A great deal has been written and spoken about the mess on the Border and our dealings with immigrants, otherwise known as strangers. It is a curiosity of the American people, all of whom were once strangers, immigrants and castaways, that there is rather rapid diminishment of memory; namely, that we were ever strangers or outcasts. This leads to a hardness of heart. Thus, creating a revisionist post-immigration view of the immortal Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus”, recasting the story of welcome as limited to those who can “stand on their own two feet”. If that were so, there would hardly be a place for any of us here.
I come from a family of both historic (Mayflower and Hudson Valley ancestors) and recent forebears (the 1905 expulsion of Jews from Germany). All of them left their past and their homelands behind speaking English. I think of us as mongrels. It is not coincidental then that we are always searching for home, especially a home which makes us distinctive and safe.
Nothing speaks to home more than the graves of my long-departed grandparents. What I saw was a literal separation of my gentile grandmother of Dutch origins and my first-generation Jewish grandfather, far removed from their own families, as well as from each other, in totally separate cemeteries. I feel ashamed of the not-so-subtle discrimination between Christians and Jews. Their union in marriage is commemorated by eternal separation in death.
The sometimes vicious national debate over inclusion/exclusion of immigrants suggests that we start seeing them as “Aspiring Americans”. Listening to their voices, it is evident that each comes seeking a better opportunity and release from the violence and disorder of their homelands. Isn’t this true of all who ever came here? A new day will come when we learn how to welcome the stranger; how to embrace the aspirations of new people, who are taking nothing from us, but are seeking exactly the same thing as our forebears did: freedom to discover the wonder of becoming more than one could have ever imagined. But we know from history that this takes time.
Without Abraham and his sojourn, the Jewish people would have no home. Without Jesus breaking down the barriers between people and their origins, or between genders, we would be so seriously fixated in our ways and traditions that life would be destroyed altogether. It is clear that no matter where we may find the struggle for authenticity and freedom, God somehow stays in the midst of it, opening a way forward that was not visible, or evident, before. Here’s to a new vision. Here’s to a new way forward for all of us.