Doing and undoing

Most merciful God,
    we confess that we have sinned against you
    in thought, word and deed,
    by what we have done,
    and by what we have left undone.

What happened

I sat down at a table after church for a sociable cup of coffee. At first there was no room, but somebody moved aside so I could squeeze in. I remarked, “Thanks for the room; I’m not a refugee.”

Probably a foolish thing to say because – even in Canada – there is no reason to assume everyone will see things the same way that I do. Probably. Not quite a proverbial red flag in front of a bull, but perhaps I assumed too much, especially having just heard Micah 6:6-8 – “do justice, love kindness, walk humbly” – in the worship service.

But Carl (not his real name) took exception to my comment. I got an earful, of cookie crumbs and strong opinions. Carl was born in Canada but also has lived in Europe for extended periods of time. He had experienced the recent “Syrian” refugee crisis and told me in no uncertain terms that it was no longer safe to walk the streets in Germany, that “those refugees” want to “blow us up.” The refugee women were as bad as the men and “even the Turks” were upset.

How I responded

You might say I had an exit strategy. First I said, “Well . . . I helped a local committee with Syrian refugees.” Then it was looking around for someone to serve cookies. Then I mentioned that some of the refugees living right here in our town are Christians. Finally, when it seemed like there was no way out of the conversation I had started, or provoked, someone else squeezed into our circle and I was “saved.”

What I could have done

I could have apologized for treating lightly something that was so serious a topic.

I could have asked, “In what other way do you think Christians in Europe could have responded to the call to ‘do justice’?”

Or I could have asked if Carl had had any conversations with recently-arrived refugees in Europe.

Or I could have apologized and then asked if we could get together on another day to talk about this with one of the local new Canadians with Syrian origin.

My experience

Some time ago my wife and I joined a local group of people responding to events in Syria by sponsoring a family. This group did not discriminate on the basis of a Syrian family’s religious beliefs. When it turned out that we had raised enough money and volunteer support, we applied to sponsor two families. As it turned out, most of the Syrian-Canadian group living in our region are from Christian backgrounds. The family I know best is not Christian but Muslim.

I cannot claim to know them as well as I might, but have made several visits to their home; and I was happy to pick up Zakaria and bring him to our farm to help me pick up some hay the old-fashioned way. I spoke about five words of Arabic; he spoke more, but not much more, English. And yet we had a wonderful time. He told me on that visit last summer that his wife was pregnant and just recently the two of them were blessed with the birth of a new son.

Looking back at that after-worship conversation over coffee, I don’t know if anything other than the apology would have done much good. Even the offer to visit with a recent refugee on another day may have been too much at a moment of stress for Carl. Maybe it would even seem self-righteous.

If anything, I am more confused than ever about how to broach this subject with those for whom talking is almost impossible. I am sure, however, that meeting local Syrian refugees has not been an act of charity in that “we” have accepted “them,” but more of a privilege to be enriched by the presence of people who can contribute and even help me pray that prayer of confession more fervently: forgive me, Lord, for sins of omission and commission . . . 

that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name.

The quotes above are taken from the Confession and Absolution of the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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