You may already know the first book of the Bible, Genesis, literally translates, “Beginnings.” The very next book, Exodus, means “mass migration.” We are made. And then, we go. And that story is repeated constantly throughout our holy texts.
It’s Adam and Eve banished. It’s Abram’s journey out of his homeland. It’s Joseph sold into slavery and then made a leader. It’s Moses and a people enslaved in a foreign land and leaving it. It’s exile and captivity from 1 Kings through all the prophets. It’s a babe in a manger carried to Egypt when his life is at risk. And whose peripatetic ministry later relies entirely on the goodness of strangers. It’s his apostles, a name by the way, that literally refers to those who are “sent out” to all nations.
It’s the Prophet Mohammed, blessed be his name, migrating not once but three times – even to Abyssinia from Mecca under the refuge and protection of the Christian king who refused to return the fleeing people to those who desired to do them harm.
The story of migration is us as we were reminded “to love all who are foreign to you for you, yourselves, were once strangers in” a strange land.
We are a people of a God who gives us not borders or walls and other human inventions but instead a command to love our neighbors as ourselves: because this novel word, neighbor, if it still means anything at all should strip us of our solitary and tribal leanings and connect us in a way that we’re no longer afraid to be connected to someone who is different from us.
And all those borders and the documents that confine us to them are imagined, concocted, and enforced by the powerful and arbitrarily accepted by those who choose not to question them. Borders, while not an evil in-and-of themselves, can function as a social good as much as they provide conveniences for those choosing to abide by them. But from the vacuum of space, peering down on those “purple mountain majesties” and “thine alabaster cities,” we would do ourselves a service to acknowledge again and again and again that there is no real painted or printed line separating your land from mine, no text hovering over the green pastures that distinguish this state from that or clarify which properties belong to whom. The precious creatures of our God that saunter our sacred ground were not made for the sake of being alienated by false human boundaries built on fear or self-centeredness. They were creatures made in love with the explicit purpose of expounding on love and expanding it in a way that we would live lives faithfully connected to one another beyond our wildest imaginations and beyond the boundaries we built in a feeble attempt to shield and shun ourselves either from love we didn’t think we could accept or love we didn’t have the capacity to freely give.
The very nature of that division or alienation, however convenient to the structure of geopolitical policymaking, is the most basic definition of sin ever conceived. The banishment from the Garden or the crying of the blood-soaked soil of Abel were the first signs that humans, by their own broken choices, preferred against their better judgments to be separated than the harder, higher calling and path of being united to the sacred in one another. We kept up that division with every border constructed, doubled down on our fears in the name of security with every document or policy defining us as anything other than one human family. That’s right, we kept up that division because we thought death – the death rooted in alienation and isolation – was easier than living together.
But at the end of the day, we still are all migrants.
That is our history.
And it’s our future.
Migration is the journey we all take when we decide living together is better than death – when we choose life.
There may one day be a time where – because of conflict or climate change or economic instability – we find ourselves crossing again these arbitrary borders. Whether we are welcomed or not, we will deserve then only the radical love we are willing to share with our brothers and sisters now. No, I take that back: we’ll deserve acceptance just as our neighbors do now; whether we will receive it is another story.
So, we’re called to affirm – loudly – this one human family we’re tasked to be. We embrace – firmly – every opportunity we get to continue loving our neighbors, documented or undocumented, stranger or kin, gay or straight, black or brown or white, Christian or Muslim or Jew or Hindu or Sikh, not just as we would love ourselves but an even higher calling to love them because they are given and deserve a divinely-sanctioned dignity we share with them. That is, we “do unto others” not just “what we would have others do unto” us, as the golden rule commands, but even more simply, we do unto others what others plainly deserve for no other reason than existing. It should be easier than we’ve made it out to be, but trying a little harder won’t kill us, or if it does, it’ll have been worth it.