My Thoughts – BlackkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman Movie PosterI’m not a movie critic. Sometimes when I read what others have written about movies, my own thoughts seem to be so inadequate. Maybe if I saw more movies, and then chose to review them I’d get better at it. But then, life as a movie critic is not my job.

My current job is both a job and a title, Pastor. Specifically, pastor in a Lutheran Church that is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We are one of the (if not the most) whitest denominations in America. The synod of which I am a part (Los Angeles and surrounding counties) is the most diverse, something to be proud of. But my congregation is not one of those diverse congregations I am sad to say. I am a white pastor in a majority Mexican immigrant city. I speak some Spanish and am continually working at it. But so far, my efforts to lead us to being a more diverse church have had limited success. This is just a bit of my context.

Today, for Labor Day, I went to see BlackkKlansman. It was a powerful movie. It bridges the past and the present in such a way that it is impossible to close our eyes to the ongoing evil of white supremacy in our nation.

I don’t use the word “evil” lightly. It was evil to kidnap and subsequently enslave people. It was evil to keep their children as slaves. It was a most horrible evil to sometimes rip children from the arms of their parents so that they could be sold again. Slavery in this nation was done under the guise of Christianity, my religion. This was evil.

This was not the subject of the movie. But I couldn’t help to think of it because this sin of slavery is at the heart of the racism that we continue to live with today.

BlackkKlansman is a story that is based on a memoir. I don’t know what of it is true memoir and what is added story telling.

An uncomfortable, for me, aspect of this story was the juxtaposition of scenes depicting calls for white power alongside demonstrations with calls for black power. I am uncomfortable because I often wonder how we will ever progress. The story also almost allows us (white people) to tell ourselves that we aren’t part of the KKK and thus we are not racist. It touches on the institutional aspects of racism but even there, it depicts a racist police officer rather than a system that is biased against people of color. Alas, there is too much to cover in a single movie.

As a pastor, I continually preach that we are allcreated in God’s image and that means us all people. I also lament the fact that too many of my fellow (white) Christians don’t seem to be able to see this beauty in all of God’s creation. I often wonder about my place among Christianity, because it seems as if the most vocal proponents of my faith are also vocal proponents of white supremacy. Even if they don’t use those words.

I’ve heard arguments along the lines of, “no, that is not us, but we just want everyone to get along.” But then the next line of the conversation is to attack Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization. I don’t know how many times I have tried to explain the reason the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary.

I once had a very long dialog with a distant family member. He is an evangelical Christian and he had no desire to learn about why people are protesting. It was easier for his to condemn the protestors as members of a hate group. I went so far as to try and find people in his city for him to meet and to learn from. But once I made this step, it became clear that he wasn’t interested in learning. It turns out that he was just trying to figure out how “unchristian” I am because of my “liberal” positions. The conversation ended with his telling me that he’s learned a bit about ELCA Lutherans and it appears that I am where I belong (not a compliment from his perspective), and that he would pray for me. I wanted to scream that I don’t want these prayers. I didn’t scream, but I did say that instead of praying for me, maybe he could pray to see.

I’m tired and I’m white and I’m privileged and I’ve not done enough and I’m not doing enough and I’m tired.

Stamped from the BeginningI cannot imagine how exhausted my Black sisters and brothers must be in living with the structural racism that is so much a part of our culture. It is like the air we breathe. Don’t believe me? I suggest you read, starting with “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi. If anyone reading this would like to read this book as a group – in person gatherings or online, please let me know. I think we could learn a lot together.

Our learning the history of slavery, segregation, and racism from times past until now is necessary for us to be able to see the truth that is all around us. We need to learn so that we can see and so that we can work for a better today and a better tomorrow. I don’t believe that it should be the responsibility of our Black citizens to get us white people to change. It should be up to us! It is our continued collective sin in burying our heads as we try to say, “that’s not me” or “that’s not us.”

Letter From Birmingham Jail is included in this book
As I think of this I am reminded of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” I’ve often said that if I could, I would add this letter to the canon of scripture. I don’t’ have that ability, but I can still use it in matters of faith. And as I think about this movie, and the state of affairs in our country today I am reminded of his calling to account of the “white moderate.” For Rev. King, the moderate was in many ways worse than the overt racist because the moderate just went along with the status quo. This was not helpful then and it is not helpful now.

Well my friends, this was definitely not a review of the movie! Please see it. Please read what our sibling of color are writing. And please know that the God that I know is a gracious God. This God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. All our neighbors. It’s not easy to do but it starts with opening our eyes to see.

This pastor hopes and prays that we will.

God cares. Do you?

Sermon for June 24, 2018 based on Mark 4:35-41 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

qrmh6fouqnihdekkaj0ug.jpgLast Thursday I went to Los Angeles to participate in an interfaith religious leader protest. There were probably 250 people of many faiths, with the majority being Christians and Jews. I think there were 9 of us Lutherans. Why would various religious leaders protest? Because not only is justice at the heart of our faith, proclaiming justice to the world is part of our calls.

Right now, we are experiencing a big storm in our land. As we try and navigate I can easily imagine Jesus asleep in the boat. There’s much noise. The waves are huge. And with the wind it’s difficult to do anything. Like the disciples we can’t control the boat. And maybe it seems to some that Jesus is sleeping.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are terrified, so they wake Jesus, saying,

“Teacher! Don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Don’t you care?
That’s been quite the question this week. (And I wrote this sermon before the first lady’s visit to Texas) Don’t you care? How often do we ask this of one another? And of God?

I think the last time that I preached about this story of the disciples frantically calling Jesus “to care,” was at the funeral for Harris. At his service I shared that when I arrive here, he sent me an email. In it he shared a lot of hurt and anger towards our church. In his letter he’d asked me, “don’t you care that I was hurt?” (He had been hurt by the then controversary about same gendered marriage. Thankfully our congregation is now explicit in our welcome of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.)

I responded to Harris, “yes, I care.” It took a while but we were able to have reconciliation here, with Harris and his church. I am grateful that he was able to worship here shortly before his death. It was All Saints Sunday and I remember the hugs amongst those present. I was beautiful. I was also grateful to be able to preside over his funeral. All because I cared. But it’s not really me…as I live out my call as pastor, I am always reminded that it is Jesus who cared then and who continues to care today.

I am thinking about this this week because we too may have the question in the midst of the storm. Maybe we think that after navigating the call to love our LGBTQ neighbors, we were expecting calm seas. But life does not work that way and we are faced with turmoil in our nation. In the midst of the storm we wonder: Does Jesus care? Does God care? Should we care?

Those at the demonstration Thursday care. All of the pastors I know care. Many people in and out of the church care. But sadly, not all Christians care about children being torn from their parent’s arms. Some actually support this. An acquaintance on mine on Facebook shared a video of a pastor literally yelling about how Romans 13 permits the actions now being taken at the border. The reality is that Romans 13 has been historically misused to justify slavery and the holocaust. I wish that all Christians would care.

Especially because the way we treat others is at the root of the call that we have from God. Each day we need to remember that God loves us and that God’s command is that we love God and we love others, especially our neighbors. But it’s not always easy to love our neighbors…in every situation. Especially when we are divided into political teams. Then we might lose the common good because we only see the team.

But those commands to love are not only for those time it’s easy. No, God’s command to love is for all time…when it’s easy and when it’s hard. I’m pretty sure that most of us had difficulty with loving someone in the last week. I certainly did.

Some of us have problems loving immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. And others of us had problem loving those who don’t love immigrants…. This is a big division in our country and in the church. Last Monday I shared on a clergy page that I was feeling crappy about the horrible news. I wasn’t prepared for the responses of fellow clergy who described the difficulty they are facing in their calls, when love of neighbor is now controversial and “political.”

For all of us these difficult feelings are like that big storm and we are all being pushed this way and that way as we wonder what to think and what to care about.

Here are the two, no three things I know…

  1. God loves us…and in that love God cares for us
  2. We are to love others…especially those who are oppressed and poor…as Jesus says, the least of these.
  3. Number two isn’t easy…so the life of faith is not easy.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad either. I think that is what Paul is describing in his letter. His list of what they go through is both good and bad. That is the reality of life.

He wrote:

3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

None of us wants this. The list continues:

6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Life is a mixture of easy and hard. Ugly and beautiful.

All this brings me back to the constant reminder that it is about how we treat one another. When we have hate or when we don’t have empathy we are living against the commandments of Jesus. When we do this as Christians, we are also blocking access to faith because people see us as representing God…or as Paul says, “ambassadors for Christ.”

So, when we are confused in the midst of the storm, we remember that Jesus is indeed present in the world and he is not sleeping. He cares about us. He cares about everyone, especially those who have no power. He calls us to care also because to love is to care. The simple question is then, are we loving our neighbor as God would have us love?

Paul wrote about opening hearts. That is another way to say love. Yes, loving the neighbor might be hard, but it is also the way we are able to experience God’s love in our midst and to share that love with the world.

They are People and Deserving of Dignity

Today I took a glance at my Twitter feed and came across this quote from the current president:

Trump on deportation: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals and we’re taking them out of country.”

This should be shocking, but based on the last couple of years it is not. It should be shocking that we have the president of the United States dehumanizing people, calling them “animals.” Why would he do that? Well, I can’t claim to understand the thinking behind such a statement. But I can unequivocally disagree with and condemn such a statement.

No human being is an animal. People who have come to this country, have lived, and have contributed to our communities, all while living without legal status are not “bad people.”

Sure some have (and will commit crimes), just as some citizens of this country commit crimes. Every time I read crime statistics, the actual rate of criminal activity among all immigrants is lower than that of native born citizens.

(see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/us/trump-illegal-immigrants-crime.html and http://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2017/aug/03/antonio-villaraigosa/mostly-true-undocumented-immigrants-less-likely-co/)

The major problem is not whether or not immigrants, or more specially undocumented immigrants commit more crime. No, the major problem is the dehumanization of people. When we look at groups of people as “bad” or worse, as “animals” we are not looking at them as humans. This is the first step towards finding it acceptable to harm them…because if they are “animals” then they are not worthy of human dignity. This is not ok.

Last month I was involved with a couple that were deported. These were pastors, parents, grandparents, neighbors, contributing members of my city. They are not animals. You can read about this here:  We Shall…

As a person of faith, and as a pastor, I cannot stay silent as my fellow human beings, my brothers and sisters, my neighbors are referred to in such horrendous ways. I hope and pray that people of faith, and people of no faith or creed, will unite against this inhumane way to talk of and then to treat our fellow human beings.

A reminder from Matthew 25:

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

Locked in Fear

On Thursday of Holy Week members of my congregation shared a meal together. It wasn’t an ordinary meal, but rather a worship service with a meal. Something I would like to do again, and like to call, dinner church. This night (Maundy Thursday), we re-heard the story behind Passover, we remembered our own sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and then we shared a meal. That was, for me, a highlight of Holy Week.

On this second Sunday of Easter we contemplate the disciples who locked themselves in a room… because they were afraid. They were afraid in spite of the news that Jesus was no longer dead. Approximately 2000 years later we might wonder about their fear. Like, how could they have not believed Jesus’ predictions of the events that would transpire? How could they not gather strength from the wonderful news that Mary and friends had reported? How could they cower in fear? Would we be any different?

I look around and I see a society in the grip of fear. We seem to have so much to fear…and sadly, those fears are being exploited in so many ways that we can’t really enumerate them right now or we’d be here all day.

Fear is an emotion that is mentioned frequently in our scriptures. Fear is an emotion that immobilizes us, so much so that a common command given to God’s people is, “do not be afraid.” Why? Because when we operate out of fear we do nothing or tragically, we are capable of doing pretty horrible things. Not just us…but all people, or groups of people…when driven by fear, are capable of the most atrocious behavior.

Which takes me back to our story behind the story of Passover. Most of us are familiar with the story of God’s deliverance of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The story usually starts with Moses and God’s calling him to deliver his people.

But how did they come to find themselves in such a precarious position? It wasn’t an overnight thing…or a kidnapping and forcing into slavery thing (like the shameful part of our own American history). The oppression of the people happened gradually and the root of it all was fear.

Yes. Fear. You see the Egyptians saw that their Israelite neighbors were growing in number. The Egyptians saw that their Israelite neighbors were prospering. The Egyptians began to fear these neighbors. Fearing that their growth would eventually cause them to take over…to displace them. I’m sure that demagogues were active in stoking this fear of Egyptian towards their neighbor.

But rather than build a wall to keep out the Israelites (since they were already there) or mass deportation of their Israeli neighbors, they decided to just oppress them. And when oppression didn’t work they opted for a horrible form of genocide in killing all the baby boys. The story of Moses starts with these attempts at genocide. People can do atrocious things when they are afraid.

God knows this. So not only do we have the continued call to “not be afraid,” we have the common instruction to remember the oppression of Egypt. Why? So that it never happens again. The Israelites were to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and thus to treat the strangers…the sojourner…the refugee…the non-citizens in their land with compassion, with care, with justice.

Jesus would double down on this command when he instructed his disciples – including us – that the law is summarized in the command to love God and to love neighbor. Who is our neighbor according to Jesus? Everyone…especially the stranger. This was so important to Jesus that he in Matthew 25 said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

These stories, and Jesus’ words are pertinent to us today. How do we, as followers of Jesus, treat the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger in our communities? What do we do when a story as old as time is so pertinent for today?

Do we give in to fear and reject the stranger? In doing so we are most likely rejecting Jesus.

Do we listen to the words of Jesus, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” but stay silent? I think of the disciples hiding in a room out of fear. They were afraid of those in power, they were afraid of being arrested, they were afraid to live as Jesus had taught them to live.

Then, into the midst of this fearful existence Jesus appeared.

“Peace.” So much in this word. Peace. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.

But also don’t stay here. Don’t stay locked up in this room. Don’t stay locked up in your fears. Peace… and go!

As the Father sent me, I send you. I send you out into the world to be bearers of the peace I give you. I send you out into the world to learn to love your neighbor and to teach others to do the same. I send you to counter the fear that divides and diminishes and destroys peace.

This peace, this call, this promise of the Holy Spirit, this sending is for us. It’s a great gift. It’s an awesome responsibility and thus scary. It is not hypothetical.

On Friday a couple that has loved here in Oxnard for 24 years was deported. They were pastors at a church in Colonia. They literally lived across the street from us…can’t be any closer neighbors. They are grandparents. Their grandchildren are students in our preschool.

So today a church worships…mourns… the loss of their pastors. A son and a daughter mourn the loss of their parents. And most upsetting, preschoolers no longer have their grandmother who cared for them while their parents worked. These children don’t understand why their grandmother is suddenly gone. How do you explain that fear of the stranger has resulted in the expulsion of their grandparents?

As I contemplate this I wonder how we benefit from all of this? I cannot see how we are anything but diminished.

I am also reminded of other words from Jesus. Words of love and forgiveness. And as I remember these words I hope and pray that they will empower us to go out into the world and combat the fear that leads to the oppression of the immigrant.

Peace be to you.

We Shall…

 

Quit Blaming the Kids

In the aftermath of an atrocity such as the massacre last week we enter into the Facebook and other social media debate. One unfortunate aspect of that debate inevitably is one that argues that the young people themselves are at fault…or if not the young people, then the culture around these young people.
 
I always want to comment, “I never knew you had such a low opinion of your own children.” Of course the response would be, “oh, not my children…the problem lies with other people’s children.”
 
This argument is offensive and lazy. It naively posits that “if the children weren’t such disrespectful jerks, we wouldn’t have _______.” (In this case yet another gun massacre).
 
Are there problem children? Of course there are. Just as there are problem people in every generation. And if we truly have a generation of children who are so bad that it is there generation that is at fault for what ails us, then we must point the finger of blame squarely upon ourselves…the parents of this generation.
In year’s past I tried to engage with people who view the necessity of guns differently than I do. I did this because I believe that those who, “like their guns” and those of us who don’t see the necessity, both need to be part of the solution. Sadly, such encounters never produced anything. Those I engaged with did not want to change anything…unless the change was to put more guns into the hands of more people. Some of these are the very same people who are now blaming the younger generation for violence that they are too ready to accept because their guns are more important than making any needed change. I wish this were not so.
The problem does not lie with young people! It lies with people of my generation and with those who are older than me. We have failed those who are younger. Personally, I am thankful for the young people who are so eloquently, strongly, and emotionally raising their voices. I am proud of them, I thank God for them while I mourn the necessity of their voices, and I will follow. We all should.
Please share some stories of the strong young people in your life.

Growing up racist #5…or I never knew that

I’ve been reading the very good, but very uncomfortable to read book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” It’s been a slow read for me, but from an historical perspective I am finally to the 60s, thus to when I was born. One paragraph struck me today because it is such an example of how language perpetuates ideas without our even being aware of it…the topic is language symbolism. Coincidentally I read of this very concept when reading a commentary on Mark’s gospel today. Both are food for thought for Sunday’s sermon. Here is the long quote:

Language symbolism and a conference on race and color in Copenhagen in 1965:

Scholars pointed out everyday phrases like “black sheep,” “blackballing,” and “blacklisting,” among others, that had long associated Blackness and negativity.

The language symbolism was no less striking in two new American identifiers: “minority” and “ghetto.” For centuries, racists had construed Black folk as minors to White majors, and that history could be easily loaded into their latest identifier of the supposed lesser peoples: minorities. The appellation only made sense as a numerical term, and as a numerical term, it only made sense indicating national population or power dynamics. But it quickly became a racial identifier of African Americans (and other non-Whites) – even in discussions that had nothing to do with national issues. It made no sense as another name for Black people, since most Black people lived, schooled, worked, socialized, and died in majority-Black spaces. The term only made sense from the viewpoint of Whites, who commonly related to Black people as the numerical minority in their majority-White spaces, and elite Blacks, who were more likely to exist as the numerical minority in majority-White spaces. And so, class racism – downgrading the lives of Black commoners in majority Black spaces – became wrapped up in the term “minority,” not unlike a term that psychologist Kenneth Clark had popularized after putting aside brown and light dolls.

In 1965, Clark published his seminal text, Dark Ghetto. The term “ghetto” was known as an identifier of the ruthlessly segregated Jewish communities in Nazi Germany. Though social scientists like Clark hoped the term would broadcast the ruthless segregation and poverty that urban Blacks faced, the word quickly assumed a racist life of its own. (364)

Interestingly (sadly) many whites are now afraid of becoming a numerical minority…maybe some of the angst is because of the idea (even if its subliminal) that minority equals “not good.”

I’m sure I’ll read about more but until then, I wonder how many other words are still in our lexicon?

Can anything good come out of …? Today’s sermon

Can anything good come out of Oxnard?

I remember an encounter in my first days here at Our Redeemer. It was with Rusty Jackson, a long time (but not his entire life) Oxnard resident and founding member of the church. Upon our introduction, he looked at me, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “You know they say that nothing good comes out of Oxnard.”

Was he referring to this text in John’s gospel? Where Nathanael seems to initially reject Jesus because he was from Nazareth? Philip had invited him to come and meet Jesus, who just might be the promised Messiah. But this promised Messiah was coming from the wrong town, the town with the bad reputation.

We don’t really know why Nathanael scoffed at the idea of something good coming from Nazareth because we don’t know too much about the town except that it was small. And maybe that’s the point… sometimes we scoff at or are afraid of that which we don’t know.

Can anything good come out of Oxnard? Some outside of Oxnard would say “no.”

I remember being in a group of people in Ventura a few years ago. The leader was asking where everyone was from. Most were identifying some neighborhood in Ventura. I said, “Oxnard.” And the leader replied, “I’m sorry.” We’ve since become friends and I’m not sure he would respond in the same way today.

I think that all of us in Oxnard, whether we live elsewhere and worship here, whether we’ve moved here, or whether we were born here and continue to live here… I think that we all can say there is mostly certainly good that comes out of Oxnard. We can be proud here at Our Redeemer that we are known for our excellent preschool…good comes from here!

So maybe we are better prepared than others to not so quickly dismiss a place because we don’t know enough. I’ve told you stories of my once upon a time fear of parts of Los Angeles. In retrospect my fear of LA was a racist fear of others…or people I didn’t know. But then I went there and spent time and learned how ignorant I was.

Today, in our divided nation and even divided world, we may find ourselves asking the question more often…of places, of people, of affiliated groups.

All of my sermon up to this point was written before the news broke of the president using vile language to describe countries south of our borders (Haiti and El Salvador) and all the countries that make up the continent of Africa. What I had written after this point seemed so sadly connected and yet irrelevant…so an update was in order.

Today, with the gospel text in one hand and the news in the other, the question asked by Nathanael, ”Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Becomes the questions:

Can anything good come out of El Salvador?

Can anything good come out of Haiti?

Can anything good come out of Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe?

Can anything good come from these countries whose residents have dark skins? Or does all the good stuff come from countries like Norway, whose residents are white?

On this weekend, when we honor the ministry and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are presented with these questions. Our faith gives us the answer.

The answer is not found in the stories of all the good that has been done by immigrants from these countries…and other countries. Certainly their contributions help to make America great, even as we remember that except for Native Americans we are all from someplace else. It’s also important to remember that the majority of our African American brothers and sisters trace their roots to people who were forcibly kidnapped and sold as slaves…and it was their work…unpaid work…that led to much of the prosperity upon which this nation was built. We are still dealing with the legacy of this racism… of this evil.

I digress… the answer to the question of whether anything good can come from these countries is not found in the good things that people from these countries do…as appreciated and honored those good things are. But the problem with uplifting people who’ve done well is that we imply that they must earn the respect that is due to them as human beings.

No the answer to the question of whether anything good can come from these countries…through our faith…is a resounding YES!

Yes…good can come from these places because God is good and God is there just as God is here. When we look at our world we remember that it is good because God created it and then said “it is good.” And on that ultimate day of creation, God made human beings, God said, “it is very good.”

It is very good… our created world and all the inhabitants. Because of sin, no place is perfect, including these United States. Because of sin, no person is perfect, including you and me. And that is why Jesus came… because of love for this big giant imperfect mess of a world. And his primary teaching to his disciples and to us is that the only way that we could make things better and that is to love one another as we love God.

It’s that simple and it’s that difficult.

Did you notice Philip’s response to Nathanael’s question? He didn’t argue. He just said, “come and see.” And with these words took Nathanael to meet Jesus.

Let’s go and see.

I have a friend who organizes a mission trip to El Salvador every August…who wants to go? I’d love to join him, while bringing others along. But maybe we can’t all travel to other countries. We can still make concerted efforts to learn about people of other nationalities, faiths, and political perspectives so that we can see the humanity and even the face of Jesus in those we do not know. Jesus loves them and invites us to love them too.