Welcoming the Stranger Is Always the Right Thing to Do

I fell in love in Brussels. I was 20 years old and staying with friends for Christmas while I spent my junior year of college abroad in London. There was a second guest at our Christmas gathering –  a young Polish lady named Teresa who was working as a nanny in London. When I met her, I was immediately smitten.

Our romance didn’t last long. When we got back to London, we realized we had little in common, not the least of which was a language barrier. Still, my memories of Brussels are all good.

That is why I cannot imagine the brutality of the most recent bombings. Brussels is a city of love, not hate. But I realize that is how my romantic 20-year-old mind sees it. Today’s reality is so much different.

Or is it?

When horrible things like the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, and all over the world happen, our immediate instinct is to pull back. To turn in. To close ourselves off to others. This kneejerk reaction is understandable because as humans, we often feel threatened by the “other,” the outsider.  We fear that people who aren’t like us might hurt us or threaten our safety.

I write this on Maundy Thursday and tomorrow is Good Friday.

After Jesus’ death, it seems clear the Disciples moved in to self-protection mode. They retreated to the Upper Room and were afraid. They had reason to be. Jesus had been executed as a political threat to Rome. Being associated with him put yourself at risk.

And yet, soon after the experience of the Resurrection and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they moved from being turned in to reaching out. They embraced the stranger. They took risks. They may have still been fearful but you cannot see it in their actions. They invited people into their lives.

I think that is exactly what we need to do in this time of fear. I understand the desire to do just the opposite. Retreating to the safest place we can find seems the only rational decision. The problem with this is that building walls and shutting out others who are as scared as we are only breeds hostility. Most importantly for me, it is the exact opposite of what Jesus expected his Disciples to do. He commanded the Disciples to go into the streets and bring in any one they found to the banquet feast.

For Christians, welcoming the stranger is always the right thing to do.

It has been many years since I have been to Brussels. I live my life in Memphis where I don’t have to make hard decisions about how to interact with my Muslim neighbors who have immigrated from elsewhere. But I get to decide every day how I will care for and embrace the Muslims and the Latin Americans who I see all around me who now live in Memphis.

There is no escaping the opportunity to do what Jesus expects of me. The only question is, will I do it?


In Sickness and In Health: In Praise of Nancy Reagan

When Ronald Reagan was elected president, many people thought that the world would end.

It didn’t.

In fact, Reagan was a great believer in compromise, a word that seems to be lost in today’s political discourse.

When Nancy Reagan took over the role of First Lady, she replaced Rosalynn Carter, who had a great passion for issues that affected people often forgotten – those with mental health problems. Nancy Reagan focused on redecorating the private quarters of the White House and spending more than $200,000 for new china bordered in her favorite color, red.

Many people felt like she brought back class to the title of First Lady. Honestly, I wasn’t necessarily one of them. I needed a little more convincing of her relevance.

Reagan being inaugurated as president at the White House, January 1985Three months into his presidency, Reagan was shot and almost died. At the time, the media played up his injuries as only a flesh wound. In response, Nancy Reagan apparently became very watchful of his schedule and activities. She famously turned to astrology to predict when it was safest for him to leave the White House. Since traveling to India, I have learned that many more people than I ever believed still trust their fate to the stars. Indira Ghandi and many other Indian leaders depended and still depend on astrology to make major decisions. In any event, I can see why she was so protective.

Ronald Reagan came to her defense when she was accused of orchestrating the removal of the defense minister, because she didn’t like him. Reagan said she was “no dragon lady” which is exactly what people began to call her.

It wasn’t until he was out of office that I grew to have respect for her. When Pres. Reagan began to develop Alzheimer’s, she never left his side. When he announced to the world that he was entering the long goodbye, he declared his only regret was that he would be putting Nancy through what was about to happen. He knew she would not leave his side.

After watching my mother-in-law’s decline into Alzheimer’s and observing what it took for my wife Mary to care for her, I now have great respect for Nancy Reagan in that she indeed never left her husband’s side.

Nancy Reagan was 94 when she died on Sunday. It’s easy to forget the politics of 30 years ago, but it’s not as easy to forget how people express their love and devotion in such a public and difficult way. But today, I am grateful for Nancy Reagan for showing us all how to love someone through the depth of sickness and deepest sorrow.

No matter your politics, she is to be admired for that.