She walked into Tim Hortons, just after I ordered my coffee; I stood off to the side, waiting for it. With nothing better to do, I entertained myself with people watching, discreetly of course, and she inevitably caught my eye. She looked like she came from ‘that’ part of the world; Middle-East, somewhere. I noted she didn’t quite look the girl taking her order in the eye, quickly glancing down as she dug in her purse. Then up again, but not quite in the eye. She looked shy; nervously uncomfortable. We got our drinks at the same time, and she was now a few steps ahead of me, and seated herself at a lonely little table, tucked in beside a wall. I had a booth not far away. Her eyes, I noted, looked sad or ‘down’. And then I caught myself wondering, What would it feel like to be that woman, to be anyone from the Middle East right now, in a restaurant full of Caucasians… or to look like maybe I was ‘one of them’, regardless of my birth place? And I concluded it must be unsettling, even frightening or shameful; shame for ‘my people’ and atrocities committed by them. My heart was stirred with compassion, and I wished for a moment I could ask to sit with her, but I had a client coming in minutes, and besides, it would be beyond awkward for both of us….
The title of this blog works much better as a question than as a statement. Why should Canada welcome every refugee? Why should we? Why should USA, for that matter? Or any other country? The truth is, no one should. Because national security is a matter not to be taken lightly, by leaders of a country. And our leaders should think it through carefully, before making decisions.
Emotion-driven ‘help’ and hype-driven ‘compassion’ isn’t compassion. It’s guilt. And it’s not about the refugees. It’s about us. If a moment of emotional response, at seeing a toddler washed up on shore, is the sole driving force for me–as an individual or leader– to say, “Bring them in by the masses!” Then we are utterly selfish, not to mention entirely foolish. Because we are merely trying to assuage our guilt by an act of kindness toward someone who doesn’t have the luxury of peace we have.
And guilt-drive act of kindness that could well have been custom designed to captivate Western Society, according to some. And it’s true, we don’t really know the real story behind that drowning. Children drown in Canada, USA, and around the world, and it is always possible that such a thing could be used for manipulation, to gain access, or to draw compassion. We may never know that. But regardless of the details, a child drowning is tragic and yanks at every parent’s heartstrings, every aunt, every uncle, every grandparent, and pretty much any compassionate human being. And it should stir us. It better.
And even if, worst case scenario, it was a manipulative act and a set up to draw compassion from Western culture–as numerous individuals have surmised, wondered and suggested, and a question that wondered through my own mind that very first news broadcast–it doesn’t make the crisis any less real. And it doesn’t make the need any less legitimate. Syrians are suffering and displaced, and they do need help. But the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ and logistics of it are not matters for impulsive action, from the perspective of a country. World leaders will need to exercise great wisdom in making the right call. And only the future will declare which avenue was the ‘right’ one, for good outcomes. Whether Putin’s locked and guarded gates, or Canada’s open door, or any leader in between, only time will tell.
I’ve read opinions pieces by both secular and Christian writers, declaring colliding views with confidence, certain of one move or another. I would suggest that certainty of anything, in a time like this, is as reliable as blowing smoke rings. They are most certainly there, until they are not. And then you have to make new ones. Just like bubbles. Blow them, and they exist, until they don’t. Likewise with the ‘right moves’ in this… until they are not.
Not one of us can be certain of the outcome of this thing. And our country’s leaders, like every other country’s leaders, must determine what is the best action for those under their care and protection as a nation, while extending compassion. My hope is that they don’t throw caution, common sense and discernment to the wind, and that they act in the best interest of each country while not abandoning the truly needy and destitute.
So what is the Christian response at this time? I hear some cry out that the country should close all borders–surely God would–and others that it should open them wide, even at risk to our country. Maybe it is reflective of a broader societal shirt, and broader shift in Christian thinking, maybe not, but at the very least it rings of insisting that leaders–Christian or not–are not called first to protect responsibly, those in their care. And there seems an inability for some to separate the responsibility of the state, from the responsibility of each individual Christian, and Christians collectively, to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, and to love sacrificially.
And when I think about how I would want to be loved, I can say with certainty I would want to be rescued from the hell some suffer. But I can say with the same certainty that I would want it done wisely so I don’t land in the same hell somewhere else. Otherwise I have gained nothing and they have lost everything. Wisdom is crucial in the ‘how’, and I pray our leaders use that wisdom and discernment in this process.
I certainly don’t see grounds for the place some Christians are taking it, to declare that Jesus meant we are to rescue every refugee across the world, and if we are not compelled to try, then we have somehow failed to love as Christians should love. That’s a popular and unreasonable judgment on social media these days, offered by some driven by emotion and the need to put everyone in their own box of what love is and should be. We are created uniquely, each one of us, and we love differently. But we can love well, differently. Some of us love by swinging hearts and doors wide open, throwing caution to the wind, with a short sustainability, and others love in more calculated (and sometimes more responsible) ways that are sustainable longterm. We need both views for balance.
The opposite response, of hate and closing our hearts to compassion is not the solution. What I do know with certainty, is that my role as a Christian is to be like Jesus. That is not a matter in question. Whomever God brings across my path, is who is my neighbour today. and Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour, so that is the person I will love in this moment in time, while I am with them, and embrace as my neighbour.
Should that person violate my trust and put my life at risk, I will never regret having loved them. And should they prove to be a friend, and one with whose heart I connect, and whose values–if not beliefs, religion and lifestyle–at the very least offer respect, then I will also never regret having loved them. And if they meet Jesus in me, whether they ever embrace Him or not, I will never regret having loved them.
If love means requires me to ‘lay down my life’, then that is what I need to do. And if it means to jump in front of train track to save someone, at the risk of my own life lost, I need to do it. And if it means putting boundaries in place to protect, then that is what I need to do. Any particular and strongly touted ‘belief’, when taken to it’s ultimate end, falls flat. Some who declares ‘open the borders wide’, will not be the one to open their front door and displace their own children. And yet, that belief, taken to it’s inevitable end would require just that. And some of us would. Who is the true hero, and offers the ‘best’ love is something time will tell….
And keeping in mind that even Jesus didn’t disregard danger when confronted with it. He removed Himself from those wishing to stone Him, in John 8:59, rather than choosing to stick around and prove His love. There has to be a time for common sense, even in love. The same Jesus who said, “I send you out like sheep among wolves, so be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” We’ve got the ‘harmless’ down pat, some of us non-resistant ones, but could focus on the wise as serpents part. And some have the ‘wise’ part mastered, but wish to resort to fighting with the sword.
Love is a powerful force. It is a Kingdom of God kind of force that does not fully make sense to the human mind, yet is not intended to function without thought. And each of us must express in the moment-by-moment, as believers, in the place where we walk with God today, if we want to live in the Way of Jesus.
As for Canada, and what it should do…. until I am Prime Minister–which currently looks to be a bare minimum of 4 years away, since we just had an election–it’s not my call to make. As for personal opinion–which I’ve mostly avoided throwing out there strongly–I do have strong opinions. They are somewhat true to the tone of this article; help the Syrian refugees, but at the same time use common sense and caution in the process, which I hope and (somewhat) trust my country is doing. All risk cannot be eliminated, but closing all doors to helping the most needy is a bit too self-preserving for me.
And functioning out of fear goes against my nature. From the first day, when the little boy washed ashore and I saw the hype, I said, “Even if it is a ploy to get inside the hearts of people, and thereby into our countries… and even if it is for ill-will by some, I would not say we should not help them.” But I am, by nature, a risk taker. Somewhat calculated, until I’m not. Then I just do what I believe to be right in a spontaneous moment. Which is why I even tackled this topic… because ‘calculated risk’ told me it is not wise to go there. And then when several friends called me out, I put on my mudding boots, and now here I am with my head stuck out, waiting for the hail to begin.
Nonetheless, for now I will focus on loving my neighbour… Including the Christian who sees it differently than me. That love is the only thing that will convince the world that we are the disciples of Jesus. And that love seems a lot harder to exercise than loving the refugee in a far away land. It seems less noble, less ’cause’ worthy. But it is the trademark of our relationship with God through Jesus. All other actions taken, from a faith perspective are but a racket, and a loud noise, if we don’t first exercise love in the Body of Christ.
The young woman left Tim Hortons. I was lost in a world of my own by that time, hearing a client’s heart; her story. Compassion easily shared with someone from my own culture, the Mennonites. We are a strong group, with powerful beliefs; some that we would be willing to die for, others not so much. And we’re divided on which ones are worth dying for, when it comes right down to it.
My day went on, as usual. Except for moments when her face flashed through my memory and I again found myself wondering, again, What would it be like to be one of them, or look like one of them, but with no desire for bloodshed and hate…. What would it be like?
And compassion awakens again in my heart, and I whisper a prayer for wisdom for our leaders to do the right thing, the compassionate thing, and also the wise thing.
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger