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?