EMERGING SPIRIT: Welcome the stranger
As of January 1 of this year, any adult Vermont resident can receive a driving permit, regardless of their immigration status. Two weeks later, WCAX-TV in Burlington carried a story on the new law's impact on the migrant worker community, and posted the story on its web page. I posted a response to the story: "Once again, Vermont is showing the way for the rest of the country. This is common sense and signals that we welcome all people into our community."
The barrage of truly hate-filled replies was astonishingly huge. Here is a sample:
"Bull! We EARNED it [citizenship] by being BORN here."
"Are you f-in kiddin me? I CAN NOT BELIEVE THIS. WAAA WAAA WAAA. Poor illegal Mexican immigrant."
"Not our job to accept everyone into our communities. These illegals take jobs away from native Vermonters and bring drugs and prostitutes into the state."
"Quit hiring illegals, quit housing illegals, quit feeding illegals, quit schooling illegal kids and quit attending to illegal medical needs. THEY WILL SELF DEPORT!"
(Emphases are in the original.) These are just a sample of the 60-some responses.
Jewish tradition stresses God's particular care for the most vulnerable of society; in those days, the ones most particularly named were widows and orphans; today, they are the poor, the immigrant, the gay, among others. Jesus built on that tradition by including all people in his Reign; "Welcome the stranger," he tells us. That's why the gospel is "good news," because it's for all people. The Quran echoes with messages of compassion, love and kindness.
Easier said than done, right? How hard it is to live the gospel! "Really?" we say, when we realize the implications of Jesus' teachings. "Really?" Does Jesus really mean what he said? Well ... yes. Conditioned as we are by the world around us, we look for an easy way out, a way of excusing ourselves from accepting the hard truths of the gospel, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "the cost of discipleship." You would think that the prospect of the Kin-dom of God on earth would be well worth the cost. Apparently not.
Jesus also warned us that, if we lived his gospel, we would be hated and reviled. That's always seemed so counter-intuitive to me; after all, if everyone lived a life of peace, justice, love and compassion, wouldn't that be a great legacy to leave our children? But Jesus was right; he understood that the forces of the world would militate against doing the right thing. Even the church has drifted away from telling the hard truths.
Many, perhaps even most, of us have drifted away from the meanings of our faith. If we say we believe, even if we often repeat the Lord's prayer or the creeds, we give the lie to our words if we don't commit our lives to enacting them. Words of hate are words of violence, and it doesn't matter what religion, or none, you claim. And if your words of hate come from a heart filled with hate, know that you are loved beyond belief; accept that love and love your neighbor in return.
Rev. John Ransom is a non-denominational minister of peace and justice. He is the author of a prayer book and an upcoming book on global social justice, to be published in the Spring. He lives in Readsboro with his spouse Michael, and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.EmergingSpirit.info.
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