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LOVING the STRANGER

Dear friends,

Imagine that you are taking a commuter train. Lots of bodies of different sizes and colors. You’re doing your best to relax and settle your thoughts. But out of the corner of your eye, you see a man who seems to be acting inappropriately.

You edge closer to get a better look. Soon it becomes clear that this man is verbally harassing two young women, saying racist things, intimidating them. Some of what he’s saying sounds familiar — you’ve heard language like this during the Presidential campaign.

The women are trapped. The man’s voice is only getting louder. Other people look around at each other, wondering what to do. But no one moves yet.

Moments like this — racist, violent action against women, people of color, immigrants, and religious minorities — have been on the rise in our country during the last year. Last week, in Portland, Oregon, a man was harassing two women on a train. Three other men tried to intervene, and the harasser stabbed them, killing two and injuring the third.

So many things frighten me about this story. As a resident of the Bay Area, I’m in crowded, public places all the time, around people whom I don’t know and can’t fully trust.

And yet I know that, as much as I might be troubled, for people of color and religious minorities, entering into those public spaces must feel entirely different. I can’t ever fully know what it’s like for them, but I can listen to their experiences and try to learn from them. (A group from First Church will be doing exactly that on June 5, as we join other UCC congregations in attending a Ramadan Iftar dinner at the Pacifica Institute in Sunnyvale.)

We seem to have entered a moment where some of the basic tolerance and acceptance that was taken for granted in our country has eroded. Perhaps it was never really there, or not as prevalent as I’d like to think.

“Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” These words come from the Book of Deuteronomy, an oft-neglected but actually pretty interesting part of the Hebrew Bible.

God’s commandment to the Israelites to love the stranger reflects the fact that they were strangers, once, and will be again. The message is simple. I try to remind myself that it is a commandment, not a suggestion.

Serving with you,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug