Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Stranger Welcoming…

Many people begin life in some form of basket or crib, or in Jesus’ case, a barnyard manger. But most also enjoy stability underneath their infant beds. Unless your name was Moses.

Do you remember that strange story? According to Exodus, Moses was born in Egypt when his Jewish people were slaves to the Pharaohs. Moses’ mother, desiring a better future for her son, took drastic, surprising action. She placed him in a basket, and floated him down a river with all the danger that course invited. She hoped Pharaoh’s daughter would find him, react with compassion and then provide him shelter. Her heartbreaking gamble worked, for, indeed, little Moses became the royal woman’s adopted son. He was raised in Pharaoh’s household, prepared by providence to lead Israel toward freedom…eventually.

I was reminded of that story recently during a conversation on current events. The topic was the many immigrant children now housed near the US border. Honestly, I haven’t followed that story as closely as, say, conflicts in Israel/Palestine or Ukraine. My reasoning is simple, if sad: I’m tired of the constant fighting among Washington’s elected officials. And it feels to me like, whenever immigration comes up, already heated rhetoric gets even hotter, and nasty accusations fly faster than Navy jets.

Then, something happened that surprised me, and maybe didn’t get as much coverage as the daily blaming within Congress. A broad group of religious leaders issued statements of support for the migrant children, calling the country to show compassion. Now, it’s normal for faith leaders to speak out on topics of national concern. What’s atypical, though, was the range of people lifting their voices, together. After all, Southern Baptists and US Catholic Bishops frequently agree about, say, opposition to gay marriage, while others like the UCCs or Unitarians declare their support of the question. But for this topic, all those normally at-odds people said much the same thing: Our faith calls us to react to vulnerable children “with compassion, not fear.”

It’s not hard, I think, to discern why. Besides Christ’s call to “let little children come unto me,” there’s something hardwired in most folk to treat kids’ travails with more gentleness than adults’. Perhaps it just feels different when the faces representing our current national disagreement about immigration and border policy can’t shave, retain some baby fat, and look simply in need of a hug. I’m sure these faith leaders disagree about both the causes of and appropriate responses to the situation. Some blame Obama administration policy; others the violence these kids experience in their home countries. Some think we should send them home, albeit carefully; others that we should grant asylum, welcoming them into our communities. But underneath that division was something I found both striking and hopeful. None thought it wise, or moral, to paint these kids as invaders or threats to our country, our jobs, our ways of life.

That’s where Moses’ story felt instructive. Imagine the fright his mother experienced that day in the river. Will he survive the waves, the crocodiles? Will I ever see him again? Surely, some of those thoughts entered the minds of these unaccompanied minors’ parents too. Nevertheless, they looked to the hope of America, trusted its people’s compassion, and sent them on with a prayer. I struggle understanding, or even endorsing that grave decision. I’ve also never lived in abject poverty or among violent instability. But what I know is we have children in need in our country asking us to be caring neighbors.

So, again, I’m cheered that a vast range of faith leaders focused on what unites us, in this instance. Which doesn’t prescribe a particular policy response, simply a way of thinking together about the question. And that is, namely, through the lens of our hearts and compassion, not through fear or partisan division. Should we do that, I think we’d find a good way to meet their needs, and our country’s too. Who knows? We might even learn to tackle of other complex issues with more grace and less accusation. God knows we need fewer attacks in our public discourse, more unity, and- always- faith, hope and love.

Grace and Peace,
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