Naming Our Fears
I’m going to name a fear that people talk about when the issue of refugees and immigration comes up: Too many immigrants and refugees will fundamentally change us. And we will lose who we are or what makes us American.
Sometimes we fear getting crowded out. Too many of them means less space for us. Less of my way of life. Maybe fewer resources for me and mine. They might take my job, compete with my kids in school, dilute my religion. In the end, if there’s more of them, I am going to lose.
If these are some of our fears, whether or not the fears are well-founded, … If these are some of our fears, one obvious solution is: Let’s keep those OTHER people out. Keeping them out, keeps me safe: my money, my religion, my way of life. For some people, exclusion seems to be the answer to keeping our identity secure, to protecting who we are.
Looking at Exclusion
But consider this: If exclusion is our go-to answer, then exclusion becomes part of who we are. We become a country who keeps people out, an unwelcoming, wall-building, exclusive national club.
“Exclusion as a personal or national policy is a bit like Bullies on the playground…”
Exclusion as a personal or national policy is a bit like Bullies on the playground or the cruel cliques in the Middle school. This is my playground and I don’t have to share the swings with any new kid or scrawny kid or really anybody I don’t want to. This playground metaphor for the exclusion idea is simplistic but it’s easy to relate to. Maybe we think: we’re not the actual bullies, but what are we doing to stand up for the scrawny kid? How are we helping the new girl? If we’re just going about our business, we’re letting those bullies pick on the others. We’re letting the bullies rule the playground.
On the world scene or at our borders, in our national policies and local organizations exclusion of others and our notably UN-generous current policies toward refugees and immigrants make us the bullies on the playground; we are the cold-hearted, selfish kids in those cliques. The DIFFERENCE between the playground and the refugee and immigration debate is this: the consequences of our “keep them out” attitudes and policies can really mean life or death.
And the second greatest commandment? Exclude your neighbor as yourself.
Said no one ever.
Embracing our Global Neighbors
Theologian and philosopher Miroslav Volf offers us a better way of thinking about how to engage with our global neighbors: EMBRACE. This is not a syrupy, fuzzy, hug a stranger movement. Volf’s embrace is a metaphor for engaging with others. Here’s the good news: this way of engaging means that I do not have to brace for terrible changes to important things about my identity, or give up what is core to who I am.
Volf’s Metaphor of Embrace
Volf’s metaphor of Embrace has four parts.
Step 1 is to open our arms – really opening our hearts and minds –to invite other voices into our spaces. To allow ourselves – them and us — to learn about each other, from each other.
Step 2 is waiting with open arms. We don’t rush in with a vice grip. We keep inviting.
Our love of the other keeps us patient and persistent, caring, careful and courageous.
Step 3 happens when another enters freely into embrace, into open-minded and open-hearted engagement with us. This embrace is a mutual welcome to a sharing of ourselves with each other. The goal is not that one dominates. In embrace the
distinction between the host and the guest can start to blur and this common experience builds connection.
In Step 4, the arms release. Each returns to who they are. There is no expectation that one is suddenly or fundamentally changed by this encounter but we can end up a little different than before. I adjusted myself and my space to another person, even if only briefly. I’m still me, but I live now with a memory of sharing space with another, of tuning my heart and mind to hear her voice, his story, their perspective.
What Embrace Does Not Mean
“Embrace does not mean I sacrifice my convictions and get all soft on what’s important to me.”
Embrace does not mean I sacrifice my convictions and get all soft on what’s important to me. We can strongly hold on to certain beliefs and pieces of our identity. In fact, hearing other stories and exploring other perspectives can actually help me better understand myself, my culture, and what is central to who I am.
What Embrace Gives
In contrast to exclusion, embrace gives us some important advantages. We embody for ourselves and the world some of the best parts of who we claim to be: a country where people can pursue their dreams, where human rights are respected, where we value freedom and equity and gumption. You know: “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I realize we do not always reflect this better side of ourselves, we have failed many times to be the ideal country we ourselves dream of.
“…our commitment to listen and the practice of shaping ourselves differently to enable embrace, can create a more hospitable self…”
But our commitment to listen and the practice of shaping ourselves differently to enable embrace, can create a more hospitable self, a more welcoming nation, communities and neighborhoods where being a little bit “other” is not a shun-able offense.
This Embrace –creating space literally and figuratively for others in our lives– is us becoming a people who invite people in, a welcoming country, inclusive communities, a nation that benefits from the nurses and scientists, the entrepreneurs and agricultural workers, the cooks and seamstresses, and teachers, and friends, from all the different global neighbors who could become next door neighbors.
The famous plaque on the Statue of Liberty reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”
Accept the Challenge to Be Our Best Selves
Let’s be our best selves.
We don’t have to be afraid that accepting immigrants or refugees into our country and communities will fundamentally threaten our identity or that we’ll lose who we are. Accepting and welcoming refugees and immigrants can give us the opportunity to prove who we claim to be.
David I Smith and RIC 2018 Collaborative Leader Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim have written Christians and Cultural Differences. In this book they tackle the challenge of learning to embrace cultural differences from a Christian perspective. You can buy the book on Amazon by clicking the button bellow.
Related RIC Resources
- Hospitality as Discovery by Tim Baldwin
- What are your Biases by Michelle Loyd-Paige
- 5 Key Reflection Questions about Refugees and Immigrants
About the Author
Click the image above for full bio.