Stories of Migration
Recently I acted upon the urging of a friend. The admonition was simply put as we passed one another outside the church: "Jim, I've just come from the Textile Museum... you must go." Oh My. Dear Friends, I’ve just come from the Textile Museum at The George Washington University and… you must go.
In the show Stories of Migration “forty-four artists share personal and universal stories of migration – from historic events that scattered communities across continents to today’s accounts of migrants and refugees adapting to a new homeland.” The Bible, biblical Hebrew and Holy Scripture all make several appearances in the show; in some pieces as an image, in many by implication and in one piece in a verse from Psalm 137: “How can we sing the Lord’s Song is a strange land?”
One of the most compelling pieces in the show for me is Susan Else’s Crossing Points. It’s like an eerie version of a teaching instrument for children that we use in the church called Godly Play, which uses very tactile elements like felt, smooth wooden structures and figurines to tell biblical stories. I’m still wrestling with – or haunted by - the dissonance between the reality of what Else depicts in the piece and toy-like materials she uses to tell the story; I stood with tears in my eyes knowing that the colorful cloth covered armatures that I gazed upon under plexiglass in a university museum are depicting the reality being lived by so many right now. And just a few days after I see a suicide belt made of sewn cotton wrapped around the waist of a yellow checked figurine three morons blow themselves up in an airport in Turkey.
Not all of the pieces in the show tell the story of woe. Many are hopeful and inspiring and depict the “diaspora identity characterized by hybridity” that has shaped the United States of America and is the “foundation upon which modern societies have flourished” when they “incorporate diversity along with shared values and aspirations.”
At a special service at St. Alban’s on Sunday, July 31 (10:30am), we will celebrate some of the diversity and the shared values and aspirations in our church and community. The working title for the service is “Immigration and Refugee Sunday” and we will praise God with our English and Spanish speaking members, we’ll hear testimony from a Syrian refugee in our midst and then gather for lunch prepared by a Syrian chef.
In writing this blogpost I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Nye calls herself a “wandering poet” and was born to a Palestinian father and American mother. It’s the perfect piece to end with today:
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Happy Monday (on Wednesday),