Three Visitors

Sometimes you have to wonder about human nature, you really do. I suppose the latest example is the outrage over the death of Cecil the lion, killed by a game hunter. Yes, I agree, it is rather tragic that this lion met his end just for sport, and while I do not agree with it, I certainly cannot get enraged over it.  The whole incident makes me ponder the question, why are we more outraged over the death of this lion than we are over the children who die in our streets every day because of gun violence?

Better yet, why is there more outrage over the death of this lion than there is over the deaths of thousands in the ongoing atrocity that is the ISIS? We speak about the issue of ISIS not as a human tragedy that is plaguing our world, but in a way that says we must end ISIS before it has the power to come to our shores. Our concern is not for the thousands of men, women and children being slaughtered, raped or being sold into slavery, it is a concern about the spread of radical Islam.

What is the value of human life anymore? And the better question is, what is the value of human life if the skin of that human is different than ours? Because really that is the question. Adan Mareina, pastor at West Kensington Ministry, referenced this very issue when a teen from WKM was shot by a stray bullet in Kensington, but there was no media build up about the shooting. Adan wondered how this event would have been covered if the teen was a white kid from Rittenhouse Square or from the Main Line.

The truth is we view the other as less than, that is part of the human equation. If they are different than us, then they are not one of us which means we can treat them differently. And unfortunately differently means without regard, it means we can treat them as other than human. If we consider the atrocious way our government is treating illegal immigrants, particularly families, the only way we can justify our actions as a nation is by saying, these immigrants are not like us so we need not  treat them the same way. How would we act if the government broke up our families and said you have to live in Philadelphia but your wife and children must go to another country? How would that sit with us?

Of course, maybe you might dismiss my rantings as not being truly accurate, however ponder the Trump phenomena. Trump makes truly outrageous statements about Mexicans and instead of plummeting in the polls, he is now ahead in the polls, comfortably. What the heck is going on?

Which brings me to our Three Visitors. A couple of weeks ago, Julie Sheetz-Willard invited the family over to have dinner with her and three guests from the Middle East; Hazel is from Turkey, Somaya and Shereen are both from Egypt. They were visiting as part of the Dialogue Institute’s Exchange program. Well, we had such a great time with Hazel, Somaya and Shereen eating and sharing; they entertained the kids, Sam and Lydia buzzed with excitement the whole drive home. I was touched in such a way that I decided to have them over the following evening.

But then they surprised me, as after worship, they asked if Lydia was doing anything and asked if she could spend the day with them as they explored more of the Main Line (and the KOP Mall, of course). Then they joined us for dinner, where we celebrated Somaya’s 21st birthday. At the end of the evening they each graciously thanked Jen for preparing a meal for them, and I thanked them for honoring us with their visit. Tears were shed as they said goodbye. We were all changed.

In Genesis 18, Abraham encounters three visitors, three strangers that he and Sarah welcome and offer hospitality. This passage is always interpreted in such a way that the Three Visitors were the presence of God. Well, our Three Visitors were God, I have no doubt about it. God’s glory is seen in the diversity of the world, God’s glory is seen in the varieties of revelation that bring us to God. Yes, I know our Three Visitors were Muslim, but make no mistake, God was with them, I felt it. How Todd, how can you know? Because our God is a God of transformation, and I was transformed.

It is well known that I have traveled to Israel and others have asked if I would travel to other places in the Middle East and I would say no. I am not too proud to say that my excuse for not going is because they are Arab nations and I am not sure about my safety there. But as I stood there, that Sunday evening, with Lydia sobbing in my arms as she watch her Three Friends depart, because they were no longer Visitors, they were now Friends, I made the promise to Lydia, “We will visit them in Egypt.” And we will.

That is how transformation works, that is how God works. I can no longer think of Turkey the same way, I can no longer think of Egypt the same way, because of our Three Visitors, I mean our Three Friends.

To embrace the other, is to embrace God!