Safety Is Not Guaranteed

Or, “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Refugees.”

Ben Carson proudly backs a “majority of US Governors” who want to block Syrian refugees from coming into this country.  Paul Ryan calls for “a pause” in the refugee process, which typically takes two years, to reassure political leaders that refugees are adequately vetted.  (They are screened seven times, by several agencies, more than any other kind of immigrant.)  People across the United States are calling for the refugees to be kept out.  Government officials propose alternative solutions like, say, forcing all the refugees back into Syria and simply putting them in camps there and guarding them.

I understand that this is a complex issue and answers don’t come easily, but when I see my Christian brothers and sisters calling for the refugees to be sent back to Syria, or to be housed in “nearby countries where people are like them,” what I see isn’t a rational discussion about the issue, but a reaction based off of fear and xenophobia.  I have seen Christians using the Bible to defend both sides of the argument, arguing alternately that the Old Testament is stringent in it’s command to care for foreigners in our land and that we are called to provide for our own.

People say things like “why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?”

People say, “why should we WELCOME TERRORISTS?”

People say, “we have a responsibility to protect our families!”

Bible verses fly like chaff on the wind, the casing of an argument that is built around a very different kind of seed.

So come now, my friends, let’s try this again.

Why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?  Once upon a time, I was a supervisor in a homeless shelter.  And while my salary was paid by the kindness of our donors, and we received adequate support, I was always a little shocked by how many people didn’t help.  The amount of people who actively supported and donated, especially the amount of people who gave with any regularity, was a small percentage of the booming Christian population surrounding us.  The truth is that while homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, the people actively working to help homeless people are almost constantly having to beg for support, redirecting funds and personnel that could be helping the homeless to raise more funds.  If we really cared about the homeless, shelters wouldn’t have to be constantly begging for cash and calling their donors to ask for more food and socks and diapers.  It is both disheartening and outrageous to see homelessness used as an excuse to NOT help refugees, when the government funding for the programs that help the homeless is constantly under threat of being removed.  The Republican Presidential Nominees using “we need to help our people here” as a talking point for refusing the refugees have also said that they would cut funding to HUD, which sponsors shelters, and have said they would get rid of “tax loopholes” like the Community Development Block grant, which is part of what kept my own shelter in the black.

Point one:  You don’t get to use the homeless as a shield for your opinion if you actively support defunding the programs that currently keep them off the street.  Entire Republican field- I am talking to you.

Why should we welcome refugees if some might be terrorists?  Well, for one, while people are quick to talk about rising crime rates in European countries accepting refugees, the evidence is that the crime rate has risen in proportion to populations, showing that refugees commit the same amount of, or fewer, crimes comparative to their native counterparts.  While one bomber in Paris was found with a fake Syrian passport, his presence in France was due entirely to the amount of refugees arriving on boats in Greece and the European Union’s open border policies and lax refugee laws.  The refugees awaiting placement in the US are not the same ones washing onto the shores in Greece.  They are living in UN refugee camps and applied for placement years ago.  They are going through an intense screening process and would only be placed in the States if they are deemed to be a good fit: they have family here already, are connected with community groups here already, or have skills that would make them beneficial to the US economy.  The refugees that the UN would refer for placement in the US would already have protective barriers that are known to decrease the likelihood of terrorism, since terrorists are generally people who are disconnected from communities due to extreme hardship.  The presence of a fake passport on a terrorist in Paris tells us that the terrorists want us to fear refugees and send them back to Syria.  Do we want to be so easily manipulated?

Point Two:  If you fear refugees, you do what the terrorists want.  The first step to overcoming terrorism is to not fear what terrorists ask you to.

But we still have a responsibility to protect our families!  Except we have to ask ourselves what we need to protect them FROM.  One thing we want to protect them from is living in a future where the actions we take today could haunt them.  One way we could haunt our children is by making our country responsible for millions of deaths because refugee camps were overrun, people hand nowhere to go, so they were trying to cross the seas en masse on rubber rafts.  The fact that the US was unwilling to take in Jewish immigrants prior to WW2 remains as a stain on our collective conscience.  How many people could we have saved if we’d been compassionate?  But people had, then, the same fears they have today:  what if the refugees steal our jobs, rape our women, cause crimes, are actually spies?  While the problems today are slightly different and there is legitimate reason to suspect that terrorist organizations would take advantage of refugee programs, that is why the government of the United States already has refugees pass seven screenings through various organizations before approving them for placement, in a process that takes several years.  Ten thousand unscreened refugees aren’t going to show up and wage war tomorrow.  It isn’t going to happen.  While one or two psychopaths could possibly leak through, it would be in a percentage proportionate to the population at large.  And while one or two psychopaths can cause a lot of damage, we face mass shootings from our own citizens with some regularity.  By taking in refugees, we help the UN to provide stability throughout the Middle East by taking some of the pressure off of their refugee camps.  This helps to keep everyone safe and sap the power from the terrorists, who benefit from Syrian families suffering.  Besides which, if you feel justified in “keeping your family safe” at the expense of the suffering of innocent people, that is truly shudder-worthy.

Refugee camps catch on fire.

Refugee camps are susceptible to fatal disease outbreaks.

Female refugees, especially young women, are often the victims of unreported crime.

Refugees have inconsistent access to medical care, to education, and to basic niceties of life.  The war in Syria could rage for decades; in the meantime, are we meant to believe that we make the world safer by leaving these people to burn to death, to die of viral meningitis, to be raped and beaten?

Will their children learn to love us and our freedoms if we leave them to suffer?

Point three:  You cannot make the world safer by perpetuating the conditions that breed terrorism.  If you want the Muslim world to love us and our freedoms, bring them here.  Show them our freedoms.  Love them.  Let them learn to love us.

Besides which, the Bible doesn’t guarantee us safety.  If anything, it does the opposite.  The Bible is full of references to persecution, stating that as Christ suffered so we will also suffer as his disciples.  Let’s not forget the fact that we follow someone who lovingly offered his body to the scourge so that his blood would be shed to save us.  And we can’t even offer up our local community center to a refugee family so their children can play?

1 Corinthians 14:10-  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

This is an opportunity for us, in our weakness and fear, to be made strong.  This is an opportunity to put our faith in God, to put our fate in God’s hands, and to trust that His will be done.  This is a time to pray for the wisdom of our leaders that they make the right call when placing refugees.  This is a time for us to sacrifice our pride as the servants of mankind and to pour out blessings on the refugees, trusting that as we do so in obedience to Christ that our faith and humility will open their hearts to God’s love.

This is a time to act like Christ.

Let us not forget that Jesus washed Judas’ feet the night before he died.  That he ate with Judas, that he called him friend.

Let’s not forget that anything God calls for us to sacrifice, even our lives, is never too much.  That we have faith in him that he uses every harm for good, every wound to show his grace and mercy.  When we open our mouths to say that we must ignore the needs of the innocent because it is “too risky” to help, that we must leave orphans and widows in squalor because we must protect ourselves, what we say out of the other side of our mouth is that we no longer believe that serving other people in obedience to God offers us any sort of reward.  We want to reward ourselves with our own safety.

Is that what faith does?

Let us not forget that as the Bible teaches us, everything we have is God’s in the first place.

Psalm 24:1  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it

All we have we possess as His stewards.  If we truly believe that, that this is His country and not ours, we need to ask ourselves not what we want but what He requires.

Does God want his children in the Muslim world to suffer in camps, living exposed to the elements in tents, subject to fire and disease, famine and cruelty, indefinitely while a war wages in their hometowns?  Does he want us to turn a blind eye to their plight out of fear that one or two radicals may slip through the cracks?  Does God value OUR safety more than THEIRS?

photo via the associated press

Easter: the shame and the glory

I wish there was a rock to hide under, to get away from the various forwards of bloodied up Jesus, bloody palms, Jesus in a ray of sunshine with the crown of thorns, and all of the other iconography replete with all caps captions like “THIS WAS FOR YOU”, as if a person can be shamed into accepting Christ’s sacrifice by being forced to realize the extent of it.  Perhaps it’s a sign of my own weakness of faith, but I have a hard time celebrating Easter with all of the gore and mania of the preceding week being shoved in my face, so it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to church on an Easter Sunday.

Besides which, the constant “this was for YOU this was for YOU this was for YOU” is very upsetting to me.  I find it indicative of a very me-centric kind of theology, in which every passage in the Bible is interpreted in terms of self.  Jesus died for MY sins, he offered grace for MY shortcomings, he preached forgiveness so you need to forgive ME, he preached love so you need to love ME, he preached generosity so be generous with ME, he preached the floodgates opening for blessings to be poured out so he’d better bless ME, and on and on and on.

As if the Gospel revolves not around the person of God, but the person of myself.

I find myself, perhaps pettily, wanting to change the caption of every single Easter meme I see to “he did this for the homeless junkie on the corner who gave up her kids rather than get clean”, and then forward it along.

I mean, it’s not about us.  It’s not JUST about us, it’s about the whole of creation and the whole of the law.  It’s about fulfillment of a blood contract that God wrote not just so that you can be free from your obligation to fulfill it yourself, but so that the whole of creation is free from fulfilling it.  So that the rocks and the trees can be renewed, so that you can be renewed, but so that the homeless junkie on  the street corner can be renewed to.  So that all of us, yes you and yes me and yes the gays and the meth heads and the prostitutes and the Wall Street bankers and shortsellers and the scum of the earth and the scourge of society and even the insurance adjusters can feel a twinge of repentance, respond to God’s spirit, and approach the throne room freely.

Yeah, I guess I should be glad that it’s about me, but I don’t want to live as if I’m the only one it’s about.

It’s about the whole planet, being freed from burden of the law so that it, us, everyone, everything can be molded into God’s design.  It’s about a time of renewal and blessing so intense and yet so simple it should blow your mind.

And it’s not about shame.  It’s not about changing, or being faithful, because the sight of Christ’s blood makes you embarrassed of your sin.  It’s about choosing holiness because you rejoice in the fact you now have the ability to.  It’s about realizing that you have a million chances to pursue God throughout the day, not a limited amount based off of how many sacrifices you can purchase or how often you can make it to the temple.  It’s about the freedom to honor God, not the burden to.

I realize I’m just blathering, but the early light of Easter morning brings it out in me.  I was walking the dogs with the frost still on the ground and my crazy stubborn baby in my arms, and as my feet crunched the ground and I watched the dogs romping as if there was no tomorrow, and my daughter clinging to my neck as if leaving me was death, all I could think was that I’d already found the message of Easter.

The consciousness that this moment matters, that I am free to share this moment with God.

And the realization that Christ’s sacrifice was so that God could be in every moment.  Yes, even the ones where the junkie on the corner looks up at the same early morning sun, and loves God for a moment or curses him.

And we should share these moments, not because we’re hoping that hitting the “send” button on the meme enough will somehow make up for our share in Christ’s pain, but because the best way to honor his blood is by doing exactly what his sacrifice gives us the freedom to do:  feeling God’s love for each other without impediment.

Staying Married Forever

My mother has a One-Step plan to stay married forever: don’t get divorced.

While she usually outlines her plan with a wry smile and joking tone, she’s also very serious. There is very little that can break two people apart if they simply make the decision to never leave each other. If the continuation of the marriage means more than your temporal happiness, the marriage will keep on. The question becomes, “what is a divorce-worthy offense?”

In my mother’s eyes, the only reasons to leave are abuse and unfaithfulness. Everything else can be worked through if both parties are willing to commit. There is no such thing as an irreconcilable difference. All differences can be overcome with a certain amount of sacrifice, selflessness and understanding. While life is always more complicated than ideals, the fact that my parents will soon be celebrating their 35th anniversary stands as a testament to the effectiveness of her One-Step plan. Both of my parents have made their share of selfless sacrifices, and they reap the reward of remaining together after all of their children are grown and out of the nest.

Marriage is about more than one’s own happiness. Marriage is about a commitment to your partner, looking at them and saying “your happiness is as important as mine.” It is about working to achieve your partner’s happiness with as much avidity as you work for your own. It is about changing when change is needed. There have been times in my own marriage where I’ve had to face changing myself or knowing I was hurting my spouse, and I chose change. I chose change, at times, even though I felt that it cost me more to change than it would have cost my husband to bear with me. I’ve also seen my husband choose change, even when he didn’t feel he was in the wrong.

Marriage is about growth. It’s about two trees sharing root space, sacrificing and growing together. Two separate beings intermingling until the casual observer can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. This cannot be achieved without a sacrifice of self, and it’s not always pretty. There have been times where I have felt like I was cutting away at my own flesh to make room for my husband.   In moments  I’ve resented and even felt like I hated him. But we have two children together, and the reasons we married have yet to change. The question is what matters more? Myself, my happiness, or my husband and children’s? If I change, and we can continue, and the three of them find their happiness, does that matter more than me feeling like my needs are being met right now?

And then there’s the principle of spiritual and karmic return. I sincerely believe that every time someone sacrifices of themselves for someone else, it is returned to me. I have seen my own returns in the form of my husband and children. I see that we are together, that we are witnesses to each other’s life. I see the peace and stability that can only come from continuity. It’s good. It’s definitely worth it.