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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kiss me! I’m an Immigrant

Please welcome back Rev. Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church, on whose site the original version this post was published. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, he takes us through some reflections on how 'minority status' has changed over the past 200 years in the United States: 

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

Every year, St. Patrick’s Day parades all across the country kick-off revelry surrounding all things Irish. The day began as a religious holiday for Christians to celebrate the life of one of our saints, Patrick. But now everyone’s going green: leprechauns, pinching, luck, Guinness, kissing, wearing green. But it certainly hasn’t always been this way.

In the 1800’s Irish immigrants weren’t celebrated, though their hard working hands did the manual labor “we” were unwilling to do. Rather, they were derided, threatened, opposed and run out of town in every state in the union. Unwelcome in America because of their religion, non-whiteness (yes, the racial category of “white” was much narrower at the time) and slowness in assimilation (the previously mentioned St. Patrick’s Day celebrations empowered Irish immigrants to survive in a hostile culture), the Irish were the target of a nativist, xenophobic movement known as the Know Nothings, or, ironically “The Native American Party.”

Perhaps we haven’t come so far after all. Arizona’s SB 1070 (and copycat laws in other states) has been made into law. Congress is has had hearings on terrorism by American Muslims thanks to Peter King from New York. The message is clear: you are unwelcome in America because of your religion and slowness to assimilate. They follow Prime Ministers Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of the UK, who said in recent years that the multicultural experiment has utterly failed.

This anti-immigrant fervor advocates for a “melting pot” approach where racial/ethnic/religious minorities must assimilate into the dominate culture mythically referred to as “we.” But who is this “we” anyway? And why are “we” so sure “they” aren’t part of “us”? And since when does Representative King get to decide who “we” are?

The 'Know Nothing' party’s
nativist “ideal
Jesus ran into this same exclusivist attitude many times. In fact, Luke says his first public sermon nearly got him killed just for mentioning God’s acceptance of the “outsider.” The “they” in Jesus culture, more than anyone, were an ethnic-religious minority group known as the Samaritans. And when Jesus was once asked who our neighbors are that we’re supposed to love, he answered with a story. The story unmasks two insiders who have no regard for human suffering or rights even for another insider; but it highlights an outsider Samaritan who embodies what it means to be a good neighbor. Where once animosity and hatred separated the “we” from the “they,” the essence of Jesus’ mission and ours is to break barriers and form friendships.

The Bible we Christians read is clear on this point, we are to love the stranger among us because we were once strangers. And who among us, except of course the true Native Americans, wasn’t once a stranger in this new world?

So I’ve got a couple invitations for you this week. Let’s see St. Patrick’s Day as a reminder of our collective ability to turn from exclusion to embrace. Let’s celebrate that the “they” who were once “they” are now part of our “we.” And this week, I invite you to tune out the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-neighbor rhetoric and listen instead to a familiar voice of reconciliation and welcome: Saint Patrick’s.

When he was fourteen, Patrick was victim of the unthinkable tragedy of being kidnapped from his home and stolen away to Ireland. He later escaped his captors and returned home. Within several years he responded to Christ’s call on his life and returned to Ireland not to seek revenge but for reconciliation with his captors. He lived the rest of his days sharing Christ’s love for all people in Ireland.

To all the Christian readers in this amazing country of beautiful multicultural diversity: “Go and do likewise.” Perhaps our political leaders don’t believe in diversity of cultures, but our God does. Wouldn’t it be great if we Christians were known not for our exclusivity, but for our ability to “love the stranger as you love yourself”?

To all my Muslim and Latino/a (and Irish!) readers I say welcome home! This land is your land, this land is my land. Forgive us for our sins, we don’t know what we’re doing. I so deeply regret that you have been shaken by being “vilified, questioned and even legislated against” by people who claim to worship the prince of peace. But stay strong in your faith, and together we’ll get it right. This Christian pastor is glad you’re here.

Note: I’m actually not Irish, I’m Swiss/German through and through. As a Mennonite with Germanic roots, this story could just as easily be told through the lens of our own stories of immigration.

1 comment:

  1. I have to wonder if the folks claiming 1/32 Cherokee blood are the same ones with the 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' shirts. We aren't prejudiced, we appropriate from everyone! (Not to say one couldn't legitimately have both heritages...just that both are inappropriately appropriated pretty regularly)


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