Refugees and Sanctuary


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.  I can still hear the clown of the group:  “Thank you Lord for this food, this colorful rainbow of blessings, we are about to eat.”


In the 1990’s I was the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA and 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.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  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 and this time faith gave me strength to help disband it.


The Beatitudes for me speak of sanctuary in that they provide hope and clarity in understanding what life throws at us.  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.  Because of that, Jesus came and lived and died – all to provide me and you a sanctuary.  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.


The Power of Shhh…

The Power of Shhh…

Pentecost 131


We all know what the ravages of illness do to our physical body.  Ask anyone who suffers from a debilitating illness and they can assure you that their illness also takes a toll on their mental state and emotional health.  Rachel Naomi Remen was one of the first to connect the process backwards.  Remen is considered a pioneer in connecting conventional medicine and holistic practices in healing such diseases as cancer, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis.  She has spent the past several decades helping people heal and assisting them in finding a positive connection between their spirit and recovery.


“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.”  As a professor at the Oster Center of Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and co-founder of Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Remen encourages finding personal peace.


Sometimes the best gift we can give ourselves is the gift of sanctuary.  Many claim to find such a calming sense of refuge in music or other arts but in the quote above, Remen encourages us to find it in the silence of our lives.  Moreover, she advocates that we create some silence every day.  The guest speaker  on several Public Broadcast Series on public television, Remen wants us to stop talking.


Sometimes the very best way to make the ordinary extraordinary is to simply be and to let the world exist around us.  Some might fear solitude but it is in the quiet of the world and our being that our greatest revelations can appear.  Those involved in transcendental meditation and centering prayer know the power of silence.


Of course, our minds tend to keep racing in those quiet moments.  Bryant McGill explains how this is not a bad thing but simply a path during our quiet times that we should not be afraid to follow.  “Each positive thought is your refuge and your sanctuary, where in that thoughtful moment, you are safe.”  Using the quiet in-between the appointments of our busy lives can create a world of its own.  They can serve to be our own sacred space, an altar in our minds that, in the silence, speaks volumes.

Pentecost 15

Pentecost 15
My Psalm 15

June 22, 2014

GPS: The road leads to …

It is a common theme in current events today: tanks blocking roads; refugees crowing into neighboring countries; loyalties used in defense of heinous crimes, brother against brother. One group is given strict rules for living in an area or face death while others pretend to pray for peace while assembling bombs. Our direction seems a bit skewed.

The science of navigation has had many stages in the development and history of man. Simply put, navigation is the science of moving, of getting from point A to point B and further. Though speaking specifically about computers, the website “” succinctly defines the importance of navigation: “The importance of your navigation structure cannot be over-emphasized. Without some sort of navigation, a site [person] loses all sense of structure and organization.”

Somewhere around 3500 BCE, man began building and sailing boats large enough to require navigation. Until then, people stayed close to familiar territory and used known locations and terrain to know where they were. Once on the water, similar navigational practices were employed. Boats were put out to sea during the day and stayed close enough to land to identify locations. As man ventured farther away from the shore, he relied on the positions of the son during the day and the North Star at night to know his direction. Although some mariners studied the stars and used constellations for direction, there was no way to determine longitude and the stars only gave estimated latitude positions. Thus time became a critical factor in navigation, a form of something called dead-reckoning still used today.

Critical in sailing was the depth of the water. Egyptians developed the sounding reed somewhere around 1500 BCE to measure shallow water and the wind rose which measured the eight different wind types, names based upon the countries from which the winds seem to originate. By employing a combination of all these techniques, the trading vessels attempted successful journeys. Most historians agree the first trans-oceanic voyages were not planned but mistakes due to vessels being blown off course. The thirteenth century saw a great many improvements in navigation and man began to explore the world. Today we no longer use paper maps and road signs but rely on a system of satellites that comprise global positioning systems. These can be accessed by cell phones and car radios.

We no longer are dependent on the weather or familiar objects but are we really moving better, safer, more efficiently? The art of navigation was to have people travel safely and successfully. Their destination became like the home port they left, a sanctuary. Though originally a religious term, the word sanctuary quickly became to mean a safe haven, a place where people felt welcomed, respected, loved. After all, why bother to move if you were going to a dangerous place where you could be killed?

The art of welcoming travelers became a sign of a culture’s position in the world. Successful, productive cultures welcomed the traveler. The population that could not offer hospitality was shamed and cast out. Today the Presbyterian Church is defending their vote to withdraw their business with three companies in Israel and base this decision not on the companies themselves but on the politics of the Nation of Israel. At the same time, the moderator of this national conference went on national television speaking of his Jewish brothers. Also on the program was a rabbi who, in summary, said it was impossible to feel welcomed by such action. In the rabbi’s eyes, the Presbyterian Church was no longer a place of sanctuary for their “Jewish brothers”.

In 2008, Alan Richman wrote an article about politics and religion being strange bedfellows. He discussed how politicians were using their religion as a means of identification…until something was said within their religion that might lose votes. What is our internal navigation system? Do we adhere to the tenets of our belief system or are we quick to abandon them to stay “popular”. Has popularity become the new North Star? Is materialism replacing the sun as the source of life or in how we define life?

Lighthouses are found on coasts in most countries. Earlier this year many countries were awarded monetary grants to establish and/or update their lighthouses as part of a global compliance of a United Nations convention. I have written before about lighthouses and will not repeat the whole piece here. However, it is worth noting that those tending the lighthouses are offering sanctuary and usually it is to total strangers. No matter their location or faith, they are offering life and hospitality in the best sense for the best possible outcomes.

Is GPS now an acronym for Greed Profiting Self? Whatever happened to the God-Purposed Soul? The Good Peoples Savior? When we can prepare the road for all to travel and navigate with love, then we will be headed in the right direction.

My Psalm 15

Are your feet clean?
Is your garment worthy?
Lord, we get too particular in offering your hospitality.
We view with cynical eyes;
We forget to look without hearts.
Those who prepare to be a haven of hope
Live your Word.
Let us be a sanctuary.