State of the Union

The rasping caw of a crow woke me up. Repeated. Insistent. It drowned out or drove away the occasional calls of other birds until it was the only voice to be heard. I opened my eyes to sunlight streaming in through slats in the blinds. I couldn’t remember why my stomach was in knots. The continued cawing grated on my ears. The first word to form itself in my sleepy mind was harbinger. Crows in legends and folklore are often harbingers: they announce death, war, storm, judgment. I have a funny mind. Who else’s first word of the day is harbinger? I sat up and shook my funny head to clear it. I laughed at myself. It was just a crow. But he did remind my why my stomach was in knots, why I lay awake last night with pictures of refugees flashing through my mind in hijabs, in rubble, with hunger in their eyes.

I fell asleep heartbroken, considering the damage our new President can do with a few strokes of a pen. I fell asleep mulling over the lives he can change, for good or for bad, and hoping his lack of demonstrated compassion in the past would not set the course for the future. I had seen articles and headlines all day by sensationalist media outlets confirming liberals’ worst fears and oozing smugness from conservatives. I had believed those articles to be exaggerations, until I read about the executive orders President Trump was projected to sign, including ones that could disrupt families, take land from Native Americans to whom it belongs, and deny war-torn Arabs asylum in our country. I fell asleep thinking on these things. It was the refugees who captured most of my thoughts, and my last coherent reflection before sleep was of Joseph and a pregnant Mary, Middle Easterners turned away at the doors of inns, given no safe place for a birth, and then driven away by a murderous government with no qualms against killing infants. I fell asleep seeing those characters in the streets of modern day Aleppo, wondering what country they could escape to. Our welcoming statue of liberty may soon no longer be the beacon of hope and welcome it once was to people such as them.

For better or for worse, our country has elected a new president. I don’t mean to divide us any further than we already are. Check your hearts and get rid of any ‘I told you so’ or ‘serves them right.’ Don’t look at those caricatured in the media with disgust or superiority. Christian, whether you lean right or you lean left, there is no place for us now to sit on our blessed assurance and do nothing. We elected this man. 81% of us evangelicals voted for him, breaking records even back to Bush campaigns. This is on our shoulders. As of my writing, you can view the orders the president has signed here, and here’s a look at what he plans for refugees. They will change lives.

Like it or not, the President’s actions and signatures will change the lives of the vulnerable first—those who have no home, those who are in poverty, those who have barely learned English, those who are barely born or barely alive, those who have different-colored skin. Those people were the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry, the people he modeled that his followers should care for first, last, longest, and hardest. Whether you’re comfortable calling those people the oppressed, or the least of these, or some other title, Jesus was on their side. He defended them when no one else would. He experienced their world, born as that refugee baby who had to flee the country for his live before he could even talk. Read the gospels. Let Jesus’ love for such people come alive and burn in your heart. Read the Old Testament, and the prophets. See how God was a father and provider to those who had no one to hear their case.

After the crow woke me up, I did just that. I read Psalm 115, and it soothed my roiling soul. You should read it too, and soak in its words. The psalm teaches that people ask where our God is, because they cannot see him. It teaches that in His place some worship mute, blind, deaf, powerless idols they have made. They worship these things they have made, and they become like them. But the people who fear the Lord will be blessed by him; he will cause them to flourish. Perhaps our evangelicalism wants to flourish more than it wants to fear the Lord. So we fashion a God with our own hands who gives us cultural power and lets us feel politically secure. We fashion him and we worship him in our search for shalom, and as we strive to flourish, we no longer fear the true Lord, the Lord who crushes nations who neglect the powerless and poor and hungry. Perhaps we become more like this false god we have created, so when his prophet preaches peace for evangelicals and economic comfort, we vote him the leader of our nation, all the while forgetting that our help should come from the Lord, not from the white house.

I mean to be gentle with you, brothers and sisters, but I also mean to speak truth. And I don’t point a finger without recognizing my own faults. This post was originally meant to be a sort of ‘state of the union’ after spending a year back in my home country. I meant to examine how I had adjusted back home. But I realized when that crow woke me up that an actual state of the union, about the state of those united in Christ in our country, would be more appropriate. I’ve realized in this year back that I’m still in a foreign country. I was away when our new president first announced his campaign, and when news reached me I laughed because it could not be true. While I was away, I learned deeply of the sin in my own heart, and how pervasive, invisible, and abhorrent it could be. I came back home to the States to find myself in a foreign country, but I realized it felt so different because I am what’s foreign now. Just as I had learned to see more sin in myself, my distance had given me eyes to see it in my people and, like Nehemiah, to cry out for the sins of my people as my own.

My freshly foreign eyes have helped me to see the division and fear that pervade our country. We’re afraid of marches, we’re afraid of our President, we’re afraid for our safety, and we’re afraid of our neighbors. But Christian, it is in times like these when our light shines the brightest, because we follow and serve the light of the world, the light of all mankind that darkness cannot overcome. The only thing capable of replacing this paralyzing fear is faith. And that may be the only thing we have to give our nation right now. Our faith redeems us as well as others, and it leads to a love like Jesus’. There is no fear in that love because perfect love drives out fear.

Ultimately, if we do fear the Lord as he is rather than cherish the cultural Christianity we created, our weapon is not the government, but faith which blooms to love and drives out fear. We are to love our neighbor, and that includes the ones who marched on Washington. That includes the neighbors who are starving or illegal or want abortion rights or don’t fit our ideas of sexual orientation. If you don’t know any of these people, they’re your neighbors, and they’re afraid. Get to know them. Do something. Peer into their eyes and acknowledge you are just as broken and fearful and sinful as they. Ask them why they feel the way they do. Listen, don’t just hear.

In an excellent speech, which you should also read, here, Richard John Neuhaus explains what loving our neighbor and valuing their dignity looks like. As this presidency carries on, we should live by his words; they embody the ethic Jesus himself lived, which seems in very short supply these days.

“We contend relentlessly for the dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.”

Neuhaus’ repeated refrain is, “we shall not weary, we shall not rest,” not until every life created in the image of God is valued every step of the way from womb to tomb. If we think a life well-lived is healthy, stable, surrounded by family, economically secure, and filled with a productive career, and if we think any less of people who do not have those things, we are not pro-life. We do not value the dignity of a life so-lived. Not really.

If we do not value just as highly the lives of those we disagree with most strongly, we do not value the image of God. We do not value the image of God if we do not look for it in the faces of the women who marched on Washington for all their various reasons. We do not value the image of God if we do not look for it covered in skin of all different shades. We do not value the image of God if we do not look for it at all economic levels and among people whose convictions vary widely from ours. Each human who ever lived eternally carries this image of God. Christian, serve them. Meet their needs. Listen to them when you don’t understand or you think their views are extreme. Get to know their lives and why they believe the things they do. Point each human to Christ. Love each human. Each. Human. Make that your crusade, and I’ll march along with you. Value the lives our governments and churches don’t. Let us treat those lives with dignity and with our own hands make up for the hurt caused by a pen wielded by a man in a suit. In that pursuit of liberty and justice for all, we shall not weary, and we shall not rest.