I recently had the pleasure of sharing my talk about "Living in More than One World" at Calvary Church in Wyncote, PA. (I feel a little like the Sigourney Weaver character in one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest -- I have one sermon, and I'm gonna preach it!) Anyway, I'm thankful for the opportunity to share with such a responsive group of people.
Just a quick synopsis of my message for context's sake -- during the talk I explore three stories of people who had to learn to live in more than one world. Story #1 looks at the early life of Moses from the first few chapters of the book of Exodus. Story #2 takes a peek at Ryan King, the protagonist of my middle grade novel, King Me! Finally, story #3 describes my own journey as a white person who needed to learn that my experience is not universal. During this part of the talk I explore the unearned, invisible privileges my whiteness affords me.
As I was reviewing my notes in preparation, the story of Moses jumped out at me for its relevance to our current world situation. Written thousands of years ago, this second book of the Pentateuch begins with the story of an immigrant population, the Hebrews, who suffered great oppression at the hands of their host country. Maybe you know the story -- Joseph and his family migrated to Egypt because of a famine (in other words, they were refugees). The Hebrew population flourished there, and after several centuries a king came to power who wasn't too happy about the presence of the Hebrews. Why? There might have been lots of reasons, but the text tells us that the king was worried because, in his mind, there were just too many Israelites around. "Come," he said, "we must deal shrewdly with them, or they will become even more numerous and if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country" (1:10). Sound familiar? This very rationalization was used to place over 100,000 Japanese people, the majority of whom were U.S. citizens, in camps during WWII. As our government has since admitted, many Japanese children, women, and men suffered because of anxiety and fear fueled by racism.
Tragically, some haven't seemed to learn from either the ancient or recent past. It's becoming common in some circles to conflate the categories "immigrant," "refugee," and "terrorist" as if the words are interchangeable. Of course, they are not. The world is a scary place, I get it. We need to be careful, okay, I think we can all agree on that. But when we let fear take the place of rational thought, when apprehension outweighs logic, when anxiety overpowers compassion, we may find ourselves in an endless loop, repeating variations of the same sad, terrifying story. I know, the U.S. is not forcing anyone into slavery or relocating them to internment camps. But the recent so-called travel ban was so swiftly and poorly executed that, to me, it seemed more an expression of anger and anxiety than an attempt at national safety. Other more horrifying recent suggestions take us closer to the loop, such as watches on Muslim neighborhoods and a required Muslim registry.
Since I started with a sci-fi quote, I guess it's fitting I end with one. From Battlestar Galactica (also found in Ecclesiastes 1:9 and apparently in Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie) -- "All of this has happened before and will happen again." But does it have to? Maybe I'm hopeful, or maybe I'm just stubborn, but I don't believe we're destined to repeat our mistakes. We can stop the loop if we insist our leaders take actions based on logical, reasonable analysis of facts tempered with compassion, and not on rhetoric peppered with conflation and deflection (honestly, some of the arguments I'm hearing lately wouldn't pass muster in a freshman college writing course). Regardless of our political persuasion or who we voted for, we can agree that the role of government is to keep citizens safe. But we can do better than instituting sweeping orders based on fear and devoid of nuance. We must.