Wednesday, September 08, 2004

between exclusion and embrace

A fair-haired, blue eyed friend, a native of the American Midwest, and one in generally consider an fine Christian lady recently shared with me her concern over immigration. She confided her certainty of the damage that the influx of foreigners are having on America. One of her family members works for a federal agency that funds childcare for an immigrant population in major city. The recipients of the federal aid frequently misuse the funds.

I am always taken a bit aback by the complaints about immigrants to North America from those of English descent. It may seem silly, assimilated as I am to be put off by the irony of it, but I admit I am.

The challenges upon American society to embrace the current wave of immigration include economic and political issues for sure, but the spiritual challenge weighs on my heart today. My limited knowledge of immigration policy leaves me short on suggestions on matters such as amnesty, but the spiritual response to the influx of strangers seems to demand less research.

All of this has been on mind this week as I have been reading a short, but well written book, An 8-track church in a CD world, by Robert N. Nash, Jr. I felt the most compelling passage in the book is his discussion of the church’s desperate need for a theology of “otherness.” He comments on how we have shed the need for welcoming strangers as we mask differences in ethnicity, socio-economic status, and theology by our forming of denominations and congregations. He particularly indicts the American South as having a culture unto itself.

He shares this definition of stranger attributed to Eli Wiesel:

"Someone who suggests the unknown, the prohibited, the beyond; he seduces, he attracts, he wounds—and he leaves…The stranger represents what you are not, what you cannot be, simply because you are not he…The stranger is the other. He is not bound by your laws, by your memories; his language is not yours, nor his silence.”
Elie Wiesel, From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences (New York: Summit Books, 1990) 59f.

Nash points out that in today’s society, strangers watch. Strangers witness the clash in the current divide among traditional and progressive Christians. Nash wonders if the “damaging politics of exclusion” can give way to the embrace of the stranger. He fears that if we can hardly embrace one with whom we disagree about church function or politics, we will never be able welcome the stranger who doesn’t sit in church at all

As I consider about how to respond to my friend, Nash’s quotation from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian and Pentecostal theologian keeps coming to mind:

“Forgiveness is the boundary between exclusion and embrace.”


Quiara said...

I also find it ironic that we experienced our greatest growth and achievement when our immigration laws were most lax.

This is a fine line to walk, though, taking in view your other point. Where is the balance between loving our neighbor (or stranger) as ourselves and striving for a unified yet holy community as the church is as often (or more) warned/commanded to do, particularly in the writings of Paul?

God is a God of grace and opportunity, steadfast love and infinite mercy -- but he's also a God who doesn't compromise. He doesn't have standards. He is the standard.

We're called to be separate without being divisive, unified without compromising, holy without self-righteousness and aliens even at home.

Sometimes it's hard to say. For me, at least.

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

I appreciate you comment Q. I am trying to figure out exactly what I said to prompt your concern about compromise.

Quiara said...

You didn't, really.

I was synthesizing. Between your blog and Mike's (well, and a slate of books I'm reading right now), my mind was spinning. (Sometimes my brain goes off half-cocked). ^_^

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

I understand the mind spinning experience.

Chris Dowdy said...


in the words of uncle rico, "right ON." when he was apeaking in abilene last spring, catholic theologian Luke Timothy Johnson wondered aloud if there is a church in America at all, given our endemic divisions and our fascination with market studies. colossal religious enterprises with demographic studies and homogenous memberships - what is that? because it's not the church. it's shiny and new, but so is a fresh pack of kit-kats.

liked your last two blogs especially, except for where you said you weren't a democrat. what would josh lyman say?



Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

"Our administration" including Josh Lymnan, would have to appreciate the support of female independent voter. No gets too far these days without us.
Mum (but not often)

john alan turner said...

After reading your complete profile I have only one question for you: Air Force One?

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

to John Alan Turner:
It's all about,"Get off my plane."