Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Either/Or is NOT an Option

Ever since the attacks in Paris on Friday, the talk about immigrants into the United States has ramped up even more than it did when presidential campaigns began in earnest a few months ago. Now, I don't have a lot of skin in the game, so to speak, since my family has been US citizens for at least 4 generations, and I am the farthest thing from an expert that I could possibly be, but a few memes have been making the rounds that bothered me, and it's taken some mental work to figure out why.

I'm talking about the images going around Facebook that say something to the effect of "How can we talk about accepting foreigners into our country when we can't even take care of our own?" and "Veterans should come before refugees."

The people who have posted these messages did so out of a true desire to care for people: I know them, and I personally know that they're good, kind, loving people. And I definitely agreed with HALF of this type of assertion--hey, yeah, you're right, we SHOULD be taking care of the homeless in our own country! And veterans absolutely deserve benefits, resources, and support from the nation they served! This is all true (says my heart). So why do these memes still bug me?

The answer, I've come to realize, is that these sorts of statements present an "either/or" scenario. They assume that we CANNOT and SHOULD NOT even attempt to address issues in the global community until we get our own house in order. Which, on the surface, seems like a reasonable thought.

But tell me, when's the last time that we were actually able to get our house in order? In a country gloriously full of different opinions and perspectives and approaches, it's nigh impossible to arrive at a state of existence where everyone feels like we're appropriately addressing our internal problems. And tell me, while we're busy with our housekeeping, do we think that the conflicts and evil in the rest of the world at large will just stop short of our doorstep until we're ready to deal with them? The last time we tried that approach was WWII, and as I recall from history class, staying out of it didn't work out as well as we had hoped.

Of course, it's a balance. We shouldn't help these "outsiders" at the expense of our own homeless, our own displaced, our own impoverished. But neither do we get a pass on caring for our brothers and sisters from other countries just because we can't quite get it all figured out here at home. Two wrongs do NOT make a right; not being able to do one thing doesn't mean we shouldn't even try to do another.

One of the lessons that I learned in seminary that has served me well is that we all have different gifts. When I first stepped foot on campus, I was weighed down with guilt when I saw how many of my classmates were passionate social justice activists and articulate advocates for change. The things that they talked about were important to me, and I believed that they were right, but for some reason, I wasn't able to figure out the right words to write in an editorial, or to find the commitment required to attend a rally, or to start a campus movement. And it felt awful. I truly believed that they were doing God's work in the world, but I just wasn't able to be involved at the level that they were.

But after a while, I realized that while these people would be out speaking at rallies and spearheading letter writing campaigns, I would likely be in a church school classroom, quietly teaching kids about the God I worship, the God of love and forgiveness and grace. And while what I do might not be quite as public or have as wide a range of impact, it was still important. And I do it well. And it seeks the same end: to bring about a world of justice and peace.

My point is, the world doesn't have to be black and white, either/or. God created us to be marvelously unique--each and every one of us--so that we could do more together than we could alone. No one person, no one country, no one policy, can solve all of the world's problems. What we can do is find what we're good at, what we're passionate about, and do that ferociously and unceasingly, even if it doesn't seem to be making a difference. Hear the Word of the Lord:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26)
We in the United States have enough resources and humanpower and gifts and passion to confront ALL of the evils of the world. Hear me: I didn't say to SOLVE all of the evils of the world; I said to CONFRONT them. We don't have to choose. If we'd stop fighting about which priority is more important, and start tackling ALL of the things that we agree are unacceptable in the world, each person contributing his or her own strength, well...then I think we'd be in a much better place than we are now. No, we wouldn't have solved anything--but we would have made a difference. And that's more than we can say today.

I'm absolutely grateful to be a (US) American, but I can't say that I've been particularly proud to be an American recently. I'm not trying to absolve myself of responsibility: When the rubber hits the road, I'm as apathetic as the next person, maybe even more so. But we ALL need to do a better job of being a resident of the earth, rather than just our small corner of it. Just as the extinction of one species affects the global ecosystem, the suffering of one group of people touches all of us, whether we recognize it or not.

Like I said--I don't feel like I'm particularly articulate or well-informed when it comes to these matters, but I do believe that we all need to speak to the passions that the Holy Spirit ignites in our hearts. And so I have.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Katey. And once again I will say how glad I am that you are leading our youth, and I hope my boys get a chance to explore these kinds of things with you when they get to youth group.