Monday, December 14, 2015

Be the change

My dear friend Clint is like a lot of us . . . he's watching the scary stuff happening in the world today and looking for ways to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. He's a very smart guy and so he understands things like nuance and probability and holding things in tension and avoiding polarizing over-simplification. He's also a compassionate guy and aligns his life with the teachings of Jesus, including "Love your enemy" and "Treat others like you want to be treated." So last week he sent a message to a local imam; Clint shared this with me because this is part of an ongoing conversation we are having about how to live as Christians in the wider world and I asked him to let me share it here because it shows one example of the kinds of conversations that are possible. I'm inspired by Clint's action and I'm adding my voice to his, partly by sharing it here:

I have been watching the news for the last few weeks and have found myself, as a Christian American, with a sense of guilt-by-association. The hate and vitriol being poured out against Islam in recent days is unprecedented. As a Christian, I am not looked upon with suspicion just because someone who associates himself with my religion performs a terrible act of violence and I am sorry that you, as a follower of Islam, can’t enjoy the same level of grace. I reject the negative stereotypes of Muslims that are portrayed by the media, politicians, and even those around me in everyday life, many of whom claim Christianity as their faith. Please know that these people do not speak for all Christians. 

My best to you and to those with whom you worship,

(my friend's full name)

Clint said, "The imam's response was one of the most gracious things I've ever read." Here it is:

Hi, Clinton.

Thank you ever so much for reaching out to us and for being so supportive. We have always been certain that most Christians and Americans are not filled with hate, prejudice, or bigotry, and messages from incredible people like yourself only reaffirm that belief.

Please do not feel guilty, by association or otherwise, because you are following the true message of love and harmony as preached by our beloved Prophet Isa (Jesus) (peace be upon him).

Lastly, thank you for understanding that the actions of a handful of people should never, ever be representative of a faith which has over 1.6 billion adherents.

You are more than welcome to visit us any time to get to know us and to allow us the pleasure to get to know you. Thanks again! 


Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Story of Hope

There are a lot of opinions flying around right now about refugees from Syria, most from people who have never known even one.  

My friend is a medical professional in Jordan and serves Syrian refugees there, meeting women and children in their deep desperation with kindness and medical care. She and her team intentionally bear witness to the love and care of Jesus while respecting the faith of those they serve. 

I asked her, "What do you wish that people here in the United States knew about what you do overseas?" This is her answer.  

If you like what you read, would you consider making a gift of any size to my friend to help her continue this work? If you're interested, please contact me via email, PM or Facebook or leave a comment at the end of this post.)

I have loved all things medical since I can remember. From volunteering in hospitals and observing surgeries when I was in high school to field trips and being glued to every episode of ER when it was on television. 

I received my nursing degree from Baylor and it was in those college years that my eyes were open to something: the world. The world which holds within it; people of all different cultures, background, and languages.  I had the opportunity to travel to to other countries on medical trips and my heart and life were never the same. 

There was something deep within that called out as I held babies and saw the tears of the suffering. And my soul was forever changed...the quiet, tender voice of God began calling me forward to live and work among another culture besides my own. I said yes.

The yes was a journey of several years, various trips and questions, doors opening and closing. But there was one door that swung so wide open last year in 2014, that I knew the time had come, this was the opportunity before me to walk into. So I moved to the Middle East, to Jordan, a country that borders Syria. Jordan has taken in more than a million Syrian refugees. I had taken a trip there in 2013 to work with the Syrian people  and this was one of the seeds planted within my heart to call me back to work among them full time as a nurse.

I don’t have all the answers to the Syrian refugee crisis. But I can tell you what I’ve seen during my time of working with them. 

There is a common thread we can all relate to with the Syrian people. The desire to survive horrible tragedy and the hope for a better future. This is what I’ve seen with my Syrian friends and the glimpse I want to give you into their hearts and lives:  their resiliency. 

And so many times, when I thought I was there to help and serve them~ they would be taking me in to their home and serving me coffee, tea, and food. They have been some of my greatest teachers of care, respect, and compassion. The deep cultural value to honor your guests and welcome the stranger have touched my heart and made me know I have a place in a culture and country that is not my own, among a people fleeing for their own lives.

I have the privilege of volunteering in a clinic in which the Syrian people have access to medical and dental care. Our team also does education classes and medical follow up visits in their homes. Our vision that I would like to invite you into is this: To see a restored, deeply rooted Syrian community that is a beacon of light, reproducing new life.

I know what you are seeing in the news, but I want to encourage your heart today that there is another story in the Middle East. 

One of hope, redemption, and God’s love breaking through barriers, and bringing people together of a different background, language and culture. It’s the beauty of the kingdom of God that Jesus talked so much about in the gospels. 

I am constantly learning over there. Messing up and learning really. The one for sure thing I have learned is that it can only be sacrificial love that can bring change at the deepest level of our souls. The kind of love that says yes before you know the person’s background or story. Yes, I’ll help you, yes, I see you in your pain and suffering. Yes, you are worthy.

I don’t think the policies of the United States or the United Nations can never be enough to touch the deepest need. Would you join me in great expectation and faith that there is a story of hope He is weaving in this region?

A few things for you to know:

*The civil war in Syria has gone on now for over 5 years.

*Syria is a country of 20 million people, with over half of them now internally displaced within their own country, or have been forced to flee to a neighboring country.

*Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan have taken in the vast amount of the Syrian refugees.

*The majority of the Syrian refugees are women and children.

*If they do return to Syria, each family faces the possibility of their remaining men in the family to be forced to fight for the army or to be killed in retaliation for leaving or if there was some suspicion they had any kind of tie to the rebel army.

*There is a complex layer of issues that are forcing many to want to flee to Europe, including the fact that Syrians can not legally work in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan. The World Food Program had a funding crisis that stretched its budget very thin, thus drastically cutting a big source of food aid to Syrian families. This combined with the fact that the ongoing civil war in Syria has left behind a country filled with an uncertain future, has led many Syrians to think long-term and how to survive. 

When it comes down to it, they are a people who want to be able to live and have a better life, free from the threat of death, and lack of needed resources.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Love your neighbor

While C and Boo and I were headed to the Wortham to see C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, 17 year old Kelsin Flores was bleeding to death on the patio of his apartment half a mile from our house. Police responded to random gunshots in the Bel Lindo complex at W. Bellfort and Bob White, shabby apartments that have been unfairly described as “Guatemala after an earthquake." 

When police arrived, things seemed calm but a search revealed Kelsin alone on his porch, shot by no one for no reason.

This is the fourth murder at the entrance to our neighborhood in less than two years. 

Since we moved here, a woman’s body was found in a dumpster, a man’s body was found in a car, a woman was killed by her husband during what is euphemistically called “a dispute” and Kelsin’s life ended on a Sunday afternoon. All of these happened within a block of each other, on the same side of a busy street, half a mile from my house. 

Kelsin was my neighbor.

When we returned from the play, all that remained were a few bored police officers, a small crowd of young people and some yellow tape. Reading the comments under the news story, I read about how this area is full of “trash,” “thugs,” and “ghetto.” I read one person’s evaluation that “there was probably no victim here,” implying that Kelsin got what he deserved, even though there was absolutely no information about him in the article. Several joked about the photos of the crime scene, calling the complex “a dump” and saying that no one with any pride would live there. One commenter said, “Just hope they don’t start moving to other parts of town.” 

All this about a kid who will never be an adult.

I don’t know how to relate to my neighborhood.   An online apartment finder ad describes  it as “one of Houston’s most budget friendly areas” (which is why we are here), that it has  “a diverse and sometimes challenging history,” and that it is a “melting pot of ethnicity.”

It’s actually a pretty nice place to live. The trees are big and spread their green canopies over those lucky enough to live under them. Most of the noise is from kids playing (or partying) at the pool across the street. Most days, I see parents and grandparents walking their little ones to and from school. The moms stand around outside the entry to the school waiting for the kids to get out, just like my friends and I did when our kids were in school in a very different neighborhood. Sometimes, we pass groups of families and friends, men barbecuing in the tiny green spaces outside their apartment doors, surrounded by children playing and women chatting.  They look relaxed and happy and if I spoke Spanish, I might stop and talk, hoping someone would offer me a burger.

And . . . in the first five months that we lived here, I witnessed five arrests. I know that my neighborhood confronts me every day but I don’t know exactly how to respond. I know to get to know my neighbors—all of us very different from each other so that every conversation in the front yard or in our den is a cross-cultural experience. I know to pray for the kids at the elementary school when I drive by at least twice a day, and for their families and their teachers.  I know to use the local businesses when I can and to smile and to make conversation when it makes sense.

But I don’t know exactly how to live in a community where a teenaged boy is randomly killed on his own patio and it is literally no big deal.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

That time I read the comments on Facebook . . .

Part of what it means to be a minority in America is that it never gets to be about you. 

Even when something happens and you think that this time surely your experience will be heard and understood, the conversation will still be guided and shaped by the dominant culture because that’s what dominant means.

I wish we could gather up all the white people in a huddle and say, “Hey, y'all, how about this time, we let it be about them? About their feelings, their experiences, their fears?  I know that many of us mean well but maybe this time, we could stop defending and stop explaining—God, the explaining—and just listen.”

Not all white people are well meaning; but for those of us who really think we are:  Just this once we could stop saying, “Yes, but.”

Yes, but that doesn’t mean it was racism.

Yes, but we’re all God’s children.

Yes, but white people suffer too.

Yes, but you should focus on these facts, not those.

Yes, but what about the white people?

Yes, but don’t feel that way.

Yes, but don’t make me feel uncomfortable.

When we do that—whether it is on social media or in conversations—we essentially make the conversation about us.

You know how crummy that feels, right? When you really want someone to listen to you, but every time you bring things up, they hijack the conversation and make it about them? When everything you say just reminds them of something they want to say? And you just want to scream, “It’s. Not. About. YOU.”

That feeling? Yeah.

Later we can say what we want to say, if we still want to say it. The conversation about race can still be a dialogue with more than one side. There is still room for all of us. But for once, we can say to our black neighbors—whether they are friends and acquaintances or public figures—“You have the floor. We’re listening.”