People Have Friends; Governments Have Interests

When I first began dating my husband, I would joke that I dated him and 30 Iranians. Cliff had hundreds of friends and most of them were international students at the university he was attending.

During those initial dates we would go to underground Marxist events, Nowruz parties, or sumptuous Wednesday night dinners of kebabs, pilau, torshi, and tea served in special glasses with sugar cubes — all with Iranians. He counted them among his best friends. Through our courtship and then marriage they became my friends as well, some of them young men; others whole families. I became convinced that God created Iranian women first and used up so much beauty that there wasn’t much left for the rest of us. Bad theology? Maybe. Truth about their beauty? Absolutely.

It was during the Iran Hostage Crisis that my husband befriended these students and families. In a recent conversation one of his friends admitted that several of them thought he may be with the CIA. Who else asks that many questions?

Iran was not popular with the United States at the time. Three decades have gone by and not much has changed.

The number of countries that the United States considers dangerous has only increased during the past three decades. Different administrations have made a variety of statements and decisions about who is safe and whether they meet the litmus test of coming to this country.

During the same period of time, our friendships with people from these countries has only increased. In the last 7 years, we have had the privilege of traveling to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, We have also formed friendships in Cambridge with people from Iran, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Algeria, Somalia, and so many more. Two years ago, we were able to introduce a young Syrian family to a young Israeli family at a Thanksgiving gathering. Watching them talk and connect was incredible. Their former views of each other’s respective countries was through the barrel of a gun, not over tea and pumpkin pie.

“People have friends; Governments have interests” is a quote that I’ve heard many times. Living in the United States affords many of us unique opportunities to form friendships with people who are from countries considered dangerous, countries that are not counted as ‘friends of the United States’. Because we are not our governments. Our decisions on who to love, who to trust, and who to befriend are not dictated by who or what our government does; by who our government does or does not deem ‘safe’. 

Too many times we confuse the two. Subconsciously our attitude becomes: If the United States Government and the mainstream media sources do not trust a country, then we can’t trust people from that same country. If they are on bad terms we must be on bad terms. 

My husband and I are not unique in having Muslims as some of our best friends. We know many Christians who claim the same. And we are among many who believe friendship and dialogue trump government interests and activity every time. As I’ve seen articles and been in conversations there are times when I fear some Christians in the west allow government policies and opinions to dictate their friendships; other times when media sources control their hearts and minds. I would suggest that this is misplaced loyalty creating a poverty of thought and spirit preventing us from befriending and reaching out to those who God has placed around us.

From Cambridge, Massachusetts to Tehran, Iran, the last few years have given us uncountable opportunities for meaningful interactions, because people are not governments.

“If we leave it to the mainstream, corporate media to form our conception and understanding of the surrounding world, the entire universe will be a gloomy, failing and disappointing entity in which no sign of hope and dynamism can be found.”*

There’s more to say on this topic, but I want to open it up to you. Wherever you live, how does the government and media affect how you view people? Who you will or won’t let into your life? Do you agree with the quote “People have friends; governments have interests?” Why or why not?

*Quote from Kourosh Ziabari — an award-winning Iranian journalist, media correspondent and activist

Note: This post was revised from another written in 2014

A Statement on Life

I am pro-life. I love babies and mamas. I love ultrasounds that show us the beauty of that baby, perfectly safe and growing in the womb.

Because I am pro-life, I am pro-healthcare. I am a nurse, and I have witnessed first hand what it is to have a patient walk in to a clinic with late-stage breast cancer, because she didn’t have money for a check up. I am pro birthcontrol, knowing that it decreases teen pregnancy and helps women to be able to plan their families.

Because I am pro-life, I am pro women’s right to have paid sick leave. I am pro life, so I am pro flexible work schedules and better options for those raising children.

I am pro-life, and because I am pro-life, and I know how many people have been killed by guns in this nation we call civilized, I am desperate for better measures to determine who gets guns, and why they get them. I am pro-life, and so I am against the death penalty. The words from Matthew 5, echoed and expanded by Gandhi “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” have been shown to be true over and over again.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life, I am pro justice in the Middle East and long for people to realize the atrocities that Palestinians have gone through since 1948.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life, I am for refugees being settled where they no longer have to fear, where they can build new homes and new lives. I am for immigrants, who leave places they love and go through the long and lonely process of moving to a new country, because they want to give their children and grandchildren a better future.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life I long for garbage-free green spaces in the cities of the world, and oceans where people can swim and where our beautiful sea-life can flourish. Because I am pro-life, I want children in cities to grow up free of asthma from the mold that grows unchecked in poor housing. Because I am pro-life, I want fresh foods available in food deserts, and safe streets for walking. Because I am pro-life, I long for functional families, where children grow up loved and disciplined.

I am pro-life, and so I am pro caring for the elderly and loving them, making sure they are recognized as important members of our society. I am pro-life, and so I am pro child – every child, not just those who are beautiful, and smart, and athletic. I am pro child who will struggle with learning until the day they die. I am pro child with Downs, who makes the world a better and kinder place. I am pro help for the parent who is loving and caring for a child who doesn’t fit into a normal pattern of development.

I am pro-life, and so I long for the hungry to be fed, the wounded to be healed, the broken-hearted to be mended.

I am pro-life, and so I long for the day when all life will be restored, when tears will be wiped away and God will heal the cracks of our broken world.

But until that day, I will pray for courage and tenacity to live the way I believe. 

A Salute

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Here’s to the bridge-builders, the peacemakers, the ones who seek to understand the actions of another.

Here’s to those who care about people who don’t believe as they do. 

Here’s to those who will listen to those they disagree with and seek to find common ground.

Here’s to the ones who quietly work behind the scenes to make life better for others.

Here’s to those who meet people where they are, listening to wounded hearts and hurting souls.

Here’s to righteous anger that longs for a world where wrong is made right and sin is no more.

Here’s to those who are willing to trust God with their tightly held beliefs, and extend an olive branch of peace.

Here’s to the men and women who pray for the world, believing that prayer is our greatest weapon against evil.

Here’s to the ability to protest and the freedom to make our voices heard.

Here’s to courage in living out, in kindness, that which we believe.

Here’s to those who protest and tear down walls, believing that good walls do not good neighbors make.

She’s an Angry Elf

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Elf is a well-loved film about a man who thinks he’s a Christmas elf. If you know the movie, you are probably smiling right now. If not, then you are shaking your head and wondering where this is going. Stay with me for a bit, I’ll explain.

There is a point in the film where Buddy, the man-elf, bursts into a business meeting at a publishing company. At that meeting, he  unfortunately and unknowingly, but also humorously,insults a well-known creator of children’s books.

As the man gets angrier and angrier, Buddy makes the understatement of the movie “He’s an angry elf!” 

Today I’m an angry elf. I was on the subway in Boston enjoying the sounds of languages from around the world. I recognized Haitian, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and English. These are not tones or sounds that alienate me. Instead, I feel completely at home. I am not intimidated and I don’t care that I don’t understand – though I do try and follow the conversations in Arabic and Hindi.

So I decided to put my happy feelings onto that both hated and loved medium – Facebook. I wrote this:

Sitting on the subway in Boston listening to conversations all around me in Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Haitian, and English. This is America.

It was a happy, what I thought was a non-political post. But in our world of divisions and politics, it wasn’t perceived the way I intended. Instead, someone questioned the legality of the people on the subway — those that I was listening to.

And – whether right or wrong – I felt angry. Then, the angrier I got, the more I found to be angry about.

My friends – I am an angry elf. 

I have written below a “Woe to us” piece. I say ‘us’ because for every sin I see in others, I have five more. There are times when I think I should be silent and shut up; times when I need to sit back and pray more. And right after I publish this piece? That will be a time when I need to sit back and pray more. But right now, I need to speak up.

Woe to us who support foreign missions and pray for those across the sea, but don’t invite those who are foreign to share our bread and drink our tea. 

Woe to us who think that our skin color gives us a special dispensation of grace.

Woe to us who spend money on Angel Tree and Christmas Boxes, and yet hate the people who receive them. 

Woe to us who defend evil and dress it in riches and expensive clothing. 

Woe to us who make our nations and leaders into gods and idols, and bow and pledge our souls to those idols. 

Woe to us who hold truth in our hearts, but never hold it up as a mirror to convict us. 

Woe to us who grow fat with with the Word, while others are starving. 

Woe to us – when we withhold grace, when we bask in self-righteousness, when we see ourselves as better than others. 

Woe to me – the angry elf. For I must repent. And I don’t want to. 

May God save us from ourselves. 

And a Happy U.S. Thanksgiving.

To add a lighter note – my friend Karen reminded me of some of the best lines in the film. 

“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.”

 “This place reminds me of Santa’s Workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.”

Rambling Thoughts on Confronting an Idol

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I called my mom before the election with one specific question:

“Mom, when did American politics get mixed up with Christianity?”

I really wanted to know. I didn’t grow up in the United States and throughout my childhood, my parents voted via absentee ballots. I remember political discussions about the U.S. taking place every four years, where my mom and dad would have at least one heated discussion about “their” candidate. 95% of the time, their votes cancelled each other. Never do I remember either one of them talking about which was the better “Christian” choice.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I have read that it was when the Moral Majority became a thing. Jerry Falwell and others connected their politics and their faith.”

This was something I escaped during childhood and beyond into my college years. I was far more concerned about the Iranian revolution and the war in Lebanon than I was about U.S. politics, although I would come to learn that U.S foreign policy was critically important when it came to parts of the world that I loved.

But the point is: I never got caught up in the melding of Christianity with the earthly kingdom of the United States of America.

I think its time to confront the idol. America and American exceptionalism have become idols and when we make anything into an idol we need to confess and repent.

“….Nothing is more alien to the Old and New Testaments than to sacralize the unholy, or divinize material things. To regard secular America as some kind of Messiah nation, or geo-political golden calf, is sheer idolatry.”*

When rationalizing America as a “nation blessed by God’ the arguments given are generally material and military and use the book of Deuteronomy as a guide.

Material: America is ‘blessed’ by God because we have more wealth than other countries, because we have houses and bank accounts and cars and college price tags of $160,000 and a plethora of other things unknown to much of the world. How often have you heard someone talk about being “Blessed” with a house? That’s wonderful – but if they had an apartment would they be less blessed? Does the blessing include cathedral ceilings, designer paint, and a pool in the back yard? Is the family of four living in 3000 square feet more blessed than the family of six living in 1000? Or the refugee family living in a tent? We’re on shaky ground when we use material goods as our litmus test for blessing.

Military: America is blessed by God because we have a strong military. Really? Are we using “Blessing” in the correct way?

The book of Matthew speaks a lot about blessing in a chapter called “The Beatitudes” literally meaning “blessings”. As I read it I realize yet again that Jesus again excels at turning things upside down, challenging the crowd who is familiar with an Old Testament view of blessing.  Not once is a strong military or material wealth mentioned. Rather we have a dire list of adjectives that include poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peace makers, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted….At this point I begin to feel uncomfortable. Are we through yet? No, there’s more – we end the ‘blessings’ portion with more persecution and false accusation.

The list of blessings is long, and drones, bombs, military intelligence, American exceptionalism, Wall Street, bonds, bank accounts, investments are not included.

But the blessings do include peacemaking.

They include seeking righteousness.

They include mourning.

And so I come to this conclusion: America is not blessed. In fact, we are in need of deep, deep healing. 

One of the ways we heal is by confronting the idol of Christian America and American exceptionalism. It has already begun to crumble before us and yet we aren’t paying attention. 

Nations will come and go. Party affiliations will change. Politics will swing from right to left and back again. This is not the Kingdom of God. Every political system on earth was designed by imperfect people who were all about politics on earth and not about treasure in Heaven.

They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

My allegiance is to a citizenship far stronger and greater than any nation. My loyalty and world view are defined less by a country and more by a faith. I am called to a higher calling and a far greater identity than that which is indicated by my passport. 

If I ever confuse my identity as an ‘American’ with that of being a ‘Christian’ may I be called out and challenged by those around me. Believing that a national identity is greater than a spiritual identity is quite simply idolatry.

Maybe you voted for Trump. Maybe you voted for Hillary. Maybe you found either choice untenable. Regardless, if you believe in a kingdom that is not of this world then I challenge you that your job is to build bridges with those with whom you disagree. Your job is not to ridicule, to withold grace, to tell people to stop having thin skin, to condemn, to gloat, to despair, to withdraw, to be disgusted. Your job, your mandate is to build bridges and seek the kingdom. 

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all political systems will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until then may God heal our eyesight. May he show us his beloved ones of every tribe and every nation. May we not dismiss stories or perspectives. May we be ones who listen and learn, who are willing to admit we are wrong. May we not justify our wrongs or rationalize our sins. May we be people who see beyond the crisis of the day and beyond our own inadequacies. May we comfort the hurting, give grace to the angry, hear the other side, build bridges of peace, and always fight for the persecuted. May we see the world through the Creator’s eyes of love and grace.

*First Things – “Is America Blessed by God”

Blogger’s note: You may recognize some of these posts – I took from a couple different blogs that I have done in the past.

Good Quotes to Get you Through Election Day 2016

“Someone is going to win Tuesday and then, if trendlines that have proved reliable in the past continue, the sun will come up on Wednesday.” Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal

Yesterday I walked through the leaves at twilight and knew that all would be well

“It’s easy to get pessimistic right now. Lots of powerful forces in early-twenty-first-century America seem to be turning against us. It’s good to remember, therefore, that God takes the way of particularity. Our increasingly secular cultural and political regimes have little in the way of new life in them. Cynicism and careerism disfigure many talented young people today. These are not qualities pregnant with a vital future for the West. It will be those few who are looking upward, those who have a sense of the transcendent possibilities, who will be able to lead us toward something new, something culturally alive.”

– R.R. Reno (First Things, December 2016)

“A closing thought: God is in charge of history. He asks us to work, to try, to pour ourselves out to make things better. But he is an actor in history also. He chastises and rescues, he intervenes in ways seen and unseen. Or chooses not to.

Twenty sixteen looks to me like a chastisement. He’s trying to get our attention. We have candidates we can’t be proud of. We must choose among the embarrassments. What might we be doing as a nation and a people that would have earned this moment?” Peggy Noonan WSJ

“Toblerone has gotten smaller because of Brexit” NPR Marketplace 

I overheard my nine-year-old daughter scolding her little brother. Her admonition should be a motto for everyone in business, politics, media, entertainment, and the arts: ‘Don’t believe everything you say.'” PJ O’Rourke


“So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not.” C.S.Lewis in Screwtape Letters

Finally – from my friend Jonathan Trotter:

God Bless America!

and Syria!

and Ghana!

and Venezuela!

and Russia!

and China!

and New Zealand!

and Germany!

and Greece!

and Somalia!

and Brazil!

and Panama!

and Afghanistan!

and Cambodia!

and Pakistan!

and Tanzania!

and Canada!

and Iran!

and Israel!

God bless the people we like and the people we don’t!

God bless the people who like us and the people who don’t!

And at the end of the day, may we all remember the astounding truth that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.


The Shallow Identity of Party Affiliation

 

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Last night we had dinner with some new friends. We have been connecting online for about two years, and finally had the opportunity to meet. The conversation turned toward politics. Jenn talked about reading a book where the author surmised that Jesus was more liberal than the liberals and more conservative then the conservatives. I woke up thinking about this. As one who lived in a political system during his time on earth, Jesus never confused politics on earth with the Kingdom of Heaven. Never. His mission was people and relationships, not politics.

It was several years ago that a Christian friend first said to me: “I’m sorry, I disagree with you! I vote and live my life on [insert political party] values.” The conversation was pleasant, but I remember looking at my friend in surprise. She said it with absolute surety and confidence. This was more than politics, this was her very identity.

Historically, confusing politics on earth with the Kingdom of Heaven is not new, but I still remember that I was shocked and troubled. I had not lived in the United States much, and this was my first direct encounter with the values of a political party being confused and entangled with the values of someone who followed Jesus. Since then, I have come to realize that almost every politician in the entire country has at some point uttered the words “I am a Christian” for political gain, and we buy into it with our souls. We sigh with relief and think “Okay then. Good! God in the White House! Or in the Governor’s mansion.” We turn a blind eye to characteristics that are the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus. We say “Who am I to judge…!” Even as we’ve perfected the art of judging others.

The United States is in an interesting season. In three months we will be electing the next president of the United States of America. Social media and media in general are the only entities profiting from the debacle that is playing out in this election. Everyone else is losing.

Think about it – why are we participating in a game we are losing? A game where we are losing integrity, losing friendships, losing arguments, losing sleep, and slowly losing sanity.

We have bought into politics that reduce our complex humanity into a political identity and with it, a political war.

Here’s the thing: as a Christian, using a political party to describe ourselves is shallow. Using a political party to judge or describe other people is also shallow.  

The idea that I, a complicated human being with all sorts of thoughts going through my head, would be limited to a political party is galling to me. The statement “you can’t be a Christian and a [insert the party]” is reductionist and puts people into unreasonable boxes — boxes that include complex issues affecting human beings.

How and when did Christians in America begin to confuse who they are, as people made in the image of God, with the identity and characteristics of a political party? How did Christians come to see political parties as the way to express their Christian faith? It’s mind boggling that we would think affiliation with a political party is the way to express the kindness of Jesus that leads us to repentance. It is head shaking to think that a political party is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, Libertarians – they are created and designed by imperfect people who are all about politics on earth, not treasure in Heaven. They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all the politics we fussed over, argued about, and condemned each other for will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until that time, may we do justly, love mercy, vote wisely (and for some, that may mean not at all) and walk humbly with our God.