UN Official: Don’t Target Refugees Over Brussels Attacks

Amin Awad
Amin Awad, the Middle East and North Africa bureau and regional refugee coordinator for Syria talks.

The U.N. official in charge of aiding Mideast refugees said on Tuesday that anger over the attacks in Brussels shouldn’t be directed at those fleeing Syria’s bloody civil war or violence elsewhere in the region.

Amin Awad, the Middle East and North Africa bureau and regional refugee coordinator for Syria, also criticized the worldwide “political failure” that’s seen donations dry up for aid to those part of the greatest mass migration in Europe since World War II.

“There’s no Plan B. There’s only Plan A,” Awad told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference.

Read the full story…

Double Vision (June 21, 2015)

Black Lives MatterA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Text: Acts 10:1-17

Somewhere in the back of mind I had begun a different sermon this week. I suppose it might have been a kinder, gentler one until a lone gunman entered a church and murdered nine people at prayer. Everything changed. At least, it did for me. Once more gun violence has reared its hideous head in our so-called sophisticated society. Once more racism runs rampant in a heinous act of bigotry. Once more we are at risk to wring our hands in dismay only to move on shortly after, shaking our heads and changing nothing. I don’t have ready answers to either racism or gun violence but I believe with all my heart that something has to change.

I look at the pictures and read the reports about the young man who perpetrated this evil and I cannot help but think, he did not love himself, so he could not love his neighbors. This is neither an excuse or rationalization for what he did. It’s just an observation of what I see as an exceedingly sad reality. I will not be so presumptive as to try to analyze Dylan Roof. I’ll leave that for others more experienced, more expert, than I in the present and for history to determine in the future. But I do know that his action did not stem from love for self or love for neighbor.

Let me leave my rant for the moment to consider the theme and text for today. Maybe it well help to bring some balm from Gilead, some healing to the wounds. Perhaps it will tell us something about how we might move forward in this troubled, troubling world. The portion of Acts 10 that Alan and Melanie read for us this morning does not make the lectionary. I’m not sure why. It tells a powerful story of double vision brought into focus through the work of love for self and neighbor.

First, we have Cornelius, a man of might and privilege, a high-ranking Roman official, a man used to giving orders and having them followed. Surely he evoked fear and disdain in those over whom he ruled. We know the Jews of this period had no love for their oppressors. But there was something different about this warrior. Luke writes that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God…gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” Not your prototypical Roman officer. Something or someone had touched Cornelius at the depths of his being. He didn’t have all the answers, but somehow he knew he was a child of God. He also could sense God alive in those around him and thus his compassion. I suppose you could attribute his respect or love for himself to his position of power and influence. That must have been a factor. Still, Luke says something more was going on. It looks a lot like love.

When he has his vision, he doesn’t hesitate to send for Peter. From his place of privilege, it is not surprising that he would simply go after what he wanted. Note he has slaves and soldiers to do his bidding. But I also think he was eager to hear what God had to say to him, to teach him through the Apostle. It was a word he longed to experience.

Now Peter, over in Joppa, is about to have his own vision as God brings this odd couple together. He was hungry. His stomach was growling. He was ready for dinner but dinner wasn’t ready for him. He thought he would just stretch out for a bit, take a little nap before the meal was put on the table. His physical hunger invites the dream, and what a dream it is! Rutabagas, liver, pickled herring, limburger cheese – all those things he was loathe to eat – appeared before him. Definitely appetite killers. Yuck! If this is the menu, I’m starting my diet today!

OK, I’m being a little flippant. What appeared before Peter was not just stuff that he would find personally disgusting, it was all stuff by ancient law and sacred tradition forbidden for him to consume at all. It wasn’t just yucky. It was a little frightening. It was so shocking, it took three appearances before he realized the invitation to “kill and eat” was a serious one, not just hunger pangs or indigestion.

“Lord Almighty, no! I’ve never let anything unclean or profane pass my lips. My religious identity, my sense of self-respect, is wrapped up in keeping the law. How can you ask me to do such thing?” Is this some sort of test? Well, yes and no. Is God hoping Peter will say “no” and earn God’s favor? No, I don’t think God works like that. God’s not likely to trick us into doing the right thing. But God is asking Peter to take a risk, to step outside his comfort zone, far outside his comfort zone. Does he trust God enough to take a risk? Cornelius has. Will Peter reach out to meet him somewhere along the way?

I may be wrong, but I think it takes a measure of self-love to take such a risk. You see, this kind of self love is not self-absorption, not self-aggrandizing, not selfishness. It is a self-love, a self-respect, that leads to a certain righteousness, to right living, to right relationship with God, with self and with your neighbor. Brian McLaren writes about love for self. “God wants you to love you the way God loves you, so you can join God in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation. If you trust yourself to that love, you will become the best self you can be, thriving in aliveness, full of deep joy, part of the beautiful whole. That’s the kind of self-care and love that is good, right, wise, and necessary” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 224).

You hear that? “God wants you to love you the way God loves you…” There’s a challenge for us. Love the way God does – with infinite patience and amazing grace. “Don’t call profane what I have made clean.” Take a risk. Get outside your comfort zone. Join “in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation.”

So how does the story end? In Peter’s case, the messengers show up with Cornelius’s invitation, Peter decides to take the risk in the service of God’s call, he travels to Caesarea, the gospel is proclaimed and Cornelius and his household find salvation. How will we respond to such a challenging vision and risky call? Will we find the sort of love for ourselves that allows us to love others? Again Brian McLaren reminds us, “Where the Spirit is moving, love for God always, always, always overflows in love for neighbor. And according to Jesus our neighbor isn’t just the person who is like us, the person who likes us, or the person we like. Our neighbor is anyone and everyone – like us or different from us, friend or stranger – even enemy” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 216).

So it seems to me that Dylan Roof could not see, could not understand, could not embrace, his neighbor in love. But before we pass final judgment on him, we might ask ourselves where we, too, fail to see, to understand, to embrace in love, our neighbor. “Don’t call profane anything I have made clean.” We would never do that, would we? Love as God loves – yourself and your neighbor. Jesus said that everything depends on this, along with our love for God. In fact, are they not they not two sides of one coin? Is this not a bringing into focus any double vision about love in its essence? Out of a growing understanding, respect, love for themselves as children of God, Peter and Cornelius come together in Beloved Community. Will we commit ourselves to such gracious activity across all the lines that divide us and threaten to do us in, whether see them as sacred or secular?

Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. and DePayne Doctor bowed their heads as Pastor Pinckney led them, along with other members of “Mother Emmanuel” AME Church in prayer. Tragically they were not able to finish their prayers last Wednesday, so I’m thinking this morning we might lift some words from Martin Luther King, Jr. on their behalf:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

And if they take your life, then let the wounded body of Christ take up your prayer and sing your song. “Our lives,” yours and mine, “begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And black lives matter. The lives of Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., DePayne Doctor and Pastor Clementa Pinckney matter. We cannot live with double vision here. We need to focus clearly on what matters. No more gun violence. No more racism. No more self-loathing. No more hatred of our neighbors.

I imagine as the service comes to an end, with heads still bowed and eyes closed someone began to softly hum that gently powerful refrain: “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart. Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart.” As an act of solidarity and hope, would you sing that last verse with me right now – “Lord, I want to be more loving…” Amen.

“Of Gods and Men”- and ISIS

In the WorldDear friends,

Sharon and I watched “Of Gods and Men” last night, the story of the monks of Tibehirine, Algeria who were martyred during the war in 1996. (I’d seen it before in a jet-lag haze on an airplane; it was Sharon’s first time to see it–the movie is in French.) It is a moving story of life and death, of love, struggle, faith, and courage. Their witness is a faithful alternative response to Islamic extremism rather than the fear, Islamophobia, hate, and enemy-creation that is going on around us.

I wrote about Christian de Cherge on Read The Spirit and in “Interfaith Heroes.”  De Cherge’s final letter home, released after his death, is one of the most beautiful testaments I’ve ever read. The movie ends with selections from the letter, which concludes with a note to his killer:  “And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing.  Yes, for you, too, I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father.  Amen!  Insha Allah!”  If you want a fuller read about the story, I recommend John W. Kiser’s The Monks of Tibhirine:  Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria.

On our recent 2 months in the Middle East Sharon and I were in a constant context of the violence of the Islamic State.  We had to change travel plans in Lebanon one day because of an ISIS incursion that left 8 Lebanese soldiers dead.  We had students from Syria and Iraq whose homes had been destroyed in the wars.  The Jordanian pilot’s death by burning stirred up so many in the region.  Then the 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded in Libya by IS just as we flew into Egypt.  We preached at a church where some of the members were from the community of those folks and had just returned from comforting the families.

What should we do?  More violence?  That seems to be the only answer that the U.S. knows.  Our invasion of Iraq led directly to the on-going chaos of the region.  Our supposedly surgical drone strikes kill so many civilians that they have contributed to growing hostility in Pakistan and destabilization of Yemen.  Peacemakers need to be like good football (a.k.a. soccer) players–you don’t go to where the ball is but where it will be.  We need to not be reactive, especially with the near-sighted and narrow-minded 24-hour news cycle that fills so much of our media.  Instead we need to do the long-range hard work of building the things that make for peace:  Working for gender justice and the empowerment of women, building inter-religious connections and understanding, teaching nonviolence and conflict transformation especially with religious roots, supporting grass-roots reconciliation initiatives (and they are there!), and praying for one another and our enemies.

Peace,
Dan Buttry

 

 

The Eye of the Beholder (November 16, 2014)

candleringA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon,
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA,

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Texts: Deuteronomy 7:1-11; Psalm 137; 149; Matthew 15:21-39

 

When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you— 2and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. 3Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. 5But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. 6For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).

 

8O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! 9Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! (Psalm 137:8-9).

 

6Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, 7to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, 8to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron, 9to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 149:6-9).

OK…that’s the good news for today. These are God’s words, right out of the Bible, taken from today’s texts.   How do you feel about going into all the world to proclaim this as God’s holy word and way? You say you find as much discomfort with this as I do? Well, perhaps there is still hope.

We come up against this dilemma over and over again as we consider the ancient collection of writings we claim as our holy scripture. More than once in Bible study, we have read passages like these and looked at each other in perplexed wonder. How can these words be reflective of a God whom we claim to be love incarnate? Where is the compassion and grace on which we have come to depend?

Brian McLaren shares this concern with us and offers a way to reconsider the place of violence and destruction in our religious tradition. The core to this consideration is to see that our understanding of God has evolved over the millennia as has our relationship to the Holy. This should not surprise us if we have come to see God as “the More,” the One who will always be beyond our ability to contain either in understanding or in practice. This is why we must inevitably walk the road in faith without seeing or knowing all that will sustain us as we journey and bring us home.

In today’s words of preparation, McLaren says that “Violence, like slavery and racism, was normative in our past, and it is still all too common in the present.” He asks, “How will we tell the stories of our past in ways that make our future less violent?” He says of the ancient texts, “We must not defend those stories or give them the final word. Nor can we cover them up, hiding them like a loaded gun in a drawer that can be found and used to harm. Instead, we must expose these violent stories to the light of day. And then we must tell new stories beside them, stories so beautiful and good that they will turn us toward a better vision of kindness, reconciliation, and peace for our future and for our children’s future” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 49).

Most of the time we avoid these words of violence and destruction, of vengeance and hatred, especially in our worship. We might read Psalm 137 or 149 but we stop before we dash any babies against rocks or lift our swords in triumph. We try to emphasize words of praise and gratitude, peace and justice, compassion and love. That is largely how we have come to understand what it means to walk God’s way through this world. However, as McLaren reminds us, it is important not to deny or ignore our capacity for anger, violence, hatred, and revenge. We can all learn to expand and sustain our consciousness and practice of praise, thanksgiving, peace, justice, compassion and love. Even Jesus faced such a challenge. That’s is how I see it anyway.

He was exhausted. He had been working so hard to spread the good news and bring God’s reign into the lives of his people. Healing, feeding, exorcising, teaching, training his disciples – he needed a break. In our common humanity, we can understand that sometimes we need time off, time to refresh our spirits and replenish our resources. We call it vacation or R and R or the weekend or just a day off. Another way to think of, central to our faith tradition, is Sabbath, time to re-center our lives in God, to re-focus our attention on God’s desires for us, to re-new our bodies, minds and spirits.

Jesus had left the comfortable confines of Galilee, that district that he called home and knew so well. He was no longer in familiar Jewish territory. He was in a foreign land, Gentile territory. Tyre and Sidon were in Phoenicia on the Mediterranean coast, though I doubt Jesus’ intent was a week at the shore. However, I am guessing he was not expecting to be easily recognized. He was hoping for some time away from those Galilean crowds that pressed so heavily against him with their endless neediness and constant clamoring for attention.

And now this woman, this foreigner, this Gentile is demanding a response. At first he tries to ignore her. Maybe she will go away if he simply does not respond. But anyone who has been or known a mother with a sick child understands that she will not be easily dissuaded.   Then the disciples join the fray. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”  In spite of his best efforts to train them, they can’t figure out how to handle her either.

Can you hear the weariness in his response? “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Please go away. There’s nothing I can do. I have nothing left for you.” And there she is on her knees, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; help me.” She sees in him what may have dimmed for the moment but what he knows about himself, about his calling, his ministry, his work on behalf of God’s reign. In fact, she sees it more clearly than his own disciples and she believes with all her heart, mind and soul that he can make a difference.

At first he seems irritated that she has found him out and can see him so clearly. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Ouch! That doesn’t sound very nice. Some have argued that Jesus is actually testing the woman with these words. Does she really see what she claims and believe what she says? Well, maybe, but I wonder if this isn’t Jesus struggling with a shift in his own consciousness? How difficult is it for him – or any of us – to admit that maybe he has it wrong or has misunderstood or has more to learn about God’s way and will?

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  The genius of her response completes what some have called the conversion of Jesus. A warm smile spreads across his face as he lifts her from her feet. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And it was. But the story doesn’t end here. Jesus actually seems refreshed and inspired by this encounter. He is energized by this realization that the Good News is for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Now we find him on a foreign mountainside, in Gentile territory – once again healing and exorcising and teaching. After a three day marathon, he looks with compassion on this crowd of foreigners and realizes they must be hungry. He asks his disciples about feeding the crowd and before the day is done the whole crowd of 4000 men, plus women and children have been fed. How many baskets left over? That’s right – seven. Remember that.

Have we heard this story before? Well as a matter of fact we have. In chapter 14, Matthew tells the same basic story of Jesus feeding 5000 plus on a Galilean hillside. That day there were twelve baskets of leftovers. Now here is what McLaren sees happening in this dual account of mass feeding. In the first story, Jesus has broken bread with those “children” whom he has told the woman he came to “feed.” He has ministered to his own. The twelve baskets of leftovers can be viewed as symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel.

However, I believe his encounter with the Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman has expanded his vision of his ministry, and we must expand ours. On a Gentile mountainside he as fed a foreign crowd and there are seven baskets left over. Where have we encountered seven today? “…the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you…“ At least in symbol, the healing of the nations is complete. That is, ancient enmity, hatred, violence and vengeance is left behind and everyone finds welcome at God’s feast. Jesus Christ is the consummate host. There is food enough and to spare. There is abundant healing and hope, peace and justice, compassion and love, plenty to go around and more.

Now this is Good News. Remember, God brought forth creation and called it good. God desires we share with God the joy of that creation. We are made to live in communion with one another and with God. Old ways, old thoughts, old hates, old hurts are left behind. This road we make by walking is lined with love and compassion, peace and justice, healing and wholeness for individuals, communities and all the world. We scan the road as it unwinds before us; from the ugliness of violence and vengeance, hatred and hurt, enmity and fear, a beauty emerges that has been there all along, waiting for us to behold it and embrace it as our way of life. Thanks be to God that we like Jesus can learn and grow and become the people God made us to be. Amen.