I'm not alone in my despair over what's happening in the world. The attacks in Paris last week have everyone riveted to their televisions and devices, and for as many questions as we have about the "whys" and "hows" of this tragedy and others like it, there are just as many differences in opinion about what to do with the "who".
If you're wondering exactly which "who" I'm talking about, let me clear it up for you: Syrian refugees. Refugees who are running from ISIS, refugees who are searching, refugees who are frightened and, in many cases, who've been abandoned by the international community, including the governor of my own state.
What do we do with these people?
The answer is not easy, but it is simple: we care for them as best we can with what we have. We don't run scared. Why? Because "these people" are just people. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons. People who need rescuing from war, from the fight to merely survive another day, from terror and brutality so horrific it leaves bodies strewn across the City of Light and every one of us filled with the anxious anticipation of what we will lose next.
I've heard all the arguments -- sound and compassionate as well as paranoid and trite -- about why Syrian refugees do not belong in the United States. I understand the genuine and reasonable concern that many of us have regarding the potential for terrorists to cross our borders unseen. But when I hear these arguments, I also feel the need to consider the fact that I live in a city where murder happens every single day. Atlanta is a beautiful place to call home, but it's a large metropolitan area that faces crime and acts of violence like any other city in our nation. This statement is not an attempt to negate the pain of losing innocent lives, but rather an invitation to check our fear for what it is. To look at ourselves as something other than just Americans. To view humanity through a lens that doesn't see others as less and self as more, but both as equal in value and worth. Our Creator left His imprint on each of us, and a Syrian refugee is more than just those two words. She is a human being with a heart that beats and a spirit that will survive long after her body is gone. She is a mother who holds her children close at night and whispers prayers over them, her arms shaking with the intensity of her both her love and her fear. She is a sister caring for a loved one. She is a woman trying to provide. She is you and she is me.
Imagine running from a war, hoping to find safety and comfort in the arms of a nation that helped equip your people with the tools to destroy its enemies, only to find those arms crossed.
No, it tells you. Having you here is too much of a risk.
A risk? To love? To give in a way that doesn't just benefit our own interests? Of course it's a risk! But, particularly for those of us who call ourselves Jesus followers, it's also our duty.
We like that word here in America, don't we? Duty. It goes well with other buzzwords like honor and sacrifice. But here we are, at the cusp of a truly monumental opportunity to embrace those we fear and potentially change the future of a entire generation of people, and we've dropped those words in favor of protecting ourselves.
I can hear the argument now:
"We have to protect ourselves before we can protect others."
If protecting ourselves means closing our fists and refusing to save lives because we want to punish hundreds of thousands over the actions of a select few, then we have confused the definition. That's not protection; that's cowardice. In truth, nothing we have belongs to us anyway. We're fooling ourselves if we believe the homes we live in, the money we make, the people we love or even the nation we call home belong to us. We are not owners of anything in this life. We are managers. We are stewards, and we are called to be good ones. Nothing we have here on earth will last. When I die, everything that once mattered to me will either be given away, stored in a box somewhere or tossed aside. But what will last are the rippling effects of our actions today on every single tomorrow. In seventy years, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those fleeing persecution and torture will remember stories of how their families were treated, and they will treat others in kind. Fear begets more fear. But goodness and truth will always beget more of the same. How sad to see that so many of us are convinced of the opposite. We have taught ourselves to equate fear with safety, but safety is an illusion. I can lock my door every single night and activate our alarm system and still someone could break in and murder me in my sleep. I can wear my seatbelt and still be smashed to pieces by another vehicle at any given moment. Our precautions are simply that: efforts to prevent tragedy. They are not guarantees. If we're talking about risk, we need to examine the choices we make every single day that have the potential to put us in harm's way. We view those choices as risk-positive, but they could turn as bloody and as violent as any act of terror.
What is the difference? Truly?
I'll tell you. The difference is that if we allow refugees to find a safe haven in our country, we won't just be saving ourselves. And that is truly honorable. That is real sacrifice.
When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Israelites in captivity in Babylon, he told them about God's promise. A promise that revealed God had plans to "prosper [them] and not to harm [them]...plans to give [them] hope and a future." We are those plans! If we believe in the value of our own lives, then we believe that life has value. And if we will go to such great lengths to try and protect ourselves, why not someone else? We belong to one another. And, yes, it's a risk to believe that and it's definitely a risk to act on that belief. But just think about how much good, how much forgiveness and healing, could happen if we treated our fellow man like we believed we were part of the plan to prosper them, to help give them hope and a future. What would that look like?
So many of our nation's leaders identify as Christian. And, yet, they have confused the Gospel of Jesus with the gospel of patriotism. Jesus demanded that we die to ourselves. He said there was no greater sacrifice than to lay down our lives for others so that they might be lifted up. We praise our military for doing just that, but now that it's being asked of civilians we are treating the request like it's beneath us. Like we somehow deserve life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness simply because we happened to be born on American soil and not because we are human beings, human beings worthy of more than just a perilous trip across the sea. Our ancestors once endured very similar trips in order to make a life for themselves in a New World. We celebrate their both their courage and their first harvest here by giving thanks every November. We remember what they endured so that we might enjoy. Perhaps it's time for us to consider Syrian refugees in the same way. Who knows what kind of blessing they could bring to us? Most importantly, who knows what kind of blessing we could bring to them?
I'm not a politician. I'm a writer. I don't make policy decisions every day and I certainly don't know all the details available to the leaders making such decisions. But I don't have to know all those things in order to know that we will most certainly be on the wrong side of history if we deny the gifts we've been given to those who have nothing. I was blessed to be born in the United States. But being an American was not my right. It was not a pot of gold to be buried in the ground for safekeeping. It was a privilege given to me so that I could use it to serve others. And, if offered the opportunity to support a refugee, I will say yes with a joyful heart. I might be frightened of what I don't know, and I can admit that freely. But I will not let fear stand in the way of love. Not today. Not this time. And I hope you won't either.