17 November 2015

Refugees, Terrorists, and Christ

The governor of my state recently signed an order preventing any state agency from helping to resettle Syrian refugees here. Weary after a long day and frustrated by American politics, I posted this on Facebook:
When Jesus said to love your neighbor, he clearly wasn't talking about those with names like "Sanchez" or "Abdullah." It's pretty obvious he was talking about people with safer names. Like "McVeigh," probably.
As you'd expect, a lot of people "Liked" my shallow snarkasm. Others accused me of inviting hordes of terrorists into my neighborhood. They warned that I'd better be ready to help sort out the dismembered body parts of children in the aftermath of the inevitable suicide bombings. Some posted pictures of Jewish refugees from WWII. One posted a picture of a refugee's dead toddler on a Mediterranean beach.

Predictably, flame wars erupted between my friends and loved ones from different contexts who don't know one another from Adam. They do, however, share one important trait: They're mutually appalled by what they perceive as one other's arrogance and ignorance.

The most helpful comment came from a dear professor of mine:
Micah, the comment you make has the power to remind me that I'm not a good Christian, and it also reminds me to try and think carefully about the situation, but the comment does not carry with it any knowledge about how to determine which people might not be refugees but instead may be terrorists. I do not share the confidence that you apparently have in our government's dealing with this question.
This comment went right to the heart of the matter. (And right through my heart, if I'm being honest.) I get irritated with this old world. When I do, I throw out some negativity, then withdraw, Jonah-like, to my shady hillside to watch them all go to hell. The problem is that Jesus doesn't want me to be a Jonah.

So I want to do a few things in this post:

  1. Apologize to those who I've offended with my flippancy.
  2. Outline what makes me think how I do.
  3. Summarize my conclusions in a less sarcastic way.
  4. Invite anyone who disagrees to sit down and chat with me about any of this. (In trying to understand someone's position, face-to-face communication always trumps e-conversations.)
So, here we go!

1. I'm sorry. I know this is a weighty topic, and I knew that my post was likely to offend. At the moment, I cared more about my superiority than I did about adding light to the world. This attitude displeases Jesus, so I'm ashamed of it.

2. Here's where I'm coming from. I want my life to be a reflection of Jesus Christ's life. I want to love the things He loves, hate the things He hates, live the way He lived, and die the way He died. In short, I want Him to be my controlling force.

Here are some things that the Bible says and I believe:
  •  “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” (John the Baptist, on what it meant to live a God-honoring life - Luke 3:11)
  • "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And [the lawyer] said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (After Jesus's story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:36-37)
  • ...practicing hospitality... (Romans 12:13, in the middle of a list of commands to Christians)
  • "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20, ibid.)
  • Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
  • If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (James 2:15-17)
  • “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." (Jesus, sending the disciples out to preach in Matthew 10:16)
The one that I think informs my ideas most is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in Luke 10:30-37. Its entire purpose is to demonstrate that the lawyer can't call himself righteous if he's complacent about the suffering of the those around him. The hero of that story is a Samaritan, who would have been despised by Jesus's hearers, yet proved himself more righteous than both a priest and a Levite, who did holy service in the temple.

3. Here's what I think about the refugee crisis. I think the United States ought to be doing all it can to bring relief to refugees. Many of them have lost their homes, their businesses, their families -- they have sacrificed everything fleeing from the evil deeds of evil men. They are, in a very real sense, the ones "without clothing and in need of daily food." 

I think that leaders like Governor Brownback, who basically want to make this someone else's problem, are firmly in the camp of the priest and the Levite who crossed to the other side of the road rather than helping the man in need. Do they have the right to do it? Sure. Are there good reasons for them doing it? Certainly. Does that make it the God-honoring thing to do? I'm not so sure about that.

I think that hospitality is more than a suggestion in the New Testament; it is an absolute mandate. This is certainly the case for Christians helping fellow believers, and I think a good argument can be made for it also applying to non-Christians. For example, in Romans 12, Paul tells the Romans (who are, after all, living in Nero's Rome) to give their enemies food and drink.

I do NOT think that the United States should simply give an unqualified "yes" to anyone claiming to be a refugee. I recognize the importance of serpent-like wisdom, as Jesus did when He sent His disciples out to preach the good news. But I also recognize how vital His accompanying command was: Be as "innocent as doves." So by all means, yes, let's have a vetting process. Let's do whatever background checks we can. Let's use the intelligence we have to try to make good decisions. I'd even be open to taking in fewer refugees, or delaying the schedule for taking them in. But whatever we do, let's not allow fear of a "maybe" to blind us to the people suffering right in front of our faces.

I think that pursuing Christ's love is important enough to risk all the doubt and terror and death that ever existed. And I think the outpouring of that love is the one thing Christians are called to more than anything else.

4. Those are my thoughts... and I'm probably wrong about some of them. I'm not claiming to be infallible here. But I do think it's wrong-headed to give a knee-jerk "No!" to showing love and sympathy for some of the people who need it most.

If you want to talk, let's talk. I have a house with couches. I have a coffee pot. You're welcome to come over and help me use them.

24 September 2015

On the Morality of Abortion

A recent series of videos released by the innocuous-sounding organization with an obvious ax to grind, Center for Medical Progress, has sparked a series of enraged abortion discussions on social media... and on the political stage, for that matter.

I have very serious concerns about this organization, its leaders, and their approach. I am also concerned that the focus of these videos (the tenuous yet ardently argued claim that Planned Parenthood is selling pieces of aborted babies! For Money!) is distracting folks from a much more significant question: The morality of abortion in general.

As I see it, abortion's morality really boils down to three smaller questions:
  1. What is a human life?
  2. What makes human life valuable?
  3. When is it acceptable to deprive a human of life?
Your answers to these questions should be excellent predictors for your ideas about whether and when abortion is morally acceptable.

So here are my answers:

1. I believe that a human life originates when an embryo is formed. I think it's incorrect (and perhaps either ignorant or disingenuous) to claim that an embryo is really just a part of the mother's body, since the embryo is genetically distinct from the mother. I also believe that the fetus's ability to survive outside the womb is more or less irrelevant, since a newborn baby (despite its legal status as a "real live human") is also unable to survive and thrive without receiving the right sort of care. To my thinking, there's not a lot of moral space between late-term abortion and infanticide.

2. I believe that humans are created in God's image and, as such, are intrinsically valuable. I believe this is true regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, or any other imaginable configuration. If it's a human, it bears the indelible stamp of almighty God. If it's a human, Jesus died to redeem it because of God's great love for the world. Thus, for me, the level of a person's development (whether physical, emotional, mental, or otherwise) is not the most important part of this equation, since it does not alter a person's identity as a God-made, God-loved human being.

3. I'm a little less dogmatic on this one. If, by sacrificing one life, I could save a hundred, would I do it? I really don't know... unless that one life were mine, in which case I would give an unqualified yes. (And in case you're wondering about the cutoff, I would even sacrifice my own life for a single person.) But when it comes to taking other people's lives, I don't feel like that's a choice I should make. I'm not the creator, so I am by definition not the proper arbiter of life and death. However, I do stand open to reasonable discussion about this matter (e.g., regarding the death penalty, national security, justifiable warfare, or abortion to save the life of the mother).

What about you, dear reader? This being the Internet, I must ask you to keep your comments as civil as possible, but I really do want to know what you think about these questions.

12 July 2015

John 6: Hungry for Bread

I am full of miraculous bread,
Wondrous, delicious, temporal,
And then I hunger again,
So I come to you, begging:
Just one more loaf?

You dismiss my bellyhunger,
Offering to meet a deeper need,
And I say that sounds fine,
But maybe just one more sign,
Perhaps involving something
Crusty on the outside and soft within.

You say I should work God's work,
Which is all right with me,
So long as that work is
Multiplying fish, adding loaves,
Or possibly conjuring wine
By the sacred washtubful.

Desperate for a fix,
I demand credentials:
How do I even know you are 
Who you claim to be?
Show me a sign; 
I have the perfect one in mind:
How about a nice, fresh batch
Of heavenly bread?

28 June 2015

Communion Meditation on Isaiah 5

‭Isaiah‬ ‭5‬:‭20-24‬ NASB:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink, Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right! Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble And dry grass collapses into the flame, So their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust; For they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

It would be easy to apply these words to our nation's reaction toward the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing homosexual marriage in all 50 states. 

If you're on social media, you've probably noticed a flood of posts over the past few days, saying things like, At last: equality!" Or "Everyone should have the right to love whoever they want."

And it wouldn't be wrong to make this application. God's word clearly says that his design for marriage is one man and one woman, together for life. Any sexual relationship outside that definition is likely to bring pain, guilt, and loss, both for those immediately involved and for society at large. This is true regardless of the relationship's legal status.

But it would be wrong to stop our thoughts on this passage there. Isaiah is a prophet, and prophecy is intended to make us contemplate our own sin problem, not other people's.

So I confess before you and the Lord this morning that I am guilty of the things Isaiah lists here: 

I have called evil good, and good evil.

I have substituted darkness for light and light for darkness.

I have substituted bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I have gone to great lengths to justify my own wickedness.

I have been wise in my own eyes and clever in my own sight.

I have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Therefore, I have justly earned God's condemnation: As a tongue of fire consumes stubble and dry grass collapses into the flame, so my root deserves to  become like rot and my blossom deserves to blow away as dust.

But God wasn't willing to leave me there, in a place of hopeless, well-deserved condemnation. And He wasn't willing to leave you there, either. That's why we've gathered here today: To celebrate the sacrifice that transferred us from a kingdom of darkness, death, and damnation into one of light, life, and love. 

Because Jesus died on the cross for us, we can have forgiveness and restoration through him. When we place our faith in him, his blameless life and righteousness displace our sinful selves. Christ's life becomes who we really are, and we leave behind our old, corrupted natures.

Let's thank God for his merciful, life-giving work on our behalf.

21 June 2015


You are first among the many
Who gather this morning,
Brothers breaking your very body,
Sisters sipping your very blood,
Bread and wine standing in
For sinews and muscle,
For plasma and marrow,
A feast made no less gruesome,
No less costly, no less terrible,
By our symbolic commemoration.

You meant what you said:
We must consume you,
Body and soul, to be whole,
To be rid of the death we've earned,
To be healed of our brokenness:
The brokenness we inherited,
The brokenness we sought out.
They couldn't take it that day,
Those hungry men looking for bread,
So they left disgusted, 

But my hunger is insatiable,
And my pockets are empty,
So I will take
And eat
And drink
And I will do it
In remembrance of you.