"You cannot disregard them if you accept the civilization that produced them." - George Orwell
One of my favourite things is reading a variety of kinds of literature and seeing how God weaves threads through these creative acts of the authors viewing and telling stories about life. It mirrors what is being done in the books of the Bible and I imagine early Christians; possibly reading collections of canonized scripture in a similar way. In the three books pictured here we have a book of history, a book of poetry and a book of historical fiction (or faction).
In all of these works, there is a thread of accounts of refugees, travellers, hosts and guests.
My favourite poem by David Whyte, in the book above, is called Refuge. It first describes physical places where one can find refuge from the elements and then with one phrase transports the reader into history and a time and place of struggle and connection. "Then in Galitia"... I close my eyes and can just imagine myself in different land, a time thousands of years ago, seeking refuge as a traveller. The poem describes a family behind a door of their home, inviting the refugee in and the final line is a beautiful conclusion... "the stranger's love is best of all."
The other two books are historical (or story based on history) and I find them fascinating when one looks back in analysis of what has happened and how it has led to contexts of today. As Richard Wagamese says, "We get only one story, which we narrate looking backwards."
One part of the novel by Matthieu Aikins, points out the history of the European Union, aspiring to Immanuel Kant's 1795 vision of peace, setting up a great post world war network and aligning twenty-seven nations as one. For this the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, showing it is possible for people and nations to come together across borders. Sadly just ten years later, in our context now, we see that dream of peace being shattered by the actions of perpetual war and increased refugee displacement.
Aikins also points out that in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, there was only fifteen borders that had walls or fences in the world. Between then and 2016, that number has gone the wrong way and swelled to an astounding seventy! Our societies are not actioning towards peace, open doors or bigger tables, we are operating in fear, resource hoarding, greed and exclusion. Aikins story of refugees travelling from Syria, through Turkey, Greece and others places is one of truly fascinating and heart breaking realities of war and conflict.
That brings me to the last book, a historical account of different pushes and pulls that has shaped and transformed the communities of history that call themselves Christian. While it may be easy, lazy or ill informed to lump all Christians as one, this historical account tells some fascinating stories of theologians, philosophers and other people who have deeply wrestled with what it means to be Christian in both word and deed.
There is wide ranging influence, from those like the reforming Lutherans, Philipp Spener, who said, "Christianity does not mean assenting to a creed, for conviction of truth is far from being faith; true Christianity is the practise of love." In this time of orthodox debate, Martin Luther chimed in during the 1500's trying to warn others that the tricks of Satan were to gain a small foothold with "the intentions of detaining you with unnecessary things and thus keeping you from those which are necessary. Once he has gained an opening... he will force in his whole body together with sacks full of useless questions."
I sometimes think our North American Christian divisions, denominational differences, infighting and splitting are precisely what Luther was warning us against. In a world where we see real time stories of war, conflict and increasing refugee displacement, we get caught up holding "sacks full of useless questions." In the historical account of Christianity, Diana Butler Bass talks about many ways Christians have attempted to understand and live out the faith and often have fallen short. In a quest for modernity, a search for big T truth, Christians thought they could solve the problems that plagued humankind. But she asks, if in the end, Christians were less interested in pursuing God than they were in pursuing knowledge about God? The quest for the modern reformed Christian became a puzzle to be solved, instead of life of mystery and wonder to be lived in love.
In any case, these three reads are wonderful ways to get us thinking, give us context wider than our own and hopefully inspiration to propel us into action. Whichever genre speaks to your heart, check it out or read all three and be moved to ask your church and community about the work of refugee resettlement. Because as so beautifully put by the George Orwell quote above, we are all connected and a part of the problems and solutions.