Strangers are our weakness. Despite our best intentions -- our impulses to be fair, open or compassionate-- despite those impulses, strangers still scare us. Most of us were raised to be wary of them, not to talk to them, not to take candy -- or anything -- from anyone we don’t know.
Then, as we grow older, strangers help define us. However we see ourselves, as Americans or the middle class or Christians or educated or employed or conservative, whatever words we use to describe ourselves, people who are not like us are the other. They are strangers.
And we rarely look to strangers as examples of how we should behave. We look to people we know (or think we know). We look to our leaders, either on the great stage or in smaller circles. When we see and hear our leaders telling us not to trust strangers, to fear them, to cast them out, that advice resonates with what we think we’ve always known. We follow the lead of those who tell us to blame strangers and take action against them.
Once more, Pope Francis is condemning the use of fear to sow distrust of strangers, or as we know them today, of immigrants and refugees. In a statement ahead of January 1, the World Day of Peace, he said, “those who, for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia.”
Read about the pope’s message here. Francis is not naming names, but we know who we are. We need to set aside our old habit of fearing strangers and find ways to listen to them, to learn from them. That’s what I discovered as I wrote “Sacred Strangers: What the Bible’s Outsiders Can Teach Christians.” I invite you to take a look here or here.
Strangers are our weakness, but we don’t need to let them become a weapon.