• Going Deeper: Growing in Faith and Knowledge

Homeland Security

Mary Davenport Davis
July 5, 2018

The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. -Deuteronomy 10:17-18

 

I recently adopted my first cat ever, an adult whom I’ve named Mycroft, and have spent every free minute this week watching him slowly warm up to me and to his new home. Cats, I am learning, are deeply territorial creatures, and less socially conditioned than dogs. A dog, whose sense of security comes from her bond with her person, sees any walk as a fun adventure as long as that person is by her side. But a cat’s primary sense of security comes from a bond with a place, from a known and trusted landscape, and so adjusting to a new home takes time even for a gregarious kitty. Mycroft’s process of settling in looks a lot like the childhood game “The Floor is Hot Lava": he leaps and darts from one safe zone (bed, carrier crate, litterbox) to another, reassuring himself with a location that feels like home before gradually exploring and expanding his domain.

 

In the Hebrew Bible reading assigned for July 4, we are reminded who the God we worship is. “The Lord your God is Lord of Lords and God of Gods…who executes justice for the orphan and widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.” The word for stranger here, gēr, is important. In the agrarian societies of the ancient Mediterranean, your identity and security were strongly tied to your homeland. With land, you could farm, keep livestock, worship the gods, raise children, build a life. For a stranger without land, there was no way of earning a living, no way of supporting a family, and no connection to the gods of that place. Outside of a homeland, you become disoriented, hopeless, fearful. (For an in-depth analysis of the term gēr and an overview of what the Bible says about refugees, read my previous post here.)

 

My heart was heavy as we approached Independence Day this year. My country feels alien to me these days. Places that have been familiar landmarks of my childhood are discovered to be sites where unfathomable cruelty against traumatized children has flourished. Lies proliferate like buzzing insects; even when they’re easy to spot, they still take a toll on my cognition. People I know and love tell me that other people I know and love don’t deserve basic decency. Last Sunday, singing “America the Beautiful” in the closing procession, I started crying and couldn’t stop. The country of which the song speaks—one whose heroes love mercy more than life—seems so desecrated, so befouled by cruelty and callousness and greed, that I don’t see how I can ever be proud to live here. I feel like a stranger, and that’s on the good days. On the bad days, I know that I’m the Egyptian in this story, who’s happy to have the fruits of Israelite labor as long as I don’t have to see the slaves.

 

So, like the cat Mycroft, I’m playing “the floor is hot lava.” I’m starting from scratch again, investigating the things I know are true and trustworthy, and gradually moving outward from there, looking for safe footing. And my primary safe thing is the God of Israel, the God I worship. I know that God loves the stranger, the newcomer, the homeless, the hungry, the person without a safety net. How do I know? Because the God of the Bible says so over and over in speech and action. God doesn’t always need to give a reason for this love; it’s just one of the ways we recognize the divine, like the curls in my hair or Mycroft’s contented purr.

 

Start with what’s true and work outward. If I want the security of being close to God, I have to stick close to where God is. And where is God? On the side of the migrant and the poor, every single time. Even if they didn’t get here legally. Even if they really should have made better choices. God doesn’t love the migrant and the poor simply because of who they are, but because that’s who God is. And so even though I don’t like crowds or confrontation, and I’m naturally pretty selfish and cowardly, I still have to love the stranger and to do the things that embody that love. I have to stick close to God’s side, because that’s where my only real security can possibly start.

 

In the final verse of “America the Beautiful,” I hear an echo of this sentiment: “Oh beautiful for patriot’s dream, that sees, beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears…” A beautiful America has always been a dream. Love of a country, love of a nation, is useful and good only insofar as it points us toward the country of God. And in God’s country, no one is a stranger. No one is illegal. We are all, already, free and secure citizens in the only homeland worth the name.

 

See you in church,

Mary Davenport Davis

Digital Communications Manager

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