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Unnatural Order

Every day, it seems, the refugee crisis in Europe worsens. Every day, the headlines that jump out at me when I open my computer in the morning are grim and foreboding. Last week it was capsized boats and trucks on the side of the road. This morning, it’s a train station in Budapest where police are preventing thousands of migrants from boarding trains bound for Germany. And tomorrow?  Next week, month, year? Who knows?

It’s not at all hard to imagine things getting worse. Much worse. It’s not at all hard to imagine the simmering resentment toward refugees that is bubbling beneath the surface in Europe erupting into much nastier and more overt forms of racism, religious intolerance, and political instability. It’s not at all hard to imagine countries like Germany and Sweden, who currently embody what many consider to be the most exemplary response to the crisis, beginning to say what places like Greece, Macedonia, and others are already saying about the thousands that daily pour into Europe: “No more! We simply cannot handle any more refugees. And we won’t.” And then? Well then, again, who knows?

It’s not at all hard to understand this reaction. There’s only so much that the social safety nets of these countries can handle. And beyond the pragmatic argument, there are live questions about just how people from places like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan will fit—culturally, religiously, politically—into mostly secular European nations. How will decisions made about Middle Eastern refugees reconfigure the European landscape? What will things look like five, ten, twenty, one hundred years from now? These are realities that I suspect Europe is being forced to wrestle with in a way that North Americans have yet to be faced with in the same way.

And I wonder about these questions, too. As I’ve written about before, we’re in the process of sponsoring several Syrian families to come to Lethbridge—a small city on the Canadian prairies. And we are already getting inquiries about sponsoring more. How will this new configuration change them? How will it change us? This city will look and feel nothing like home for the families that are coming. And, I suspect, there will be things about their own assumptions and practices that will be completely foreign to those of us who have called Canada home for our whole lives. There are things that have to change when difference is introduced to any equation.

Permit me a brief detour. I’ll try to bring it back to the discussion of refugees at the end.

A few days ago, I read an article on adoption by J.D. Flynn over at First Things. The gist of the piece was that adoption while admirable in many ways, was a “deviation” from the natural order, and that we should be doing more to render adoption unnecessary (Flynn is an adoptive parent, incidentally). The article didn’t sit very well with me, but I didn’t bother to think very deliberately about why this was so. I reread the article today, and I zeroed in on this paragraph:

But even in the most beautiful circumstances, adoption always represents a disruption to the natural order. Catholic social teaching emphasizes both the natural rights of children to their parents, and the supernatural privilege of parents to share in the procreative love of God the Father…. Adoption, by which natural parental rights are severed, is a deviation from that pattern. No matter the situation, even when it is the best choice, there is an always an element of tragic sadness to undoing a family bond.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of adoption as a “deviation” from some kind of divine pattern or “natural order.” I’m biased of course. I am an adoptive father. I have many friends who have adopted or are in the process of adopting. And while I understand what Flynn is saying, and while I am very aware that there are enormous challenges that adoptive families face that “natural” families do not encounter, and while I agree there is an element of “tragic sadness” to all adoption stories, and even while I am prepared to admit that adoption can easily be romanticized and used for selfish ends, I want to say that I think that Flynn has missed something crucial about God, about adoption, and about what that “natural order” looks like in God’s arrangement of things.

The “natural order,” for our God, is bringing impossibly different people together and calling them “family.” 

The story of scripture, the story of God is, in many ways, about the creation of a profoundly “unnatural order,” where Gentiles eat with Jews, where tax collectors and prostitutes mingle with religious know-it-alls, where gender biases are abolished, where last become first and first become last, where sinners and saints embrace realizing they are one and the same, where every tribe and tongue is brought together by the one God who made and loves them all.

And this is what gives me hope, whether I’m anxiously glancing at the refugee crisis across the pond and wondering how things will unfold here in Canada, or I’m thinking about families I know and love that have kids with different coloured skin and ethnic backgrounds. On a purely pragmatic level, it makes no sense to throw all this difference together in families and churches and cities and nations and expect it all to end well.  On a purely pragmatic level, we should expect conflict and identity crises and scarcity and pain.  On a purely pragmatic level, people should stay where they belong.  On a purely pragmatic level, we should cling to what is safe and predictable, and “natural.”

But, as followers of Jesus, we have been liberated from looking at things on a purely pragmatic level. As a followers of Jesus, we are free to imagine families, churches, cities, and nations that struggle and strain and stretch toward the glorious reality of God’s unnatural order.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I agree wholeheartedly with Flynn here. Where adoption is an advocacy over abortion, that supposition still affirms the birth of a child as a problem, needing resolution. The birth of children isn’t the problem. A host of socio political issues, primarily poverty and a perverse view of women’s rights, is. The effort to maintain the natural family, wherever possible, speaks to me as the best of Christian responses. Likewise securing safe environments for people right where the are, as opposed to piecemeal refugee responses, seems like the best long term approach to peoples under attack from violence. The pacifist resettlement approach has always been inadequate and naive. Never addressing the underlying causes or holding the violent accountable. Now the world bursts at the seems with refugees and migrants. When will it be time to redress issues at their source? Perhaps when the world provides too many orphans and refugees for us to care for.

    September 2, 2015
    • I don’t have to look very far even in my own profoundly small circles, Paul, to see many examples of people who are quite grateful that once upon a time someone was willing to embrace a response that others labeled “piecemeal,” “naive,” and “inadequate” in the face of very big problems with complex causes and solutions. I don’t have to look very far to see kids with better homes and parents who love them, refugees who escaped desperate situations to find peace, stability, and a measure of hope because someone refused to let the fact that they couldn’t solve the big problems discourage them from doing what they could to address a few smaller ones.

      And, as I said at the end of the post, I am convinced that all of these “unnatural” connections and relationships forged in the context of tragedy actually reflect the primary orientation that God has toward the world, and is reflective of its ultimate goal. This was actually kinda the main point of the post.

      September 3, 2015
      • I don’t disagree here, Ryan. Who would. For the record my wife and I are part of our parish refugee committee that was responsible for resettling two Syrian families( just over 1 year ago) . My wife’s role was crucial in that she speaks fluent Arabic. We look to be similarly involved soon. Pope Francis is in the process of calling on all parishes world wide to adopt a family. This could lead easily to hundreds of thousands if not millions being resettled. The work is easy….though govt red tape is cumbersome and time consuming. Things like processing medicals for several people and the necessary docs, which took months in our case could be handled at this end once refugees arrive…. Coordinated refugee programs are part of the solution as is a right policing action undertaken by governments. Frankly I would like to see the world wide church at the forefront of resettlement. Forget waiting for governments to act. All we need from them are streamlined processes. We should do the heavy lifting otherwise. Still I remain angry based on my personal read of the history of my lifetime in these regards. Nato took swift and concise action in Yugoslavia, ignores Africa and dallies in Syria. Millions have died because of this. No refugee program is useful in this regard. It can only hope to save those who can escape. I fully support firm military responses from world governments as well as the world wide engagement of all Christian churches with regard to resettlement. If militaristic stance is an offence to our Lord, may he have mercy on me. It will not be my only sin. Peace be with you Ryan.

        September 6, 2015
      • So glad to hear of you and your wife’s involvement with Syrian refugees, Paul. Your description of it pretty much exactly matches ours so far. Frustrating, on so many levels. But there is hope, too.

        I share your desire to see the church at the forefront of these initiatives. And I share your hope that if I fail to understand/advocate correctly when it comes to the use of militaristic force, that the Lord would look kindly on me for my errors.

        September 6, 2015
    • Trevor Stoute #

      Tell that to Jesus, bro ..

      September 3, 2015
  2. Trevor Stoute #

    Moreover, we are all adopted children of Godfather, Jesus our adopted elder brother.

    September 3, 2015
  3. James #

    Well said, Ryan. I think the case can and should be made that the Kingdom of God is fundamentally “unnatural” its message bracketed by the virgin birth and resurrection. Nature has its beauty and pragmatism that we ignore at our peril but in the end grace and compassion are at their core “unnatural.” I agree with Paul that we need to work for deep solutions to the myriad of problems that cause refugees and orphans but given that refugees and orphans stand before us we are obligated to give and do what is at our disposal.

    September 3, 2015
    • Thank you, James. Well said.

      September 3, 2015

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