Thursday, March 2, 2017

Egyptians, Germans, Americans

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ [Exodus 1: 8-10]

I read this passage in Exodus the morning after our president announced the creation of the Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office. The historical contexts couldn't be more different, but the parallels are striking. Those who are discerned as being "not us" who live among us grow in population and the dominant people---those who, allegedly, "belong"---get nervous and wonder if there are enemy operatives among them. Even the "alien" who is born in the land, who is descended from long ago "immigrants" (I use quotations because the terms are more modern in a legal sense), is looked at with suspicion. Pharaoh needs to keep an eye on them and makes decrees against them.

And I realize in the Biblical story, I am an Egyptian. Maybe I'm aligned with the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh and didn't kill every Israelite boy, but I'm an Egyptian all the same. I have no reason at all to identify with the Israelites in this story. (Which has it's own irony, as I'm a third generation alien on this soil myself, but that's another story.)

On September 23, 1946, Martin Neimoller, former resident of a German concentration camp, preached at Rendsburgh. Since his release, he became aware of the horrors committed in the camp where he was kept. Even though he, himself, was a prisoner, he knew he was a patriotic German, former U-boat captain in the Great War, and that if he shared in the glory of Germany, he also shared in the shame. "The guilt has become anonymous and nobody will share the responsibility," he preached. "Everybody says, 'Go and ask my neighbor. I am innocent.'" [Martin Niemoller by James Bentley, p. 164]

After the fact, oppressors become particular. It was Pharoah, it was Hitler, it was Trump. In reality, it was Egyptians, it was Germans, it is Americans.

Jesus said, "Love your enemies." Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Where do we learn the love of Jesus? Where do we learn the self-awareness of Pogo? How do we gain the insight of Neimoller before going to prison?

Jesus also said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Maybe therein lies a source for fruitful meditation.

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