Monday, May 10, 2010

Illegal Immigrants: What's the problem?

The problem, as I understand it, is not that our nation is inhospitable to immigrants. After all, with the exception of Native Americans, we all came here from someplace else, right? But our problem is with illegal immigrants. So I’m told.

Okay. Maybe. But I’m not convinced.

I suspect that what bothers us, if we're honest, is the otherness of people who just aren’t like us. In a discussion at Holy Trinity last week, when I asked why we humans tend toward an us-and-them way of looking at the world, one man observed that it’s hard-wired into us. Way back in the caveman days, it was a matter of survival to be wary of the other. So, maybe that explains why we always have to have someone who is the other, someone we perceive as a threat to our way of life.

Whether it’s the Irish, the communists, the blacks, the Jews, the Muslims, the gays... Our need to protect ourselves from the other may be inevitable. At a meeting of the Homeowners’ Association in my neighborhood, I was both amused and dismayed to hear the people around me blaming all of the negative occurrences in our neighborhood on the condominium dwellers. I live in a huge development that is well integrated in almost every way. However, we still managed to identify someone to be the other. While the majority of us live in houses, there is a section of the development that consists of condos. And, apparently, those who live in the condos are the ones who aren’t cleaning up their dog poop, and are speeding down the streets, and having wild parties all night. Really?

A big part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus is going against the attitudes and behaviors of the dominant culture. And while it may appear that the world of Jesus’ day and the world of our day are as different as clay tablets and iPads, our tendency to protect ourselves from the other is common to both cultures. In Jesus' day, the good religious people worked hard to live holy lives by separating themselves from people who were impure. But Jesus flipped the whole idea of holiness upside down. For him, holiness was expressed through compassion for those considered impure and the inclusion of all people in God’s kingdom. Matthew Fox writes about this in his book, Original Blessing. He suggests that the true meaning of holiness is hospitality, which is essentially, the offer of safety, comfort, and nourishment to both friend and stranger.

If holiness is hospitality, there is something very unholy about the behavior toward illegal immigrants in our country. Perhaps, if we could learn to follow the One who put the law of compassion above all other laws, we would see that those we fearfully label as the other are really not that different from us. They risk their lives to come to this country, not because of some evil they have conspired against us, but because they long for a better life for their families. Who among us wouldn’t do all we could to provide food and shelter for our young children or our aging parents? Those who risk so much to care for the ones they love certainly deserve our respect, if not our admiration.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not denying that there is a problem. What I AM saying is that it is not an us-and-them problem, or a good-guys and bad-guys problem. As much as anything, for those who claim to follow Jesus, it seems to be another one of those which-kingdom-are-you-going-to-live-in? problems.


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