Who is my neighbor?

You hear a lot of talk about loving your neighbor, but what does that really mean? Neighbor love can be defined in three ways and about 450 words, so let’s go.

Neighbors are the people that live on your street. Americans in general are pretty bad about knowing the people who live proximate to them. My dad, cognizant of the importance of loving the people in your local community, always made sure he built relationships with these neighbors and served them. I grew up knowing a few neighbors but definitely failed at reaching out to the people across the street and next door once I began renting on my own. That’s something I’m working on in my new location and which comes into the story in my next post.

Then there’s the idea of neighbor that Scripture holds in the story of the Good Samaritan: your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with.

This requires compassion for anyone you meet, regardless of having a pre-established trust. This requires a bit of bravery and stepping outside your comfort zone because you might not like the people you meet – you might even be from conflicting religious or ethnic groups as in the story Jesus told – but still God commands us to love, to give of ourselves and resources, to those neighbors. (And honestly, God doesn’t ask much else of us besides to love.)

Plus, getting to know the people you meet might not be bad! Why fear when you could have a spirit of openness and a vision to see the good in others? You could meet some pretty fantastic people by looking up, and if you hadn’t chanced it, you never would have known them. That’s how I met my collabo and now good friend on the single “Astrogirl,” and you can listen to it to see how that went!

Finally, this concept of loving neighbor applies to loving those you haven’t met but still impact indirectly through how you take care of the earth, stand up against systemic injustice, et cetera.

Even if you don’t immediately see the effects, someone will be impacted by your putting milk jugs and soda cans, which aren’t bio-degradable, into landfills, and it will eventually come back to you too. Even if you aren’t personally impacted by immigration policy, the migrants and refugees who spent years searching for safety and even being promised a home here, are. And even if your biological son wasn’t shot because of his skin color, that son’s family and community are impacted by your choice to stay silent or to speak up against racial injustice.

No person is more deserving of human rights and a safe and healthy home than another. No neighbor deserves less love because of cultural, emotional, or social distance.


Lessons from physics: how to glorify God in the new year

When I entered college, I already knew I wanted to take a couple specific courses: journalism, for one, and physics.

“What?! Physics? Why would you take that? It’s crazy hard!” Yes, so I’ve been told. But at my liberal arts college, we’re required to take one lab science and one non-lab science. I had a bad experience with biology in high school, and I had found chemistry boring, but I’d loved physics. Why not take it in college?

My mom discouraged me from taking the course, thinking my GPA would plummet. Admittedly, I became a bit anxious by the way everyone talked about the subject. Nonetheless, physics was still on my mind sophomore year. Should I chance taking the class? Would I regret it forever if I passed up this challenge?

That year a chapel speaker spoke on taking challenges, and it was settled. I resolved anew to take the physics. I signed up for the class for my junior year fall—this past semester.

Since I did not complete AP calculus, I took “baby physics,” the algebra based class. Still, I hadn’t taken physics for four years and math for three and a half. On top of that, I did not own the pricey textbook. Moreover, the professor, being a theoretical physicist, did not teach very clearly or understandably.

On the bright side, I had the privilege of sitting next to my friend MJ every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, celebrating when we actually understood something and questioning if that could possibly be true. I also loved walking from chapel to class with my dear friend Ann each day as well, sharing in her life through those walks. Since she studies engineering, she was able to encourage me that I would pass and be okay.

I did well in labs, thanks to my lab partners who understood the subject. My prof was kind and gave us homemade brownies (which he made sure we knew were his creation, not his wife’s) after a bad test. God also provided me with tutors to help with homework, as I was consistently and utterly lost without their help.

But I hated physics. (Sorry, physics major friends.) Unfortunately, I did not understand the subject. The day we spent on music was sweet, and I enjoyed the aforementioned relationships, but I couldn’t wait for the class to finish. All I needed was a D to pass.

For those who knew me in high school, perhaps you think I have stooped too low. But college is not high school, and my college is known for its “rigorous academics” in particular. Since coming to Wheaton, I’ve developed certain skills and lost others. Case in point, I am no longer smart in physics, and I have to be okay with that. I can write and influence people, and since that’s what I want to do (as opposed to being a hard scientist), I was fine scoring low. I just needed to pass so I could graduate on time.

I honestly was unsure if I could achieve this goal. Without any curves or special grading, my test average hovered in the low 50s. I needed a 60 to pass.

I fearfully avoided looking at my grades over break, but last night I checked them. Praise be to God, I somehow passed physics with a C-! Not a D, not even a D+, but a solid C-!

The point of this physics narrative is not actually about science—it’s about taking challenges. Had I not taken physics, I would have regretted it my whole life. I was miserable in this class this semester, but I passed and thus succeeded. In my lowest moments, I clung to the hope that passing would make it worth it, and it has. I can say that I faced and overcame a challenge, and I can take no glory for myself!

All the glory goes to God, who provided me with friends to support and encourage me, a kind professor, tutors for homework help, sustenance and stamina to make it through December, and finally, a passing grade.

Friends, when faced with a daunting challenge this next year, take it. When everyone seems to think you’re crazy and that you’ll fail, persevere. And above all, always lean on God and give him all the glory! We can do nothing without him.

Happy New Year.

Are Syrian refugees safe?

(published in the Wheaton Record on 03 December 2015; edited and updated here on 06 December 2015)

I’m not surprised that well over half of the United States is essentially barring Syrian refugees, despite the illegality of officially doing so and the human rights violations any de facto or de jure laws induce. This country has a history of creating contradictory laws to allow “desirable” immigrants and keep out the “undesirable.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we welcome Mexican workers to our underpaid fields when times are good but blame the seasonal immigrants when the economy is bad. This occurs with other ethnic groups today, and the United States has been enforcing similar, seemingly subtle practices for centuries.

Take the Chinese for example. During the Gold Rush, we welcomed this group. But when the gold wasn’t shining from the mines anymore, we essentially stopped Chinese immigration via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The U.S. picked and chose who was most desirable to immigrate, and the Chinese were no longer “it.” Ironically, we created the Chinese Exclusion Act the same year as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, allowing goods to enter Korea from the West. Around the same time, Japanese inflows increased, only to be stifled 15 years later with the so-called “gentleman’s agreement.” Discriminatory laws later restricted land ownership as well.

To demonstrate more contradictory and unjust immigration laws, the United States upheld the Bracero Program from 1942 to 1964, allowing Mexican citizens to work here, while simultaneously enforcing Operation Wetback from 1953-58, deporting them on the spot if they didn’t have legal documents on their persons when stopped. Does anyone smell racial profiling? Or are you thinking of South African Apartheid?

The contingent manner with which this country creates and enforces certain immigration laws seems ridiculous to me. Now our issue is with Syrian people who are running for safety. We’re afraid because ISIS originated from the same country, but aren’t many Syrians fleeing their homes for the same reason?

Moreover, when we fear that the refugees are terrorists set on destroying this land of “freedom,” we demonstrate our ignorance at the processes refugees go through to leave the camps. My friend from Burundi spent about fourteen years in refugee camps in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to the States, where he received his green card in the first year and waited five years for citizenship. His wife and children had to wait eleven years before they were allowed to enter the States as refugees. And that hassle was for East African refugees, people not from a place of alleged terrorism.

For all refugees, the paperwork required of refugees entering another country is consuming, and the screenings are intense. Whether immigration is rushed or prolonged, we can be sure that Syrian refugees are not out to harm America. They’re fleeing the terror, after all. Whether they wish they could return to their old home or long for a new one, the camps are not homes. They are meant to provide temporary refuge only. Some of these refugees are well educated, and some are not, but all are displaced and hurting.

As Christians, God commands us to show hospitality to the stranger. He commanded Israel to welcome the stranger, since Israel had once dwelt in a land not their own. Israel had fled terror. Israel was a refugee state.

Are we Egypt, fearing and terrorizing meek refugees, trying to keep their numbers down and mistreating those already here through “protection” laws, unhospitable interpersonal interactions and Facebook posts? Or are we Israel at its best, when they welcomed the stranger because they knew what it meant to need a home?

As Americans, we are a nation of immigrants. As Christians, we are told to love and not fear, to serve and not be anxious. How will we interact with Syrian and Iraqi refugees and with our state and national governments as a result?



The Silliness of Fear

Image photo credit: http://www.rachelleb.com/images/2004_03_11/wrigley_field.jpg

“I can’t believe we used to walk around the neighborhood without pepper spray,” my friend said the other day before we took a stroll through the quiet streets by her house. I thought to myself that I go to Chicago unarmed at night and am safe. Apparently people had been stabbed in her neighborhood previously, but I was unaware that any danger existed.

Pepper spray, cell phones, pocket knives–people use these to “defend” themselves against unseen, potential dangers.

Disheveled strangers with cigarettes, the city, travelling to other countries, unkempt lawns and houses in need of paint, the dark, snarling hounds, mysterious animals in your backyard–people are afraid of these things. They legitimately worry instead of taking these things as normal and trusting God in the simple areas of life.

Why are people so afraid? I trust God.

I have talked to hustlers, male parking lot attendants, and even a murderer–all strangers at first, and I have been unafraid and unharmed. I carried no weapons to defend myself, for of what should I be afraid? What can man do to me?

If I should die, I would go to be with Jesus. It would be glorious! I’ll admit that I’d be terrified in the moment, but I like to think that I would evangelize to my murderer before my death. Proclaiming Jesus and His Kingdom is the purpose of my being alive, after all.

Regardless, I do like the buddy system. I feel safer in the city at night when I’m with a male friend. One of my friends from college walks alone on her way from McDonalds to a Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville on Friday nights, visits her homeless friend Linwood, and is unharmed. Is it wise for a woman to walk alone through the city at night? Maybe not, but she adores Jesus and trusts Him in everything. And she is safe. Am I fearful or wise in following the buddy system?

Sharing the Gospel in pairs is Biblical; thus, I believe the buddy system is wise. By going in pairs, you can help each other share the Gospel clearly and effectively. I truly believe prayer is sufficient for self defense.

When did Jesus’ disciples ever physically lash out at others to protect each other? Peter did once in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Jesus halted him and healed the man whose ear he had cut off.

Other apostles and disciples took abuse for the sake of Christ. When stoned, did they throw stones back? No. When whipped, did they use pepper spray and try to run away? No. When people spat on Jesus, stripped the flesh off his back, dug thorns into his scalp, and nailed his soft wrists to a tree, did he attempt to stop them or even make a retort? No, he suffered so that God’s glory might be made manifest through the ensuing salvation he brought.

Thus, in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, “defending” oneself is unnecessary. When we fear, we do not trust God.

Why do we fear? It seems silly to worry about our personal safety when we have Jesus, our God, to proclaim. God is our protector, too. As Psalm 118:6 says in ESV and as Hebrews 13:6 repeats, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

Fellow believers, I beg you to be bold in living out your faith. “(W)e are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39, ESV).