when death blinked first – Thursday thoughts

DSC_1312A family of 4 just departed our home in Budapest. They were packing two toddlers and the skeleton necessities of a young family. These items include a pack-and-play, diapers and wipes, and pacifier. Reality begins at 6 AM. Life starts at 8 PM when they finally go to sleep, or at least the energy is contained to 6′ x 3′ mattress and a door that closes.

My ability to give hospitality to the ebb and flow of their lives was moderated by the angsty needs of my own teenage femme-fatale household and the limitations of my time. To be perfectly honest, I left everyone to their own devices after pointing out the location of the refrigerator and spoons. ‘Anything you find is yours to eat.’ I call it ‘the hospitality of the open door,’ which can be translated into ‘seek and you shall find.’

I used to dream of being a hostess with matching glasses that sparkle and shine on the carefully laid table. Some dreams were meant to shrivel up in a corner and die. In its place, I am learning about the radical nature of hospitality from unexpected sources.

I took my left boot off inside the first flap of the UNHCR tent, and placed my socked-foot gently down so that I could remove the second boot. Cold water and mud immediately seeped through my sock. Intense. Cold. Unwelcome. Not only was I now uncomfortable, but I was worried about tracking mud and water into the clean tent. At the same time, the Syrian family let out a gasp as they realized my mistake. This left them feeling the discomfort as the hosts who now had a wet guest.

We spent more than an hour in that tent with our Damascus family sipping thick coffee and blowing bubbles of entertainment with the clapping children. We laughed and we listened to their stories, their fears, their determination to stay free and to stay together, come what may. And in the process, we were both wrapped within the warmth of their presence and unsettled by the uncertainty of their future.

In those moments, they became more than a category: Muslim, refugee, Syrian. They became friends with shared life experience, shared pain, shared laughter, shared hope. Their life, their future is somehow now intertwined with ours.

Reaching back to the Gospel of John, he gives us an eye-witness account of Jesus as the host at table. So often, we pass by this moment on the way to the cross and the resurrection. It can seem rather unimportant next to a crucifixion and an empty tomb, but that last supper and the Christ who served it are crucial to understanding exactly what we receive on Easter.

You see, I struggle with pride. In fact, I struggle with fear. In fact, I am quite content with a life that is pleasant and stable, interjected with moments of controlled adventure that give me the sensation of depth devoid of real challenge. While I may like to get a gift, I have no desire to receive out of genuine need. I fear to live a life that dares death to blink first. I adamantly refuse to live a life that gives preference to your need over my desire.

But life – true life comes only when we step into the tent of radical hospitality.

The Easter story that begins with my rejection of Christ and leads to his death for my life, and blossoms into his resurrection for my eternity – this story  I receive as a gift of what Christ does for me. He is God after all and somebody had to clean up that Adam and Eve mess.  But radical hospitality is the moment when Jesus stares across the table at his imminent death and washes the feet of his traitor anyway … the moment that Jesus invites me to be humbled by the truest reality of my sin-sickness … the moment when Jesus says that I must live as servant instead of host … the moment when I relinquish control and simply lie back into the arms of Jesus. To that invitation, I tend to say, ‘No thank you. This is a table I prefer to avoid.’

Yet, this table is the only way to the celebration. For those recognizing Western Easter this weekend, we come to an empty tomb in the midst of a world laden with chaos, fear, war, and uncertainty. Our ears are bulging with voices, media, stories, conversations, posts that entreat us to take charge, take control, lock the doors, build a wall, trust a powerful leader. Live this way and you die fighting. Doubt that truth? One word .. Judas.

Our world of bombs, and terror, and the exhaustion of toddlers at 1 AM, the baggage that we drag across the seasons of our lives, our inner prejudices and fears and the deep sins that suck the pulse from our souls – all of it, all of it, in exchange for a Table with our dusty toes peeking out in hope.

Receive the radical hospitality of God’s love in action – a love that both humbles as we admit our need and empowers us to serve others from our source – the resurrected Christ.

Take and eat. Do this in remembrance of me.

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the tremendous offer of hospitality in a train station

 

POTATO SOUP

Idomeni: when fear trumps love

 

IDOMENI, GREECE

Crossing the border from Macedonia into Greece, Idomeni begins long before the iconic location that is now the Greek geo-political point of the refugee crisis. This tortured reality is more than tents, more than 15,000 trapped people, more than the rampant sickness borne under horrific conditions.  From a razor-wire fence that slashes the face of Europe,  Idomeni is who we are becoming when fear builds walls and trumps love.

May God have mercy on all of us. Continue reading

The Sole People

DSC_0974September 2015 – When the rains came down.

You do not forget rain like that –  90 minutes of water coming hard. The main thought on my mind was ‘How did these families make it through the night?’

At that point in the global migration, we naively believed that the tide of refugees from the Middle East would reduce to a trickle with the winter. At least, we hoped it would slow because the Balkans in January is nature’s foulest mood – it rips and chews the skin when given the chance. Continue reading

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courage for the journey – dangerous refugees

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boarding the train to Slovenia

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a tent city in the western Balkans

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early morning volunteer hours

The guards are frightening. 

I imagine how it all looks from the eyes of a Syrian child who has run from ISIS, or through the eyes of the tumbling stomach of an Afghani girl who has hidden her shaking vulnerability behind flimsy doors in fear of Taliban soldiers. 

Here in Europe, the guards wear black. Their face masks are black too, covering all but the eyes as she walks through mazes formed by the position of cattle fences.  Continue reading

tent city. rosze, hungary border

Three Great Reasons To Reject Refugees (and Starbucks)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/121448272@N02/shares/9CFR5N

DSC_0406Just as the  Starbucks fiasco about those blasted red mugs began to cool, Paris exploded. The Middle Eastern Refugee Crisis came barreling back. This post began as a satirical piece about the red mugs and the refugee crisis and radical Jesus, but with the division in our world right now, I did some editing.  The last thing we need is more cynicism and hate.

What follows are 3 points often given by those less eager to welcome refugees.

I respond with answers based in a core belief that the Christian God that we serve is missional (continuously in pursuit of his created ones), is grace-filled, is just (and that means actively in pursuit of justice for all of his creation), and chooses to redeem the world in synergy with (thru / by means of / together with) his people who are the body of Christ.

I fully acknowledge that from the world’s perspective, this God-activity is nonsensical, radical, recklessly passionate and often extravagant.

I also believe that the world is watching our Christian response and somewhere in every human heart there is a kernel of hope that this Jesus is really who he said he was.

I dislike the lines that we draw so easily with our speech: the believers and the non-believers, the refugees and the safe people, the Christians and the other faiths – as if somehow, we were not all made from the same lump of dirt-grey clay and redeemed by the same blood-stained Lord.

The Refugee Crisis Is A Plot

A mastermind is coordinating the movement of large numbers of non-Christian people into the West as part of a larger plan to transform Europe and North America. 

God, how I hope so.

I hope …  No. I believe – that this unprecedented movement of the Middle East into Europe is a God-plot. Nations where Jesus had to show up in dreams are suddenly present in places where his name is freely spoken. These are God-ordained windows, kairos moments,  where Jesus in the actions and the attitudes of Christ-followers everywhere can be clearly seen.

Nearly 1.5 million people from countries where owning a Bible is illegal or proclaiming Christ as Savior is punishable by death have suddenly shown up on christianized Europe’s doorstep. What an amazing chapter God is writing. Just as Europe and then North America began to see themselves as post-Christian, the Author of our salvation fans the waning embers of our faith.

It is a plot – an incredibly significant movement across Europe. Let us stop crediting dictators and politicians for the uprooting and transplantation of souls into the heart of our homelands. God should get all the glory for this story line.

If you do not like how he is sovereignly scripting the continuing tale of his good mercy, address your complaints to the Author. I strongly suggest that you read the story of Jonah first. (Bring something that provides shade and, dare I say, a red cup with beverage.)

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The Refugee Crisis Will Affect Western Comfort

With so many refugees flooding EU and American systems, household affluence will be affected, social systems compromised, education deteriorate, and crime increase. 

This is possible although there are significant and reputable reports that make a case for positive outcomes for western economies and societies.

Let me be the unfortunate one to ask: Where did we ever get the idea that safe and affluent lives were God’s guarantee or even his plan for us? In fact, if we use the life of Jesus as a template, we should expect to know the instability of life as a refugee, homelessness, poverty, rejection, and death.

Affluence also has a down-side. It nurtures apathy and it has created rampant materialism and individualism with a by-product of loneliness and depression in many cultures. The western church has long struggled with a forgotten ability to live in community with one another – we split over generational music preferences.

In contrast, Middle-Eastern cultures are highly hospitable. Dare I say that they reflect a key component of the character of the God-head and Christ himself, which is radical hospitality?

This is not an either / or paradigm: as in, either affluence or community. The simple point: we have something valuable to learn from the infusion of highly hospitable societies. There is something of eternal wealth to be gained in the meshing of our lives with one another – across cultures, across skin color, even across religious identity. We are richer for our diversity.

Would we be a better reflection of the God we say we serve if we responded to the stranger with welcome? And, might it be possible that God himself has sent the stranger to your door?

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The Refugees Are Radical Extremists.

There are large numbers of young men who will fill Europe and the US from within and then attack – a Trojan Horse. Or, the demands for mosques and Shariah Law will transform towns into Arab communities. Either way, the West is lost. 

It is undeniable that the pilgrimage of so many refugees from the East continues to permanently change the landscape of the West.

It is possible that extremist elements exist amidst the masses.

It is true that radical extremists have vowed to destroy what they see as the ‘infidel west’ and establish a Caliphate.

Their stated purpose is Armageddon.

All true.

Terrorism is now our reality. This is nothing new for Christianity, it is just new for western Christianity.

So, we would be wise to understand the full arsenal of weapons that come against us.

We spend a lot of time worrying about a number of extremists mixed into the general refugee population but we ignore a much more powerful threat.

When desperate people run from a radicalized war zone towards the ‘Christian’ west and they find christians unwelcoming, harsh, hateful, fearful, and suspicious, what happens? When they find barbed wire and fences? When they see self-preservation get in line before compassion? When they read Facebook posts? And, they do read English. What better means of radicalizing a population could there be?

What better means of radicalizing young people including western young people?

To strip away the last hope that somewhere in the world, radically self-giving, recklessly passionate, and extravagant Love exists …

Somewhere in the whisper of our history is the voice of Ghandi, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

Perhaps that Trojan Horse is a little less obvious but so much more effective.

A Jesus Response

Can I be honest for a moment?

This post is not for the people applauding the 30 governors who closed 30 American doors.  These words will not change their minds.

This post is not for the politicians or the leaders of countries. Their ears will never hear my tiny chirp.

This post is to honor the journey of courage that so many have set upon – to honor their intense pursuit of hope and their determination that people are still good.

This post is for Jesus-believers of every color and language. Let us be the Church – known by our love.

This post is for those who do not believe in the Christ that I proclaim. There is room at our table – no coercion, no manipulation. We are many who would love to simply walk with you as friends – hear your story as our toddlers play together and our coffee grows cold.

This post is for my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren who will inherit a world from us. I want them to know, long after my smile has faded, that I raised my voice for the voiceless and my feet journeyed beside the weary traveller. I expect you to do the same.

This post is for my Lord because I believe that a radically self-giving, recklessly passionate, and extravagant Love exists … and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.

Thank you Jesus for giving this refugee a home.

#refugeeswelcome

Version 2

 

 

 

no tourists please

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A view of the famous Vaci Utca, Budapest.

Paradox: I am a tourist in a city where I live. Today with camera attached to my arm, I have chosen to drink coffee on Vaci Utca with other tourists. Snapping photos, gazing at the 18th century architectural wonders, dodging baby carriages, and sniffing forbidden Hungarian spiced wine, I am blending. The city with its Euro-vintage, old-world charm takes the breath away and I find myself wishing for a simpler time when tourism was not the focus.  Continue reading