Wednesday, April 21, 2010

being welcoming

You never know when you'll run into a good story. Who would expect that an errand-in-the-middle-of-rush-hour to replace a headlight you just noticed was out (I got tickets the last time my lights burned out before I noticed they were out, so there was no time to spare this time) would turn into a gem of an interaction?

As Lloyd helped me replace the worn-out headlamp, he happened to say something about welcoming people to America. He told me this as we walked out to the parking lot of an auto parts store not far from my house in the more immigrant heavy part of Nashville. There's a lot of Spanish spoken in this store, and probably some other languages too.

Lloyd prefaced his welcome-to-America story with a story of his own lack of welcome somewhere outside the States: As a soldier, years ago it seems, he was out and about somewhere in Europe when a man standing with a girlfriend asked Lloyd if he was "Americano." Lloyd, in his military get-up, said that he was. And the man spit in his face. Lloyd, as he tells it, is a redneck, so he charged the man. But the man's girlfriend held them apart. Some welcome.

Fast-forward to sometime more recently: Lloyd was helping a customer and asked the man where he was from. "Laos," the man replied. And Lloyd said, "Welcome to America!" And the man started to cry. Lloyd was afraid he'd said something wrong. But then the man explained, "I've been in America for 19 years, and you're the first American to welcome me here." Wow.

That gets you in the gut, doesn't it? Our pride in being American should translate into welcoming new people into our midst. Unwillingness to be welcoming sure looks a whole lot like insecurity and a whole lot like not loving our neighbor as ourself. How would you want to be treated if you were the new person in town?