Tag Archives: the Church

I am THE refugee: Courage for the Journey

keleti_women_travel_Fotorkeleti_chris_hearts_FotorIt was Saturday in Keleti train station. My friend, Chris, was giving out cardamon-infused tea to refugees like an ancient elixer that puts the world right again.

We saw olive skin and dark eyes wrapped in a black hijab. She was standing, tall and straight, like a sentry left to guard all that was valuable. There were 2 kids playing around her feet and several women lying on mats.

‘Hello, my name is Amina, which means peace in Farsi.’  Continue reading

tent city. rosze, hungary border

Three Great Reasons To Reject Refugees (and Starbucks)

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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

 

 

 

Jenna poses behind bars in a memorial to Auschwitz

i need a church

IMGP1268It is early morning. Too early. The February freeze won’t loosen its grip and it creeps into this dark, before-the-sunrise home. Its cold, sharp fingers burn as I kiss Jay goodbye. He’s got a plane to catch. Bulgaria. More than half of my heart explodes as he closes the door.

Into the emptiness of the sleeping room, I tap out Ed Sheeran i see fire ukraine revolution and he sings me a song for this generation. A song that seems a prophetic voice for the revolution that is Ukraine right now. There are images of Maidan caressing his smooth voice –

honest, raw. war. our reality. pain. blood and death. fire. ice

This is the global neighborhood that I call home. Continue reading

humans and their necks

“For some, war leaves no choice; for others it makes choosing a must. A small gesture can yield irreversible consequences. It can either save a life or ruin it. (A quote from the Schindler museum)

Barbed wire fence from Schindler's factory

‘saying you don’t come back from the cemetery’

I am angry in Krakow. Always. Angrier than a Christian should be. Angry like I could punch someone. Ball up my weak little fist and throw it into somebody’s gut. Is that righteous anger? I don’t know. But I peer through a grimy little window in a wall somewhere in Schindler’s Factory at photos of men hanging by their necks. Continue reading

lazarus and one world

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I saw Lazarus do a HAPPY stride like Pharell Williams last night in front of a One World television while the World Cup captivated a room full of strangers. I saw him eat a bar of dark chocolate with a bowl full of fruit this morning. He was Asian.

I think I am starting to like this hostel world.

I like the Polish girl at the desk with her friendly, Polish-accented English. I like the unpolished, anything but plush, earthy, this is the real world reality of an apartment turned home for sojourners on the cheap.

I like the community that becomes a part of the momentary fiber of who and what we share at the core. We are people. Not nationalities, or adverts, or styles, or occupations, or them or us. We are people. People who need a place to sleep, a place to shower, some practical food.

Individualism severs that main artery to community. It does. It breathes into reality an insulated cocoon of comfort. Cultures with higher levels of individualism necessitate broader personal space. And personal space breeds a disconnect from others.

The hostel community forces you out of that bubble – shared bathrooms, shower facilities, sleeping quarters – they attack that individual, comfortable, sterile bubble. Germs. Activity. Plans. They all become somehow more visible, tangible, real.

Can I say that I think our North American churches may suffer from the disconnect of living here in these margins where most of the world breathes?

Our places of worship can easily become bubbles. We are comfortable there : safe, sanitized, proper, like a Hilton hotel. But most of the world is spending the night in One World. Quite honestly, the majority of the world spent the night on the street, selling herself, raped, used, abused, starving, begging for mercy.

And this is not a post to create guilt for prosperity.

This is a post that invites us to step into the world. Incarnationally. It means living in the world, with the world, becoming side by side sojourners : Entering into the mystery of a God who entered into our One World. The bubbles have to be burst. The choice to intentionally live where the germs, and the bathrooms, and the borders are shared is the Jesus way.

Last night, I said this One World was stretchy for me. It is. Truth : I didn’t book this place for my family. Someone else did.

And I did not write the new Wesleyan Freedom statement that talks to church folks about the reality of humans in chains. Someone else wrote that thing.

But, our family has spent a significant amount of our lives crisscrossing Central Europe in a VW Sharan, in all-night buses, in trains, living with people, experiencing their stories … enough to know that if ever we needed a Church that moved to the margins, it is now.

Want to hear something? This world seems so big, right? We think that our lives are disconnected, insulated, safe.

We met Lazarus last night right here in One World watching the World Cup. He was cheering for USA. Turns out Lazarus graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University last year. He and his brother are touring Europe before he goes to grad school. And, Lazarus, this Lazarus, well he can’t hear Jesus calling him yet. I guess he probably hears him, he just doesn’t want to listen. But, it seems like God knows where One World is.

Coincidence?

Or a God who bursts bubbles to do a happy dance?

Praying for Lazarus now.

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Sunday unplugged

Tonight, the world shares our doorstep. Argentina, France, the Czek Republic, Bulgaria, Romania – they sing and dance and for a moment forget that wars rage, and people die, and bills plague. They have come to watch the World play futball on a tiny screen on a big planet, but this corner of Razgrad has lost its electricity, so, the guitars come out by candlelight, and cultures that exhale music begin to communicate.

The melodies are sometimes off key, it’s passionately eclectic, impromptu and sung in this Bulgarian outdoor cafe that has suddenly gone dark. But, somewhere in the midst of all that is worldly here, a part of me wonders if this isn’t somehow closer to the nights that Jesus spent on this planet than we think.

I know how that could sound, but I am not questioning God’s holiness. Nor am I suggesting that we compromise ethically. There is absolutely no doubt that Jesus led a holy life, a righteous life, a life without sin. We are called to that life.

But, our letter says that He also ate with tax collectors, sat and talked with women, spent time with friends, cooked fish. I dare to voice that the Rabi of Nazareth would have been at ease here in unplugged Razgrad. And, I dare to ask, ‘Are we?’ Are we at ease with a missiology that leads us to be here too?

What if our Sunday havens and our Christian radio, and our weekly Bible studies and our Christian fellowship – none of them bad and all of them good, in balance – are out of balance? What if they create a threshold that we rarely dare to cross? What if?

This Jesus of ours was not the tame, weak, pale shadow of a man that our version of Christianity sometimes makes him out to be.

His hands were calloused, his arms were strong, and he was likable, personable. I imagine that he was quick to laugh. I believe I would have wanted to sit with him on the edge of the sea with a coffee and a conversation. His muscles would have rippled from manual labor, his eyes squinting into the sun. The Jesus-moments we see are part campfires and unplugged guitars and starry nights of impromptu conversations with not-yet kingdom dwellers.

I look around at this generation sauntering with us on this journey through Central Europe and believe that they understand, actually, they long for, an unplugged Jesus experience. They desperately want to be a church that is IN the world; available, interactive, fish-frying, approachable, mobile, passionately Rabi-like.

Do you ever wonder what would happen if we let Lazarus dance?

If the electricity that powers our programs and our Sunday morning schedules was suddenly Razgrad-dark, would we be more open, more available, to stand by Jesus and call our friend back across the doorstep of that ugly, cold grave?

As our travels move us through the week, we spend an evening in a Turkish Roma (Gypsy) village and I am again overwhelmed by the belief that Jesus would have felt right at home in the midst of this music, and color, and raw living. There is room for honest questions and conversations here.

Then our Bulgaria wanderings lead us beyond our comfort zones into a room in an ancient mosque, where an Imam leader takes time to talk to us about Islam and to serve us Turkish tea. We have this amazing opportunity because Pastor Nikolay has intentionally developed a relationship of mutual respect with this man. And, just for a moment, I think that I can feel the cold stones of a Samaritan well as I sip my Turkish tea.

We move on to The Open Door, where we see the kingdom literally breaking in, and my soul does a Lazarus dance because the jagged threshold between the US and the THEM has miraculously been breached. Here, in the most unexpected of places, the Rabi-presence is profoundly visible. Humbly, Josh takes a guitar and he begins to play while Mary Magdalene sings her new song. We cry. All of us cry when Lazarus dances.

And, I can’t help it but imagine that Lazarus danced because he glimpsed what we cannot. He saw the new kingdom has no doors, has no walls, it just has people. People that are unplugged from our national identities, unplugged from ethnic prejudices and dehumanizing cycles, unplugged from religious wars and slavery, exhaling, and breathing a new kind of air. A kingdom air.

Sometimes, in Roma villages, and Muslim mosques, and squeezed in-between Mary Magdalene, and squinting across the Black Sea, and by candlelight in Razgrad, my feet start to twitch and a giggle bubbles through. Like The Rabi just whispered a funny one-liner. And just for a precious moment, I understand, really understand why Lazarus danced.

Sunday unplugged.
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turkish tea

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in the mosque

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watching the dance

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eating tza-tza fish by the sea side

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boarding a train for sighisoara

a difficult God

california

difficult God

Ever wonder why God has to be so difficult?

If anybody has the resources to crush slavery, to end death, to bring peace, certainly it is God. We celebrate His resurrection. His power over sin, His victory over death. This moment in our human framework when Jesus just walked right through Hell’s doorway and back into our linear timeline.

God has power over death.

‘Lazarus, come forth,‘ And, everybody who was dead in their sin understands that their name is Lazarus.

God is powerful. God is victorious.

So, sometimes we miss the next words of Jesus. We are so thrilled with the fact that Lazarus walked through the death-tomb doorway that we miss what Jesus said next. ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go. (NIV) Unbind him, and let him go. (NASB) Loose him, and let him go. (HCSB)

And when the Marys went to the tomb on Easter morning, the stone was rolled away and the body of Jesus was missing, but the grave clothes were there.

And when Lazarus walked back into life, somebody had to help him roll out of those grave clothes.

One story of two men and the scripture is careful to mention the stone, the women, and the grave clothes. With all of this obvious power over the life and the death cycles of our human reality, why is God still patiently, painstakingly, achingly concerned with these mundane details?

See, a resurrected Jesus marched his way out of a tomb, sans the grave clothes, and down to a beach to fire up some fish for a fisherman who had forgotten for a moment. And there was the smell of fish on the open fire. And, there had been a boat so full of fish it almost sank and the sheer weight of those fish tore the nets. And, there had been boy with a fish that fed five thousand.

And, that is why God seems so difficult.

If God can do that, why doesn’t He?

Miracle. Miracle. Miracle. And then?

Because there are kids in Syria who are forgetting what their mommy smelled like while they waste away in refugee camps. And, there are girls being violated and prostituted, and there are babies picking beans for my morning Java, and Ukrainians putting on armor on the Monday after Easter Sunday.

Did God came to free us from our slavery or not? Or did he come for only some of us? The lucky ones. The blessed ones. The ones with the right credit cards, education, political agendas, language, religion. The ones born in the right period in our human history.

Because there sure are a lot of tomb stones littering our 21st century. And there are overwhelming numbers of voiceless people – in fact, there are more people enslaved right now than in all the rest of history added together. And, it just seems like a God who cares enough to mention the mundane details of grave clothes, and tombstones and women might remember us.

Miracle. Miracle. Miracle. And then?

And then … Pentecost when the Church was born with tongues of fire.

It took the fact that Hungary shuts down the grocery stores for two days to celebrate Pentecost Sunday to remind me that the power of this resurrection did not end in April with a nice Sunday dinner in our best Easter dress.

Feed my lambs.

If you love Me.

Take care of my sheep.

Feed my sheep.

Funny how this difficult God weaves us into the mundane details before the miraculous tongues of fire that find us tucked away in an upper room.

Take off the grave clothes. Unbind. Loose the ties.

Oh, this difficult God who defines for us what it means to be the Church: rolling stones away, declaring freedom, tearing off grave clothes – finding our way through the mundane details.

It would be so much easier if God would just wave his magic wand.

But, he does not.

And, when he does not use his magic wand, then, what does the Church look like in difficult places? Places like Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova? Places where the Church looks like Roma, like Prostitutes, like Women, like Abused, like Addicted, like Illiterate, like Educated, like Orphaned, like Homeless, like Unemployed, like Pimps, like Lazarus?

Come on. Come with us and see : empty tombs, immovable stones rolled away, voiceless people testifying of God : the mundanely, unmagical mercies of a difficult God.

Come.

Come with us.

Lazarus is dancing.