The latest addition to our congregation’s electronic sign …
May all our neighbors get the message!
The latest addition to our congregation’s electronic sign …
May all our neighbors get the message!
“We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country.”
(Donald Trump at a February 16 news conference)
I was glad, so glad that the judicial system stayed the first executive order on immigration and refugees, so glad that our system is still capable of exercising checks and balances, so glad that such an ill-conceived and ill-intended and, frankly, cruel blanket ban was seen for was it is, or rather for what it is not — not us, not who we are at our best, not who, it is my hope, most of us want to be.
But this administration is determined to get its way, which means that advocates for refugees and advocates for a just America and advocates of compassion must remain vigilant and vocal! We must protest, not stand by quietly while people’s lives are disrupted and upended. We must continue to stand not against, but stand for — stand for compassion, stand for the protection of people at risk, stand for welcome and acceptance and affirmation of people not like us. Or better, stand for defining “us” to include people who are not just like “me!”
It is difficult to keep on speaking up, difficult to keep on protesting, difficult to sustain energy and will and engagement, especially when protest seems futile, when it seems not to make a difference. I do believe voices of justice and compassion can make a difference, but I was reminded that protest is not merely about effecting change, but also and especially about integrity and about faithfulness, faithfulness to the core values that make us who we are. I was reminded by this quote from Wendell Berry headlining the current edition of the The Weekly Sift:
Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
Lats October, before the election, I preached a sermon entitled You. It seems particularly apropos now. I concluded the sermon by retelling Faez’ story. The details of his story come from an article by Alex Altman, “A Syrian Refugee Story” (http://time.com/a-syrian-refugee-story/)
Your name is Faez and you are a refugee.
You were not always a refugee. There was a time when you were happy, at least as happy as you could be, considering. Considering the turmoil and violence that engulfed your hometown and your homeland.
You lived with your wife in Daraa in southern Syria, walking to your healthcare job each day and returning each evening, even as Syrian army troops and rebel insurgents clashed in the streets around your home.
But one morning, as you walked to work, they stopped you. They stopped you and accused you of being a terrorist. They made you raise your hands and they aimed a gun at you and you “felt death upon [you].”
But an old woman suddenly came into the street, pleading for your life and for the lives of those detained with you. And the soldiers let you go.
But everything had changed. In your mind and in your heart, everything had changed. You feared for your life and for the life of your wife. You knew you had to leave, leave your home and your homeland. You were a refugee.
You gathered your wife and a few belongings and the next morning you left your home — forever — walking an hour and a half through the streets of the city even as deadly missiles crashed into the buildings around you.
You met the car of a smuggler who drove you to the Jordanian border where you were taken to the refugee camp at Zaatari. From there you were smuggled again out of the camp and into the city of Amman where you spent two years working “off the books” and waiting for the UN to find a place to resettle your family.
Life in Jordan was difficult. You were a refugee. You felt exploited at work and shunned at home. You received little or no aid and glimmers of hopes for resettlement in Sweden and then Finland quickly faded.
But then they told you you were going to the United States. You were scared. It was so far away, so far away from everything you knew. You would go with almost nothing to a place you knew almost nothing about. You had never even flown on a plane before.
But you went and now you and your wife and two baby girls live in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. You work third shift at the local Walmart and life is good … considering. Considering you are still a refugee.
You are safe. Your family is safe. You have work. You have a home. But you are a refugee. A Syrian refugee.
Most of your neighbors oppose admitting refugees into “their” country. In the nearby town of Irving, protesters, armed with masks and tactical weapons, gathered outside a mosque, protesting the “Islamization of America.”
Your governor wants to deny entry to any and all future refugees, quite probably including the six of your own relatives from Syria who were supposed to be relocated to Dallas to be near you. And a candidate for president of your new home country has vowed to deport any refugees already here and to keep watch lists of immigrants like you, to keep close tabs on refugees like you. You are worried. You are worried about your family. You have a home, but you are not home. You are a refugee, still a refugee, still an outcast.
Who will see you? Who will see you? See not a refugee, not a Syrian Muslim, but see you?
Who will heal the deeper wounds in you? Who will make you well?
The following is an excerpt from a blog entry (Why We Stand) posted today by Jenny Simmons. Jenny was the lead singer of the Christian band, Addison Road. The band is now disbanded, but Jenny continues to do solo projects and to write books. Addison Road is a favorite of mine among Christian bands (see my review of their song, “What Do I Know of Holy”). Years ago, at a UCC evangelism conference in Kansas City, I met Jenny’s parents.
As Jenny explains in her post, three months ago she gave birth to a daughter, Annie, and today she and her husband will take Annie to “her first peaceful rally,” because … it’s personal. It’s personal, not political.
Tonight we are taking Annie to her first peaceful rally to stand alongside the Refugee and Immigrant community of Nashville. This is why.
I gave birth to our daughter, Lucy, in October at Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Nothing went as planned and I’ve never felt more physically traumatized. That is another story, for another day. When I think back to my five day stay at the hospital there are only a handful of redemptive moments that come to mind. My nurse Miriam is one of them.
I’ve never been treated with as much compassionate love and kindness as I was by Miriam. I’ve also never been pushed harder. Twenty-four hours after my c-section, when I still felt delirious from the drugs and the pain of the epidural lingered in my back, she asked me if I had walked yet. ‘Walked? I can’t even urinate on my own,’ I thought. My face must have conveyed my fears.
“Get up,” she said with the authority of a mother who means business, “You have to walk. You have to take a few steps. I’ll help you. But you must get up. Let’s go.”
This is how I started walking and also how I started using the bathroom again.
“I need to take this catheter out of you, but your mind is not letting me. Your mind is not telling your bladder to go to the bathroom. And that is not good for you. I need you to tell yourself you must get up and go to the bathroom. I will help you. Let’s go.”
She patiently stood by my bed as tears rolled down my face and helped me stand. She held my arm as I inched my way to the bathroom, then she took off my underwear for me when I could not take them off for myself.
Her blend of humble love and forceful mothering were my lifelines to healing.
When it was time to leave the hospital, I cried.
I had never before been so intimately cared for by a nurse. She had become a small part of me, a part of my story. I couldn’t imagine not taking her home with me.
Miriam is a Muslim, Somali immigrant.
We will bring Annie to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugees Rights Coalition Vigil and Rally tonight to show our support for the immigrants and refugees calling Nashville home. We will go out of honor and deep gratitude for all the Miriam’s in our community.
This is not political. It’s personal.
It’s not Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Libertarian. It’s not left wing or right wing or any wing.
It’s the way of Jesus. The one who taught us to love the orphan, widow, alien, stranger, sinner. The one who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves …
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Except no more. No more the “mother of exiles.” No more a world-wide welcome. The lamp has been set down and the gates closed. If you are from Syria or Iran or Libya or Yemen or Iraq or Somalia or Sudan – stay away! We don’t want you! We won’t welcome you!
We are not turning away terrorists. We are turning away their victims. And we are betraying our nation’s heritage.
We need to speak up. We need to object. We need to say: “This is not who we are!”
You can start by visiting the website of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
Immigrants, refugees, and uprooted people will live dignified lives with
their rights respected and protected in communities of opportunity.
To protect the rights and address the needs of persons in forced or
voluntary migration worldwide and support their transition to a dignified life.