Another year goes by, and I ain't feelin' any older,
The world outside, is just getting colder...
I'm more afraid now – more than I have ever been,
Lord, be with me, Lord, be with me...
As I look back on the January days of my life I have lived, I see many flaws in my character. My admission here serves as a disclaimer for my lack of experience on this subject – I speak as someone unaccustomed to loss, unfamiliar with conflict, with full trust remaining in most everyone that I have met and without fear of any of the above. In short, I am inexperienced with life – nearly everyone older than I has met with these things above, and has in my opinion allowed these things to change them for the worse. However, my experience usually shows that age breeds wisdom, and thus I must ask forgiveness of my elders here if my words seem harsh and unyielding. If you consider me incorrect, then please consider it merely the wide-eyed optimism or cynicism that comes with youth.
Today I speak of division. It seems bred into me from a young age, whenever I go anywhere, to another community – the usage of the word irks me, but I plod on – whenever I see a stranger, whenever I judge another person – there's that word again – whenever I watch the news about another nation's qualms – I cannot help but use this word! - I see, the word, another.
Another nation, another people group, another ethnicity, another political party, another family, another family member... them. This word grates at me, I wish I could only allow it out for its simple and un-connotated meaning, to denote a second item, being spoken about in third person, much like one would relate one box to a pile of boxes - “oh, put that package along with the others. We'll sort them later.” This word, and its meaning, have been used to much wider cultural meanings, to speak about that person, or that child, or that people group. The mere mention of that, or them nowadays subconsiously triggers whatever images of division to pop into my head – a grey plane separating into equal parts black and white, a group of people shunning another...
The inspiration for this piece directly was a Facebook image I saw that boasted, “Homeless servicemen should come before any refugee”. I responded to the tone of, “Why should someone who chose war be selected above one whom war was put upon them? The serviceman has a home to return to, the refugee has left theirs burning to dust.” I was told that the servicemen are our friends, our family, our people, and thus should take precedence over... them. I was told, and was compelled by, the other Middle Eastern countries haven't taken in the people that undoubtedly would have more in common with these refugees than Americans would, and would integrate them better. But still... them. Them sucks. Them is an ugly word.
I propose the image: on the global scale, there is a veteran and a refugee sitting on our lawn, starving to death. Which do you take in?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan in scriptures would be useful as a starting point for my answer. For those who do not know it, Jesus is asked “who is our neighbor?” and responds thus: A man walking along the road is set upon by bandits, beaten within an inch of death, stripped and left for dead. A priest and a pharisee separately walk by, walking to the other side of the road to avoid the unclean man. A Samaritan walks up and instead helps the man onto his pack animal and takes the man to an inn, where he pays a handsome amount for the innkeeper to watch after the man and nurse him to health. Jesus says then, “Which of these is your neighbor?” (or something to that tune, it's midnight, I’m not going to bother checking the exact wording on the seventh most famous story in the Bible)
Now, I would imagine that in this hypothetical world Christ conjured, the Samaritan in question was regarded strangely by his fellows. “Why would you help them?” they would ask. For, Israelites and Samaritans were not friends at the time. The Israelites, if memory serves me right, considered the Samaritans to be unwashed barbarians, and Samaritans understandably did not enjoy the comparison. The priest and pharisee, they can be forgiven, can they not? For, to have helped the dying man would mean days or ritual cleansing of the unclean blood from their contact with the man.
Of course, today we regard the Samaritan with praise, and I would say that is what Christ is hoping for. The Samaritan broke down the them. He put them on his pack animal, took them to the inn, cleaned them with his own hands, and paid for them to be looked after handsomely. The parallel I draw is that this them is the same them as the refugee is today. Israel had a problem with poverty, with war, with sickness, just as we do today. Samaria probably did as well. But the Samaritan saw a present need (there's a man bleeding out here) above and beyond the constant need (there are members of my community that need assistance) and fulfilled it. This was Christ's answer to, “Who is my neighbor?”
Back to the refugee. A man in the Middle East can no longer be considered too far removed from our own culture. You read this on a monitor made in Taiwan, with a plastic or metal frame made in China, likely sitting on a furniture item (or within sight of a furniture item) made in Poland or France, driving a car from a manufacturer based in Japan, which takes oil from the UAE and SA, thinking about your British friend and her Turkish husband. We are all connected.
So what do we do? We cannot say, “I would take the serviceman in and leave the refugee to die,” neither can you allow the refugee in and leave the serviceman to die. Certainly there must be an error in this assumption, for in this hypothetical we wish nobody to die. Perhaps we could take them both in? One would have the guest bedroom, the other can take the couch. But which would take which? Would they take turns? Such lack of stability would be harsh on them (consider that in this global hypothetical, the bedroom is in Texas and the couch is in Alabama. Quite a bit of movement!), and I wouldn't ask that of them. Perhaps the homeowner could take the couch, but then the uprooting of the home would be severely taxing on the homeowner, and this person would be less able to care for the serviceman and refugee.
This post gives no answer to the above hypothetical, it is only an exercise in thought. On to my suggestion: expand your us. If you have your circle of family, expand it. Find extra room for more people in your heart. We are all kept to a certain level of us. Come consider us to be the nuclear family, others the extended. Us can mean to you, your friend circle, your local municipality, your state, your culture. I try to consider every person I meet one of us. It is difficult, and I fail – I see a person who looks Asian, or a person who looks Middle Eastern, and I initially jump to the thought they are different. It is only when the conscious enters that I see we carry the same skeleton, the same heartbeat, the same human foibles, and soften again. It is a subtle racism that I identify and struggle with. In years to come I hope I have no such inconsistencies with my handling of strangers.
In short, the more people your consider inside of your us circle, the more compassion you have for the whole of humanity. The whole of humanity needs more us. Consider helping a serviceman in need through veterans charities, and giving to refugee assistance in the brutal Summer of horrors blazing through the Middle East. There is the opportunity to introduce yourself to a complete stranger as a Samaritan, and become that stranger's us.