Loving your neighbor starts with noticing your neighbor.

ITALY-VATICAN-POPE-MASS-ASH-WEDNESDAY

TIME

Don’t give up chocolate for Lent this year, said Pope Francis. Give up indifference to the poor.

“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”Describing this phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis writes that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”   – TIME magazine

Notice your neighbor. Continue reading

The Christmas Movie List: the most un-Hallmark version ever!

I have my favorite Christmas movies. They have to be watched, or it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Charlie Brown, The Little Matchgirl, Elf…. but aside from Santa, there’s not much that makes these movies actually Christmassy…. you know, as in real meaning of Christmas, real Jesus-coming-to-earth-incarnation stuff.

So here’s an alternative Christmas movie list. They probably won’t all fill you with warm fuzzies and holiday cheer. But probably will get you thinking about Jesus and what he was all about!  (Click the links in the titles to watch the Previews).  Continue reading

Gracism: The art of radical inclusion

Oookay that last post ended up going to a much broader audience than I intended! I’m thankful to the people who have kept their comments civil, as this is something the internet discourages us from doing these days. That’s what we Christians do, it’s part of our witness to the watching world. We disagree, but we can have civil conversation about it , we still see people as made in God’s image, we resist the temptation to overgeneralize and defame. Thank you to those who have shown this is possible, even when emotions are running high.

To my friends who voted for Trump (and I say friends, because you are! I know and love you, and I know you are not hateful, KKK-loving crazies) – I’m sorry if my words caused you pain, if you felt like I was painting you into the corner as the bad guys. My intention was simply to point out the real pain that I’ve witnessed in the church from the things Trump himself and some of his supporters have said and done. I think many of us in the church naively thought we could vote on a platform and separate that from the person, without realizing the real hurt that would cause to the most vulnerable members of the body of Christ. And that’s what I care about- the hurt to the vulnerable members of our body. Continue reading

What Christian Politics looks like

Surveys show that one of the reasons millennial are leaving the evangelical church is that they perceive it to be too political. I relate to this (probably because I grew up in another country, and seeing American flags on the front stage of churches is just still very odd to me). The evangelical church has been associated with the conservative Republicans since the 80’s when some guys realized there was a huge sector of society that was uninterested in politics, but if energized, could be a significant political force.  Continue reading

A second book to help you on your journey (and, so what can I DO??)

If you read Daniel Carroll’s book, you’re probably pretty convinced that as followers of Jesus we need to be showing hospitality and welcome to immigrants. Maybe even if they are here without paperwork. But then, there are probably one-thousand other questions you have:

Does helping undocumented immigrants (‘illegal immigrants’) mean that I am breaking the law? If I help someone find a house or food, or teach them ESL, am I guilty of breaking the law? (No.)

Undocumented workers should leave the USA and then wait their turn in line to get a visa, shouldn’t they? (Well… first, the minute they leave the US they will trigger a 10 year prohibition to re-enter. Imagine if you’re a Mom with three children born in the USA who are citizens? Second, the “lines” to get back in are astronomically long for unskilled laborers. People could wait years and years, and in some cases, there is no legal way for them to enter and work).

Aren’t lots of immigrants bad for our economy? Don’t they steal jobs from poor people? (Short answer: No, although at a local level they can sometimes hurt the economy, at a federal and large-scale, they always help the economy).

Well, aren’t undocumented workers hurting the economy because they’re providing super cheap labor? (If there was a process for workers with low-level skills to work legally, they would. This would force employers to pay them the minimum wage. There’s also a false dichotomy that is set up between poor US citizens and immigrants “stealing jobs”. In a globalized economy, immigrants who are willing to work for low pay keep corporations in the US rather than outsourcing).

Don’t undocumented workers drain our social services? They get paid in cash so they don’t pay taxes and so don’t they suck from the system, right? (No. The majority of undocumented workers are using forged social security cards, so they are paying taxes, but unable to reap any benefits. They also pay sale tax every time they purchase things, and by renting or owning property, they contribute to the housing taxes. It’s debatable whether they put pressure on education and emergency healthcare systems).

Most Hispanic immigrants don’t want to learn English, right? (No, studies conclusively show that as with most immigrant groups, while the parents may struggle to learn English, their children generally learn quickly. By the second and third generation, immigrants are all fluent in English. Even first generation immigrants want to learn English, they see it’s importance in getting a good job).

These are just some of the kinds of questions that Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Sorens and Jenny Hwang Yang answers. This book is full of practical answers to common questions, and is based on quality research. It’s written in a very readable, accessible way.

The book also makes some general points that we should look for when we’re lobbying for immigration reform. The chapter at the end tracks the progression of different bills for immigration reform, however the edition I was reading came out around the time of Obama’s election, and so it didn’t have any recent information. However, basically there’s been no real immigration reform since the time the book came out in 2008 anyway.

room at table

  • Talk to your church leaders about showing the film “The Stranger” (the preview is embedded in this post, and going to www.thestrangerfilm.org will allow you to download the film. There are also group discussion guides.
  • Check out evangelicalimmigrationtable.com for resources, statistics, and stories.
  • Take the 40-day “I was a stranger” challenge. Go to this website to print off a 40-day prayer guide. Get your small group or church involved.
  • World Relief has reams of resources for learning about immigration, immigration reform, and connecting your churches with this issue. Visit welcomingthestranger.com.
  • The book Welcoming the Stranger outlines what is meant by comprehensive immigration reform. This includes: making it easier for people to get legal visas, a path to residence/citizenship for undocumented workers (not amnesty, but a path that involves learning English, paying fines, showing they haven’t committed crimes etc), and have secure borders, as well as keeping families together.
  • Phone your representative. Tell them you want them to focus on comprehensive immigration reform. There are extremist groups who literally shut down the phones by calling incessantly whenever immigration reform comes up. We’re a democracy. Your representative wants to vote the way their constituents want them to. Don’t let the loud, crazy people swing votes. Make your voice heard. (Here’s a tool you can use to look up your representative). PS the first time I ever phoned my representative was in college about this issue. If I can do it, you can do it. 🙂
  • Start an ESL (English as a Second Language) group at your church.
  • Visit immigranthope.org to learn how best to help immigrants you know, and as well as to connect immigrants to legal help. They also have some great resources, and have a great emphasis on caring for immigrants as whole people, and not seeing people only in light of their immigration status.

 

 

 

 

Christians at the border: The First book to help you on your journey

 

Sometimes, you need more than a blog post to figure something out. So in the next two posts, here are two books that can really help you on your journey of digging deeper into what it means to welcome the stranger, and how you can do it practically. Both of these books are from a Christian perspective, and focus on Hispanic immigration in the USA, but South Africans and others can still glean something from them about welcoming immigrants and refugees (especially this first book, Christians at the Border, which focuses less on the nuts and bolts of the issue, and more on the heart behind it).

Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.

Carroll is an Old Testament scholar, and the majority of this book is focused on how as Christians we can form a biblical framework for viewing immigration issues in the USA. He shows us what the Bible has to say, and then he links it to specific issues regarding Hispanic immigration. He doesn’t spend much time talking about nuts and bolts policy reform, or how we should be voting—but he provides a crucial foundation for how we should think about these issues. And how we think about them will affect what kind of immigration reform we vote for. This book is readable, but it’s a tad-bit more “college textbook feel” (especially at the beginning) than the other book I read. This book was updated and revised in 2013, so the picture he paints of the current immigration situation in the USA is still pretty relevant.closeup

 

 

 

The messy history of immigration: He starts by giving a brief history of US immigration and Hispanic immigration, showing it’s a complex history of encouraging immigration from some groups, and shutting out others. The same year the statue of Liberty with it’s quote “give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses” was placed near Ellis Island, the US passed it’s extremely racist anti-Chinese immigration laws. We need to let go of the idea that all previous immigration to the US was neat, clean, and legal. There were no such thing as visas back when our Irish, Italian, English and French ancestors came over. The US forced the migration of black slaves from Africa, and when they annexed Texas and many of the Western states from Mexico, many Hispanic people became American at the stroke of a pen.

A Biblical view of immigrants: Jesus followers should be people-focused when it comes to immigration. “Immigration should not be argued in the abstract because it is about immigrants”. Carroll shows how in both Old Testament law (which was given as a picture of how to live as people of God) and in Old Testament stories (from Abraham, to Moses, to Ruth, to Daniel) show the importance of caring for “foreigners” and immigrants. Go read Ruth, but pretend she is from El Salvador and moving to the US. The complexities of moving for economic reasons, for family ties, the struggles of fitting in and scraping by… these are all things relevant to immigration today. The fact that immigrant-Ruth is included in the lineage of the Messiah shows God’s heart for the immigrant.

carroll2A call for majority-culture Christians: Carroll addresses both Hispanic immigrant Christians and majority culture Christians in his book. I want to talk to majority culture Christians, because that’s the category I fit into in the USA.

Carrol says: “To be hospitable is to imitate God.” Life is busy, and it’s hard enough to connect with our own families, let alone people who are different. “Nevertheless, to cling to a chosen lifestyle and schedule, define the permitted parameters of a neighborhood, and monopolize time just for oneself and one’s family to the exclusion of the stranger—any stranger—might be rebellion against God and an ignoring of something dear to him.”

image from one of the worst immigration tragedies in recent years: 18 immigrants die in the back of a truck in Texas.

image from one of the worst immigration tragedies in recent years: 18 immigrants die in the back of a truck in Texas.

We need to welcome our Hispanic neighbors, many of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to invite them into our hearts and lives (whether they have documentation or not), and even beyond that, we need to advocate for just laws that will provide legal ways for people to immigrate so they do not resort to entering the country without visas.

Carrol goes on to say that, “Laws, especially as they pertain to the vulnerable, (widows, orphans, poor, the physically and mentally challenged, and the immigrant) can be a window to a country’s soul. What do they say about us and the depth and breadth of our compassion?” Indeed.

room at table

 

 

I’ll end my two book reviews with a post that has many practical ideas, but here are two points to get you thinking:

  • It has been exciting to see the amount of support that people have shown for the we welcome refugees campaign. YAY! To learn about how you and your church can petition government and sign up to host Syrian refugees, visit this website.
  • This is Hispanic Heritage month, and a chance to welcome and celebrate the contributions of Americans who have Hispanic heritage. One way we can celebrate that is to continue welcoming Hispanic immigrants in our communities and advocating just as hard for them as we have for our Syrian brothers and sisters. We don’t have to advocate for open borders, but as the system stands, it is almost impossible for a poor person from South America to enter our country legally. I’ll be writing more on this later…but let’s not be accused of having a double-standard when it comes to how we view immigration. Let’s not welcome immigrants from afar and close our hearts to those who live nearby. 

PS: Want to buy the book “Christians at the Border”? Clicking on any link in this post gets it from Amazon through my affiliate link and helps support this blog. 🙂