One of War’s Forgotten Casualties

NOTE: While I wrote this post three years ago, it is more relevant today than ever. I just got off the phone with a national leader who works with refugees and he described how his organization gets waves of new refugees after each international crisis. Currently, Syrians and Iraqi’s are pouring in, each with their own traumas, stories and humanity. The UN recently announced that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced in 2013.


When pending or actual war invades the headlines of our news outlets and personal attention, we sometimes forget one of war’s worst casualties; displaced civilians.   In Libya alone, 75,000 people fled the country between February 19th and March 11th. Tens of thousands waited and continue to wait at the border seeking protection from their war torn homeland.

So what happens to them once they escape the war and oppression of their homeland?

Simply put, they become refugees who most likely will never be able to return to the life they once lived.  A migrant is one to leaves their country seeking socio-economic recovery, most often because of their homeland is experiencing oppression is some way.  In contrast, a refugee is fleeing physical persecution, oppression and/or war.  Death is an immediate reality.

When a refugee escapes their oppressive homeland, they most often have to live in a refugee camp awaiting resettlement in a more developed country.  While they keep their physical life, their daily reality is remains in dyer straights.  Sometimes refugees live in these camps for up to 20 years awaiting resettlement.

My wife and I work with a refugee family from Somalia each week.  After fleeing persecution in Somalia, they lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for years waiting for resettlement.  They are now in San Diego (which is a resettlement city) living in a crowded apartment complex alongside refugees from dozens of other countries.  The family we work with has 8 members and lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment.

While modern day refugees have escaped physical death, they have experienced profound social and relational death.  First, they have been forced from their physical homes and the rich culture/heritage that make them up.   Second, a refugee family is NOT resettled alongside the rest of their extended family.  The family of our Somalian friends are now scattered all over the U.S. and Europe.  With their modest income, seeing the family they grew up with is now close to impossible.

The casualty of war that is often overlooked is that of the refugee’s loss of “home.” Everything they would equate with “home” has been taken (physical home, family relationships, culture, etc…).  It is no wonder that refugee’s often cling to their last symbol of “home” in the form of their inherited religion/tradition.  Without a physical setting or extended family, their identity is now only found in such tradition.

For this reason our friends from Somalia quickly cover their heads when we come to their door, have passages from the Quran on their wall and obey a certain diet.  Their tradition is all they have left and it offers them the security of “home.”

From early in the Story, YHWH commanded his people to make a “home” for the foreigner within their community and tradition.  Jesus always had a special place for the deserted outcast and socio-political refugee.  May those that follow Jesus (and those that don’t) mourn the casualty of the loss of “home” for those fleeing Libya today.  And may we honor their traditions while offering them a “home” within ours.

How can we help?

  • THIS is a good article with some suggestions
  • Follow the International Rescue Commission and/or UN Refugee Agency on Twitter to keep up to date
  • Get connected with local organizations that resettle refugees and help them in their transition to a new “home” -- See the IRC and UN Refugee Agency websites for more info
  • Pray and advocate for the stories of the refugees to be told and considered in time of conflict


A Really Loud Silence

Embacing silence is an art. In fact, it is a lost art for many.  How many of us can embrace or even enjoy the silence in a conversation that has run dry of relevant topics?  Do we turn the radio on as soon as we sit in our car?  How about exercising with an iPod?  I don’t believe any of these realities are inherently bad, but I am discovering that the majority (I am the worst of these!) of people in our society aren’t comfortable with silence.  Rather than silence being the default reality, “noise” has become the default.

The Carthusians (of the Benedictine tradition) are a monastic order who believe that silence is foundational to all meaningful spirituality.  With the exception of shared liturgy and prayer, they live lives of complete silence.  They work in silence, eat in silence, walk in silence…For the Carthusians, God doesn’t speak to them because of the silence, instead they experience God speaking to them within the silence. The recent documentary (which I still haven’t seen) Into Great Silence chronicles the life of a community living in a Carthusian monastery.

A couple weeks ago I went on a day long silent retreat to a local monastery.  It was a requirement for a Spiritual Disciplines course I am currently taking, but I was really looking forward to the extended silence.  Sadly, it seems that it takes something “forced” upon me to slow down long enough to experience such silence. I prayed that the time would be loud in ways other than sound.

After an opening shared liturgy and prayer, I entered into my time of complete silence.  To be honest, it was a bit terrifying.  20 minutes of silence can feel like an eternity, so staring 6 hours in the face was a daunting prospect.  Further, when left only with the option of introspection, your mind starts to dig up stuff that has been buried by distraction and busyness for a long time.  It took the first hour to go through a disciplined inventory/evaluation of my heart and mind in an effort to be centered in silence before Jesus.  I sensed the need to simply be present, rather than move forward with any agenda or asking.

Although there were a couple of spiritual exercises (Centering Prayer and Stations of the Cross), the time was spent purely in a place of introspective silence…and it was hard.  It is a discipline that I have far from mastered, but was made aware of the formative place such a discipline should have in my life.  I can see why the Desert Fathers considered their time in isolation to be a profound experience of temptation.  How can one be tempted when removed from society? When we leave ourselves exposed to the realities of our inner being, we run into all sorts of stuff that tempts us to entertain thoughts, emotions and memories that lead down destructive paths.  It is in facing those temptations and wading through them that we find ourselves more present before our Maker than ever before. I think Jesus experienced and embodied this reality in his 40 days in the desert (Matt. 4).

My time was blanketed in silence, but it was really loud.

Is the art of embracing silence something that you have wrested with?  What is it that keeps us from such a discipline?  What are some practices that may be helpful as we create room for silence in our daily/weekly rhythm’s of life?

Turning the Page of a Generation

It’s been a week since my last post and it wouldn’t make sense for me to jump back in without processing a bit of the past week.  After all, blogging is as much a devotional time for me as it is a writing discipline.

My wife and I lost both of our last two remaining grandparents. After a last minute flight to Omaha and a 4 hour drive to the small farming town of Red Cloud, we made it to the bedside of Jan’s grandpa.  Although he was extremely weak, we trust that he heard our voices and little Ruby’s cry.  Jan’s mom (Char) told him that we had all made it to be with him and that he was free to finally let go.  The next morning, with Jan, Ruby and Char at his side, he took his last breath.

The night before we left for Kansas we spent an extended time with my 93 year old grandma who lives down here in San Diego.  Her health was also deteriorating quickly and in our goodbye’s that evening, we had a sense it would be our last time with her.  After all the family made it to her bedside, her son (my uncle) told her that we would be OK and she was free to finally let go.  A couple days later, while in the Omaha airport to fly back to San Diego, I got the call that she had taken her last breath.

It was a week where the Entangled Theology of life and death was made a present reality.

The Pain

It’s strange turning the page on a whole generation.  Our parents are now the grandparents and the page turns.  The lives of our grandparents connected us to our heritage.  With a combined 180 years of life, they were around when WWI was at its peak and the Model T had only recently hit the road.  Further, they not only symbolize our roots in Ireland (Jan) and Sweden (me), but our childhood.  Driving around the small farm town of Red Cloud, Janny reflected on all the summers she spent riding tractors, swimming in the community pool and running around her grandparent’s farmhouse.  I think back to playing Little League and looking in the stands to see my grandma dialed into the action or when she would wake me up in the middle of the night to eat ice cream and play cards.  It will be strange not having Ruby know these two like we did.

The Joy

These two lived relationally rich and long lives.  To be honest, in their suffering towards the end, we prayed for a peaceful release from this life.   While it hurts not to have them physically present, we have years of experiences to reflect on and share with our children.  Further, it was incredible to be present with them in these final days.  We have no regrets and are now realizing that one of the central purposes for our move to San Diego was to be able to spend so much time with my grandma in these final months as representatives of our whole family.  Finally, as followers of the resurrected Jesus, we can’t help but be stirred to joy as we anticipate a reunion at the culmination of God’s restoration project for humanity.

Although a whirlwind of experiences and emotions that we would rather not have to endure anytime soon, we are reminded of the value of being fully present with those we love.  May we represent and extend the legacy that our loved ones pass on to each of us.

Entangled Theology Part 2: Living w/the Pain of Death and Hope of Life

After Monday’s post, I am realized that my approach to “Part 2” was going to need to change form a bit.  I had numerous people contact me through personal email and social media with their story.  It blows my mind how many have endured the death of a child, yet our Christian culture speaks so little into its reality. We eagerly celebrate the life of a newborn, yet rarely acknowledge the lasting pain of loss in the life of one who didn’t make it.  This deserves a lot more attention, which I will not offer in this series of posts.  For now, if you are looking for a systematic/rational “answer” to the mystery of life/death as presented in Part 1, you might as well stop reading now.  In fact, I have tried to seek that answer over the past couple years and I have found it will continue to leave me wanting.  Further, I believe it strays from the heart of a relational God and the mystery of His ongoing Story.

With that said, I believe there are theological insights that can give us a glimpse into this mystery.  Further, I believe those glimpses are best presented from a variety of voices in conversation.  If you have experienced loss or if you have insight into this mystery, please join the conversation.  We need to hear from you.  Here is a slice (extremely condensed!) of my part of the theological conversation:

Suffering is central to the Story of God.  If we deny the reality of suffering, we deny the very story we have chosen to participate within. In this light, I will highlight three aspects/stages of the Story: Covenant, Prophets and Jesus.


YHWH (the LORD) entered a covenant relationship with his people early in the Story.  Beginning with Noah (Gen. 9), building momentum with Abraham (Gen.12-17) and played out time and time again in Moses, YHWH committed to his people and they (although often failing) committed to him.  Each time YHWH’s people would enter exile and suffering, he would remember the covenant and deliver them.  Such a covenant relationship has been extended to all those that choose to be part of His Story today.  The God that remembered his people in the past, remembers his people today.


In the midst of exile and suffering, God’s people knew how to weep.  They not only wept on behalf of the people’s tragic situation, they wept on behalf of God’s heartbreak for his people.  The Prophets wept over what could have been and the wept for the hope of the future to be made real now. Thought to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah, Lamentations was set in the 500’s B.C. during a time of Babylonian exile and is made up of 5 poems describing the tragic situation of the Israelites and Jerusalem.  Yes, the book is lined with hope, but it is filled with tears.  In a culture that tells us (directly and indirectly) to “get over it” and move on, we can’t feel ashamed to sit in the pain of suffering and loss.  In fact, it is when we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain (grieve), that we lose touch with the heart of God.

Jesus: Where God’s solidarity with humanity is revealed

God could have physically overthrown all the powers of oppression, but instead he chose to take the path that would require mourning/sorrow/grief.  It was in Jesus’ weeping and death that God most connected with humanity; such is the sacred nature of pain/sorrow.  We become the most connected with our humanity and God’s standing in solidarity with us in the midst of the pain.

We know the hope is coming, but we can’t force it to come.  We know it was three days for Jesus, but it may be a lot more in our reality.

Some days the pain of losing our child is worse than others, but every day we feel the pain.

We are to be a people, who in both pain and hope, remember that the God that worked in history, is still at work today.

Entangled Theology

I recently listened to Rob Bell use the expression “Entangled Theology.” It can be articulated by arguing that great hope sits side by side with pain.  Such a theology has to live with both doubt and hope.  He went on to say that we often make gods out of certainty, but when destruction comes upon us we have to be able to live and reside within an “Entangled Theology.”

What has been your experience of pain/loss?  How have you dealt with the reality of God existing both in the loss and the hope?  Please join the conversation as it is one that our culture desperately needs to have.

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