Will Muslims, Mexicans, and My daughter be forced to wear visible ID badges?

I recently met an Armenian woman. She wore the traditional hijab and jellaba – the head covering and long flowing coat typical for Middle Eastern women and often associated with Islam.   Her skin was dark tan and her deep brown eyes were lined with kohl. She looked strikingly similar to every other Muslim woman I had met while living in Morocco. But instead of following the teachings of Muhammad, she worshipped Jesus.

images-1Selma is a Christian – yet dressed in the traditional Armenian attire encouraged by her Armenian Apostolic church . She educated me on the plight of Armenian Christians from Turkey.  Selma’s great-grandparents fled the country in the early 1900’s escaping a violent genocide under Ottoman rule, making Selma a fourth generation American.

She shared how she is still persecuted here in America. She has been scorned, mocked, spit upon, and even been rejected service in restaurants and stores – and it is NOT because she’s Armenian, it’s because she LOOKS like a Muslim. And today, she wakes up in a country with a president who considers Muslims one of our biggest “problems”, who’s refusing to accept Muslim refugees, and whose inflammatory speech does more to fuel fear toward Muslims than anything else.

She’s a legal American citizen, with a prestigious career. She pays her taxes, lives peaceably in her neighborhood, and practices the same religion that the majority of people in America say they do: Christianity. And yet, because she looks like the people group that American’s are growing to fear the most: Muslims, she is treated harshly – even discriminated against.

She said, “I know it’s just because no one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

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At the inner-city junior high where I volunteer, we watched a film on the life of Corrie tenBoom. Corrie, and her entire Dutch family, were sent to Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in their attic during World War II. After viewing the film, I debriefed with three 8th grade girls and asked them, “Do you think something similar – the systematic persecution and extermination of a people group – could happen today?”

A Mexican girl in my group immediately replied, “Absolutely. My parents [who speak very little English] are so afraid of being deported to Mexico. We are not illegals. But how will they know? Since we are Mexicans and immigrants from Mexico are being blamed for many of the problems in this country, it only makes sense that we’ll get blamed, too.  My parents say they already get a lot of dirty looks from white people. They think that someday we’ll have to wear an ‘M’ on our clothes. You know, to like mark us as legal – so people won’t be angry with us and try to deport us.”

I told her I didn’t think she had to worry. After all, her family IS legal.

She said, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know that?   No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

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I shared those concerns from my Mexican-American student at the dinner table that evening. And my Guatemalan-born daughter asked, “What about me? Do you think I’ll have to wear an ID-badge of some sort?”

I told her no way. She was adopted at birth. She’s an American citizen. She is American in every way.

But she replied, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know? No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

I couldn’t answer her. She’s Guatemalan – but could easily be Mexican. She’s adopted – but unless she’s walking beside her all-white family, you’d never know it simply from appearances. I can protect her from being deported, certainly, because she IS legal. But the fear in her eyes betrayed her. She’s awakening to the fact that the “they” she actually needs to fear isn’t the government – it’s those who are looking for a people-group to blame, someone to take umbrage with. And I can’t protect her from that. She looks just like the people that “they” say are the problem.

slovak-jews-with-star-of-davidThe Third Reich of 1930’s Germany forced Jews to wear the star of David badge to not just humiliate them, but to keep close watch over them and to facilitate in their deportation. It was an effective way to distinguish between people groups when judging by appearances didn’t work. 

As the political, ethical, religious and racial divide in this country continually grows; and as more and more people feel their freedoms, their money, and their security are actually threatened by a few distinct people groups; and being that my daughter looks JUST LIKE one of those people groups – I’ve really had to wonder: Is she safe here? Do I need to have my daughter wear an external ID to show the public she is “good”? Maybe a letter on her clothing – something like an “L” for legal, or “A” for adopted, or “S” for safe? How else will people know? How else do I help her feel safe?

Then it hit me:  The only other reasonable solution is to mark ALL THE OTHERS – those from the people groups that we, as a country, have deemed “the problem”.

The absurdity of that thought – and its frightening similarities to 1930’s Germany – is not lost on me.

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She’s an Armenian Christian – but she looks like other Muslims and she has received death threats.

She’s a legal third-generation Mexican-American – but she and her family could easily be taken for illegal Mexicans. The condemning glares already judge them.

She’s my adopted daughter from Guatemala – but she could be any illegal’s child. And she’s afraid she’ll be treated differently now.

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It’s not the government that these women need to fear. Whether we agree or not with the sweeping statements that have been made regarding entire people groups identified as “a problem” – the truth is, if so desired, the government CAN and WILL deport certain people and also create ways to keep other people out.

I’m mortified that my country is doing these things. But that’s not the REAL problem here. The problem is our ATTITUDE to those who are different from us. The problem is that we, the American public, are traveling a dangerous path towards ethnic cleansing. It begins with finger-pointing – “THOSE people over there – THEY are the problem!”

The finger-pointing inevitably turns into actions, “We must build a WALL!” or “We must ban all Muslims from entering!” or “We must make a public list of all crimes done by foreigners!” But those actions will lead us to a false sense of security and so whenever something goes bad in the land, we will only be left to find more people to blame. We’re adopting an “Us” vs. “Them” paradigm and creating a growing chasm between the two.

And all that propaganda leads to fear.   As our president continues to stir the pot of blaming and shaming, he incites more fear. And hate inevitably follows fear. It’s eerie how quickly and easily we resort to hating that which we fear.

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My daughter and my Mexican student and my Armenian friend do not need to fear their government, or their comb-over president, or being deported. What they legitimately need to fear – and it’s already proving to be true – is simply the hate from other Americans.

We have become our own worst enemy.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand.” Mark 3:25.

What happened when we opened our HOME to Muslims

IMG_1135A few years back our family of six spent four years living in Morocco. In a country that is nearly 100% Islam, we made many Muslim friends. A couple weeks ago, one of those friends decided to visit our family here in Michigan. She traveled with her 18 yr. old daughter who was coming to America for the first time.

Although we were virtually surrounded by Muslims while living in Morocco, it was an entirely new twist to have Muslims living with us – experiencing every-day life with us. This was far more up-close and personal.

 

What I learned made me uncomfortable. But probably not in the way you’re thinking.

 

My friend came bearing gifts – for me, my husband, the kids – even for our sons who no longer live home. She got up early and made coffee. She stayed up late and made Moroccan fried bread. Whenever I wasn’t looking, she did the dishes. She listened for hours and gave me counsel on life’s hard stuff. She would sneak off when we were at restaurants and secretly pay the bill before I even had a chance to object. She sat and listened to our kids rattle on about silly things she knew nothing about: American football, homecoming festivities, travel sports, and Tim Allen. While in Chicago, we were walking back to our hotel late in the evening and we encountered at least 5 beggars in the streets. She stopped to give money and/or food to each one. She even went into a market and bought a fresh loaf of bread for one beggar.

We watched TV, You-Tube, and American sports together. And she made me laugh ‘til I nearly peed my pants.

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Three times throughout the week (although I know there were many more) I found her kneeling, facing East toward Mecca, head bowed low to the ground in prayer. Every time it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d prayed in earnest. Life in America is busy, you know….  

And, perhaps most remarkably, both my friend and her daughter went to church with us. They were not concerned in the least that our church might rattle their faith – they simply wanted, out of respect to our family, to fully experience our culture, our lives and our religion. They understand Christianity (at times, I fear, better than I do…) and they didn’t have questions about it. They just wanted to honor us by attending church.

My friend and her daughter oozed love for me and my family and our community – as well as the strangers in their midst – throughout their weeklong visit. Then, even after returning home, they mailed us beautiful Christmas gifts to thank us. Muslims, who don’t celebrate Christmas in the least, sent gifts to US just to bless US on our holy holiday.

 

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I call that love.

 

I am being haunted by an old Sunday School song. “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Really? Will they know we are Christians by our love? Will our behavior be so exemplary, so unique, and so incredibly loving that people will unequivocally be able to recognize what faith we ascribe to simply by our actions?  

What haunts me is that, in many ways, my Muslim friends are better at loving than I am.

 

Which begs the question: Did WE know THEY were Muslim by their love???

 

If you’re jumping to defensive mode and screaming “HELLOooooo!!!! ISIS!!!!” as proof that “they” do not love – well, I get that. Undoubtedly, there are factions who are acting in the name of Islam and represent the antithesis of love.  These people need to be stopped.

But something I learned in Morocco that is important for us to understand here, is that many Muslims in the East equate Christianity with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING coming out of America. They observe things such as: our greed and materialism, our divorce and abortion rates, the Kardashians, The Bold and the Beautiful, all-things Hollywood, our massive gun violence, or George W. Bush (whom they can only see as someone who indiscriminately blows up people and cities), and conclude: “See! That’s what Christians are like!” They are unable to separate the actions of our country from our dominant religion (Christianity) because in their home countries there is no separation of religion and state. To be Moroccan is to be Muslim. The king of Morocco is also the head religious leader. As is true in many Middle Eastern countries. So it is no wonder that, to them, everything coming out of America (and let’s be honest, most of it ain’t pretty….) must be Christian.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my Christian faith identified by the actions of Lamar Odom, Donald Trump or Miley Cyrus. Or how about the Unabomber, Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh?  Or what about people that blow up abortion clinics out of religious conviction or priests that rape little boys?

Please, world, don’t equate me, a devout follower of Jesus, with these people!  

Some may counter and argue that these people cannot possibly be true Christians anyway…. but that is entirely beside the point because again, in many Eastern Muslim minds, all American actions are Christian actions.

And yet, in some ways, that argument completely makes my point! Because, likewise, it is entirely unfair for Americans to judge the whole of Islam based on what our Westernized media chooses to report – which is only reporting the extreme actions of extremists.

But if you get to know the people, the regular, ordinary, every-day people that live and work and teach and heal and farm and shop and play soccer and have babies and read books and cook meals and go to school and watch movies and all the millions of other things that you and I do, well, these people are fully as good at loving as you and me. They are. I’m telling you, they are.

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If you don’t agree, perhaps you’d be willing to ask yourself a few questions:

How many Muslims do I know personally?

How many Muslims have spent considerable time in my home?

Where do I get my information about Muslims?

How many Islamic countries have I visited? What was my experience there?

How many people do I hang out with regularly that practice a different faith than my own? Do they know how to love? How do they express love? Do any of them love better than me?

Will they KNOW we are Christians by our love???  Will the title “Christian” ever represent to the world “a distinctly caring, self-less, and sacrificially giving people who love regardless of race or religion?” And if it did, would my own loving actions, kindness, and generosity be so recognizable so as to set me apart from the “world” and allow them to quickly identify me as a Christian???

I’m afraid, that for me, the honest answer is “no.”

So, in response to the hate that is being spewed from the media, our Facebook feeds, and many people with big microphones, I think those of us professing a faith in the resurrected Christ should ask ourselves, “Will they know we are Christians by our love?”  A chief yearning in my life is that my family, my church, my street, my community, my state and my nation exhibit a Christ-like love to our fellow mankind. I’m nearly to the point of despair at how miserably we’re all failing. And so, this is what I’ll do – which is really the only thing I can do – I’ll sing that great song of the season: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!”