Thursday, May 15, 2008

By His Stripes

A floating phrase from Isaiah: by his stripes we are healed...

A friend of mine I think will need these words. We all do. But today, I'm thinking of him and of us - the us who constitutes "culture", the majority, frequently, the white. This friend is a campus minister, a graduate from the same seminary that I attended. And all too easily I can imagine the situation that he describes. His name is Omar. Omar al-Rikabi. He was born in the U.S.

This is what he recently wrote in a blog post:

I’m not making this up. This happened last week:
I take my truck to the dealer for some work. After handing over my keys I walk into the small “customer waiting area” - a small room complete with a pot of coffee, a bunch of lame magazines, and a television on the wall blaring CNN. I walk past the only other waiting customer, a woman with her head literally buried in a fast food bag.I brought a book with me. I’m reading Teacher Man, a memoir by the Irishman Frank McCort. In the chapter I’m reading he is describing an ongoing struggle: He was born in America but raised in Ireland. When he returns to work in New York he is considered an Irish immigrant. When he returns to study in Dublin he is labeled a Yankee. He is a a foreigner in both the land of his birth as well as the land of his roots.

As I try to focus on the story over the sound of the news, a few more customers make their way in and sit down around me: A very old man in an old cap and oversized sunglasses, and a well-to-do couple who look like they are close to retirement.After a few minutes they start the small talk. Then a story on the news laments the every increasing price of gas. The woman who is now done with her fast food feeding makes the observation that it is crazy that the cost of gas won’t stop going up every day.The husband of the couple agrees with her, and then makes the comment that the culprit is the ever increasing demand for gas versus the supply.

Then she drops the bomb:“Well you know, the main reason for the high supply is all the foreigners who live in this country. They come over here and they all drive their cars and use up all the gas. Get rid of the foreigners and you get rid of half the demand right there!”My reading freezes in the middle of a sentence, but I don’t look up. Without a moment of thought, the husband agrees. I wonder for a short moment if they are really talking about all foreigners, or just jumping on the anti-illegal-immigrant band wagon.But in his next breath the husband clears up any confusion:“And then of course there are also the illegal foreigners who come here. They want to work? Okay... fine. Put ‘em in a uniform and ship ‘em off to Iraq and that’ll put ‘em to work.”Then something is said about how that will keep ‘em from wanting to come over here or something.

But my brain locks up for a second in shock and I miss it. Besides, now they are talking about immigrants, oil, and war in the Middle East. So I probably shouldn't say anything about my father being an immigrant petroleum engineer from Iraq. It probably won’t be until I am driving away an hour later when I will think of something clever I should have said.
So instead I grip the edges of my book a little tighter, and this son of an immigrant re-reads the chapter about an immigrant while sitting in a room full of people who don’t like immigrants.

That's what Omar wrote. Now, you have an interesting opportunity. You can comment on it here, without commenting on the original site on which it appeared. Say what you will. I think you know my response.


Anonymous said...

Sissy, I feel bad for your friend. Most people aren't being deliberately unkind, they just don't think (I've had my own experiences with that fact, both as a woman pastor and as someone who is pigeon-holed because I am now divorced. Some of those experiences have come from people who definitely should know better - but as I said, they just don't think sometimes before they speak. And let him who never has "foot in mouth disease" throw the first stone.)
That being said, Omar is unconsciously stereotyping and pigeon-holing, too. "the anti-illegal-immigrant bandwagon", he says. Not everyone who opposes illegal immigration is racist or on a bandwagon. Some (myself included) take exception to ILLEGAL immigration for sound reasons.
I wish we could all bear with one another a little bit more, and hear one another out - really listen - and respect one another's right to differing opinions without demonizing one another. I think Jesus really listened.
And, yes, His stripes heal ALL of us. He loves Omar, He loves even insensitive clods, He loves illegal aliens, and He loves border guards.
And I love you - Mom
P.S. As I said, I feel bad for Omar - I will be praying for him.

Bob said...

The first thing I thought was, "There's nothing new under the sun". There has been dislike, distrust and distaste for 'foreigners' for thousands of years.Some were killed outright, others enslaved and others exiled. Foreigners are an easy scapegoat. When haven't the Jews been a scapegoat? They were in 1930s. Are we to be the new Germany? No, I don't favor immunity to illegal aliens, but I won't persecute those that are here. If our country suffers from anything, it is that we have sat back too long enjoying what we should never have taken for granted. We allowed our government to take care of us for so long, we no longer can fight against it. We've had our day in the sun. Change is coming, like it or not. History proves that.