Speaking of Religion: God calls us to open our hearts, not to shut out newcomers

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It seems like only yesterday that we were wringing our hands, worrying about what was going to become of the former Southern Vermont College property and its facilities. We hoped that there might be some way to bring back scores of young people to that idyllic hillside.

How the world has changed.

The arrival of several hundred teenaged holiday campers from New York State and New Jersey at the start of the holiday weekend was a surprize. Instead of joy, many people in town felt shock and anger as well as fear.

The town and state officials delegated to look after these matters have assured us that the summer camp is following all the rules to keep not only the campers but the surrounding population as safe as can be during the Covid-19 epidemic. But these assurances haven't dispelled our fears and suspicions.

It makes sense that we are all on edge these days. Our health, our livelihoods, the welfare of our friends and relatives, our children's educations, and our ability to live our lives in peaceful enjoyment have all been under threat in recent months.

We sit here afraid of tomorrow, of the person next to us in the supermarket line, of the neighbor's children, and pretty much anyone we don't know.

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The summer visitors that do so much for our local economy now make us anxious. We quarantined ourselves for three months, brought the Covid-19 virus under control in Vermont, and we don't want our future to be compromised again.

It's no wonder our safety reflex is to pull in our welcome mats.

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This is why the world's faiths find some way to talk to this protective reflex. They remind us that the one, true way to a more fulfilled life is through some form of openness and acceptance. New relationships are born in this openness.

The Bible tells us how God heralded a new chapter for humanity through the words of the great Hebrew prophets. King Solomon's magnificent temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the children of Israel had been scattered by foreign kings and their armies. But God was going to bring them home. Anyone else who wanted to begin this journey was also welcome.

Much earlier in Israel's history, Scripture tells us how God used Rahab — not just a foreigner, but a woman and a prostitute -- to save God's people in Jericho.

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In the Christian story, Jesus Christ spent more time with all sorts of outcasts and people filled with anxiety about tomorrow than he did with people comfortable with their lives.

Jesus' message was about breaking huddles of fear and uncertainty, of suspicion and mistrust and opening the eyes of anyone who would listen to the miraculous possibilities of lives directed by open hearts and love -- and lived in free relationship with the rest of humanity.

Openness and free relationship strike fear in our hearts, just as they did when the Roman Empire controlled the Mediterranean and beyond. That's why God's messengers have to keep telling people "do not fear" every time God has something new to offer.

What wonderful and unexpected blessings might await us if we welcome and listen to our unexpected guests?

Bennington resident John Terauds is the community missioner at St Peter's Episcopal Church.


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