Welcoming the stranger…



“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

Almost a week has passed since the suicide bombs in Syria, Lebanon and the Paris shootings.  A ‘state of emergency’ continues to be declared in France.  Air attacks are being conducted in Syria by the French and their allies, and those that have not joined in on the attacks are at present debating whether or not to join in.  The world is on the edge of another great war once more.  I do not believe that violence achieves anything in life, but I understand the political pressure to do something in response when one group so maliciously attacks another.  I understand that war may indeed be a necessary evil at times, but as Jimmy Carter has said, it ultimately does nothing to help us live together well.

But the impending war is not what I want to comment on.  In the build up to last weekend has been an ongoing refugee crisis.  Literally thousands of Syrian people have left their homes and lives in Syria to seek life elsewhere.  The ongoing civil war and destruction in Syria has put people in a position where they can no longer call their home, ‘home.’ So they have fled on foot to surrounding nations, and have risked their lives by paying gangsters and extortioners to get them across the Mediterranean Sea to mainland Europe.  It has become a world crisis because the countries that these transient people are wandering to, close their doors and state that ‘there is no room in the inn.” The question around what to do about Syrian refugees has created a political storm with different world leaders having different ideas as to how best to solve the problem.  Without critiquing those each individually, it is best to generalize the responses and say that most developed and able countries have made a commitment to receive a certain number of Syrian refugees over the coming couple of years.  The decision by governments, Prime Ministers and Presidents to receive refugees has created another storm of political division country by country.

In the USA,  President Obama has stated that USA should welcome a number of Syrian refugees to its shores, and do its part in response to the aforementioned crisis.  This has not been received well by each state within the union.  In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it became clear that one of the attackers had made his way to Europe and entered the continent by posing as a Syrian refugee.  The response to this revelation in many states has been to oppose the President and state that the USA should not welcome any refugees because they have now been proven to be a risk to the life and well being of communities throughout the nation.  Of course this is an understandable response to the news reels of the last week.  None of us in our right minds would knowingly welcome a violent Jihadist to stay in our house, right?

Like I said, I understand the “close the doors” response in many people.  But i have to confess that I have struggled with the attitudes of my brothers and sisters in the Christian faith in terms of how we respond.  Ought Christian people to be more concerned with airing a political view and protecting against the fear of a potential attack upon them or their country people?  Or ought Christian people be more concerned with reaching out to those who are without a home, in dire need of a place to rest their heads and ready to start afresh in a new place?


Many memes have been doing the rounds about this issue in the run up to the holiday season.  One of note is the reminder to Christian people that the story of the Nativity, which will be enacted by children and churches all over the land, is in fact a story of traveling people who are seeking mercy and a place to stay, but cannot find a welcome anywhere but the animal shelter belonging to an inn-keeper.  It is in this place that the Savior, Jesus Christ, is born.  He grows to become the man who announces the in breaking of the Kingdom of God; a radical and scandalous notion, which throws open the doors of God’s hospitality and welcome to all who call upon God’s name.  And then Jesus also says, “Go and do likewise…”

“Go and do likewise.” Have Christian people forgotten that in all our unworthiness, and even though our lives are mired in sinful ugliness we have still found radical hospitality and welcome in Christ.  Have we forgotten that, in Christ, God no longer looks upon us as stained; that God no longer refuses to have us, and instead lovingly embraces us – just as we are? It strikes me, that the call to look out for the widow and the orphan; the great command to love God with everything and love our neighbors as ourselves has not changed and that it ought to be the guiding factor for Jesus’ people as they make response to the politics of the refugee crisis.

The bottom line is this: God is indiscriminate in God’s love and welcome of all people, and so should God’s people be.  It’s that simple.

I want to close this by employing the words of Brennan Manning, a master of communicating the welcome and embrace of God for all people.  This comes from his book, ‘Abba’s Child:’

Buchner wrote, “We have always known what was wrong with us.  The malice in us even at our most civilized. Our insincerity, the masks we do our real business behind. The envy, the way other people’s luck can sting us like wasps.  And all the slander, making such caricatures of each other that we treat each other as caricatures, even when we love each other.  All this infantile nonsense and ugliness. ‘Put it away, ‘Peter says.  ‘Grow up to salvation.  For Christ’s sake, grow up.”  The command of Jesus to love one another is never circumscribed by the nationality, status, ethnic background, sexual preference, or inherent lovableness of the “other.”  The other, the one who has claim on my love, is anyone to whom I am able to respond, as the parable of the good Samaritan clearly illustrates.  “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man who fell in with the robbers?”  Jesus asked.  The answer came, “The one who treated him with compassion.” he said to them, “Go and do the same.”

This insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective in almost all of Jesus teaching.

Compassion is not indiscriminate in the life of many of God’s people in USA and other developed nations.  In fact, the evidence is that many of God’s people are happy to discriminate when it comes to welcome, hospitality and compassion.  This is not good enough.

O, that our hearts might be completely bathed in a fresh understanding of the welcome, hospitality and loving mercy of God.

O, that we might throw ourselves upon the faithfulness of God and the perfect love of God so that we might know no fear.

O, that we might let Jesus in and let Jesus guide our steps.

Have mercy on us, O God, against you and you only have we sinned.  Lay hold of your people and turn them towards you, so that we may be light and compassion and welcome, in a dark, unloving and unwelcoming world.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I believe…

This is a blog that I initially composed a number of years ago.  It explains itself clearly enough in terms of the situation and context for why i wrote.  I fished it out and wanted to post it here to make sure I don’t lose it.


Tonight, before sitting here to write this I have been back home in Ballynahinch with my brother for our regular Thursday night poker game. Driving back to Belfast, my mind started churning a few things over and I ended up asking myself what it actually is that I believe. Thats what I want to write about.

Let me pretext it a bit for you. My best friend and I have been having some very deep conversations regarding our faith journeys which have prompted me to think a lot about what it is I believe. Also, yesterday I was reading Matthew 16 where Peter confess Christ and is given a new nickname (‘The Rock’). In the next paragraph, Jesus predicted for his disciples, his passion and suffering. Peter, The Rock, responds by telling Jesus that this passion and suffering cannot happen to him. Jesus responds with words that have struck me hard and stuck with me. He said…

“Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”

Then he said this…

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

I am about to get to the “What Do I believe” bit, but a word of warning – I have not sat down and thought this through or written it down before typing. What you are about to get is raw, and I hope, honest. If you are struck by anything, or shocked by anything – please don’t think I am losing it as I am not  – I don’t think!  I simply need to answer this question and find myself searching hard for some of the answers.

1. I believe in God

I believe in God. I believe God created us and the world around us. I don’t know where God came from, but I believe very much that God is there.

2. I believe in Jesus

I believe Jesus existed. I believe he walked the earth and said some pretty challenging things as he did it. I believe Jesus was crucified. I believe Jesus when he says he is God’s son. I believe Jesus on the cross when he said “It is finished”. I believe Jesus was resurrected.

3. I believe in The Word

I believe that the bible is a living word that is used to communicate living truth to us. I have many questions about why the bible is the way it is, why somethings were seen as worthy to be called scripture and some were not. Nonetheless, I believe the bible is a living word because it spoke to me yesterday in Matthew 16 (The bible has spoken to me on other occasions as well). I believe the word must be read and thought through. I believe that we should always know who wrote what we are reading and why exactly they wrote it at the time of writing. I believe that the word is about who God is and it is filled with wonderful stories that illustrate just that – are they all literally true? I don’t know, but I do believe they point to who God is.

4. I believe in church

I believe in church. I am not sure I believe in ‘the Church’ as we know it or are developing it, but I do believe in church. I believe church should be a place for sojourners (with all sorts of questions, backgrounds, experiences, issues and even some baggage) to gather and seek together. I believe church should never be a place where these honest sojourners should be excluded or shunned for something they have said or done or are doing.

5. I believe in love

I believe in love. I believe that God is love and that God is UNCONDITIONALLY and powerfully in love with God’s creation. I believe that love is not earned. I believe that love is given and received.

6. I believe that humanity is screwed up

I was trying to think of a nice way to say that, but it is late and I can’t. I believe that humanity is screwed up. I believe that ‘screwed up’ has a very broad definition when it is attached to each individual human being. What I mean by that is that we are not all struggling with urges to be violent or sexually inappropriate. We look at people like that and we say to ourselves that they are really screwed up – and they are. But I believe we have trouble in looking at ourselves and saying the same. I believe we are all screwed up. I believe we are all carrying guilt over something (regardless of how big or small we think it is) and it is this guilt which has us screwed up.

7. I believe in forgiveness

I believe that it is only in the giving and receiving of forgiveness that we can experience moments of freedom from being screwed up. I believe that forgiveness needs to be shared among humans and between humanity and God. I believe that to forgive, is to set free from guilt. I believe we all need to be free from guilt.

8. I believe that humans are dumb

I believe humans are dumb. I believe that we can have moments of revelation, freedom and understanding in our lives and then follow them right up with a moment of sheer stupidity. I believe this is very well illustrated for us by Peter, The Rock in Matthew 16. I also believe this is illustrated very well in our own lives. For example, I know I have had these moments of revelation, freedom and understanding and followed them right up with a major failing. You would think when something is revealed to me and I am free and finally understand something about Truth, that it would change my actions and proneness to fail. It does not. I believe if we are all honest, (and not just piously humble) we can relate to this and thus, humans are dumb.

9. I believe in questions

I believe in questions. I believe that sometimes I will not get answers to my questions and I believe that this is okay.

I think I believe these things. They might change in the next hour, day, month, year(s), but right now as I sit here at my computer, I believe these things.

It’s not really important that you know what I believe. Maybe the good to come out of me thinking this through and writing it down will be that you ask yourself what you believe. I hope you do, because as I sit here having done it, I can say that I feel better for it.

When I was driving home in the car earlier asking myself what I believed, I could say nothing more than that I believed in God. In the car I did not have a clue what that meant. I also felt bad because when asking myself what I believed, I could only come up with one answer. I felt like a but of a mess. At least now I am a bit more of a thought through mess and I think I know a wee bit more about what it means when I say to myself that I believe in God. Thank you for putting up with me1