Peel back our ribs again and stand inside of our chest. Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity on the lips of the found. Oh let us adore the Son of Glory drenched in love.
John Mark McMilan / Skeleton Bones
And, there he is, a little boy tucked into ‘No Man’s Land’ on the border of Serbia and Croatia. He is squished between a medley of other faces just like his, irresistibly individual in the regularity of his Syrian features. His legs move of their own accord, and his body wiggles. He unwittingly participates in the Jesus story of a refugee family fleeing from Evil in the night. Rag tag costumes for ragtag boys for ragtag lives that matter to almost no one.
Sometimes I wonder what we have to offer.
Can we turn back the seconds of time and give him a properly appointed home with a meal that never ends and a toy box of wonder
Can we write his future full of met needs and a normal family, as if normal is a programmable setting on the menu of our digititized lives
Can we heal the pain of a wounded heart or a lonely night or a bomb in the air
I will not end my sentences with the mark of a question, for they are not questions, not really. We know their answers, like we know the bony terrain of our own hands.
And, here is another truth: His life is unfortunate but has little value in the scope of our national security and our economic realities. In those sacred places, a little boy with a fidgety bum is a burden at best.
And he could be a terrorist.
Keleti Railway Station : 03 September, 2015.
I stumbled across a family on a bench inside of the railway station in Budapest: a mom, a grandma, three kids. I can offer no reason for why I stopped to talk to this particular set of Syrian faces. They were 5 in the midst of thousands, but before I knew it, I was perching on the edge of their bench within that bursting train station.
How honest is too honest?
Early into the conversation, I had decided that I was not terribly fond of the mother. She was a bit whiny. She wasted no time letting me know that they were hungry. She was not shy about her story either.
Her husband had been a soldier for the Free Army and had been missing for years already. From Aleppo, she gathered her 3 kids and mother and fled for Turkey when a bomb destroyed their house. Bashar Al Assad’s bomb.
The mom was only 30, but she seemed older. Moreover, she just did not have that pretty look that makes you want to feel compassionate. It is nice when the people for whom we grieve are pretty – it makes our mourning more satisfying somehow.
I took notes thinking to myself, ‘I probably will not be using this story.’ There was no deep sense of compassion for this particular woman.
“We are hungry,” she told me. “Our money is gone.”
She had worked as a seamstress at home in Aleppo to support the family, but with the bombing they had moved to Turkey. Three years in the Turkish camps with nothing to do is a long time. They had learned a little Turkish and subsisted on the small stipend the Turkish government provided for Syrian refugees.
“It has been 4 years since my children have gone to school,” she said. “Our last year in Syria, it was impossible and then in Turkey,” she shrugs. “I left the camps because my kids were begging to go to school. I have a cousin in Munich.”
Fifteen days after Turkey, they were stranded in Keleti using a bench for a home. That bench was prime real-estate. Hungry. Tired. The future a black hole of questions in as much as the past was a gaping chasm of loss.
“Can you help us with food?”
I did not want her to be pushy, hungry and desperate. I did not like the feel of it. It was too much like those beggars on the street with their sob story donation cans and their signs that somehow make me feel manipulated, as if I am morally bound to help.
My chest is a graveyard of broken dreams and desires and a treasure chest of hope and shivering flesh all wrapped into one. Where bone and sinew and meat exist as separate, not even I know. But, I understand that unless God stands in the center of this cavity, I am dead.
I want to live: To live safe and free. To enjoy the fruits for which my hands have labored. To close my eyes at night in peace.
This is life.
“God, can you help us with that life?”
As Christians, we are faced with difficult decisions made murky by a media that feeds off of our fear. Sex sells. And, this crisis is oh so sexy. The more Middle Eastern faces we see, the more they look like terrorists and the less they look like us. Show them in groups, they look devilish, not civil like us. Show us olive-skinned children and we imagine them with guns because there is sand from that place deeply embedded under their toenails.
Compassion. Stereotypes. Safety. Manipulation. Danger. Fear. Sex. Freedom. Christianity.
It is all so messsy.
Like a beggar with a borrowed scrap of tin, I come to the cross with my rag-tag bits and pieces looking for life. In my version of compassion, I must hope that God is feeling generous today.
In our humanity, we translate history, view events, feel pain or compassion or fear through our lens. This is human nature.
God offers us the eyes and ears of his Son so that our dry bones move and dance to the sound of Eternity’s lips. Those lips speak clarity into our chaos.
Maybe we forget that our God loves the people that we find frightening or incomprehensible. Scripture, all of it God-breathed and sacred, is the Good News for us. But, is it Good News for Them as well?
In Him, all of our ragtag lives are drenched in love.
Take a moment to enter into Psalm 31. As you do, approach it from the perspective of the ragtag Syrian boy or the mother in Keleti. Ask yourself, ‘If God answered Psalm 31 in concrete terms, what would answers look like for Them?’
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
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May God grant you courage for the journey.