Wednesday, November 18, 2015

This is why I broke a promise to myself on Facebook

Yesterday I broke a promise I made to myself -- I got political on Facebook.  I've argued to myself and others that Facebook is a place for pleasant conversation, much like a cocktail party or hang out with friends.  Debates about inherently controversial and intimate subjects -- religion, politics, sex -- are better left for forums with structures sturdy enough to bear the weight of that substance.  

Every once in awhile, though, I get caught off guard, and my best made plans for civil and gracious social interchange get waylaid.  The subject of providing refuge within our borders for those fleeing persecution in Syria caught me off guard this week.  I watched the news, read the accounts of this week's massacres of people in different parts of the world at the hand of the Islamic State.  I thought "This is going to be complicated:  how will governments respond?  Will this be a call to war?  This is going to be a tough decision for politicians.  And I know Christians have varying views on the matter of peace, diplomacy and war.  What would a 'just war' look like in this context?"

I prayed and read and considered my own convictions.  In these moments, I never once imagined the conversation would move so swiftly to the issue of refugees.  This is my own naivete, I see now.  I'm not surprised at the arguments in the governmental sphere.  That is not a new issue, as no amount of horrific persecution of those fleeing Syria has moved our government too far off the mark of their stubborn campaign rhetoric.  

No.  What surprised me was the conversation in the Christian sphere.  Of all the subjects we could disagree, I never imagined it would be this one.  There are so many decisions we need to make in our present context that Scriptures seem to have made room for conscientious disagreement.  We make decisions all the time -- build entire denominations -- on subjects tertiary to the Gospel and the creeds, while staying in communion with each other as one body of Christ.  

I can not see how welcoming refugees is one of those subjects.  As a follower of Christ, I can not see it.  How many we receive, how we feed, clothe and shelter them, which department of the government oversees the security to protects all of us, which federal or state budget funds each of these initiatives -- these questions, I imagine to stir up much debate among intelligent, civic and spiritually-minded people.

Of all the decisions we Christians have to make to live faithfully to our God and our government, how many are this plain?  These are the kinds of moments, we ought to rejoice in the simplicity of our call.  This is easy!  

It's easy because the lesson of welcoming the foreigner, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the prisoner, and the persecuted is woven into the entire narrative of the Scriptures that provide the foundation for our faith.  The entire narrative of Scripture -- both prescriptively and descriptively written --  weaves stories of the refugee into our identity as Christians. From our father Abraham who got up and left his country to the Christ child fleeing in his mother's arms to the early Church mothers and fathers persecuted for following the Messiah Jesus, we are formed. 

We could even make a case that one of our primary functions to each other in the Church is to care for each other as exiles living away from our truest home.  We do this when we bear each other's burdens, gather together frequently to share shelter and bread. 

Friends who follow Christ, there is nothing ambiguous, divisive, or murky about our call to welcome the refugee.

Here's another thing.  If it weren't enough to be convinced by the Christian Scriptures, there's this lesser identity I carry as an American citizen.  A nation birthed both in noble call and violent sins against native humanity must be a place for refugees. If not this nation, than what was the whole point of our founding? Is this not obvious as we prepare our homes and menus for a day of Thanksgiving?

I am an American citizen birthed after the Holocaust, raised up on the stories of the heroes who opened the gates of the camps.  I've swum in the sea of stories about the other heroes - the people who gave a room to Anne Frank's family, the Dutch clockmaker's family, the German factory owner. The names Frank, ten Boom, Schindler and countless others lesser known have been canonized, rightfully so, to a place of civic sainthood.  We've worn down every discovered floor and attic in Europe, admiring the hidey-holes and hidden doors that kept alive thousands of refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.  This history is so embedded in post-war generations, we can't seem to stop writing movies and books and plays and poems to tell these stories.

We tell them because we warn each other that maybe someday it will be us. It's possible that one day, we will become the persecuted, dispersed, homeless, fleeing ones.  If we're being honest, don't we also tell the stories because we wanted to grow up to become the ones who would -- given the chance -- open our doors, our attics, our extra rooms, our pantries, our wardrobes, our boats and factories and cars to the ones crying "Shelter!"? Didn't we read the books and watch the movies to measure our own character against all the named and unnamed heroes, who bore light in the face of darkest evil?  

And maybe Scriptures should be enough, but if we are too many millennia removed from the stories of baby Moses and baby Jesus and all other holy innocents, might our hearts be stirred again by the image of a 15-year-old girl in an attic

And if all our memory of the first ship of refugees anchored in the freezing cold of the Atlantic ocean at Plymouth has faded into elementary school graphics, might we pass around the story again of the little boy lying face down in the sand?  

What have we been telling these stories for if not to instruct us now?

So, yesterday I broke a promise.  I got political on Facebook.  I woke up this morning feeling a little sheepish because what I really wanted to do is get religious.  
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ — Matthew 25: 34-40
And if our hearts can not be moved by the very words of the Creator God, then might we again watch this scene and remind ourselves who we've been hoping to be when our turn comes:

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