Friday, September 11, 2015

selfie segueway

The lovely Ann Voskamp wrote a much better and more timely piece than I could have about the refugees and what can be done, as did my hero and girl crush, Sarah Bessey. Both of them top their lists with the suggestion that we tweet selfies of ourselves with signs saying #refugeeswelcome.

And while I initially thought, well, that's useless, maybe not, because the last few weeks have left me newly cognizant of the fact that we actually cannot take it for granted that refugees are welcome here. 

I don't have much use for the idea that having the right opinions makes a person better.: what matters, I maintain, is what you do, not what you think or believe. (A more devout Christian than myself will immediately recognize that fatal error in that premise and might begin to understand why my six years of Christian two-room-schooling might have been somewhat of an ordeal for me.)

But what you do grows out of what you think and believe, because if you don't believe that refugees should be welcome here, in your country or community or home, then you are not only not taking selfies to that effect, you are certainly not going to do anything to make them welcome. (For you, read "I".)

And it becomes a cycle: they have nowhere to go (because we don't intend for them to come here); so certainly they are doing something wrong by trying to come here ; so we cannot be expected to welcome this influx of no-place-having refugees here; so they have nowhere to go.

In this way we seem able to convince ourselves that, actually, these refugees are doing something wrong to us by being in such devastating need that we are forced either to contend with it or to engage in tortured efforts to explain away those un-nuanced and deceptively simple red letters -- the ones about being hungry, sick, in prison. The ones about giving everything away and loving one's enemies. The ones that will slam the breaks on literal interpretations of the Bible when neither prohibitions on shellfish nor endorsements of slavery seem to slow it down.

"They will be much more able to give YOU something..."

One person isn't going to be able to do a lot to help these people, although we love those stories about one person just doing good, apolitically, without calling attention to the fact that what is needed is a different world -- one in which refugees are welcomed, one in which we can dispense with arguing if a person deserves to be here or not and say: we're not called to weigh whether or not someone deserves to watch their children eviscerated before their eyes or swept into the ocean or sold into slavery, just as we're not called to determine if that homeless woman is really going to make good use of our spare dollars, if she tried hard enough to make capitalism work for her before she gave up and asked for "my" "hard-earned" money. 

We're called to welcome the orphan and the alien. Any caveats we choose to add are extrabiblical. 

So, my first step here is just to hold that in my mind: no matter what you throw at me with respect to what our society can support or why our (carefully cultivated) fear of Islam, and of brown-skinned people generally, is justified, I'll come back, yoga-like, to the belief that no one deserves to watch their babies die and I have been told to help, not judge. 

The first step to finding meaningful action to take, I think, is to clear away the irrelevant discussions of whether or not people "deserve" to be in America. In the time we've spent arguing over legal versus illegal human beings, we could have run like a hundred after school programs and gotten all the homework done and made approximately a billion grilled cheese sandwiches for these people. We are spending so much time justifying why we don't have the time or resources to share even a little, why we shouldn't have to. I am spending so much time, I mean, because when it comes down to it, I am afraid there won't be enough for me if I do what I'm told and share

And maybe there won't be enough tomorrow. But today, there is enough to share. There is enough to welcome people in, and I have been commanded to do so. there is enough for me to do what I can of the right thing, even if it is crushingly small in the face of all the wrong things with which I'm contending. 

If we are collectively willing to say that ignoring desperate people is not a solution, then we can refocus our efforts to solve this problem, can turn from the enjoyable and masturbatory project of explaining why we really can't or shouldn't help, why our hero is actually the guy who has built a platform out of Not Helping, to just helping. We can add to our prayers for everyone we cannot help that always-relevant prayer of addicts everywhere: I ask only for knowledge of God's will and the strength to carry it out. 

We can't let everyone in? Well, whatever -- we're not talking about letting everyone in. Let's just start letting some people in so they don't die.

Someone else should do it? Friend, my senior class motto was Can't Someone Else Do It? No joke! And yet, I am not in Canada or Europe or "those other Arab states", so I can only say that here, in America, in Oxford, refugees are welcome. 

But they might not deserve it -- or some variant thereof. This one is less frequently said aloud but, I think, is at the heart of a lot of the conversations we have instead of asking What can we do here? As a citizen of the first world, allow me to assure you that I harbor no resentment towards the society that has supplied me with a safe, clean place to live, adequate food and water, and freedom from violent assaults on me and my children -- though I have done absolutely nothing to "deserve" any of these things. 

It's great to be smart if the problem you are solving is complicated. But it seems to me that if we are really debating whether or not our goal should be to help refugees however we can, that we are using fancy words to draw attention away from a much simpler failure. 

So, for today: first, I'll send my money to Doctors Without Borders, about whom I will rhapsodize more next time I write. They are one of many groups doing Actual Things to Actually Help, and one of the places I think one can safely support if one's schedule is crammed with Driving Everywhere Forever and acting as a patron for a thirty-eight-pound artist's rendition of How I Spent My Summer Vacation 

(which is late)

(because three weeks post moving day, we had yet to unpack our crayons).

Second, I'll set an intention to hold in my mind not only the immeasurable worth of the other people's children whom I cannot help anymore and the fundamental truths that

no one deserves to watch their babies die 

and I have been told to help, not judge. 

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