By Ashley Hales
“Welcome home, gather round
all ye refugees, come in.
Oh refugee, I did not cast you out
In death and broken ground, Salvation springs
My body and my blood, the healing that you need
Come and receive”
Sandra McCracken, “All Ye Refugees”
I’m sitting quite comfortably in this warm home of mine. It’s newish to me. The pangs of moving 1000 miles away from the longest place we’d ever lived since we became a family still, always, linger. And yet here I am, doing all those routine things: walking my children to school, going grocery shopping, shouting too much at my boys’ soccer games. In the throes of transition, I feel like I’m living in two universes, where home is both here and somewhere else. Home feels a bit like putting down my phone or glasses and being unable to find them. I don’t know quite where I belong without either. I wander around trying to find something I have no definite memory of letting go.
I’m watching the United States map change colors: each state colored to oppose or welcome the new plan for the US to help resettle refugees. Twenty-six governors vow to tighten their borders like cinching in their belt. It’s too dangerous, they say. It’s not our place. It’s a Trojan horse, letting them in like that.
I realize of course that immigrant policies, national politics and international crises are things much more complex than I am making them here. But I do know this: problems only magnify when we start to see us as somehow wholly different from them.
And must we surround our nation, our homes, with watertight walls? Are we so very scared that we cannot let them in because they might hurt us? But, we must ask, who are they?
They are the poor, the needy, the fatherless and the widow. They are at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus gathered a rag-tag group of fishermen, he did not run from women of disrepute, he did not turn in disgust from our disease, or dishonor or shame. He saw the widow, the child, the orphan and the leper. And he had compassion. His heart saw that we were like sheep without a shepherd. We are the homeless, the refugee. It is Jesus who comes from a far-off country and made his home with us.
It’s a fact that’s at the heart of the Bible. Giles Frazer writes for The Guardian that “For the moral imagination of the Hebrew scriptures was determined by a battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty. Time and again, the books of the Hebrew scriptures remind its readers not to forget that they too were once in this situation and their ethics must be structured around practical help driven by fellow-feeling.”
The Bible is clear: our homes cannot be castles. Our homes – whether our nation, our physical dwelling place, our economic policies or any other number place of belonging – cannot be simply about us.
For our homes were never meant to serve ourselves. We count square footage and upgrades to garner our worth in the same way we count our kids’ soccer goals and progress reports. We invite others in to our homes to “entertain” rather than show true hospitality. We make our homes all about us.
It’s important for our spaces to reflect us and it’s not a bad thing necessarily to upgrade your kitchen. But when our homes stop being a place to welcome the wanderer, I wonder where we think we’ll find home exactly, where we’ll find belonging. Or if we’re just burying ourselves in the trappings of home but never quite belonging.
When we wall up our homes and hearts and build castle walls of impenetrable self-centeredness, what use is Jesus exactly when he says he goes and prepares a place for us? That home that Jesus says he’s making for us feels a whole lot less valuable than the granite countertops in front of us. What use is a Jesus who we wall out with economic belt-cinching and say that he (like the refugees) isn’t quite safe to let in and really change our categories?
For yes (like Lewis says), Jesus isn’t safe, but he is good. Will our homes be safe? Because as Jesus makes his home in us, he uproots cobwebs of shame and doubt and all the ways we wall others out. He turns over tables and plants a seed of his upside-down kingdom right in our hearts.
And you better believe that Jesus making a home is more than a pretty little image, an abstraction that makes us feel good.
Because Jesus never does a background check to see if we check out first before building us a home. Because no one measures up. We’re all homeless wanderers, set adrift on the hem of someone else’s mercy. We’re all refugees, wandering around since Eden, trying to make and find our true home.
And Jesus sees us; his eyes warm with empathy, in our squalid, homeless state. He sees us, as devastated internally as the refugees sleeping on concrete are externally. We have no roof over our head either. There is nowhere we quite fit. We, too, are longing for home. This Jesus runs to meet us. He says “My son has come home!” He places rings on our fingers and the clothes of the family and throws a feast.
But sometimes that Jesus just feels a bit too unsafe to have under our roof.
So home escapes us, like my lost glasses, and we keep searching for the missing thing that promises to make things okay, to feel like we have things ordered, so we can really see.
The refugee crisis is complex. Yes, it’s a risk to welcome people, from refugees in a far-off country to even welcoming your neighbor truly into your life. But both are necessary. How could we do anything less?
How can we stay walled up and impervious to our own refugee status? How can we ignore that Jesus built his tent right in the midst of our finitude? How can we forget that his body and blood house us, that our experience of the Eucharist welcomes and clothes us, gives us sustenance?
How can we turn our backs on those that cry out for home? How can we not do something?
Refugees aren’t safe and neither is Jesus. Both are messy and turn our world upside-down. But isn’t that right where we find home, in the mess right in the middle?
Ashley Hales holds a PhD in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at Circling the Story and The Mudroom and loves to make friends on Twitter.
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