I used to think racism looked like people in white hoods. People who made other people drink at different water fountains. People who enslaved others. And it does look like those things. But I’ve learned now that those are extreme and conveniently bygone examples of a disease that is much more pervasive, even today, than my education led me to believe.
I’m not naturally very good at hospitality. I like control, and being able to mostly expect what my day will bring. This is all well and good for throwing parties or having friends over for lunch, but biblical hospitality is another thing entirely. Think of Abraham, who threw out the red carpet for three visitors who showed up unannounced at his tent one day, rushing to provide them with some of the best of what he had. As it turns out, one of those visitors was God himself, who came bearing a great promise that would change the course of Abraham’s life.
In my work with Open Homes, A Christian ministry that supports refugee claimants, we don’t ask for people’s stories. Refugee claimants already have to tell their stories to so many people: lawyers, Immigration and Refugee Board judges and border officials. Besides, few people want to be defined by one of the worst things that’s ever happened to them. So we don’t ask. Sometimes people share bits of their travels and traumas as we get to know them, but this is (we hope) on their timing and on their terms. But I still want to learn from refugee stories and understand just a bit of what the people I meet may have gone through.
In one day last week at Open Homes Hamilton, we received calls from shelters about six refugee claimants who needed housing as soon as possible. Six! It’s always a bit of a scramble when we get a call. We shoot messages back and forth among our leadership team, trying to decide if we have capacity to welcome a refugee claimant into one of our host homes.
This summer I was given the gift of a broken arm. It was a costly gift, and not one I would have asked for, but it was one that I needed. By no choice of my own, I was completely unproductive for several weeks. I kicked the habit of endlessly ticking tasks off my mental to-do list, at least for a while.
Years ago, after watching a play about Anne Frank, I reflected on the visceral pull of that story and others like it from the Second World War for me and others who share my Dutch-Canadian heritage. These stories are part of us – we are characters in them, through our grandparents and relatives.
Sometimes it takes your glasses getting dirty to remember that they’re even there. I learned that I hold a pretty stunted view of hospitality from a woman named Marie Issaka in Bamako, Mali.
I’m still stuck on this poem by Mary Jo Leddy that I shared here several months ago. Somehow this Catholic nun/neighbourhood builder/writer/refugee advocate has packed all the lessons God’s trying to teach me right now into two lyrical stanzas.
Death is pervasive in the Christian story. Our central symbol? The cross. More than 1/3 of the Psalms? Psalms of lament. One of the central metaphors of the Christian life is dying to the old self and putting on the new self.
I read a news story recently that’s stuck with me. It was about the experiences of undocumented Hispanic women who had worked at several of Donald Trump’s golf courses.
Have you heard the one about Jesus’ disciples?
“No one ever talks about Jesus’ miracle of having 12 close friends in his 30s” (credit: Twitter user @Mormonger).
I just celebrated my 29th birthday, and this definitely rings true! It’s comforting to know that others my age feel the same way. I don’t want to paint too dreary a picture – I do have some close friends whom I’m very grateful for, even if we don’t see each other every recess and noon hour to play grounders. Friendship looks different these days.
I’m sad knowing that Christians, despite the constant biblical theme of blessing the stranger, still want limits on welcoming refugees and immigrants. Cultural misconceptions about refugees in particular are just as common among Christ-followers in Canada as they are in wider society. This at a time of unprecedented need for churches to open their arms to refugees, both those who are sponsored overseas and those who walk across our border and ask for protection.
I’m sad because I see us clinging to cultural power. As someone who has communicated with churches for the past five years, I can tell you that nothing mobilizes church people faster than a threat to our cultural power. Some of these perceived threats have been genuine causes for concern, and some . . . less so. But regardless, I lament that it’s not usually self-denying love of “the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger” that stirs us to rapid action, but threats to our own freedom.