You have less to fear than they do

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Will we sacrifice our children to our fear?

This morning, I scrolled through Facebook half-asleep, liking engagement photos and baby announcements through bleary, squinting eyes. Scroll, like, scroll, like, scroll, like – until I saw a post by Ben Carson that had been shared by a number of friends. The post in question was his call to block action to let in refugees who made it to our borders, because “There is simply not a way to vet these refugees.”

He’s wrong on that count – refugees are heavily vetted before being allowed entry in the US in a long, arduous, and logistically complicated process. But that point isn’t the important one.

Of the individuals I’ve seen promoting this sort of thinking, many are my Christian brothers and sisters, and that terrifies me.

The refugees who arrive at borders both here and elsewhere have survived both physical and emotional trauma. They have witnessed pain and death beyond the capabilities of our first-world imaginations. They have lost so much, and they arrive with the clothes on their backs and the smallest sliver of hope that maybe, once they make it inside, life will be a little less bad.

And our response is, “I’m sorry, there’s no room.” Our response is fear.

We are called not to fear. As Christians, it is our vocation (one of many) to look the ugliness of the world in the face and say “you can do me no harm. You can hurt me, you can kill me, but you will not win.” It is our sacred duty to sacrifice life and comfort in order to be grace to the stranger at our gates.

Carson’s statement continues “We should do everything in our power to help these men, women, and children who have been forced to flee their country, but until we can sort out the bad guys, we must not be foolish. I call for increased aid to the refugees. We can and should do more to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.”

But the problem remains: Carson’s “everything in our power” is precious little. He is withholding from them the one thing we can do that might genuinely help – and in the process, he is feeding the fear of other that is the seed of situations like the one in Syria right now. “We must not be foolish” he says, but foolish is exactly what we should be. Fools to the world, but wise in Christ.

We need more Dorothy Days. We need more Mother Theresas. In a world where radical looks like guns and bombs and angry, shouting men, we need the other kind: radical that is entirely other-facing. Radical that needs no recognition, no attention. Radical that is willing to accept infinite hurt and loss and sacrifice of self before it would see harm inflicted on another.

That’s what my Jesus did.

And it’s what he asked us to do. He didn’t ask us to first create systems that can handle the brokenness of the world before we got down to the dirty work of loving people with hands and feet and food and shelter.

Our children are suffering. Our brothers are dying. Our sisters are begging for safety.

If we respond with fear – if we react with an abstract plan attached to an impossible ideal that, in the end, alleviates no suffering, offers no relief; if we do this, then we are the enemy.

With the words “fear not” his birth was heralded. “Do not be anxious” he proclaimed from the Mount. “Why are you afraid?” he asked on stormy seas. My Jesus, in full knowledge, sat down to dinner with the man who would send him to his death.

And yet we cannot help the stranger at our gates. 

I am not asking you to create public policy that can be argued and out-argued by intellectual elite. I am not asking you to find a way to build a world where there are no refugees. I am asking you to look at the ugliness of this world square in the face and say “I pity you.” I am asking that you answer the tragedies happening an ocean away with the grace you were given – with the self-sacrificing, foolish love of our Jesus.

• • •

These are the same ideas as every other op-ed and blog post, but I’m going to put them here anyways:

Donate: The UN Refugee Agency, World Relief, Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, or do your own research and find an organization attached to your own community. I know it’s the most boring item on the list, but it’s also the one I recommend the most. There are organizations that have been fighting to help refugees for decades, and they are the ones who are the best-equipped to make this situation better, given adequate resources.

Volunteer: Teach ESOL classes or help immigrants practice for citizenship tests or help take food to new families. Not including links because what you can do depends a lot on where you are.

Write your representatives: I know I just said public policy wasn’t the solution, but it can be part of it, and the voice of grace is one that needs to be heard in Washington, too. Find contact info here.

Talk about it: ugly, fearful voices can get pretty loud. And sometimes, they’re pretty compelling too. That doesn’t make them true. But it does mean the voices of grace need to be all the more persistent.

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