mother of exiles

“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.”

Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals

A Syrian woman changes her child's diaper as migrants and refugees queue at a camp to register after crossing the Greek-Macedonian border near Gevgelija on September 22, 2015. EU interior ministers were set to hold emergency talks to try and bridge deep divisions over Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II, as pressure piles onto member states to reach an agreement. AFP PHOTO / NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV        (Photo credit should read NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)

A Syrian woman changes her child’s diaper as migrants and refugees queue at a camp to register after crossing the Greek-Macedonian border near Gevgelija on Sept. 22, 2015.  Photo credit NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:31-37

I’m afraid.

No, I’m terrified.

I’m terrified of how we, as a country, are choosing to handle our fear. Of what we are allowing ourselves to become, to be.

The world is a scary place right now. Fear is justified. Caution is necessary. But neither can be justification for turning away human beings in desperate need. Human beings who are running from the very same things we fear. Human beings whose homeland, such as it was, no longer exists.

A man rests as he waits along with other migrants and refugees at a registration camp after crossing the Greece-Macedonia border near Gevgelija on November 14, 2015. Several EU countries have reintroduced border checks as Europe struggles under the strain of its worst migrant crisis since World War II, threatening to undermine the bloc's cherished passport-free Schengen zone.   AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF        (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

A man rests as he waits along with other migrants and refugees at a registration camp after crossing the Greece-Macedonia border near Gevgelija on November 14, 2015. Photo credit DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.

In May of 1939, an ocean liner set sail from Hamburg to Cuba. The vessel, the MS St Louis, was carrying over 937 German Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis. Despite having purchased legal visas, only 29 of them were awarded entry. The rest were turned away.

The ship’s captain turned toward Florida in hopes that America would offer them asylum. It is said that when they were denied, he considered running the ship aground off the coast to give them a chance to escape.

A group of activists in Canada attempted to convince their government to offer refuge there. At the urging of his cabinet, the Prime Minister refused.

StLouisPorthole

A mother and daughter peer out of a porthole in the St Louis

Ultimately, the St Louis returned to Europe. It is estimated that over 250 of her 908 remaining passengers perished in the Nazi death camps.

Seventy six years later, we look back in horror at the callousness of those who sent those people back to die.

But in the moment,they were afraid. It was four months before World War II. Their fear was justified. Their caution was necessary. But neither were justification for refusal to help human beings in desperate need. Human beings who were running from the very things we fear. Human beings whose homeland, such as it was, no longer existed. Human beings whom we could have saved.

From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued an executive order creating at-will ‘military zones’ from which any or all persons could be excluded.  General John Dewitt directed the forced removal of men, women and children of Japanese ancestry to federal internment camps. 110,000 Japanese men, women and children were incarcerated. 62% of them were American-born citizens.

Seventy three years later, we look back in horror at the cruelty of imprisoning our own citizens for the ‘crime’ of looking like those who had attacked us. We see in hindsight that they were “us.” That WE we attacked together. That they were never the enemy. We see how inhumane our actions were.

But in the moment, we were afraid. “I don’t want any of them here,” General Dewitt had said. “They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty.” Pearl Harbor had just been attacked out of nowhere. Our fear, though misdirected, was justified. Caution was necessary. But neither was justification for losing our humanity.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips.

In 2015, the world is a bloody mess. We are reeling after horrific attacks in Iraq, Beirut, Paris, Africa. Over 4 million Syrians search desperately for refuge. 4 million human beings are running from the very same things we fear. Human beings whose homeland, such as it was, no longer exists.

There is a large, amorphous group out there in the shadows that wants nothing more than our destruction, its members so alienated, so angry, so broken that they are eager to give their lives to end ours.

We are afraid.

Our fear is justified.

Caution is necessary.

But neither can be justification for losing our compassion, our identity, our humanity.

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Yes, we must be cautious.

But we cannot close our doors.

A woman stands at the entrance of a tent, on October 20, 2015 in a makeshift camp in Grande-Synthe, where 500 to 700 people - most seeking to get to England - have set up camp.  AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman stands at the entrance of a tent in a makeshift camp in Grande-Synthe, France, on Oct. 20, 2015. Photo credit PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Photos from HERE.

National Association of Evangelicals Statement HERE.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement HERE.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism statement HERE.

Elizabeth Warren’s speech HERE.

Further reading HERE.

5 thoughts on “mother of exiles

  1. I am an immigrant,and an immigrants daughter.I also am from Hamburg ,Germany, and even though I am only 45 I know the history of the St Louis too well.I also was raised with a sense of guilt for the many sins committed during WW2,though they were no fault of my own.
    I have made the US my home for over half my life,while I have supported a husband who served 30+ years in the military, protecting our freedoms here at home and abroad.My children have known from an early age that they as US citizens have it infinitely better than most in the rest of the world-in terms of opportunities, freedoms,and security. As I did not choose to be born in Germany,they had no say in where they were born or raised.I do not want them to carry a sense of guilt for something they had no say in.They do however have a responsibility to acknowledge that their privileges are a matter of circumstance and not to be taken as granted and that at the very least,they must work on extending a hand to those who were less fortunate in where they were born.
    We handled the refugee crisis during Vietnam,when the US took in tens of thousands of boat people,we can handle it now.

  2. I was in NYC on Sept. 11. I worked in Midtown in the Port Authority Building. My husband saw the towers smoking from the train window. I was evacuated from my building. I saw a tower fall as I walked through Times Square – it was on the JumboTrons all around me. I helped my boss and took some legal documents to an attorney near my husband’s office (he worked in Midtown, too). The attorney’s office was on the 15th floor with a direct, unblocked view of downtown. The smoking ruins were clearly visible from his office window. We waited for 6 hours until we could go home. We took the train home through tunnels determined to be safe.

    Yes, it was a very scary time, but I do not live in fear.

    I traveled by plane to visit family one month later. I do not live in fear.

    I find it disgraceful that there are so-called “leaders” fear-mongering this, using this for political gain. They don’t LEGALLY have a leg to stand on, but they will bluster, and rabble-rouse, and use the pain of others, the experience of others, MY experience for their own ends – to manufacture fear. They insult America and the very Americans they say they serve.

    We have to be brave enough and smart enough to deal with the reality of the world. And we have to be willing to work hard enough to make it better and not hide our heads in the sand when things get hard. We cannot live in fear.

    P.S. If you weren’t aware, George Takei of Star Trek fame, is an Internment Camp Survivor and has produced/is starring in a musical about it – Allegiance – http://allegiancemusical.com/#Bdqs2jBx1Jsjtce0.97

  3. This is so heartbreaking. The fear and the sadness are overwhelming but we must help those in need. We all have been them.

    Love you,
    Mom

  4. Pingback: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” | Bobbie's World

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