Refugees, Reactivity, and Jesus

Hello, Friends. I’m back, after a long hiatus from blogging. I’ve been working on a few life goals away from the computer this year, but now I’m settled back in to our home in Sherman, Texas and serving a church part-time in nearby Whitesboro. Beginning today, I’ll be blogging about once a week with a post each Wednesday evening. With the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, and with the refugee crisis intensifying, I have been thinking a lot about emotional reactivity and its relationship to the practice of faith.

Nature provides us with a part of our brain that reacts instantly to a perceived threat with an instinct to fight, flee, or freeze. That part of our brain has been provided to save us when there is no time for reasonable thought or moral judgment. A striking snake, for instance, will trigger a reaction in us that will be faster than our higher brain could possibly handle. We do not observe the snake and say to ourselves, “Hmm, that snake is in a striking posture. It has the triangular head typical of many poisonous snakes. Let me look closer and see if it also has the elliptical pupils of a venomous snake or the round pupils of a non-poisonous snake. Ahh, it does have all the marks of a venomous snake. I think I will move out of its way.”

By that time, of course, we would have a viper hanging from our nose.

Refugees, however, are not snakes. The reactivity that serves us so well when we do not have time to think or make moral judgment can derail our attempt to be faithful followers of Jesus. My own denomination, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., along with most major Christian denominations, has been active in refugee resettlement since our nation began, but especially in the aftermath of the World Wars and the devastating wars and genocide in Vietnam and Cambodia. The biblical mandate to care for the refugee carries with it challenges that the reactive part of our brain cannot handle. It requires reason and love to be the one out of step with a fearful and reactive society; to be the Samaritan who stops to help the Jew, the Egyptian who welcomes the fleeing Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, the rebellious daughter of the pharaoh who pulls Moses out of the river and raises him as her own.

In times such as these, the verse from Hebrews 13:2 printed on the banner that hangs in the front of our sanctuary calls us to a deeper love and faithfulness, a love and faith that conquers all fear: Remember to welcome strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.Version 2

11 thoughts on “Refugees, Reactivity, and Jesus

  1. And our pre-frontal cortex which serves as our executive function of our brains can override the amygdala, but in most fight or flight scenarios, we have 5-10 seconds of pre-frontal cortex decision making time before the adrenaline gets dumped (which doesn’t reference your snake scenario at all). I have to wonder if part of our problem in decision making about things such as these refugees isn’t that we have become adrenaline junkies in our culture, and we are therefore allowing our amygdala to override the PFC all too often.

      1. Don’t worry about moderation now, Sam. Once I approved your first comment, you can say anything you want and it goes right up on the blog! You should see some of the stuff I don’t approve. On second thought, no, you shouldn’t, nobody should, that’s why I don’t approve them.

  2. I agree with everything you say Neill, I think most thinking people would and do. But, I also hear those who are objecting to be saying “be careful.” And I agree with that also. The response has been “we will be.” But, when you take into account that studies show that the success rate of getting things past a TSA screener is 95% (that’s right, 95%!) you have to wonder about how careful we will or can be. TSA is a government agency and it has failed pretty miserably. Just this morning I saw a report on The Today Show where they sent 4 of their people with sharp objects (scissors, box cutters, etc.) past TSA screeners and 3 of the 4 got past without detection. These radicals are our enemy, and enemies are good at spotting your weaknesses.

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