Monday, January 30, 2017

Do you really know how to treat refugees? Let me guess, you used the Bible to support your views

Our government's recent immigration ban sent shockwaves across the globe and it has polarized an already divided nation.  As a result, many people are citing Scripture on how we should treat refugees. The reality is, we need to be more careful when we try to use the Bible to support our contemporary political stances.  The politics of Ancient Israel and those of the Greco Roman world, bear little resemblance to our American Republic.   

Without understanding the historical and political context of any passage of Scripture, we risk misrepresenting the original idea of the text.  Here’s where it gets dicey, especially since it’s nearly impossible to use logic and reason when dealing with emotional circumstances.  The Bible, especially the Old Testament, wasn’t penned in a democratic culture.  The Old Testament was delivered during a Theocracy, and the New Testament was written under the rule of emperors.  

It’s a poor student of the Word who views ancient passages through the filter of their contemporary culture, we are called to do just the opposite.  We must filter our modern day life through the lens of the Scriptures.  Bridging the two worlds together is possible, but it comes with more than a little effort.  

Another problem, perhaps even a greater issues, is the way some people cherry pick passages of the Bible to support their views on any given stance.  So, for example, when people quote from the book of Leviticus to support the idea that we should offer all refugees a special treatment, it’s an interpretive mistake to not also realize two important facts.  There was a specific context that made sense to the Israelites, a personal experience which they understood, since they once were refugees, and secondly, their borders weren’t fully established yet.  They would be expanding their borders, the Israelites were entering the process of acquiring more land while forcefully expelling six particular nations, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  

Why would God command the Israelites to remove these six nations from the soon to be inherited Promised Land?  Those six nations were ruthless, violent, dangerous, and pagan people who would harm the Israelites in many ways.  Destroy those seven nations and love the sojourner were commands that were given simultaneously to the ancient nation of Israel, like a two-sided coin.  It’s disingenuous to only polish one half of that coin.  

Back to Leviticus, especially Lev 19:33-34. “33 When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”  This is pretty cut and dry.  Be kind to the people passing through your country, love those who are displaced or relocating.  But just a few verses before this passage in Lev 19:28, the Israelites are prohibited from getting tattoos.  And in the next chapter, Lev 20:10, people who commit adultery are to be put to death.  Why would we, culturally, pick one part over the others to obey?   

Something else to consider.  The New Testament, which was written under the reign of dictators and emperors, has specific guidelines for believers when it comes to submitting to their government, see the first part of Romans chap 13 for example.  Our government has well established laws on establishing citizenship.  There are real established borders.  We need to respect these laws, and we should probably expect people who want to join us to respect these principles as well. But are our laws fair?

The Bible isn’t merely filled with warm fuzzy affirmations of do-gooding, it’s complex and it’s easily used to justify any stance we want to take, when we don’t take the time and exert the effort to understand it.  Nearly 100% of the Old Testament commands on how to treat refugees are tied to the principle, “You know what it felt like.” Read them and see if each of the passages also remind the Israelites of their painful past.  

But what about the general command to love our neighbors as ourselves?  I can't argue with that. But what is America’s track record of showing compassion for indigenous tribes, of taking care of our elderly, of housing our homeless, and protecting abused peoples already?  

By this point, you might be wondering about my views on the current refugee crisis.  It doesn’t matter what I think about how we should treat refugees if I cherry pick which subcultures I want to defend.  I think it’s a huge mistake, attempting to apply the doctrine of Love only when it’s popular, defiant, or hip, while we continually neglect tons of people who are already in need.    

If that didn't make sense, watch this and maybe you'll get the point:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Here's why no one is listening to your ranting:

The mood of our country has flip flopped. Perhaps you can remember how just a few years ago, many conservatives were promoting Ayn Rand’s book, “Atlas Shrugged” and people were printing the bumper stickers “Who is John Galt?” as if our country were about to lose all of our creative, hard working capitalists, and follow the plot-line of “Atlas Shrugged.”

The mood of our country has flip flopped. There was a period of time, recently, when we were worried as a nation that we were becoming a Socialist nation. Fears were expressed, and fears were played upon and harnessed.

The mood of our country has flip flopped. Now, in mass, people are nearly revolting against a new leader. People fear a tyrant, an authoritarian neo-fascist, has moved into the White House.

The mood of our country has flip flopped. It seems like when people protest or complain about a politician they disapprove of, they have a meltdown in the process. And this is the problem, we as North Americans have lost the ability to hold civil discourse. The only time we seem to promote tolerance is when we expect people to see a situation our way.

The "winners" of each political cycle always gloat and promise the rest of us we're entering Utopia. The "losers" always mope and moan about the terrible plight we are in.

When someone holds a different perspective than I do, I don’t mind it at all when people express their opinions. What irritates me, and what is absolutely counterproductive though, is when people whine. People on both ends of the political spectrum are guilty of this.

When you are trying to convince people of your point -- but the rhetoric becomes combative, whiny, and borders on paranoia, I can guarantee you that your audience will tune you out and become resistant to your message. Simply think about how you personally respond to people who rant...

If you want people to even consider your perspective, adapt your approach. Polish your presentation. Grow up and don’t throw a temper tantrum. I’m not simply recommending more maturity, I’m proposing some sanity and a realistic outlook.

Our country goes through cycles and the pendulum swings after those in “control” disappoint the people. Every earthly leader eventually fails to fulfill all of their promises, and in the meanwhile they inflame their opposition with their meager accomplishments, but none of this change is eternal.

If you don’t like who’s in Office, don’t worry, they won’t rule forever. If you don’t like the present circumstance we are in, find a positive way to share your ideas without sounding hysterical, discouraged, or defeated. Trust me, no one listens to Chicken Little without thinking about fried chicken.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is the movie Silence significant?

Many Christians will hesitate to see the movie "Silence" because they distrust Scorsese after his movie, "The last temptation of Christ." I chose to ignore those types of concerns.  In fact, earlier today, my wife & I watched Martin Scorsese's "Silence."

Silence was heavy.  It's not a warm-fuzzy, feel-good movie by any stretch.  It covers you like one of those protective lead-aprons radiologists have you wear during an X-ray, and it can be just as uncomfortable too.  Still, I highly recommend watching the film.

There are several reasons why people of faith should see this film, if not simply to be relevant in talking about our faith with people who remain distant.  Silence holds great value, there are deep truths enshrouded within this movie, real lessons for people of faith, if they will watch it.

This movie exemplifies the power of community, comradeship, and the necessity of partnering with other people whenever we want to accomplish anything good or worthwhile. Early in the plot, the two 17th century priests who will eventually travel to Japan in search of their favored teacher, leave as "an army of two."   It's a powerful metaphor, and a lesson we've seemingly forgotten in our modern-day quest for independence.

This movie is based in the challenges of taking risks, along with the power of relationships.  For example, the initial underlying desire for the two young priests to travel to a dangerous land where Christians are being tortured and martyred, is driven by their ferocious loyalty to their mentor who has been missing and hasn't been heard from in years.  Then there are the Japanese villagers who place their lives in jeopardy sheltering these two priests, which fuels the tension in the plot even further.

The combination of real risks, overwhelming fear, and the concern for the well-being of others is the trifold-thread that holds the tapestry of Silence together.  Without these factors, there is no story here, and this tension seems like a true reflection of real life.

And this is where the questions enter in, as you watch the movie.

The biggest question the story raises isn't necessarily, "why is God silent in our sufferings," even though that's the meaning behind the title, and the story-arc depends on that question.  God does seem silent during horrific situations and that can rattle the faith of the strongest, there is no doubt about that.  The question that's larger in this story, and in real life, seems to be, is redemption possible.  Can even the apostate (one who turns away from the faith) find hope.  Can we be forgiven?  Can we be pleasing to God and others when we fail?

This story will also cause you to question what true devotion consists of.  It will cause you to be more cautious in the burdens and expectations you place on others.  You'll see the limitations of religion in changing people's hearts.  You will ask yourself, what have I done in my life for the Gospel, what am I doing for the Gospel now, what will I do for the Gospel?

You'll also question what happens when we spread the Gospel cross-culturally and you'll grapple with relativism along the way.  Does missionary work help or hurt people?  What happens when we place to much hope in religious leaders?  What is the church?

You'll walk away from the experience of this film, realizing the difference between what true persecution looks like, compared to culturally biased view that North Americans have when they feel their rights are being threatened and they think that's what persecution is.    

You'll also face the question of why is Christianity deemed so threatening and apparently dangerous to certain people -- until we can answer that question and alleviate those concerns in others, we will remain less effective than the Silence we are all so worried about.



Monday, January 2, 2017

What we need to unlearn from 2016 in order to overcome inequality & division in America

I am basically frustrated to the point where I will soon have to pare-down my social-media news feed.  Maybe you can empathize.  The problem is, 2016 made it socially acceptable to post divisiveness and be combative while we hide behind our keyboards.  Did our verbal attacks solve much, or have we made matters worse?  You tell me.

Currently we have a culture of victims who demonize the people they disagree with, or feel oppressed by.  Everyone is the enemy and everything offends us.  From Corporate America, the Feds, Wall Street, religion, our history, to politics or the school system, it's like there's a cosmic conspiracy against humanity, that is, if you listen to the news or spend much time on social media.

And, the way we discuss our very real distinctions are dividing us culturally even further.
Rich vs poor
Educated vs uneducated
Blue collar vs White collar
Straight vs Gay
Men vs Women
White vs all ethnicites
Deplorables vs Losers...
Left vs Right
Green Energy vs Fossil Fuels
Vegetarians vs Omnivores
The list really seems endless....

Am I missing something, aren't we all humans?  Don't we all share the same DNA?  Don't we all want the world to be a better place?

From Black lives matters, to Blue lives matters, to Islamophobia, homophobia, White Privilege, and to boycotting the Oscars, we've become a nation of protesters.  The problem with protesting is that it puts everyone on the defense, and when we are defensive we build walls, emotionally and otherwise.
Your message, no matter how accurate or well thought out, will never penetrate a closed mind. 

Here's an example.  Does a movie like Hidden Figures, which is about minority women who helped the space program during the Civil Rights era, does it help or hurt our our Nation's divisions?  If that questions offends you, you might be part of the problem.  It's a fair question.  I see no harm in it.

My point? How the movie is promoted, portrayed, and discussed will be what makes all the difference.  It boils down to agendas.  You are either part of the solution, or you will continue the problem, and I'm not sure how much longer we as a nation can afford to perpetuate our divisions.

In our home, from an early age, we discouraged our boys (from preschool age) to leave out the skin color of other people they told us about.  For example, when we went over their day at the dinner-table, as they recounted an experience with a classmate, if our children said, "You know, the black kid?" we would, as parents, correct them and say, "You don't tell us when another kid is white when you are telling us a story about your day, do you?  See, there's no need to say someone is black either.  We are all the same."

I share that part of our household to say, a major preliminary step to overcoming our differences and to healing what divides us is to eliminate "us vs them" from our thinking, and our vocabulary.  Highlighting or spotlighting what makes us different from each other has the potential to exasperate the divide.

Does this mean we turn a blind eye to the inequality and differences in our nation?  No.  Well, what can we do then?  We move from protesting, to participating in creating something better.  

We need to recognize some people do not want to cooperate or change, and we need to marginalize their influence.  Don't waste your time & energy on ignorant people.  You will not change them with any tactic, the more attention we give them, the more credibility they gain...  It's hard enough to change yourself and to make self-improvements, it's impossible to change other people against their will.

We have ugly, mean-spirited, prejudiced people we will have to deal with.  But there's hope, because there's nothing stopping us from collaborating with people from all backgrounds who want to work towards peace and unity.

We have hate-mongers and toxic people out there.  But we can make progress when we contain the vitriol/venomous hate-speech ourselves..., and refuse to be vindictive or seek retribution.

We can make a difference, we can be better when we cease to see ourselves though a victimized past and begin to look towards a victorious future that overcomes hate & division.  How you see yourself and others does matter.  Let's make 2017 a year where we forget what we look like on the outside and where we all do a better job at looking at what counts.