When the Icelandic government announced it would accept 50 refugees, its citizens rallied, using a Facebook event page to volunteer their homes and pressure the government to grant more refugees asylum.
On Sunday, award-winning author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir set up the page Syria is Calling. The group aims to present Iceland’s welfare minister Eygló Harðardóttir a list of volunteers willing to house Syrian refugees.
“We want to push the government — show them that we can do better, and do so immediately!” Bjorgvinsdottir wrote in the group description.
“Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host.”
More than 16,000 people had joined the page as of Thursday afternoon, though not all of them are Icelandic.
Icelandic volunteers, supporters from other countries and many who purport to be Syrians attempting to find their way to Iceland have all posted to the page. Bjorgvinsdottir has offered to pay for the flights of five Syrians and house them with a friend.
On Monday, Eyglo Arnarsdottir heard about the Facebook group on the news. She was unimpressed with the number of refugees the government said it would accept, so the next day she signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross.
“It’s one of the biggest human crises we’ve seen in my lifetime at least,” said the 35-year-old journalist in Reykjavik. She’s waiting to hear from the Red Cross about how she can assist, though she says she could help teach them Icelandic and guide them around her city.
“I think it’s an obligation all of us have to help in any way. With my effort, if I could help one person or one family, it would be worth it.”
Sandra Hack Polaski writes, “The second chapter of James opens with an illustration that is as relevant in the contemporary church as it must have been to James’s first readers. His challenge is: how do we treat the poor, the homeless, those unlike us in so many ways that we either avoid them or marginalise them, usually in the nicest of ways?
“8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James is a practical man. He wants to see words and actions aligned and in sync. He noticed that there is a discrepancy in the practices of his audience. They were busy giving the impression that they do not discriminate, that they do accept everyone and anyone, and that position and wealth is of no consequence to them. James notices they are big on talk but fail in the detail.
They are in fact living in a world where to miss by a centremetre is to be miss by a kilometre. The details matter. Preferring someone over another for what appears good reasons, they have money to help, they provide a good image for the organisation, they have a better grasp of the language, or they simply come from the better suburb etc is, for James, a salvation threatening act.
Now it wasn’t that they were bad people, they just were unthinking and not connecting their personal preferences to the Gospel. They had forgotten that the Good News had liberated them from the class system and set them free to be authentic and real people in relationship with God and others. They were liberated people and therefore need now to live a liberated life, a life outside the cultural and religious laws which defined others clean or unclean, in or out or someone to be seen with in public or not.
Many years ago I held a sportsman dinner with Max Walker as the speaker. To promote the event we gave away some tickets through the local radio station. An elderly lady and her son, who was in a wheelchair won the tickets and came along. In a room of well dressed well heeled socialites they stood out in what was obviously their Sunday best, a little crinkled, a little dusty, a little…well, it wasn’t from the high end of the market. Max Walker walked around the drinks area and shook hands with everyone there. When he came to the lady and her son, he pulled up a chair and sat down and gave them much more time than he gave others. They beamed as if all their dreams had come true. For Max it was natural, something I would think he does without thinking, but it made an impression on those in the room, perhaps outshining his funny and very enlightening talk.
Rick Morley suggests, “James wasn’t telling the church to be good to the poor and thereby earn salvation.” It wasn’t about charity or philanthropy, or motivated by pity or the desire to fix something. ” He was saying that if their faith was genuine, they would actually be loving their neighbours as themselves.” It would be natural and unforced, below the radar and respectful, not driven by public image issues, the politically correct need to have a social justice or charity support program as part of your business or to maximise tax benefits. You would just do it because it is part of the responsibility of loving your neighbour.
James states, ‘10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” and giving away lots later doesn’t count. He continues, and here is the crux of the matter, ‘12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty”
Augustine has been paraphrased as saying, ‘Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.’ This is the liberty James is talking about. We no longer have to act according to rules set down in the Torah or other moral documents, not even the Ten Commandments. We are to live and act naturally, in tune with our first love and from our virgin centre.
Nicholas Lash in his bookTheology on the Way to Emma’s suggest that the New Testament text is a script to be performed, not privately but collaboratively with others. Just like we interpret other scripts for performance often for a short period, King Lear for example, twe interpret the new testament by performing it as ‘baring witness to, one whose words and deeds and suffering, rendered (or performed) the truth of God in human history.’ We are to live out the story of Jesus, the story of everyone else and the story of God.
How do we do this in our own lives? It takes great care, deep self-reflection and an awareness of who we are. It requires us to spend time in our day to see how we have responded – were our words discriminating, our actions or lack thereof shaming, our inner thoughts derogatory – even just a little. It asks us to put a check on our tongue, a hold on thoughts and a little more thought into our actions.
While these are often but little things, they are the hardest to control and adjust because they are often deeply embedded within and take some shaking free. Yet it is the imperative of liberation – the companionship of empowerment –that we set others free.
We will leave the last word to James:
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.Amen