Refugees

This poem by Brian Bilston has gone viral – in case you missed it, here it is.

Refugees

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

Refugees

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17 comments

  1. Almost a reverse palindrome. Incisive and goes right to the heart. As Wilfred Owen, the World War I poet observed, ‘My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity…. All a poet can do is warn’. Britten cites this on the title page of his ‘War Requiem’.

  2. Mixing faith convictions with politics is dicey at best. The scriptures do indeed call believers to welcome strangers and aliens. And it’s true, we were all once aliens and strangers ourselves. But whether nation states have a right to defend their borders and protect their citizens from potential criminals and marauders is not predetermined by our faith stance. If the author of the quite provocative and inspiring poem is implying that every nation is obliged to have open borders that’s naive. As a thinly veiled frontal assault on the perceived policies of a particular administration, it is unduly biased…..as if there is only one correct position on how to regard immigrants and refugees. This country has traditionally welcomed people in both those categories. But many of our citizens-including faithful Christians-are concerned about inadvertently welcoming people who may do us harm. There is a moral principle which says “we cannot give what we do not have”. As a country whose children and grandchildren have been burdened with the future payment of a $20 trillion debt, conversation about what we are able to give to people who wish to live among us is certainly understandable.
    We have walls and fences (as do many people in their housing additions). As good Christians, must we call for tearing them all down?
    I’m grateful for the opportunity to join a conversation on matters that effect us both spiritually and politically. Hopefully we can refrain from inappropriate judgments.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:

      Mixing faith convictions with politics is dicey at best.

      True.

      “But listen, where human suffering is involved, you can’t be neutral.”

      said the Pope, and I agree.

      Also true, with no ifs or buts, this from Rita: How we organize our response, that is the business of politics. But the choice of whether or not to regard someone in need as our neighbor is not a political question, it’s a moral and religious question.

    2. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      “Mixing faith convictions with politics is dicey at best.”
      I would say on the contrary that all this is directly connected to liturgy, as St John Chrysostom says so eloquently:
      “Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me. [Mat 25:34ff]. What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication… Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison… Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.” (Hom. in Matt. 50.3-4; in the Office of Readings for Satuyrday of week 21).

  3. We don’t have “open borders” No one is calling for “open borders”. That’s a red herring. In any case, by making it illegal to take in Syrian refugees, for example–which is what we are doing– we’re essentially washing our hands of them. If other countries follow he same logic–someone might do something sometime, so everybody has to stay out!!–then we’re telling them to die in place.

    And if as a Christian one finds that untenable, then the only other option is to pitch in with everyone else and take in vetted refugees.

    Remember the ship full of Israeli refugees that we and everyone else refused entry to during the second world war? That didn’t end well.

    “How is this my problem” isn’t something Jesus ever said.

  4. I agree with Jeff. “Open borders” is a red herring. The poem is about unmasking the unfair and uncharitable underlying attitudes toward immigrants and refugees which are part of the social climate that says we have no real obligation to love our neighbor if it comes at a cost to ourselves. Cleverly, it shows how we can “read” the facts one way and come to a certain conclusion, but when we look at it another way we come to the opposite conclusion.

    I think the poem is asking us to choose. In which direction do we choose to read the signs of the times?

    How we organize our response, that is the business of politics. But the choice of whether or not to regard someone in need as our neighbor is not a political question, it’s a moral and religious question.

  5. Fr. Jack Feehily : There is a moral principle which says “we cannot give what we do not have”. As a country whose children and grandchildren have been burdened with the future payment of a $20 trillion debt, conversation about what we are able to give to people who wish to live among us is certainly understandable.

    Couldn’t really disagree with your post more. We are objectively the richest nation living in the most fortunate time to be alive in the history of the human race. How much do we spend on things that we don’t really need, or don’t even use at all (pointing the finger in the mirror)? To say we don’t have anything to give is such a ridiculous statement. We have been given more by God than any other people in the history of the world. Yet we grumble about giving just a little of ourselves, and whine that we might not be 100% safe (when did we become brainwashed to expect the government to be our babysitters to protect us from every conceivable harm?) when asked to give so little to folks that literally have nothing in this world. Guess what, doing the right thing isn’t safe or easy. Doing the right thing means making a sacrifice. So many prior generations of Americans must be looking down in so much shame right now. They fought, died, protested, worked to the bone so we could get fat on fast food, sit in our recliners, drink our lattes, take a pill to fix every blemish, drive our SUVs, live in our bloated homes, and complain about never having enough. And we wonder why people don’t believe in God… what use do such people have for God? What a disgrace. I hope my daughter’s generation is repulsed by all of this and has the will to really change the course of this society.

  6. Excellent comments all over.

    “(T)he choice of whether or not to regard someone in need as our neighbor is … a moral and religious question.”

    Christians might vary in their responses to their neighbor based on their abilities and gifts. Perhaps those concerned about the safety of their borders might consider working outside of those borders on behalf of those who suffer. Closing one’s door because the children are in bed, well, we know how that one works out. Maybe it’s a Rev 3:20/Matt 25 mash-up.

    “Doing the right thing means making a sacrifice.”

    Exactly right. Jesus made a sacrifice. Those who preside at such a sacrifice in a context of worship bear a significant responsibility where the credibility of the Gospel is concerned. I agree that there is more than a single “correct” position. A minister of the Gospel is empowered, if not required to provide such a correct position. Denying another approach is insufficient.

    “There is a moral principle which says “we cannot give what we do not have”.”

    There is no such moral principle. But when Christians claim they have nothing to give, when in fact they have … this might be a falsehood, or in present-day parlance, an alt-fact. Persisting in making such a statement makes the speaker a liar. This is most unseemly coming from a Christian.

  7. The Latino workers who built the house I’m typing to you from were just as much hard working family men as my Dad was for us — the only difference is that we are Americans, but our Latino acquaintances had to fear constantly given their undocumented status. One carpenter got deported after a fender-bender, and had to leave his family behind in the States for awhile. Gosh, how many minor accidents have I been in? No one can tell me to “go home” after a scrape.

    I am convinced that English-Spanish bilingualism and a merger of diverse cultures can only help the United States grow and mature. I wish I could attend a Mass at the border with Mexico. The Eucharist is amazing in that the Christ is the same body, blood, soul, and divinity for any sister or brother who receives him. We are one in baptism and common humanity. Amen.

  8. There is nothing political in that poem. I just re-read it a third time to be sure. The poem is about what we may tell our conscience, when we examine it, and what our conscience says back to us. Political decisions may flow from that examination of conscience, but that depends on our talents and abilities. First, we have to get the attitude straight.

  9. The poem is cutting edge and brilliant. But do you suppose its posting is completely unrelated to current political events? A great national debate has been raging for more than a generation about the policies on every level regarding immigrants and, more recently, refugees. Last year’s election cycle certainly underscored the divisiveness resulting from this debate. There are many Catholics who desire to be faithful to the gospel but differ on what obligations it may demand on legislation and executive orders. Serving people with differing convictions is a challenge in this regard. That is the context of my original comments. A few weeks ago there was a smattering of applause when in my homily I stated forthrightly that in the debate regarding immigrants and refugees that my principle allegiance is to God as a citizen of his everlasting kingdom…..that all of us were once refugees including Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Notice I said a smattering of applause not a standing ovation. It’s dicey.

    1. @Jack Feehily:
      Fair enough. I think we can differ in what we see and diagnose and still work within the bounds of an allegiance to God. At least you recognize there’s an issue. That’s more than some.

      I think the debate has been less a rage and more an avoidance. Many of us love what immigrants provide, and I suspect the so-called leaders of industry nod with approval when immigrants bolster their bottom line. And if a few pennies are saved on the consumer end, well and good.

      Last year’s campaigns were long on stoking passions and on getting politicians elected. They had little or nothing to do about a greater human need, much less the American common good.

      More to the point on a liturgy site, how does the Gospel challenge us to do better than we’ve done? Even immigrant advocates may have much homework or legwork to do in order to satisfy what they see as their Christian calling. Rather than testify to their own character, how do homilists show a message of mercy? How do they preach on trust, sacrifice, and fear? Sometimes they must be in the midst of their flock, and sometimes on the fringes, in the lead, or in the rear.

      I would think any Christian in the US–of any ideology–should find their views and actions with regard to immigrants deeply unsatisfactory. When it suits, we can look the other way. Until it doesn’t suit us–and then we can find some rigor in public policy or offering sanctuary. This is a matter of convenience for a wealthy, fat, and self-satisfied population. We can accept farm workers, housekeepers, laborers, and pat ourselves on the back over a few college students. Until we grow weary of them.

      Honestly, I don’t envy you preachers. But I think the pewfolk would be healthier spiritually if they were squirming a bit and examining their consciences a bit more rather than looking for a moment to nod at approval.

  10. We follow a man put to death by political powers because the best way to get Him to shut up was to put Him to death. 2000 years later the argument rages on that religion and politics don’t mix and one should not mix them. Our issue here today is that we have widened the understanding of harm to mean uncomfortable.

    “Blessed are the comfortable,” said no Jesus ever.

  11. I cant tell you how many times I have exclaimed that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I have been in both of those situations and certainly have experienced his affliction. Ouch….and Thank you, Lord, I needed that.

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