Dear President Obama,
I want to begin by thanking you for your service to our country. On one level it has been a personal blessing to see a man who looks like myself and my son, act as the leader of these United States. It demonstrates our country has made some significant strides and offers hope for the future.
I am penning this letter to you on this Thanksgiving Week to appeal to your foundational experience as a community organizer whose experience to pursue justice and relieve oppression can have a benefit for our current situation.
Your vision to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees is very admirable, in fact, I believe it is in the best keeping of Christian principles to create an atmosphere in which those who are experiencing injustice to find a place of relieve. Men, women, and children regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or religion should have the opportunity to flourish as God intended. I believe all humanity has been infused with the sense to create and achieve for the betterment of themselves and the society. Therefore, it is just to welcome Syrian Refugees-Christian and Muslim-who desire to be positive and significant contributors to our American nation.
At the same time, my Christian understanding of justice considers not only the situation of the oppressed and vulnerable but the perpetrators of the unjust situations. If I may be quite clear, I believe this is where you are failing as the leader of our nation. It appears you are very apprehensive to use force to execute justice to relieve oppression. In my opinion, your experience as a community organizer is preventing you from fully using the resources of the United States to bring about full justice. Justice for the oppressed. Justice on ISIS. Justice which protects the people you represent.
God grants to government the use of a sword to execute justice on behalf of its citizens. This righteous use of the sword has two purposes, 1) protection of the innocent and 2) punishment of the guilty. In our American context, you stand as Commander in Chief of the most lethal fighting force on the planet. The United States Military is the swift sword of America’s arm to carry out justice for all persons. It is a justice granted to the government alone and protecting opportunities for human flourishing.
As a former Army Officer I have seen the pains of war. War creates widows, orphans, and the handicapped. War reveals the depth of human depravity but in some strange way uncovers the majesty of courage in the face of death. War and violence should be the last option but it is an option in the face of injustice. I will not impose on you Jesus words to “turn the other cheek” or “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” On the former, this mandate is not appropriate for government which has the charge to protect its citizens. On the latter, this is a warning and not a mandate for pacifism on the part of governments. To the Church I alone would offer these statements. If a government chooses to turn the other cheek, injustice will spread like a cancer. Darkness will consume free ways of life and all persons will die in the suffocating atmosphere of unrighteousness.
So as you contemplate justice on behalf of refugees, please consider justice which will stem back the hand of evil men and women. We all have our part to play in this work of a just society. As the President you lead a government to “establish justice…and provide a common defense.” As a Christian it is my responsibility to encourage justice, turn the other cheek, and to love one’s enemy. It is a reality, you do not have the luxury to tell our nation to turn the other cheek, while I do not have the luxury to tell our society love only those like us. We all have a cross to bear.
I leave you with this sir,
Love justice and walk humbly with God.
The incarnation reveals a God willing to see and personally address the variety of sufferings which exist in the human experience. Therefore, as the resurrection influences the people of God to live in the reality of a new creation, we possess the ability to see and act compassionately among ourselves and the citizens of our world.
Worldwide, humanity with all of her variety is experiencing varying degrees of difficulty. Young teenage women in Africa are being kidnapped by military groups such as Boko Haram for marriage. In the Middle East, Christians in the Jordan, Egypt and Syria are kidnapped by ISIS and beheaded for their faith. This past weekend, ISIS chose to extend it's violent influence into the great city of Paris. Populations of persons are struggling under financial debt to create a stable economy for themselves and participate at some level in our global economy.
The tensions in America are great. We are familiar with a variety of shootings from Tennessee to Chicago. Consider in Chicago, on any given weekend some young African American male will lose his life in gun violence. Young children are being killed in the womb and their body parts sold. Families are struggling to find work. The homeless are looked as potential criminals and drug users. The recently incarcerated are released and struggle to find a place to live and secure adequate employment.
In the Church people suffer in silence. Maybe because of some domestic or sexual abuse, or an inability to forgive within the community of faith, men and women grieve on the inside. This past summer people who have communicated grief because they feel as if their voice is not being heard by other Christian brothers and sisters who prefer an earthly Southern heritage over the grief of their brothers and sisters.
The context in which we live is fraught with difficulties. I wonder if our eyes are open to recognize the difficulties people are living in at this present moment. Can we observe with our new eyes the strain people are under? Can I hear beyond the words of "I'm fine," the possibility a person right before me simply needs my presence? When we hear and see someone or some group in difficulty maybe the question we need to ask is, "What will happen to him or her if I do not do something?" instead of the usual question, "What will happen to me if I do something?"
Compassion represents a very human and deep activity which places an individual in the storm of another individual's experience. Compassion is made up of two words, "together" and "to suffer." In essence, I gain knowledge-hearing or seeing-about your situation and this emotion rises out of the depth of my being to propel me to embrace another person in his or her difficulty.
Why should we respond? We should respond on the basis of the recognition of our sameness. Our sameness is rooted in the truth we are image bearers of God. I have either experienced my own suffering or I know at some point a difficulty is on the horizon. Nevertheless, I understand to be alone or to be isolated as a human being when all hell is breaking loose is not how I am supposed to exist.
So, we acknowledge the humanity of another by entering into difficulty. I acknowledge you are there and I acknowledge by my actions you will not be alone. Can we grasp how transformative it becomes when in the middle of my pain, my grieve, my tiredness, someone says, "I see you" and "I am joining you in this moment?"
Compassion Close to Home
Who among us in our city and state are physically and/or emotionally weary? An easy situation involves the work each of are involved in on a daily basis. Husbands. Wives. Students. Lawyers. Childcare workers. Mothers. These are vocations the Lord has empowered us to accomplish to announce his kingdom, bring about healing, and silence darkness. At the same time, we must be able to recognize when those among us are in need to get to a desolate place, rest, and refresh. Our acts of compassion will require us to enter into another person's difficulty and say, "It is time for rest." A more difficult situation involves the use of physical force in order to enter into difficulty of family and friends. An often used statement are phrases such as "turn the other cheek" and " those who live by the sword will die by the sword." These two famous statements of an Ancient Near East Rabbi serve as instruction to gain the hearing of an enemy and an admonish of how a kingdom will be established. I argue what these statement\s do not infer is a pacifist approach in situations in which a family member's life is under severe threat. I enter into the apparent suffering of another individual when I perceive his or her life is threatened. While I may die by the sword the compassion involves me choosing to value life of an innocent individual. Ask any mother or father worth his or her salt as a parent and I believe we will hear words which convey compassion in order to protect his or her offspring.
Second, acts of compassion can not remain among our homogeneous groups or persons we have an affective relationships; compassion must extend to those like us. How much in need are these men and women?
It is here we are having difficulty right now. Our inability to enter compassionately into the lives of "others." It is very disconcerting this past week to see Christians make arguments against compassion. We begin with arguments which implicitly value American citizenry above Christian principle reflective of eternal citizenship. Second, we apply Old Testament text which were given to a covenant people-Israel-expecting a non-covenant government-America-to honor those text. Our American government is not a theocracy and under no obligation to obey those texts. Christians must offer and apply these texts of compassion first and primarily to ourselves. How will Christians who live in America act compassionately within local churches in our individual vocations? More specifically, to those in political office, you have the difficult challenge of executing your duties as an duly elected servant and your Christian principles. Elected officials are part of an entity designed with the purpose of protecting its citizens and use of the sword on evil. Therefore, if you are pro-life in matters of birth, "How does compassion influence your pro-life principles to address the current refugee discussion?" "How does compassion influence your responsibility to execute the sword in order to bring about justice?" To the larger Christian community, we must ask ourselves "Why are we appealing to establish a criteria first to carry out compassion when this is antithetical to the Gospel?"
Christians, Jesus did not cast judgment first when he demonstrated compassion. Jesus extended compassion through instruction for the soul and nourishment for the body. How can we go about living compassionately in our context and live as a prophetic voice which powerfully encourages all to be compassionate abroad?
Finally, I have this fear in one weeks time we will return to business as usual. We will use the immediate situation of Paris and by extension Syrian refugees as ideological footballs to be kicked around for a moment. We will pontificate on Facebook, Twitter, radio programs, and television for a moment, returning to "normal" life when its time to cut turkey and watch football. So I ask myself, do we as Christians truly have a significant grasp of what it means to live compassionately in the Church, America, and World. I am glad you changed your Facebook profile picture to the French flag but then what? When the refugee situation fades into to background there still will exist people in our context-homeless, orphans, abused, and others-still in need of persons who will enter into their suffering.
The Church-the people of God-stand on the other side of the resurrection. We are men and women empowered to see and act with compassion. As God entered into the suffering of humanity and reconciled humanity back to God through the cross, we now enter into the suffering of humanity because Christ has triumphed. He has made us alive because he is alive. Therefore, to live means being active and aware. It means being able to move into situations which are powerfully difficult and situations in which we will not completely understand.
I don't want to suffer alone. I am hoping someone will see me in a storm of emotional, physical, or spiritual distress and say, "I am coming to suffer with you because God in Christ showed compassion and suffered with me."
Let's go people of God. Let us move into difficult human experiences and be present. Let us join with some person, group, or ethnic group who needs to discern the presence of God in us and be his hands, his voice, his ears to act in a way which will have people declare, "I have seen the Lord!"