I was thinking about the refugee crisis the other day. Okay, I have actually been thinking about it for a long time now and it has begun to get on my nerves. Not the refugees you should know, I have nothing but sympathy for the plight of those who are fleeing war, depredation, poverty for the sake of themselves and for their families.
I cannot stand the coverage.
Listen to it some time when the news is on. Refugees are flooding over the borders. There is a rising tide of refugees. An endless wave of refugees is crashing on the shores of Europe.
It makes it sound like every third person in Europe will soon be a refugee. It makes it sound as if the number of refugees wasn’t one percent of one percent of the population of Europe.
So, you know, not every third person, but every ten thousandth person. Ninety percent of the refugees are what they call internally displaced. They stayed home and just hid from the terror, or they moved to another part of their country, or they just hunkered down.
And the coverage makes it sound like refugees are moving to Sweden to stay there forever. They make it sound like Germany is being awfully magnanimous by accepting 800,000 refugees but they don’t mention that Germany has a population problem of their own, their population is shrinking and they’d love for 800,000 new workers to enter their economy but the fact of the matter is, according to David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee, ninety percent of refugees return to their home country after whatever they were fleeing is over.
Germany is looking to outdo Europe by seeking to accept one percent of their population in refugees and what the coverage never seems to mention is that they are unlikely to reach that number, because there aren’t that many refugees.
The coverage is getting on my nerves because in a normal year, the United States accepts fully half of the refugees in the world but not only do you not hear about that, what you hear about is that what the dangers are of letting people from the Middle East come here, like Isis can’t afford plane tickets and are going to try sneaking people here in huddled masses.
Even liberal media paint a picture of unending bleakness, limitless horror and want and famine and plague and all because there are a couple more crazy people than usual in Syria and it’s neighboring states and it is upsetting the normal flow of limited horror and want and famine and plague.
It gets on my nerves because it sells. That’s why they do it, because if they do that then we will watch because nothing makes declining standards of living seem like a walk in the park with George, yes that is my second Sondheim reference in as many weeks, but nothing makes our lot look better than seeing how horrifying someone else has it and making us hope and pray that nothing like that ever visits us here.
It gets on my nerves because it is entirely about fear. Fear of other people. Fear that someone might have a better solution than we do. Fear that someone might take our stuff. Fear that we might be doomed by someone else’s mistake. Fear.
They paint in broad strokes a mural like Picasso’s Guernica depicting the horrors of war. Their canvas is our imaginations and they know how to paint there, filling the spaces so large they will only fit in our heads with images and sounds of insurmountable obstacles, unbeatable foes.
I’m being mean to the media but they are the dominant voice box of this world of ours, but there are minor voices as well, we tell each other the same tales, our movies are increasingly about horrors visited upon the innocent by zombies, and warlock who shall not be named and spirits from the beyond who cannot be touched unless they want to drag you somewhere and dispatch you.
And it isn’t even just the refugees. Think about climate change. I don’t know if you believe it is happening or not, time will tell and by then it will truly be too late, but think about the stories you hear, about the predictions and the warnings that it may already be too late to reverse the trend.
Or think about the poverty that haunts our streets. The people I took dinner to yesterday are just a symptom of a problem that visits the street in front of my house on a daily basis. Some of the folks can point to the house that they lost last, the final house before they became homeless. One has a PhD, some have suffered medical problems that have bankrupted them, they are not all “bums” in the classical sense; they are homeless and once you realize that it is not a great leap to get from where we are to where they are then you will realize the scope of the problem.
The scope of the problem is the problem.
It is all just too much, to huge, too intractable a problem, a landscape of problems, for us to get our minds around. A tidal wave of refugees sounds like we will all get swept away so we’d better duck and cover. A flood of undocumented immigrants sounds like the streets will be awash in them so we’d better guard against that eventuality.
Sensationalism and yellow journalism are alive and well and they seem to have painted a picture too impossibly vast; we cannot get over it, we cannot go around it, we’d better just stay here and protect what we’ve got.
When we look out into the world we will be forgiven for being afraid. We’ll be forgiven regardless, but when we look out into the world as presented to us, it seems like there is nowhere we can turn; in fact they tell us that there is nowhere we can turn, no one smart enough, no one virtuous enough, no one brave enough to even try and solve the problems that beset us.
We know we are not smart enough, virtuous enough, brave enough. We look inside and everything we can muster doesn’t seem to match up to the problems. We might be able to feed a single encampment of homeless people but we’ll never fix homelessness, there will always be more to feed, no matter how much we give away, no matter how much we do. It’s like, well, a tidal wave and we are standing alone on the beach with our hands out trying to hold it back.
It is when we hear these messages, these messages of the overwhelming nature of the problems facing our world, when we hear those messages and we look at ourselves, standing there on the beach alone, then we feel the fragility of the creation. We ourselves are terrifyingly small and when we look inside, the person we see is insufficient to the task of solving all of the world’s problems and we know it.
We are not Harry Potter, nor Percy Jackson, nor Jason Bourne for you older types, or Jack Bauer. We are not the miracle man or wonder woman of our fiction that comes and rescues us. We know that we are not and so we face the worst of all fears, worse by far than all of the horrors that flicker by on our televisions screens. We face the terror that we are not enough, we are impossibly small in the face of the trouble, that there is no solution unless someone, Tony Stark or Iron Man comes and saves us. The chosen one.
Which is what you see when you look inside; when you peel back the layers of bravado and accomplishment. When all that there is, is you standing on that vast beach, then all seems most certainly lost, after all,, after all, you are not the chosen one, are you?
You can start to feel like Moses, like there is just too much, that this people is too much for you to bear, that no matter what you do, there is always another need, always another person with their hand out, with their mouth open standing there with their desperation and there just isn’t enough that you can do.
Not that we don’t think about it that way. Like Jesus disciples we try and gather the blessings to ourselves, the responsibility to ourselves, the power to ourselves, building ourselves up if only in our own minds. Hey Boss, someone else is trying to get in on our action, John says to the Lord, because, for whatever reason, John believes that it is him and the disciples who are the legitimate dispensers of God’s grace. Despite their time with Jesus, despite his teaching them, despite their experience of Him and His mission among us, when they look into themselves, they still only see as if in a mirror.
They think of themselves as the chosen ones, and someone is trying to get in on that.
Just imagine what they would think if they saw, as Jesus does, the length and breadth of His mission, the depths of sin and the heights of blessedness. How much would they want to be the chosen ones then do you think? How alone on that beach might they feel then?
Maybe not so worried about someone else sharing the blessing of being the chosen ones?
It is when we look inside and see only ourselves that the fear can come upon us, that it can paralyze us before the enormity of what faces each and every one of us on our darkest moments and we find ourselves hunkering down, walling ourselves in instead of facing how very small we are in the face of the problems of this world.
But when we look inside of ourselves, underneath the layers of self-deception and self-aggrandizement and selfishness and find Christ at our center, when we can let go of the notion of being the chosen ones, the ones who know best, the ones in control and in charge that we will find ourselves rising to the challenge, whatever that challenge may be, no matter how hopeless it may seem.
When we dig into ourselves and find Christ abiding with us we will find our lungs greeting each breath in praise and thanksgiving, our muscles, slack from disuse and neglect filled once again with holy power and holy purpose.
When we remember that Christ is the chosen one, come to rescue us from the pain of our sin and the fear of our own deaths we can also come to know that it is not for us to hold back the tide, nor ours to call upon the storms and to make it rain in dry places. God has that job already.
We need not fear when it is Christ we find within ourselves, we need not shy away from trouble for fear we cannot solve every problem, bind every wound.
We need only be present as the tide rolls in, fearing not the force of the waves nor the water rising above our heads. We are called to simply show forth the life of Christ, His life in our bodies, His grace on our lips, His mercy in our eyes, His power to save in our outstretched hands, not us alone on the beach, but the Body of Christ arrayed in a majesty that is His alone.
An unstoppable grace, an indefatigable mercy, a love that does not tire, not tremble at the task ahead.
Jesus feeds the one in front of you. Sure it is your hands and sure, it is a small step but with Christ at our core it is the snowflake that spawns an avalanche, the first drop of a mighty flood, only this time a flood of grace that drowns only sin and fear and leaves the vision for a better day to come.
That is saltiness for you, that hope is the salt in you, the Christ in you. Dig deep and find Him there.