Sunday, January 29, 2017

All Welcome?

It is fortnight since my last blog. And what a two-weeks it has been! Almost hourly I’m getting news flash alerts with yet another event or another order signed or another protest in defense of human rights happening.

I think the availability of news has changed the world. Andy and I were talking this morning about how everything is public knowledge almost as soon as it happens. What a contrast with a few years ago, before social media and the internet.

Recently, Andy and I went to see “Allegiance.” It is a Broadway musical which was screened as a one-time event at our local cinema. It was excellent. It was about the Japanese internment in the second World War. It showed all the prejudice experienced by people of Japanese descent regardless of citizenship. As we talked this morning we wondered if it could have happened in the same way in an age of social media. Would there have been a big outcry from the general public?

Of course, with all media and news feeds it is necessary to take care to try to sieve the facts, to discern what is fake news, what is opinion and what is an actual fact. Nevertheless, the amount of information available is enormous. This has caused huge changes in society. With an increase in knowledge comes a need for an increase in response. Or perhaps, I should say I need for an increase in responsibility by the general populous.

I think the question for all of us, whatever side of the political fence we fall on, needs to be; How am I going to respond? What am I going to do?

Today’s Gospel text is those verses commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). In the story Jesus goes to a mountain for some peace. In the Gospel of Matthew’s version of this story only the disciples come to find him and he teaches them. The teaching is about those who will be blessed. In Matthew’s version of the story the author has additional clauses that spiritualize it somewhat. My preference is the shorter version found in Luke (6: 20-26).

Regardless of which version, as is often the case with the gospel writings it would have been a little disturbing, or maybe even shocking, to those who were listening. Look at the list of those who will be blessed — the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected.

As I read this list I could not help but think about the photographs I saw in the news yesterday. Those of the refugees, and others, who were being detained at airports and refused entry into the country. It seemed that today’s gospel reading was so pertinent. Those people are the poor, the hungry, the sad, the hated, the excluded, the insulted and the rejected.

So, what is our response going to be? What is our responsibility? With access to the media today we cannot say that we did not know, we were unaware of what was happening.

Last week, I took part in a Women’s march in our local city. It was estimated between 8,000 to 10,000 walked. It was a humbling experience to be among so many people who supported human rights for all people. I have friends and colleagues who went to Washington, a big commitment in terms of time and money.

Yesterday, the photos of those protesting at airports were heartening, many thousands of people saying they wanted all to be welcome. It is a scary thing to be detained at a border. Our family has experienced it on more than one occasion. I remember all the times with amazing clarity. The first time was crossing in from Canada after a visit to Niagara Falls. It was pre-Green card days but we were already living in the USA on a correct visa. Still we were detained. We were put in a small room and kept there for a couple of hours while being bombarded with questions. The questions come thick and fast, some of them repeated multiple times. After two hours our heads were spinning. Ultimately, we were given a smiling handshake and sent on our way. However, it was a scary experience, our daughter, then 13 years old, was terrified. Even now, I get “butterflies” every time I cross the border back into the US.

Yet, we are British, white, spoke the language, had correct paperwork and employment. We knew that if the worse came to the worse we had loving family to return home too. I can’t imagine how it must feel if one is escaping war-torn areas; if one is a minority who would not be so welcome; if this was one’s hope for a future (not even a better future).

So, my questions again.  How can I respond? What is my responsibility?

A favorite place to walk our three pugs is at Cornell Plantations. There are some benches there with a Biblical verse on. It is one of my favorite Old Testament quotes and, coincidently, is the lectionary Old Testament reading for today.

“To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” (Micah 6:8).

(Photo: Grasmere, 2009)