Thanksgiving thoughts

I saw this picture recently

pilgrim refugee

…with these words….
1) “Where would we be if the Wampanoag hadn’t helped the Pilgrims?”

2) “Where would the Wampanoag be if they hadn’t helped the Pilgrims?”

These are two different thoughts, and both worthy of consideration.

These are good things to think about right now in light of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their very lives from areas of war and oppression. These are good things to think about in the week before we in America celebrate a day dedicated to giving Thanks.

The Pilgrims left England because their way of worship wasn’t allowed. They wanted to worship God in a manner that differed from the official Church of England. The Church of England was, at the time, equivalent with the government of England – go against one, and you’ve gone against the other. The punishment was fines for lesser offenses, and execution for greater ones. They decided to leave rather than change their way of worship, knowing that where they were going to was completely alien to them.

The people who lived in the area the Pilgrims landed were known as the Wampanoag, and they made sure that the Pilgrims had shelter and food. If it weren’t for them, the Pilgrims would have died out in short order as they were not used to living off the land. This is where the first Thanksgiving came from. Two different groups having dinner together. Sharing. Peaceful. Even though they didn’t share the same language or culture, they lived together in harmony.

However, over the course of time, the Pilgrims expanded and pushed out the Wampanoag. The Pilgrims weren’t interested in sharing. They’d forgotten their debt to the Wampanoag. They’d forgotten the tenants of their faith. Their diseases killed off the natives as surely as their guns did. The Wampanoag didn’t have a chance.

Native Americans all over the USA are marginalized. They live in reservations, they have low-paying jobs, little education, and rampant alcoholism. They lived much better before the white people came and imposed their way of life on them in an effort to “help” them. They didn’t need help. They were fine. They only needed help after the Pilgrims (and other settlers) came with their diseases and an insatiable need for more and more land.

How does this relate to today’s issues? If we in America show compassion to people who are different from us, will that result in our being pushed out, in our being killed? Will this nation become a Muslim nation? Wouldn’t this be fair, after what our ancestors did to the natives who were here?

But – should we allow fear to rule our actions? Jesus tells us repeatedly to not be afraid. Jesus tells us repeatedly to love our enemies, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked.

Is there another way to act, other than the way we always have? A middle ground?

There is a fabulous re-imagining of Europe meets the Native Americans in Orson Scott Card’s book “Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus” – where time travelers go back to the natives and secretly inoculate them against the diseases. They also strengthen the native’s opinions and actions so they won’t let the Europeans push them down. They are able to live in peace after this.

Our government says they are worried about Sharia Law – forgetting that their ancestors pushed their own version on to the natives. We need a whole new way of thinking – where people share ideas and work together, with nobody higher or lower.

This is an amazing chance for us to learn from the past and re-vision a new future. This is a time of testing, where we can welcome in the stranger and become stronger because of it.

Consider a garden – one with just one kind of flower is boring. Having many makes it look beautiful.

Consider an orchestra – one with just one kind of instrument is dull. Having many makes it sound beautiful.

Consider a soup – one with just one kind of seasoning makes it taste bland. Having a variety makes it taste wonderful.

This is America – the land of immigrants. The land of second chances. The place where we say we are “The melting pot”, where we say “E pluribus unum” – which means “Out of many, one”.

It is time to let love and compassion rule us rather than fear.
It is time to truly be the “Christian” nation we say we are and take in the stranger, the lost, the refugee. Not because they are Christian, but because we are. Not to turn them into Christians, but for us to prove it through our actions.

Jesus himself was a refugee.

Matthew 2:12-15, his adopted father Joseph gets a message from God in a dream to escape their home and flee to a foreign land, because Herod had ordered every child under the age of two to be slaughtered.

“13 After they were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.”14 So he got up, took the child and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (HCSB)

Jesus himself was homeless –

In Matthew 8:20, talking to a man who wants to be his disciple –
20 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (HCSB)

We must welcome the refugee. We must do this fearlessly. We must do it because Jesus would do this. As his disciples, we have to.

The life of following Jesus isn’t simply about everlasting life after we die. It isn’t a life where we say the words and get the prize. It is a life where we live, every day, a life of trust and hope and joy, right now, serving everyone as if they are Jesus, and serving everyone as Jesus would serve them.

This is a living faith. Let us act like it.

On the recent immigrant crisis and the Christ-like response

There are a lot of very unsettling things about the immigrant crisis in Europe. It isn’t just the sheer numbers all at once that is the problem for many of the governments. For many of the governments, it is the fact that the vast majority of the immigrants are Muslim. They are concerned because of previous acts of violence that have been perpetrated by other Muslims. They are concerned, and playing it safe.

If you want to break into someone’s house, the easiest way to do it is not to break in. Instead of trying to break down the door and threatening someone with a gun, try simply knocking on the door. Say you’re a traveling salesman. Or better than that-look injured. They’ll open their door and maybe even take you into their home without a fight.

Here’s a terrible thought, what if the immigrant crisis that is going on in Europe is exactly this going on? What if these aren’t refugees from a war but they are invaders? What if this is an invasion using no weapons and relying on our compassion to destroy us?

Without a fight, without a lot of lives lost, and for very little money an immense amount of people can invade a land and take up residence in it. It’s genius.

Consider the 9/11 bombers. They didn’t fly over in their own planes. They came over quietly, legally, and learned how to fly a plane here. They then hijacked our planes and flew them into the trade towers. This is using our technology against us. This is using our compassion against us. It required very little outlay of their own resources.

However, Jesus says “Turn the other cheek”.
Jesus says “Pray for your enemies”.
Jesus hung out with people who everyone else thought were sinners.
We are reminded over and over again to be kind to the stranger because we were once strangers.
Jesus says “He who would save his life must lose it”.
Jesus tells us that we can’t be harmed by anything – not snakes, not poison, if we are acting in His behalf.

If Europe, a majority Christian area, attempts to keep out Muslims out of fear that they are being invaded by Muslims, then they are going directly against the commands of Jesus. Even if Europe is taking over, even if these refugees turn out to not be refugees at all but are invaders, we are commanded to be kind to them.

For Europe to close its borders and close its heart is not Christ-like at all. They would not be preserving Christianity but making a mockery of it. Who knows, perhaps the Muslims might notice our compassion and not see us as chumps but as Christians, as worthy of joining. Perhaps instead of taking over us we will overcome them. Perhaps they will notice our love and through us see the love of Jesus.

Refugee crisis

There’s this huge refugee crisis going on in Europe. People from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (among other countries) are escaping war and crushing poverty any way they can – often by foot or by overcrowded boat. Some are landing in Greece, up to 30 boats a day, having walked through Turkey. The countries they are coming to aren’t prepared and are reacting by putting up borders or posting guards. If there are refugee camps, they are sad states, with tents and no running water and one toilet for every 100 people.

The refugees are complaining, saying that they thought things would be better in Europe. They are saying that dogs live better than this. They are saying it is inhumane. They are complaining to any country that will listen.

Yet what can be done? The people have no money and no jobs. They aren’t legally immigrating. They have no passports or visas. Then they are expecting to be fed and housed for free, indefinitely. Countries such as Greece already have austerity measures for their own citizens – they don’t have extra for these people they didn’t expect.

Let’s think of it this way – If a hundred people show up at your doorstep and insist on coming in your house, but don’t have any money to buy their own food or any extra clothes, do you take them in? How long do they get to stay? If your house is big and you have a lot of extra money, this won’t hurt you much. But what if you are just making it as is? You don’t suddenly have more money because you have more people staying at your house. There will be less to go around. You didn’t invite these people, yet they are ungrateful that they are getting gruel to eat and have to share beds or sleep on the floor. They are complaining to the mayor and the governor.

Jesus says that we are to welcome the stranger. Jesus says that we are to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked. Jesus tells us that he is not of the world, and that we, as his followers will have otherworldly abilities through him. We are to do these things not out of our excess, but out of God’s excess.

Yet this all sounds like a fairy tale.

Jesus made food appear out of thin air. He fed 5000 people at one occasion, and 4000 people at another, with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. He wasn’t prepared – he didn’t even provide the fish or the bread. He used what was there and it became enough. We are supposed to follow his example, but it seems something has gotten lost in the translation. Over these 2000 years, we’ve not learned the trick of how to do this. We don’t know how to make food stretch and expand. We can’t heal by a touch or a word like he could either.

But maybe that is the problem. Maybe we can if we stop saying we can’t. Maybe we can if we stop getting upset that the church leaders didn’t teach us anything useful and kept it to themselves, and then forgot it because they kept the secret so well. They were so concerned about the secret getting out that they hid it even from themselves. Maybe there isn’t a secret. Maybe it is all about trusting.

Meanwhile, people are showing up. Last report I read said that 340,000 refugees had escaped their countries just this year. This is similar to the great exodus that happened in WW2. And Europe is finally coming to understand what America has been dealing with (or not dealing with) for years.

Immigrant / Refugee

These words are on the Statue of Liberty –
“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But they don’t mean anything anymore. They sound good, but we as Americans don’t really mean them. We like to think we do, but our actions and policies say otherwise.

Remember when “immigrant” wasn’t a dirty word? Now, with the large group of Mexican children at America’s border, the word has shifted from “immigrant” to “refugee”.

That is what they are. That is what they have always been. They are looking for a better life. They can’t make it there, so they are trying to make it here.

This has always been a nation of immigrants.

The Puritans, seeking religious freedom.

The Irish, escaping famine.

The Chinese, in search of jobs where they can earn a living wage.

Layer upon layer, they come and add to the flavor of this country. This country is made up of mutts.

But Americans are scared. They don’t want “them” to take away their jobs or use up their resources. Public education and healthcare isn’t free – they are supported with tax dollars. If you are illegally here, you aren’t paying taxes. You are using resources that you haven’t paid for.

And then we gripe about having to change our signs and paperwork to be in English and in Spanish. That costs money too, money we don’t have.

We may say that America is the richest country, but we are in debt up to our ears. We don’t have the resources to take care of ourselves, much less everybody else. We don’t have room, or time, or much of anything else left over.

But what we do have is more than what they have.

Mexicans are fleeing drug cartels and police on the take. They are fleeing crushing poverty and illiteracy. They are fleeing lives where the only thing to look forward to is death.

For years they were referred to as “illegal immigrants” – but now with this huge group of Mexican children at the border, the term has shifted to “refugee” to garner sympathy.

So what do we do? Take them in? Adopt them out? Put them in foster care? Who is going to tend these children? Where is the money going to come from?

Should we make every Mexican in this country “legal” – drop all immigration limits and expect everybody to work and pay taxes and learn the language? Make a rule that if you want to come here, you have to pull your weight just like everybody else?

We all have to be on the same page.

We aren’t united. We are rather divided. And we are falling. We have a chance here, a choice. We have a chance to be “A Christian nation” like we like to think we are, and welcome in the stranger and treat our neighbor with the same kindness we wanted.

But how? With what money? We had to shut down the federal government for weeks last year due to no money.

We say we want to do the right thing, but when push comes to shove, we’d rather do what hurts less.