pop culture, prayer, spirituality

You Took Me In: Authentic Hospitality in a Hostile World

As I listen to Christmas music this December, the line “all is calm” seems to be especially out of place. The unease of the 2015 Christmas season began early November with the ridiculous Starbucks holiday cup controversy. True unease struck the evening of November 13th as three teams of terrorists  performed a series of coordinated attacks across Paris, France, leaving 129 dead, 352 injured, and countless mourning. Fear grew December 2nd as a couple attacked the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health during a holiday party, leaving 14 dead, 21 injured, and the country in a state of shock. I cringe as I think of what could happen next. If only plain red Starbucks cups without were our main concern now!

It did not take long for paranoia to set in. Shortly after the attacks in Paris, the U.S. House voted 289-137 on November 19th to limit the amount of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  It appears we have reached a state of utter paranoid hostility as Republican candidate Donald Trump made a speech on the USS Yorktown on December 7th, calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” to the cheers of a crowd.

“We have no choice,” Donald Trump said over the loud applause. “We have no choice,” he repeated with a small, sad shake of his head. With both attacks having ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), two of the Paris shooters on the run, and the world teetering on the edge of war, it can seems that we have no choice but to shut down, save ourselves, and fear our fellow citizen, local and international.

“We have no choice,” Trump repeated a third time with slow, deliberate cadence.  But we do have a choice. We always have a choice. As Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing…to choose one’s attitude.”

Though we cannot control the tragedies that have unfolded in the past month, the uncertainty of the world, the grim cloud that hangs over this holiday season, we have a choice. We have a choice between an attitude of hostility or hospitality toward our fellow human being. 

In the early morning of September 2nd, 2015, a man, his wife, and two young children stepped onto a boat for a long-anticipated trip.

Courtesy Abdullah Kurdi Facebook
Image from here.

The four were on an inflatable boat designed for eight people. In total, the small boat carried sixteen. The boat was supposed to carry the passengers 2.5 miles from Bodrum, Turkey, to the Greek island of Kos. Once off shore, it was hit by fierce waves. The captain jumped off to swim to shore. The boat quickly capsized. The passengers had no life vests. The family struggled to swim to safety, but only the man survived. 

That man’s name Abdullah Kurdi, and he is a Syrian refugee.  His sons, 3-year-old Alan Kurdi and 5-year-old Ghalib, and wife, 35-year-old Rehan, passed away. The family was making their way to join his sister Tima in British Columbia, Canada. Heartbreakingly, Tima applied for their brother Mohamad to receive refugee status, but he was denied. Tima knew Abdullah and his family would have little to no chance of receiving refugee status, so she paid the $5,000 for the smuggler to get the family to Greece.

Their story is not an unfamiliar one for the 10.6 million people displaced from war-torn Syria, but Kurdi made international headlines when his youngest son washed up on shore. Alan’s lifeless body put a face to the Syrian refugee crisis. Since 2011 protests in Syria sparked a deadly war, about 1 in 2 Syrians have either fled the country, fled their city, or died.

As CNN reported mid-September this year,

Imagine every man, woman and child leaving home in 29 states, mostly in the U.S. West and Midwest. That’s everyone west of Ohio and Kentucky and north of Texas, all the way to California.

The 158 million people in those states make up the same share of the U.S. population — 49% — as the proportion of Syrians that have fled carnage there.

The war in Syria is so hellish and unrelenting that more people have left that country than any other in recent years. One of every five displaced persons in the world is Syrian.

– CNN.com, available here

According to mid-September numbers, about 7.6 millions Syrians remain displaced within the country while 4 million are seeking asylum outside the country. Though the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, personal pieces by popular blog Humans of New York, and an in-depth interview by The New Yorker have put a face to the growing refugee crisis, at best, 36% of polled British citizens for The Times thought the country should accept more refugees. That poll was in the wake of international headlines after Alan Kurdi’s death. After the terrorist attacks on Paris, that number sank to 20%. Meanwhile, 49% of British citizens post-Paris believe Britain should be accepting ‘fewer or no refugees.’ Prior to the attacks, 27% of those polled held that view.

As much as I like to think the best of my beloved homeland, I have a really hard time thinking the United States would be more accepting of refugees than our British counterparts. The same week Paris was attacked, U.S. House overwhelmingly voted to limit the number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees despite the tragedies unfolding in their homelands, despite the enormous number of displaced citizens, and despite the fact that it already takes an average 18-24 months for a refugee to complete the very thorough screening process. If something in a 1 and 1/2 to 2 year process is broken, let’s fix the system instead of punishing good, innocent people.

Fear – not evidence – is driving our attitude towards refugees. At the current state of paranoid hostility, we are bound to repeat our shameful hostile history towards refugees and other perceived threats during World War II.

July 1938, Fortune magazine polled readers about what to do with refugees fleeing Fascist states in Europe. The United States was recovering from the Great Depression and the true depth of the horrors of World War II had yet to unfold. 4.9% said the refugees should be encouraged to come and immigration quotas should be raised. 67.4% said “with conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out.”

January, 1939, Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion polled Americans about the United States housing 10,000 German children after the horrific events of Kristallnacht. 61% said the government should not allow these children to come.

Refugee law, especially from Germany and Austria, were strict. In 1939, the annual German-Austrian quota was 27,370. Refugees were desperate to leave their war-torn homes, even departing on boats for an uncertain future in another country.

On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis left Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba, with 937 passengers in tow. Almost all were Jews fleeing the Third Reich in Germany. When the ship arrived in Havana, only 28 passengers were admitted to the country. Newspapers around the world, including the United States, featured the liner and the plights of its passengers. Despite the media attention, the United States refused to house the remaining refugees, even though they could see Miami from the boat. Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France took the remaining refugees.532 passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe, and just over half of those 532 survived the Holocaust.

stlouis3
Passengers abroad the St. Louis. Image from here.

254 of the St. Louis passengers died in the Holocaust. 254 is over double the number of people killed in the Paris attacks, but it is a small number compared to the fifteen to twenty million people systematically killed during the Holocaust.

Though the United States feared European refugees, some of those very refugees became her most beloved citizens.

  • United State’s first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her family were forced from her native Czechoslovakia when the Nazis invaded during World War II. They fled to England at the time, but they eventually made their way to the United States in 1948. Albright’s grandparents on both sides died in concentration camps during World War II.2379540743_6f60bed791_o
  • Actress and singer Marlene Dietrich became an American  citizen in 1939, openly spoke against the Third Reich, entertained American soliders during World War II. Nazis placed her sister in the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen during the war to stop Dietrich from openly speaking out against them. Her sister survived. rrauction2b11692boctober2bsale2bprice2busd2b1982b2bmarlene2bdietrich2bautograph
  • Scientist Albert Einstein grew up in Munich, Germany, and took a post at Princeton in 1932 when the rise of the Nazi Party made it difficult for him to work. He sold his 1905 paper on relativity for $6.5 million in 1944 to raise money for the American war effort. That’s $87.7 million in today’s money according to an inflation calculatoralbert_einstein_by_zuzahin-d5pcbug
  • International human rights lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide. He himself could have been the victim of the Nazi’s genocide since he was a Polish Jew, but he was granted asylum in first Sweden then the United States. During the war, he served as a consultant for the U.S. Army, and after the war, he was a legal advisor to the US Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.raphael-lemkin

But these four are only a few of the citizens the United States accepted. In 1938, the United States accepted a little more than 20,000 refugees while 300,000 applied for visas. By November 1942, the United States overwhelmingly knew Hitler was systematically killing Jews. Despite American Jewish leaders’ protests to increase the number of refugees, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to change refugee quotas until the summer of 1944 when the War Refugee Board was established. The War Refugee Board saved approximately 200,000 Jews in the final months of the war.

Though the United States provided asylum to hundreds of thousands of people, tens of millions of people died. How many of them applied for asylum here? Two famous Holocaust writers are among them.

Otto Frank applied for a United States visa for his wife and two daughters, but they were denied. Young Anne Frank died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at age 15. Instead of requiring high school students to read The Diary of Anne Frank, the United States could have served as asylum for her, potentially serving as her newfound home as she wrote countless other novels.

anne-frank-desk

The United States offered to call another beloved Holocaust survivor her adopted son, but he chose to remain with his family after receiving a visa. From his experience surviving life in the concentration camp and clinical experience with those planning to commit suicide, he was able to write his most famous work, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was internationally renowned as the Third Reich began its infamous rise. The party restricted his work in Vienna due to his Jewish background.  He applied for a United States visa and was on the waiting list for years. Shortly before Pearl Harbor, in 1941, he was told to come to the U.S. consulate for his visa. Frankl knew the visa was only for him and his wife, and he struggled with leaving his parents to the horrors of the Third Reich.

When Frankl came home, he found his father Gabriel in tears, telling him that the Nazis had burned their synagogue. His father teafully handed a piece of marble, which had the letter of one of the Ten Commandments. It was the beginning of the 4th commandment, which reads, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Frankl canceled his visa.

September 1942, Frankl, his wife Tilly, and his and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. His father Gabriel died there. October 1944, Frankl and Tilly were transported to Auschwitz. Tilly was transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she and their unborn child died. Frankl was processed and transferred to the slave labor camp Kaufering, a subcamp of Dachau. He was eventually transferred to Türkheim, another subcamp of Dachau, where Frankl worked as a physician until American soldiers liberated the camp. His mother Elsa and brother Walter died at Auschwitz. Frankl’s only surviving family member was his sister Stella.

Frankl returned to Vienna, continuing his work and expanding it to include psychological healing. He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, his most famous work, and 38 other books. Frankl eventually re-married, had a daughter, and died in 1997. He received many awards,  accolades, and honorary doctoral degrees during his lifetime.

viktor_frankl2

Frankl came to the United States as a visiting professor to Harvard, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Although Frankl came to America on a temporary basis after the war, many immigrated permanently. December 22nd, 1945, Harry S. Truman signed the “Truman Directive,” which allowed for more displaced persons (DPs) to be allowed into the United States without increasing overall nationality quotas. 22,950 DPs, mostly Jews, entered the United States, and then the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 expanded immigration for a limited time, allowing a quota of 400,000 people displaced by the war to have permanent residency in the United States. Between 1941 to 1950, over one million people immigrated to the United States from Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico and Italy.

While after World War II by 1952, the United States settled about 138,000 Jewish refugees. The refugees’ only crime in their homeland during World War II was being Jewish, yet the United States imprisoned about that number of her citizens, approximately 120,000, during the war simply for being of Japanese ancestry.

Despite any quality evidence to the contrary, popular opinion held that in the event Japan invaded the United States in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-American citizens would support their ancestral home. Fear and paranoia grew in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Mere months later, in February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to relocate Japanese-American citizens on the West Coast to internment camps.

Japanese-Americans were forced to sell all their assets, usually for a fraction of what it was worth. About two-thirds of the citizens were born in the United States. Many had never been to Japan. Some were even veterans from serving the United States in World War I. Regardless, they were sent to the internment camps in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

Living conditions were deplorable. Housing consisted of large barracks made of tarpaper, which were too hot in summer months but too frigid in winter months. The food was mass-produced and served in a mess hall. Fred Korematsu, born in Oakland, California to Japanese immigrants, was arrested after trying to avoid being detained to an internment camp.

fred-korematsu-young

After being sent to an internment camp in Utah with his family, he appealed to the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. the United States. In a 6-3 vote, his detainment and the interment of all Japanese Americans was justified by the war. After the war, the internment camps closed, the last one closing in March 1946. In 1988, Congress apologized for the action by awarding each surviving intern $20,000.

Yet, on the 74th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, in the wake of the attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, Presidential candidate Donald Trump is proposing treating our Muslim-American citizens the same way we deplorably treated our Japanese-American citizens in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

He’s using fear, not facts. Local Muslims in San Bernadino raised over $180,000 for the victims of the attack. In the wake of the Paris attacks, Muslims took to social media to show solidarity with the French. Prominent Muslim leaders denounced the attacks on Paris as a crime before ISIS ever claimed responsibility.

Islam is primarily a religion of peace, as is Christianity, as is Judaism, as is Buddhism, as are all the major religions in the world.

Though terrorists claim be to of one religious denomination or another, terrorism knows no religion but extremism.

Jewish extremists in Israel have committed numerous attacks of terrorism, including burning 18-month infant Ali Saad Dawabsha to death in July 2015. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, called the crime, “an act of terrorism in every respect.”

Where’s the outrage against Jews? Why aren’t we holding up those terrorists as a prime example of what a Jew ought to be? Why aren’t we calling for a total and complete shutdown of Jews  entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on?

Robert Lewis Dear Jr. is a proclaimed Christian. Yet he went to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on November 27, 2015, killing three, injuring nine. Dear claims to be a part of the Army of God, an extremist group of anti-abortion Christians who promote violence to end abortion, and praised their efforts.

Dear’s ex-wife Barbara Micheau said in the New York Times, “he claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions.” Micheau separated from Dear in 1992 after he physically abused her, cheated on her, gambled away their money, and fathered children with other women while they were married.

Where’s the outrage against Christians? Why aren’t we holding up Dear as a prime example of what a Christian ought to be? Why aren’t we calling for a total and complete shutdown of Christians entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on?

We are not reacting that way because we know that would be utterly ridiculous. Those terrorist who killed the Palestinian child are terrorists, not true Jews. Dear is an extremist, not a true Christian. And those terrorists who struck in San Bernardino and Paris are terrorists, not true Muslims.

Yet, some of us cheer when a presidential candidate calls for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslim entering the United States?” Trump is spreading paranoia, not peace.

Muslims are wonderful people. I had the pleasure of knowing two very well in college. We’ve lost touch as people do, but knowing them, I know extremism is not what Islam is all about.

One was a beautiful woman from Southeast Asis with a kind demeanor and inquisitive manner who always addressed our customers patiently, even when I had lost patience. Her hijab always perfectly matched her outfit. During slow times, we’d talk about life, and I was always impressed by the sweet sincerity of her relationship with her long-distance boyfriend. Social media tells me they’re now married, and their pictures are adorable.

Another was an impressive young man, with a constant goofy, welcoming smile and an ability to make everyone laugh. Born and raised Muslim in the Midwest, I was always impressed by his desire to teach the unprivileged and his gratitude for having been given so much by his parents. One fall day, with 9/11 on both of our minds, we discussed how his world changed after that infamous terrorist attack. Friends at school were now afraid of him. Strangers mocked and harassed him. He felt more unsafe than ever before. Yet, his frustration was never angry. Instead, he was grateful for my question, and we moved onto other mundane albeit hilarious topics.

These two college friends of mine are a good representation of Muslims, not these extreme terrorists. Why would we want to keep our, harass, or separate ourselves from good people like my friends? Muslims are good, peaceful, loving people with families, friends, hopes, dreams, and aspirations, just like you and me. They are people, worthy of our love, respect, and admiration.

We have seen what our country has done before when it’s given into paranoia over logic. We have the responsibility for lives that were taken in the Holocaust that we were slow to help and refused to help. We have the responsibility for the maltreatment of our own citizens that we justified as a necessity of war.

Can we afford to make these mistakes again?

Can we afford to let millions of displaced people be turned away, placed in the uncertain hands of smugglers, left fearing for their lives and wellbeing every day?

Can we afford to discriminate against our own citizens?

Can we afford to live our lives in fear of one another?

No. If we want an end to all of this violence, if we want a world where truly “all is calm,” if we want peace, we need to remember the humanity of one another.

As Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” As Christians, we it is essential that we remember how we treat one another is how we treat Christ Himself. As Jesus Himself taught,

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 25:35-36, 40

In the verse, “took me in” is a translation of synēgagete (συνηγάγετέ), meaning “to receive with hospitality” in the original Greek.

But what is hospitality?

Hospitality make me think of the donuts and coffee after church, forced conversations and pleasantries, walking on metaphorical egg shells as to not be a nuisance, or something equally “nice” but astonishingly uncomfortable. Hospitality does not sound like home, yet that is precisely what hospitality is meant to be! Our current conceptions of hospitality are nothing like the Jewish tradition of hospitality.

The great Biblical tradition of hospitality is seen throughout the Old Testament, from Abraham receiving three strangers at Mamre in Genesis 18:1 and promptly serving them with the very finest of all he had to the widow of Zarephath taking in Elijah and giving him her last portions of bread and water in 1 Kings 17.

In the Jewish tradition of hospitality, hospitality does not mean just providing a space where a stranger can enter. Hospitality is serving one another, not claiming ownership, debt, or repayment from one another. Hospitality is more than welcoming a stranger into our home. It is accepting people for who they are, allowing them to reveal their innermost self to us.

How often do we accept others, wanting them to assume our customs, our language, our ideas, our habits? How often do we take others in, expecting certain things out of them? How often to we welcome others into a lives, hoping they will affirm and conform to our way of life? How often do we just look for replicas of ourselves in others instead of appreciating each individual for his and her unique experiences, perspectives, and gifts?

Yet, we are called to give authentic hospitality, especially during the Christmas season. Is not one of the greatest tensions underlying all of the Nativity story a juxtaposition of hospitality and hostility?

  • “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Matthew 1:24)
  • “Where [Mary] entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:40)
  • “[Mary] wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

From His first infantile moments on earth, Our Lord was subject to hostility, as He would experience throughout His life, His ministry, and especially His horrific death on a cross.

As Venerable Fulton Sheen writes in Life of Christ,

“The inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal points of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But the stable is a place for the outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born – if He was to be born at all – in an inn. A stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

Ven. Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ

We expect to encounter the Son of God in our modern day world’s inns: at tourist destinations, in shopping malls, even in a red cup of Starbucks coffee. But the Son of God was born in a stable. We’re looking for God in the wrong place! Why are we so hostile towards those who are outcasts, ignored, forgotten, if that is precisely where Jesus is found?

In the wise words of Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out, “Old and New Testament stories…tell us that guests are carrying precious gifts with them, which they are eager to reveal to a receptive host.” In the New Testament, Jesus constantly rewards those in abundance when they receive Him, no matter how hated they are by their peers. For those who take Him in, at the very least they discover a great abundant joy at learning who He is.

For example, on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 Jesus travels as a stranger with His two disciples one the road. This takes places right after the Resurrection, just as word is beginning to spread that the tomb is empty, just days after Jesus was crucified and died. Talking about Jesus would be dangerous. Yet, when the stranger asks, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17), they answer truthfully, though reluctant at first.

The three converse freely along the way, and the disciples are amazed at the stranger’s knowledge of scripture. When they invite Him in to share a meal with them and Jesus breaks the bread, they recognize Him. They ask one another, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way?” (Luke 24:32)

They did not know the stranger was Jesus, yet they welcomed Him. They did not know the stranger was Jesus, yet they opened up. They did not know the stranger was Jesus, yet they served Him with hospitality.

As disciples of Jesus in the modern world, we have that same call to hospitality: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the prisoner, to take in the stranger.

Yet, despite our call to hospitality, despite even our desires for authentic hospitality, it is difficult to overcome our innate stranger danger.

As Henri Nouwen wrote in Reaching Out,

“In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found. Although many, we might even say most, strangers in this world become easily the victim of a fearful hostility, it is possible for men and women and obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangers and become our fellow human beings.

The movement from hostility to hospitality is hard and full of difficulties. Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude and do harm. But still – that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced…

Although we might want to show sympathy for the poor, the lonely, the homeless and the rejected, our feelings toward a stranger knocking on our door and asking for food and shelter is ambivalent at the least. In general we do not expect much from strangers…

In our world the assumption is that stranger are a potential danger and that it is up to them to disprove it. When we travel we keep a careful eye on our luggage; when we walk the street we are aware of where we keep our money; and when we walk at night in a dark park our whole body is tense with fear of an attack. Our heart might desire to help others: to feed the hungry, visit the prisoners and offer a shelter to travelers; but meanwhile we have surrounded ourselves with a wall of fear and hostile feelings, instinctively avoiding people and places where we might be reminded of our good intentions.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

In our growing fear, our ever-increasing paranoia, our temptation towards hostility, are we forgetting our fellow human beings?  Are we denying asylum to the Syrian Anne Frank? Are we denying the talents of the next Albert Einstein? Are we ignoring the justice of the next Raphael Lemkin?  Are we turning away the children who will grow up to be the next Madeline Albright, the scientist who discovers the cure to cancer, the humanitarian who makes a breakthrough in solving our food shortage?

Maybe, just maybe if we’d open our hearts, minds, and borders to the strange refugees who are desperately seeking asylum from the unspeakable evils happening in their homelands, just maybe we’ll find peace where we least expect to find it.

Maybe, just maybe if we’d open our hearts, minds, and homeland to our fellow citizens who hold religious beliefs different from our own and try to authentically learn about their traditions, just maybe we’ll find understanding where we least expect to find it.

Maybe, just maybe if we’d open our hearts, minds, and homes, messy as they are, to our neighbors, just maybe we’ll find joy where we least expect to find it.

Maybe, just maybe if we’d open our hearts, minds, and very lives, broken, lonely, and otherwise imperfect, to our friends, family, and loved ones, just maybe we’ll find love where we least expect to find it.

If we remember the humanity of one another, maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the authentic hospitality, the true spirit of Christmas, in this hostile world where we never expected to find it.

As John Lennon wished in Merry Xmas (War is Over):

“A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one without any fears.”

To have a Christmas, New Year, a year and a lifetime without fears and with peace, we first need to address our inner fears and be at peace with ourselves. For a home to be an authentic welcoming place to the stranger, we need to first feel at home within ourselves.

As Henri Nouwen wrote,

“The real host is the one who offers that space where we do not have to be afraid and where we can listen to our own inner voices and find our own personal way of being human. But to be such a host, we have to first of all be at home in our own house.”

– Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

While the New York Daily News may boldly yell, “God’s Not Fixing This” and mock the prayers of political leaders in the wake of the San Bernadino shootings, prayer changes us. Prayer is our time to find our inner loneliness, our forgiveness, our pervading feelings of isolation. But when we courageously enter that frightening place, we find that were we thought only emptiness existed, love abounds. 

Prayer allows us to adopt a habit of an authentic Christ-like attitude towards our fellow human being and most importantly, ourselves. I never knew how to love or accept myself until I found out how much God loves and perfectly accepts me in prayer. I found my own self-talk was more hateful than anything I ever said aloud. I found my own fears were more pervasive and isolating than anyone I had ever encountered. I found that God loved me more perfectly than I could ever love myself.

Mediation, prayer, whatever we call it, reflecting our on inner attitudes can change our outer attitudes toward one another.

So, my prayer for the you, dear reader, is this: that we can be kind and welcoming to ourselves this Christmas season, welcoming both our good and our bad, our sorrows and our joys, our triumphs and our failures. Then, and only then, can we become authentic hosts to one another in this hostile world.

For more information on the refugee crisis and how you can help, visit Mercy Corps.

For more information on refugee placement and processing in the United States, visit Refugee Council USA.

For an quick overview of refugee placement in the United States, see here.

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