6.2.17

Hope as resistance

We live quite a disjointed life here in Malaysia.  My body and my heart are here.  It's like I'm an insider looking into what's happening in the U.S. as an outsider.  For the most part, I get my news from BBC International.  The election, and everything that's happened since, has dominated the headlines on most days.  And just so you know, if you didn't already, everyone in the world has an opinion.  The comments and the questions started coming in early last year.  "So...Trump or Hillary?" seemed to be the most popular.  I even had a eight-year-old Korean boy ask me a few weeks ago in the most precious way, "Have you heard about a man named Trump?"  Yes dear boy....yes I have.

As a rule, the international community here in Penang is pretty open-minded.  For the many various reasons that we have ended up on this island, we have a common understanding that people are not the products of their home governments.  My Iranian neighbor is not building a nuclear weapon next door.  She introduced me to Iranian pistachio nuts, though, for which I will be forever grateful. My Chinese friend does not visit, either, with her two-year old to spy on America.   Nor do I expect our Syrian friends to be militants.  What I do know is that they make great shawarmas.   Likewise, they don't assume that I'm going to give them the cold shoulder because of the policies of my current President.  Now hold on to your hats, because this is probably as political as I will ever get here.  I've worked with refugees on both sides of the ocean between us, and, coincidentally, am married to a US green card holder from a Muslim country.  All of this could get personal real quick, depending on how things play out from now on.  But this isn't really about politics, as in actual policy.  I'm not arguing anything here, except, as I hopefully explain below, to take this as an opportunity to love your neighbor, and to learn what "love" and "neighbor" really means.  This current season of politics has been very, how do I say it politely...polarizing.  It's dividing people and bringing people together, all at the same time.   Now, I don't have the personality of an activist.  You won't find me behind a megaphone at a protest.  But I'm watching the many friends I have that are. I struggle to find a place and a voice in all of this, and through that am humbly learning that resistance comes in different ways.   For some, it's big and loud and public.  The freedom to peacefully protest is something I never appreciated until I ended up living in a country without it.  But for others like myself, resistance comes more quietly.   When, on the large-scale, it looks very much like everything is falling apart (can both sides not agree with this, at least in some ways?), like there's little we can do, I don't naturally look to the top.  It's too much for me.  I look down, at my own two feet and my own two hands.  Small and quiet matter, too.  Small is what we do, where we live, and who we are.   It's the often quoted (for good reason) saying from St. Theresa: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love".

It's teaching my son to press his palms together to say Namaste.  It's watching a glorious sunrise that reminds me that God is on our side.  It's the daily breaking down of walls I build around my heart (though no easy nor small feat), and abiding in the heart of Him who would have nothing of walls and barriers.  It's denying a self-advancing and self-serving life in order to walk in the self-giving, self-sacrificing ways of Christ.  It's becoming a disciple of a refugee king who is "playful, cunning, fierce, impatient with all that is religious, kind, creative, irreverent, and funny" (to quote John Eldridge).  Be forewarned, an encounter with this kind of King will change you. It's being a family who acknowledges they are sheep in the midst of wolves, and training my son (and myself) to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  It's practicing hope as an act of resistance.  Hope that when the earth trembles, God still, still holds its pillars firm.  Hope that God is always on the outside with the very people we would rather not accept.   Hope that He came to save us and not to condemn us, and that we have the most glorious chance to "go and sin no more".  And speaking of "keeping watch"?  I flipped open my Bible and read Proverbs 18:10 this week: "the Name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it, and they are safe".  We sang the catchy song that I miraculously remembered from my Sunday school days, and then we built a tower.  A strong tower, my very own reminder and hopeful act of resistance (obviously).  It ended up being more of a tall monster truck and was promptly knocked down...which is where the metaphor ended.

After that lighter note, this is the space where I remind myself (by this point, I'm preaching to myself, so bear with me) of an uncomfortable truth that I find myself coming back to, again and again:  Jesus did not promise us safety, wealth, health, or happiness.  He promised us two things:  That in this world we would have trouble, and secondly, that He would never, ever leave us or forsake us.   God Son's could have been born anywhere at any time, but it was a tumble-down barn in a politically unstable Middle-Eastern town.  God's Son could have done what everyone expected of him and declared himself King.  Instead, the King of heaven chose to die.  And He asked of us some uncomfortable things, like to take up our crosses and follow him, and to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them.  Maybe this is our time to embrace the uncomfortable. Small and quiet does not mean do nothing, ignore and wish it all away.  We reflect on hard things, like what is, and what should be, most important to us: safety, security, or disciple-making?   Maybe this is the time to ask ourselves what Kingdom we pledge our allegiance to first and foremost...and how to live as good and faithful citizens them.  To consider that if they can't come to us, this is certainly our time to go to them, and to live in the truth that world is not our true home.  If we are all migrants in one form or another, how might that affect how we relate to one other?  

I have been reading a bit of Jonathan Edwards this past month, about the religious affections.  A religious life, a commitment to Christ, requires our hearts to be affected by things such as holy fear, hope, love, joy, compassion, and zeal.  Without these, nothing we hear or believe in our heads will have any effect on us or change the way that we live.  We will read stories of Jesus and say, that's nice.  We will pray and not be changed.  We will read the news and dismiss it as sensationalized.  And dangerously, we can look at the world as it is right now and think, that's not our problem.  But you know what are also holy affections, according to Edwards?  Anger.  Hatred. And sorrow.   Anger because the world is not as it should be.  Hatred of injustice.  And sorrow as our eyes fail to see, on this side of heaven, how God is making good of this mess. This is no feel-good message to leave you with, but we encounter these at very strategic points in the life of Jesus and now is the time, if ever, to reflect on them.  So I bid adieu with a Franciscan blessing, which gained the honor of being the first words penned in my brand new journal, dated 20 January.  All of the words you have read here by this point were birthed out of this prayer.  I wonder what it could do in you.  


May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

If you want a 10-step action plan, look somewhere else.  I say, go and love someone today with your own two hands and feet.  Preferably someone doesn't look/speak/love/pray like you.  May Mark 3:5 not be true of us, right here and now: "And he (Jesus) looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart".  And remember that compassion is never comfortable. Find your own way to resist polarity and misunderstanding (from both sides of the aisle), whether that be making a public speech or just mac and cheese for a hungry kid.  Practice hope.  Follow Jesus to his favorite places: with the scared and broken hearted, the foreigner, the orphan, and widow.  You can be loud as you go, if you wish.  But you can also sneak in quietly;  the important thing is to go, and by all means, pray as you do it.   Be brave and go to some uncomfortable places, even if it's just across the street.  You might need to do unsettling things, like lay down fears, pride, and politics.  The world will be all the better for it.  Ultimately, if this is where God's heart is, there ours should be also.  
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