BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Monday, December 26, 2016

Top #BTSF Posts of 2016

Image result for 2016 2017 new year2016. What a year. Ready to move on.

Here's a brief look back at the year's top posts. Then, let us push forward to 2017. There is much work to be done. 

Here are the top ten #BTSF posts of 2016:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Friday Fruit (12/23/16)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Look around you this Christmas: all the greeting cards, advertisements, TV specials, store displays, nativity scenes. Santa Claus’s race has gotten a lot of press recentlybut it’s not just him.

The popular portrayals of Christmas in the United States reinforce the ‘white default’ that takes an assumed white perspective: from matters of marketing and consumerism, to social values and theology.

White faces depict the fatherly Joseph, the virginal Mary, the saintly angels, the hard-working shepherds. Are these characteristics only the traits of white people? When we link these faces with our holiday values of love, joy, and peace, we lose the full spectrum of God’s grace in the Christmas narrative. In the very story of our Lord’s birth we perpetuate the marginalization of God’s people.

We are selective with which ‘historical realities’ we cling to. The bible never claims there are three wise men, or that Jesus was born in December. Saint Nicholas never lived in the North Pole or probably even ever saw a reindeer. But we are willing to accept these particularities as part of our Christmas tradition. What does it say about our priorities when we insist on the whiteness of the savior?

Frosty is the only character that
should consistently be white
The whitening of the baby Jesus is potentially the most damaging of all racialized Christmas portrayals (see post: The Color of Christ). Others have expounded on the historically inaccuracy of the portrayal, but it is problematic for the theologian as well as the anthropologist. White folk have literally changed the image of God into their own likeness. It means demeaning any other race as less God-like, less made in the image of God. It means identifying with the savior more than with the saved (see post: White Savior Complex).

On some level, Megyn Kelly is right. With all the publicity and social construction, both Santa and Jesus are functionally white for many Christians in the United States. But there are serious consequences to the predominant perceptions of a white Jesus. Theologians have noted that "if we accept a White Jesus, if that is the image we see, we have also adopted an image of salvation, of health, wholeness, happiness, that also comes to us via a White culture and comes to us with a White value system." This imagery perpetuates the tenancy of white folk to view themselves as morally superior and as rightful leaders.

Families recently visiting a black Santa at a Los Angeles mall remarked that "I just don’t want [my godson] to think that all greatness comes from a different race…There’s Santa Clauses his color doing good work, too." Furthermore, added another parent, "We need our kids to understand that good things happen in chocolate skin...We are often bombarded with the opposite. We’re not trying to exclude anybody, but [instead] celebrate our chocolate skin."

Representation matters. Children need to learn that good things (both Christmas presents, and salvation itself) can come from many different races and nationalities. We all need Black Santa. And we need Asian Santa, Native Santa and Latino Santa too.
“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white ... just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too ... that’s a verifiable fact, I just want kids to know that.” (2013)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Biblical Justice

Image result for biblical justiceThe following devotion comes from Claire Richtmyer, United Methodist Women Coordinator for Spiritual Growth, Capitol South District, West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

What is Justice? One meaning is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion or equity. It is also the act of being just and or fair.

What does the Bible tell us about justice, called Biblical Justice? Biblical Justice involves making individuals, communities, and the world whole, by upholding both goodness and impartiality. The theology of justice flows from the heart of God.

Micah 6:8  “God has shown you O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Justice flows from God’s heart and character and motivates God throughout the Old and New Testaments in his judgments on sin and injustice.

Proverbs 29:7  “…the righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

Image result for Proverbs 29:7Throughout scripture, God is the defender and protector of the poor, the alien, the debtor, the widow, and the orphan. Justice is part of God's purpose for redemption. Justice is also about restoring our broken relationship with God to what he intends for us. Our role in God's purposes for all his creatures and for the world he has made.

Biblical justice is the center of true religion.

James 1:27 (The Message)  “…Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this. Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”

If we are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, we do justice when we treat all persons as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only righting wrongs but showing generosity and social concern especially to the poor and vulnerable. The just person lives a life of honesty, equity and generosity in every aspect of life.

A deep social conscience, and a life of service to others, especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith. Justice is the most important feature of a real relationship with God.

Image result for James 1:27The God of the Bible is a God who puts the world to rights. We are called to do the same.

Let us pray:
O God, you are always more ready to hear us than we are to call on you.
Hear us now as we turn to you.

We pray that you will help us truly be your church by seeking to serve
those who are little, last, least and left behind.

We pray for our world in which many starve and struggle to survive
while others have far, far more than they need.

We pray for our nation and our leaders, that the cries of injustice
will be heard above the clamor of corporations,
the needs of the vulnerable will come before the desires of the lobbyists,
the priorities of the poor will come before the positions of the powerful.

We pray for our communities, that we move from complacency to caring and action.
We pray for ourselves, for the courage to care when discouragement overtakes us,
for the energy to act for justice when day-to-day demands occupy us.

Ever present God, you have heard our prayers in the silence of our hearts and you hear us now.
We confess that we have dulled our ears to the cries of all who are hungry.
We confess that we have hardened our hearts to the plight of millions
living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.

We confess that we have dimmed our hopes for a more just world
and our ability to make a difference.

Sharpen our ears we pray, to hear the voices of injustice and your call to us.
Sharpen our hearts to show compassion to all who are struggling.
Raise our hopes for how we can help bend the arc toward justice
and work for the world that you intend. 

These things we ask in the name of Jesus who sided with the poor
and reflected your intentions for the reign of God.

Prayer adapted from “How Long Must I Cry for Help Bending the Arc for God’s Vision of Justice for Children” Children’s Sabbath, Children’s Defense Fund

What is Biblical Justice”, Paul Louis Metzger, Christianity Today Website
How the Bible Understands Justice”, Jim Wallace. On Faith Website

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

First Taken, Last Released

The following is a guest post by journalist Howard Fields on his new book First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment:

Donald Trump's calls for interning Muslims and the upcoming 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that prompted the time when America did intern an entire class of people make First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment a timely book.

The book follows one of the first 160 men taken from churches, temples or homes in Honolulu before the smoke cleared over Pearl Harbor. He and about 1,700 others were taken in Hawaii during the next several weeks, long before the more than 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were taken on the West Coast beginning in February, 1942.

Much has been written of those 120,000, mostly families, but there is little about the first men taken and held in men-only camps behind barbed-wire for the duration of the war. Some, as with the subject of First Taken, were not released until three months after formal surrender by Japan in September, 1945.

These men were moved from camp to camp, in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Louisiana, Montana and then New Mexico with little, if any, contact with families or friends. The man we follow, a Buddhist minister, had sent his family to Japan before the war to be educated there and return. Before they could return, they were trapped there when the war broke out. One son survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, another endured two years in a slave labor camp in Siberia, kept on the edge of starvation.

twthumb-tommy and sally
Tommy, and wife Sally
First Taken also is important for its new perspective on the lead-up to the Japan attack on Pearl Harbor. It relies on its own translations of recently released transcripts of the meetings of Japan's leadership, including Emperor Hirohito, in which they discussed whether to attack. It shows the amazing and extreme dysfunction of Japan's leadership at the time. To a man, they knew they could not survive a war with the United States, and none wanted to launch the Pearl Harbor attack, but not one was willing to be the first to say, "No," so it happened.

Beyond that, the internment that began immediately after the bombing, was the result of a xenophobia and racism that still dominates American culture as well as in Europe. That and other parallels with today's political leadership should send chills up the spines of Americans and the rest of the world as a president elect calls for a return to those days of internment and belligerence.

It could happen all over again, not only in the United States, but Europe as well. Philosopher George Santayana wrote 100 years ago, "Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it." Let First Taken and books like it serve as reminders of a past we wish not to repeat.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dia de Las Velitas

The following is a post by Diego Alzate Correa, a doctoral student at The Ohio State University. He is originally from Medellin, Colombia and I have had the pleasure of celebrating Las Velitas day with him for many years now, such that I asked if he would share a bit about the tradition for us here:

Declared in 2015 as the happiest country in the world by WIN/Gallup International, Colombia is recognized by the numerous festivals, carnivals and holidays held all year long. Given that Colombia was a Spanish colony for several centuries a lot of customs were passed and imposed to its inhabitants, among them of course was religion. Catholicism is Colombia's predominant religion where it is practiced with outstanding fervor. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that 14 out the 20 official holidays correspond to Catholic Holy Days of Obligation.

Medellin, Colombia
One of the most traditional holidays in Colombia is the little candle day--Dia de Las Velitas. This holiday was established on December 8 of 1854 when Pope Pius XI declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Back then to honor Virgin Mary, candles were lit, starting a tradition of lighting candles each year on the eve before December 8.

Nowadays in Colombia, Las Velitas day marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Once it gets dark dozens of candles and paper lanterns decorate the facades of every house. Even though the celebration began for religious reasons, the tradition has been maintained through the years thanks to the most important part of the celebration: family gathering. 

In Latin America, and especially in Colombia, it is a tradition to celebrate religious events with your closest family members including, parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. On December 7th the entire family begins helping with the preparations for this holiday, they cook special treats like natilla (corn pudding), buñuelos (deep-fry cheese balls) and hojuelas (a deep-fry pastry with sugar). When the time comes, candlesticks are organized in the front of each house either with long rows covering the entire house or making different patterns like flowers or hearts. Some candles are stood on the floor and others are placed in a little cardboard box (Farolitos) decor in the outside, or trimmed on religious shapes. The Farolitos are usually hung on a rope. 

This holiday is special for kids, on this day, they are allowed to play with fire; a lighter is passed to the oldest kid to start lighting the candles. Teenager and sometimes adults, have a traditional game called Candelada del Diablo (Devil’s fire). The game consists of a artisanal device made out of wire, candle wax and soda caps. The wire from a used sparkle is looped to hold a metallic soda cap. A candle is placed under the soda cap, and on it candle wax is melted. Once the wax starts to boil people spit on the wax causing a big fire (see video). A lot of people have a great memory of losing their eyebrows or eyelashes temporarily because of the Candelada del Diablo! Other people less fortunate have bad injuries on the face and even eyes and hands. Sadly Colombia is one of the countries most affected by burned children around December and most of the injuries occur on Las Velitas day.
A Cold Columbus Velitas Day, 2015!

If you look at the news about Colombia it is hard to believe that a country facing so many problems like poverty, corruption, and inequality could be named the happiest country in the world. But if you go a little deeper you may see that having a supporting family has a huge impact on how Colombians bear their problems. 

Living outside of Colombia has made me realize how unique our traditions are in Colombia. I have been in the United States during four consecutive Velitas days, and I’ve been lucky enough to find friends willing to light the candles with me and my wife. It does not matter where I am, my memories about Las Velitas will be always related with my family back in Colombia and now with my friends here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Friday Fruit (12/02/16)

Jackie Salyers
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I am racist.

Rev. Diane Kenaston
The following comes from a Rev. Diane Kenaston (originally posted here), the pastor of University United Methodist Church in St. Louis, which has a vision of growing as a multicultural, intergenerational congregation where people of all ages, nations, and races can "Be You, Be Loved, and Belong." 

I am racist.

I participate in racist systems and structures.

When I take an implicit bias test, my result is a “strong automatic preference for White people over Black people.” This has been true for at least ten years. (Take the test yourself at ).

This sickens me and I cannot ignore it or deny it. It is part of who I am.

If you think that other people have been unfairly blaming or labeling you ("how dare you call me racist!"), it's time to look inward.

Racism, sexism, ableism, and all the other -isms are the powers and principalities of our age. We are part of patriarchal, white supremacist structures whether we choose to or not. As my favorite academic dean is fond of saying, "The whole damn system is guilty as hell!"

Image resultIt's not just about overtly racist acts and language. If being redeemed from racism meant just avoiding certain words or not committing hate crimes, then I could earn my own salvation.

But just as sin is way more than "the bad things we do," the sin of racism is way more than bigoted acts.

Even our best efforts at "doing good" are going to in some way fail because we are trapped in this body of death, in this creation that groans and aches for redemption. Yes, Jesus has already won and the kingdom of God has begun — but the full working out of Christ’s reign and the ultimate reconciliation of the world to himself are still ongoing.

And as part of that ongoing reconciliation, I confess my own sin. I'm led to repentance. And that’s what we need. We need a whole nation of white Christians willing to look honestly at ourselves in the mirror and say, “Yes, that’s me."

Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Refugee Thanksgiving

The follow first ran this time last year, but it seems all the more relevant right now: 

Norman Rockwell's painting 'Refugee Thanksgiving' of a refugee blessing a meager mealThere is a fear. A fear that they will arrive poor, needing to be taken care of. That they'll be ignorant of our customs and culture. That they will take our jobs, or be dependent on our charity. That they'll bring disease and violence, that they intend to do us harm. That our own hard working residents will have to support them with welfare, and what is ours will be stolen. That once they cross the water, they'll never go back.

And yet, this week we give thanks for a time when hundreds of undocumented immigrants flooded to this land. They failed to assimilate. They scorned the dominant culture. They spoke their own language and refused to adopt the language of the land they had entered.

They brought disease. They brought violence. They brought terror. They were dependent on the social welfare handouts of those who had worked hard to get what they had. What wasn't freely given, they stole. They refused to go back to their own country. But we celebrate them each year on Thanksgiving day.

So which is it? Do we honor immigrants or revile them? Do we value helping those in need, or is it a sign of our weakness? Do we share what we have, or do we hoard it in barns? Do we welcome the stranger or do we send them packing?

A family escapes slavery on a horse
I suppose our answer simply depends on which side of the border we find ourselves.

A month from now, there'll be another holiday.  One that also celebrates a refugee. A Middle Eastern child whose undocumented parents smuggled him across a border to keep him safe from the slaughter that was happening in their homeland. This Holy Family fled to Egypt, where also there had once been a baby that was hidden in a makeshift boat to escape violence and oppression.

We are a Church whose history is filled with refugees who have been the pillars of our faith. Indeed, we pray to a God that does not heartlessly tell us to "go away," but says instead tells us "welcome home." We are foreigners that have been welcomed into God's Sovereign State. Will we not offer others the same?
Image result for "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears." -Nelson Mandela
You cannot honor the Thanksgiving story and slam the doors of the country at the same time. Are we a 'nation under God with liberty and justice for all?' Or do we imprison and abuse? Do we say “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or do shout in the face of Christ  "Not this Man, but Barabbas."

There is a fear. A fear that if we open our arms, it will destroy who we are. But we should be more afraid of what happens if we won't.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Friday Fruit (11/18/16)

Black man in navy blue polo shirt
Philando Castile
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Deep in my heart, I do believe

I've largely stayed off social media this week. I just couldn't deal with it. So here is simply a reflection of what has been swirling in my own head and heart tonight:

Image resultThis year, Good Friday came on a Wednesday morning. Or at least that's what it felt like.
My soul was heavy. Withdrawing. Weepy all day.

It wasn't because my candidate or party lost, it wasn't sour grapes or because I'm a sore loser. It was because of the kick-to-the-gut reality that my most cynical conception of this country seemed to be too true. The reality that hateful rhetoric still woos. That demonizing the other still wins elections. It was strange to feel so disappointed, even while having known for some time that this country's racial sins were still so deep and abiding.

Trump's popularity firmly demonstrates we've never been colorblind or over our racism, and that such a mindset simply hides the problems this country has. Perhaps the blatant bigotry that was exhibited in his campaign has finally jarred some people out of their denial of modern racism. Or perhaps it's just given "good white folk" someone to scapegoat, while ignoring our own implicit biases and systematic contributions.

Is this the final temper tantrum of a dying breed? Or is it the harbinger of even worse behavior that is yet to come as white America feels its power slipping, feels its back against the wall?

Already people want to make excuses, to pretend that the months of hateful rhetoric was just lip service to gain attention.Yes, there are multiple factors at play. Yes, there may have been other reasons to vote for Trump.  But a vote for him meant that those reasons were fundamentally more important to his supporters than the pain and suffering of millions of their fellow Americans. Millions in our country have been violently threatened, and America didn't care. They voted for him anyway.

So many people in my life are hurting, scared, feeling unloved, or unworthy. In our neighborhood there are scores of people who fear deportation and hate crimes. In our offices are newlyweds scared to see their marriages torn apart. On our campus are young women scared to go the next party, knowing "locker room talk" often becomes action. In our church are dozens who are at risk of losing the healthcare that has made such a difference in their lives.

A Call to White People
For many people of color and the many other oppressed groups that have been targeted by painful words and deeds in these last months (years, decades, centuries), now is time for mourning, for weeping, for lament. Creating space to nurse tender wounds, to love one another deeply, and reaffirm for each other the fundamental truths of our humanity. In these spaces, calls for national unity, support of country, and reconciliation can feel callous and even cruel. This is not the time, this not the place.

Image resultBut my call to white people, people of privilege, people of power, is to double down on your efforts to combat oppression, both the blatant and the sly. It is time to stand firm and proclaim"not on my presence" to the ugliness that this elections has revealed.

It does not take a lot of bravery to preach to the choir. It is not courageous to condemn bigotry from within your own filter bubble. Pontificating to other white folk who are "down with the cause" does very little to protect and strengthen the lives of the oppressed.

No, what is needed is your voice in the intimate moments, the private interactions with your friends, your family, your business partners, your donors...the ones that influence your daily life. It is in conversations with these individuals that you are being called to speak up. Not to just let it pass, not to just let it slide, not to just keep the peace. It is your job (you!) to stand up and speak out, particularly when it hurts your status the most. Speak in love, and perhaps with a quiver...but speak. (Remember, friends, Thanksgiving is coming...and it's going to come up).

New Fruit
This morning was Sunday morning. And while is hardly yet Christmas time, much less Easter, this morning it felt like perhaps we might still be at the beginning of resurrection after all. One more time, we came together as the Church for All People. Once more time, we worshiped side-by-side across race, class, cultural divisions. One more time, we proclaimed that this is what God would have for us. And one more time, we refused to let go of that dream.

Together we sang the old songs of the Church, that were birthed out of dire situations of violence and oppression, when there seemed to be no hope. And yet there we stood, the fulfillment of the dreams of so many who had come before. Dreams that may have been deferred, and parts of which are still being deferred. But yet our very existence testified to the hope on which we must once again lean.

 photo some1.png
Together, we sang "Goodness is Stronger than Evil," "We've Come This Far By Faith, " "I Know the Lord Will Make a Way for You and I" and "I don't believe God's brought me this far to leave me." Finally, we closed worship at UM Church for All People, on the Sunday after the 2016 Presidential Election with one last song, as we locked arms in promise and solidarity with one another:

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome someday

We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid today
Deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome someday

Sometime faith is simply speaking truth to ourselves and getting up again to face the next day.
It may feel like Good Friday, but Sunday's coming.
This is our fruit.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Halloween Costumes

'Tis the season for a reminder...

There are plenty of articles about racially inappropriate costumes, yet every year folks perpetuate appropriationcaricature, and humiliation as Halloween sport. It is annual affliction, so I guess it's worth making the point yet again...

Using a culture, race, or ethnicity as a costume is not appropriate. Ever. 

On Halloween, we get the opportunity to disguise ourselves as something 'other,'something different from normal, something bizarre. That people of color might be one of these costume options is tragic and offensive.

As Lisa Wade notes, Halloween outfits basically come in three flavors: scary, funny, or fantasy. Real cultures shouldn't fit into any of these categories. By using people's identities as costumes, we imply that they are 'not one of us,' or not even fully human, belonging instead to the realm of ghouls and goblins.

In the U.S., we spend the entire year marginalizing people of color, maintaining low visibility on TV, in movies, and in the media, but then suddenly become hyper-interested in 'appreciating culture' for one offensive night (as though dressing as a Hollywood version of what you think a culture is has anything to do with appreciating it).

When we claim that it's all 'good harmless fun,' we reveal our privilege never to have to face the consequences of such stereotypes in our own lives. We reveal the power we hold to dictate who defines 'harmless' and 'fun.' We reveal how loudly our own voices are heard, even as we silence others. We reveal our capacity to imagine fantasy worlds for real cultures, while ignoring the historical baggage that makes us feel uncomfortable.

 Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University began a poster campaign to educate folks about the hurtful nature of racist costumes with the slogan "we're a culture, not a costume." All of the costumes they depict are real, and are perennially reprised. They get big props for concisely and clearly communicating what many of us have been frustrated with for years.

So, before dressing up this year, refer to Austin C. Brown’s guide to finding culture-appropriate costumes. And if you are looking for some clever alternatives, check out Take Back Halloween, and try some new themes this year.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Friday Fruit (10/28/16)

people holding brown and white signs with black text under dimily lit scaffolding against black skyOn Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Welcoming the Stranger: #AllPeoplePractices

Image result for welcome the strangerThe following was adapted from a short address given at this weekend's All People Conference in Columbus, OH. 

The Hebrew word “ger” or “stranger” appears 92 times in the Old Testament.  We see that God “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18). The bible also tells us not to “oppress the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, or the poor and let none devise evil against another in his heart." (Zechariah 7:10)

Indeed Malachi pretty strongly warns us that God "will be swift... against those who thrust aside the stranger." And in Deuteronomy 10:19 it says “So you, too, must show love to stranger, for you yourselves were once the new kid in the pew.” I may have mistranslated that last one...

But I do know that in Leviticus 19 it says “when a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself.” I’ve always thought it was funny how some folks jump right over that verse when they’re in such a hurry to quote the chapters on either side of it...

Image result for flight to egypt
Throughout scripture we see that our faith has been founded on the shoulders of strangers seeking welcome in new places. As a teenager, Joseph narrowly evaded death, and was forced to leave his parents to live in a foreign country. We remember Noah, who stuffed his family onto a crowded ship, and endured the tossing waves to escape their eminent doom. We honor Moses, who also floated on a life raft in troubled waters to reach safety as a baby boy. And Jesus himself, who as a child was forced to escape state violence and oppression by crossing a border, and became a refugee in a foreign land. People of God, let us remember who we are!

What if Pharaoh’s daughter hadn't taken in a child in need? What if Joseph the Dreamer hadn't been able to find employment in a new country? What if the Egyptian immigration agents had stopped Mary and Joseph at the border? Where would the Church be today, but for those that were willing to welcome the stranger?

Indeed, the idea of welcoming the stranger is at the very heart of God’s love for God’s people. It can be seen as the distilled essence of the Gospel message itself. For it is in our sinfulness, our estrangement, our stranger-ness, that Christ welcomed us into God’s own family. How can we but do anything else for each other?

Image result for citizen of heavenWe worship a God that does not heartlessly tell us to "go away," but says instead "welcome home." We benefit from a Savior who helped us cross the border into God's land of prosperity, where we are welcomed with the full rights of Heaven’s citizenship.And while we were not natural born members of God’s heavenly Kingdom, we know that Christ has sworn us in as naturalized citizens, having been born again on God’s sovereign soil.

But if at times we are apprehensive before the throne of God, perhaps it is because we know we have barred shut the gates of our own kingdoms at home. And I don’t just mean the gates at our nation’s entrances, but the gates around our own hearts and minds as well.

If we operate out of fear, we end up creating our own famines. We cling to the way it’s always been, and wonder why things never change. We create artificial codes of entry with unwritten rules of behavior and then look around in wonder when yet another local church is laid to rest.

Sometimes our welcome sign is sending mixed messages:
We say “bring your kids, but they’d better not cry”
We say “serve the church, but only if you’re able bodied”
We say “bring your charity, but not those that need it”
We say “bring your diversity, but only if you’ll assimilate”
We neglect our neighbors in the narthex, and vet our visitors in the vestibule
We say “come as you are”…when we really mean “come as we are”
And sometimes we leave the folks outside our walls to wonder why any church would be worth the all that trouble.

We don’t seem to realize is that by building walls--around our hearts, around our churches, and around our country--we are locking ourselves in, more than keeping others out. But Church, I tell you we cannot have open hearts, open minds, open door, while we have closed borders.

Image result for welcomeIt was of course Jesus that said to those who offered love and kindness “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

So what does it mean to welcome the stranger?
It means wrapping our arms around those that the world has discarded
It means setting aside our own comfort and preferences for the sake those around us
It means caring for the injustice in others' lives, and working daily to right the wrongs against them
It means affirming that undocumented doesn’t not mean unloved or unworthy
And it means offering forward the same radical welcome that Christ offered to us through His life and death on the cross.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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