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From our Curate – Revd. Paul Seaton-Burn
Words and weeds
When, I wonder, was it that the dandelion came to be called a weed? Despite the bright beauty of the flower of Taraxacum officinale and the evocative globes of its seedheads – the dandelion clocks of our childhood – thousands of people spend thousands of pounds and a lot of time each year to rid their gardens and verges of these ‘weeds’.
Now, I have seen how they can wreck a lawn, their jagged green leaves dominating everything around them (their ‘lion’s teeth’ reflected in its French name of dent-de-lion, the Germanlowenzahn). But words matter, and the word ‘weed’ comes with baggage and can be used to justify things that, in the light of day, are not good.
When, I wonder, was it that a human being, like you and me, could be called an ‘illegal immigrant’?
Now, I am not playing party politics and we really need to find ways of managing the large numbers of people who seek a new life here in the UK. But words matter, and the words ‘illegal immigrant’ come with baggage and can be used to justify things that, in the light of day, are not good.
You will have your own opinions of the ‘out-sourcing’ and ‘sub-contracting’ of various areas of our public life in the last 25 years. You may even buy the line that Christians shouldn’t ‘bring God into politics’. There are good people who seek to serve the common good in every political party, but sometimes we miss the obvious. That the minute we start treating other human beings as less important than ourselves, we lose something of ourselves, and Great Britain becomes less great. After all, we belong to a nation whose favourite meals – from curry to fish and chips – derive from immigrant communities and whose patron saint, in England at least, was Greek (or Turkish). Our strength has always been to welcome and enlist (often literally) the gifts and talents and hard work of people from other countries and yet now, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are to be spent flying potentially thousands of people labelled ‘illegal immigrants’ over 4,000 miles to Rwanda, East Africa, in a so-called ‘New Plan for Immigration’. There must be a better way, it is shameful.
Words matter. If I think of ‘illegal immigrants’ costing us millions of pounds a year, it is easy for me to think ‘the problem needs to be fixed’. If, however, I think of one of my sons being in such a desperate and dangerous situation that his only option is to beg for food, leave his family and risk death and trafficking, I would do anything to help him. It is also true to say that while an action may be properly termed ‘illegal’, a human being cannot or should never be.
Jesus said, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. He emphasised the teaching of the Hebrew Bible that ‘foreigners residing among you must be treated as native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ (Leviticus 19:34). The Early Church never forgot Jesus’ radical hospitality; ‘Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.’ (Hebrews 13:1-2).
Whether it’s to do with wildflowers or people, words matter and, regardless who we vote for, we will be judged by the extent to which we helped those in need and by the compassion we chose to show or to deny to others. As the Big Fella put it, ‘when you did it for the least of them, you did it for me.’ No exceptions.