November 19, 2015


My grief for this broken week in the world caught up with me during church on Sunday, as our associate rector led a beautiful and gentle children’s sermon about hearing scary news. The sermon ended with our kids carrying candles to place on the altar, a gift to many of us bigger folks who needed to let a few quiet tears flow.

So now what? For those who have lost loved ones in terror attacks, the grief is just beginning. For the rest of us, beyond the French flag on Facebook pages, and the verbal expressions of solidarity, what more can we do?

Here is one thing. Maybe not the only thing, but important.

We can consider the implications of the news that at least one of the Paris attackers may have arrived as a “refugee” from Syria. Many are already considering that very question. Twenty-six American states -- more than half of our country -- have announced that they are no longer willing to resettle Syrian refugees.

We can help our fellow Christians to think about this very real question theologically. We who profess to be part of a body. We who believe in a God whose reach is beyond the grave. We who believe that perfect love casts out fear. We who are commanded to love one another.

Parisians are terrorized and terrified, and we are terrified with them. We know that we are not ready for another attack, that we cannot handle too many more of these events that erode the most basic sense of safety that we need to live our lives. We know that our very homes will be destroyed, even if they are physically still standing, if we have to worry about being killed every minute of every day. We just can’t do it. We are right to be afraid.

We are right to be afraid, because if our fears come true, we will be living a reality that most of those refugees flooding into Europe already live. Their homes have been destroyed. They have reached the point where they cannot live one more day with the level of fear and terror that has pervaded their home countries. They are desperate for the sort of peace and security we mostly take for granted, except on the relatively rare occasions that terror invades our peace. 

Is there some risk that there is another terrorist hiding amidst the flow of refugees, even a dozen, a hundred? Yes, absolutely. Is there even some risk that one or more of those people may slip past the very strict US screening process for refugees? Yes.

Can we as Christians refuse to accept that risk? No. This is the hard answer, and the one that we must help one another to understand. It is simply not a Christian position to ask that some members of the body take all the risk, while we take none.

If we say no to people who are seeking a safe harbor when everything they had has been destroyed, we do our part to help ISIS succeed in its quest to give ordinary Syrians and Iraqis nowhere in the world that they can be safe. Our European sisters and brothers are taking the lion’s share of the Western risk in this particular situation, not us. We need to stand with the many Europeans who will still extend a hand of friendship, even after Paris. Even with the knowledge that there is some chance that hand will go to someone who seeks to do us harm.

The Gospel is clear on this one. It goes further, beyond risking that we might accidentally love an enemy, all the way to loving those enemies who seek to harm us. It does not let us off the hook for one another. It does not let us live in safety at the expense of those who have already seen safety destroyed. 

Our safety is in God alone, a God whose love is more powerful than death itself. We deserve this message, and we owe it to one another. Our very salvation may hang in the balance. 

Many are saying, "Oh, that we might see better times!" *
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD.

You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.

I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:6-8 (BCP translation)

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