On Sunday I was with the people of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish. Like so many congregations, they are working to support refugees from Afghanistan.
On the face of it this support consists of gathering money, food, and other basic needs for a family seeking refuge in Snohomish. The congregation will meet many of the family’s practical needs. Supporting one another in meeting our basic needs is a common theme in all wisdom traditions.
But at this time in our nation’s history, this kind of support has far more than practical implications.
Since the emergence of anti-Muslim hate groups in 2008, we have seen a well-funded campaign of dehumanization against American Muslims. These campaigns strengthen a dynamic of dehumanization that impacts all humans on this continent. Ervin Staub has studied genocides around the world. He has found that violence can be interrupted when people in the majority come off the sidelines and actively stand with a group that is being dehumanized.
When communities of wisdom take a public stand with groups that are being dehumanized they offer something more than practical support: they create public symbolism.
The people of St. John’s listed many reasons why they as individuals felt compelled to help. They discussed the values of their tradition that led them to support a refugee family. These gifts will warm the hearts of those who give and receive them and be a source of hope for all who participate. These gifts are also a sign that communities of wisdom have values that go beyond their in-group. These gifts are a sign that in these divided days we can recognize the value of other human beings. These gifts are a powerful symbol that we can build a better future together, not in spite of what our wisdom traditions teach but because of the values we share.