November 19th, 2015
It now sounds like most of those who perpetrated the deadly massacre in Paris last Friday were Syrian. Which means the flood of those fleeing that nation embroiled contains the very elements the wars fought, and still being fought, in those regions were meant to contain.
So now the world has on its hands yet another ostensibly intractable dilemma: how to reconcile the collision of those two enduring interests of compassion and protection. The picture from a few months ago of that child lying dead on the beach now sits juxtaposed against the equally shocking scenes of urban carnage.
We feel sympathy for the plight of desperate people we don’t know. We feel fear at the credible prospect of people who might infiltrate our world with intent to harm. Both emotions are grounded in reality. Admitting and resettling refugees, as you’ve doubtless heard, has provoked a political firestorm, with each side championing one or the other of our collective visceral responses to the crisis. The dilemma allows no neutrality, for deciding not to act is itself a decision. What to do, then, should circumstances require us to act?
Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today, offered his thoughts on how our theology informs our thinking and responding. Over at First Things, Russell Saltzman recalls his previous experience with harboring refugees during the calamitous wind-down of the Vietnam War. If you’d like to see a round-up of official statements from several denominational agencies you can click here.
Two members of our Mercy Cohort, Kevin and Glenn, attended a luncheon a couple days ago hosted by Unite, a local organization devoted to mobilizing area churches in collaborative efforts toward what we might call being faithfully present to our world(s). The gathering Tuesday addressed how churches in the Dallas area might respond, should the stream of those seeking safety make it this far. With decision-makers state and federal up in arms, a plan will not soon be settled upon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give serious consideration to what we might do if called upon.
Principles often guide our thinking. But images and stories possess a potency which pure logic sometimes lacks:
At a remove from the full truth of what countless are facing today–both those who have no home, and those whose home has been torn apart by terror–it’s problematic to make definitive statements about a course of action. But some way forward has to prevail–even if it means we have to err on one side.
While fear of being overrun by terrorizing elements rightly calls us to vigilance and patient discernment, if we must err, does not our faith call us to err on the side of compassion? If love necessarily entails sacrifice (Mk 10:45); if what we have most to fear is not those who can kill the body but Him who holds the keys of judgment(Mt 10:28); if what forms the core of hope is a Man who let others terrorize Him out of love for those who would otherwise live forever in the fear of death (Heb 2:15)–then does not our moment call for a readiness to be inconvenienced, deprived, or even persecuted (2Tim 3:12)?
I know the scenes above are from Greece and not Garland. But if the call comes, and it soon may, would it not be right and meet to have even a preliminary idea of what we as a community could do together for the sake of those who have nothing?
To be sure, Scripture speaks of a greater covenantal responsibility to those closest to us. But this is not a zero-sum act: we do not have to forget local needs in order to attend to global ones. (And some argue that a better approach may actually be helping to ensure refugees thrive closer to home.)
So would you help us think and pray about how CtK might participate in bringing relief?
The sermon last Sunday dealt with the abiding issue in our common pilgrimage: idolatry. We ended that exposition with the thought that, while repenting of idols is a personal issue (though not without a communal assistance!), the point of having our loves re-ordered is to outfit us for life and love beyond ourselves. In a recent interview, Marilynne Robinson (yes, her again), explains how the good life, the life in a state of grace, has an inherently outward focus:
My impulse is to think that religion is often too self-regarding. That the question is not whether I’m living a good life, but whether I’m doing well toward other people, whether I’m apprehending the sacredness of someone who is perhaps very unlike me. I’m very oriented towards the experience of living in the world in those terms, rather than thinking of whether you’re adding up tokens that will finally allow you to say I was really very good.
As we mentioned during the ensuing Q&A, one prime indicator of a life shorn of its idolatrous inclinations is a new freedom and enthusiasm for being available to others for their good. To be sure, serving can become its own form of idolatry when we think it is that means by which we obtain favor. But it is that sense of having been granted favor, and entirely on the basis of grace, that naturally shifts its focus from the self to the other. It can’t help it.
Advent begins next week. Yes, next week. On its first Wednesday we will gather at CES for a “liturgy in blue.” We had our first last year and have decided to make it an annual tradition. The service means to meet us in our sorrows, whether fresh or lingering, and point us, if not usher us, toward the hope of which the season marking the Incarnation means to instill. Some in our community who’ve experienced sorrow firsthand this year will share a part of their story in the service.
This is a service meant to offer consolation, but it is for the whole community regardless of your acquaintance with mourning this year. It is a service for the afflicted and for those who mean to help bear them up–which includes us all. So we hope, despite the feverish pace of this season, you’ll all attend.
A light reception will follow the service.
Meanwhile, the liturgy in blue will be just one part of our Advent series in the Book of Ruth. Why Ruth? It chronicles an unlikely providence unfolding on an unlikely young girl which culminates in an unlikely birth of a future king. Need I say more?
Ruth is about finding hope where none once appeared to lie. That is the story of the Incarnation, too.
[Editor’s note: we have benefitted from the generosity of Makoto Fujimura on a number of occasions in allowing us to post his work on this site and in our Sunday morning worship bulletins from time to time. We are proud to be a partner with him in promoting his new works on Artsy, which you can find here.]
Being faithfully present implies a constancy as well as an attentiveness. But being genuinely present, in love, to a moment and a people can occur in a more compressed fashion. Consider this experience of Naomi Shihab Nye’s at an airport gate. (HT: David Kanigan)
I had the privilege of speaking earlier this week at The Seed Company’s annual gathering; our ruling elder, Jim Akovenko, is Head of Culture and Leadership Development. They’ve recently produced an engaging video documenting a brief history of the bible translation effort across the millennia. It is both informative and enjoyable to watch. One more from Ms. Robinson on what constitutes the true beauty of the Reformation:
All the conflict and denunciation, all the bitter polemic and violence, tends to distract attention from a remarkable and very beautiful fact: the learned men in Bohemia, Germany, France, and Britain who articulated the faith of the Reform and created its central documents were devoted to the work of removing the barrier between learned and unlearned by making Christianity fully intelligible in the common languages.
We conclude on a lighter note. In the category of mishaps which make your hair stand on end, but at which you also can’t help but laugh, this: