Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Small miracles

Good films, like all good stories, tell us something about ourselves and the world around us, and the best stories challenge and inspire us. You might think Christian films would be at the top of my list in this regard, but generally they’re not. From their low production quality to poor storytelling and character development, these films leave me more frustrated than inspired.

Over the last few years, faith-based films have seen an infusion of Hollywood studios, star power, and directors. Unfortunately, most of the time this tends to simply put a shiny sheen on poor storytelling. But lately a couple of films have given me hope—and Miracles from Heaven is one of those.

An adaption of Christy Beam’s memoir by the same name, the film tells the story of Christy’s journey and crisis of faith as her young daughter Annabel gets sick and is eventually diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.

This film gets some essential things right—and much of that is due to a strong performance by Jennifer Garner (Alias, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), well-crafted portions in the script by Randy Brown (Trouble with the Curve), and direction by Patricia Riggen.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is that it takes time to let the story tell itself.

As a result, we’re allowed to experience Christy’s growing sense of helplessness as she watches Annabel suffer. I know what it’s like to sludge through the medical system, hold down your child’s arms so he doesn’t pull tubes out of his nose, and sit by a hospital bed when your child is in pain. Brown’s script and Garner’s performance do a good job of delivering that experience.

Taking time to tell the story also allows for a more genuine and realistic portrayal of a faith in crisis. We are able to experience Christy’s anxiety and her growing sense of her inability to control life and how that contributes to her questioning of God’s reliability and presence and her inability to pray. And her conversations with her husband could have been lifted from ones I’ve had during my own faith journey.

But the film’s best moments are those without words, especially at pivotal points in Christy’s faith journey.

Like the moment Christy really sinks into her growing doubt about God as the doctor tells her and her husband that Annabel’s condition doesn’t have a cure. Riggen focuses on Christy’s face as she looks up to a window in the hospital ceiling and then back down to the floor; we don’t need to hear her express her doubt because we can feel it. This wordless moment is mirrored with another during a crisis near the end of the film, just before Christy starts her journey back to faith with a prayer, probably her first one in years. Garner’s performance makes these moments feel real and even moving.

Unfortunately, Miracles from Heaven doesn’t get everything right. Good portions of the film still feel heavy-handed, and the film is at its weakest when it preaches—sometimes quite literally from a pulpit. Also, segments of the film feel contrived and forced, especially during the last quarter of the story.

At the end of the film, we’re told that miracles aren’t always big, and if we pay attention, we can find them in the little and simple things of life. It’s little things in this movie—like taking time to tell a story, earning pivotal moments, and a strong performance like Garner’s—that give me hope for future films about faith journeys.

This review first appeared at Third Way.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The temptation of vengeance in movies

Writer and director Scott Derrickson recently posted on Twitter: “I believe that in future history the revenge ethic will be seen as the great cinematic signature of American mental [and] spiritual sickness.”

The revenge theme is popular in American films, from classics like True Grit, Pale Rider and Death Wish to Unforgiven, Kill Bill and, most recently, The Revenant.

In Saint Paul at the Movies, Robert Jewett calls revenge “one of the most pervasive tales in American culture.”

I must admit, a few of the above films are among my favorites, but Derrickson’s post challenges us to consider not only their underlying ethics but also what they reveal about our culture.

The desire for vengeance is ancient. In one of the core biblical passages about vengeance, Paul — who, Jewett points out, lived in a culture where it wasn’t uncommon for some Jews to take the law into their own hands to avenge injustices by authorities — tells Roman believers to leave vengeance to God, “for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).

However, notes Jewett, Paul doesn’t deny the principle of vengeance itself. He knows that “in this imperfect and violent world, human beings yearn for some kind of justice. When people have suffered at the hands of thieves and murderers, they usually hope that such evil will someday be overcome. To believe that the universe is as unfair as everyday experience is too demoralizing to tolerate.”

Today, that yearning is deeply present in our own culture as we wrestle with everything from broken justice systems to horrific terrorist attacks. We, too, hunger for justice.

Which explains why we might experience, as Christianity Today film critic Brett McCrackenputs it, a “conflicting catharsis” at the end of these films: “cathartic because an evil villain is dispatched in a fittingly violent manner, but conflicting because we aren’t quite sure we should feel so good about it.”

While these films resonate with our frustration with injustice, we must think through the implications of these stories.

In many of them, governing and justice systems are absent, utterly ineffectual or corrupt, so victims take the law into their own hands.

Our own justice system is flawed and broken—and always will be. “Little ‘j’ justice is a good thing but will always be an imperfect thing,” observes McCracken. “It will always be a justice that makes us long for the big ‘J’ Justice of the ultimate Judge … that inaugurates a perfect kingdom and a shalom that lasts.”

In our vigilance in confronting injustice and flawed systems, we must be wary of glorifying heroes of vigilante justice, says Jewett, because we run the risk that “respect for law disintegrates, and the yearning for violent resolution of the quick-and-easy sort gains highly dangerous, public forums” in our own culture.

Paul gives believers another way to respond to the need for vengeance: overcome evil with good and love (Rom. 12:9-21) — and how that sits with us might be an indication of our own spiritual well-being.

As Jewett puts it, “Are humans really capable of such actions if they are not entirely certain of the final judgment of God, the final triumph of righteousness? How can persecuted people counter despair without such hope? How can they gain the power to respond creatively with burning coals except by trusting finally in the power of God either to transform or to punish the wicked?”

God demands that we stand and act against evil. The idea of taking vengeance is seductive, but it will not bring the true justice or peace we yearn for. If we want to work with God to bring kingdom shalom, we must choose another way.

This is a slightly longer version of a column posted at MWR.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Historical drama that speaks today

[This review may contain spoilers]

The Oscar-nominated Bridge of Spies is an inspiring story and a great piece of filmmaking. Critics praise the collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, calling the film gripping, satisfying, and even eloquent.
It is a timely story that invites us to examine our own roles in our current culture, where fears of terrorism too often drive opinion and policy.

But the heart of the film is Hanks’s James B. Donovan, a man of quiet tenacity and compassion who believes in the value of the Constitution and that “every person matters”—even an enemy.

The Cold War drama tells the real-life story of Donovan’s 1957 legal defense of KGB spy Rudolf Abel and his role in negotiating the exchange of Abel for captured American pilot Francis Gary Powers and American graduate student Frederic Pryor in 1962.

Donovan is asked to defend Abel so that the spy is seen as getting “a fair shake.” No one expects him to take the job seriously, however, so when he starts building a strong defense, he quickly draws the ire of family, colleagues, and the public.

Spielberg does a good job of depicting the culture of fear that saturated the early years of the Cold War. Government officials and the public alike fear the Soviet Union and a nuclear war. That fear drives both private and public opinions of Donovan’s defense of Abel, generating everything from hostile stares on a train to pressure from colleagues to tone down his defense to a spray of drive-by bullets through the living room window of his home.

At one point, Abel compares Donovan to a man Abel witnessed as a child being beaten by partisan border guards. Every time he was beat down, Abel says, the man stood back up. Eventually the guards, impressed by the “Standing Man,” let him live.

The image fits Donovan, who constantly faces and overcomes obstacles and pressure from his family and colleagues as well as the public and U.S. officials.

Though he loses the case, Donovan convinces the judge to give Abel a prison sentence rather than the electric chair, arguing that Abel could be a valuable bargaining chip in the future. Sure enough, Powers is shot down over the Soviet Union, and the CIA asks Donovan to negotiate the trade in Berlin.

Donovan takes great personal risks as he navigates the spy-craft world during an unstable period in East Germany and faces immense pressure and obstacles from U.S. and Soviet and East German officials, who want to drop Pryor from the deal. But Donovan is relentless in his belief that every person matters and eventually secures the trade.

I was inspired by Donovan’s “Standing Man” commitment to the Constitution and his belief that every person matters. It is a timely story that invites us to examine our own roles in our current culture, where fears of terrorism too often drive opinion and policy.

I also resonate with the way Donovan’s story echoes our own. He saw himself as part of a larger story or purpose, one worth sacrificing both his career and life; he took advantage of every opportunity and left things better than he found them. As believers, we too play a part in a larger Story where a Standing Man resolve in our commitment to Jesus and our commitment to act with sacrificial love—even towards our enemies—helps restore a broken world.

Bridge of Spies is an engaging, thought-provoking story that helps us better understand ourselves and the world around us. If you missed it in the theater, add it to the top of your queue.

This review first appeared on Third Way.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rocky relationships

Copyright Warner Bros.

I grew up watching the Rocky films, so after Sylvester Stallone received a Golden Globe for his performance in Creed, I thought it about time to see that one, too.

Since it had been decades since I’d seen the first film, I decided to watch Rocky first. Rocky, which won Best Picture, was written by Stallone, who also was nominated for his portrayal of the blue-collar boxer who holds his own in the ring with heavy-weight champion Apollo Creed.

I must admit, I love Stallone’s portrayal of the younger Balboa—an uneducated, reluctant loan shark debt collector with a compassionate, good heart who pursues connection, love and the heavy weight title with the same quiet persistence. Frankly, I think Rocky is a wonderful story of salvation and the transformational power of relationships.

These things seem to take a backseat in most of the sequels—but not in Creed.

That film introduces us to Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. After Johnson’s mother dies, he is in and out of foster care until Mary Ann Creed, Apollo’s widow, takes him in and raises him.

Johnson grows up to be a successful young man, but even as an adult, he struggles with living under the legend of his father. When he decides to pursue boxing, he seeks out Balboa, who became good friends with Creed before he died. Johnson sees Balboa as the closest thing to an uncle he’s got.

But life has taken its toll on Balboa. His wife Adrian and brother-in-law Paulie have died, and his son has moved away. Balboa’s retreated from life. He no longer goes to the gym, instead spending time at his quiet restaurant or sitting on a folding chair by Adrian and Paulie’s graves.

Balboa reluctantly agrees to train Johnson, and the two slowly form a deep familial bond. Both men are, as Balboa puts it at one point, “still caught in the shadows,” but their relationship transforms them both, helping Johnson work through the losses he suffered as a child and Balboa embrace life again in spite of its risks and pain. Stallone’s raw and vulnerable portrayal of Balboa’s struggle through pain and loss deserves the Globe win and Oscar nod.

But Creed isn’t only a solid addition to Rocky’s story--it also gives us a wonderful image of the saving and transformational power of loving relationships.

I resonate with stories about makeshift families this because they remind me of the kind of family we are invited into when we become Jesus’ disciples.  Like Mary Anne, Johnson and Rocky, we are a family of adopted and wounded brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, mothers and fathers bonded by a sacrificial love that embraces the value and necessity of each member—old or young—and desires and puts the best interest of the other above ourselves.

And that kind of messy, risky love helps to transform and move us out of our personal shadows and makes our lives-together a light to the world around us.

Not bad for a film about boxers.

Yo, Rocky. You did it. And we thank you.

This post first appeared as a movie review at Third Way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Polarizing Fallout

via Wikipedia
Kyle Hinckley made a stir in the video-game world by successfully completing the hardest mode of Fallout 4 with zero kills. In this popular series of video games set in a post-apocalyptic United States, gamers make their way through a hostile landscape to achieve the goal of the story. Killing nonplayer characters is the usual way, but gamers like Hinckley make it their goal to complete the game with no kills.

That’s a challenge, because Fallout 4 doesn’t offer many nonviolent alternatives. In fact, as Maddy Myers at The Mary Sue points out, it seems rigged against nonviolent options.

This invites interesting comparisons to our culture at large, but I find a deeper cautionary tale embedded in this story.

Hinckley readily admits his version of virtual pacifism isn’t traditional. For example, when his character can’t get through a scenario without killing, he exploits the game’s mechanics by manipulating other nonplayer characters to commit the act.

In other words, Hinckley’s character technically doesn’t kill anyone but nonetheless leaves a wake of destruction.

“This is a ‘no-kill run’ according to the loosest possible definition of the term, but it’s definitely not a feel-good path,” observes Myers.

As I contemplated the contrast between Hinckley’s goal and his methods, I found myself think-ing about the conflict between our commitment as disciples of Jesus and our actions — particularly when we disagree — in a culture rigged toward polarization.

In this age of social media, most of us rub shoulders with people from a variety of backgrounds, ideologies and theologies. This can be enriching and enlightening, even when we differ on issues where we believe we’re right.

However, people are growing less willing to civilly engage and more hostile toward those with different viewpoints.

In a New York Times article, “Polarization Is Dividing American Society, Not Just Politics,” Nate Kohn reports on a 2014 Pew Research study that reveals how we’re becoming a self-segregated and “divided society where liberals and conservatives increasingly keep apart.” As a result, each party is “more ideologically homogeneous than ever before” and “partisan and ideological animosity is dividing American society.”

Believers are often deeply invested in ideological or theological beliefs because they are based on convictions rooted in Scripture, ministry or their relationships with God. 

Unfortunately, cultural polarity and animosity has infiltrated the way we approach each other when those convictions conflict. Too often, we manifest hostility and contempt for each other, tossing verbal grenades that destroy both personal relationships and public witness.

Even if we believe divine truth is on our side, we must be careful. “When God speaks to us, it does not prove that we are righteous or even right,” says Dallas Willard in Hearing God. “It does not even prove that we have correctly understood what he said. The infallibility of the messenger and the message does not guarantee the infallibility of our reception. Humility is always in order.”

Even if we are right, says Willard, we should remember “that God’s purposes are not merely to support us or make us look and feel secure in our roles or to make sure we are right.” Indeed, says Willard, few succeed in bearing up under being right gracefully. How we act must be grounded in an overall character of life, which includes humility, faith and, perhaps above all, “hopeful love.”

I’m not saying we mustn’t speak with passion, conviction and even righteous anger. But doing so without humility and love is destructive. While our culture leaves few alternatives to polarization, we are called to walk a different way.

The alternative is costly: We risk becoming Christians in the loosest possible definition, which is definitely not a feel-good path.

This post originally appeared as a column at MWR. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Real or not real?

Peeta Mellark/Copyright Lionsgate via Rotten Tomatoes
Last month, Mockingjay: Part 2 concluded the film version of The Hunger Games series, a dystopian story in which children are forced to fight to the death in a televised Survivor-like arena. President Snow uses the Games as a way to control the population and stamp out the rebellion in the impoverished and oppressed Districts.

The Hunger Games books and films explore several significant themes but this final installment gets at one particularly relevant right now: how fear shapes the way we see the world and each other.

In the film, this plays out most affectingly in Peeta, a Games survivor who is suffering from the effects of torture. Snow used images combined with potent fear-inducing drugs to reshape Peeta’s memories, particularly of fellow Games survivor Katniss in order to make him fear and hate her.

After his rescue, Peeta struggles to discern which memories are real and which ones are not—and it’s hard. As one character explains in an earlier film, “fear is the most difficult to overcome” because “we are hardwired to remember it best.”

I watched Mockingjay only a week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, and I couldn’t help but think how Peeta’s struggle reflects our own in a culture where we are constantly bombarded by images laced with fear.

In Psychology Today, Deborah Serani points out that the prevalence of fear-based news coverage is connected to our false belief that crime rates are rising (they are actually falling, according to FBI statistics) and leads us to see the world as a hostile place and overestimate our odds of becoming a victim.

This not only affects the way we see each other—i.e. dehumanizing each other as potential threats—but it also changes the way we act.

In “Overreaction to Fearsome Risks,” Harvard scholars Cass Sunstein and Richard Zeckhauser explore how we overact in terms of public policy to low probability risks which are vividly and widely publicized, like terrorism. When terrible outcomes are vivid and easy to visualize (think 24-hour cable news), we become insensitive to the reality of low statistical risks—even when the risks are dramatically lower than those associated with ordinary activities.

The Washington Post reports we have a one in 20 million chance of dying from a terrorist attack; we’re twice as likely to be killed by lightning. Yet immediately after the Paris terrorist attacks there were public demands to block Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.—even though statistically, if I’m doing my math right, the chance of a refugee committing an act of terror is less than one percent.

Our perception of reality has been hijacked. We can’t tell what’s real. But, like Peeta, we can find our way back.

To distinguish between the real memories and the ones that were manipulated, Peeta begins asking his friends which memories are “real or not real.” I deeply resonate with this because, as Christians in a growing culture of fear, we need each other to remind us what’s real—and even more so, remind each other who we are.

Yes, we live in a broken world where evil exists. But we are followers of Jesus, children of the Most High God. We were given not a spirit of fear but of power, love and sound mind. As his people, we are a beacon for the lost, broken and marginalized. We are a compassionate, risk-taking people with our eyes fixed on Jesus and not the waves around us. 

We walk on water, move mountains, stop to care for the beaten traveler, seek the lost sheep, overcome evil with good, take up our crosses and lay down our lives. We swim in a love that casts out fear. We love with that love—and that changes everything.

Real or not real? Brothers and sisters, that’s real.

This is a slightly longer version of a column that first appeared on MWR

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Five things to consider about Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee children in a tent settlement in Lebanon (forsuchatimeisnow.org)
A few days after the news about the ISIS terror attacks in Beirut and the day after the Paris attacks, I was a judge at a high school debate tournament where the Public Forum topic was to resolve this statement: In response to the current crisis, a government should prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over its national interests.

Timely, right?

As I listened to my daughter and her team members go over their affirmative and negative arguments in preparation for the tournament (they have to argue both), I was mesmerized. I’d forgotten what it was like to hear a conversation where both sides of such a relevant and hotly contested issue were being discussed so calmly. It’s not that my daughter and her teammates didn’t care about the topic; in fact, they each voiced their own opinions about it. But they did so in a way that was informed and respectful.

I’ve tried to keep that in mind as I’ve read through op-eds, news articles and my Facebook feed this week.

At times, it was a struggle. I traveled to Lebanon in January to collect stories from Syrian and Iraqi refugees to help raise awareness about this humanitarian crisis, which is the greatest of our era. I care a great deal about this issue.

But, as my daughter and her teammates reminded me, some of the best conversations about even the toughest of situations are informed and respectful.

As I’ve read through the news and posts, I’ve seen several themes and trends, including misinformation on both sides of the issue about the refugees, the refugee process, terrorism and the role of the church. Below is my attempt, in an informed and respectful manner, to address those.

1. No, 75 percent of Syrian refugees are not single men. Instead, most are women and children.

This figure has been floating around for several months. But, the reality is only a little over one-fifth of Syrian refugees are men between 18 and 59. As FactCheck.org points out:
UNHCR’s data show that 50.5 percent of refugees are women. Females age 18 to 59 make up 23.9 percent of the refugees, while males in that age group make up 21.8 percent. Even younger males — age 12 to 17 — represent 6.5 percent of refugees, while females that age are 6.1 percent. The majority of refugees — 51.1 percent — are under age 17, including 38.5 percent who are younger than 12 years old. These numbers were as of Sept. 6.
The 75 percent figure is related to the European Union migrant and refugee population coming by way of the Mediterranean Sea. Again, FactCheck.org:
There have been more than 400,000 such “sea arrivals” in 2015, and 51 percent are Syrian. The rest have come mainly from nine other countries. Most of these refugees and migrants have been men — 72 percent — but these are not figures on Syrian refugees or even solely the 200,000-some Syrians who have been willing to take some type of boat to reach Europe by sea.
But now even that figure of 72 percent, as it relates to the larger migrant and refugee population in Europe, is out of date. In early September, according to UNICEF, a third of the refugees and migrants passing through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seeking refuge in Europe were women and children—triple the number in the previous three months and up from 10 per cent in June.

And keep in mind, the vast majority of refugee and asylum requests from Syrians wishing to settle in the U.S. are not going to come from the Syrians among the European migrant and refugee population. They will come from those displaced in Syria or living in Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon—a populations that mirror the UNHCR data above.

2. The refugee vetting process for EU and the U.S. are very different.

Because of the sheer numbers of refugees and migrants coming into Europe, governments are able to do little more than register passports and file the bare minimum of paperwork. The EU crisis is a little like the U.S. situation with the unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America—except multiplied many fold.

For Syrian or Iraqi refugees coming to the United States, the process is completely different. First, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, only refugees who have been referred by the UNHCR or by a U.S. embassy are eligible for the U.S. Resettlement Program. They must meet certain criteria to be eligible; if they are, they’re then interviewed by UNCIS officer overseas and go through the process of preparing resettlement application forms. If they are accepted, they must go through a process to be matched with a resettlement agency, pass a medical clearance, undergo a security clearance check—all of which can take anywhere from 18 months up to two years to complete.

So, how rigorous is the vetting process? According to Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner, it is "the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States." As I have seen more than one person put it, there are easier ways to get into the U.S. if you are a terrorist.

Could an ISIS terrorist slip through? Yes. Has a refugee ever been arrested for committing a terrorist act on U.S. soil? No. Has a former refugee ever been arrested on terrorism charges in the U.S.? It could be argued, yes. The Daily Mail and WND recently reported that upwards of 70 immigrants and a few former refugees were charged with terrorism.

But let’s put this in perspective. First, The Washington Times and New York Times both report that in the 14 years since 9/11, nearly twice as many people have been killed in the U.S. by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than by Muslim extremists (which is what concerns the a large portion of those opposed to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.).

Second, let’s put the number of immigrants and former refugees arrested in perspective. In the last seven years, the U.S. has resettled over 490,000 refugees and 784,000 since September 11, 2001. Of the 70,000 settled in 2015, 35.1 percent were from Near East/South Asia, which includes countries like Iraqi, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. That means (if I did my math right) that immigrants and former refugees who were arrested on terrorism charges or for acts as terrorism represent something like .00009 percent of the general refugee population and--if all of them were from Near East/South Asian countries, which they weren't--.0002 percent of the Near East/South Asia population. That is low. Really, really, really low.

3. The risk of being killed in a terrorist act is also low. Really, really, really low.

The population of U.S. is almost 319 million. According to the CDC, two million people died in 2012. Out of that, about 16,000 were homicides, 128,000** accidental deaths and 40,000 suicide.

The total killed by domestic terrorism from 2001 to 2013? 3380  in 15 attacks.

In the U.S., your odds of dying from an act of terrorism are lower than just about anything else, 1 in 20 million. You are more likely to die from hypothermia (1 in 500,000), be killed by lightning (1 in 10.5 million) or mauled to death by a dog (1 in 11 million).

I am not saying there aren’t risks. And I’m definitely not saying that I don’t mourn and long for justice for victims of terrorism. I do, believe me.* But I am suggesting (like the Brookings Institute, the top rated think tank in the world) the risks of dying from a terrorist attack by a refugee are really low. Really, really, really low.

Even if we closed our borders and eliminated all domestic terrorist threats, that lowers our risk of death by murder or assault only a fraction—the risk of which was really low to begin with.

4. Being compassionate is who the people of God are called and enabled to be.

You don’t have to be a Christian to be compassionate; in fact, some of the most compassionate people I know aren’t. But if you are a follower of Jesus, a child of God and one of his people, this is who you are.

The same weekend I was a judge at my daughter’s debate tournament, I also went to church. Preaching that weekend was Camille Melki of Heart for Lebanon, a Lebanese faith-based organization that provides relief services to Syrian and Iraqi refugees in that country—and the FBO that hosted me during my time there in January. His topic? What is the role of the church in the midst of the refugee crisis.

Timely, right?

The answer, says Melki, is in our citizenship in the kingdom of God. He read from Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus said:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“This is who we are in Christ and why we do what we do,” says Melki. “It is defines our DNA as citizens of heaven.”

We have no choice but to be the hands and feet of Jesus, says Melki. It is who we are to love and care for the marginalized and rejected, the homeless and poor, the sick and broken—just like Jesus.

5. It is not enough to care. We must invest.

Heart for Lebanon is not simply about providing physical relief to the refugees. “We must address poverty on all levels,” Melki says—physical, emotional and spiritual. Physical relief is only the first step on a long journey, he says. “If we leave it there,” he says, “the family simply becomes a number and the aid a product.”

Instead, Melki longs for Jesus to win their hearts. So  he and his staff live like Jesus. They invest long hours in building relationships and trust, listen to their stories, sip tea and coffee with them, celebrate their births, attend their weddings, mourn at their funerals. They do this because they love them.

“We consider each one as one of ours,” he says.

That is what it looks like to love your neighbor.

Recently, I met with a local refugee resettlement agency, and they underlined how important it is for refugees to be embraced by their communities. Churches, non-profits and social service agencies need to work together to help them settle, get back on their feet and build a new life.

My church and others in the Northern Virginia area are supporting organizations like Heart for Lebanon and working with local refugee settlement agencies to co-sponsor refugee families. We are in it for the long haul. My hope is that you will consider that, too.

*Note: I know people--people whom I love--who have lost family to or whose lives have been dramatically altered by acts of terrorism. My intention is most definitely not to diminish their pain or loss; I mourn with them. My intention is to correct misinformation and counter the fear culture that affects the way we see and live in the world. (Added 11/19/2015)

**Number changed from 137,000; addition error.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tired of weeping

Oh, I am very weary,
Though tears no longer flow;
My eyes are tired of weeping,
My heart is sick of woe.
~Anne Bronte

Iraqi refugee family I met in Beirut forsuchatimeisnow.org

Syrian refugee children I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

Syrian refugee children I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

A Syrian refugee child I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

A refugee tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

A Syrian refugee child I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

Syrian refugee children I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

Syrian refugee women in a tent settlement in Lebanaon   forsuchatimeisnow.org

A Syrian refugee widow living in a tent settlement in Lebanon   forsuchatimeisnow.org

A Syrian refugee child living in a tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

A Syrian refugee boy living in a tent settlement in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

Iraqi refugee children at a Heart for Lebanon distribution center in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

Iraqi refugee family at a Heart for Lebanon distribution center in Lebanon  forsuchatimeisnow.org

An Iraqi refugee family. The couple's youngest son was killed by an ISIS bomb   forsuchatimeisnow.org