Where and with whom have you felt most welcome?
My childhood was filled with instances of warm welcomes. When I’d walk in the door of my grandparents home I remember being drawn in by smiles of acceptance and an invitation to pull up to the table to enjoy a big bowl of ice cream. I had no reason whatsoever not to trust my belonging there. Their place was my place.
The fundamental essence of the Good News is knowing full well that we are unconditionally welcomed. On the flip side, not being welcome is our greatest fear. Henri Nouwen said, “It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcomed in this life, and your fear of death, of not being welcome in the life after this. Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words, ‘Know that you are welcome.’”
When we extend a welcome we are saying with Jesus, “Well come!” Welcoming extends the reality of radically belonging in Christ and reminds the recipient of the basic dignity that should come with being human. The experience of so many in this world, however, is the undignified and even violent withholding of welcome.
This week my friends, Birdie and Wazi were given a letter that implied a most abrasive opposite of welcome. The letter which was anonymously placed on their camp gear strongly extended the message of “Well Go!” Feel the full weight as you imagine the impact of the following words,
Dear Homeless People,
Due to your inability to keep vomit and shit inside of your bodies while you booze it up in the parking lot, you are hereby served with notice to remove your belongings from the not so cleverly disguised hiding place and to cease using this parking lot as a makeshift Bum Island. Go to Park Avenue. They have soup.
If your possessions are encountered in the future they will be swiftly relocated to a city trash facility.
Further violations will lead directly to microchip implants in your brain.
The Sober and Employed
We can safely assume the author of this anti-Christ message is writing out of their own traumatized experiences of unwelcome. So, it's fine to feel whatever you feel as you read it, but we're challenged by Jesus to respond creatively so that we don't perpetuate the hellishness of being unwelcome.
Wazi and Birdie belong to the Lakota Nation both of whom were born and raised on the South Dakota reservations of Pine Ridge and Standing Rock. Of course, they were stirred up when they handed that letter to me but there was also a placid numbness that revealed this was familiar terrain. America has been violently asking them to leave throughout our history as a nation. This letter was just more of the same.
If you're like me and know what warm welcoming feels like, it's important for us to see Birdie and Wazi through the eyes of a violently rejected Jesus. "Christ came into the world -- the world he had created -- and the world would not recognize him. He came into his own creation, and his own people would not accept him." (John 1:10) Christ knew the same feelings that Birdie and Wazi lived with! Rejection and the danger of elimination were as near to the Christ child as Mary's breast. He knew it from the inside out!
The impact of that trauma, that shame, somehow did not paralyze Jesus. "Yet whenever anyone would put their trust in Him, he would empower them to become the children of God!" (John 1:12)
Knowing the story of Birdie and Wazi causes a sleepless tension in me, fierce anger actually. But knowing them helps me feel a little nearer to the rejected Christ who held that tension creatively. And in the presence of unimaginable injustice was able to actively and creatively keep announcing, "Well Come!"