The Bartender and the Priestess Speak from Their Hearts: Syria

US: Given what’s going on in the world, the Bartender and the Priestess wanted to step away from our regular status format and talk a bit about the Syrian refugee crisis.

We are characteristically somewhat large-hearted and clear-eyed. Our work demands that we enhance those abilities. Ann is called to be professionally large-hearted. That’s the work of ministry. Terri, both as a bartender and as a student of human nature, is called to be clear-eyed. We are led by both our tenderness and our observational capacities to believe that we, Terri and Ann, and we, US citizens, are those from whom much is demanded. There is so much need in the world, and so much need for those of us who are privileged and stable to step up.

We could have written this about a myriad of topics, as there is a tragic abundance of unrequited need that deserves to be addressed. But today, we are writing about Syria. We have agreed we are no longer capable of watching the sad videos and haunting pictures, without addressing not only the need of the these beleaguered people, but also the responsibilities of those of us with privilege and resources.

B: Before we go one step further, I would like to underline a few things. The people in question here have been granted refugee status by the UNHCR (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). They are not doing everything they can to gain access to the United States; they are simply trying to live. Survive. And they’re trying to do it somewhere that they can escape the drumbeats of war and terror they have lived with every day for far longer than any US citizen who hasn’t been on a battlefield can imagine.

UNHCR refugees do not choose where they go to live next. They are re-settled. In order for UNHCR refugees to be allowed to re-settled in the US, they must go through a rigorous vetting process. According to UNHCR statistics, 51.2% of applicants for asylum, from Syria, are 17 and under. They are not hardened fighting machines. They are kids. It generally takes 12-18 months for the vetting process to be satisfied. And there are financial arrangements that must be adhered to when a refugee gains admission to the United States; failure to do so results in legal repercussions. Please see this brief overview of refugee law (written by a US immigration lawyer; and if the link is broken I have saved a .pdf file here) to get a basic understanding of the legal status, process, and requirements of asylum seekers who come to the US.

In short, it’s much easier to gain access to the United States if you have money and want to buy real estate. Trying to infiltrate the refugee ranks is slow-moving and potentially wildly ineffective. Now. On to the rest of our statement.

P: We may not allow our fears to overwhelm our love. Whatever our faith, tradition or philosophy, loving compassion is the cornerstone. All the great teachers have taught this.

And yet, fear is so much of what we hear. Something might happen. Indeed. Something might. But does our right to not be afraid trump other people’s right to life? Is that really what we want?

People’s lives are endangered. They have lost everything they ever owned. They have risked their lives and those of their families to live. They have babies and elder parents. They are being killed where they are. They are risking death to leave their homes. They need a warm welcome that includes, hot food, shelter, and understanding.

Isn’t it the job of people with heart to try and make that happen? Wouldn’t we want that to be true if suddenly we were forced to flee our lives with nothing but our clothes and what we could carry?

Not to help stains our souls; it makes us less than we can be. That’s as true for us as individuals as it is for us as citizens.

Let us welcome people simply because they are human and so are we.

B: I’ve heard the arguments. I’ve stared in disbelief at the news feeds and what scrolls past me on Facebook. “Why don’t they stay where they are and try and improve their own homes?” I’ve seen people ask. We seem to have forgotten our own history. We are a nation founded by refugees–the pilgrims were, in fact, fleeing religious persecution–and are built on the backs of the millions of people who came before us, who fled their own persecution and desperation. For example, the wave of Irish immigrants of the mid-1800s was a result of the oppression of the British government and desperate starvation which resulted in a devastating potato crop blight; Ireland as a nation lost 25% of its pre-blight population of 8 million people. One million of them died. The other million left.

The great wave of Italian immigration to the United States took place largely between 1880-1920. It consisted largely of people escaping the poverty that came from the wars caused by the unification of Italy, widespread disease that is an attendant of war, and an agricultural crisis that caused the prices of their crops to plummet, creating precarious instability for a nation that was, at the time, 80% agrarian. By the end of the 1920s, approximately 4 million Italian emigres came to the United States.

I’d like all of our proud Irish-American and Italian-American readers to note: these waves of immigrants? Were not welcome at the time, either. Why didn’t your own family choose to stay? And what do we do when people do not have that same choice?

P: Forty-five years ago, Americans made similar and disastrous decisions about Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany. 60 percent of us said, no, don’t let them come in, and we didn’t and we were wrong. Today, our politicians are looking to compound that hateful behavior by employing some of the most hateful of the dreadful measures of the Nazis.

Oh, my country, let us welcome the stranger, and may we not even consider those vile things. Collective and willful amnesia is not an option.

Look back. Consider how unwelcome your forebears probably were here, whether they were the first to arrive and set out to exploit the Natives or whether they came later escaping heaven only knows what hell in their home country. That’s when my people came. My great grandfather arrived at age 11 with his 13-year-old brother. They went to the coal country to be employed. They would not have been warmly welcomed.

There are so many similar stories right now. Children separated from their parents. Families with very young children. Old people, frightened and unable to comprehend what is happening to their country.

Let us not be those people who attain some safety and then turn around and deny it to the next person who comes along needing shelter.

Let us welcome people because our forebears were not welcomed.

B: There is a ton of rhetoric we pass among ourselves about how the United States is the greatest country in the world, land of the free, home of the brave. But right now, we are neither great, nor free, nor brave. We are wrapping ourselves in the propaganda of fear and isolationism. I constantly hear the fearmongering question, “But…what if “they” try and blow us up?”

They won’t. These are people, and more than that: they are people who have lost everything. I repeat: 51% of the UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees are age 17 and under. These are families who are just trying to keep their babies alive. Their position should invite compassion, not ridicule. And mindful compassion is often an antidote for mindless (and groundless) mistrust.

I also hear: why don’t we take care of our own, first?

I agree. Why don’t we take care of our own? The two propositions are not mutually exclusive. Veterans are homeless and in desperate need of medical and mental health care. Our children–15 million of them–face food insecurity and childhood hunger every day. People are sick and hungry and underemployed. I know, it’s expensive. So generate more money. Close the loopholes that allow corporations to easily ship jobs overseas (don’t we have tariffs to prevent a market overwhelmed by cheap imports? Can’t we job-export-tariff?), rebuild the economic infrastructure, and tax corporations accordingly. If corporations have won the right to be people, then let them BE people. Single people, with no dependents. (Note: for those of you who would counter and say, they could claim their employees as dependents, I say: no, they couldn’t. The loss of one employee might be negligible on the surface, but if every employee in a company did not come to work one day, that business would be no more. They are dependent on their employees. People, never forget your power.)

If our American public could feel more secure in their own well-being, then it’s more likely we could see our way to making other people feel more secure in their own.

P: It seems that if we close our doors, we let Daesh win. Who’s Daesh you ask? They’re the people formerly known as the Islamic State, because they’re not an Islamic State. Most Muslims repudiate them and they don’t have a caliphate. Daesh means “a group of bigots who impose their will on others.” What better description for those who visit mayhem on innocent people.

I don’t pretend to understand the strategy needed to deal with them. I do know that all that we hold as important in civilization is being attacked by a few people.

B: I also don’t pretend that I have all the answers. But I know this much: for as much as we like to perpetuate the ideal that we are the leaders of the free world, we are falling on our faces. We cannot lead the world if we don’t participate in it.

P: I believe, from what I read and from what I know of the human heart, that we cannot afford to let fear be what guides us. We need faith, not only in love and kindness but also in the beauty that makes life more interesting and more accessible. We must keep faith with civilization, with music and dance and poetry. Because this deepens our humanity and makes us aware of our connections to the greater humanity, to the greater good.

Let us welcome people because our humanity is under siege if we don’t.

Prayer: Let us be generous. Let us be kind. Let us be welcoming to people who have no place to go. Let us stand up for the beauty that enriches our lives.

To-Do List

  • Let go of the fear. Fear is part of life, but Courage is needed.
  • Inform yourself about the need. Help for the vulnerable is needed.
  • Open your heart, your arms, your door.


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Thank you for reading.

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