I had a dream last night about the Syrian refugees.
I was at my undergrad college; I think I was employed there in some capacity. The College had partnered with some nearby resettlement agency and was taking in refugees, but nobody had managed to get a number of how many people were coming. Somehow it became my job and I went to what is in real life a rec center but was in the dream a newly renovated dorm to meet the agency representative to clarify. As I got there, a big yellow school bus full of people drove up and these refugees came streaming out to this dorm. The bus driver was the agency rep, I guess; he looked a lot like Carl the janitor from The Breakfast Club. I followed him around as he was directing these people into the dorm around the students already there, asking how many, how many. We need to be able to plan, I said; this is a small school, it was never designed to hold a lot of people; we have to be able to keep them safe and if we exceed capacity we won’t be able to do that, we’ll have to herd them all into a gym to sleep en masse, just tell me how many, how many.
He looked at me and just said, “More.”
Then I moved on to another dream and kept going in my snug little bed as the wind howled and the rain blew here in the Land of Pilgrims. But I remembered this when I woke up this morning, remembered the panic I felt in the dream that we had no room, that we would not be able to provide for these people, that we were drowning together, these refugees and my college.
It gets more and more interesting to me as I get older that, in America at least, we have Thanksgiving and Christmas a month apart. They are two sides of a coin, these holidays; the one is the celebration of peoples being present for each other and having plenty, a holiday of hope and excess blurred around the historical edges by tryptophan and the Macy’s parade. The other is perseverance through not having enough—enough room, enough money, enough love, enough acceptance. It is the light that shines in the darkness, the birth that impossibly happened when everyone was worried about something else. It is hope, too, of the already-not-yet variety rather than the fulfilled one.
Yet both are squarely centered on reaching out to the stranger; both hold the lessons of making room in our hearts and lives because Jesus told us to, because our souls tell us to, because whatever tells us to recognize that that human who needs even the smallest part of what we have is a human, is us, is worth this. We end our calendar year by, theoretically at least, opening wide our understanding of who we are in relation to each other.
This is my 200th post, Reader. That number astounds me, surprises me, invites me to think about what I’m doing with this blog as the spiritual implications become less subtle in my personal and professional lives. But I will not use this to preach at you. This blog was started to help me track the untrackable God Who was utterly changing my life; it was meant as an invitation for you to come with me, to support me or correct me, to share the ways God was changing your life—or the ways you didn’t feel God, if there even was one, was paying attention to your life at all. It was never meant to be a cyberspace platform for me to tell you what to believe.
So in this refugee crisis, I have seen so many memes and comments and videos flashing across social media of “keep them out” and “how heartless are you”. Fear warps our recognition of our fellow humans, the reality of how dangerous the world is consuming us utterly. Self-righteousness warps our recognition of our fellow humans, our passion to save one group turning us against another with accusations of stupidity, of coldness, of being the Innkeeper. In the dream I had last night, I didn’t plan to make a subconscious political statement to myself. Yet I understood the Innkeeper’s bond to the people he already housed; I understood the Native Americans’ worry of accepting these new foreigners who may be dangerous.
Do I think we should open ourselves to accepting Syrian refugees? Yes. I think we cannot be a country who speaks of accepting the wretched refuse without actually doing so; I think we cannot pretend to be a superpower or world leader if our front door says we shine a “world-wide welcome” but our fearful hearts shutter the light. But do I think that we should shame the people who see the violence in far-off countries and shake at the thought of that happening here? No. We do ourselves no service to pretend to take the historical high road and hide behind ready-made Instagram insults about the “wrong side of history.” I am a historian; the only “wrong side” history has is that of the losers, because the winners write the history books. It has nothing to do with morality or justice, not really, and I say that as a Christian who believes God is actively involved in human affairs.
We sit now, Reader, in the pocket between the two holidays. Some of us sit pleasantly stuffed, celebrating another day off of work, school, obligation. Some of us will be putting up our trees today, looking ahead to the Bing Crosby songs and the snowflakes surely coming. But each of us will be thinking of someone, connecting in however slight a way to another. Each of us will love today. May we be open to the ways that love can be unbounded, unexpected, and truly unconditional.
“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.'” (Matthew 25:31-46, HCSB)