General CBF

Crisis or Opportunity?

On September14, 2010, celebrating Constitution Week, some 5000 people became new citizens of the United States at a ceremony held in Boston’s Fenway Park.  These new citizens were ethnically diverse, coming from 150 countries, bringing with them their particular cultural and religious heritage. In the context of that event and recent controversies this article is presented.  

In 1883, Emma Lazarus penned the words to the poem, THE NEW COLOSSUS, in commemoration of and as a fund raising initiative for the pedestal on which would stand the Statue of Liberty.  Some of the words toward the end may be familiar to you.

“NOT LIKE THE BRAZEN GIANT OF GREEK FAME,

WITH CONQUERING LIMBS ASTRIDE FROM LAND TO LAND;

HERE AT OUR SEA-WASHED SUNSET GATES SHALL STAND

A MIGHTY WOMAN WITH A TORCH, WHO’S FLAME

IS THE IMPRISONED LIGHTNING AND HER NAME–

MOTHER OF EXILES.

FROM HER BEACON-HAND GLOWS WORLDWIDE WELCOME;

HER MILD EYES COMMAND THE AIR-BRIDGED HARBOR

THAT TWIN CITIES FRAME. ‘ KEEP, ANCIENT LANDS,

YOUR STORIED POMP!’

CRIES SHE WITH SILENT LIPS, ‘GIVE ME YOUR TIRED,

YOUR POOR, YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING

TO BREATHE FREE. THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR

TEEMING SHORE’

SEND THESE, THE HOMELESS, TEMPEST-TOSSED, TO ME.

I LIFT MY LAMP BESIDE THE GOLDEN DOOR”.

Now compare Emma’s poem to the words of a more recent song, written by Toby Keith in the wake of 9/11, 2001:

HEY, UNCLE SAM PUT YOU AT THE TOP OF HIS LIST,

AND THE STATUE OF LIBERTY STARTED SHAKING HER FIST.

AND THE EAGLE WILL FLY AND IT’S  GONNA BE HELL,

WHEN YOU HEAR MOTHER FREEDOM START RINGING HER BELL.

AND IT’LL FEEL LIKE THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD IS RAINING DOWN ON YOU,

ALL BROUGHT TO YOU, COURTESY OF THE RED WHITE AND BLUE.

Of these two contrasting sentiments, which should typify the real character of our nation?  Or, more to the point of our discussion, which of these attitudes should be representative of those called to be the presence of Christ?

Is either of these expressions appropriate for the current real-life situation?  How do we deal with a population that is becoming increasingly more multicultural and at the same time more religiously diverse?

Over these past years my walk of faith and ministry calling have taken me to places and into situations that have caused me to reassess my understanding of what God is doing in this world and how I should be involved.  I have the impression that being called to be the presence of Christ is a call to adventure and living life on the edge but, that involves something other than things like sky-diving or bull-riding; desert biking or Arctic hiking.  This calling includes surrendering myself to the risks of vulnerability. 

During this reassessment process, which, by the way, is still on-going, I have come back time and again to a basic idea that the really good news of the gospel is that each one of us and all of us should have full access to all that Jesus has to offer.  In so far as I am able to comprehend it, what Jesus offers is grace and relationship based on nothing but love, without regard to national origin, religious heritage, or economic status.  Yes!  That includes people of other faiths from various places, who now live in our neighborhood and on our block.

 It is difficult however, for some of us to get our minds wrapped around this concept.  Surely, there must something else; some qualifiers that make some people more deserving of God’s love and grace.  And, the assumption is that some have a lot further to go than others in makings themselves acceptable to God. This is especially so when certain people have a cultural and religious heritage drastically different from that with which we are familiar, with those of Islamic faith being of particular concern. There is this compulsion to correct all the fallacies of their illegitimate religion before God’s love can be appropriated.   

But for me, being the presence of Christ (Being Missional) means that we live life in such a way that the real message of the gospel is authenticated.  By so doing, we help to draw people into a mutual, loving relationship with God and, in effect, saying, “You have a place of belonging.  God’s love is longing to welcome you to a place you can call, home.”  And that place is not bounded by geographical, religious, or cultural limits.

This does not mean that we have an immediate and definitive answer for every situation in any circumstance.  Instead, it means that we are willing to walk alongside people on their journey of discovery, being sensitive to the serendipitous opportunities as they are presented.

All of this is much more comfortable while we are talking, but the involvement and the engagement; this walking alongside takes us into those intersections “Where cross the crowded ways of life”.  In those places, quite frequently, we do not find any traffic signals and, in those intersections where there are signals, a bulb may be burned out, causing considerable confusion. Or, the signals may simply be disregarded.

At these crossroads, (and this is where the adventure and living life on the edge really comes into play), life meets life in very close proximity. Sometimes, the sequential convergences flow in their adapted patterns of normalcy.  But often, there are near misses and horns blow and voices are raised.  And on many occasions, there are collisions with disastrous and tragic results.

The reality of our present time is that these “crowded ways of life” that I mentioned before, are becoming evermore crowded, the scale and the rapidity of which would have been hard to imagine in the early dawn of the 20th century, when Frank North wrote that hymn.   Of course, the same thing is happening in other cities on every continent.  More and more people are vying for limited space amid diminishing resources.  The pace is becoming more frantic and the clamor more amplified.

Well, nostalgia invades our minds now and again and we find ourselves missing the quiet tranquility of Mayberry.  There is a song about that, by a group called Rascal Flatts: “I miss Mayberry, sittin’ on the porch drinkin’ ice-cold cherry coke. Everything is black and white.  Pickin’on a six-string, people pass by and you call ’em by their first name, watching the clouds go by.  Bye Bye”. In those“Mayberrys”, where many of us grew up, the complexion of the community is changing or has changed.  Imagine this conversation…  “You remember the old Statler house. Yea, I remember.   Well, some people bought that old place.  Strange people!  I don’t know where they came from but they’re definitely not from around here, that’s for sure.  And I heard that they look different and they talk kinda funny, too. I’m wondering if may something oughta be done about that situation”.

With this change of atmospheric surroundings comes the sometimes-overwhelming fear that the timeworn, black and white value system of Mayberry is being supplanted by something else.  A lot of folks really don’t know what that something else is and they are, therefore, afraid of it.

With this same scene being played out in real-life, in hundreds of Mayberrys or medium-sized towns and large metropolitan areas, what shall we do?  Shall we respond with resentment and animosity that eventually evolves into hatred?  Shall we tell them that they do not belong?

 Or, shall we consider another alternative?  Instead of thinking in terms of our world and their world or my world and your world, dare we consider the possibility of learning to live as neighbors? How’s that for an adventurous challenge?

3 thoughts on “Crisis or Opportunity?

  1. Earl, blessings on you for your wonderful spirit of inclusion! I hope the US will remember the Statue of Liberty and a new interpretation of what it means to a welcoming land, and as Baptists to grant others the right to practice their religion. We need a new immigration policy!

  2. I appreciated this very much. Strangers have much to offer and need locals that understand the “lay of the land” and harbor no hidden agenda. Interestingly, my chinese mechanic at my local Meineke reached out to me when I moved from Europe to Atlanta. He no longer speaks Mandarin but recognized me as being “a stranger” in his shop. Role-reversals can be God-sent blessings for all. A reverend friend from my childhood said, “the saved are the ones that realize that everyone’s a pilgrim while they walk this earth.”

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