Refugees in Search for the Promised Land
Saturday afternoon, the first one this month, we sat in Whitewater hall and listened to some of Central Wisconsin’s latest arrivals speak about their personal journeys. Refugees from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nicaragua, each happy to be here, safe, and feeling welcome, they all agreed. Missing terribly, and worried about loved ones left behind was another thought held in common. Stories of violence, and threats of violence, too, sewed their stories together. A couple of the men, one an Afghan, another from a refugee camp in Tanzania had survived assassination attempts. Others spoke of the gangs and the relentless victimization that drove them to flee out of fear driven desperation and the need to find safety. Underneath each gut wrenching story ran a strong current of repressive politics, sometimes masquerading as religion.
Make no mistake, these were ugly, brutal stories that revealed on a global scale humanity’s dark side. Those of us from Central Wisconsin felt fortunate indeed by comparison. I’m guessing I wasn’t alone, though, as I listened, thinking about the hatred and violence creeping all around us in this country, even into our grade schools and our nation’s Capitol. And as a nation, even when we are not actively engaged in another bloody war we sell arms to others who are. Many of us cry out, “Is there no end? No way to peace”? In the quest for safety we are all refugees searching for the promised land.
Here, and around the world, hatred comes easy to many. A lot of us seem to lean into it reflexively, as though genetically triggered by an abundant warehouse full of fears. Leading the list has to be our fear of difference, as if only cookie cutter personifications of ourselves is what we can tolerate. The shade of our skin, the nature of our religion, our politics, our beliefs, our economic status, even our gender and sexuality divide us. “We have names for folks like you”! An easy route to winding up on someone’s hit list. Time to add another assault rifle to our arsenal. How many deaths in the name of a loving God? Dark places, dark thoughts indeed.
With all this in mind I found myself in silent worship the following afternoon in our bi-monthly Friends meeting. No sermons, just an hour of meditative quiet, what some might call “listening prayer”. As I sat quietly my thoughts gradually shifted from the distress brought on by the refugee event to a strong sense of gratitude. I opened my eyes and looked around. I realized, perhaps for the very first time, that I was sitting there surrounded by some very special people. Ones who lean deeply into love instead of hate. People who appreciate and celebrate the differences in humanity. And, crucially, people who have consciously chosen Peace. Our banners read “Love your neighbor – no exceptions”. “There is no way to Peace, Peace is the way.” Indeed, I was truly grateful to be there, and left thinking the world could use a whole lot more Quakers. Sometimes, what gets revealed in silent meditation needs to be shouted out to the world.