Let’s jump to the point: Welcoming Syrian refugees will be hard. It will require Canadians to share resources, community space, jobs, worship space, and housing. It will press on Canadians to confront their own xenophobia, racism, stereotypes, violence, and misconceptions. It will demand Canadians dialogue with one another productively… respectfully… spaciously… giving generous welcome not only to refugees but differing points of opinion.
Canada has had more than it’s share of ignorance and shameless “we take care of our own first!” hullaballoo, believing that refugees will reign the wrath of ISIS down upon us. Or that, because of our economic downturn, somehow our families won’t be cared for with the extra mouths to feed. Fear and false information fuels our opinions, and our call to love our neighbor crumbles.
But then this began trickling in yesterday from the States:
America: you really have a special knack for getting the world to despise you. Just when the world thinks you’ve taken a few great steps forward, you pull another stunt like this and we shake our global heads in sadness. Yes, relocating refugees would be extremely difficult but — especially for people of faith mandated to welcome the stranger no matter one’s present circumstances — there’s no other answer but to open up in welcome.
But then I see Canadians loving the stands from these governors, and I hang my head as an ashamed Canadian. So much for welcome. So much for Canada leading the way in kindness and freedom. We look to shuttered windows and doors, and give in to fear as much as any American.
Last week I attended a forum hosted by Trinity Lutheran Church in Edmonton called “Re-Imagining Welcome”. It involved people from the LGBTQ+ community talking about their personal journeys within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and how the ELCIC could better create welcome and inclusion for LGBTQ+ people.
Some of the stories were heartbreaking.
But it was healing for me to be in a room where my DNA wasn’t seen as a sin, no one was an aberration, a mental anomaly, an abomination (loaded word there! If you want to perpetuate spiritual abuse, use that word and guaranteed you’ll get results), or a perpetual sinner. We were people. We were people seeking ways to walk in faith, life and love.
One man bravely spoke these words: “We can’t really claim to be welcoming until we choose to walk with the people who hate us. Until we love those who won’t have anything to do with us, we haven’t changed anything.”
I was sitting with people who had lost families, friends, faith communities, schools, jobs and had even faced physical and sexual violence. Others had more positive and encouraging stories to share about churches welcoming LGBTQ+ people, and we clung to those stories.
But the point was well taken: how will I love those who are taking such wretched stances against other people?
Governors refusing refugees housing… churches still calling LGBTQ+ abominations… people demanding Prime Minister Trudeau bomb ISIS, engage in violence and continue to create the power vacuum that helped create ISIS in the first place…
It’s easy for me to say that I hate ISIS and all it stands for. It’s easy for me to say I hate the mandate of Westboro Baptist Church or the Southern Baptist Convention.
It’s hard for me to say “I love you” to someone who so quickly shouts for a gun to kill any refugee who is suspected of being a terrorist.
It’s hard for me to say “I love you” to someone who thinks “agreeing to disagree” on “the gay issue” is a good way to solve conflict. That might help the straight person, sure, but the LGBTQ+ person is still dehumanized, segregated, and not fully embraced. We’re “issues” and not people; we’re filled with agendas to take over families.
It’s hard for me to say “I love you” to someone who finds bombing the Middle East more than we have a just war. Instead of imaginatively creating ways to stop the violence without bloodshed — by far and away the more difficult path — we applaud guns and bombs.
It’s not the ISIS-enemy that I’m angry with the most right now or having the hardest time loving. It’s my neighbors, my fellow Christians, it’s my community members, and yes, those darn Americans. My capacity to love is sorely tested and, admittedly, found desperately wanting.
I don’t want to love people who despise refugees; who want to take care of our own first (even though some of these people refuse to engage in any acts of Truth and Reconciliation with indigenous peoples); who rattle of false dogma about LGBTQ+ people; who embrace violence and justify it with scriptures.
I don’t want to love.
There’s my crux.
If love is to win, I have to learn to love those whom I believe are causing more damage to our home communities. ISIS is the big bad wolf, but loving the people next to me who shut their doors and their hearts are those who keep vulnerable sheep out in the open for the big bad wolf to snatch up and eat.
How does love win here? How does love win in me? I choose it. But I don’t feel it. I want it. But I don’t always want it enough.
If love is to win, may it win in me first. And I must love those next to me first, before pointing fingers at shadows in the dark. For the most hurt in our country right now is coming from people who are afraid, angry, islamaphobic, xenophobic, homophobic (so many phobias!), and absolutely certain that violence will fight for freedom.
It won’t happen overnight.
This is a lifelong calling. Love wins, but love wins at a cost of looking deeply of myself over the entirely of my years on earth. My opinions or arguments won’t be fully right or good or true (neither will yours), but people will always remember how I loved them (or didn’t).
May love win in me. In the crazy of hate and abuse of religion and different ideas of compassion, may love win in me always.
I’ll leave you with some beautiful wisdom from Wab Kinew:
“…So let me ask you: do you demand justice only when you are being treated unjustly or do you always seek justice, and stand up for everyone who is facing injustice?” (Facebook, November 16th 2015)