It was in the fall of 1962! Sailing into New York harbor we could see the Statue of Liberty. It was in the evening and she was lit up. I was arriving as an immigrant to a land that represented new hope for me. America is a place where we allow each other to share space, without a demand that we all share the same identity: “Sharing space without sharing identity.”
That is a sentence taken from the writing of a professor at a University in New England. Our country has given the people of the world an invitation to come here. The invitation is written in a poem on the Statue of Liberty. That poem is talking about people who might be looking for a second chance in life, looking for hope that something new can be had.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses,
Yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.
Send these, your homeless, tempest tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
And people from everywhere have come. Not all of us were issued an unconditional welcome for various reason, but as time went by we got used to each other and learned to live together. The notion that people could come was actually initiated by some of our founding fathers.
In the late 1770s Thomas Paine and one other founding father expressed the idea that this new nation, the United States of America, could, should, and would become the asylum for humanity.
We as a nation have a story to tell to the world. It is a message of hope and joy. The apostle Paul takes multiple quotes out of the Old Testament to provide for us a spiritual ground to stand on and then draws the conclusion:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace … , so that … you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
Paul’s writing allows us to lead others to the hope that there is room for all of us, if we dare to discover and share the secret of the gift of God’s love for the whole creation. Could it be that God decided to offer a place on the earth that could be an asylum for those who could not for any reason find the love of God where they had been planted? Could it be that some people had seen in the image of America a hope not present in the place where they lived?
When I was a boy living in Denmark, I had a teacher who when we came to the point in the lesson plan where we would study the USA said to us, “Now we will study God’s own country!” When asked about this he would mention that America had opened its doors to anyone who wanted to live there.
We Americans experience fear when we as a nation feel assaulted. How does one balance a diet of emotions of hope, fear and whatever life throws at us?
For those of us who claim the Christian faith, the answer lies in our faith and in the command that Jesus emphasized was the most important of all, the divine love. We all face the moments where living brings us to decision-making beyond our fear.
In light of all we have been through with elections and all, the role given us by our Savior, to welcome our neighbors from beyond our borders and from across the street, amounts to a choice each of us needs to make. That is the story we can tell to the nations, the story of the kind of mercy that frees the spirit that can offer the rest of humanity the hope of a second chance.