No Where to Lay My Head: Refugees One and All
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells those who would follow in his way that the “Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus is without place. Placeless. Landless. Stateless. Homeless.
Walter Brueggemann, in the book Obedience as an Act of Interpretation (p. 295), offers about the quickest definition of what it means to be a stranger as one without place.
I suggest now a third dimension… strangers are those who do not have land, who are not judged as entitled to it, and who have no chance of acquiring any of the land… It is not accidental that strangers in our society are often experienced as dis-placed persons, that is people without a place. They have no place because the social system with its capacity for inclusion and exclusion, has in fact assigned their place to another and so denied them any safe place of their own. Strangers are often those who are cut out of the history of the land…
Jesus ultimate act of solidarity may well be a God-forsaken death. But right under that is that Jesus takes on the mantle of stranger. Outsider. Jesus is a person without place. And as those who would follow in his way he makes it clear: we too have to be willing to give up our place and follow a way. We give up the status of entitled insider to show tangible solidarity with the placeless outsider.
I have spent a lot of time lately thinking on refugees. This last Sunday there was a rally a block from my church to speak out against welcoming refugees to my state of Idaho. It’s a conversation that figures into today’s mayoral election. It’s a live conversation for affordable housing and schooling and what it means to not only welcome but integrate and become “one people (under God).” And I am helping to plan an Ecumenical and Interreligious Thanksgiving Service which is on the theme of welcoming refugees this year because all our histories have stories of a time when we were refugees. This isn’t today’s problem. This isn’t someone else’s problem. This is about all of us, all the time.
I also spend a lot of time in conversation about helping eliminate the systemic causes of homelessness, and – in the meantime – how to limit homeless episodes in the lives of my neighbors. And the people experiencing homeless are refugees of another type. Or that is refugees and people who are homeless are both of the type “stranger” as Walter has defined it. They are people without place… and seeking it.
I am a placed person. And people of place have a natural tendency to defend that place. It is natural as placed people to see dis-placed people as a threat. They will want my place. Their desire for place is a threat to the safety of my own. And I naturally become caught up in a way of being that is defined as protecting my place and its value to me…. or really the way it adds to the value of me and my social standing and power within the social system.
But Jesus says…. You want to follow me? Give up your place.
What if this is about more than solidarity? What if It’s about denying the whole system of place. The only way we will ever have room for the stranger is when we all take on the status of stranger. We cannot neighbor our way to world community because so long as we are all seeking the best place we have to limit our neighbors. The only way to make room for all is to give up place entirely.
I have none. You have none. And then, and only then, can we all have some?
In the end, when I’m willing to give up place entirely, I’m drawn back to the words: inclusive and exclusive. Somehow our notions of place always become about exclusive place. This is mine. That is yours. You are allowed in under these terms and conditions. You are not allowed here, but maybe over there. Exclusive place will always value people differently. Jesus values people equally. Our places must be inclusive, permeable… open.
Places that do not dis-place… but re-place all who come.
This leaves me swirling with questions:
- Who is stranger to me, and what am I doing to offer them a place in my life?
- What ways am I defensive of my place (and “place”) to the exclusion of others, and am I able to open that place up… or do I need to give it up?
- How am I working to make a society that doesn’t dis-place people? I mean actively and tangible doing so???
And… well I could go on and on. You get the idea… now connect the idea in your own life. We all want place. Work to make it so that we ALL do. In the wide and wonderful world we call home there isn’t any viable reason that we shouldn’t all have a place at the table.