When I was living in England, I began drinking tea regularly. OK – obsessively. Each morning, as I rose to work on one project or another, I flipped the switch of my electric kettle and plopped my bag of Twinings into the bottom of the mug.
One morning, as I was pouring the boiling water into the awaiting cup, I dropped the steaming kettle and all of its contents onto my right thigh. I was wearing leggings at the time and the thin fabric helped the boiling water cling to the skin of my upper leg. When I recovered from my shock enough to remove them, layers of skin peeled off with it.
My thigh and the top of my left foot looked destroyed, a thick, red burn covered 80% of my leg.
I called my friend as I sat on the toilet crying, holding cool wash cloths to the seared skin. Each time I lifted the wash cloth, skin sloughed off onto the cotton and was rinsed down the sink as I soaked the cloth in more cold water. She suggested I call a cab right away, get to an emergency room or a clinic as quickly as I could.
“It’s bad,” I said, over and over again, shaking with the pain. “It’s so bad.”
She looked up the nearest urgent care and, possibly, even called the cab for me. I can’t remember now, the shock was so great. I do remember that I called my mom in the States, just so she would know. I don’t recall if I sounded calm or not, whether I laughed and played it off or told her how scared I was, but I do know that everything is better when your mom is on your side.
I pulled on a pair of exercise shorts, hobbled to the elevator, and waited for the cab. The cabbie saw me, pale and shivering on the sidewalk, desperately holding a wash cloth to my leg. He helped me into the car and didn’t turn on the meter.
The urgent care doctor was kind and gentle. He covered my leg and foot in salve and gauze and ordered me to come back in two days. I did.
I came back every two days for the following week and a half. The doctor popped the extensive blisters that covered my leg, chuckling as the liquid inside sprayed his examination room. He treated the stinking, putrid infection that would not go away and wrapped, unwrapped, and re-wrapped my foot and thigh again and again. He gave me creams and materials to protect it at home and something to get rid of the scarring I would inevitably have.
Five years later, I have no scar, no indication that there was ever a wound. No reminder of the fear and pain I felt, alone in my studio apartment that April day. No debt to pay, either: the whole procedure, from start to finish, was free.
Sitting in a classroom, five years later, I was telling a story to my third graders about an eagle, a beetle, and a rabbit. The eagle, hungry predator that it is, was hunting the rabbit for its meal. The rabbit calls on the beetle and asks to seek shelter in the beetle’s nest. The beetle, invoking the Greek Law of Hospitality, invites the rabbit in and swears it will protect the rabbit at all costs. When the eagle comes to steal the rabbit away, the beetle says that the rabbit is there under his protection. It is his responsibility to take care of the rabbit, feed him, shelter him, as the rabbit may be a god in disguise. It is a punishable offense to hurt any that is under that protection.
The eagle swiftly flicks the beetle away and gobbles the rabbit down. The beetle, so horrified and hurt that the guest he was trying to protect was harmed, seeks his revenge on the eagle, destroying the eagle’s eggs, one-by-one.
After the story, the students were in an uproar. Some were furious at the beetle for taking his revenge so far, others were supportive, understanding. Some said that the eagle was merely doing what eagles do, others said he should have respected the law. Whether they were pro-beetle or pro-eagle, all of them questioned the legitimacy and practicality of this law.
“So, we are supposed to be kind to everyone who knocks on our door?” one asked.
“That’s what the law says,” I replied.
“How do you know the person isn’t going to steal all your money?” another questioned.
“How do you know they won’t give you every penny they have?” I replied.
“What if they break all of your things?” asked another.
“What if they fix all of the things that were broken?” I asked back.
“How do you know that they’re safe?” asked one.
“How do you know that they’re dangerous?” I replied.
“But – how do you know they won’t hurt you?”
“How do you know they will?”
This went on for several minutes until one boy raised his hand, his brow knit in concentration. “It’s like Jesus,” he said.
I simultaneously lit up and choked down fear. I am a firm believer that church and state should be separate, that education and faith should have a boundary between them. But I was also secretly proud of this student for making the connection. I was excited to see how far it would go. “How is it like Jesus?” I asked, glowing at him, despite my best efforts to remain neutral.
“Jesus told us to always open our hearts to strangers. He says that if someone comes to our home, we have to take care of them, because it might be Jesus in disguise.”
Many of the kids got quiet and nodded. They had heard this too.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s exactly like that.”
I was a stranger in England. I was not born there, I was not one of its people. I was a visitor, an outsider, and yet, I was taken in, nursed, and healed.
When I hear that my own lawmakers want to deny refugees, migrant workers, and other marginalized groups access to our country. When I hear that the people in charge of our “nest” want to remove health care from its own people, citing depression, pregnancy, lupus, MS, alcoholism, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, CP, diabetes, Crohn’s, obesity, OCD, transsexualism, heart burn, hysterectomy, kidney stones, postpartum depression, ulcers, seizures, etc. etc. as pre-existing conditions that could deny you health care coverage. When I hear that another rapist goes free because of his bright future or another cop does not get charged for the murder of an unarmed black man or another transgender teen commits suicide after bullying. When I hear jokes about sexual assault. When I see money being removed from organizations that help women and the poor. When I see persons in the LGBTQ community denied rights because of their sexual orientation. When I hear that climate change is being denied for the sake of oil and coal.
When I see this – when I hear this – and when you quote your religion as your reason, I shout, “You. Are. Wrong.”
There is a stranger at our door. That stranger is a group of refugees from a war-torn country that has been subjected to chemical attack. That stranger is a woman who has been raped and will die if she carries her baby to term. That stranger is a child who will not get the medicine they need because they are a pre-existing condition. That stranger is working two, minimum wage jobs to support her family. That stranger is a soldier who has PTSD who could be denied coverage. That stranger is a student who won’t get a free breakfast or lunch anymore because the government decided it doesn’t really improve test scores. That stranger is your grandfather who will no longer get Meals on Wheels. That stranger is me.
You want to use Christianity as your defense for ignoring those strangers? For denying them what they need to survive? Then you are wrong.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:35
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34
In this world, we are taught suspicion, fear, hatred, but we are also taught love, compassion, and faith. We are taught to love our neighbors as ourselves and we are also taught to build a wall and keep them out. We are taught that your black, brown, gay, trans, or female stranger could be an angel in disguise, that they should be treated with respect and care. We are also taught to beat them, kill them, deny them their rights, and cite them as a pre-exisiting condition.
The lesson you use tells us who you are. It does not tell us who the other person is, what they are worth. If you treat a marginalized people with fear and hate, it is not an indicator to the type of person they are. It’s an indicator of who you are. If you cite the Bible as your reasons for hatred, for ignorance, you are not a representative for what the Bible stands for you. You are a representative of what you stand for.
We are taught both lessons in this world.
Now the question is – What type of person will you be?