Refugees, Refuge, and God in America
At this time last week, I was convinced we couldn't handle another day of online virtual second grade.
Once evenly divided into neat compartments: the bus, school, work, the gym, dinner, socializing -- life had turned into one revolving carousel with everything bumping into each other, figuratively and literally, as my husband, my son, and I shared a home office with multiple online meetings occurring all at once.
We spent the weekend setting up bunk beds in the boys' room and making space for a desk. Step one for weekday sanity. Our youngest son continued to spend four days a week with grandma and grandpa preschool.
This week, I began teaching a new online webinar and also woke up at 3 a.m. to appear live on BBC News.
The swirl continued, but I kept trying to look at the blazing trees as I drove westward out of the Cities towards church, and as I panted around my neighborhood trying to finish a short run.
You can't help but gasp when you see the golden leaves of a cottonwood, or the fiery orangey red of a maple tree, gleaming in the late afternoon sun. Autumn is glorious this time of year, when I watch the tractors and combines race around the fields for harvest.
As I prepared for Sunday worship this week, lines from the Prophet Isaiah kept echoing in my head.
"For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat."
- Isaiah 25:4
You have been a refuge.
I did some research on that word, refuge, repeated here for effect from a prophet writing to a desperate people, a people who had wandered far from the faith in their God and were living under an ungodly government. A people who did not know where to look next; where to turn next. A people who in their desperation had listened to false prophets and betrayed one another and God.
Isaiah recognizes that despite the rampant sin and evil present in their world, the people at this moment needed to be reminded of exactly who their God was.
Our God is this same God: the God who gives refuge to the poor, refuge to the needy in their distress.
More often in contemporary times we hear the word refugee, such as last week, when the Trump Administration sent a proposal to Congress to further limit the number of refugees coming to America from 18,000 to 15,000, bringing the nation's refugee population to an all-time low, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
I understand the seeming sense-making of this proposal in a time of global pandemic, when many Americans have suffered job loss and economic hardship due to COVID-19. How could more needy people come in when people are already suffering?
This makes a lot of sense, but it also goes against a different principle that has long-guided America, one that aligns America with the God of Israel and Isaiah.
A refugee is merely one seeking refuge, and the Bible tells us over and over again that God is a God who creates refuge. And this word, refuge, means not paradise or plenty but instead refers to an island of peace and tranquility in a word of chaos. Refuge dwells alongside war and trauma, providing needed relief so that life can go on. Trauma and chaos does not eliminate the existence of refuge, instead they necessitate the existence of refuge.
When I began this blog, I didn't intend to write about refugees. I wanted to write about how we all, me included, need refuge this week. And we need to remember that the God we worship promises us exactly that: a space of peace and tranquility and we need to create that space for one another, in our families and in our faith communities, and among all those whom we love, even those with whom we vehemently disagree.
Still sometimes truth is inconvenient and also inescapable. To believe in this God of refuge is also to commit oneself to advocating for that refuge for others, who need it even more desperately than we do.
My prayer for you this week is you find that refuge, that shelter from the storm. And as you do, that you're motivated to make room for other refugees.