Fear of the Other
The New Colossus
The New Colossus” is a sonnet that American poet Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 to raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. It has become a preamble to all those coming to our country seeking a better life.
“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Some within the political arena this past week have defiled not only the sanctity of these words but the true essence of what makes America great.
The words I share from this pulpit isn’t about making any political statement, though it may have political ramifications. I seek with an open and honest heart to share the Good News of God made manifest to us in Christ Jesus.
There is a sad truth about all of us. To one degree or another we have a fear of the other. This fear is called Xenophobia. Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and a desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed sense of security.
So, we tend as humans to fear those who are different from ourselves. Those differences include race, ethnicity, differences in socio-economic status, politics, religion, a person’s sexual orientation or countries deemed to be, well you can get the jest of what I am saying.
The differences can make us a bit uncomfortable, and that discomfort fueled by our imagination, our perception of the world, our culture and upbringing, the media, religious leaders and politicians, can lead us to be afraid.
Growing up as a boy in Chicago I remember the racial divisions that rocked my city. I remember the watching on T.V. the stones, bottles, and racial slurs being hurled at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There was the n- word being shouted by my grandmother anytime Dr. Kings was on the news. Yes, even as a young white boy living in Chicago I was effected by racism in so many ways.
King embarked on a less-remembered chapter from the final years of his life, a battle that ultimately went unfinished — a campaign against poverty and de facto segregation in the North that was met with institutional resistance, skepticism from other activists and open violence.
King said; “I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago,”
Witnessing the violence that erupted after Dr. King’s death as well as the rioting at the Chicago Democratic convention, and the prejudice of those around me made me afraid of the other. Those images of violence were formative in many ways to me. So that is why I get very emotional about this issue, because all of God’s children are welcomed to the table of justice and opportunity.
So here is a very personal question; In what way, does fear of the other shape you today? Who is the other in your life?
Fear is an equal opportunity problem. Race has been a huge issue in our country before its inception. But so is religion—we have a hard time differentiating between Islamic terrorists and Islam. We see ISIS everywhere. There are just enough cases of violence in the name of Islam, played repeatedly by the media, that we find ourselves truly scared of Muslims, or people who look like Muslims.
How many of us have taken the time to reach out and talk to a Muslim about their beliefs?
It just isn’t our Muslim neighbor. Take your pick of others we’re afraid of—LGBTQ community? Africans, Haitians, Mexicans? Liberals or Conservatives?
How can we move beyond our fears which effects how we can relate to others who are different than we are? Here are at least two things we can do.
First let’s look to our Scriptures. I love what we read in Psalm 27, written by David, a song about where he turned when he was afraid of his real enemies who sought to destroy him. In the first and last lines of this Psalm it reads:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
This is a scripture of confidence and hope, meant to help ease our anxiety.
Our Gospel Reads “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
We can simply read this passage and it may mean nothing to us. However, there’s a way of reading Scripture that allows it to sink in. It is called Lectio Divina—a phrase that means “Divine Reading.” You find a quiet place. You begin with prayer, “Lord, speak to me. Your servant is listening.”
This time read the Scripture aloud and see what word or phrase speaks to you. Once more pray, “Lord, speak to me. Your servant is listening.”
Read the passage silently. I will often underline the portions that speak to me and pray them: “Thank you Lord, be my light and my salvation. Help me not to be afraid. Help me remember that with you at my side, there is no one of whom I should be afraid.”
Another important strategy for overcoming our fear of the other are found in life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—getting to know, and seeking to bless the other. Jesus said that we are to love our enemies. But often the other is not our enemy, rather the only enemy is the lies and prejudices in our head. Most often Jesus simply says to love.
Love, the Scripture says, covers a multitude of sins. Love converts enemies into friends. Often when we love, we find as the Scripture says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”
To love the other are not just suggestions, they are commandments given to us by Jesus. These commandments supersede any political agenda or ideology. They go beyond our nationalism or the nationalism of any country. The command to love others as God has loved us are given to build bridges and not beautiful walls.
This isn’t about how we vet the refugee or whether immigration laws are adhered too.
Yes, we need to be safe and we are a nation of laws.
But what I am talking about is the condition of our hearts and our souls. I am referring to the condition of the heart of our nation of whether we can stand before God and have Him asking us have we cared for the least of brothers and sisters in this country and throughout the world.
Bishop Will Willimon is his book; “Fear of the Other” writes this
“Sadly, sometime exclusion of the Other is presented as a Christian virtue rather than a sin. We take upon ourselves God prerogative to judge, separate, exclude, and embrace it if it were our own. We label another as a dangerous threat and we construct our mechanisms of defense. The separation of the world between the “sinners’ and the “righteous” it a notoriously tricky business, too bound up with our denial of our sin, too caught up in the structures of privilege, race, and class to be done without the greatest care and humility”
Every now and then our faith comes to a crossroad between our call to be the embodiment of Christ love and the fear that we have of the other, who may be of a different race, religion, orientation, or political party. Wish direction are we going to go as individuals and as a nation?
Do I have fears? I sure do. But, I have come to experience that a Syrian refugee and an unemployed coal miner in West Virginia longs to be seen as a child of God and not as someone to be feared. I could have grown up believing in the voices of hate that still leaves Chicago as one of the most violent and segregated cities in our country.
But God has been good in bringing people into my life who showed me that God’s love will win out over fear every time if only we just open our heart to God’s Holy Spirit.
May each of us open our hearts this day to the Other in our midst. In doing so we open our hearts to God.