The Statue of Liberty evokes our loftiest ideals, the history of how 99% of us arrived here, and how America became what it is. Driving between Detroit and New Haven in divinity school days late at night when traffic was low, I would strain to see its light from the GW Bridge, and smile. On our second date, Cecile and I rollerbladed to Manhattan’s tip and shared our first hug there.
Its message, the poem from Anna Lazarus, still resonates a century later, in these final strains:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
To get here my own Rosenberger ancestors were kicked out of some of Europe’s best countries. So let me ask, are these fond ideals buried in a storied past or do they have any currency today? It is easy and sentimental to consign such ideals to past patriots who sacrificed and stood tall, meeting the challenge flung before them in their life moment. Spare me that kind of patriotism. What about our own moment in history? How do we measure our character and sleep at night?
I’ve made 17 trips to Latin America and spent two years there. Right now, the rate of murder in Honduras is the highest on earth. I only saw shades of that—driven by the drug wars–the last time I was in Honduras. Think Rwanda or Bosnia in the 90’s, and all we might have done there.
I wonder how the immigration crisis plays in your living room. Do we recoil and cry foul fearing a welfare state? Or do we see the crises these children flee from for what it is, as dangerous as anywhere on earth. Let’s recall these are children, not criminals or terrorists. Let us ask, do we regret helping Jews escape the Nazis or Russians the Soviet gulag? My church in Columbus, Ohio helped hundreds of Cambodians escape Pol Pot. Too many saw their own parents killed. Two of them became valedictorians of their high school class. They began umpteen businesses.
Before you decide if these children are a drain or an opportunity, go to Miami and look around. Miami, if you didn’t know it, is really the world capital of Latin America. It has only blossomed and become the great city it is since the Latin Americans inhabited it and sweated to make it so.
Or ask yourself this: do you have any idea how many couples are being denied adoption in this country? Russia has tightly constricted the flow of their adopted children, like some other lands.
What do we fear? Staying true to our loftiest ideals as a nation? Becoming like the Samaritan of Jesus’ parable, where loving his neighbor involved a national border being crossed? Who are we? Have we become so prosperous that we’ve lost the ethos of how we became who we are? Nikolai Lenin once said refugees vote with their feet. They vote against tyranny and for peace.
St. Augustine described Christians as resident aliens in this world. It’s not our permanent home. Populaces remain in flux since his day. And the oppressed still look for the light in our window.