In the wake of the terrible events in Paris, many voices saying words that have become all too predictable. The responsibility - in varying degrees of more or less - is placed on Europe's refugees. The trouble comes with them. We must be vigilant, we must we must resist these threats against our way of life -
I am reminded of a question that was recently posed to Germany's Chancellor Merkel:
“You’re doing a lot to help the refugees,” a woman asked. “What are you doing to protect our Christian values?”
Over the last few months I have found myself meditating upon an answer that was given to this question by a thoughtful and considering man:
"It is a strange notion that “doing a lot to help the refugees” is distinct from the business, the practice, or the essence of Christianity. Helping refugees, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, aiding widows and orphans in their distress -
These corporal and spiritual works of mercy and justice are not a nice little additional thing that it’s generally commendable to dabble in a bit…Without them, our 'Christian values" are devoid of content and substance, an ornate treasure chest with nothing inside.
We can imagine this same woman standing to ask this same question at the end of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew’s Gospel:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the just will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from …”
And they will interrupt, saying, “Lord, you’re doing a lot to help the refugees, but what are you doing to protect our Christian values?”
These "Christian values" are not unique. In many words and many turns of phrase, they are the foundation stones of every single culture and society on this earth. Look at the people of Paris right now - bringing strangers off the streets and into their homes to keep them safe. Restaurants are closing their shutters and turning off the lights with their patrons safe and silent inside. For those who prefer particulars - I particularly recommend Mr. Bathily, who in January hid hostages in the freezer of his shop at a very real risk to his own life.
Alongside him, I recommend the Greek fishermen whose economy might be in ruins, but instead of looking for scapegoats, go out every night to make sure strangers safely reach shore -
Split those hairs if you dare!
My grandparents were refugees: Poles who fought the Germans, then fled the Russians, and at the end of the second world war, made their way to Australia.
Australia let my grandparents in. In due course they had children, and later, grandchildren - doctors, microbiologists, painters, writers, teachers, architects, zoo-keepers, civil servants, network administrators, surveyors, businesswomen -
Now there are great-grandchildren as well; boys and girls who act in plays and build model engines and help fold the laundry and carry groceries and laugh and speak kindly in the streets -
Is Australia sorry? Are we regretted? Regrettable?
Can you imagine that we are not loved as we love in our turn?
It is not a good time for the vulnerable anywhere in the world right now. For myself, I can only speak for the Christian culture of Western Europe, but I will say this:
Over the next few weeks, much of Western Europe will celebrate a cultural origin story - a story of the greatest love the earliest Christians could conceive. How wonderful it would be if, instead of celebrating by rote and having the parties and singing the songs and paying postage on cards promising goodwill and fellowship and reflecting warmly on a season well done, we could think seriously about the values that we are celebrating?
We are imperfect. We stumble. We fall. But always, and often at the same time, we rise up. Black balaclavas and guns are as much of a threat that we permit to be. We are compassionate. We are kind. We possess mercy and charity and love - love for the citizens of Paris, and love for the thousands and thousands of people just like ourselves, who are right now fleeing horrors that black balaclavas have devised and placing themselves into the hands of strangers, hoping for charity in the names of our shared values and humanity.
These are frightening times. Reaching beyond our fears take strength and courage that are often difficult to find. To those voices anxious for their cultural values - I ask you to let your pride in those values raise you up. If you are afraid, let those who are not carry you until your strength returns. In honor and love, out of culture and humanity, we cannot do less. Any day of our lives.