Why Bother With a Border?

Don’t you love it when you read a book that invites you to think about things you haven’t before? I do. I read just such a book over the last few days, “Open Borders, The Science and Ethics of Immigration.”

Gut check: What do you immediately start to feel and think when you consider the U.S. opening its borders, allowing pretty much whoever wants to move here to do so?

Maybe, “What about criminals and terrorists and people with communicable diseases?” 

Possibly, “The country would be over-run and the costs to educate, medicate and incarcerate would break us while we kiss our culture goodbye.”

Could be, “I bet it would mean a ton more Muslims moving here and if they spoke English, I could hire them for my business.”

Perhaps, “Would this give smart, diligent people the freedom to have a go in the good system into which I was lucky enough to be born.”

For me, “Oh, I know there will be unintended consequences. I just don’t know what they are! Even so, the upside seems staggering.”

To be clear: I’m not advocating for open borders. Yet!

To be all up in your grill: What impact does (or should, on the off chance those two are sometimes different!) the life and teaching of Jesus have on our thinking about open borders?

To be blunt: The current status quo, based on general revelation and Jesus, is immoral.

If you’re tempted to write off open borders as ridiculous, stupid, naively idealistic (it could be all), please give this idea a quick look: Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax Immigrants.

Finally, what kind of borders do we expect in the kingdom of God to come and how does that future vision impact our current action?

During this September, I’m raising funds to keep Muslim Connect going and growing. If you’ve found value in Muslim Connect and make a contribution by the end of the month, you’ll receive a copy of the new book by my friend Fouad Masri, Sharing Jesus with Muslims: A Step-by-Step Guide when it comes out on Oct. 11th. 

If donating is not in the budget right now, no worries. You can also help by forwarding this email to a couple of friends, a small group list or your church (!) and asking them to sign up at shanebennett.com. Thanks a ton! 

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Super Quick Triple Shot

I just finished a great little book by the 5 Love Languages guy, Gary Chapman, called Life-Changing Cross-Cultural Friendships. He co-authored it with his life long African American friend, Clarence Shuler.

I heartily recommend the book, but want to specifically share a paragraph that challenged me. Given that cross-cultural friendships are fraught with pitfalls, Shuler and Chapman encourage us to say early and often, “If I ever offend you by something I say or do, or something I fail to say or do, please tell me. I want our relationship to be open and honest. If I offend you, I want to understand it and apologize. Can we agree on this kind of openness?” I love that!

Flooding in Pakistan
Please join me in praying for the people of Pakistan who are reeling from the effects of an “unprecedented monsoon season.” NPR says, “Some 33 million Pakistanis have been affected by the flooding since it began in June. It has killed more than 1,100 people — including hundreds of children — and the death toll is expected to rise.”

Here’s a beautiful prayer video you might show at church or small group this week.

Click here to give for flood relief and here to build clean water capacity in Pakistan.

Uyghur Genocide
Thirteen minutes before her term expired, UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet released a report on China’s treatment of Uyghurs.

According to the BBC, “the UN’s report concluded that “’the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups … may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.’”

The report recommends that China take immediately action to release “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.”

May God use this report and the action taken in response to it for the deliverance of many Uyghurs.

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“Where Will We Put Them All?!?”

If you’re new to Muslim Connect or just a little curious, here’s a < 2 min. intro to me that I shot today. Just a little peek behind the curtain.

Around our little part of southern Colorado new houses are popping up like dandelions in springtime. You can’t blame builders: People want to buy homes and move here. And I can’t blame people for wanting to move here: I did and it is gorgeous.

But can we handle the influx? The limiting factor in our equation is water. Will there be enough for everyone to sip, flush and shower? No one really knows.

And then there’s the squishier question: Will city-folk change our culture? (We don’t really say “city folk,” but you get the idea.) How will immigrants from Denver, Phoenix and, gasp, California taint the quaintness? Surely there will be effect and it will not be good!

The U.S. and many parts of the world deal with these two questions related to people wanting to move in: Do we have enough to handle them and how will they change things?

Of course, Christians have a couple more questions to consider: What does Jesus think about immigration and how do we follow him in regard to it? What do you think? How does the Bible shape your thinking on immigration?

Here are two extra-Biblical sources that have shaped my heart and mind on these things recently.

•  Iranian film maker, Arash Ashtiani will make you hold your breath! His 16 minute, crazy intense film, The Tunnel, follows three North African men as they attempt to flee from France to England by running through the 31 mile Channel Tunnel. Illegal? Yep, in several different ways.  But it does push me to consider what pushes people to consider such desperate acts.

•  In this Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell tells the winsome story of his parents’ sponsoring Vietnamese refugees to their town in Canada and his brother’s tearful connection to a Syrian kindergartner. It is moving and hopeful. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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S.W.I.M. with the New Fishies 🐟

My kiddos took off for their first day of school today. If yours did to, I celebrate with you! You survived the summer! You’re a rock star!

Most of our kids will encounter one of the two following scenarios when they return to school: They’ll be the new kid. (If so, the love of Jesus to them and you.) Or, they’ll discover new students have arrived in their classroom.

I haven’t heard yet what the “new kid” situation is for my guys, but since I really want them to learn to act like Jesus, here’s what I’m planning to share at dinner tonight:

S. W. I. M. with the new fishies:

Smile at the new kids. (a normal smile, not the creepy one you use for family photos!) You know how you’re wondering what the year will hold and if kids will like you? They are, too, and probably more so.

Where are you from?” This is a good starter question and most everyone can answer it. Follow it up with, “What’s it like there?”

I’m happy to help you if you need anything.” I’ll ask my kiddos to brainstorm what kind of help new kids might need. They probably know better than me. On the off chance it doesn’t come up, I’ll encourage sitting with them at lunch and looping them in at recess.

Maybe you could come over some time.” (And play Minecraft, of course!) We parents need to act like Jesus too, and playdates are a good catalyst for this.

Some of the new kids will be Muslims, the children of new Americans who’ve recently arrived. By God’s grace, none of them will get through the first week of school without a new friend who has their back, and who eventually helps them know how much Jesus has their back.

Please feel free to forward this to your church, a local Facebook group, your parent list or anyone else who has kiddos heading back to school. thx. 

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Death Shapes the Shias

My dentist asked me yesterday if I was looking forward to the kids going back to school. “A little bit,” I confessed. When she said she was sad, I told her, “You’re a better mom than I am!”

While August is a “look forward” month for me, the 15% of Muslims who are Shia are “looking back.” The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, roughly overlaps with August this year. While it means different things for different Muslims, for Shias it is a time of intense commemoration of Husayn, the martyred grandson of Muhammad and in many ways their spiritual leader.

Soon after the death of the prophet, conflict emerged regarding who would take over. One side argued to choose the most worthy person. The others insisted on keeping it in the family. (Presumably they believed that would cover the “most worthy” criteria as well!) As you probably know, this was the genesis of the two main camps of Muslims, Sunnis and Shias.

During Muharram in AD680 the Shia candidate for leadership, Husayn, was killed in a nasty fight in the city of Karbala which is now in Iraq. (If you’d like to get into the weeds on this, check here.)

To commemorate Husayn’s martyrdom, Shias hold services, organize formal mourning and even in some case engage in self-flagellation. My friend Rod Cardoza published a fascinating article in Natural History of his personal experience with Muharram in Ahmadabad, India.

Muharram began this year on Saturday, July 30. The culmination of the memorial, called Ashura, will be observed this coming Monday, August 8th.

Interestingly, a friend just told me that Saturday, August 6th marks Tisha B’Av when Jews fast and remember tragedies from their history.

It seems that Christians don’t go in for mourning so much. Maybe Jesus’s resurrection makes mourning less applicable. Or maybe my white, American, male perspective on life belies a skewed perspective. Either way, my prayers go out for both Jews and Muslims to find soul level nourishment and abundant life as they mourn in these days.

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Pregnant, Enslaved and Friends with God

When’s the last time you heard a sermon on Hagar or Ishmael? True confession: I don’t think I’ve ever preached one. But my good friend Deborah is going to, should Covid let her out of the house! Her thoughts on that dynamic duo have encouraged me this morning and I’d like to share a couple of them with you. (The majority of the following thoughts are from Deborah, unless they sound goofy. In that case, they’re from me!)

Similar to the way Christians are linked to Abraham by heritage, rather than blood, Muslims feel a link to Ishmael, and by extension, his mom Hagar. If we dig into their story instead of simply viewing them as the counterpoints to the people of the line of promise, we’ll find all sorts of intrigue, bad behavior and a God who is kind, attentive and conversant with the least likely of people.

Check Genesis 16.1-16, Genesis 17.1-27 and Genesis 21.1-21 for most of the fascinating story of Hagar and Ishmael.

Hagar names God! 
In Genesis 16.13 Hagar was the first person (and a woman!) in scripture to name GOD. “You are El-roi,” for she said, “In this place, have I actually seen the one who sees me?” He allowed Himself to be named by a slave woman! How valuable is this as we consider how to “see” and “hear” Muslims and God’s heart for them?!

God engages Hagar
In Genesis 16.8 after a pregnant Hagar has scuffled with Sarah and fled, the angel of the Lord found her and asked, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” How amazing, warm and kind is this? Basically, the God of the Heavens ask the 3X outsider, “What’s your story? What have you dealt with and where is your life headed?”

To think God cares to know those things of you and me and Muslims as well. Stunning.

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Jordan Peterson Said What!?!

Do you have an opinion on Jordan Peterson? (What?!? Canadians two weeks in a row?) I’m ambivalent, having enjoyed much of the limited exposure I’ve had to him, but (to his great consternation, I’m sure) disagreed with some of his thoughts.

However, when the guy who’s been labeled “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world” releases a video called “Message to Muslims,” my head cocks to the side like a curious German Shephard puppy.

You can watch the video here. It’s six minutes long, but for people like us, probably worth the watch.

I find a couple of things worth noting:

  1. Gutsy move on Peterson’s part to produce this video. When a celebrity says something to 1.8 billion people, some will certainly love you, but with equal certainty others will call for you to be flayed.
  2. The tone of paternalism is breath-taking! Peterson offers simplistic solutions and calls Muslims to get along the same way I challenge my daughters to not fight with each other as they unload the dishwasher!

I wonder how I (and other Christians) would feel about a Muslim speaking to all of us this way? Imagining some of my response, I’m afraid it indicates I have a heart-level sense of superiority to Muslims. Dang it.

A guy I follow on Instagram, khaledbeydoun says, “This video. . . has to be one of the most condescending, tone deaf, inherently Islamophobic rants I’ve seen in some time. While sitting from his perch, it sounds as if Peterson is a parent scolding his children.”

Even the Muslims fans of Peterson seem to be distressed by this video. “Dr Peterson, I’ve been following your work for years now, and your lessons helped me process and go through a lot of challenges I had in life. However, I’m disappointed by how shallow and presumptuous this video was.”

I’m no Jordan Peterson, but I’m reminded to consider afresh the ways I think about Muslims and the language I use to both talk about and to them.

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What’s the Deal with the Star and Crescent? ☪️

Do you like Malcolm Gladwell? I do. A lot. How could you not? Cheeky, Canadian, Mennonite and a journalist who makes you think. I’m a big fan of his podcast, Revisionist History. This season he’s proposing an interesting question: If you had a magic wand and could create an experiment without regard to cost, time, ethics, etc, what would you do?

I love these sorts of questions: If someone offered to pay for a five week, five-figure vacation for you and your people, what would you do and where?

And more pointedly for Muslim Connect: What would you like to know about Muslims? What would help as you pray and pursue relationships with them? What do you wonder about or just not get? Hit reply and let me know. I want to write Muslim Connect for you!

Here’s one I wondered about and got lost this afternoon exploring: What’s up with the star and crescent that has become so closely associated with Islam?

For starters, it’s not in the Quran. Allah is not the “moon god.” And Islam generally is not big on symbols.

It seems that a crescent moon served as a symbol for the town of Byzantium. When Constantine took over, he added a star for Mary, Jesus’s mom. When the Ottomans rolled into town, they changed a lot, but they kept the symbol, landing for the most part on the familiar red with white crescent and star. It began to be used more broadly and when Turkey became a country in 1923, they made it their flag.

Now it’s found on the flags of 20 Muslim majority countries, innumerable mosques and various other things requiring a “hey, we’re Islamic” indicator. Although it is associated with Islam, it is not Islamic. Also, in the same way Muhammad is not the Muslims’ Jesus, the star and crescent do not have the intrinsic representative power of the cross.

For more, watch this engaging three and a half minute video from the mind of a Muslim.

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What Are Your Wild Weekend Plans?

Got big plans for the weekend? I’m taking our middle school youth group boys on a hike. This is my personal parallel to what’s going down for a million Muslims who are Haj-ing to Mecca this weekend.

•  We’ll both deal with hot and sweaty people.
•  There will be rock throwing in both places.
Us: Skipping stones in the river.
Muslims: Throwing rocks at Satan.
•  We’ll both fear (Hope?!) it’s a once in a lifetime experience!

As you may know, the Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam; a religious pilgrimage that really has no parallel in Christianity. All Muslims, if physical and financial health allows, are required to make the trip at least once in their lives.

Muslims want to go to honor the requirement, of course, but also because forgiveness is on offer: Muhammad reportedly said, “Whoever performs Hajj for the sake of Allah and does not utter any obscene speech or do any evil deed, will go back (free of sin) as his mother bore him.”

Who doesn’t want forgiveness? I need it, and without pointing fingers or anything, I’m guessing you do too. Will you join me in praying that Muslims, those in Mecca this weekend and those who aren’t, will find the forgiveness they seek? The death and resurrection of Jesus, if sufficient for us, is also sufficient for them.

Grab this brief and well done prayer guide for Muslims on the Hajj. If you’re feeling really scrappy, share it: Forward it with this email to believers who might be interested, get the link into your church’s bulletin, or go old school and print out a few copies. Your dad and mine delights to answer our prayers.

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The First Really Mean Thing I Ever Saw

I was a little munchkin (Well, young. Never really was little!) when I first found out grownups could be mean to each other. My grandparents were taking me with them on vacation to Canada. At a stop somewhere along the way, Grandpa was frustrated with Grandma for a reason unknown to me. To demonstrate his frustration he began to drive away just after she opened the door to hop in the cab of the truck.

It wasn’t the funny tease of pulling forward two feet when your passenger reaches for the handle, but something much more sinister. I can still feel the echo of the panic I felt watching my Grandma trot along, eyes wide as she tried to get up in the truck.

She made it, and while I don’t remember, I suspect I was the only one who talked for the next few hundred miles.

We do mean stuff sometimes, don’t we? And say things designed to cut, shame and diminish others. My “everyone is stupid but me” attitude occasionally emerges in the most regrettable ways.

I don’t know what was behind my Grandpa’s uncool move. We don’t know the pain people are feeling, do we? Heck, we can’t even figure our own a lot of the time.

While I want us to passionately advocate for Muslims, and do so with the shrewdness of snakes, Jesus also says be innocent as doves. Grace to you and me both as we walk that razor edge!

My pastor recently recommended a John Stossel video about refugees and immigration. It’s smart, sharp, but not mean. I encourage you to watch it and pass it along as you see fit. I think it strikes a note near where we want to be as we invite others to love Muslims the way Jesus does.

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