Seeking Mercy, Seeking Home

A Syrian refugee looks out of a window at Zahi Alsameen school serving as a refugee camp for students and women in Jaramana district, southeast of Damascus.

For many reasons, people depart. They leave home—or the places given to them, in place of home that might’ve been lost to war—and seek refuge from a thousand dangers and uncertainties.

For many reasons—many of them inconceivable to us, who live in relative peace and prosperity—people can’t stay where they are, in the places they know; so for themselves and for their children, they trade the hell they know for the unknown, and the foreign.

For so many reasons—unimaginable to me, and maybe to you, too—people give up their sense of belonging; they surrender the climate and food and sounds and smells that their bodies have always known for the new, the unfamiliar, the harsh and unlearnable.

What deep respect these refugees, asylees, and immigrants deserve for their courage; for their capacity to keep moving forward, toward hope.

Some members of our human family are throwing their arms wide to welcome those seeking mercy and seeking home; others are nearly taking up arms to drive them away.

It’s a painful territory that stretches between The Merciful and The Damned.

As a minister, I’m in the business of holding up important truths, as I see it, and naming how those truths intersect with the news on our screens. As the Syrian refugee crisis unfolds I’ve had to remind myself of two things:

  1. Those of us who call ourselves Americans are all, to some degree, complicit in the unstable geopolitical disasters that result in such vast human suffering; and
  2. To adjudicate and assess which refugees are “deserving” of mercy, and which ones aren’t, is to exhibit an arrogance so dehumanizing that it borders on dangerous.

When human suffering comes spilling over our borders, there is no clear division between “them” and “us.” Our country’s own policies are culpable, and by extension, us: we have protected our American lifestyle of consumption and corporate rule. We play a role in inequality, and ecological disasters, and wars over dwindling resources, and the popularity of Donald Trump every time we lose sight of the fact that we’re powerful players in a fragile but wildly interconnected global community.

Which is often. We’ve lost a bit of our soul. That’s what fear does. Fear is a voice that says: nothing matters more than self-preservation and self-importance. Fear drains the antifreeze out out your heart so your compassion center runs cold; it cuts off the feeding tubes that keep our souls supple and our morality intact.

And fear, I think, is what’s at the heart of the stingy fool’s game of deciding which immigrants are “deserving” of asylum. Fear says: from my comfortable position of privilege, I will decide whose hell is raw and terrifying enough to merit compassion.

What would it be like, I wonder, to choose another path? How much would it cost us to invoke the Principles of our faith, and the beating heart of our ethical lives, by saying:

  • "We’re a single, interconnected human family.”
  • "We make one another stronger and braver by sharing what we have.”
  • "All people have the same worth and the same inherent dignity; but no human being is illegal.”
  • "The suffering of people beyond our borders asks us to examine how we’ve created the conditions for its existence.”

Some of you, undoubtedly and admirably, are wondering what you can do to help bring relief to the Syrian refugee crisis. I hope you’re hearing is that “doing” something starts small:
You’re “doing” something when you allow your heart to tear over the scope of human suffering; you’re “doing” something when you step beyond your experience to acknowledge that we can not know —and, God willing, will never know—what it’s like to make harrowing decisions. You’re “doing” something when you interrupt a conversation to say, “No human being is illegal; it’s not kind or civil to talk about people that way;” and you’re “doing” enough when you use the language of reverence and interdependence to describe the global community.

For so many reasons, people depart. They leave home—or the place that was given to them, in place of a homeland that might’ve been lost to war—and seek refuge from a thousand dangers and uncertainties.

These are the words of Rev. Eric Cherry:

Let us hold the refugee and the immigrant in prayer:
May God be with you.
May your grief and loss be assuaged.
May the hard road you travel include spaces of rest and security.
May you know your inherent worth and dignity
 every day of the journey.

Let us pray for the people who are met along the way:
May they remember how they were strangers too.
May they embrace the pathways of compassion.
May they recall the teachings of the prophets.
May they make room in their hearts and their homes.