Monthly Archives: July 2014

It’s time to stop the war.

The only holy war that can surely be won is the one with ourselves – the fight against our own sins and evils that threaten to cut us off from God’s grace. While it is not wrong to fight a battle in defense of life, liberty and justice, it is another thing to wage war against even your most hardened enemies without regard for their own rights and aspirations.

It is deeply saddening to wake each morning to headlines about death and destruction throughout the Middle East. Israel has every right to defend itself against those who seek its destruction. There is no excuse for the refusal of groups like the Hamas to even accept Israel’s right to exist and for the barrage of rockets into the Jewish state that has been going on for years – even before the recent escalation.

At the same time, the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians is a terrible tragedy that must end. It must not be downplayed as simply a casualty of war, when hospitals and schools and mosques are destroyed and innocent lives lost in order to root out the evils that may be hiding among them. The cost to humanity is immense and it actually undermines the hope for sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Violence and extremism goes against the core of religious principles, whether Jewish, Islamic or Christian, which call for prudence, temperance and justice as among the key virtues. And while the courage to stand and fight for these principles is equally important when life itself is at risk, our actions must always be thoughtful, measured and just.

When King David fought wars for the rights of his people, he was reminded by the Lord that we are all accountable for our actions:

“You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.”

Chronicles 22:8

Just before the beginning of the ongoing war in Gaza, Pope Francis tweeted: “With God, nothing is lost; but without him, everything is lost.” We should all be reminded that only our personal battle to find God is worth fighting (with ourselves) and keeping His virtues in our hearts the only measure of success. We must demand that our neighbors accept us for who we are, but everything is indeed lost if we unleash frustration and anger by waging war on our brothers and lose our moral foundation in the process. It’s time to stop that senseless battle.

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Pride and Patience: the Spoils of Victory

If God likes the game of soccer, then he would probably be pleased with Team Germany. That isn’t to say he would be picking sides in the World Cup, of course. How could he? After all, Pope Francis and more than 90% of all Argentinians have a long tradition anchored in the Catholic faith. But there is a lot about the team spirit in Germany to be proud of today.

As Pope Francis tweeted this weekend:

Pope Tweets on the World Cup.

Far different from the battlefields of war, ethnic tension and interfaith conflict, soccer fans from around the globe come together in events like the World Cup to put differences behind themselves and engage each other in a friendly and sporting environment.

Since World War II, Germany has risen to the challenge and taken the World Cup four times. On the current occasion and faced with the daunting task of defeating Brazil in the semi-finals, Germany did so with confidence and humility. In the routing the Cup’s host country 7:1, Team Germany went out of it’s way to show grace toward Brazil both in the media and on the playing field. Now that it has won the championship by defeating Argentina 1:0, Germany has earned the right to be proud of it’s accomplishment. The spirit of the World Cup would be best served if that national pride is now used to further encourage the values of fairness, inclusion and sportsmanlike behavior in all walks of life.

By denouncing racism, supporting gay athletes to live openly and fighting corruption at all levels in the sporting business, Germany can be a leader with impact that goes far beyond the world of soccer. Step by step it can, in short, prove that true victory is not measured by the spoils of war, but by the progress achieved in a long fought battle.

Applied to the “real world”, challenges abound. With a unique historical perspective and sense for moderation, Germany can use its strength and power of example to help resolve ethnic and sectarian conflicts, humanitarian refugee crises, income inequality and the struggle between security and personal freedom. Admired around the world, it is time for Germany look beyond the national pride of the moment and to build and advance its reputation as a reliable force for real progress on the world stage.

Both Germany and Argentina can take heart in the aspirational words found in Ecclesiastes:

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

For Argentina, who itself is no stranger to World Cup finals, both team and country can look back at a hard fought and successful competition, which could have ended a lot earlier if it didn’t have the faith and the will to succeed. In Sports like in life, there is consolation that the next opportunity to prove your faith is just around the corner.

Sheep vs. Goats

Screenshot 2014-07-09 11.32.36 Source: UNHCR

If Christian life is full of hardship, whose suffering is worse: the fate of a lost and hungry child or that of the family “forced” to take the child in? Wasn’t it also the fate of Jesus to wander in search of those who are loving and faithful – not only to the Son of God, but also to each other.

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.

Matthew 25:35

The United States prides itself as an exceptional nation and a beacon for the poor and downtrodden. Conservatives across the country are quick to declare their moral views and family values. When faced with the current refugee crisis on the southern border, however, these good shepherds look more like the euphemistic goat.

Americans outraged by the inflows of children and their mothers from Central America should consider this – you are not alone. Just this year more that 68,000 refugees from Africa crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, slightly higher than the number of “illegals” entering the US during the same time frame – and the European refugees were mostly adults, not children. In fact, the most recent UNHCR data shows that many other countries are shouldering a much larger burden than the United States. The number of refugees to the US pales by comparison with Europe for example. At only a quarter of the size of the United States, Germany took in 600,000 refugees in 2010 compared with less than 300.000 refugees to the US.

While the humanitarian refugee crisis is also hotly debated in Europe, it’s mostly a debate about an acceptable level of care for refugees and their equitable distribution within the EU while giving the refugees due process to plead their case. In the US, on the other hand, the debate centers around how to beef up border security and “protect the homeland” against “illegals.” Shutting their eyes to the real source of the humanitarian crisis in Central America, unchristian-like protesters prefer to blame President Obama and block busses of immigrants from entering their communities. Ironically, the more generous European policies are arguably the result of enlightened post WWII politics which were shaped at least in part by the United States.

The reality is that the United States AND Europe ARE beacons of hope for many around the world. Increasing numbers of refugees are not the result of failed border controls, but a symptom of the growing income inequality in parts of the world that Pope Francis discussed with President Obama during their visit in March. Clearly the United States and Europe cannot integrate all of the world’s suffering people into their countries – and yes they have many of their own problems to solve. Unless Americans wake up to the true reality and invest more time and energy in the political and economic development of their neighbor states (instead of fighting long distance wars), the refugee crisis will continue.

In the meantime it would be a welcome change of tone if more Americans would demonstrate a little more patience and Christian-like compassion while working with the President on meaningful long-term immigration reform. Progressive or conservative, most Americans should be able to find common ground. I pray that Washington just gets it done.

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

Refugees in EU