Tag Archives: refugees

Homelessness Is No Community

Writing in First Things (“Homeless,” June/July 2016), R.R. Remo talks of the homelessness felt by so many in today’s world. The obvious homeless increasingly sleep on streets or in encampments in U.S. cities. The refugees flooding into Europe are homeless, as are many who cross national borders in North America.

Homelessness is not limited to the physically homeless. People drift spiritually from communities that sheltered them in the past. Old beliefs are called into question.

Even the well off may lead rootless lives, leaving little room for lifelong friendships or family support. As couples increasingly have only one child or no children, terms like aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins pass from use. Our connections tend to be temporary.

Rootlessness affects our political situation also, Remo says. “Rejecting established leaders, voters who feel abandoned are vulnerable to manipulation.” They may flee to “strong men who promise protection.”

How fight homelessness? Solutions require some exchange of self interest and the acceptance of risk for the sake of entering into community, including communities of family, faith, neighborhood, and even addiction recovery.

Where I Belong: a Novel About an Appalachian Non-Belonger

Yesterday I learned that my most recent novel, Where I Belong, is one of the 2016 finalists for the Selah Award.

Sometimes my stories begin in my head as a search for answers to questions. This novel began, as best I can remember, with the question: how does a young man from the southern Appalachians, raised by loving but imperfect parents, adjust to the outside world?

This age of refugees reminds us of the non-belonger. Refugees are those fleeing Syria’s brutal horror, but they are also the homeless in our cities.

Mark Pacer, the twenty-something young adult leaving tight-knit kinfolk behind to enter another era is, for a while, a non-belonger—to the older generation and sometimes to his new peers.

What do we owe our past tribes when we leave them, if anything?

What do we owe our families, if we are fortunate enough to have nurturing families? What do we not owe our families? What if we are drawn to different values?

When we leave one culture for another, whether as obvious refugees or less obvious ones, how do we handle our loneliness, the loneliness of the non-belonger? What values do we keep when entering a different culture, or when an alien culture threatens our own?

The Old Testament talks of the strangers and the aliens and calls us to treat them kindly.

Boat People

A member of my small, mostly expatriate Christian church in the north African nation of Tunisia became a boat person. He was a destitute Nigerian, a Christian, and found his way to Tunis to wait until he could pay a smuggler to take him to Italy. One Sunday he did not appear in church. Word came that he had reached Italy safely. He had broken the law, yet how could we not rejoice for our friend’s safety and hope for a new life?

Boat people appear in our news every few years. After the Vietnamese war, multitudes of boat people rushed to escape. Cubans took to boats to reach Florida. Haitians came, too. Recently, many Central American children flooded across the southern border of the United States on foot.

Now Europe is in the news as growing numbers of boat people from North Africa and the Middle East attempt to reach Europe. Thousands drown when crowded, unsafe boats capsize.

The best way to deal with the problems of mass migration is obviously to reduce the circumstances that lead people to risk their lives in hope of a better life.

Wars almost always produce refugees. The first lesson might be: Do not go to war unless the war is unequivocally caused by a threat to the nation. The war that the United States fought in Iraq is not the only reason for the following turmoil in the Middle East, but it certainly contributed.

Corrupt governments ruled by elites, where ordinary citizens barely survive, feed mass migration as well. Rich nations have an obligation to consider carefully their development and military aid to such regimes. Supporting them comes at a steep price.