"Writing is no answer but when you feel deeply there is little else to do." -- James Baker Hall

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I was a stranger, and you invited me in…” (Attributed to Jesus in Matthew 25:35)

As we fast approach the Christmas season, we have to pause a moment to remember exactly what it is that we are celebrating.  The birth of a child in a foreign land, whose parents were refugees fleeing persecution.  Shown compassion by an innkeeper, that child grew up to be a human being who embodied compassion.  He became the model for how to let the light of divinity shine through us.

When I travel in old Cairo in Egypt, which is where I shall be in less than a week, I hope to visit the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Coptic Church again, which is said to be built upon the site where the Holy family hid themselves and rested during the Flight into Egypt as they escaped Herod. 

So I am finding myself struggling to accept the assertion of many theoretically Christian politicians who suggest that the refugees from Syria – a people who are escaping the very terrorism that we are witnessing in the Middle East, Lebanon and Paris—should just go home.  Obviously that is not a Christian sentiment if we recall the life of Jesus the Christ.

This is pure and simple a problem with xenophobia.  A phobia of course is an irrational fear—like arachnophobia (fear of spiders), or claustrophobia (fear of being in enclosed spaces).  Xenophobia is the fear of strangers.  And given the psychic fallout from two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and on and on back to the edges of history, xenophobia is a well-rooted fear, and by that we can infer lower chakra needs based on survival of the species, the family, the homeland.

It goes back as far as the Israelites being kicked out of every country they entered, and are still to this day fighting to live in a homeland that is homesteaded, having previously belonged to the Palestinians.  We could go into a long dissertation on global xenophobia. 

My point here is that it is this.

We are not engaged in some holy war.  It is not us against them.  Whatever or whomever them may be: Christians against Muslims, or Sunni against Shia, or liberals against conservatives.  What we truly are working to combat is the mistrust of our fellow man that shows itself as fundamental extremism on either side.  Going Rogue, which is the title of one book by a Christian fundamentalist politician, is not the answer.  Going rogue implies extreme individualism that refuses to take into account that not all people can be defined by the groups to which they belong. Not all Muslim people are jihadists and not all Christians are xenophobic.

As a Muslim man condemning the Paris attacks has said on Facebook: Terrorism has no religion.  Others quoted the Quran 5:32 Whoever kills an innocent person, it is as if he kills all of humanity.

What we witnessed in Paris, horrendous as it was and is, is not, as Jeb Bush said, “an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.”  No. It is an organized attempt to sow panic and fear--and it has done that pretty well, unfortunately. The murder of random people in random places throughout Paris, or before that Lebanon, is a means of stirring up xenophobia. If you fear us, the members of the Islamic State seem to say, then we are the terrorist rogues who win.  But to my mind the biggest threat to our society is not Islam.

The biggest danger that faces us is the belief that we have to fight terrorists  by committing similar acts of violence and terror.  Military intervention being one of these avenues.  Another might be closing our borders, shutting the doors in the faces of those who need our help. 

Certainly that was not the intention when in 1885 Emma Lazarus gave us the words carved into the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free…”

This is what our nation stands for.  We opened our arms to Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine. We opened our borders to those Swedes who needed a land in which to live, and to many who have crossed the waters to America escaping war, famine, destitution, subjection, religious persecution. Let’s face it, nearly all of us whose ancestry arrived on these shores by boat are descendent from the suffering of immigrants.

I am reminded again of that pregnant woman on the burro seeking shelter when the life of her child was threatened.  I am reminded of Mary’s stalwart husband, Joseph, who continued to knock on doors, walking mile after mile into the desert as door after door was shut in his face.  And again similar images flash before my eyes of the terrified women, men and children in their dinghies landing on the shores of Lesbos trying to pass through to some place that will take them in and feed them. By and large, these are victims—not Syrian terrorists.

And if you are fleeing a war-torn country, not being allowed a shelter somewhere, facing vehement aggressive protests inflicts yet another level on terror upon an already terrorized people.  What these acts of terrorism intend to do is to inspire yet more wrong-headed responses by people and governments.

So really the question is this: How do we as spiritualized beings respond to such terrors?

We must respond with compassion and love. As 1st John: 4:18 tells us: “Perfect love drives out fear.”  By this we understand that the opposite of Love is not hatred. The opposite of Love is Fear.  A response to this crisis of closing borders, sending troops on the ground is a response that springs forth from Fear, which is what the terrorists want. An appropriate response must be true love with compassion.  And how do we do that?

First we pray. We pray for clarity of vision. We pray for peace for Muslims and Christians and Buddhist and pagans, for all people everywhere.  We pray for those families who are hurting. We pray for our enemies.  Matthew 5:34—Pray for your enemies and those who persecute you. That isn’t an easy thing to do, but it is a necessary thing. It is what people of peace do.

Secondly, we offer our compassion to those who are hurting. We weep with those who weep.  When the events of 9-11 unfolded on US soil 15 years ago, the French government cried with us in anguish, saying:  “We are all Americans now.”  And now we cry out with the French citizenry, “We are all Parisians now.”  In truth, we are becoming more and more citizens of a world that mourns in unison, and rebuilds in unison and goes on believing that Love again will prevail.

And next, we also must offer forgiveness to those who have hurt others. Matthew 7:1-2   tells us:” Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.—no stranger to persecution and personal violent threat, offers this profound guidance for living through such crises as these. He says. We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

In that light it is important to look within ourselves and try to find those moments when we have been more frightened than loving, more angry than loving, and try to counter that love with compassion, forgiveness and the determination to “do what is right.”

This is a difficult thing to do, but a uniquely powerful thing to do. We know this power exhibited in the words of our Master Teacher, Jesus Christ. Beaten and impaled by a sword, hanging on the cross yet his words we recall as the most compassionate plea ever uttered. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. – Luke: 23-34

Just as there are things to do: Pray. And Love Our Neighbors, all of them, as ourselves—there are also things we should not do. 

1. We should not hate. We see evil and we want to draw swords to fight it, but as Martin Luther King Jr. said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We cannot reach out in compassion to some and hate others at the same time. We invoke God into our hearts that we like all who suffer may heal. 

2. We should not take our anger out on the refugees of any country immigrants are not the enemy. They are a 21st century version of our grandparents, great grandparents and those before us. And like us, they want to live and protect their families, as we would.

3. We should protest any calls to war with Islam.  Interfaith and multi-faith understanding is called for here. Even Muslims honor Jesus as the way-shower, prophet and elder brother.  How can that be against any Christian ideal? Nearly all of the Muslims that I know in Egypt will say that these terrorists do not represent them, their families, or their religious and political views.

This is not a time where we should give in to fear.  Rather it is a time to unite, a time to honor the humanity of every person.  By not doing so, we play into the expectations of those who terrorize the world. 

Rather than separate ourselves from the religion of Islam, or from the things which we do not understand, or frighten us; we need to cultivate an understanding between all people. All people of all faiths, should invoke the divine into their hearts, and into their understanding.  No religion has a patent on divine love.  God is like breath. It is everywhere around us, within us, enlivening us. As has been said. In 1 John 4:12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

I ask you to pray that Love conquer Fear, that Compassion reign, and that All People move together in the one divine body of God.