Tax Season is beginning to take up more and more of my time. Some problems dealing with New York State over my Obamacare application is adding to the demands on my time. So my blog posts will continue to be less frequent and shorter. I also will be using some outside sources and things that I wrote during my transition journey instead of fresh material. Hopefully, it will still be of growing interest to my current and new readers. And now, here’s today’s blog post.
There are times when I have concerns about the future of the United States. There are also times when I am very proud of my country and the ideals for which it stands and upon which it was founded. Yesterday was one of those days for patriotic pride.
It started when I met with a Christian friend to discuss her income tax situation. She will be a new client this year. She also does not know about my past or this blog, so I will not give her name.
After the meeting, we went out to lunch at a nearby Friendly’s restaurant. We arrived during the gap between the lunch and dinner hours, so we were able to talk with our waiter a bit more than we could if it was at a busier time.
My friend was born in Iran. She came here at age four, but her English is still somewhat accented. Perhaps this was why she did not comment on our waiter’s accent. Or perhaps I merely asked first. I definitely detected a Middle Eastern accent. His real first name was on his name tag, but to protect his privacy, I will call him “Salaam”.
Did he mind if I asked him where he was from? He cheerfully replied, Syria. He was a friendly, engaging young man. And in between his need to come and go to take care of our order and other customers, an interesting story unfolded.
This man was not your ordinary waiter. In Syria, he was a dentist. This in itself was intriguing. How does a Syrian dentist end up as a waiter in the New York City suburbs?
He began by asking us if we were familiar with what is going on in Syria as far as the fighting. My friend and I nodded yes. He replied that you can get killed there. People are being shot. The implication was that it is happening with great frequency there, far more than in the United States.
I thought that perhaps he had been part of the Syrian Christian minority and that was what put his life in danger. My friend may have had the same thought because at this point, she asked him what religion he followed. He replied, “Muslim.”
He went on to explain that Muslims are killing Muslims in Syria. It is the government versus the rebels, moderates versus extremists, Shiites versus Sunnis. People trying to live their daily lives are caught in between: homes and businesses destroyed; many have lost their lives.
Salaam told us that he walked away from the dental clinic he established and all his equipment. He has since learned that it has all been destroyed. He didn’t say which side did it. It really doesn’t matter at this point.
My friend asked him if he brought family with him. He shook his head. He came alone. Apparently he knew another Syrian dentist who had preceded him coming to the United States.
My friend was surprised that he would come here not really knowing anyone. Her family came here while the Shah was still firmly in power. She was not one whose family fled when the Shah was deposed or some in response to some other crackdown on Christians.
I, on the other hand, remember three of my Hungarian cousins coming here in 1957. I was four years old at the time, but I remember picking up one of them at Camp Kilmer, and the other two showing up at our house in Queens. It is a vivid memory for me, even though I was only four years old at the time. After the unsuccessful attempt in Hungary to get rid of the yoke of oppressive Soviet Communism, my cousins managed to become part of the roughly 200,000 Hungarians able to escape. They arrived with little more than the clothes on their back and a smile, knowing almost no English. (My mother’s parents came from Hungary at the turn of the century and she was able to communicate with them in Hungarian.) Learning English, they worked hard and became part of the American middle class. So I understood the desperation that would cause Salaam to leave his homeland.
My friend questioned him further. She wanted to know if he left behind family in Syria. “No,” he replied, adding that they emigrated to Turkey. Why didn’t he go to Turkey as well, my friend wanted to know.
His answer was enlightening. He shared that throughout the Middle East and that part of the Muslim world, many of the countries are facing serious problems. He cited Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Palestine (Jordan), Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq as examples. And he added that Turkey was in a similar situation. When I asked if he meant that these countries were unstable, he agreed. The potential was too high that the destructive events that happened to him in Syria might repeat themselves in Turkey.
He elaborated. In Syria, you never know when someone might approach you on the street and demand to know your background. Being a Muslim does not protect, as the battles are between various Muslim factions. Giving the wrong answer can be hazardous to one’s freedom and even one’s life.
In the United States, in contrast, he explained that no one ever demands to know what he believes. He has freedom to live his life pretty much as he pleases. He mentioned that here he has become friends with those who are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and atheists. I replied that was also an accurate description of my list of clients.
He mentioned that it would take some time, but he was working on getting licensed as a dentist in this country. I told him that he had taken an important first step in learning the English language as well as he had. He was a bit surprised, but pleased at the compliment.
We finished our meal, paid our bill, and gave Salaam a generous tip in recognition of the great service he provided us. I can see this bright, personable young man going far. Wherever he ends up, he will make a good neighbor and friend to many. My pride in my country stems from the hope and second chance that the United States has provided this worthy person.
So what does this have to do with the title of my post? This is roundabout, even for me!
After I returned home, I meditated on the life of this young man and our conversation with him in the restaurant. As I did so, I sensed a grieving of the Spirit. If the body of Christ was truly united, what a testimony it would be to the many people like Salaam whose lives are torn apart by division, including warring within their own religion. In other places it might be tribal factions or class warfare.
How much more attractive would the Gospel be to the world if they saw a Christian body marked by love and unity? What a real alternative it would present. What a solace and refuge it would provide. Best of all, it is what Christ preached and prayed for us to be: brothers and sisters united in love for one another. Concentrating on what we have in common rather than where we differ.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. – 1st John 4:20-21
We sing that they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Do we live it?
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another. – John 15:8-17
As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. – John 17:18-21
“That the world may believe” … isn’t that what we Christians should want more than anything else in the world? It is so simple the way Jesus spells it out for us. But history has shown that it isn’t easy.
Nevertheless, let’s summarize it in simple language. The world will believe in the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, if they see our unity. We will achieve unity if we love one another within the body of Christ.
That’s the game plan from our Salvation Captain. Let’s practice it so we can execute it, even under difficult circumstances. If you watched the Super Bowl, you witnessed that the team able to do a better job of executing their game plan won the prize.