Nathaniel asks this question during the Gospel reading for January 14th. The line became a popular trend in Sunday sermons as a result of President Trump's alleged comments about 'shithole countries'. Clergy across the nation appropriately applied a scriptural view of Nazareth to our context today. Can anything good come from Haiti? Can anything good come from Africa? Yes, just like Jesus came from Nazareth, prophetic voices and our neighbors come from these nations devastated by world economic exploitation, natural disaster, war, and/or corrupt political forces.
The difficulty about these comments is that these nations and places are struggling. I don't want to move to a country plagued by war and poverty. That is why we need to show the individuals compassion and hospitality. The Scripture passage doesn't argue that Nazareth is a great place to live, but that the people of the community offer value - just like Haitians and African immigrants today offer value to our communities.
But lets not pass all the blame onto President Trump. More offensive than his description of these nations as shitholes, was his claim that he wanted more immigrants from predominantly white Scandinavian countries in contrast to the brown and black folks from the other nations.
We can't pass the blame entirely onto Trump, because we all ignore 'shithole' communities. and more importantly de-value the people of those neighborhoods.
As a person from a 'shithole' in Ohio, I proclaim to you today that yes we are ignored constantly.
I live in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus. I have two children and my oldest already goes to Columbus Public Schools as a second grader. We spend our evenings and weekends at the Hilltop YMCA with swim team practice and meets. We are actively engaged at our recreation center and library. We host neighborhood gatherings and enjoy our social interactions with people here.
Yes, we have some of the highest rates of opioid abuse and infant mortality in the state, and our poverty rate is extremely high here on the near West side of Columbus.
These are important issues to address, but the key is that they do not define us. Our neighborhood has many beautiful old homes with character, families that have lived here for multiple generations, and kindness and neighborly support that would go toe-to-toe with the fictional and idealistic world of Maybury. Nobody is defined by the worst conditions that they must endure, but their resolve to love their neighbor that can grow from it. I would stack our community of front porches and support for one another against every central Ohio suburb.
When we define people by the conditions they must endure, we minimize their value to our shared humanity and community.
I encourage faith communities that seek to serve to consider the following steps to treat our neighbors as people of value and not shitholes.
1. Find the beauty in the community. (Walk around the a neighborhood before or after a service project and have volunteers identify 3 things of beauty to discuss in your reflection time).
2. Understand why a community is struggling with poverty, food insecurity, or high levels of infant mortality. Don't just show up to treat a symptom, but discuss the community's access to healthcare, safe housing, and nutritious food.
3. Get to know the people: Talk with local residents and neighborhood leaders to understand the neighborhood assets and gifts as well as struggles. What can the residents of the neighborhood do to serve you?
4. Look for long-term relationships. A beautification project doesn't do much after the flowers begin to wilt if nobody is there to maintain the project. Identify a local gardening or park group to work with. Buy tools for a one-time project and donate them to the local organization. Develop a long-term partnership. (I have seen many suburban groups come to the Hilltop to do beautification projects, completely unaware that we have a well respected botanist who is an expert on mums.)
5. Remember that people may come from difficult communities, but those communities are still home and need to be treated with dignity and respect.
Can anything good come from the Hilltop, or Haiti, or the Continent of Africa?
Come and see...
Come and see...