My family visited New York City this weekend to celebrate my brother graduating from med school. As one of our activities, we took a sunset cruise around the Hudson. The tour guide had lots of terrible jokes and absurdly specific facts like most tour guides do. But I give Andy props because he knew when to emphasize the important things. One of his most important pauses was as we circled the Statue of Liberty. He slowly read the commissioned poem about the statue by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus.” And then he got quiet. For about 8 whole minutes. He gave us space to reflect on what this poem meant, what this statue meant, and how we can return to those crucial meanings despite our far straying. The poem reads:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This poem broke my heart. All we’re called to do is open doors. As Americans, as Christians, as humans – just open doors. We are not to judge who gets to be supported or who gets to experience freedom or who gets to be loved or who gets to share in the privileges we have. Just open the door. We are all exiles. We are all immigrants. We are all broken. We are all just trying to find our way in the world. We all need the love and grace of God. We must not forget that as we move forward, as we set up the institutions of tomorrow, as we build our neighborhoods and communities, as we define what church/love/inclusion/insert-your-own-term here means. If we are not open in these endeavors, we are doing a disservice, an injustice, to ourselves and all those who come after us.
These open doors should look like pursuing others to hear their stories, not judge their stories. It should look like helping children to stay with their parents, not ripping them apart because we’re scared of losing our own perceived advantages. It should look like celebrating pride and the humanity of the LGBTQ+ community. It should look like advocating for food justice and fair working conditions and respectable compensation. It should look like acknowledging there are parts of our nation that are forgotten and under-served, like the poor and homeless and minority communities, that are just as much of this country as we are, and that we have the power do something to support them. It should look like all those things we feel in our gut or think in our heads that we think we are too afraid or tired or inexperienced to do anything about.
Except if we don’t do it, no one will. If we are not willing to make changes, the changes will not happen. If we are not exemplifying the love of Christ, no one will know the depth and meaning of that love. If we are not open, our hearts and minds and systems will remain closed.
I pray today and every day that we can all cry with Lady Liberty and lift our lamps beside the golden door.