Three summers ago, my family took an epic road trip to Washington, D.C. In the planning of the trip, each of us chose one, non-negotiable stop on the tour. Mine was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
I’m sure Jack was expecting me to drag him around some “art” museum (those are his air quotes, not mine); you see, I’m not exactly a history buff. (My dad just laughed out loud. I heard him from 58 miles away.) I actually loathe history museums. Typically, while Jack takes his time at each and every exhibit reading every.single.placard., I flit around the displays, thoughtfully nodding my head on occasion so I look more interested than I actually am. Which is not at all. So, my DC non-negotiable came as a bit of a surprise. Honestly, I chose the Holocaust Museum because I’d been told it would wreck me, and I appreciate an occasional wrecking.
I knew, of course, the basics of the Holocaust—concentration camps and gas chambers, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Elie Wiesel’s Night. What I didn’t remember—or, more likely, what was conveniently left out of my junior high school curriculum—was the United States’ response to the Jewish refugees.
My memory’s a little sketchy, but it seems like the museum was bathed in a sort of dim, grayish-blue light. It was packed with tourists, most of them silently sliding their eyes across the displays or whispering to one another, holding their children close. After spending several minutes in the audio theater listening to Auschwitz survivors tell their stories, I got myself together (wrecked, indeed) and worked my way through the crowd to a corner of the room I’d not yet explored.
I began reading… and stopped. I shook my head, as if to clear away the confusion, and began again. As I read through the end of the placard, a hot flush of shame made its way from my chest to my neck. I turned to Jack.
“We didn’t let them in?”
“Seriously? We didn’t let them in? But what about that poem? The ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ poem! The one at the base of the Statue of Liberty! We didn’t let them in?”
We’re not going to do this again, are we?
Yes, I’m nervous about terrorists posing as Syrian refugees. Yes, I’m nervous about the extreme differences of opinion regarding our ability to adequately vet them. But I’m also nervous in movie theaters and about the reality that our kids have “intruder drills.” (And a whole bunch of other things, too.) I’m not convinced that one fear or another is more reasonable. For those of us who are Christ-followers, fear shouldn’t get a vote, anyway. Jesus said a lot of confusing things, but His words in Matthew 25:35-40 aren’t among them.
I’m a pretty simple girl, and I know this situation is profoundly complicated and messy and polarizing. But I also know these Syrian refugees are human beings. They’re people of worth and value—no less worth than you and I. They’re not the enemy. If we could look them in the eye, we would see ourselves.
Please. Let’s not do this again.