After the horror of Paris, social media did that thing it does. People draped their profile pics in the French flag – a few sweet seconds of solidarity – and then commenced to bickering. For most of us, it was an easy leap to our favorite soapbox – we keep them handy, now – as once again we “rose to the occasion,” using France’s waking nightmare as yet another opportunity to say “I told you so!” or “it’s all ____’s fault!” or “look how righteous I am!”
One issue that’s emerged as particularly divisive is the question of whether or not to let Syrian refugees into the US. At last count, more than half the nation’s governors had requested that we “pause” the process, and their supporters and detractors have been passively-aggressively insulting each other on Facebook for days. (Posting a meme is more genteel than spitting in someone’s face, but can be just as effective.)
I’ve been marveling at the way so many folks are claiming Jesus as their homeboy – using his name, and his words, to bolster their arguments. Everybody from fundamentalist Christians to mainliners like me, to pagans to devout atheists… All seem certain they have Jesus on their side. When I’m not feeling snarky about it, I actually find it touching that so many people want Jesus on their side. Gives a girl hope.
I believe it’s important that, when we consult the Lord and Savior, we do so with humility and no pre-conceived answer in mind . . . asking for actual guidance, not just confirmation of what we already think. (We approach the Magic 8 Ball this way, but we can’t show the Almighty the same respect? Come on!) Over the past few days, a piece of scripture has taken up residence in my head; it’s Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Like all of the Lord’s best lines, this one neither simplifies nor clarifies – not for me, anyway – but it leads you into deeper contemplation – prayer, even – and it’s there you might actually find answers… God willing, the creek don’t rise, and you stay humble.
While noodling on the verse this morning, I remembered a column I wrote just after Thanksgiving – gosh, about six years ago, now – when I was a bit newer to the faith, having “reconverted” a few years earlier. Here’s how it started:
On Thanksgiving morning, I decided to take a preemptive, pre pig-out jog around my neighborhood (Pigeon Point), and in an uncharacteristic burst of energy, ended up crossing Boundary Street and heading downtown.
If you’ll remember, it was a storybook kind of morning – bright and dazzling and just cold enough. Smiling people in sweaters were out walking dogs, and delicious smells wafted from cozy clapboard cottages. A girl could run forever on a morning like this, but I had places to go and people to see – namely, Charleston and my sister’s family – so I started to think about hoofing it home. But first, there was something I wanted to do. Needed to do. Inspired by the Rockwellian splendor of my surroundings – on Thanksgiving morning, no less! – I was seized by an urge to pop into a church for a quick prayer. Downtown Beaufort is full of churches, as you know, and I just happened to be on Church Street… right in front of my church. Ha! How convenient. I charged up the stairs of the sanctuary, high on the serendipity of it all, only to find the heavy wooden doors were locked. No problem, I thought. I’d just skip on over to the church across the street. Same thing. Locked. Not to be deterred, I ran a couple of blocks to church # 3. It, too, was locked up tight. After striking out at my fourth church, I gave up and starting walking home, the proverbial spring having left my step.
Now, I’m not naïve. On an intellectual level, I think I knew all along the churches of downtown Beaufort would be closed on Thanksgiving morning. But on some other level, I guess I’d been holding out hope. For what? I’m not sure, exactly. Is “miracle” too grandiose a word? As I ran from church to church that morning, the word cycled through my mind like a magic incantation, and my little jog took on the urgency of a quest. No, I wasn’t in need of comfort… or counsel… or even a warm, safe place to rest my head. But what if I had been? (Plenty of people are!) What if I’d needed a Thanksgiving Miracle, and all I’d found was a series of locked sanctuaries? No matter how okay you are – no matter how “together” – a locked sanctuary is a rude awakening.
After this incident, I remember approaching several Christian friends with the idea of keeping the sanctuary doors of Beaufort’s downtown churches open 24/7. These were people I respect and love – people who were (and still are) very active in their churches and the wider community . . . Christians who really walk the walk in a sea of people who usually just talk it (like me). I chose these particular people because, having witnessed their faithfulness firsthand, I thought they’d be the most receptive to the idea.
You know what they told me, to a person? “No way.” Not in this day and age. Too much theft. Too much vandalism. Too little respect for property. Too much liability.
Oh, they were very nice about it. “That’s a great idea, but…” was the general gist. Still, I came away from these encounters feeling disappointed and disillusioned. As a newbie on the path, I had been hoping for a bold display of radical faith. What I got was cautious practicality from responsible adults.
This memory has come back to me now, thanks to the refugee debate that’s burning up my newsfeed on Facebook. I’ve seen lots of church friends – and a couple from the tale above – arguing strongly that we must accept the refugees because, in essence, “that’s what Jesus would do.” They are passionate and they are certain and they have little patience with those who disagree.
I deeply admire these people, and after much prayer, I am leaning toward agreeing with them. In my heart of hearts, I believe we should help these refugees – after careful vetting, of course. But I have nothing but respect and compassion for those who see it differently . . . especially those in positions of authority.
(And especially after hearing on the news this morning that the Belgian man who masterminded the Paris attacks – and several others – has been slipping across European borders like some kind of electric eel. Vetting can never be foolproof, and one mistake could be catastrophic.)
This is no simple question, y’all, and there is no simple answer. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves? A tall order if you’re anybody but Jesus.
The thing is, I see no real difference between the question of the locked church and the question of the locked borders. But I think I do understand why the same folks pleading that we open our country to outsiders who need help (but who might prove dangerous) are unwilling to open their churches to outsiders who need help (but who might prove dangerous). It’s a matter of proximity, I think… and a matter of responsibility. It’s so easy to cry “Let them in!” when you’ve got no real skin in the game – no responsibility for vetting the refugees, no real sense of where they’ll end up, or how their presence will affect your family. And it’s easy to cry “Let them in!” when your words carry no real authority . . . when the decision’s not up to you . . . when nobody’s looking to you for their safety or protection . . . when it won’t be your fault if something goes terribly, horribly, Parisian-ly wrong.
All of the above describes me, so I had to get real with myself. Myself and me… we just had a little conversation, and it went like this:
Me: Would you welcome a stranger in need to come live in your house, knowing that doing so might endanger your daughter Amelia?
Myself: Honestly, Me? No. No I wouldn’t.
Me: What does that make you?
Myself: A good mother? A bad Christian? A hypocrite for crying “Let them in!”? All of the above, probably. I honestly don’t know. I don’t know much of anything.
Me: So why are you always talking?
Myself: Good question.
Me: Yeah, you’ve got plenty of those. Sigh.
So I’m back where I started, I guess – my heart locked in a death match with my head, and enormously grateful that I’m not “in charge” of anything beyond my own little circle. When I can say – and say truthfully – that I would put my own family at risk in order to help a stranger, then I’ll have the right to judge my governor, and all the others who feel they must play it safe. Until then, I’ll just pray for them – and for all of us – and keep striving for that perfect serpent/dove balance. And I will try to be kind out here in the wild, wild web.
So help me Jesus.