The Better Question

Hi friends. This is going to be raw, but I pray will be helpful. And that it bring us closer to reconciliation towards God and towards each other.

These are hard, painful days on many fronts. I don’t need to walk you through photos of refugee children washing up on shore or African Americans being shot by police. We’ve all seen them. And most of you reading this blog, my dear friends, get to decide what to think about this or, further still, if you will think about this.

This won’t be an argument for the reality of the pain that the black community feels right now and has felt for generations (though that needs to be talked about. coffee is on me. let’s chat.) Or the grief this brings to many police officers. This won’t be a political plea to open our borders to refugees. Or a statistical appeal to the safety of bringing them in.

I have a bigger question today. A more foundational question. A better question. 

Rather than circling up around our opinions, let’s start asking “Who is my neighbor?”

And then start moving towards them with all the tenderness and care that you would treat Jesus with if He was suffering one neighborhood over from you.

How do we that? I’m so glad you asked. This is not exhaustive, but I have a few thoughts.

Seek to understand.

When I first started in cross-cultural ministry, someone told me “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood”. And that has served me well for years now.

Assume that you have biases and ignorance. Assume that you have much to learn. Assume that you do not have the full picture. Be genuinely curious about the perspective of someone from the other side of the table.

If you don’t know anyone from the other side of the table, follow blogs and podcasts and twitter feeds. As you do, compassion (sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others) will grow and undeniably lead you to empathy (the capacity to place oneself in another’s position).

Show hospitality.

I picked “hospitality” as my focus word this year. I assumed I would learn a few things about cooking, maybe buy a bigger table, set aside some extra time and money to share meals with others. And then I started studying.

In the New Testament, the word hospitality actually means “love of strangers”. The same kind of love that you would love your family with. Now things get interesting. Martha Stewart suddenly has no bearing on the conversation at all and it gets a little more uncomfortable. This tells me that I am not off the hook after I invite my friends and family over for a meal. It also tells me that it’s not an event to be checked off the list, it’s a lifestyle of sacrificial love.

This love of strangers or outsiders (typically categorized as immigrants, widows, orphans and the poor) is a common thread woven throughout the Old and New Testament (Isaiah 58, Romans 13). What is He telling us about His character here? That He is a God who goes outside the gate for people who have nothing to give. He is a God that must go through Samaria. He is a God that invites enemies into His family and has the audacity to adopt them as sons and daughters.

This spring, I was with my friends who are missionaries to refugees in Chicago and we walked into a home and an impossibly small and aged grandmother was sitting in the corner–obviously blind, mostly deaf and very frail. And sadly, completely unnoticed by me. Not so with Clark and Elaine (names changed). They walked directly to her and sat with her, sang to her and prayed with her as our hosts patiently waited. Clark turned to me and said something to this effect and I hope to never forget it, “Liza, always go to the smallest person in the room. It’s what Jesus would want.”

Hospitality practiced in a Biblical sense matters so much to God because it a direct reflection of the gospel. I don’t believe it’s just for a few believers with a calling, I truly believe its for everyone who follows Jesus. We are to be taking care of the vulnerable–those that don’t have natural, societal provisions for thriving. And be so very intentional about putting the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior.

This preaches so amen-y, but friends, it lives hard. If you are going to adjust your actual lifestyle and go out of your way to be hospitable it will end up turning some, if not all, of your life upside down. You will invite misunderstanding on both sides. You will be interrupted, taken advantage of, made uncomfortable. These kinds of relationships are messy and refuse to serve our ideals for efficiency.

The other thing, and maybe the hardest thing. This whole empathy idea. Where you sit with them long enough to crawl under the burden. And then, before you know it, you can’t turn your head, or change the channel or be completely ok again until your neighbor is ok. A quote from a black brother – “I need people who don’t feel my pain to believe me when I say it hurts.” It is possible start to believe it in your bones even though you don’t directly feel it.

This is obviously painful, but isn’t it a better Biblical narrative than apathy, ignorance or arms crossed? If the brokenness of the world hasn’t affected you, may I softly and tenderly suggest that as a follower of Jesus, it probably should.

Yes, but how?

Ok, so most of us will not move to a refugee camp or live in an urban setting or open an orphanage in Thailand (but don’t rule those options out!) But I promise you can start closer to home.

Recently, I was with a friend on a business trip in Dallas. In the lobby of the hotel, the pizza delivery youth didn’t seem to care too much that his pants were around his knees, but he did care deeply and loudly that his pepsi was stuck in the vending machine. So easy to move past and be annoyed, right? Not my friend Sara. She moved towards him, expressed sympathy and then said, “Wait. Do you like RedBull? Yes? Ok, stay right here.” And she ran to her room and grabbed a 4-pack of RedBull, handed it to him and warmly wished him a good day. Pizza Delivery Guy was her neighbor for that moment.

We can do this too. We can stop for the people that no one else stops for. We can be free to love them with arms wide open. We can  go out of our way to be in their lane at the grocery store. We can intentionally get to know our immigrant neighbor. We can buy an extra coffee and stop next to that homeless man that we drive by everyday and get to know him. We can sit next to the mentally handicapped person at our next party.

One more story. This last weekend I attended an informative meeting about refugee youth. It was a faith-based organization specifically talking about meeting the needs of hundreds of youth refugees that have been separated from their parents. We heard heart-breaking stories and statistics. But I left so encouraged. Because it felt like the Church rallying around and saying, “We’ll do it! We’ll take them in. We’ll find good schools, and make cupcakes for birthdays, and help them learn English and walk with them through horrific memories and introduce them to the Healer. Send them to us! We’ll make room!”

That’s my dream and constant prayer. That we, as the Church, would be compassionate and courageous. That we would be sad, but not afraid. That we would spend more time asking who our neighbor is and less time ensuring our own comfort.

I’ve gone on much too long. I’ll just end by saying that I’m praying we lay down our rights and opinions and instead, are blessed with a burden.

Comments

  1. James

    With the culture of the church in America needing to be changed to better reflect the heart and passion of Jesus, thanks for asking the “better question.” It’s possible we will never experience the spiritual awakening for which we are praying until we truly begin to love God and the neighbors whom He has given us. Thanks, Liza!

  2. Pingback: 4 ways to move toward loving your cross-cultural neighbor

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