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Choose welcome, not fear

Choose welcome, not fear

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Choose welcome, not fear

Louisville

We are a world grieving. We mourn the many deaths, not only in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt. Any sense of security we have had is badly compromised by these horrific events; moreover, our fear of ISIS grows with every successful execution of its violent agenda.

Much has been taken from us but we still hold the choice as to how we react in our grief and fear. Many politicians have rushed from grief to fearful judgment. More than half of the governors of our states have attempted to protect their citizens by issuing declarations denying entry of Syrian refugees into their states (as if all of the potential terrorists are Syrian). Some have gone so far as to call for denial of entry to all refugees at the present time, as if that will guarantee safety to the citizens of their state.

As U.S. governors pledge to refuse Syrian refugees within their states and some presidential hopefuls promise to abandon the refugee program altogether, we the people have a choice to make. We can choose to follow those who would have us hide in fear or we can choose hope.

Our nation, for decades, has chosen hope and welcome for those fleeing war and persecution. Since 1975, more than three million refugees have found safety and security within our nation’s borders. Right now 11 million Syrians cannot go to school, tend to their land, or raise their children in the place they know as home. They cannot do these things because they, themselves, have been terrorized for far too long by numerous factions, including their own government.

Do we choose to abandon our plan to protect these Syrians because the people who have been threatening them are now threatening the West as well? ISIS has taken lives; they have taken our sense of security. Do we now hand over our hope and compassion to them?

Obviously, we need to move forward with a disciplined response, expediting security checks such as those employed by the U.S. refugee admission program. To refuse certain persons who are fleeing terror and persecution because they are “Syrian” or of some other particular ethnic group is unjust and may be illegal under U.S. law. We can be disciplined and, at the same time, led to love beyond our own limited, fearful vision.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples hid in fear. They locked the doors but God had another plan. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). We were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion.  Author, poet, and peace activist Wendell Berry wrote, “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation” (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, “The Body and the Earth,” p. 99). The way to end terror is to prove that those who demonize us are wrong. We are not a heartless secular culture. We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.

Justice has always mattered to me

Justice has always mattered to me

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Justice has always mattered to me

Justice has always mattered to me—even before I knew there was such a word or what it meant.  My first real memory of injustice occurred when I was about 4 years old, although I remember it as though it happened yesterday.  Acting on a childish impulse, I stuck my head out the rear side window of the cab in which I was riding so that my braids could bob in the wind.  Up ahead was a green traffic light hanging like a pendant above an intersection.  I lit up with excitement, wondering whether we get through the intersection before the light turned red!  Rotating my body slightly so that my eyes stayed fixed on the traffic signal, I held my breath as our taxi passed underneath what was clearly a yellow light.  Success!  But my joy was short lived.  Seconds later, a police siren wailed and the driver of the cab dutifully pulled over to the curb.  Neither my grandmother, whose lips were drawn tight, nor the motionless Black cab driver made a sound. A white police officer suddenly appeared at the driver’s window and declared, “You went through a red light.”   With all of the honesty of a child I said, “Oh no, Mr. Police Officer.  The light was yellow.  I saw it!” “Hush child!” my Grandmother implored, in a tone that made me feel both a little afraid and confused.  I obeyed her but did not understand why I needed to ‘hush’.  When I became a teenager, then I understood exactly what, according to Jim Crow rules of etiquette, I had done.  But I never ‘hushed’ again.

An act of justice is what drew me to the Synod of the Covenant.  During my very first Synod Assembly, I entered in as a stranger.  No one knew me and I had no official standing or role.  My presence there was simply for the purpose of “experiencing” this particular Synod.  The agenda that day included a family petitioning the Synod to intervene in an unresolved judicial matter.  Their daughter had been raped while on a Presbytery-sponsored youth sleepover and the Presbytery involved was, in their opinion, dismissing their concerns and sweeping the matter under the rug (so to speak).  While the parents were presenting their case, the Stated Clerk of their Presbytery attempted to dissuade the Assembly Commissioners from hearing them.  One of the commissioners spoke out of turn and loudly said, “Let them speak!”, and a chorus of “Let them speak!” reverberated throughout the room.  The outcome?  The parents were heard and the Assembly Commissioners voted to intervene.  When the matter was concluded I stood up, introduced myself, asked if I was permitted to speak, was warmly invited to do so and said, “Today, I witnessed the Church of Jesus Christ living out it’s call—and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Beyond the limits of misused power, the confines of ‘order and decency’ and beyond what I can see, God is there…standing on the side of justice…being faithful and holy…and calling those of us who have been chosen to bear His name to do the same.  May the Holy One continue to bless the Synod of the Covenant.

Cynthia