It is with a heavy heart that I greet you all today. The son of a friend of mine was one of the victims in the Paris terrorist attacks last week and, although he is recovering well (as of this writing, he is still in a drug-induced coma that the MD’s are beginning to reduce), this terrible act of violence certainly hit home. Add to this the terrorist attacks in other parts of the world – Beirut, Baghdad, Zabul, and the Russian plane – and it’s just a bit tougher to see the beauty around us. I read a poem on Facebook over the weekend that summed it up pretty well:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the
where does it hurt?
by Sogand Zakerhaghighi
As tragic as this terrible event has been, the consequences have had far-reaching effects. Speaking of refugees, social media is full of warnings about letting “these people” into our homeland. I feel a need to take a small break from Facebook due to some of the ill-informed and insensitive comments posted by some of my friends. I have found it also very discouraging to watch as governor after governor declare their opposition to resettling refugees in their states. I understand that we’re fearful and that the governors see themselves responsible for the safety of their constituency. But, I’m not sure that they are responding out of well-founded knowledge or merely from knee-jerk reaction. The refugee resettlement program for the United States is lengthy and thorough. Here are the facts:
When we respond out of fear and distrust of “the other,” we are playing right into the hands of those that seek to frighten us and we are forgetting that God calls each of us “beloved.” We also are forgetting Jesus’ call to reach out to the stranger and those in need. An editorial in the NY Times on November 17 addresses this problem without making the connection to the Church. The editorial staff quotes President Obama’s words: “Many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves, that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.” You can find the whole opinion piece here:
The Huffington Post also posted an article entitled “6 Reasons to Welcome Syrian Refugees after Paris” on Monday of this week. They, too, remind us that the attackers in Paris were not refugees and that the refugees that we resettle in the US are also fleeing ISIS and are considered traitors by the self-professed Islamic State. You can read the article in its entirety here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-bier/syrian-refugees-paris_b_8577480.html
My concern is definitely not to minimize in any way the tragedies that have occurred recently through acts of terror; all of them were heinous acts, indeed. There is no way to put any sort of positive spin on these senseless acts of murder and injury. But, I also hope we don’t compound the tragedy by supporting fear and ignorance when we look the other way at people dying in the waters of the Mediterranean or spending years in refugee camps in condition that we wouldn’t accept for our house pets.
At their recent meeting in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church passed a resolution of concern and support for the victims of the Paris attacks:
Express sorrow and grief for those who died, those injured, and those for whom peace has been shattered by the recent acts of terrorism in Paris and Beirut; receive the challenge extended by Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe Bishop Pierre Whalon; accept the exhortation of American Cathedral in Paris Dean the Very Rev. Lucinda Laird; challenge Episcopalians “to turn to Jesus and pray for guidance, wisdom, and courage as we seek God’s path of grace and peace even in the darkness of this current moment; as an act of prayerful remembering recommend to all Episcopal Church congregations of the use of “A Litany of Peace in the Holy Land” during Advent 2015 (AN002).
You can find the text for “A Litany of Peace for the Holy Land” here – http://www.j-diocese.org/index.php?lang=en&page=news&item=14468183951102
On November 18th, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry submitted the following press release:
“Be not afraid!”
Often in the gospels, fear grips the people of God, and time and again, either the angels, or Our Lord himself, respond with the same words of comfort: “Be not afraid.”
In times like this fear is real. And I share that fear with you. Our instinct tells us to be afraid. The fight-or-flight mentality takes hold. At the present moment, many across our Church and our world are grasped by fear in response to the terrorist attacks that unfolded in Paris last Friday. These fears are not unfounded. We can and should support law enforcement officials who are working hard and at great risk to protect us from crime and keep us safe. And yet, especially when we feel legitimate fear, our faith reminds us “Be not afraid.” The larger truth is that our ultimate security comes from God in Christ.
In the Book of Leviticus, God says to the people of Israel that, “the foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Accordingly, we welcome the stranger. We love our neighbor. The Episcopal Church has long been committed to resettling refugees in our own communities fleeing violence and persecution.
The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, through its Episcopal Migration Ministries service, works with dioceses and congregations, and the United States government, to settle refugees in communities across this great country. The Episcopal Church has been engaged in this ministry for more than 75 years. We will not let the nightmare this world often is keep us from carrying out the words of Jesus who told us to be a neighbor to those in need.
Refugees from places like Syria seek to escape the precise same ideological and religious extremism that gave birth to the attacks in Paris. They seek entry into our communities because their lives are imprisoned by daily fear for their existence. Just as Jesus bids us not to be afraid, we must, in turn, pass those words of comfort to those who turn to us for help.
But Jesus calls us to go even further: not just to love our neighbors and our kin, but to love our enemies. This is particularly difficult when we are afraid. But even in the midst of our fear we stand on the solid ground of our faith and proclaim the faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead. In practical terms, this may mean finding strength in prayer, or in our neighbors, or in our churches, or in acts of solidarity with others who live in fear. This is the hope that casts out fear.
The fear is real. So we pray. We go to church. We remember who we are in Jesus. Our resurrection hope is larger than fear. Let nothing keep us from that hope, that faith, that security in Gods dream for all of humanity.
“Be not afraid!”
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
Finally, The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is sponsoring a rapid response webinar at 8 p.m. Monday as a chance to learn more about the current situation and how we can respond. For those who attended or watched the on-demand video of the October 15 webinar, this rapid response webinar will serve as “Chapter 2,” in many respects. It will be part of the ongoing conversation and work together. For those joining for the first time, information will be provides to orient everyone to the situation, as well as other resources for education, prayer, discernment, and action. Here is the link to pre-register for the webinar – http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/domestic-and-foreign-missionary-society-presents-special-important-webinars
Let us pray –
Compassionate God and Father of all,
we are horrified at violence
in so many parts of the world.
It seems that none are safe
and some are terrified.
Hold back the hands that kill,
the hands that maim.
Turn around the hearts that hate.
Grant instead your strong Spirit of peace,
peace that passes understanding
but changes lives.
Bring comfort to those who mourn,
to those whose bodies and spirits need healing,
to those who call out for justice.
Give us courage to share your compassion with the world,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council