Forgetting Footwear: Refugees and Apocalypse

Last night my wife and I had to abandon our house. We were having plumbing problems that were not looking to be fixed anytime soon. So, at about 8:30pm, with the situation worsening and hope fading, we decided to uproot and journey to my in-laws house, 20 minutes away. We frantically packed bags (as we wanted to get there as soon as possible in order to still get a good 8hrs sleep), thinking through not only what we needed tonight, but also all that we would need for the whole next one-day. We loaded up our car and headed north – following the well-paved, clearly marked roads – all the way to the beachside suburb of Mona Vale. Upon arrival we were greeted with a smile, a bed, air-conditioning, fresh towels, and a pantry full of food – though I’d packed my own Smooth Peanut Butter just in case my mother in law only stocked Crunchy. Our hellish ordeal was over… or so I thought, for it was only at this moment, in the supposed safety of this suburban house that I realised my biggest mistake… I’d forgotten to pack my black leather shoes I wear to my office job. Frustration overwhelmed me. I was defeated. And so here I am, button down shirt, chinos, and sandals, sitting in a climate controlled office, sharing my survival story with you all, knowing, not for the first time, that my life in NO way relates to the experience and trauma of real refugees.

Over the past couple of months the world was brought to new awareness of the plight of refugees. Particularly the Syrian refugee crisis and large numbers of displaced and persecuted people were forced to flee in search of safe haven. We are also perpetually aware of the inhumane and desolate situation on Nauru and Manus Island; where children and families, who committed no crime, are held in indefinite detention. The choices of a refugee (let alone the complex matters that lead to a refugee crises) can be difficult to understand – and because of that we can often find ourselves buying into unhelpful myths and stereotypes, or we revert to silence out of fear we’ll say the wrong thing, or be caught in an argument without doing the prerequisite reading. Which is why I thought I’d share this short, engaging and helpful video – it is specific to the Syrian crisis and mostly focuses on the European response, but I found it very helpful. (via "In a Nutshell") 

So what do we do?

Obviously getting informed is one thing – and that takes more than a video, but there are heaps of resources out there (if you know a good one why not share it in the comments)

Obviously getting involved is another – and there are lots of varied ways to do that (again, if you know a good way, please share)

But beyond the obvious, what else?

Note: when I refer to apocalypse in the following section I do not simply mean destruction. An apocalypse involves the cataclysmic rupturing of the present order – which will see the destruction of the old, but not without the emergence of the new.

I’ve recently been reading about apocalyptic movements – groups of people who think the end is nigh. One of the things that has struck me is that often with these movements, who believe they are on the brink of a cataclysmic rupture that will put an end to the present order and see the emergence of a new world – they do not abandon ethics, if anything they intensify. We can see this in the early Jesus movement. Convinced of the imminent end, the believers did not abandon their obligations to their fellows rather they increased and intensified their devotion to those in need. Jesus, who I think held to an apocalyptic worldview, similarly intensified the demands to love and care for all people – regardless of whether the end would be seen in his follower’s generation.

I think that we could see the refugee journey as a sort of apocalypse. A dramatic, cataclysmic end to an old world ruptures the present order and ushers the refugee into a new world: one (which should be) full of hope. Unfortunately, however, due to the response of many of the world’s government (including our own) this hope is often not realised. Instead of the Promised Land they get the desert, instead of the Kingdom, purgatory… or worse, Nauru.

So how might we respond to the apocalypse that many of these people are facing and journeying through? We up our commitment to ethics, across the board. We intensify our care for those in need. We devote ourselves to the love of others. We fight against all forms of inequality and injustice. We raise our indifference towards gaining wealth and prestige. We double down on our commitment to upholding the worth of a human life as bearing the face of God. We live lives, build communities, and promote societies that are unwavering in their commitment to helping realise the hope on the other side of the apocalypse. The hope that drives people to risk everything. The hope that helps people move through the rupture. We live as if the end of the world is coming, because for many, it already has.

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Addendum: I had Heather read and comment on this piece before I published and she sent me (along with her notes) this image. It is of Shoes on the Danube Bank. It commemorates those Jews who were forced to take off their shoes before being shot into the river. While it isn’t about refugees, per se, it's a powerful image of what gets left behind in the wake of violence...