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The Lord Will Provide

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Blessed be the Lord,
for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
O save your people, and bless your heritage;
be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

-Psalm 28:6-9

Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems to be going wrong? That happened to me recently. Everything – I mean everything – seemed to be going off the rails, but God carried me through so spectacularly that I want to share with as many people as possible.

It started on a Monday. I had just come back from a gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship and I was due to give a pretty substantial presentation on Wednesday. I had budgeted time to put together the last few slides, but trouble began to brew when I was asked to help out with a research project. Of course, I agreed – I had two full days to finish the presentation, after all. But then, the research project became a bigger research assignment and a drafting assignment. As the day wore on, I could feel my anxiety building, but a voice in my heart said, The Lord will provide.

By the time I finished dealing with that assignment, it was Tuesday evening at 9. Still plenty of time. I opened up PowerPoint to finalize the presentation and … got a message from my husband. He was sick and needed me to come home. I felt a flash of panic – when would I be able to finish? -but, again, a voice in my heart said, The Lord will provide.

I stopped by the pharmacy for medicine and ginger ale for my husband and hopped on the train. Thankfully, the ride was smooth, and I was able to review my presentation notes and make a little progress. I arrived home at around 10, gave my husband the supplies I had bought, walked the dog, cleaned the kitchen and went upstairs with my laptop. I settled into an armchair, took a sip of water, opened up PowerPoint and … heard my son start to cry from the other room. An alarm sounded in the back of my mind when I saw it was 11:39, but the voice in my heart said, again, The Lord will provide.

After two hours, my baby finally went back to sleep, and I realized I needed to do the same if I had any hope of giving a coherent presentation the following day. I would go in early and finish in the morning.

I left home to head into the office bright and early … and had to make a stop to deal with my own upset stomach. It turned out I had gotten sick too. I was forced to make another stop at the pharmacy, and when I finally arrived at the office – chewing on Pepto-Bismol and well after the early hour I had planned to come in – I realized that in my frenzy over the content of the presentation, I had completely forgotten about the logistics. As I arranged for printing and flash drives and all the other details of giving a presentation, I started to get deeply concerned about the fact that I still hadn’t finished the last slides – and the presentation would be in just a few hours. But again, the voice in my heart said, The Lord will provide.

I finished the presentation and was able to meet with my co-presenter more or less on time so that we could travel to the office where we were presenting. Can I tell you that the presentation was probably the best I have given? Somehow, people were engaged and not-miserable despite the fact they had to spend over an hour hearing about compliance obligations. Can I tell you that it went so well that I got a positive note in my personnel file about it, which, to my knowledge, has never happened before in my life? The Lord provided, and he did so abundantly!

Readers, I was trying hard to do my best and to be my best – as an attorney, as a wife, as a mother. But it felt, as it sometimes does, that life itself was conspiring to undermine me. From little inconveniences to conflicting priorities to family obligations to unexpected health problems, it is so easy to be derailed. But sometimes, the Lord will use those problems to make a point to you, as he did to me, that bad things happen but that God is still Lord over heaven and earth. He knows what you need, and he will provide it. Trust in him for sustenance, and you will be sustained. It won’t always look like the sustenance I received, for which “miraculous” is not too strong a word. But God will take care of those who sincerely seek his kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus said it, I believe it and you can too:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

-Matthew 6:25-34

 

 

Undocumented Immigrants and Making America Great Again

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You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

– Exodus 23: 6 – 9

We have had several surprises in the weeks since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States: former National Security Adviser  Michael Flynn’s discussions of sanctions with Russian officials, the White House’s unprecedented hostility toward the press and the remarkable combination of wealth, political pull and inexperience of the president’s cabinet picks are not least among them. But if there is one element of administration’s policy that is not unexpected, it is the approach to immigration. We may not have anticipated the presence of White nationalist apologist Steve Bannon on the National Security Council, but even as a candidate, Donald Trump announced promises to implement a Muslim ban and mass deportations, promises that he seems to be doing his best to keep.

In the midst of the firestorm that continues to surround the implementation of President Trump’s immigration policies, an odd trend has surfaced on social media. Several of my friends and acquaintances, harsh critics of the Trump administration in general, and the president’s aggressive approach to immigration in particular, have posted articles asking rhetorically whether supporters of widespread deportations intend to engage in the challenging, poorly paid work  undocumented workers so often perform. Their favorite example seems to be the agricultural labor on which our supply of fruits and vegetables depends. The argument seems to be that farm labor is so physically demanding, low-status and ill-paid that very few Americans are willing to do it. If this is true, and empirical evidence suggests that it is, then why do I find it odd, even disturbing, that this should be a key objection to President Trump’s immigration policy? Because basically what these decent, thoughtful people whom I love and respect are saying is that we should permit an underclass of underpaid, unprotected, exploitable labor to remain in the country to do challenging jobs at wages neither we nor our compatriots would tolerate. This reasoning – that we should not deport people who entered the country illegally so that we can exploit their labor for cheap fruits and vegetables – is both unfair and un-Christian.

It is unfair because having a labor force that is unable to protect its legal rights and standard of living due to fear of deportation likely  exerts downward pressure on both wages and working conditions in the agricultural, construction, caregiving and hospitality sectors where undocumented labor is common, even for legal workers. A person working legally is going to think twice about starting a union or filing a complaint about unsafe work conditions if he knows that his boss could find ten people to do his job without complaint, and at half the price. While no individual undocumented worker is at fault for the problem, it seems clear that having a large amount of undocumented labor distorts the labor market in ways that cause the greatest harm to our most vulnerable workers, who either compete with undocumented workers for employment or have jobs that are only slightly better paid.  It is simply wrong that the person working legally, whether native-born or a legal resident, should be denied the opportunity for a decent living just because an undocumented person is willing to work in indecent (by American standards) conditions for indecently low wages.

This reasoning is also un-Christian. Based on the Bible and historical sources, it is clear that when some are in need, Christians should share out of their abundance to fill the gap . If we need to pay more for the produce we feed our families so that those who plant and harvest can afford to feed theirs, it seems clear that this is the right thing to do. In a country that wastes an obscene amount of food each year – my dog once found a half-rack of ribs, still in its Styrofoam to-go box, abandoned on the sidewalk of our working-class Jersey City neighborhood – higher food and other costs may lead to more responsible stewardship of our resources, especially since the rise in cost is likely to be modest and diffused while wages may well go up sharply for the small group of people at the very bottom of the income distribution. I am not an economist, so I don’t know the relative size of the effects of rising costs and rising wages, nor do I know whether higher costs would primarily impact consumer prices or corporate profits. What I do know is that any economic system that depends on the exploitation of an entire class of people is contrary to God’s will. Period.

Lest there be any doubt, I do not believe that rounding up undocumented people and shipping them to homelands they may not have seen in years is how we will “make America great again.” True greatness, the greatness of the kingdom of heaven, would look like treating all residents and citizens with fairness and dignity, a goal that demands an approach to immigration that respects the needs of individuals, families and communities, while according with norms of fairness and basic decency. This is a greatness that America has never had, but our peculiar genius is that we are always reaching for it. Neither “let them all in” nor “round them all up” will get us where we need to go as a nation, and any Christian argument for undocumented workers needs to start from the reality that they are image-bearers of God rather than a cheap source of labor. Let’s keep reaching for the kingdom of heaven, with God’s help and with compassion for our fellows, keeping in mind that difficult questions won’t have easy answers.

Why Conviction Matters

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I was recently privileged to deliver a version of the below remarks at the first New York Yearly Meeting Quaker Exploration and Discourse (QuED) Day. QuED is a day of talks, fellowship and discussion taking place once a month aimed at connecting young adult Friends with Friends of diverse experiences from around the yearly meeting. You can watch the morning’s talks, including Q+A, here

Objectivity has had a bad run recently. University professors are being criticized for encouraging debate rather than comforting their students. Great Britain is exiting the EU based largely on a campaign of xenophobic fear-mongering. Our recent presidential election was marked by lies, half-truths and exaggerations which, even when debunked, had no discernible negative impact on those spreading them. Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year was “post-truth,” an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In this environment, it is important to stand for facts, accuracy and fairness and against the swell of emotion that can blind us even as it binds us together.

So why, in the age of ISIS fundamentalists, of the alt-right, of truthiness and post-truth, do I believe conviction is essential? Isn’t skepticism humbler and ultimately wiser?

The world is shaped by those with conviction. Conviction spurs us to action and helps us stay the course. Skepticism feels sophisticated, but is often merely cynical, an excuse we use when we don’t want to spend the time and energy reflecting on our own beliefs or when we are uncomfortable following them to their logical conclusions. Skepticism and uncertainty breed hesitation: if you aren’t sure of which way to go, you’ll usually wind up standing still. By contrast, when you spend the time to understand yourself and your beliefs, you are unleashed to act and act boldly upon those beliefs.

As Friends, we rightly affirm that Truth may be found in a variety of people, places, and ideologies, including very unexpected ones. This may lead us to believe, or act as though we believe, that no belief system is more right or wrong than any other. I encourage you to challenge that belief and truly engage in the act of exploring different belief systems. Be open to one that makes sense for you. There is no virtue in being either ignorant or undecided. Being tolerant is admirable; being tentative is not. Being open to changing your beliefs is laudable; being unable to articulate or stand up for them is not.  Of course, great harm can be done by people with wrong-headed convictions, but that should not deter you. Great harm can be done with a knife, but in the hand of a skilled surgeon, it is a life-saving instrument. Conviction is just the same. When it issues from our own thoughts and our own will, it can lead to ruin. When it is the result of a life-changing encounter with God himself, conviction can power us to acts of healing, courage and sacrifice, all infused with the joy of righteousness.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., put himself and his family in mortal danger to be a leader in the struggle for civil rights, he didn’t act out of an abstract belief in equality or even out of a personal desire to have his rights recognized. He acted out of the conviction that, as a Christian minister, God was calling him to raise a prophetic voice against an unjust system. When John Woolman labored with slaveholding Friends to show them the error of their ways, and putting himself to considerable hardship in the process, he didn’t do so out of a philosophical opinion, but out of the conviction that owning slaves was inconsistent with the Christian faith, and that God was calling him to do something about it. Conviction changes things.

There are all kinds of worthwhile things we can do with our time and energy: teaching First Day school; volunteering at an animal shelter; exercising; composing music or poetry. These activities are important and valuable. But if we aren’t acting out of a sense of calling, out of our convictions about God and his nature, about the world and our place in it, we will abandon all of these activities and more when challenges come our way and our time or energy is at a premium.

Right now, we are witnessing a turning point in history. Many of the shared assumptions and understandings built up since World War II – a constantly increasing standard of living, the steady march toward world peace and democracy, and faith in our ability to work together to solve complex problems for the public good – are dissolving before our eyes. The notion that progress is inevitable or assured is being daily proven false. There is a real chance that a day will come when we see things happening in America that would have been unimaginable ten years ago, things that demand that we either embody or abandon the  principles we claim to hold dear. When that day comes, just repeating the SPICE testimonies is not going to be enough to keep us standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters among the poor, alien and outcast. We will not stand with them through dangerous times unless it is clear to us that we do not have the option of abandoning them, that something or someone larger and deeper than ourselves demands that we stand with them.

For me, that larger someone is Jesus Christ. Like George Fox, I have encountered the Spirit of Christ that leads into new life, and like William Penn, I have discovered that Christ’s way to Christ’s crown is through Christ’s cross. My prayer is that this knowledge will prepare my mind to suffer for the Truth even as the Holy Spirit prepares my heart. The Body of Christ has always been at its finest when true believers, such as the early Friends, were persecuted for the sake of the Gospel. But this is something that each of us needs to work out, really work out, for ourselves.

If your foundation isn’t Christ, what is it? What is the Truth that you will plant your feet in when every bone in your body screams for self-preservation? What is the conviction that will ground you when it’s time to put up or shut up? What is the Reality that will fuel your stand for integrity, for compassion, for a life of sacrifice in the face of evil? To say it a different way, what canst thou say? If you don’t know, now is the time to find out. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.

Complacency and Self-Delusion

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I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

-Revelation 3:15-22

Let Earth Receive Her King

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The electors have cast their ballots. The long-shot “anyone but Trump” campaign has met its end. Barring catastrophe, Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States of America. As he steps into that role, he will have at his fingertips the largest and most powerful military arsenal in the history of the world. He will have at his disposal an intelligence network that can penetrate ever more deeply into the private lives of individuals domestically and abroad. He will have decades of relationships with the wealthy and powerful the world over, relationships that are unlikely to substantially change simply because Mr. Trump is moving his primary office to Pennsylvania Avenue. With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the power to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, and two-thirds of state governorships in Republican hands, Mr. Trump will likely face the weakest opposition in modern history. Between the political dynamics currently in force and the power of the executive branch at a peak due to policies pioneered by President Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and expanded by President Obama, Mr. Trump may well be the most powerful president in history, a fact likely to be exhilarating or disturbing depending on your perspective.

But Mr. Trump can bring neither salvation nor judgment to the earth.

Oh, he can kill. He can destroy. He can oppress. He can divide. I don’t want to minimize the very real suffering that many will face if Mr. Trump governs – or reigns, to use his word – as he campaigned, with pettiness, brutishness and the ever-present threat of violence. Open corruption, political persecution and racist aggression are very real possibilities, and indeed are already taking place.

But as the time the world calls Christmas nears, I want to encourage you to look past Mr. Trump’s displays of power to the Power on which all of creation relies. Look beyond Mr. Trump’s pussy-grabbing ways to the Savior born of a woman to restore all of creation. Look beyond Mr. Trump’s mockery of the disabled to the Healer who came to make all whole. Look beyond Mr. Trump’s scorn for the “losers” of the world to the Victor who triumphed over death itself and only shares that triumph with those who are willing to become like little children – teachable, innocent, dependent.

The potential for violence, for chaos, for the crumbling of American hegemony and the bitter end of our great experiment is very real – but God is still more real. The powers of earthly government can kill the body, but there is One who has the power of salvation or destruction over body and soul. So rather than simply lamenting the risks to life and freedom that so many around the country and the world face, let us join with Mary in singing praise to God  for his grace in sending us a life-giving liberator – and then let us wait on the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live into that holy life and sacred liberty year-round.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

-Luke 1:46b-55

The Christian’s Ultimate Allegiance

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I, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to you who are in America, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…

I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an unChristian world. That is what I had to do. That is what every Christian has to do. But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different. Their great concern is to be accepted socially. They live by some such principle as this: “everybody is doing it, so it must be alright.” For so many of you Morality is merely group consensus. In your modern sociological lingo, the mores are accepted as the right ways. You have unconsciously come to believe that right is discovered by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion. How many are giving their ultimate allegiance to this way.

But American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Or, as I said to the Phillippian Christians, “Ye are a colony of heaven.” This means that although you live in the colony of time, your ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity. You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God’s will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.

-Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul’s Letter to American Christians

Neighboring as an Act of Resistance

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Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

– Luke 10:25-37

One of the most fiendish aspects of the Babylon mindset is that, even as we live in an age of unparalleled material comfort and security, we are maintained in a near-constant state of fear and anxiety.

This serves the interests of political parties and corporations very well, of course. The easiest way to get your vote is to, first, convince you that you and your family are in imminent danger and, second, to convince you that the only way to find safety is to vote for this or that party. The easiest way to sell you something is to create in you a sense of desire or inadequacy, then convince you that my product or, better still, my brand can help you reach that desire or soothe that sense of inadequacy. The easiest way to turn an employee into a virtual slave is to convince him that if he loses his employment with the company, he will lose everything he has.

These pressures – on our identity as voters, consumers, workers – and the sense of fear and hurry they create can make it very difficult to connect in any meaningful way with those around us. For one thing, it is hard to find the time, as we rush between work and the supermarket and the children’s lessons and the myriad other engagements that fill our days. For another, we may be afraid to reach out, perhaps because our neighbors are of a different race or class or political party. Perhaps we worry about gossip and intrusion or even theft. Like the priest and the Levite, we are more concerned with our own purity, our own pride, our own comfort, than with loving those around us.

However, our inability to engage our neighbors only feeds into a cycle of “contact without fellowship” and the potential for suspicion and even hatred that such contact engenders. Our neighbors become the villains in a drama half-concealed, known only by their barking dog or loud arguments or late-night vacuuming. More seriously, our refusal to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort level to love those around us puts us in direct opposition to Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are his friends if we do what he commands; when we deliberately turn from his simple commands, we lose the right to claim his friendship. So when we say that we are too busy or introverted or temperamentally unsuited to love those we come in contact with, in our neighborhoods, at our workplaces, on social media, we show ourselves to be the enemies, not the friends, of Jesus.

This can be a challenge, pulled as we are in so many directions at once, and I have certainly been – and continue to be – guilty of making excuses for my own indifference to those around me. But as I am realizing that reminding myself of Jesus’ love for my neighbors makes it much easier to love them myself, I am trying to make an effort to look for ways to serve others, for example by offering my seat on the bus or texting someone I know is having a tough time or bringing over goodies to a busy mom down the street. The more I do this, the easier it becomes.

As we show the simple love of conscious neighboring, we strike a blow against a system that insists that we don’t have time to waste on others and that we are too strapped to share out of what we have. We strike a blow against a system that encourages us to see people only through the lens of what they can do for us. Most importantly, we show ourselves to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, who not only hear his command to love but actually trust in him and his authority enough to do it.

With our tight schedules and tighter budgets, this may feel like a stretch, but can friends of Jesus do otherwise?