Communities of Fortress or Sanctuary?

Communities of Fortress or Sanctuary?

Posted on in Middle East, Refugees.

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Over 200 people were rescued today after their boat sank while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. But not everyone made it out alive. 21 women and one man died. This adds to the almost 3,000 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean this year alone. (UNHCR)

The 22 brave souls who died trying to make it to Europe, did so knowing the worst could happen. They knew, as every refugee and migrant does, that the journey may cost them everything, even their life. With such a high risk of loss why would someone embark on such a journey?

Every person carries with them the same basic needs, wants and fears. Knowing this, we should take into account that a person seeking refuge through harrowing and often tragic journeys would only do so for reasons of extreme need – the kind of needs that we all as a human kind share.

So, it bears investigating the question; how should we respond? How should those of us who enjoy freedom, security, and plenty respond to those willing to risk their lives and the lives of their children in order to obtain such basic necessities?

In a political climate where lines of race and religion are used to divide and where fear is the tool of division, how can a follower of Jesus understand how to respond? I believe we follow the way of Jesus and step into the conflict and broken lives of others. I believe we not only go to the places of conflict, but also open our lives to those who’ve arrived on our shores. I believe we open our hearts, our eyes, and our communities to all who would receive such an invitation. In essence, we must be a sanctuary, where all who have need would be given access to our sacred space.

The places we live, work, and play are the most sacred spaces in our lives. They are sacred because these are the spaces where we are fully present in relationship with others. In these spaces we need grace and offer grace. In these spaces we offer and receive acceptance, comfort, security, respect, and support. This is our community and our community is sacred.

When people become refugees or are forced to flee their home for other reasons, they are divorced from their sacred spaces, the places where relationship meets space and meaning takes shape. The places where they can count on being heard and valued are no more. Instead, refugees and other migrants exist in dislocated and disenfranchised places where uncertainty and insecurity have taken the place of comfort and security.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to stay this way. As a people whose mission is to join God in remaking a broken world, we get to be at the forefront and the fringes, extending an invitation of peace and flourishing. We get to be on the hilltops looking and searching (with expectation) for those in need. When we embody a life of invitation, we dismantle our tendencies to raise and maintain our social, cultural, religious, and communal fortresses. We move from a posture that fears and suspects to a posture of inclusion and acceptance. Our family, community, city, and nation become a sanctuary for the foreigner and stranger. In this way, our sacred spaces actually make tangible the Kingdom of God “on Earth as it is in Heaven”.

Jesus was always talking about encounters with neighbors, strangers, and enemies. Not merely that those groups and people exist, but actual encounters with them; encounters that were transformative for all involved. As followers of Jesus we have the daily opportunity to pursue the peace of others. In a time where over 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes and countries, we have an opportunity to invite them into our sacred spaces, our community.

To live like Jesus and make tangible the Kingdom of God is to forsake fortress for sanctuary. Too often hilltops are used to keep the “other” at a distance and build-up a fortress. In the Kingdom that Jesus brings, it’s the opposite. The hilltop is meant to be a beacon, a place for all to see and to find refuge. Sanctuary is where relationship meets space and flourishing takes place. In other words, sanctuary is the place where we immerse into each other’s lives and in so doing work to meet the needs we all share. To be a part of this Kingdom is to live by invitation, to freely offer sacred space to anyone without it.

Get to the hilltops, be on the lookout and join God in remaking a broken world through the invitation of your sacred space to all those without.

Here’s a few practical ways to extend invitation:

  1. Discover the places in your city that are dislocated and cut-off from flourishing and go there. Start a conversation and extend an invitation to learn more about the people you meet there. A place will become sacred when meaning and presence merge.
  2. Research and connect with a local group or organization that serves refugees. Join them and build a relationship with someone who has sought refugee in your city. Then invite them into your sacred spaces.
  3. Discover your “hilltops”. Cultivate ways to see and meet “others”.
  4. Take your community with you.

May we be marked, not by fortress or exclusion, but by sanctuary and invitation.

Peace!

Jason Clarke

[1] United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) found at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54092#.V4_kZfQ8KnM