Monday, February 13, 2017

A New American Tale

They stumbled through the cold night. The trees of the forest did little to stop the snowfall. The journey had been difficult because they could not keep the cold from their finger and toes. The suitcases they carried held the few belongings they were able to gather when they left their home. That was months ago. That was hundreds, thousands, of miles away. 

It couldn't be helped. To live in their home would mean death. To escape into an unknown land offered more hope than the certainty they faced if they remained. Their suitcases held all that was left of their home and their life before.

"Before" wasn't just a time. It was a way of life. It was a way of life without fear. It was a way of life with some measure of hope. In that time, they were not worried about who hated them. They had plenty of food. They even had jobs that supplied their needs. They had friends and family who could be called upon to laugh or cry together. 

Now it was just this little family. The baby was wrapped in extra clothing to keep her warm. They took turns pushing the stroller so that their fingers would not freeze around the handle. It was 5 degrees. But they didn't own heavy winter coats. They didn't have thick, ski worthy gloves. Their shoes were more suitable for the Fall temperatures they were leaving. 

But they had to keep moving forward. They knew that there was a chance at life, hope, freedom if they could only make it a little farther.

But the headlights of a vehicle stopped them in their tracks. They would have tried to hide. They were too cold to move quickly. And there was no way to run with the stroller. They knew they had been caught.

But would it be the guards who would drag them back to the land they were trying to flee? Or could it be they had made it far enough to be in this new land of hope?

It would not be hard to believe that this could have been a story of a family from 19th Century Russia or Germany. It would be easy to understand if this was the story of a family from 1930's Germany or Poland. But this is the story of a family from the weekend newspapers.

Their story is one that is being told to bring attention to the tragedy of refugees in our world. They represent the people who are moving from home and homelands in search of better life in order to escape the cruelty of a change of regimes and power.

In another time, this could very well be the middle of a story about an emigrant family finding their way to the United States in hopes of beginning that new, better life. In fact, for many of us, that is how our American tale began. Our families left home and homeland to seek out the shores of these united states to rebuild from the meager belongings they were able to bring with them. Some had arduous journeys. Some faced overwhelming physical difficulties like weather or sickness or injury. And we are the living testament to the "...and they lived..." story of our ancestors.

But that is not the story of this family.

This is the story of a family who left Syria to escape the conflict that has sent thousands seeking safety. The family of three had escaped from that land and did find their way to the United States. Perhaps they felt that there was hope for them here. Maybe they saw the possibility of a new life. But instead of building that new life, they were afraid to stay here.

I don't know this family. I heard about them and many like them. This family, in particular, was fleeing from the United States north to Canada. They were trying to make it to Quebec.

So, how do I know that they were afraid? Ask yourself what would make you pack your three year old child, and all of your belongings, then face a winter storm with temperatures in the single digits and 18 inches of snow? What would cause  you to avoid a staffed border crossing to make your way through a forest? What would cause you to leave the land of "freedom" and risk your child's life?

I can only think that they were so afraid of living here that they were willing to risk their child's life, their own physical health to go somewhere they felt they would be safer or welcomed.

We have fallen as a nation. Where once our nation was the highest hope of freedom and acceptance, now people feel they must flee from our borders. They are fleeing, I believe, because they are afraid of what may come for being different. Or to just be blunt - because they are Muslim.

Some of this is to be laid at the feet of our President. He has degraded the safety of immigrants and refugees by declaring that Muslims are to blame for terrorist acts. He has empowered raids across the nation to round up persons without proper documentation. Those persons, who are deemed a threat to safety, include mothers of children and young men and women who have lived most of their youth out as "typical teenagers" and typically are not Muslim. He has pointed to immigrants and refugees and made them suspects of being insurgents hiding in bedraggled clothing.Yes, some of the fault lies with the man who has assumed the voice of power.

But a lot of the fear is to be laid at the feet of the American people. We have created this climate of xenophobia - fear of the stranger. We have created this climate of rejection of Muslims out of ignorance. We have engineered the downfall of the American dream by declaring that America is for Americans. And for many, this climate has been nurtured under the banner of American Christendom.

I would like to hope that Americans and Christians in America would wake up to the damage that has been done and demand, "ENOUGH!" I would like to believe that we could rise above the political divisions and join together in seeing that there are greater issues to be dealt with. I would love to see all churches in this nation put the flag down and pick up the Kingdom. I would be foolish enough to hope that we could hear the commands of Jesus Christ clearly enough to love all people - Muslims included - and build a place for all people to be welcomed. I would hope that we, mostly all descendants of immigrants who sought a new life on these shores, would put down our walls and join with people to build new lives.