Houston Harvey Relief

I’ve contact some of my friends who serve in various churches in the Houston area, first to make sure they were okay and second to find out what we as Tapestry can do to help. As I paraphrased Shakespeare to my friend J.T. (blessed be his name) “Tapestry may be small but we are fierce”. In other words, we may be a small church but we give wonderfully.

When you see the yellow hats yellow shirts you are seeing the SBDR

Thus far the pastors I have messaged have said they are in the rescue phase and what they really need are boats and places for people to stay after they were rescued. The rebuilding won’t begin till the waters recede. Therefore, my number one recommendation is still that you give through the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief agency. You can do that here (https://missionaries.namb.net/projects/full/hurricane-harvey-response). When you give to the SBDR you will be providing immediate help as well as resources later on. The SBDR will stay in the area for a long while and will feed a ton of people. In addition, they will help with mudout work, chainsaw crews, laundry facilities, shower trailers and more. If you are interested the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention (of which we are a part) is already planning on sending some SBDR groups down. Some of us have been trained by the SBDR and more of us can be for the future.

Next I am going to recommend that a list some local organizations. Giving local is a great avenue because the local groups will be there once the immediate emergency need recedes. The national groups will leave. The local groups won’t. These local groups are the ones who will be dealing with the long term repercussions of the flooding.

Here’s the list”

Galveston County Food Bank: http://www.galvestoncountyfoodbank.org/

Corpus Christi Food Bank: http://www.foodbankcc.com/

Houston Food Bank: http://www.houstonfoodbank.org/donate/

Texas Diaper Bank: http://www.texasdiaperbank.org/

Austin Pets Alive is a no-kill shelter taking in Harvey pets: https://www.austinpetsalive.org/hurricane-harvey-evacuatio…/

Portlight is a local grassroots organization that provides disaster aid to the disabled specifically: http://www.portlight.org/home.html

The Coalition for the Homeless is an umbrella organization coordinating shelters and orgs across the city: https://www.homelesshouston.org/take-action/donate/

https://www.unitedwayhouston.org/flood/flood-donation

HT to  Chad Schoonmaker via Megan Kelly for the list.

Some of these local groups will begin to put out wishlists of what they need. When I see them I will post them. If you see any please pass them on to me.

Let me end with a plea to not give to just anyone who calls you. It saddens me to acknowledge the fact that when some are in serious need there are others who just see the need as an opportunity for their scams. There are going to be people who use the misery of the people of the Houston area as an opportunity to scam those who like to help people in need. Don’t give money to groups you don’t know or ot that isn’t recommend to you by someone one you trust. There are phone calls and emails going out now pleading for money to help Houston, and some of phone calls and emails are just scammers taking advantage of the fact that we like to help our fellow human when we see genuine need. Don’t stop helping, but be wise. Never let the scammers keep you from giving because it is better to be scammed than to turn your back on a genuine need. Still I would rather our money and resources go to the right places so be smart. Gentle as doves and wise as serpents.

The Tapestry Leadership Team will be discussing what we can do as an organization, but there is no need for you to wait on us. Give and give well … my small but fierce friends. :)

Don’t be a Sucker

The U.S. War Department thought it was pretty important in 1943 for U.S. Citizens to be able to spot fascism when they saw it. So they created this film to remind people not to be a sucker. Seems pertinent today.

We human beings are not born with prejudices. Always they are made for us. Made by someone who wants something. Remember that when you hear this kind of talk. Somebody is going to get something out of it. And it isn’t going to be you.

Don’t be a sucker.

Shibboleth

The messages I deliver during Tapestry’s Sunday morning gatherings are usually structured around one book of the Bible at a time. We don’t usually go topical, but it does happen every now and then. This morning I thought it was important to address acting like a follower of Christ in the midst of the results of Friday’s executive order affecting immigration/refugee. Loving our neighbor is supposed to be a shibboleth of the Christian church.

The audio from the introduction to this morning’s gathering is below. Please forgive two things: 1) the audio quality is poor because it is from the room mic, not my mic, and 2) I realized while I was reading from Judges 12:4-6 that I initially mispronounced “shibboleth” as “sibboleth” and decided on the fly that it would cause confusion with two words that sound very similar if I stopped and corrected myself mid-reading. Therefore, I continued the passage swapping “shibboleth” with “sibboleth” and vice versa.

Threads“, several of you asked “what can we do?” The answer is we’re working on that and we need your creativity. At present we are contacting UWSP to see about extending love to the international students and faculty at the university. You will hear more concerning this. We are also trying to contact some international communities in our area to also spread love. For now I encourage you to do two things: 1) Do as  Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us and be a good and loving neighbor – that’s why He ends it with saying “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), and 2) contact your senators and representative to let them know your thoughts as a follower of Christ concerning how we treat the foreigner. Your senators and rep if you live in the Point area are:

Senator Tammy Baldwin, 717 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, (202) 224-5653, Online Contact twitter

Senator Ron Johnson, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510 (202) 224-5323, Online Contact twitter

Representative Ron Kind, 1502 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (202) 225-5506 Online Contact twitter

No matter your politics, whether you are conservative, liberal, libertarian, or, like me, a mutt please get involved and let vales of followers of Christ be heard concerning the “strangers” in our midst and at our doors.

The Apostle’s Creed

This past Sunday I asked all the “threads” to consider praying the Apostle’s Creed during the day. Just in case you didn’t know where to look for it I thought I would post it here.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the church universal,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Gloriously Noisy

I am sitting in our den watching “The Dirty Dozen” (such a good movie) while Pam is doing some work for tomorrow and I am thinking about what a wonderful Sunday it was. A few weeks ago Erc G asked what I thought about one Sunday setting up various percussion instruments for the kids to play during the music at Tapestry. I told him that I thought it was a wonderful idea. So today he made sure there were various percussion instruments setup in the back of the room for our little ones to play as a part of our gathering today.

To quote Pam it wasn’t “‘children’s church’ or a special kids Sunday. Just letting little ones participate fully in the regular service with bongos, maracas, djembe, and cajon.” Yeah the beat was sometimes interesting. Yep it got a little noisy sometimes. There were more smiles during the singing than I have ever seen at a Tapestry gathering and that is saying something because smiles are VERY common at Tapestry gatherings. Our kids did a great job of helping us to declare the worth of our God. They weren’t a distraction. They were joy leaders.

It was a really good Sunday. I am very thankful for Eric and our smallest “threads”.

SIDE NOTE – 7 years ago today Jürgen and I became BFFs.

jurgenandme

Alton Sterling & the Imago Dei

So in the midst of a busy day I have been reading the thoughts of some of my friends from a city that I love and praying for Baton Rouge throughout the afternoon. I am just confused by the whole thing and I don’t have any answers. I would say that I know the One Who is the answer and I believe I do, but the problem is saying that just sounds trite and usually seems to shut down thoughts and actions that might lead to working towards justice for all, rather than doing what I believe Jesus actually does, which is be with us in the midst of our pain and push us to look for the actions that reflect the kingdom of God (Thy will be done on earth as in heaven).

So instead I sit here thinking what would I be doing right now if we still lived in Baton Rouge. Would my family and I be doing something gloriously stupid that might cost me the position I had at a overwhelmingly white church? Would I be asking my black friends how I could assist them in using the moment to push for greater justice for them and a society where African-American males don’t have to walk in fear just because of the color of their skin? Because, I fear for my friends who are young black men and what they often have to face. Would I be encouraging the BR police force to consider its actions and attitudes while also listening to the police men and women that I knew and hearing their fears? Because I fear for my friends who are peace officers and what they have to face. Would I be helping my friends and neighbors work toward a better society? Because need to continually be forming our country into a more perfect union.

I hope so but the reality is that I am just a transplanted Southern living in Wisconsin. I’m no longer down there so I don’t really know what I would be doing.

I do hope that I would be encouraging myself, my family and friends, and everyone else to purposefully be looking for the image of Christ in the people we would be talking and interacting with over the next weeks and months. Encouraging both sides to look with eyes hoping to discern the face of God in the others around us. Seeing Christ in someone changes the way I act. Noticing His image (the Imago Dei or Imago Christi) in someone else tends to shake me out of just living my own agenda and reminds me to act out the upside down kingdom of God –  a kingdom where the weak are strong and leaders serve instead of lording their power over people. My problem is that I often forget to remind myself to look for the Imago Christi in the people that I am having trouble or the people I am scared of. When I don’t see that image I tend to do really stupid things in the way I treat people.

I guess if I were in Baton Rouge I would be constantly reminding people at the church I served of the 25th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. I’ll paraphrase it how I believe the passage fits in the current situation.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the peoples will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was different from you and you treated Me fairly and didn’t let your fear control you, I was scared and you didn’t see My fear as a threat to you, I was a stranger and you invited Me in rather than wanting Me out of your area, I needed protection and your protected Me, I was culturally sick and you helped Me see past what the cultural was telling Me, I was imprisoned in a system that was destroying Me and you fought to break through that system and help Me be free.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see You different and treat You fairly, or scared and not see Your fear as a threat? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing protection and protect You? When did we see You culturally sick or imprisoned in a system and be a part of Your healing and escape?

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.”

Then He will say to those on his left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was different from you and you took advantage of Me because you saw My difference as a threat to you, I was scared and you saw My fear as a threat and sought to hurt Me, I was a stranger and chased Me away, I needed protection and you turned your back on Me, I was culturally sick and you thought you were better than Me, I was imprisoned in a system that was destroying Me and you just said it was all My own fault and doing.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you different or scared or a stranger or needing protect or culturally sick or imprisoned, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”

I hope that if I was still in Baton Rouge I would be helping people to act like sheep to one another because of seeing the Imago Christi rather than not seeing it and acting like goats. I hope I am doing this now in Wisconsin. It is the only answer I have right now.

Scott’s Post on Immigration

 

There are friends you make that stay with you for life. Scott Hicks is such a friend. We became friends in college, he was one of my roommates my Senior year, and he was kind of an usher at Pam and my wedding (I say kind of because he became violently sick at the wedding). He is also an immigration lawyer and a pastor. As a lawyer he has a great analytical mind. As a pastor he has a heart of compassion. It is a great combination for an immigration lawyer and especially for speaking reason into some of the madness going on concerning whether or not Syrian refugees should be allowed in the US.

Yesterday he wrote a brilliant Facebook post concerning the vetting process for refugees. Several of us friends have been chatting on Facebook the past two days (while FB has its negatives chats such as the one we have had are one of best things about FB) as his post has been swapped around (213,489 shares at the moment) and he has started to get some opportunities to speak truth and compassion as a result. Today a few weird things started happening with his post on Facebook. While we all generally think it is Facebook just coping with the mad rush for his post – Facebook doesn’t usually expect a guy 394 FB friends to have something shared this often – we also suspect someone may have been upset by what he said and flagged it as inappropriate. As a result we discussed that his post should be saved somewhere else. I asked about sharing it on my blog. Thankfully Scott said “yes”.

Here are my friend’s profound words.

Most of my friends know I practice Immigration law. As such, I have worked with the refugee community for over two decades. This post is long, but if you want actual information about the process, keep reading.

I can not tell you how frustrating it is to see the misinformation and outright lies that are being perpetuated about the refugee process and the Syrian refugees. So, here is a bit of information from the real world of someone who actually works and deals with this issue.

The refugee screening process is multi-layered and is very difficult to get through. Most people languish in temporary camps for months to years while their story is evaluated and checked.

First, you do not get to choose what country you might be resettled into. If you already have family (legal) in a country, that makes it more likely that you will go there to be with family, but other than that it is random. So, you can not simply walk into a refugee camp, show a document, and say, I want to go to America. Instead, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) works with the local authorities to try to take care of basic needs. Once the person/family is registered to receive basic necessities, they can be processed for resettlement. Many people are not interested in resettlement as they hope to return to their country and are hoping that the turmoil they fled will be resolved soon. In fact, most refugees in refugee events never resettle to a third country. Those that do want to resettle have to go through an extensive process.

Resettlement in the U.S. is a long process and takes many steps. The Refugee Admissions Program is jointly administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within DHS conducts refugee interviews and determines individual eligibility for refugee status in the United States.

We evaluate refugees on a tiered system with three levels of priority.

First Priority are people who have suffered compelling persecution or for whom no other durable solution exists. These individuals are referred to the United States by UNHCR, or they are identified by the U.S. embassy or a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Second priority are groups of “special concern” to the United States. The Department of State determines these groups, with input from USCIS, UNHCR, and designated NGOs. At present, we prioritize certain persons from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Iran, Burma, and Bhutan.

Third priority are relatives of refugees (parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21) who are already settled in the United States may be admitted as refugees. The U.S.-based relative must file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) and must be processed by DHS.

Before being allowed to come to the United States, each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). Individuals generally must not already be firmly resettled (a legal term of art that would be a separate article). Just because one falls into the three priorities above does not guarantee admission to the United States.

The Immigration laws require that the individuals prove that they have a “well-founded fear,” (another legal term which would be a book.) This fear must be proved regardless of the person’s country, circumstance, or classification in a priority category. There are multiple interviews and people are challenged on discrepancies. I had a client who was not telling the truth on her age and the agency challenged her on it. Refugees are not simply admitted because they have a well founded fear. They still must show that they are not subject to exclusion under Section 212(a) of the INA. These grounds include serious health matters, moral or criminal matters, as well as security issues. In addition, they can be excluded for such things as polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, or previous deportations. Under some circumstances, the person may be eligible to have the ground waived.

At this point, a refugee can be conditionally accepted for resettlement. Then, the RSC sends a request for assurance of placement to the United States, and the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) works with private voluntary agencies (VOLAG) to determine where the refugee will live. If the refugee does have family in the U.S., efforts will be made to resettle close to that family.

Every person accepted as a refugee for planned admission to the United States is conditional upon passing a medical examination and passing all security checks. Frankly, there is more screening of refugees than ever happens to get on an airplane. Of course, yes, no system can be 100% foolproof. But if that is your standard, then you better shut down the entire airline industry, close the borders, and stop all international commerce and shipping. Every one of those has been the source of entry of people and are much easier ways to gain access to the U.S. Only upon passing all of these checks (which involve basically every agency of the government involved in terrorist identification) can the person actually be approved to travel.

Before departing, refugees sign a promissory note to repay the United States for their travel costs. This travel loan is an interest-free loan that refugees begin to pay back six months after arriving in the country.

Once the VOLAG is notified of the travel plans, it must arrange for the reception of refugees at the airport and transportation to their housing at their final destination.
This process from start to finish averages 18 to 24 months, but I have seen it take years.

The reality is that about half of the refugees are children, another quarter are elderly. Almost all of the adults are either moms or couples coming with children. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the proposed ceiling is 85,000. We have been averaging about 70,000 a year for the last number of years. (Source: Refugee Processing Center)

Over one-third of all refugee arrivals (35.1 percent, or 24,579) in FY 2015 came from the Near East/South Asia—a region that includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan.
Another third of all refugee arrivals (32.1 percent, or 22,472) in FY 2015 came from Africa.
Over a quarter of all refugee arrivals (26.4 percent, or 18,469) in FY 2015 came from East Asia — a region that includes China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. (Source: Refugee Processing Center)

Finally, the process in Europe is different. I would be much more concerned that terrorists are infiltrating the European system because they are not nearly so extensive and thorough in their process.

One Church Liturgy

This morning Tapestry joined around a thousand other churches across the U.S. in a joint responsive reading to declare we stand with our brothers and sisters in Charleston and look to our Lord for comfort and strength. I thought the liturgy was very meaningful and moving.  Therefore, I asked one of the authors of the One Church Liturgy (thanks Leroy Barber) if I could post reading to my blog to share with any thread who couldn’t be at Washington Elementary School this morning.

A CALL TO WORSHIP FOR THE TRAGEDY IN CHARLESTON

[Leader]
We stand before you today, oh Lord
Hearts broken, eyes weeping, heads spinning
Our brothers and sisters have died
They gathered and prayed and then were no more
The prayer soaked walls of the church are spattered with blood
The enemy at the table turned on them in violence
While they were turning to you in prayer

[All]
We stand with our sisters
We stand with our brothers
We stand with their families
We stand to bear their burden in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We cry out to you, oh Lord
Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, heads spinning
The violence in our streets has come into your house
The hatred in our cities has crept into your sanctuary
The brokenness in our lives has broken into your temple
The dividing wall of hostility has crushed our brothers and sisters
We cry out to you, May your Kingdom come, may it be on earth as it is in heaven

[All]
We cry out for our sisters
We cry out for our brothers
We cry out for their families
We cry out for peace in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We pray to you today, oh Lord
Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, souls stirring
We pray for our enemies, we pray for those who persecute us
We pray to the God of all Comfort to comfort our brothers and sisters in their mourning
We pray that you would bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes
We pray that you would give them the oil of joy instead of mourning
We pray that you would give them a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair

[All]
We pray for our sisters
We pray for our brothers
We pray for their families
We pray for their comfort in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We declare together, oh Lord
With hearts breaking, eyes weeping and souls stirring
We will continue to stand and cry and weep with our brothers and sisters
We will continue to make a place of peace for even the enemies at our table
We will continue to open our doors and our hearts to those who enter them
We will continue to seek to forgive as we have been forgiven
We will continue to love in Jesus’ name because you taught us that love conquers all

[All]
We declare our love for you, our Sisters
We declare our love for you, our Brothers
We declare our love for you, their families
We declare our love as one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism
We declare they do not grieve alone today

Amen

The Church & Ebola

BzrmriFIgAEnbT-I posted the above cartoon on my Facebook profile earlier today and it has lead to some interesting discussion.  I actually posted the comic because I was considering this post and looking through some various images on Google that I was considering linking to from within the post. You see, I have been struggling with how I feel much of the Western church has been responding to the Ebola epidemic. This is just my opinion and I have no data to support it, but my online twitter and Facebook feeds (I can’t say this is true of my Google+ feed) seem to be full of people responding in fear to the crisis rather than in the hope that comes from the good news of Jesus.

I understand this fear. People want to keep their loved ones safe. If keeping those loved ones safe means not responding to someone else in need by either going to them with help or responding to them in hospitality (by which many have entertained angels without knowing it) within our own country, well that stinks, but you do what you have to do to keep your loved ones safe. I understand this type of fear. After all, I believe part of my duty as a spouse and parent is to keep my family safe.

Unfortunately that type of fear isn’t very Christian.  Jesus didn’t come that we might receive a spirit of fear, which keeps us from responding to crisis, but a spirit of power, love, and disciple, which causes us to respond to crisis. In the 25th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew the King (i.e. God) separates the faithful from the unfaithful based on whether or not they have responded to Him in certain circumstances.

The King says:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“I was sick and you looked after me.” Whoa now! That could be risky. Of course, if you and I really believe that Jesus defeated death and therefore death no longer has anything for you and I to fear, then a little old disease shouldn’t stop us from taking care of our Lord in any of His most distressing disguises. There’s no need to fear something that no longer has a stinger. A stingerless disease can’t really have a major affect on us.

Christians are usually at our best when responding to the most need. Such as the Antonine plague of the Roman Empire.

This is why the Christian church has a history of running into disease devastated cities to be with and take care of the sick. There are records of Christians responding to plagues as early as the Antonine Plague of 165–180 AD. Christians ran into towns that everyone else was fleeing because they believed they had nothing to fear from the death the plague might cause, but tons to fear from not ministering to Jesus when He was sick. The church that follows the Christ Who defeated death has nothing to fear from death and we ought to act like it.

So what does this mean for those of us who are followers of Christ? Well it means we need to respond to our fears of the present disease (and future ones too) as we would to Jesus. Most of the Christians I know wouldn’t hesitate to do something if they knew it involved Jesus. If they saw Jesus sick they would stop and help. The problem is we often simply don’t see Jesus where we should. For example, in West Africa right now. If we Christians saw Jesus right now in West Africa we would do everything we could to make sure He was ok.

Using me as a couch is probably why Jesus doesn’t like you.

Well Jesus is in West Africa RIGHT NOW and we need to realize it and get to work taking care of Him.  We need to do everything we can to send over all the aide and help we can manage (and maybe even more than we can manage) and we need to respond in hospitality to those that need to come over to the States. Will this open us up to risks? Yep, it sure will. It might not make for good foreign policy but it does make for true Christianity.

After all the King of the 25th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew had an entirely different response for those who didn’t take care of Him when He was sick.  I’m not sure about you but that is one response that I don’t want to hear.

 

What Peterson Would Say To Seminary Students

A friend of mine linked to this long quote from Eugene Peterson concerning what he would say to new seminary students desiring to be a pastor:

“I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.

“The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.”

Oh how I love Eugene Peterson.

ht  Geroge Mason / lucidtheology / Jonathan Merritt