Back in the 90s my wife Rosemary was employed as an Artist-In-Residence by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She would visit several schools a month to conduct poetry classes for students in Kindergarten straight through high school. She spent plenty of time in posh districts but always liked working in inner city schools best. The poorer kids had much to say and needed the kind of help she could offer to find their voice. Besides that, the city kids often lived through harder times at a tender age and just like it did for Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, that made them funny.
Many of the elementary school students Rosemary taught in Union City were recent arrivals to the United States, coming from places like Ecuador, Cuba and Honduras. Adjusting to each other and their new country was harrowing but instead of recoiling they took their shared awkwardness and teased each other mercilessly. A child who arrived from Guatemala in September would yell out “REFUGEE!!!” at a Dominican kid stumbling over the English word for “Ketchup”. This would make the whole cafeteria fall out laughing.
Being a refugee means that you are not from here and what resources you have were given to you without being earned. Also, the label “refugee” implies a level of helplessness that makes the one who wears it stick out like a sore thumb. That’s why I can’t think of a better word for a Christian than “REFUGEE”!
The early church came from every tribe, nation and class but they left all of that behind to follow Jesus. That’s why St. Paul says if they ever had cause for “arrogance” they lost it along with their eight-ounce water bottle back at the security check. Like a nerd being elected Prom King, Paul thinks the only appropriate response to Jesus’ invitation to be his friend (John 15:15) is to “quake” with awe. (Romans 11:20)
When I was a child my mother didn’t have much money so I mostly wore hand-me-downs which she presented to me with great fanfare, explaining that the person who owned them first thought so much of me that they wanted me to have their tie die shirt, bell bottom jeans and granny dress. I bought it every time and would go to school, skipping and bragging like a weirdo about the second hand clothes I’d been given because I was loved.
The only thing Christians have to brag about is Christ giving us what we can’t pay for ourselves. Further, followers of Jesus can’t rightly call America or any country a “Christian Nation”. Refugees that we are, Jesus taught us to long and pray for God’s Kingdom to come. If Jesus reigns there, as he promised he would, the only patriotism will be boasting about how he forgave us and spreading that forgiveness around.
Praying for that great day when all refugees, including us, get to go home.
Your sister in Christ,