Epiphany 34


There is a great deal of talk worldwide about refugees and people act like it is a new thing.  It isn’t.  Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.


It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  These kids who had protested eating vegetables their entire lives now realized what a gift they were on the dinner table and how lucky it was to have them to eat.


In the 1990’s, as the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA, we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there, buts of paper napkins folded into beautiful works of sculptural art.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  These were people trying to escape a Communist regime that allowed for no one to be a dissident; no freedom of thought respected.  Eight hundred men and women had attempted to flee the harsh conditions of their lives.  Their ship, the Golden Venture, did not complete the journey and some perished in the ocean before being pulled out, only to be arrested and some, eventually returned to China.


Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring.  My faith gave me strength to help disband it, wading through all the necessary agencies to report it and make sure the case was not lost in the myriad of cases that existed. 


My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.


I have been lucky in my life, although not as lucky as some.  Usually my displaced feelings come from peer pressure, not attempts on my life nor missiles and bombs exploding in my ear.  Still, life is not a competition and displaced feelings are valid regardless of their level of threat to our well-being.  The saving grace in life comes not just from our beliefs and faith but from our actions.


I believe that the world needs more bridges and fewer walls.  When we connect, we build bridges and recognize how similar we really are.  The world benefits from our connections when we build them.  Such human bridges serve to strengthen our world and create a better future for us all.  The world will never have enough sanctuaries and it is up to each of us to help build them.




Investing in Life’s Balance

Investing in Life’s Balance

Pentecost 160


There is an old saying: “Put your money where your mouth is”.  There is an old scripture that says “Where your heart is, so will be your fortune.”  Most of us do very poorly when it comes to balancing our finances.  How do we do when it comes to finding balance in our lives?


George Soros is an example of both.  Born in Hungary, he survived the Nazi invasion and World War II.  He escaped the Communist-led regime in the later 1940’s and found his way to England where he graduated from the London School of Economics.  He then made his way to New York City and began his life as a financier.   George Soros was listed in 2012 as the twenty-second richest man in the world.  However he did not simply make money and then live lavishly.  He also shared his wealth.  In fact, a list of charities and causes his foundation supports can take up to five hundred pages when printed out.


As a student in London, Soros read a book that has influenced his humanitarian efforts.  Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and Its Enemies” explores the philosophy of science and is considered a critique of totalitarianism as seen by Popper.  What Soros took from the book is that no ideology owns the truth, and societies can flourish only when they operate freely and openly and maintain respect for individual rights.  Soros has benefited from some trade transactions that greatly hurt others and his critics are many.  Is he simply very good at his job or does he profit while thousands of other traders perish?  Soros maintains he simply sees trends in the market and acts accordingly.  It cannot be disputed that while he trades heavily on futures and marketplace trends, making calls that others fail to see, he also invests in mankind.


Almost three years ago the International Rescue Committee, first formed to help Jewish people during World War I,I awarded its Freedom award to George Soros, describing him as a “democracy and human rights supporter, philanthropist, and businessman”.   In his acceptance speech, Soros discussed the crisis of humanity in Syria.   “Right now we are witnessing a major unresolved humanitarian crisis in Syria,” he said. “People are starving. Soon they will be freezing, children are malnourished and the first cases of actual starvation have been observed.”


Today the world is struggling to deal with several crises crisis as the flood of refugees washes into every country in Europe.  Strict rules have been imposed in many countries and ongoing debates are held in the United States with many state governors refusing any refugees in their states.  What some simply call illegal immigrants are often people trying to escape deplorable living conditions, hatred, and entrapment, child slavery, and forced prostitution.


While many are wallowing in the fear, George found balance in his life and has acted.  In 2013 at his awards banquet he pledged over one million dollars “to encourage the IRC to step up its efforts with the dual aim of activating global public opinion and mobilizing a meaningful response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.”  To date Soros has donated over one billion dollars to humanitarian causes.


So what can the average person struggling to make ends meet do to help such causes?  First, act with your heart and your brain instead of running on fear.  Fear can be a good response when used appropriately.  Fear is what keeps us from driving our cars off cliffs or trying to kiss a rattlesnake.  However, when we allow fear to blind our vision, then we fall victim ourselves. 


We should not allow the exaggerated rhetoric of the greedy determine our own responses to our fellow beings in need.  We need to ask ourselves how we can help intelligently.  George Soros is not a saint; few of us are.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker once described him thusly:  “George Soros has made his mark as an enormously successful speculator, wise enough to largely withdraw when still way ahead of the game. The bulk of his enormous winnings is now devoted to encouraging transitional and emerging nations to become “open societies”, open not only in the sense of freedom of commerce but—more important—tolerant of new ideas and different modes of thinking and behavior.”


Investing in people is investing in our future.  When we find balance in what we need versus what we want and what we have, then we are freer to help others.  Everyone has something to offer.  We can do that by supporting local agencies and programs that help others.  The International Red Cross is a worldwide organization that operates on donations and helps all in times of personal and global crisis.  By donating money but also food and clothing, each of us can assist those in need, refugees from their countries and lives in crisis.  There are countless other programs like Good will Industries, the Salvation Army, that assist people in need.  We can all invest in another being and by helping others, we invest in our own future.