justice, refugee style.
Yesterday morning when I came out of the gym, I tried to remember which parking space I had claimed just an hour earlier when I made my way, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, from the warmth of my car into the florescent-lit room filled with happily perspiring insomniacs. (Who gets to the gym early enough to have already worked up a big sweat by FIVE-THIRTY AM? Come on, people.)
I had a nice time simultaneously communing with the local tv news and a book on tape while on the treadmill (don’t test me on my retention of either) and then it was time to go home.
As I exited the building (as I was starting to say before I interrupted myself,) I tried to remember where I had left my car. My parking spot varies every day. This group of early exercisers doesn’t seem to stand on ceremony like we Episcopalians do, gravitating towards the same pews every Sunday. Parking at the gym is a daily adventure.
As I headed NW in the lot, towards the far corner, I noticed one car that had its flashers on. You know—the headlight and taillights blinking, saying, in its mechanical way- Danger! Hazard! Caution! Look Out!
It was a moment or two before I realized that the car with the hazard lights flashing was…mine.
After I entered the car and turned off the hazard lights, I realized what had happened: the suction on the suction–cup holding my GPS had given way and, as it fell to the floor, the GPS hit the hazard button. Simple enough. I was relieved that I had figured it out, but a tiny bit embarrassed that my car had been sitting out there – for how long?- drawing attention to itself. It might have been for as long as an hour. Oh, well, I looked around, to my left and right, and then in the rear-view mirror and, confident that no one was chasing after me to discern the nature of my emergency, I drove home.
In these past several days since the beginning of term of our new President and Cabinet, I feel as though I’ve been witnessing several hazard lights going off in community. One of the most noticeable places is on Social Media (especially Face Book) where more and more people are sounding the alarm of what they consider to be unrighteous acts and are engaging in lengthy “dialogues” that are, really, more like jousting matches in which each side gets to take a jab or two at their opponent and retreat. I’ve also witnessed a few full-on wrestling matches, a few linguistic sucker punches and some serious cyber-bullying. There are those, too, who have offered ideas with maturity and civility and I am grateful for them. What troubles me, though, the increasing number of people who are choosing to disengage and leave the conversation or quit all together.
I don’t think quitting is a long-term solution. And I don’t think that disengaging is what we need right now. We need folks who are willing to press the hazard buttons and to respond sensibly and constructively.
Partisan politics aside, as a Christian I am called to uphold the vows of my baptismal covenant which include, among them, “proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being…” (Book of Common Prayer pg. 304-305)
As a bishop of the Church, I invite congregations to renew their baptismal promises in the form of the Baptismal Covenant – Every. Single. Week. I stand with my tall hat and curved stick and invite the people to re-commit to the Jesus Movement. I can see the earnestness in those who repeat, again and again, “I will, with God’s help.” And I count myself among them as I answer, too, praying for God’s assistance to be faithful and effective.
And so, I will not disengage. In fact, I hope to engage even morefully– working for justice in our world.
Yesterday I was to serve for the first time on a new Advisory Council in our Commonwealth for Refugee Resettlement. This newly formed group is a joint effort of the State Refugee Coordinator’s Office and the Nationalities Service Center of Philadelphia. The invitation to serve came on the heels of a meeting with our local Refugee Resettlement office and after two very successful campaigns in our diocese to collect goods for refugee families. This work, led by the Rev. Loretta Collins, Deacon, and many others has been well received in Central PA. I was honored to accept the invitation to serve on the Advisory Council and then, at the 11thhour, the organizing call was postponed because of imminent activity at the national level around refugees. (The Executive Order that was expected to be signed on Thursday included a block on Syrian refugees entering the United States and the barring of all refugees from the rest of the world for at least 120 days. The New York Times reported on Thursday morning that the draft of the order included plans for a much smaller program when re-instated with the total number of refugees resettled in the United States this year at 50,000 -down from last year’s 110,000.) I was disappointed that the call was postponed and feel that the need for us to organize and find ways to deepen our support is, now, ever more sorely needed.
I don’t believe that reducing of our efforts to aid fellow human beings who have suffered the ravages of war is the answer.
I don’t believe that blocking access to our country to those who have endured violence and who are among the world’s most vulnerable makes sense.
There are 65 million displaced people across the globe. 65 million. More than 27 million of these are “internally displaced,” meaning that they are seeking safety within their own homelands. Half of all refugees are under 18. (1) Last year we welcomed 3,600 of those 65 million to Pennsylvania. I learned on Wednesday that there are at least 120 minor refugees in PA who are without parents and who are living in foster-care or group home settings. Imagine coming to this country as a child with no parents, no (English) language skills and only a very few personal items. Imagine it. Really. How can we be anything but compassionate?
The Christian moral imperative is to welcome these people. To extend hospitality and to risk, ourselves, being touched by the elemental needs of others. Jean Vanier, one of my theological heroes, gave a conference in 2004 titled “Encountering the Other.” In it, he named fear as one of the chief reasons that we do not engage with those who are different from us. He said: “We are frightened. We are frightened of the other, of the one who is different. And why? Because we are so vulnerable. … We hide behind walls, behind groups, behind culture.” (2)
The Jesus Movement asks that we make ourselves vulnerable and risk transformation. By encountering the other, extending compassion and making room, we give the gift of life and are, ourselves, transformed and changed.
Yes. I know. American Jobs. The threat of terrorism. Overcrowding. A strain on the educational system. All of that- and more.
And, still, for me, the call is to compassion, service, love of neighbor. The transforming love of Christ that really can change the world. I’m all in for that.
Encountering the Other
Jean Vanier Paulist Press, New York, 2004 pg. 28