the nest

the nest

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The others

Sunday my family went with others from our church to worship with a congregation in Northampton, MA.  We brought a meal to share and were welcomed with open arms.  This little congregation could not be more different than ours.  Many are homeless, physically or mentally ill, and/or drug addicted. Many are veterans. Many are recovering and struggling to re-build their life. Many are victims of violence; physical, sexual, emotional. All are food insecure.  For some, the dinner we brought was their first meal of the day.
We came from warm homes with cupboards and refrigerators and freezers full of food. We have closets full of clothing and multiple pairs of mittens or multiple hats and scarves and coats and boots to choose from when it's cold.
When we arrived, my 16 year snuggled up to me and whispered in my ear "is it terrible that some of these people make me uncomfortable?".  That my sweet child is why we are here.
We spend so much time with those who are just like us.  It's comfortable and easy.  The more time we spend with those like us the easier it is to look through those who are not.  To look at them as if they are alien.  But how different are they really?
They have flesh and blood. They feel pain and joy. They need to eat and and be sheltered. We also struggle with mental illnesses, addiction, violence. Many of them have or have had families who they loved and cared for.  They want to be able to live their life in peace.  They look out for each other. They are children of God.  They did not choose to be born into their life any more than I chose to be born into mine.  We all make choices that can either lead is in one direction or another, but here's the thing.  It's a whole lot easier for me to "pull myself up by my bootstraps" because I HAVE BOOTS.
When we first spend time with others who appear so different from us, it can be intensely uncomfortable.  The more time we spend, the more we remember that they are not so different from us.  Our discomfort increases when we realize that we could be them, but decreases when we share the Peace and are reminded that we are all children of God.
During the service there was a brief explanation of the difference between sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy is what many of us feel when we see someone who is "unfortunate."  Empathy is what we feel when we can put ourselves in their shoes.  Empathy leads to reaching out and offering a helping hand.  Empathy leads to kindness. Empathy is not just suggesting a way out of the pit. It's climbing down into the pit and being with the "other." When we can walk in someone else's shoes we realize that they are not "others".  They are "all of us".
The current political climate would lead us to believe that the Syrian refugees are "others".  While many are riding the tide of hate and fear, more and more of " us" are demanding that we reach out to those in need.  When we remember that the refugees are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, Christians and Muslims, we begin to demand that the rush to judgement be stopped.  When we acknowledge that the "others" are flesh and blood, they feel pain and joy and fear, they want to live their lives in peace, they didn't choose to be born in their war torn region any more than I chose to be born in the US, the more we are uncomfortable with the hate and fear-mongering.
Jesus was a refugee when his tiny family fled the murderous forces of Herod.  Many friends have told stories of parents and grandparents who were refugees from Poland or Germany.  We are a country of immigrants.  One of the things that makes the US such a great place is the Diversity that exists, but it seems like we allow the fear of the "other" to get in the way of celebrating the rich history and traditions of our melting pot.
In WWII we turned away refugees and they perished.  We said never again. We unjustly imprisoned Japanese Americans. We said never again.  Can this be the time we step up?  Can we show our best selves by honoring our commitment to the world community?  Can we acknowledge our fear and discomfort and then do the right thing?


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  2. I appreciate your first sentence so much "my family went with others from our church to worship WITH". Because it wasn't US feeding was having two meals together.

  3. Also, wanted to share this link: