Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and like many others, I am considering who and what I am thankful for. For certain, I am thankful for those near to me such as my parents, siblings, a new nephew, and my beloved fiancée. However, I find myself especially mindful of another group I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.
I am thankful for a group that enriches my city and society, a group that continually challenges me to live a better life, a group without whom my city would be in trouble.
I give thanks for our immigrants, immigrants and refugees who come from all over the world, people of different countries, religions, and languages. Without this wonderful community of people in our cities, we would miss the richness of festivals and food, we would never hear the enlightening lessons of their inspiring leaders, and we would have a weaker society that would sorely miss the strengths this community brings to the table.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my immigrant and refugee neighbors, my Burmese neighbors, Somali neighbors, and Iraqi neighbors. I am thankful for my Hindu neighbors, Muslim neighbors, Buddhist neighbors and especially my Syrian neighbors.
However, Gov. Mike Pence has recently announced he will no longer allow Syrian refugees to be resettled in Indiana.
Fear-mongering in this state and country is motivating us to demonize innocent and needy people as evil terrorists. Muslims are automatically labeled as haters of freedom, and refugees are seen as a threat to national security. We allow this false fear to motivate us towards selfish ends, putting our anxieties above the lives of those living in a war zone.
In many religious traditions, welcoming the stranger and the neighbor is an important tenant. In my own travels, especially in Muslim majority countries, hospitality abounded. No matter where or whose home I was in, I was greeted with a smile, kind words, and a cup of tea. In my own country, though, we greet the stranger with a cold shoulder.
Reading Leviticus 19:33-34, I hear a very direct call for this same kind of hospitality in my own faith: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
This text has a particularly important lesson to teach us. Just as the Israelites were once foreigners in Egypt, most Americans were foreigners in this country at some point. Most Eurocentric Americans were refugees to this country for any number of reasons: religious persecution, economics, or war, not unlike the refuges in our cities today.
This Thanksgiving, I find myself reflecting on thankfulness for my Syrian neighbors who bring wonderful gifts and richness to my city. I believe that in my own faith, and in many others faiths, there is a call to hospitality for refugees. Thus, this Thanksgiving, I also find myself grieving the decision of Gov. Pence to close our doors to the Syrian people and pray that he changes his decision.
As a postscript, I also find it important given the current circumstance to express my thanks for organizations in my city doing the important work of refugee resettlement. Thank you Exodus Refugee and Catholic Charities
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