Boots on the Ground


One of my favorite things about the life of Jesus was his commitment to being countercultural for the furthering of God’s kingdom. He listened to the ugly and broken; he embraced time alone at the height of his popularity; and he was guided by long-term benefits. If Jesus walked in human form today, I am willing to bet that he would have been interested in discussing more than red coffee cups last week.

Despite what the world and mainstream culture tell us to think, I believe in the beauty of inspired, unpopular messages – the ones that rattle our cages and leave us unsettled for the greater good.

In recent days, President Obama has made his views on Syrian refugees loud and transparent: “[T]he United States has to step up and do its part.” Regardless of where you stand on the issue, our country will likely open its doors to several thousands of displaced and downtrodden people in the years to come.

What would Jesus do? Of this, NO ONE, and I mean no one, can know the specifics.

I recall the story of Valentino Achak Deng, as chronicled by Dave Eggers in What Is the What. Early in the book, a powerfully raw experience is detailed that reflects Deng’s continued life of hardship, even with the “comforts” of an American resettlement:

“I open my eyes and the scene has changed. Most of my possessions are gone, yes, but the TV is still here, now on the kitchen table. Someone has turned it on. Someone has plugged it in and there is a boy watching it. The boy can be no more than ten, and he is sitting on one of my kitchen chairs, his feet dangling below. He has a cell phone on his lap, and takes no notice of me….I do not even know who this boy is; he could be in the same sort of trouble I am. I try to find my arms and realize they are behind me, tied with what I assume is a phone cord.”

Every time I think of Syrian refugees in the United States, I come back to this painful story of a Lost Boy. While many Lost Boys went on to find safety and stability in their new homes, this is not always the case for those displaced by danger (as evidenced by Deng’s narrative). A dearth of familial support and friendships, a suffocating culture of excess and entitlement, and prejudice are just a few factors that resettled refugees face. In truth, I know nothing of this struggle.

What I do know, however, is that I love Jesus enough to know that I am not called to be anyone’s savior. That’s His job. I think there are Americans, including many Christians, who believe that opening our borders to refugees is enough.

It’s not.

Although we Christians cannot save anyone’s soul, we can love them as Jesus commands. This means doing increasingly unpopular things: respecting everyone around us, even when their worldview is different (and uncomfortable); stepping out of our self-imposed (and sometimes technology-mediated) bubble; and developing relationships with others who have nothing to give us in return. This means valuing human capital over material gain.

If we are ever to prove terrorists wrong in their views of us, we must actually live according to the beliefs we profess – the love that defines our faith. I think every generation offers a moment for Christians to demonstrate that we are more than rules, tradition, and exclusivity. Jesus died for each of us, and the world is eager to see how deep we are willing to love in this opportunity before us.

Perhaps the greatest error we can make is in our failure to recognize that every day and every life matter to our witness and walk with Christ. No tragedy or new neighbor should have to inspire the words, actions, and decisions that we all know should define our days. If we are to do our part in preventing the seeds of homeland radicalization, we must start a revolution that sheds our selfish, culture-centered veil and allows us to see a broken world in need of a servant.

If we are living without sacrifice, without discomfort, and without vulnerability, we are doing it wrong. And how can we expect Jesus to move through us if we are not allowing him to work in us? The world is watching, waiting, and aching for love that flows without exception.

Are we willing to be His boots on the ground?

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