BY ANTHONY GIANCATARINO | December 5, 2016
One of the most vivid Biblical stories takes place soon after Mary, Joseph, and Jesus arrive on the scene. Upon hearing about the birth of Jesus, King Herod goes into a murderous and jealous rage that sends the family fleeing to Egypt as refugees in order to survive.
Now, imagine Egypt had closed its borders and turned them back to Bethlehem, into the swords of a fearful autocrat? We might be practicing a very different faith.
That story always resonates with me as we move toward the Christmas season. Yet today it holds extra weight. We seem to be living in a time of fear and hate, rather than love and peace. We are in a moment where our President-elect won by appealing to the darkness within us—where fear, distrust, anxiety, and even hate have led to “othering” people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, and women. This was most prevalent in the constant branding of immigrants and refugees as “murderers and terrorists”—leading many to demand that we no longer welcome the refugee in our midst.
Out of fear, we are saying “we don’t want you” to:
- the son who lost his parents in a war-ravaged nation.
- the daughter stolen and assaulted by warlords.
- the family who lost their home to rising sea levels.
Today America is on the precipice of closing our arms in fear, rather than opening them up in love. And at this precipice, it is quite easy for us to succumb into that darkness and just shut down. But to paraphrase Dr. King, only light can drive out darkness and love can drive out hate. And that is a maxim that we must hold on to.
Holding on to light and love can be challenging enough as an individual, let alone as a parent. Over the recent months our three-year-old has quite astutely picked up the injustice of the dangerous and hateful rhetoric that has been espoused, yet she is not old enough to fully understand the impact. As a parent, it has been tough to navigate these waters. We don’t want to pretend like nothing is wrong. At the same time we don’t want to extinguish the joy and hope that she holds. Trying to find out how to talk to our kids in a time of fear is not easy. The light of Advent comes at a good time, creating an opening to talk about leading with love, not fear.
This week’s Advent readings are a perfect example of leading with love and welcoming. Isaiah speaks of a welcoming home where divisions amongst us are erased. In Romans, Paul urges us to welcome each other as Christ would welcome us. And in the Gospel reading, we hear of John the Baptist preaching to prepare ourselves through repentance and love. These readings can teach us so much about what it means to invite the unknown into our lives.
Unknowingness and uncertainty often accompany the word refugee. And in that uncertainty, we easily fall into the trap of “othering” people—separating them from ourselves, seeing them differently and negatively because we are afraid of the unknown. Yet, when we can invite the unknown in, we are able to see each other as people, as being connected—and it is much harder to lead with fear. This is why the Ignatian tenet to see “God in all things” is critical now more than ever. It directly challenges our current moment of othering and living in fear. To see God in all things also means in each other. It means seeing refugees as our brothers and sisters who share the dignity of creation.
Yet, when we can invite the unknown in, we are able to see each other as people, as being connected—and it is much harder to lead with fear.
So how does this translate to young kids? One way to do this is to break down what it means to be a refugee. In the direct sense, we think about refugees as families and children fleeing persecution, war, or natural disaster. And we should and must have these conversations with our kids about why there are refugees and the importance of supporting efforts that provide shelter and care.
But sometimes this doesn’t quite make sense for a pre-K child. So, my wife and I have been having conversations with our daughter about what it means to lead with love, to not “other” people but to create space of welcoming, care, and compassion. For example, if a classmate is shunned, she should reach out and engage them in play. Or if a classmate is hurt and sad, she should create a space of concern and care.
While these seem like standard parenting moments, kids are perceptive. And while they may not have all the knowledge or tools to make sense of the world, they certainly know what is happening. To help them make sense of it all, we need to be finding ways to connect these immediate learning moments to our current political moment so that we are not only creating compassionate children, but also setting the foundation to be compassionate and loving adults who will shun rhetoric and actions of hate and darkness. So when our daughter hears hateful rhetoric or sees fearful actions on the news, we can connect that moment to her recent class experience of classmates hitting each other or telling someone they cannot play with them.
And for us as parents, what can we do to help foster our own souls in this moment? It is by looking around knowing that for every moment of hate and darkness, there are ten times more people leading and living in love. We just need to find our own ways to tap into that spirit. It might mean supporting efforts in our city like the new sanctuary city movement; it might mean supporting the church as it continues to welcome refugees; it might be attending a #BlackLivesMatter rally in solidarity with those who have been marginalized; or it might mean taking an extra moment this Christmas season to be with someone who is on the street, someone we may often ignore.
When we do this, not only can we have these conversations with our kids, but we can also be showing our kids what it really means to #LeadWithLove.
Anthony is a father of two girls, Anna and Ella, and lives in Philadelphia with his wife Kate. He is currently a fellow working at the intersection of community, racial justice, and a new energy economy. Anthony is a 2004 alum of the University of Scranton, where he studied Theology and Political Science.