Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday: Despair and Faith

This is a beautiful post, which struck me deeply:
What Good Friday teaches us about cynicism
“For believers, the complete story of Good Friday and Easter legitimizes both despair and faith. Nearly every life features less-than-good Fridays. We grow tired of our own company and travel a descending path of depression. We experience lonely pain, unearned suffering or stinging injustice. We are rejected or betrayed by a friend. And then there are the unspeakable things — the death of a child, the diagnosis of an aggressive cancer, the steady advance of a disease that will take our minds and dignity. We look into the abyss of self-murder. And given the example of Christ, we are permitted to feel God-forsaken.“And yet . . . eventually . . . or so we trust . . . or so we try to trust: God is forever on the side of those who suffer. God is forever on the side of life. God is forever on the side of hope.”

Having experienced Depression, I do recognize the deep sense of despair in Jesus’ words: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Depression isn’t sadness, it is a state of complete hopelessness. Darkness keeps descending, and there is no reason to believe that dawn will ever come again.

But I have also experienced the faith that can follow despair. Faith means different things to me on different days-- sometimes it is awe at the wonders of the Universe; sometimes it is a simple sense of comfort in a community; sometimes it the crazy, counter-intuitive way that Love can triumph over fear.

And to be perfectly honest, sometimes my faith is just a simple link on an unbroken chain of 2,000 years of believers, stretching all the way back to those “cowardly friends [who] became bold missionaries, most dying torturous deaths (according to tradition) for the sake of a figure they had once betrayed in their sleep.”

I don’t personally know for sure what happened 2,000+ years ago in Jerusalem. But I find it compelling that that the people who WERE there on Easter Sunday were willing to die for a Truth that seemed totally inconceivable to them on Good Friday. Their failings and denials during Jesus' trial and execution seem relatable, but their courage and audacity afterward are something altogether different and inspiring.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hebrews 11:6

I'm working on it...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Philippians 2:1-4

I've been meeting with a small group of women for about a year now, and I am just so grateful for the encouragement, comfort, sharing, tenderness, and compassion that I've witnessed and experienced by being part of this group.  So much love...

Monday, February 20, 2017


Rage Against the Minivan: Why I Think it’s Time to Retire the Word ‘Missionary’:
"No vocation is more spiritual than another. And every Christian is called to share the gospel. But the very existence of the word missionary as it is used today seems to imply otherwise. If missionaries are God’s Special Forces, then evangelism is a calling for some, for the super-spiritual. The rest of us just aren’t called to that.

"...But God’s mission has never been about counting the number of spiritual conversations you’ve had in a week or valuing street evangelism over changing diapers and formatting spreadsheets. God’s mission has never been about seeing yourself as a spiritual superhero in an action story. God’s mission, as St. John of the Cross said, is to put love where love is not. It’s about relational flourishing.

"We all share this vocation, but we live into it in different ways. Maybe your way is through cross-cultural evangelism. Maybe it’s to be a first-grade teacher. Maybe it’s to be a linguist and a Bible translator. Maybe it’s to be a stay-at-home dad. Maybe it’s to be a doctor in the suburbs, the inner city, or an African village. I don’t know, but what I do know is that all of those vocations are valuable, and in all of those vocations, you can put love where love is not."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Nationalism vs Patriotism

I read this article on Nationalism vs Patriotism awhile ago, and it has been rattling around in my brain ever since. Jonah Goldberg argues that the key difference between them is the distinction between simply loving our country (tribalism) vs loving the values and ideals that it represents:
"This is at the same time both entirely right and fundamentally misleading. It leaves out what the flag represents. It glides over the fact that the national anthem sanctifies the “land of the free.” Our shrines are to patriots who upheld very specific American ideals. Our statues of soldiers commemorate heroes who died for something very different from what other warriors have fought and died for millennia. Every one of them — immigrants included — took an oath to defend not just some soil but our Constitution and by extension the ideals of the Founding. Walk around any European hamlet or capital and you will find statues of men who fell in battle to protect their tribe from another tribe. That doesn’t necessarily diminish the nobility of their deaths or the glory of their valor, but it is quite simply a very different thing they were fighting for."
My husband and I were having a discussion over lunch about hypocrisy within the church, and I think that it comes down to a similar distinction-- It is dangerous to love being part of a church community (tribalism again) more than you love the values that The Church is supposed to advance in this world.

I think that this quote from the article can be applied in either case*:
"Left-wingers who fancy themselves ironically detached from patriotism and particularism and as avatars of a more sophisticated cosmopolitanism no doubt roll their eyes at such things, considering it so much schmaltz. Some might even snark that such patriotic piety is hypocritical given this or that crime — real or alleged — that America has committed. But hypocrisy is a charge every civilization opens itself to when it aims for an ideal higher and better than loyalty to tribe."
*To be clear, I do NOT believe that American ideals and Church values are identical. I just try to live within the overlap of their Venn diagram.

The United States and the Church are both made up of flawed individuals, and so we inevitably fail to live up to "American exceptionalism" or "being a good Christian." And I think it's completely OK to be critical of those failings, as long as we don't become so jaded that we succumb to the notion that those values and ideals matter less than our tribal loyalty.

Jonah Goldberg wrote a follow-up to his original article, where he rebuts some of the criticism that he received from one of his colleagues:
When Rich says, “Jonah seems to imply that other countries can’t have true patriotism because they don’t have the Declaration and our founding ideals . . . ” you should translate that as, “Rich seems to be inferring.” I have no problem conceding that patriotism exists in other countries. Americans didn’t invent the word, after all.

Let’s stipulate that patriotism means “love of country.” People all over the world love their countries. Even people who live under oppressive dictators and hate their governments will say that they love their country. Indeed, many of the greatest patriots swim against the nationalist tides in their homelands.

Let me try it a different way. I have always believed that American conservatism is inseparable from American patriotism. I said “inseparable from” not “identical to.”

Since everyone’s quoting Samuel Huntington these days, I’ll do it too. Huntington observed that conservatism is a “positional ideology.” By that he meant that there are many conservatisms because conservatives in different societies seek to conserve different things. A conservative in France in, say, 1788 seeks to conserve that rich bouillabaisse of altar and throne. A conservative in England seeks to conserve the monarchy, among other things.

...This is why I share Yuval Levin’s contention that, at its core, conservatism is gratitude.

"To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it." --Yuval Levin

A patriot in England, never mind Russia or Botswana, loves different things than a patriot in the United States. It’s something of a paradox: All patriotisms are equal in that they are all subjective, but not all patriotisms are equal when measured against certain ideals.

And that makes all the difference in the world. Lowry asserts that I think other countries can’t have patriotism because they don’t love the Founding and our principles of liberty. Not at all; rather, I think American patriotism is different because America — the object of our love — is different. As Hayek noted, America is the one place where you can be a lover of liberty and a conservative because in America conservatives seek to defend the liberal principles of the Founding.

In America there is nationalist sentiment, to be sure, but the “doctrines” of nationalism find no easy purchase here. Werner Sombart’s famous question, “Why is there no socialism in America?” has elicited many answers, but the most agreed-upon one is that America has no feudal past. America represented a sharp break with the ancient notion that polities — nations, empires, city-states, tribes, etc. — were no different than families with an unimpeachable pater familias at the helm. We celebrated and enshrined very different notions in our national DNA, which is why Alexis de Tocqueville could observe that the American was the Englishman left alone. What makes America exceptional, what makes American patriotism and conservatism different, is that the object of our love and gratitude is different. If Rich wants to define nationalism as love of country and nothing more, that’s his right. But he would be wrong.

So when Rich tries to insinuate that I don’t think William of Orange was a patriot, he’s wrong. But his patriotism was fundamentally, philosophically, and morally different than American patriotism. And, by the way, it most certainly was tribal, if one is allowed some leeway when using the term.
He also refers to American exceptionalism in another article, criticizing Trump's recent comments about the US being no different than Russia:
It’s the president’s job to help shape public rhetoric, because how we talk about our ideals determines whether we sustain or erode them. Or, as the late literary critic Wayne Booth put it, rhetoric is “the art of probing what men believe they ought to believe.” To listen to Trump, Americans should believe a number of dismaying things: our public institutions cannot be trusted; he alone can fix our problems; absent him, our best days are behind us; and, most worrisome, America’s ideals have been part of the problem, not the solution.

I don’t care if Trump thinks we’ve fallen short of ideals – of course we have, that’s why we call them ideals. What bothers me is that he often sounds like he has contempt for those ideals in the first place.
John McCain also rebuked Trump (indirectly) in his speech to the Munich Security Conference:
Make no mistake, my friends: These are dangerous times, but you should not count America out, and we should not count each other out. We must be prudent, but we cannot wring our hands and wallow in self-doubt. We must appreciate the limits of our power, but we cannot allow ourselves to question the rightness and goodness of the West. We must understand and learn from our mistakes, but we cannot be paralyzed by fear. We cannot give up on ourselves and on each other. That is the definition of decadence. And that is how world orders really do decline and fall.

This is exactly what our adversaries want. This is their goal. They have no meaningful allies, so they seek to sow dissent among us and divide us from each other. They know that their power and influence are inferior to ours, so they seek to subvert us, and erode our resolve to resist, and terrorize us into passivity. They know they have little to offer the world beyond selfishness and fear, so they seek to undermine our confidence in ourselves and our belief in our own values.

We must take our own side in this fight. We must be vigilant. We must persevere. And through it all, we must never, never cease to believe in the moral superiority of our own values—that we stand for truth against falsehood, freedom against tyranny, right against injustice, hope against despair … and that even though we will inevitably take losses and suffer setbacks, through it all, so long as people of goodwill and courage refuse to lose faith in the West, it will endure.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Images of God

Brian Tome

Genesis 1:26-28 (NLT)
26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. 
28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
Exodus 35:30-35 (NLT)
30 Then Moses told the people of Israel, “The Lord has specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31 The Lord has filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. 32 He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. 33 He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft. 34 And the Lord has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach their skills to others. 35 The Lord has given them special skills as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple, and scarlet thread on fine linen cloth, and weavers. They excel as craftsmen and as designers.
God created humans to do three things:
  • Rule/Dominion - Order out of chaos - Brings peace, justice, order, organization, processes, and systems - Teacher, Judge, Engineers, Scientists, Contractors, Project Managers
  • Increase/Growth - Abundance - Things just seem to flourish under your care - Entrepreneur, Sales/Marketing, Farmer, Banker
  • Create/Innovate - Create new things - Architect, Photographer, Artist, Performer, Inventor
All of these are aspects of his image.

Group Discussion

Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Luigina:  "Helping others" is a Spiritual Gift.  Look it up!

1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-31 (NLT)
4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. 8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. 9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.
29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.<

But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

True Talent Indicator

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT)
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
The name is a dead giveaway. Innovators love nothing better than coming up with a new idea. New vision, new market, new product, new non-profit; whatever the opportunity, innovators love taking new ground. They have big ideas and aren’t easily discouraged by obstacles. They aren’t fatigued by reinvention or change; in fact, it is what gives them the most energy.

Typically, innovators will tend toward high-risk, high-flexibility type environments. Entrepreneurs are often (though not always) innovators, as are many creatives and early adopters. Immature innovators will often struggle with focus, lacking the discernment and discipline to focus on the handful of important ideas from the firehose of stuff constantly running through their head. Mature innovators, however, have learned the necessity of developing a team around them to help follow through on their great ideas.

Every expedition needs a navigator. Futurists have an uncanny ability to step back, see what’s likely to happen, and make a plan to address it. They often come up with solutions that are creative and unorthodox—sometimes even resulting in conflict when others can’t see what they see. Call it “gut instinct” or “intuition;” successful futurists often see both threats and opportunities earlier than others.

Futurists tend to be creative and multi-disciplinary, relying on their ability to solve problems and address upcoming issues. Immature futurists can easily become discontent or self critical if they don’t feel like their ideas are given adequate merit; this can cause them to become distant and isolated. However, a mature futurist understands the value of community, and has learned the humility it takes to trust a broader team rather than acting in isolation.

If they love it, you’re going to know about it. Promoters simply can’t help but tell others about the things that have impacted their life—from the newest gadget or movie to a life-changing epiphany about the world. They are often outgoing and highly relational, and display their love and care for others by sharing the things they like.

Promoters are natural networkers and relationship builders. Immature promoters can unknowingly leave people feeling abandoned due to their ability to very easily build new relationships because of excitement about “the next big thing.” Mature promoters, on the other hand, take care to ensure that people remain their highest priority, and that they communicate that love and care clearly.

Forget the guy with the whistle and the awkwardly short shorts, this kind of person leads, motivates, and encourages you to become more than what you currently are. They consistently see potential in the people around them, empathize easily with the suffering of others, and exhibit lots of patience with those in need.

Coaches typically gravitate toward direct interaction with others,and take it upon themselves to address the needs they see. Immature coaches will often struggle to challenge people to move forward for fear that the person will be angry with them. Mature coaches, on the other hand, have developed the skill of speaking truth in a loving way, and are willing to embrace the risk that comes with telling people what they actually need to hear.

The brains of the operation, trainers love to help others understand how things work. Trainers are driven to understand not just the system or the product, but the theory behind it. They’re constantly learning and acquiring new information, and are often sought after by others as they are happy to teach others what they’ve learned.

Trainers obviously are quite prevalent in educational fields, but also tend to make highly capable managers and leaders as well. Immature trainers may encounter relational difficulties, as their reliance on their intelligence can portray them as a “know-it-all.” Mature trainers understand that their value extends beyond what they know, and are unafraid to admit ignorance or weakness in an area.

Two things for teachers to do:
  1. Develop your mind - Reading plan
  2. Put yourself in situations to speak

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Amici Curiae

On Monday, 97 companies filed an "amici curiae" brief as part of the lawsuit against Trump's Immigration Ban. (From Wikipedia: "An amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court; plural, amici curiae) is someone who is not a party to a case and is not solicited by a party, but who assists a court by offering information that bears on the case.")
Please take the time to read the arguments, starting on page 15 of the pdf document. Here are some key excerpts:
Immigrants make many of the Nation’s greatest discoveries, and create some of the country’s most innovative and iconic companies. Immigrants are among our leading entrepreneurs, politicians, artists, and philanthropists. The experience and energy of people who come to our country to seek a better life for themselves and their children—to pursue the “American Dream”—are woven throughout the social, political, and economic fabric of the Nation.

For decades, stable U.S. immigration policy has embodied the principles that we are a people descended from immigrants, that we welcome new immigrants, and that we provide a home for refugees seeking protection. At the same time, America has long recognized the importance of protecting ourselves against those who would do us harm. But it has done so while maintaining our fundamental commitment to welcoming immigrants—through increased background checks and other controls on people seeking to enter our country.

The tremendous impact of immigrants on America—and on American business—is not happenstance. People who choose to leave everything that is familiar and journey to an unknown land to make a new life necessarily are endowed with drive, creativity, determination—and just plain guts. The energy they bring to America is a key reason why the American economy has been the greatest engine of prosperity and innovation in history.

These principles have defined American immigration policy for the past 50 years. The beneficiaries are not just the new immigrants who chose to come to our shores, but American businesses, workers, and consumers, who gain immense ad-vantages from immigrants’ infusion of talents, energy, and opportunity.

The Executive Order abandons those principles—and inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth as a result. The Order makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire, and retain some of the world’s best employees. It disrupts ongoing business operations. And it threatens companies’ ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States.
They specifically argue against the chaotic and poorly-communicated way that the order was implemented. (i.e. It's seven countries today, but what if another order is issued next week, impacting 10 other countries?)  Because free markets thrive on stability, not chaos.
The Order threatens the long-standing stability of the U.S. immigration laws, which have been marked by clear, settled standards and constrained discretion—introducing sudden changes without notice, unclear standards for implementation, and no standards for the exercise of waiver authority. That shift deprives employees and businesses of the predictability they require.

This instability and uncertainty will make it far more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to hire some of the world’s best talent—and impede them from competing in the global marketplace. Businesses and employees have little incentive to go through the laborious process of sponsoring or obtaining a visa, and relocating to the United States, if an employee may be unexpectedly halted at the border. Skilled individuals will not wish to immigrate to the country if they may be cut off without warning from their spouses, grandparents, relatives, and friends—they will not pull up roots, incur significant economic risk, and subject their family to considerable uncertainty to immigrate to the United States in the face of this instability.

The Order also could well lead to retaliatory actions by other countries, which would seriously hinder U.S. companies’ ability to do business or negotiate business deals abroad. Many companies do business in one or more of the countries currently covered by the Order. Indeed, U.S. diplomats already are reporting that General Electric may lose out on business deals in Iraq potentially worth billions of dollars. Additional actions against American citizens or business will have a further ripple effect.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Thoughts on Immigration

I'm relieved that Trump's Executive Order has been put on hold, and yet I know that the issues relating to immigration are far from over.

For the record, I do believe that our country has the right to bar entry to those who wish to do us harm. I also believe that our government has an obligation to guard the safety of our citizens. But I can't believe that Trump's Executive Order was intended that way.

If he had cited recommendations from one or more of our intelligence agencies, based on a specific threat, I would support a temporary hold on issuing visas. That's not at all what happened here. Instead, our government REVOKED 60,000-100,000 existing visas, impacting thousands of people (including green card holders) who were enroute to the US at the time that the EO took effect.

I really only see two possible ways to interpret what happened last weekend:

  1. The goal was to deliberately sow chaos and fear and division.
  2. The drafting and implementation of the EO was just mind-bogglingly inept.

Neither of these possibilities is good.

The fact of the matter is that our safety is FAR more likely to be impacted by our fellow Americans than it is by immigrants. It's convenient to talk about Orlando and San Bernardino, while overlooking Aurora and Charleston and Sandy Hook, just as Trump expressed his outrage about the knife attack at the Louvre, while saying NOTHING about the victims in Quebec. Meanwhile, he's redirecting and renaming the government program that focuses on "Countering Violent Extremism" to "Countering Islamic Extremism" which means that white supremacists are no longer part of that mission. So yeah, I'm sure Trump's only agenda is keeping us safe...

Ultimately, I believe our strength as a country isn't based on zero-sum, win-lose ideology. Immigration is a win-win. Immigrants and refugees benefit from being welcomed here, AND SO DO WE. Morally, strategically, culturally, and economically.

So I want to wrap up my comments with a quote from Bishop Ough's statement, which I have attached below:
"Refugees and immigrants arrive among us, not only with their needs, but also bearing gifts of energy, resourcefulness, love of liberty and hope. These gifts have always contributed to the renewal of our society and the church."

Statement from Madeleine Albright:
Most of you have seen the draft executive order on immigration and refugees that the President is expected to sign. If signed as written, it would ban Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspend the entire refugee program for 120 days, cut in half the number of refugees we can admit, and halt all travel from certain Muslim countries.

Having looked at the draft, I felt I had no choice but to speak out against it in the strongest possible terms.

In doing so, I want to make three points.

First, it is a cruel measure that represents a stark departure from America's core values. We have a proud tradition of sheltering those fleeing violence and persecution, and have always been the world leader in refugee resettlement. As a refugee myself who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, I personally benefited from this country’s generosity and its tradition of openness. This order would end that tradition, and discriminate against those fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria. It does not represent who we are as a country.

Second, this measure would directly harm our security interests. As you all know, the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East poses an extraordinary threat to the stability of that region and to our allies in Europe. We need to be doing more, not less, to alleviate the problem – and one important way to do that is to accept a modest number of thoroughly vetted refugees. The signing of this executive order would send a terrible signal to our allies in Europe and in the Middle East, who will now have an excuse to do less. It will also be a gift to ISIS, which has been telling Muslims around the world that the west is their enemy. I have no doubt they will use this order as propaganda to support that claim.

Third, there is no data to support the idea that refugees pose a threat. This policy is based on fear, not facts. The refugee vetting process is robust and thorough. It already consists of over 20 steps, ensuring that refugees are vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler. The process typically takes 18-24 months, and is conducted while they are still overseas. I am concerned that this order’s attempts at “extreme vetting” will effectively halt our ability to accept anyone at all. . When the administration makes wild claims about Syrian refugees pouring over our borders, they are relying on alternative facts – or as I like to call it, fiction.

The truth is that America can simultaneously protect the security of our borders and our citizens and maintain our country’s long tradition of welcoming those who have nowhere else to turn. These goals are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are the obligation of a country built by immigrants.

Refugees should not be viewed as a certain burden or potential terrorists. They have already made great contributions to our national life. Syrian refugees are learning English, getting good jobs, buying homes, and starting businesses. In other words, they are doing what other generations of refugees – including my own – did. And I have no doubt that, if given the opportunity, they will become an essential part of our American fabric.

Yesterday, I tweeted about my own background. I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian and then found out I was Jewish. I said in my tweet that should a registry of Muslims be instituted by this administration, I would add my name to such a list.

Such a registry is not included in the language of this order, but by targeting Muslim-majority countries for immigration bans and by expressing a clear preference for refugees who are religious minorities, there’s no question this order is biased against Muslims. And when one faith is targeted, it puts us all at risk.

When I came here as a child, I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and seeing the Statue of Liberty. It proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty, and today she is weeping because of the actions of President Trump.

Statement from Bishop Ough - United Methodist Council of Bishops:
Today, I stand with colleagues representing several faith traditions to strongly denounce President Trump’s widespread attack on immigrants and refugees. President Trump’s reckless, ill-conceived executive orders will divide families, impose a religious test for Muslims facing forced migration, penalize communities providing sanctuary and wall off the United States from our neighbors. These actions are expensive, unnecessary and profoundly antithetical to our values of compassion, dignity and justice for all individuals regardless of nationality, religious affiliation or legal status.

The biblical witness is clear and unambiguous. Walls are unbiblical. Hospitality is biblical. Denying one’s neighbor is unbiblical. Welcoming the stranger is biblical. It is not surprising that Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach the reign of God as a banquet to which all peoples are invited. We are to welcome the sojourner, love our neighbor and stand with the most vulnerable among us. These very values from our sacred texts and faith traditions are currently reflected in the mandate of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and must not be usurped by any executive order. Orders, legislation or administrative actions that would have the U.S. State Department disqualify refugees from protection and resettlement based on their nationality or religion are a denial of the very principles this nation was built upon, contradict the legacy of leadership our country has offered the world, and dishonor our shared humanity.

Jesus was explicit in his teachings. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40).

Refugees and immigrants arrive among us, not only with their needs, but also bearing gifts of energy, resourcefulness, love of liberty and hope. These gifts have always contributed to the renewal of our society and the church.

Above all, these strangers bring to us the Christ. When we welcome a stranger we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome our creator. Refugees, immigrants, those yearning to be free—these are the ones whom Jesus spoke about when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

Repeatedly Jesus tells his disciples:

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

The original Greek language is far more poetic, powerful and prophetic. In finer translations of the Greek language, we hear Jesus saying:

“Whoever seeks to build a wall around their soul shall destroy it; whoever tears down the wall (around their soul) shall bring their soul to a living birth.”

The very soul of our country is at stake. When we abandon strangers who are at risk of bigotry, xenophobia and violence we not only destroy their hope, we destroy our own souls. When we fail to assist the refugees fleeing danger, we not only place them in harm’s way, we do harm to our own souls. When we build walls of concrete, or walls of divisive rhetoric, or walls of fear, or walls of immoral immigration policies, we build a wall around our own souls.

Christ calls us to tear down the walls around our souls that we might live fully and abundantly. Thus, I call on the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to rescind the harmful executive orders and save the soul of our country. I call upon the people of The United Methodist Church to see the face of Christ in the refugee. Say “no” to the walling off of our country and our hearts and say “yes” to their hope – our hope – for new life. Let us unite and work together to bring the soul of this country to a living birth!
The Muslim Ban Executive Order – An Open Letter to President Trump
Dear President Trump:

Let me introduce myself. First and foremost, I voted for you in the most recent election. I’ve been a staunch conservative much of my adult life. I’ve been active in many GOP advocacy groups, both in the US and in Europe. I am a US immigration attorney. I’m also an entrepreneur and small business owner. My law practice and other business interests span the US and Europe. I was in the Brussels airport days before it was bombed. Thus, I am keenly aware of citizen fears surrounding immigration security, both here and abroad.

I may have been the only US immigration attorney in this election that voted for you. My colleagues certainly lean to the “left” when it comes to immigration policy. I voted for you, because after 8 years of stagnant progress on necessary immigration reform, I thought you were the best candidate to bring some “balance to the force”, that in turn would break the stalemate in DC surrounding immigration reform. I recognize we are a country of laws, and that immigration works best when good laws are followed and processes honored. In fact, many of my immigration clients who have “followed the rules” often express that sentiment themselves. I also recognize that an important aspect of immigration law is ensuring domestic security. When immigration processes are not effective, bad things happen, like 9/11. This in turn causes an exponential “backlash” against immigration, and we regress as a diverse country as a result. For the past eight years, not enough attention has been focused on bringing orderly structure back to immigration law, such that the US citizenry would gain confidence in the benefits of healthy immigration. The security aspect of immigration law was also diluted as a governmental concern. It was my hope that you would change that dynamic, in a way that would get both sides of the aisle recognizing the valid concerns each side of the immigration reform debate have. That in turn would bring about much necessary progress on that subject.

With that background, I must confess that I am gravely disappointed with the application of what is being termed your Muslim ban Executive Order. You have gone on record today stating that it is not a Muslim ban. In proper context, you are right. I’ve studied your order, and it applies to everyone from the affected countries, regardless of faith, and regardless of status. That very aspect of it makes it even more appalling. Ensnared in your order, are many persecuted individuals and families who were in the process of obtaining visas and green cards based on that persecuted status. Religious minorities in Iraq and Iran who are viewed as “apostates” under the predominant religious authorities. Individuals who have assisted our US military and placed themselves in grave danger as a result. Green card holders who have established exemplary residence in the United States and have made tremendous contributions to their communities. All now excluded from the United States, or detained within the United States, when they were already granted or promised the right to be here. For many of these wonderful folks, time is of the absolute essence, and 90 days can be a matter of life or death.

Moreover, the Muslim Ban Executive Order does little to actually address valid security concerns. The San Bernardino shooters had ties to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. While there is a valid point that vetting mechanisms, particularly for the wife, failed, they failed in Pakistan, which is not subject to your Executive Order. The Pulse Nightclub shooter and his wife, are not from countries covered by your Executive Order. The Boston Marathon bomber, is not from a country subject to your Executive Order. Americans want to see security, but this Executive Order is merely window dressing, if one analyzes the security lapses that have led to successful terrorist attacks on American soil.

On the contrary, this Muslim Ban Executive Order ensnares many law abiding citizens who dream of a productive life in the United States. I have represented Iranian clients over the years. They speak of hardships they had to endure at the hands of the Iranian government they despised, such as being imprisoned for the mere offense of owning a satellite dish. I’ve represented Muslim immigrants who have defied parental directives to marry Christian US service members, often resulting in permanent estrangement from their parents in their home countries. I’ve represented Muslim immigrants who have come to the United States to escape the prospect of arranged marriages in their home countries. I’ve represented service members who have married Iraqi citizens, and with whom they have built loving and happy families in the United States. The one thread that runs in common with these clients, particularly from countries like Iran and Iraq, is the escaping of oppression for the opportunity at freedom. Does your Executive Order uphold the promise of freedom and opportunity for the very people subjected to government oppression in their home countries?

In short, the implementation and application of your Muslim Ban Executive Order stigmatizes the very folks who support the United States, and dream of a new life in the United States with all of the freedoms we have to offer. Rather than enhancing security to keep us safe, it places persecuted individuals at grave risk of harm in their home countries. It acts as a major disincentive for citizens of those countries to help us, such as translators who help save US service member lives. The Executive Order penalizes the wrong people who believe in our ideals, while doing nothing of substance in keeping those in the world who hate our ideals, from attacking us.

Thus Mr. President, as an immigration attorney who voted for you, I implore you to rescind your Executive Order immediately, and promptly convene a roundtable of immigration attorneys who will be extremely happy to provide you with valuable information on ways to properly reform our immigration system in a way that ensures our security, benefits our diverse country, and strengthens our relationships in the world and our economy, while at the same time, preserving everything we stand for as a country. We can accomplish those results, without alienation, stigmas and discrimination. The Executive Order, and its application, is not what America is about. Rather, let’s be an example to the world in showing that a nation’s immigration system can be reformed and secured in a way that honors America’s ideals of inclusiveness, freedom and opportunity.

Very Truly Yours,
Richard L. Ruth, Esq.
The Law Office of Richard Ruth

Friday, December 09, 2016

Peace in the Present is Found in the Pause

Chuck Mingo

Matthew 1:18-25
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."  --Viktor E. Frankl

Three things that come in the pause:

1.  Get Revelation - You can hear from God in the pause...  In the midst of this unplanned detour, that you didn't expect, God is up to something good.
There are verses in the Bible that oftentimes we misapply, even if we don't misquote them.  Romans 8:28 says: "And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose."  Let's not misunderstand this verse.  This verse does not say:  "If you love God, if you're in relationship with Jesus, and if you're following his path, only good things will happen."  That is not what that verse says.  What that verse says is:  "When you love God, and when you're following him, and when you have the presence of God in your life, God becomes the ultimate alchemist in your life, and he can take even the brokenness, even the unplanned, unexpected things, and he can work them together in his holy way for your good, and for the good of what he's doing in your life.

But if we just react, we miss the revelation that comes-- that even in the midst of what I don't understand right now, God could be up to something good.  See, the problem we have in the moment is we can't see what God sees. I love how 1 Corinthians 13:12 puts it:  "For now we see in a mirror dimly..."  That's our problem-- We can't see what God sees. But in the pause, you can get window into what God is doing.  That's one of the reasons prayer is so powerful.  Because to pray is to pause.

And it's interesting how the science research is proving what the Bible has said for centuries-- That when you pray, it doesn't just change things, it changes you...  When you are living in fear... your brain goes to its most base, most animal place of fight-or-flight... and yet people who pray have ability to activate different parts of their brain that produce emotions like love, joy, and self-control, which is what the Bible calls the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  So when you pray, it's an opportunity to pause and understand that even in what you can't see, God might be up to something good.  And in the pause, you can receive revelation, and that revelation can bring you peace in your present situation.
2.  Get Redirection -  Joseph goes in a different direction than planned, based on the revelation he received.

Mark 1:15
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
Jesus specifically uses a word for time, that we have to understand the meeting of.  He didn't use Kronos = chronological time; he used Chiros = moments in life when time stands still.

From Wikipedia:
Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the 'supreme moment'). The ancient Greeks had two words for time: Greek: χρόνος (chronos) and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a period or season, a moment of indeterminate time in which an event of significance happens. What is happening when referring to kairos depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature.

3.  Grow Resolve - We lack peace in the present because we can't see enough context about where we are.  If we knew a little bit more, we could have the resolve to deal with the difficulty of the present moment.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

If darkness is the place you choose to meet with me...

Robbie Reider (14:25)
You know, at the top of this song it says, "If darkness is the place you choose to meet with me..." Another verse says, "If it's in the mystery that you are found..." I love those lines, because they refer to the place that we see a lot of people throughout the Bible. You know, the folks that God seems to interact with are folks that are in some predicament, they're in some place where there is no hope, where this no way of rescue. And it's in that place where you see really honest prayers come out. It's where you see the pretense fall away and you see the real brokenness of humanity just go, "God... where are you? I thought you would be here." And it's in those places where you see God go, "Yeah, I see you're broken and I've come to rescue you." And so what I love about that is it give me hope, it gives us hope as we walk in here, you know, a bunch of humans with our own unique stories of brokenness, our own unique stories of needing to encounter a Savior.

And in those places, what we see is God takes brokenness and his ability to redeem, and he puts things together and those are the people that he uses and brings close to Him. It's not the people who pretend to have all their stuff together, it's the folks who are like, "Yep, I'm the first of the broken."
Thank you, Robbie.  On so many occasions now, you've said something that touched me and turned the music into a personal prayer.

If the darkness is the place that you will meet with me
In the dark night of the soul, your love it reaches me
When the sun can't reach, your light it carries me
If the darkness is the place that you will meet with me

Make me yours, though I'm broken through and through
Make me yours, though I've nothing left but you

If in the mystery is where you are found
In the shadow of your wings the poor become the crowned
In the dark and in the deep, your voice it speaks to me
If in the mystery is where you are found

Brian Tome

Romans 12:18
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Philippians 2:1-4
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Several years ago (like 2007, maybe?) Greg Boyd spoke at Crossroads.  One thing he said, which struck me so much that I wrote it down and have kept it with me all these years, was this:
If you're ever in a theological debate, or any kind of a debate, and winning the debate becomes more important than expressing Calvary-like love to the person you're debating, do the Kingdom of God a favor and SHUT UP.