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Reflections - Newcomers
Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 00:00 Eleanor Deckert
For some of these words, I feel generous and welcoming; for others, I feel defensive, even afraid. Mostly, I'd rather stay back and return to be with the people who are familiar to me.
I wonder why it is so hard for me to cross those invisible boundaries, to look a newcomer straight in the eye and extend the hand of welcome?
Perhaps in ancient times of physical labour, local economies, tribal loyalties, and frightening taboos, a newcomer was seen firstly as a threat. Limited food supplies, livestock and slave labour, treasures, women of childbearing age - these resources could be dragged away. Religious beliefs were black-and-white. New ideas were seen as contamination of the culture.
What threat is a new neighbor, a culture different from my own, a new idea, a point of view I had not considered?
Well yes, it feels like a threat to my comfortable way of doing things. I must go back and examine again what I already believe, say and do and check that my sources and current views are still valid. It takes a great deal of mental effort to make an adjustment to include something of value the newcomer has to offer.
There are so many facets to this topic, and so many ways to demonstrate how uncomfortable people are when someone is different. From bold gestures, violent taunts, obvious prejudice... all the way to silent, barely perceptible, only a flicker, one raised eyebrow, or one glance away.
I recently watched the 1947 movie Gentleman's Agreement, starring Gregory Peck. What an eye-opener to the subtle ways prejudice can find ways to express itself.
Wikipedia: It concerns a journalist (played by Gregory Peck) who poses as a Jew to research an exposé on anti-semitism in New York City. It was nominated for eight Oscars and won three.
I have been a Newcomer many, many times. I like travelling to new places, entering existing groups, interacting with new people. I like to feel welcome. I have certainly been shunned.
I wonder if I welcome others? Does my face reveal a wall or a door? Do my eyes build a bridge or a barricade? Does my posture reach towards or lean away? Do I walk forward, introduce myself, extend a hand?
Newcomers need food, shelter, information, resources, connections, perhaps basic supplies I can share. Newcomers need to know the lay-of-the-land, the seasonal variations, where to connect with like-minded or same-age locals. Newcomers need to be brought in, not left out.
Abraham was a Stranger. Moses was a Stranger, again and again. David, the prophets, John the Baptist, yes, Jesus was a Stranger. Perhaps how the 'comfortable people' treated them is the whole point of the story.
“I was a stranger, and you took me in.” (Matt. 25:35)
Take a look at myself. Listen to myself. How do I respond to a Newcomer?
Maybe that's the whole point of my own story.
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