In broken English, she explained that she doesn’t observe the holidays because she is a Muslim from Mali. She apologized for her poor English and asked if we speak French. Corey, one of the YWAM students, speaks a little, and they had a short conversation. We asked whether she was experiencing any anti-Muslim sentiment here in America, and she said she was. We told her that we are Christians and tried to apologize for any mistreatment, but she didn’t seem to hear. She was a little emotional at this point, and began to tell us as best she could how concerned and embarrassed she is over the bad name Islam is getting because of the Islamic extremists. She talked at length, apologizing, and becoming more animated and upset. I didn’t understand a lot of what she was saying, but I did understand, “This is not Islam!” We all told her that we know that is not Islam. We spoke blessings of protection and for her to be heard and understood, and told her that we personally welcome her and Muslims like her in America. She understood, and thanked us. I’m not sure she was comforted much.
There has been an awful lot of Facebook posting since San Bernardino that is anti-Muslim. It is not helpful, and it is not right. The woman, whose name I’ve forgotten, told us that Christians and Muslims used to live in peace with each other in Mali, but that was not so true anymore. Christians only make up about five percent of the population there. In Kenya, the Christians compose about eighty percent of the population. Salome, my friend from Kenya, has told me that Christians and Muslims have always lived in peace and even intermarry without serious reprisals. There are Muslims and Imams within her traditionally Christian family.
Recent events seem to suggest that extremism is the biggest threat to extremism. Non-extremist Muslims are beginning to stand up to it, having been left by the extremists with nothing left to lose. I have seen and experienced this myself on a far, far milder level. I and other Christians like me have in recent years tended to distance ourselves from “extremist” Christianity by changing our designation to “Jesus followers”, or some other nomenclature. Churches are a little emptier because of this shift, which has as much to do with the fact that institutional Christianity does not represent what many of many of us believe. Of course, a corollary between this and what is happening in Islam is ludicrous, but the shift has been quite significant and I wonder if there will be a significant shift in the Muslim world as well?
The real point I want to make is that this world is impossibly divided (to borrow my friend Phil Wyman‘s use of the word impossible) along a lot of different lines. The divide is increasing daily and fear and territorialism are the main fuels. It’s time for people to think. And to let Love lead, instead of fear and selfishness. In spite of my use of the word “impossible”, the divides, I believe, can be removed. Whether they will be is the question.
There is a trend among American Christians that has been troubling me for some time. I was once caught up in the same trend, so if anyone feels I am pointing fingers, I have first pointed it at myself.
The trend I am seeing is that of being willing to modify, or ignore completely, Christ’s command to love our neighbors in the interest of preserving the standard of freedom of religion, lack of necessary sacrifice, and prosperity that we have enjoyed in this country in the 226 years since the constitution was ratified. It’s been sweet, and rare in the history of Christianity. But is it our duty to preserve this cushy situation to the degree that we turn our backs on those in need?
I’m talking, of course, about the Syrian refugee crisis.
I sympathize with those who say this is a very dangerous people group and that it is extremely dangerous to take them in. And for the non-Christian, I have nothing to say if that is your mindset, for it is a rational, common sense one. My point is directed at the Christian – the church, actually. And for those, too, I totally understand your concern and your determination to keep your families safe. But I can’t help but notice that a lot of the resistance, not only toward this issue, but others over the years, is not always about safety, but about preserving a comfortable standard of living.
And that is a shameful posture for a disciple of Jesus to take. In fact, if that is your posture, then you may be a believer, but in my opinion, you are not a disciple.
But a resistance based on fear is a different story. As I said, I sympathize with it. But is that really the proper response for a disciple of Jesus?
We have in our history outstanding stories of sacrifices made for the Gospel. These heroic stories continue to the present day. People who left all comforts, and even families, behind, who moved into leper colonies, knowing they would likely contract the disease themselves, Moravians who sold themselves into slavery so they could minister to slaves. People who faced death daily but did not turned back. I am a missionary, but I have a relatively cushy mission field. This past weekend, I did an outreach that is held in a hotel. I had my own room, with all the hot water I cared to luxuriate in. I had wine in the evening with friends. I went about in my socks. I often wonder, where is my sacrifice? I certainly feel like a lightweight compared to some of the missionaries I know and have read about.
Will taking in Syrian refugees be dangerous? Yeah, it’s dangerous. Suppose God visited you and asked you to face this danger and minister to these “neighbors”. What would your answer be? Since those people are asking for refuge, it seems He IS asking.
Yes, I know we can’t afford it. I know it may drag us all into a third world living standard. I know many of us could lose our lives. I know the USA could be tossed into the dustbin of history. Will we really not lay all that at the Lord’s feet, and say, “Yes, Lord. Do with me and mine as You will”?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9 I am fifty-nine years old. I grew up during the Vietnam war. Protests, marches and riots were in the news nearly every day. Three assassinations affected me deeply, as did the Kent State killings (I cried, because there were older neighborhood men I looked up to who were in the National Guard, and because college kids not much older than I were lying dead on the street). It seemed half the country was rejecting traditional values while the other half was trying to preserve them. There was plenty of “us vs. them” mentality everywhere one looked. But it wasn’t as bad as what I see today.
Never have I seen people at each others’ throats as now. I’ve been a conservative, politically and socially, most of my adult life. I’ve shaken my head at liberal thinking and had my share of arguments with liberals, and I still feel that conservatism, and with it, capitalism, offer the best answers for many of the problems we have today. But in light of the terrible divisiveness I see all around me, and the outright rage and hatred evident everywhere, I find myself very much unwilling to sacrifice my neighbor on the altar of my beliefs. Now, I know there are those who say that there are covert powers-that-be that have created all this chaos in order to reap that very attitude so we can more easily be conquered. I halfway believe it myself. I am not a pacifist and I’m not one to give up liberty for peace or security. If there were an enemy overtly trying to take those things from me, I would fight. But if there are such covert powers, they have succeeded in making my neighbor seem like my enemy. But at least as regards the sort of social and political issues I am alluding to here, my neighbor is NOT my enemy, and I will not take up arms, literally or figuratively, against my neighbor, no matter what the potential cost (see Luke 10:25-37).
Hatred makes people blind. Hatred comes from fear. The more we fear, the more we retreat into our opinions and ideologies. We need a resurgence of Courage; the courage to listen and embrace and to bend a little. I don’t know if any of the huge issues facing us can be resolved any time soon, but the hugest one – the apparent hatred we have toward one another – could be.
This being the season we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it occurs to me that if each of us followed his example – whether one chooses to make him one’s Lord or not – the whole world would drastically change, and for the better. I’m not talking about Christianity; I’m talking about following the example of the person of Jesus. Some of the most notable and effective world changers have done just that. Alan Hirsch states, in his excellent book, “The Forgotten Ways”, that “Gandhi… when probed about the ideological roots of his philosophy, he claimed absolutely no originality for his ideas: he said that he learned all this from Jesus indirectly, via Tolstoy.” Martin Luther King Jr. used both Gandhi and Jesus as his models. From Mother Teresa to countless lesser known names who have changed their little corner of the world for the better throughout history,
Jesus was the example. Imitating Jesus needn’t and shouldn’t mean refraining from standing on and speaking the truth (as best we can). But it definitely means our fellow man, woman, and child are not our enemies, and it also makes us our brother’s keeper (see again Luke 10:25-37).
I would like to suggest that the things that make us uneasy toward one another are exactly the things we ought to look at more carefully than people tend to do. These are the things we DON’T want to look at. In that light, if this talk about imitating Jesus makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself: Could there be any harm in exploring the idea, to see what that might look like?
To those of you who are Christians, as I am, I confess that there is in me a lot of room for improvement. And so I make this outrageous claim: if a movement were to begin and spread, in which people – Christians and non-Christians alike – determined to SIMPLY ACT more like Jesus, the world would begin to be a brighter, happier, more equitable, and freer place immediately.
Consider the reason for the season!