Standing in the shoes of ‘the other’

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. th

The sign was painted, said “Private Property.” 

But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. 

This land was made for you and me.

         – Woodie Guthrie

It’s hard to talk about Christianity in culture right now without getting tangled up in politics — something I prefer not to do from the the Catch if I can help it. But on the currently contested issue of immigration, I can’t help it. Mainly because there is a biblical mandate, both New Testament and Old Testament, to welcome the stranger and the homeless. If we are going to be marketplace Christians, we need to exhibit God’s attitude toward strangers and foreigners regardless of what our government does. We may disagree over what we want the country to do, but there is no discussion when it comes to us individually.

Over forty times in the Old Testament, the Jewish people are admonished to welcome the stranger and the foreigner. And both Jesus and Paul speak of the same thing to us as followers of Christ. Hospitality toward strangers is built into our spiritual DNA.

Perhaps we can learn something from our Jewish friends. A recent article I read in the Times pointed out that there is a strong movement among Jews in the country to aid and assist their Muslim neighbors and provide hospitality toward Muslim refugees among others. Syrian refugees can take English courses through a free program at a New York synagogue. One Rabbi claims that the current attitude towards immigrants being exhibited in this country is “a betrayal of what America stands for, what we Jews stand for, and is a terrible recollection of our own history… There has been an incredible coming together of synagogues around the country to welcome Muslim refugees. Jews really understand what it is to be ‘the other’ and to arrive in a strange country.”

What is it to be “the other?” Many of us don’t know. We all have immigrant ancestors (unless we are Native American), but many of us who were born here are far removed from that. Nevertheless we would do well to reflect on what it must be like, and try and imagine what it feels like to stand in the shoes of “the other.”

When researching the song “This Land Is Your Land” for yesterday’s Catch, I hit upon a surprising verse Woody Guthrie wrote for the original version, but it was never recorded, and because of that, it was dropped from all future versions. And yet the prophetic nature of these lyrics for today, written 77 years ago, is so undeniable, it’s a little scary.

I never thought of this as an immigrant’s song until now, but it is. It’s “my” land and it’s “your” land, and in the context of especially this newly discovered verse, the “you” implies anyone, because all are welcome.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. 

The sign was painted, said “Private Property.” 

But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. 

This land was made for you and me.


This land is your land, this land is my land,

From California to the New York Island;

From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters,

This land was made for you and me.

                – Woodie Guthrie

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21 Responses to Standing in the shoes of ‘the other’

  1. Mark Seguin says:

    Plz correct me if I am wrong, been before & I am sure I’ll be again in the future, because I’m human, yet heard the reason Woodie Guthrie wrote his song “This land is your land…” is because he was an atheist and didn’t like the song God Bless America and according to his son Arlo (sp?) got rid of the verse your referring to simply because as he became a land owner. He much better understood the reason and need of fences & signs keep out on his own private property…

    PS along w/ today’s Catch, I belong to a Israel group on Facebook and this issue as it’s been well discussed there the BIG problem to to adhere to some of the OT verses (I’ll add NT too) are people didn’t blow themselves up!
    And to make a Political observation because this immigration issue was brought up, I’l add with seemly limited knowledge. So, wonder why when President Obama, I believe it was for a limited time too STOPPED allowing people in from Syria by Executive Order, yet that was okay and no one marched or filed lawsuits?

  2. TimC says:

    Yeah, it’s way past time to cut out the political garbage. I’m probably going to slammed again for this, but understand this: The immigration issue is not about immigration. It’s about the safety and security of our citizens. If you can’t see that you’ve been paying way too much attention to the closed minded media without opening your mind to understand the other side of the story. The media has twisted the title of the issue in order to twist the issue.
    What do you do when someone with evil intent attacks your family, or your neighbor? You figure out how to keep them safe, while letting in good people and keeping evil people out. Understand that in a nation of our size, it might take some work and time to figure that out.
    Sure, they might have gotten the first step wrong, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong to take the first step.
    So I repeat, it’s a safety and security issue not an immigration issue.
    Another side of this problem is that it’s not right to ignore those who have given themselves to fight evil for our freedom. We have veterans dying in homelessness and without healthcare; all the while we deny them services we give services to people who are not citizens. That issue must be addressed.
    Again, this is an issue of taking care of our veterans, It’s not an immigration issue.
    So slam me again all you want, I don’t care, but I’m going stand up and say, it’s way past time to cut out the political garbage.

    • Mark Seguin says:

      Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post TimC! It greatly resembled one I once read from a person living in Israel from someone I believed had members of their family killed. So, almost stood-up and cheered after I read this in your post: “What do you do when someone with evil intent attacks your family, or your neighbor? You figure out how to keep them safe,..” Amen!

      To concluded as this Jewish person did to do anything less to try and keep your family & country safe, borders on criminal!

  3. Sandie says:

    I have very mixed feelings about this issue. Yes, we are to treat strangers to our country with respect and compassion, but at the same time we have a responsibility to protect our citizens from outside threats. I agree that this is not an “immigration” issue, but rather a security issue. Thanks to the media and ‘open-border’ enthusiasts the issue has blown out of proportion. We have only to look to the European Union to see how the open-border concept has served to allow terrorists (and other criminals) to freely enter any country without being scrutinized…and allows them to escape just as easily, making it difficult to bring them to justice. There are other verses in the New Testament directing us to obey our laws and leaders, because God has put them in place for our protection. Those that enter the USA by circumventing these laws have no place here – neither do those who do not assimilate into our society; those who insist on forcing their beliefs on us – refusing to learn our language and history, abetted by those who don’t think those requirements are important. That such individuals are granted benefits that others (veterans) are denied is not right. So ‘diversity’ has harmed our sense of community and responsibility to each other. We used to have a system of quotas that determined who entered, and from where, and how many – giving our system a chance to check backgrounds, etc. Maybe that should be put in place again – that’s how my grandparents came through Ellis Island. I agree this executive order was handled too quickly, therefore the unintended consequences. I don’t know what the answer is…but I know the God that does. And I saw Him work through Lady Gaga’s half- time show – bringing a message of unity, when she could have easily stoked more division. Praying for wisdom and integrity to raise their heads in all areas of our government. I hope I made some kind of sense…

    • Mark Seguin says:

      Yes you did make a lot of sense Sandie…

      • David Morgereth says:

        “Praying for wisdom and integrity to raise their heads in all forms of government”. Well said Sandie. Several times in the past I have found my self grumbling about the actions of whomever was president, and I have been convicted by the thought “How often are you praying for that man? He has an incredibly difficult job. Are you praying that God gives him wisdom? Are you praying that God helps him to be a good husband and father? (hard enough for most of us and we don’t have a country to run)”

      • Sandie says:

        Thank you!

    • jwfisch says:

      Yes, you made good sense, and thank you, Mark, Tim and Sandie for giving me more to think about.

      • Sandie says:

        Thank you all for your affirmation! Glad we all are causing you (and countless others I’m sure) into critical thinking…something society is severely lacking in, no matter where you stand.

  4. David Morgereth says:

    Here’s another very interesting perspective on immigration and borders

  5. I got in the habit of reading The Catch from my email and I was curious as to the kind of response this well-written and thoughtful piece was going to get. Lo and behold! People protesting out of nothing but fear! I’m shocked. God help this country. Thank you John, for being a voice of reason.

  6. Sandie says:

    I don’t think FB is the forum to hash this disagreement out. The world doesn’t need to see another reason NOT to become a believer. All of this is missing one of the most important messages John has delivered….respect, consideration, kindness, tenderness, encouragement…extended to those around us, beginning with our fellow believers. When we disagree with someone, we CANNOT lose sight of those virtues!That’s is why I am offering the following scriptures that all believers need to take a lot more seriously.
    Matthew 7: 1-5
    John 13: 34,35
    1 Corinthians 13: 1-7
    11 Corinthians 6: 3
    Galatians 5: 13-15
    Ephesians 4: 31
    Ephesians 5: 2, 15-17
    Phillipians 2: 2-7
    Colossians 3: 12-17
    Colossians 4: 5
    11 Timothy 2: 15,16 – 23-26
    James 1: 19,20
    1 Peter 3: 3-13
    1 John 3: 18,19
    I fall so short…my apologies for being a part of this dissonance. I pray we can all agree to disagree…exhibiting the truth and integrity required by scripture. We all have been forgiven much; therefore we MUST forgive much…to do otherwise is not an option.

  7. Reading my last post, I lashed out at Sandie – who especially didn’t deserve it. Apologies, Sandie. My only contention is that I was trying to respect John’s site and not get into it with Mark Seguin. I think you may have missed that. Apologies to John as well for my harsh tone.

    • Sandie says:

      Apology accepted, and one also extended to you if I offended. I appreciate your honesty and integrity. Please understand that my use of scripture is to focus on God’s point of view, not mine – without taking anything out of context to support my human point of view (whatever it may be). I am an unfinished work; but I trust the God who saved me to complete it (perfect it) – Phillipians 1:6. May God bless you and keep you.

  8. Arguing that this is about people wanting open borders is a straw man. No one I know is arguing to let anyone and everyone enter this country. The opposition is about not making villains out of everyone who isn’t ‘american’. It’s about being against prejudice and racism and the nationalism that has poisoned the church. Please stop misusing Scripture in an effort to support rightist views – and I won’t misuse Scripture to try to support my left of center views. God is about our hearts. Not our politics.

  9. Contrary to popular belief, God doesn’t love the U/S. more then He loves the rest of the world/

  10. Sandie says:

    We are in the age of GRACE (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense) – therefore God is not judging individuals or nations. His love is spread equally throughout humanity and has no distinctions or limits. However, we are not shielded from the consequences of our own actions – and the actions of others that impact us.
    Our job is to seek the good – bring it to light – and help it to prosper…wherever and whenever we find it.

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