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July 5, 2008
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. -- Matthew 11:30

Comfortable words, these have been called in the prayer book for centuries: words to encourage us. Too many compromises in your past? Too many bruises? Too many sorrows? Too much of what we now call "baggage"? Come anyway.

We engraved a graceful echo of these ancient words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, that most iconic of American monuments. Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, Bring these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I raise this echo on this Independence day weekend because the opponents of foreign-ness so often couch their harsh politics in Christian terms: Jesus and I don't want any more Muslims, Hispanics, Asians coming here. Jesus and I are suspicious of the same people. Jesus and I are good Americans. Jesus, of course, is not an American. The Jesus of scripture goes out of his way to interact and relate to the foreigners among his own very insular people.

There was a time when we were proud of being a refuge. No more, though -- today, a known sympathy to immigration will make it hard for a politician to get elected to anything. The insular suspicion of foreign-ness itself is rampant among us now, the flames of which are fanned in ugly ways by those who know that we will always be willing to locate responsibility for our own failures in other people. It has happened before, of course; Americans have always turned inwards readily when invited to do so, especially when the invitation is cloaked in the language of respect for the law. This is a paradox -- there are hardly any of us here who are not the descendants of immigrants. Within a generation, we forget who we were.
The lines at the base of the Statue of Liberty are from Emma Lazarus' 1883 poem, "The New Colossus." Here is the complete text:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch whose flame
Is imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands your storied pomp!" cries she with silent lips.

"Give me your tired your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside
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