Who to Blame for Orlando. 

In response to the vicious attack in Orlando this weekend a lot of voices have been quick to blame somebody.

Blame Obama. Blame the NRA. 

Blame Muslims. Blame “the gays.” Blame Christians. 

The common thread is that we all like to blame other people. People unlike us. Those people.

Surely there is some blame to go around and there are things that need to be addressed in the coming days…

BUT…

The struggle for me is I can spend a whole lot of time blaming other people without ever addressing my complicity. How have I contributed  to a world where a young man decides to take this course of action? How I have failed to prevent this behavior from happening?

Have I loved my neighbors as myself?

Have I promoted violence in my words, actions, or ideologies?

Have I contributed to the idea that the LGBT community is somehow less valuable?

Have I neglected the need for sound mental health resources in our country?

Have I refused to learn about people from different worlds or who have differing opinions?

Have I driven a wedge between myself and people of different faiths?

Maybe those things can’t be traced directly to the shooting, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t contributed to the culture that led to this horrendous act.

I contribute to this type of brokenness when I close my mind and heart to others. I contribute when I dig in and draw lines in the sand. I contribute when I spend more time talking (or yelling) than listening.

I am a part of the problem when I let our differences weaken us rather than make us stronger. I’m the problem when I perpetuate “us vs them” thinking. When I reduce complex discussions to simple pat answers. 

I’m to blame when I fear other people because they have a different skin color or religious practice or orientation or political opinion or hair cut. 

I’m complicit when I misrepresent  what other people believe or do. And when I get all my best arguments from memes. And when I allow the loudest voices at the polar ends of the spectrum tell me what to think.

I’m guilty if I only listen to people who tell me I’m right. Or if I take offense to the fact that other people think I’m wrong. Or if I’m ridiculous enough to believe  I’ve already learned all there is to know about all the subjects the rest of humanity can’t agree on.

I may never pull a trigger or detonate a bomb or even throw a punch but I know how to be incredibly divisive. I know how to be arrogant and how to exclude and how to belittle others. I know how to be a bully and I know how to run my mouth and I know how to post inflammotary and dismissive things on Facebook.

When I do those things I am contributing to a world hell bent on being right and in control at all cost. A world that becomes divided and exclusive at the expense of others. A world that leaves people feeling unheard, alone, and out of options. A world where shooting people who are different too frequently becomes an option.

And when I do those things I am to blame. It is way easier for me to be part of the problem than to be part of the solution. And it is far too easy for me to point fingers at all those people who are wrong and neglect to examine my own self. 

Jesus said before we go about trying to get the speck of dust out of our neighbor’s eye we should remove the wooden plank from our on eye. Maybe before we go around blaming all the other people who are at fault we could stop and ask how we have been adding rancour and discouragement and anger to the world around us. Maybe we need to ask how much of our behavior we justify when it is the very same behavior that the Orlando shooter (and countless others) demonstrated long before they ever killed a person.

Hate doesn’t start with a bullet or a bomb. It starts in the heart. I want no part in that. Not in my heart or yours. So I’m asking myself: am I stoking the fires of division and hate and fear? Or am I working for peace, spreading love, and offering hope? For all peope? Even those people?

That’s the world I want. That’s a world worth working toward. 

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So. Much. Hate.

So. Much. Hate. We have all heard the outrageous statements ISIS and their sympathizers have made against Christians. They range from specific threats to general disdain for the people of our faith. Here is a brief sampling:

“I hope there is a backlash against Christians because Christianity, as practiced by most Christians, is not a religion of peace, and all of us who do live in peace should do whatever we can to defeat Christianity.”

“There is no such thing as a good Christian.”

 “We could end those Christians before they walk in… Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Add to these many others statements that call for the destruction of Christians, the deportation of Christians, and the general mocking of our faith. It is disgusting.

There are two major problems with these statements:

1) They are dismissive, destructive, uncivil, and I’d say evil.

2) They actually weren’t said by ISIS types. They were said by Christians, about Muslims (not just the radicalized ones), and I just changed the words to disguise that fact.

If we would be horrified hearing these statements about our faith coming from terror sources, we had best take pause when our own people are saying this about another faith. It isn’t okay for ISIS and certainly is not okay for a Jesus follower.

Many will protest that this is all in self defense. Or that it is just the truth (I address that here). After all, we haven’t committed any acts of terror so we aren’t nearly as bad as they are. They are worse.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says difficult things like, “You think you are good because you haven’t killed anyone, but if you hated them in your heart or cursed them or called them names, it is just as bad as murder.” And “You think you are pure because you haven’t physically had an affair, but when you lust after a person you are just as guilty.” (Those are paraphrases, read the real thing here.)

Jesus desires more from us than simply following the letter of the law. Sure, we haven’t killed anyone, but we’ve hated them and degraded them, and these things are not compatible with a Kingdom life. Hate may not be murder and lust may not seem like adultery, but we have devalued people made in the image of God and we are taking steps in the direction of the thing we wish to avoid and steps away from God.

So when we say things like were mentioned at the beginning (regardless of who it is about), we may not be terrorists in the physical sense, but we are guilty in our heart. These are hard words to write and hard words to live, but this is the way of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God seldom works like the kingdoms of this world.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. And Jesus is all about our heart. We may never cross the line into terror, but when our words cross the line, when our attitudes toward others cross the line, we have missed the point.

Jesus calls us to a radical love and a radical way of life so dedicated to God that even our words and our thoughts are godly. He calls us to such surrender that we don’t even speak or wish harm on our enemies. He calls us to a something so much better than the ways of earthy kingdoms.

Scripture says both fresh water and salt water cannot come from the same spring. Too often we want to be able to turn the fresh and salty on and off as we please. It cant work that way. If we are followers of Jesus our words are to be full of life, not venom. Peace and reconciliation, not discord and strife.

Let’s leave the destructive rhetoric and hateful hearts for the terrorists. These things have no place in the life of a Christian. Let’s not succumb to hate. Let’s not allow fear to drive us to unfaithfulness. Let’s be more like Jesus than like those who wish us harm.

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source: iStock via theweek.com

On Terrorism & Refugees

In response to the terrorist attacks in Paris many are calling for the United States to halt its plan to accept Syrian refugees within our borders. The concern is that scattered among the refugees will be radicalized terrorists who will carry out similar style attacks here on our soil. They will come under the guise of needing a safe place and will instead rob us of any sense of peace we may have.

This is a legitimate concern. I get that. I wrestle with it.

I don’t want to have to fear for my children’s lives anytime we go out in public. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder anytime there is a loud noise. I don’t want my kids to live in a world that robs them of their blissful innocence.

And yet, I am opposed to any rejection of Syrian refugees. “Bring them in,” I say.

The things I want for my children are the very same things the Syrian people want for theirs. And the things I don’t want for my children are the very things that they have been living with for far too long. Their fears and worries are much more tangible than mine. They lack food and water, healthcare, education, shelter, and any semblance of stability in their life. They are more likely to be enslaved, abused, and suffer violence in the midst of their displacement. Did I mention that they are on the run from the very people we condemn in these brutal attacks?

In the past days many have been calling for the U.S. to turn them away. In doing so we are leaving them without homes, without opportunity, and without much hope. All because we are afraid.

This is a problem for me. My need to feel secure is not more important than their needs of dignity and basic care and welfare. My desire to enjoy a movie without threat of violence is not more important that a person’s need to be educated and warm and well fed.

But what about our safety? What about us; our people?

We are all too aware of the fact that movie theaters and schools and shopping malls are not bastions of safety any longer. We have seen people from all different belief systems and all shades of color use violence to terrorize innocent people. Terrorism is not something only “they” are capable of.

As a Christian I no longer believe in the categories “us and them.” I believe Jesus came, in part, to erase the barriers we have established between people. Jesus came for all of us.

Some of our presidential candidates have suggested we accept only Christian refugees. I am not sure how one proves their faith to a government official, but I am sure that there is nothing Christian about closing a door on people in need simply because they believe differently than us. It may be the smart thing to do. It may be the safe thing to do. But it is certainly not the Christlike thing to do.

This is where my struggle lies. I want security and prosperity. I want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness without all this extra stuff to worry about. But I am a Christian before I am a citizen. My calling as a Christian is to pursue Jesus, not the American Dream.

When these things are opposed it is too easy for me to want to grab for my flag rather than my cross.

Are there evil people out there who want to bring harm to us? Yes, absolutely. Are we willing to let that stop us from reaching out to our global neighbors to help them in a time of crisis? I hope not.

That’s not who we are as a country. And it is certainly not who we are if we follow Jesus Christ.

I believe the best way to defeat bad guys is to be good guys. The best way to destroy radicalism is to show love. The best way to conquer fear is to be courageous.

Let’s declare war on the ideology that anyone who doesn’t think like us is the enemy. Let’s be a people who have open arms of hospitality. Even when it is easier, even when it is safer to hide behind our locked doors.

Let’s not bow to terror but defy it.

We will not be shaken and we will not cower in fear. We are stronger than those who would victimize others for their gain. We will stand together, as we always have, to receive people who need a place to rest, a place to call home. It is who we are at our core.

“Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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