A Wrinkle in the Sheet of Immigration

Fitted Sheets

Did you know that Ruth, the lady whose story is told in a book in the Hebrew Scriptures that bears her name, was an illegal immigrant?

How does that fact affect your view of the immigration issue that heats up our country?

I talked about Ruth in my teaching last Sunday in our series “What Would Jesus Say About…”. 

The issue about which we tuned our ears to Jesus was immigration.  Christians often agree with the many  “be kind to foreigners” verses in both the Hebrew Scripture and Christian Scripture, but they also often add this caveat: “Yes, but those were legal immigrants.  Since illegal immigrants are lawbreakers they shouldn’t have any rights.”

Then, we read the story of Ruth.  And she throws a wrinkle in our position (Have you tried to fold a fitted sheet?).   People think they have a Biblically wrinkle-free position on immigration until they read the story of Ruth.  

Ruth was an illegal immigrant.  She’s from Moab.  One of those countries.   Check out Israel’s policy toward immigrants from Moab:  

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever” (Deuteronomy 23:3).

“Forever”  is a long time.  

Still not convinced that Moabites were excluded…that Moabites were to be kept out? 

Look at Deuteronomy 23:6: “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.”  

There’s that word “forever” again.  

The Hebrew of this verse is colorful.  Check out these different translations:

Never pursue their welfare or prosperity – CSB

Never promote their welfare or prosperity – NRSV

Never seek a treaty of friendship with them – NIV

Never seek their peace or their prosperity- NASB

Don’t wish for their peace or success – NCV

Don’t be concerned with their health and well-being – CEB

 Ok.  I get it.  The message is clear.  Don’t give a hand to help the Moabite and Ammonite.  They’re not good people. 

Here’s the wrinkle.  Boaz, the hero of the story, flagrantly disobeyed Moses’ law.  He showed Ruth, and her mother-in-law Naomi, kindness, provided food for them, pursued their welfare, helped them succeed.  And friendship?  

Oh, Boaz went way beyond friendship and got intimate with Ruth.  

Follow that intimacy down the family tree and we arrive at Jesus – Jesus, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1).  Ruth and Boaz were great-grandparents of David.  Jesus was the “Son of David”, and David was the great-grandson of an illegal immigrant mother and a law-breaking father.  

Boaz, like his descendant, Jesus, chose love over law.  Kindness and compassion over keeping the rules.  

What would have happened had Boaz obeyed the law?  

He wouldn’t have been kind to Ruth.  He wouldn’t have provided care for and to them. 

He and Ruth would not have fallen in love.  They would not have had sex and conceived a child, a grandchild…and if you keep going, Jesus would not have been born.  

That was my point in the sermon.  Afterwards, a good, wise friend pointed out to me another way to look at it: If Boaz had kept the law, God could have found another way to bring Jesus to the world.  True. Then my friend said,  “But isn’t it cool that God chose to use an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us?”  Cool indeed. Thank you friend!

I get that nations have a responsibility to protect their borders.  I’m not campaigning for illegal immigration.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

* Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world.  As a follower of Christ, I am, foremost, a citizen of that kingdom. For me, that citizenship takes precedence over my U.S. citizenship.  I am to embrace and express the values of His kingdom – values of love and service to the least of these.  How can I live in the  kingdom of the U.S. and live by the principles of the kingdom of Heaven?

*What should be my motivation?  Respect for the law or love of people?  Let’s not forget that it was famine and death that compelled Ruth and Naomi to migrate to the land of Israel.  The same story can be told millions of times today.  Think about the words of an immigrant from Kenya, Warsan Shire,

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Maybe I should have more compassion for people in horrible situations?

So, if God broke the Mosaic law, or used a law breaker and an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us, lifting love and compassion over law-keeping, what might God think of people today who challenge the law for the cause of love?  Think about it.  

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Seeing Through Jesus’ Glasses

Aniumal glasses

I was raised in a culture that taught us to develop a “Biblical worldview.”  If we break that down, I guess it means to see the world through the lens of the Bible.  Or, to allow the Bible to  inform and influence the way we:

 – see the world.

 – talk about the issues in the world.

 – respond to the issues in the world.

 I appreciate the intent of the instruction. But, I wonder if the instruction falls short? If it is misguided?

You see, The point of the Bible is to guide us to Jesus – at least that’s what Jesus himself says (John 5:39)

So, why settle for a Biblical Worldview when Jesus invites us to a Jesus Worldview?  

Honestly, we don’t really follow the Biblical worldview of stoning disobedient children, sacrificing animals to appease God, slavery, silencing women, and on and on.  So, I really don’t get the “Biblical Worldview” thing.  I can more easily grasp a “Jesus Worldview.” 

Jesus invites us to “Follow me”(Matthew 4:19).  Not a book.  Him.  

“All authority has been given to me,”  Jesus says as an introduction to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Did we catch that?  Jesus did not say all authority was given to a book that some guys were going to write.  All authority is given to Him.    

At the close of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged the hearers not with “The one who hears the words of Moses, or Isaiah and acts on them is like the wise man, but “The one who hears and acts on (does them, practices them) my words is like the wise man” (Matthew 7:24).

I want to wake up each morning with the thought – “Jesus, let me see all things, all people, through your eyes. Give me your worldview.”

I’m teaching a series called “What Would Jesus Say About…”.  We’re diving headfirst into a deep pool.  One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the discussion about these issues from Christians sound similar to the discussions about these issues from people who don’t claim to follow Jesus. We tend to repeat the views and even prejudices of whatever news source we listen to or group we hang out with.  

I’m inviting people to join me in discovering a Jesus perspective of what is going on today. 

I’m asking myself, and encourage others to ask as well:  

“If following Jesus does not influence or transform the way I see and talk about the issues of our day, I wonder what good religion is?” 

The Teeter-Totter Connection

Teeter Totter

Have you seen or read about the “Teeter-Totter Wall.”  You had to look fast because it was only up for 30 minutes.  

 

In contrast to the tensions that we feel surrounding what’s happening at the wall, seeing a teeter-totter through the wall with kids of all ages cooperating and connecting, made me smile.  And that can’t be a bad thing.  

 

The teeter-totter was designed 10 years ago – yes, you read that right – 2009 – by Ronald Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Virginia San  Fratello, an associate professor of design at San Jose State University. It was installed July 29, 2019.

 

Not everyone liked the teeter-totters.  Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council and a border control agent gave this commentary: “Stunts like this do nothing but try to paint a narrative that frankly is false and try to get the public sentiment on their side.  They don’t work in the real world and don’t know how the real world goes – frankly, they shoudn’t be doing this.”  

 

I get what he’s thinking and saying.  But his statement makes me consider the question, “What is really real and what is false?”

 

Maybe he’s wrong and Carole King was right when she sang “Only Love is Real”.  “Everything else illusion,” she wrote.  Maybe all this hate, violence, racism, fear, economic deprivation, is not who we are.  Maybe they are imposters who have stolen our true identity.  

 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), was a Doctor of the Church – not the M.D. kind, more like the PhD kind.  The Catholic Church gave the title of “Doctor” to those who made a “significant contribution to theology or doctrine though their research, study, or writing.”

 

Check out this “contribution” from Doctor Thomas: 

 

“All things love God.  All things are united according 

to friendship to each other and to God.”  

 

“Come on Dr. Aquinas.  Get real. Don’t be so naive.  That’s not how the real world is or how the real world works,” some may think.    Well, maybe the premodern saint and sage is on to something. Maybe the mystic recognized what science tells us today:  “There is an interconnection of all things.”  And, if all things are interconnected, isn’t there wisdom in seeing all things as friends?  We have science and spirituality teaching us, drawing us to look beyond the surface to the core.  At that core we find connection.  

 

Sesame Street gave us “The Rainbow Connection.”  

Why not a Teeter-Totter connection?  

 

Look again at the above picture and let it remind us that we are all connected.

 

Kissing Goodbye…

Joshua and Shannon

I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).

Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students.  The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.  

It didn’t work out so well.  Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered.  In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication. 

This morning, I read this from Josh, 

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.  The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’.  By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”  You can read Josh’s full statement here. 

I kissed dating goodbye.

I kissed marriage goodbye.

I kissed Christianity goodbye.

While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.

I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.

I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t judge them.  I am for them. 

Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.  

*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous.  You know, the “if/then” formula.  If you do this, then you will get this.  If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”

Well, there is also “prosperity dating”.   If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss. 

When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.  

*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary.  Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”  

*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church  “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….

We’ve been taught to listen to others but not taught very well, if at all,  how to listen to the divine image of God within us (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, John 10:27).

*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good.  Is deconstructing what Jesus did?  “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way? 

But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught?  It’s gut-wrenching stuff.  Our world seems to collapse.

Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian.   Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that.  I have felt the same way.  How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”  

What is the measurement of being a “Christian?”  Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense.  The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).  

Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus? 

I admire Josh and Shannon.  They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it.  They could have kept it to themselves.  But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us. 

I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.  

 

All You Need is Love

Paul All You Need is Love

The theme of my sermon Sunday  (July 21) was The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”.

John Lennon wrote the song in the context of the conflicts of the 60s – the Vietnam War, Racism, Gender Discrimination, on and on.  

Beatle John’s solution?  Love.

Paul wrote his love poem, 1 Corinthians 13, in the context of the conflicts of the church.  There were, in the church, factions, divisions, comparisons, competition, categorizations – “I’m better than, more spiritual than, closer to God than – you.”

Apostle Paul’s solution?  Love.

The Love Poem of 1 Corinthians 13 was not written to be read at a wedding – although it’s a pretty good fit – it was written to be read at a fight – a relationship fight, a church fight, a community fight, a country’s fight. 

Love.  How can we love the “other”?

I got a clue from a rock – a talking rock.  South of Springfield, MO, where I live, is an attraction called “Talking Rocks Caverns”.   

Do you think they’re using “talking” as a metaphor?  Have you ever heard a rock talk?

Jesus says if we don’t recognize and respond (eulogeo – bless, speak well of) to Jesus as King of a new kingdom, then the “rocks will cry (an urgent scream) out” (Luke 19:40).  

Talking rocks. Shouting rocks. 

The Psalmist says there’s a concert in the fields.  “The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are carpeted with grain.  They shout and sing together for joy (Psalm 65:13).

Shouting Rocks.

Singing Sheep and Grain. 

There’s a lot of shouting and singing going on in nature.  An actual “rock concert”! 

How does that help me love?

Jesus teaches us to find God incarnate in this world.  Holding up the bread at the last supper, he said, “This is my body.”  

Paul writes that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen” (Romans 1:20).  

God can be seen in things if we want to see.  

In rocks. 

Even in people.  

“In the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).  

According to Paul, all of humanity are God’s “offspring (genos – from God’s genes)” (Acts 17:28).

Does spirituality teach us that we can see God in people and pebbles? I’m thinking, “yes.”

Science seems to teach us the same thing.  In case there is any question, I did not do well in science through school.  English, Literature, Philosophy? I loved. Not so much for science. But, I’m now I’m reading scientists who sound spiritual!

Go figure.

Science and spirituality both agree that we are all one…that we all come from one God – unless you believe that God is a white-bearded old man living in the clouds.  But if you see God as “spirit” (John 4:24), as Universal Being, Cosmic Mind, the unity of the uni-verse makes sense.  

“Universe” – “uni” means “one.”  “verse” is from the Latin “vertere”  and means “to turn.”  

Universe means we are turned into one.  

We are one.  One unified reality.  Science tells us that if we look closely enough at any person, plant or rock, its basic structure, the atom, is nothing more that a collection of spinning energy vortices – in everything.   

I don’t get that at all.  What I do get is this: Despite our apparent separateness, there appears to be one energy source from which we all arise.  Whether you call it the “Higgs Boson” or God, science and religion both agree that it’s real (Well that concept is a bit too “out there” for some people of faith to accept.) 

There is a supernatural, mystical connectedness between everything…

…even with those with whom I have major disagreements and differences.

Why should I bother with the “other”?

Why should I care about those over there?

Why should I try to walk beside those on the other side?

Why should I be with those with whom I disagree? 

Why not walk away from those who think a different way? 

Because we’re connected.  

Another guy much smarter than I, Tom Chi, said, in a Tedx Talk that “societies that deeply adopt this idea are the ones who over time deepen their level of consideration, deepen their level of expression, deepen their level of understanding, for each other.”  He goes on to say that “this is actually something that is literally true.”

Since the connection is true, the unity is a reality, I need to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bonds of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

 

Hate in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Mr Rogers_BowersI read yesterday that the hate-filled act Saturday was committed in the neighborhood in which Fred Rogers had lived.  His home was three blocks from Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.  It was there, in his Squirrel Hill home, where Mr. Rogers chose to die.  

It was there, in this neighborhood, that Robert Bowers chose to take the lives of as many worshippers as he could.  Eleven people died.  

Two men.  Two ways of living.  Both basing their ways on Scripture.

Robert Bowers’ profile page included this bit of Scripture, commentary and doctrinal statement:  “jews are the children of Satan (John 8:44) — the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh.”  (Does he not realize that Jesus was a Jew?)

How many times do we see people use Scripture to justify hate or hateful actions? How much hurt has been inflicted on others in the name of Jesus?

Mister Rogers also included  Scripture in his life.  He followed Jesus and built his life on the love of Jesus, “…the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”  Mr. Rogers’ theological messages could be traced to Jesus’ idea of neighbor.  

It was a radical idea.  We find it in his story of the Good Samaritan.

It’s about being kind. 

It’s about helping people in need.

It’s about sacrificing for others.

But it’s about SO MUCH MORE!!

It’s about loving instead of hating.  It’s about:

being kind to,  

helping people who, 

sacrificing for, 

the ones who are hated.  

Robert Bowers hates Jews.

In Jesus’ day, Samaritans hated Jews and Jews hated Samaritans.  

To the Jews, there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.”  It’s like there’s no such thing as bad chocolate.

In the chapter before Luke’s record of Jesus’ story of neighbors and neighborhood, he writes about James and John suggesting to Jesus that they call down consuming fire from heaven on a group of Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56).  Jesus rebuked them.  That’s not how Jesus rolls.  

The very Samaritans the disciples wanted to kill, are held up in Jesus’ story as role models on how to live. The ones who were hated were the ones, Jesus said, had it right – had eternal life.  

Jesus’ neighborhood is different.  

Jesus told this story as an answer to a question posed by an expert in the Law of Moses:  “Who is my neighbor?”  At the end of the story, Jesus turned it around by asking the expert, “Which of these three (the two religious leaders or the Samaritan) proved to be a neighbor to the man in need?”  

I’d love to have seen the look on the expert’s face as he had to state the obvious, “The one who showed him mercy (compassion).”  The Message translates it like this: “The one who treated him kindly.”    

Kindness.  Mister Rogers invites us to dream:  “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”

In the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill we see two men.  Two ways of living.  Two ways of seeing and treating others.

Mister Rogers and Robert Bowers.

It’s easy to love Mister Rogers more than we love Robert Bowers.  How would Mister Rogers treat Robert Bowers?  Would Mister Rogers follow his own philosophy and help Bowers know that he is loved and is capable of loving?   I think so.

A dear friend and wise woman gave me a note Sunday after service in which she said,  “I am reminded daily that God loves the man who killed 11 Jews just as much as me.”  

She’s a good neighbor.

I want a neighbor like that.  I want to be a neighbor like that.

 

 

Embrace the Questions

asking questions

After church service Sunday, a 20-something guy told me that when he was 12 years old he asked his youth pastor a question: “Why does God allow children to suffer?”  

(The topic Sunday in our “S*&! Christians Say” series is a common answer to suffering: “Everything happens for a reason.” So we talked about suffering.)

Now really, who hasn’t asked the same question?  Or who has not at least thought the question?

The 12 year old  was shut down.  Put down.  “That’s a dangerous question,” he was told.  “Questions like that show a lack of faith.”  

That has been the experience of a lot of “churched-people” – which is why many of those people are now “de-churched.”

 Maybe it is still the experience of people today.  

Churches have a reputation of being a “no question” zone.  Yes, questions lead to:

…answers

…discovery

…mystery

…and trouble.  

Just ask my 20-something friend. He still remembered the experience of being shut down. Anyone who has dared to ask questions has likely been told one or all of these things:

“These questions show a lack of faith.”

“Questions are a slippery slope.”

“Just accept what I tell you as truth.”

What we hear is:

“Sit down and shut up and you’ll learn something!”

We walk away thinking, “Believing is so much easier before I started thinking.”  

I mean, really, we’re told to read our Bibles everyday.  So we do.  Immediately we are faced with two creation stories that don’t line up!  We write down the question: “Why is mankind  created after the animals in chapter one, but before them in chapter two.?”

We keep reading and meet a talking snake:

Write it down:  “A talking snake?  Really?  Is this history or some kind of fable?”

We go on in Genesis and  find a man looking for a mate among the animals.  

Ok,  that’s disturbing.  “What kind of “Find your date/mate” plan is this?”

We keep reading…We get to the famous children story, Noah and the Ark. We’re shocked in multiple ways.   First there is the horror of a God who, in a fit of rage, drowns babies and toddlers along with their parents.  

Write it down: “Is this ‘Biblical Parenting’?   God, The Heavenly Parent, gets so mad at his children that he kills them so he can start over with new kids.  Really?”  

More questions: 

“Why do parents decorate their newborns’ rooms with a ‘Noah and the Ark’ theme?  What’s so sweet about this story?”   I wonder if parents have even read it.

“I thought the animals went in two by two (Genesis 6:19)?  What’s up with Genesis 7:2-3 that says there were 7 of each pure species and two of each impure species?  Why the contradiction?”  

“And this was written before the Law.  How’d Noah know which animals were “clean” or “unclean”?

So we take our list of questions with us to church the next Sunday and hand them to our pastor or student leader. As they read the list, they start sweating. Mumbling something about having to go preach or something, they run away. 

What does it say about a religion when that religion is afraid of questions?  

Maybe it says we’re not much like our founder, Jesus.  He loved questions.  He asked a lot of them (someone actually counted and found 307 questions) and he answered a few of them. 

 Why?

Why did Jesus ask more questions than he answered?

What does that say about him?

What does it do to our understanding of spirituality that Jesus is more “The Question Man” than he is “The Answer Man”?

Maybe it says we’ve lost our childlike spirit which Jesus seems to insist we keep (Matthew 18:2-4).  Someone else counted and discovered that children ask 289 questions a day!

Peter Abelard (1079-1142), philosopher, theologian, poet, wrote, “The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.”

There is no need to be threatened by questions.  Asking them or being asked. 

 I don’t know everything and I know I don’t know everything. I find value in reaching out, learning new things,  hearing new perspectives. My purpose is not to preach but to understand.  To listen, to love, to live like Christ and to ask questions of myself, of others, and of God.