Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mongrels - Fear Not

Ps 56:4  In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.

Sometimes it’s important to remember who you are.  In our part of the country, we are mongrels. It’s important to remember that.  We Appalachians are a soupy mix of predominantly Scots-Irish-Germans that were kicked out of Europe, kicked out of Ireland and kicked out of the Northeast of America.  Our forefathers slunk down the spine of the mountains and settled on lands that – truth be told – no one else was much interested in.

Our standard-bearers no doubt came from all sorts of dubious circumstances.  Otherwise why would they risk life and limb travelling across the ocean with only the clothes on their backs?  They scraped out a living in these mountains and built a life that improved each generation.  Yes – we’re a hard-scrabble people and we have our faults.  But we have a history of being magnanimous and generous to the weak and oppressed – irrespective of race or creed.  (For more on this, I recommend Sen. Jim Webb’s excellent ‘Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America’).   We are not an arrogant people.  Or at least we didn’t used to be.
Plight of Appalachia
These ideas have been rattling around in my mind when we consider the Syrian refugee crisis, and here is my conclusion:  Bring ’em in.  Bring them here.  But under one condition: That we as Christians first, sacrifice ourselves and our treasure to welcome and sustain them – personally.  Not with a governmental program.  Not with a camp with fences and gates.  Not at a distance.  But here.  In our homes and in our communities.  That we – we in person – extend our hands and open out homes.  This is a chance for the Appalachian people to show our mettle. 
I am a Christian.  I am not afraid of Islam or of the Koran.  I am not afraid of people who do not believe as I do.  If they don’t hear the Good News – tell me – whose fault is that?  God has a right to ask us to do hard things.  He has the right to ask us to do impossible things. 
Here are two short stories to drive the point home.  First is something that happened to me a couple years ago.  I was alone in my office in Marion when a young Asian man stepped into the office peddling necklaces, bracelets and trinkets.  Having experienced a similar visit a year before, I knew that he was with the Unification Church (founded by Sun Myung Moon).  We chatted for about forty-five minutes and I made a ham-fisted attempt at sharing the Gospel.  He was a sweet-natured (albeit misguided) young man.  He left promising to consider what I had said and we exchanged addresses.  But here was the point I took away:  He said Christians always closed the door in his face.

The second story was related to me by a friend.  It seems that a lady struck up a casual conversation with a Muslim woman at a Pizza parlor in Northern Virginia.  They chatted for a few minutes – making small talk.  At the end, the Muslim woman said, “I have lived in the United States for six years.  You are the first American to speak to me.”
So here’s the deal.  We can drop a battery of missiles on ISIS.  We can put boots on the ground and we can build schools and hospitals.  We can feed them or we can obliterate them.  It doesn’t really matter.  Like everyone, they want the truth.  It is the power of the Gospel that will break hearts and turn this tide.  But it will take a church that doesn’t cower in fear and play defense.  The Word is a sword.  It cuts men’s hearts and opens blind eyes.  If we are too cowardly to take that tiny step of faith to meet someone who doesn’t buckle his belt with a Bible then on That Day, don’t expect to hear, “Well done” – because you didn’t. 
We are entering the Christmas season.  We will revisit Bethlehem and sing warm songs of comfort and joy.  But remember that soon after the nativity, Joseph flew with his wife and infant child to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the innocents.  And so it would seem that Our Lord was a refugee.  Our enemy is not flesh and blood.  Be who you were born to be.
"From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow?  Never.  All the armies of Europe and Asia ... could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide."
-- Abraham Lincoln