Posts Tagged stranger

Humility, Kindness, and Welcome: Hard but Biblical Calling – David Jordan*

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

There is, in the American character, an exceedingly hopeful and optimistic spirit. I believe righteousness and kindness are embedded in the hopes and dreams of this nation. Though sometimes twisted in irrational ways or hidden behind today’s political climate, we continue to share, as Americans, a desire to welcome the stranger, to see the rejected of other lands as a new and potentially vital part of our own. Yet, because of various pressures and difficulties, that vision — that hopeful trajectory of a positive future — is threatened. In some areas of our country where crime and illegal immigration have appeared to increase in tandem, it is tempting to leap to associative conclusions.

The complicated dynamics of our current time should not be minimized, nor should the legitimate concerns of the many caught up in the maelstrom of confusing policies and inappropriate behaviors on all sides diminish the power and necessity of welcoming the stranger. At the bedrock of our nation’s character (and inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty) are these words from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These sentiments correspond well to what Jesus intoned in the face of harsh opposition as he continued to reinforce: “Love the alien as you love yourself; for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

The tendency for many, and the constant temptation for all, is to blame problems on those who are new or different or those we simply don’t understand. Yet, consistently in this country and throughout Christian history, we remember the legacy of the stranger, the heroic actions of the unwanted, the new insights and contributions of the disregarded and even despised.

Let us “pursue righteousness and kindness and find life and honor” and live out biblical wisdom — together — as we seek those new insights so necessary for our spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth. Watch carefully around you today — at the store, in the office, around the neighborhood, on the news — and look for positive signs of compassion, openness, courage and new insights about living together in harmony. And as you do, consider another passage from the Bible:

But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit (Isaiah 66:2).

Just as the Statue of Liberty represents the spirit of human hope and the ideal of this nation and democracy, this verse from Isaiah is a bold reminder of our biblical hope — and spiritual goal. God’s expectation is for our humility to exceed our suspicion. Though tempted to criticize and look down on those not in our circle of friends, the biblical calling is to bless, welcome and empower “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

Now, let’s look at the full text of Emma Lazarus’ poem. She, by the way, was from a Jewish immigrant family originating from Germany and Portugal. Notice in her sonnet the echo of this biblical theme of humility and welcome while alluding in comparison to the ancient Colossus of Rhodes:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let us together, with genuine humility, ponder what this means. In our churches and places of worship, and in our nation as a whole let us deliberate with mutual respect: How wide is the door? How humble and contrite is our spirit? Consider the role of a Christian regarding the various social issues of our day. The ongoing controversies with immigration, how we respond to refugees, the emotional debates surrounding LGBTQ concerns, relationships with the Muslim community, concerns about the those without homes — these and many other issues remain highly charged within and outside the Christian community. Without a coherent and well-articulated message from active citizens who are also committed Christians, all of us will continue to struggle.

Let’s face it, humility, kindness, righteousness and welcoming the stranger — these are tough in today’s political and social climate. They are also very biblical, and remain as necessary today as they have ever been. Let us work together and rise to the challenge.

Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
— Reinhold Niebuhr

*David Jordan is teaching pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Have a Good Life – Rev. Jim Quigley – The Daily Cup

Aug 19, 2016 07:04 am
Recently I attended the wedding of a couple that I had not previously met. My companion had been asked by her friend the bride-to-be to take photographs of the two-day event which included attending a meet and greet for the bride and groom’s families the day before the ceremony.  I suppose that my vocation has prepared me for events like these as this certainly wasn’t going to be the first time that I’ve found myself at intimate familial gatherings such as weddings and funerals where I’m meeting people for the first and most likely the last time. We had a delightful time and I will not soon forget the names and faces of many: Linda and Andrew who were the bride and groom. Matthew the groom’s brother from Arizona and his lovely wife Rabina.  Barbara the groom’s sister and Chris her husband and their sons Tyler and Patrick from Philadelphia and Colorado.We met David on day two. He came to the reception alone and a little late – dinner had already been served.  We were seated at a table with one empty seat and after asking if he could join us David, a stranger, surprisingly called my companion by her first name and then looked at me and said, “And I hear you’re an Episcopal priest?” As it turned out David was the spiritual director of the groom who is a lay hospital chaplain.  David was most certainly a wise man – the kind of guy whose calm and friendly demeanor combined with the deep lines on his face tell you that he had lived to see much in this life – and that like that wonderful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye – kindness was now his calling.    We engaged in a delightful conversation about many things: our faith, our journeys, children, our work.  As we departed David, whom by then we had known for the sum total of about one hour, looked at us and said, “Have a good life.”  The words struck a deep chord in us because we knew he meant them.

Later that day with her own wisdom my companion pondered David’s farewell and the fact that often the words “Have a good life” are uttered in a manner that is anything but kind. How true. I’ve used them that way myself and want to rewind the clock, wipe those utterances from my record, re-issue them in a manner that is anything but unkind, and mean it.  Thank you friend.  Thank you David.

Happy Monday,

 

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Fearing the ‘other’ – Molly Marshall – ABPNews.com

Perfect love casts out fear, if we have the courage to forgive rather than retaliate.

By Molly T. Marshall

My responsibilities as a seminary president require that I spend an inordinate amount of time in airports and on planes. These venues offer a stimulating opportunity to view humanity in all its richly hued diversity. I get to play peek-a-boo with little ones, surely a universal game, granting a little respite to tired parents. On occasion, I get to assist first-time travelers as they navigate unfamiliar security requirements or train links between gates.

I also have opportunity to witness the traveling challenges immigrants encounter and the xenophobia that surprises us. As I prepared to board a plane in Atlanta yesterday, I noticed two young men dressed in Muslim garb, complete with knitted caps. Of Middle-Eastern descent, they were sprouting beards and wore only sandals.

Instinctively, my antennae went up. Even though I regularly participate in interfaith gatherings and seek occasions to find common ground with those from Islamic traditions, I found myself watching these men with a measure of suspicion and fear. I was not alone in this scrutiny, and soon the men had moved to a corner away from others.

The only way to conquer my fearful reaction was to walk toward them and speak. They had an equal amount of suspicion, also, so I made my greeting brief and did not extend my hand, as many Muslim men eschew that practice. I simply extended the traditional greeting of peace: As-salamu alaykum. They nodded gravely and returned the hope that peace would be upon me, too.

The current international crisis surrounding the militant actions of ISIS has raised the question once again about whether Islam is a religion that sanctions violence. Some evangelical writers are quick to see the recent atrocities as warrant for denouncing this Abrahamic religion, and they advocate strong military action against this marauding force. My fear is that this will only exacerbate brutality — by sword and by drones.

Early in his papal leadership, Benedict XVI displayed a measure of insensitivity when he delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg that suggested that Islam was “a religion inherently flawed by fanaticism.” He spent the remainder of his eight years in office seeking to clarify and soften this assessment. Hardliners today, however, are hailing him as a prophet.

Indeed, the firestorm that followed his early missteps prompted Islamic scholars to broach dialogue with the Catholic Church as well as Protestants. American Baptists have hosted a number of conversations with Muslims, and these have fostered greater understanding and respect. We need to cover so much more ground in our journey toward peace.

In my judgment, Christianity has as much to prove about its relationship to violence as does Islam. When we claim the Hebrew Scriptures as the Christian Old Testament, we are receiving texts that outline a program of herem, the utter destruction of those who stand in the way of conquering the land of promise. Although Jesus commanded his disciples to “put away the sword,” we know that many of his followers were all too ready to take it up against Muslims in the Crusades. And the bloody religious wars that spattered Europe following the Reformation reveal a violent approach to theological conformity.

America as a “Christian nation” is part of the mythos of national identity, and when we undertake military action against nations where Islam is the primary faith, it is seen as Christians against Muslims. When I confer with friends in Southeast Asia, I receive questions about how Baptists feel about our nation’s use of force around the world. Albeit a professed pacifist, I reluctantly mumble something about “just war” theory, realizing that even this construct is an accommodation to a world fallen to violence. I hasten to add that we really cannot find warrant within the Jesus tradition to justify such action.

Fear retains a vise-like grip on the human psyche. Our long evolutionary history, which privileges survival, means that we will fall to violence in order to escape what we fear most — pain and extinction. Human aggression and self-defensiveness encroach in the religious sphere, and this may be where our fear is most pronounced.

Yet, “perfect love casts out fear,” if we have the courage to forgive rather than retaliate. As Bethany Sollereder has recently written in Christian Century, “… love’s endeavor is to approach pain head-on, to stand against it, and to remain undeterred through it.” Love is the antidote to fear, and we are incapable of it without the divine assistance.

I wish I had mustered the courage to inquire further about the well-being of the young men and their hopes and dreams for the future. I wanted to know if they were studying to become imams or simply devout in their religious practices. I would have if I had been more loving and less fearful.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

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