Friday, December 4, 2020

Immigrants all, starting with Abraham

The Quad City Times carried a lead story in their Celebrate Section onThurs., Jan. 14, 1999 that is a Genesis 12 story. Genesis 12 begins the journey of Abraham when he is called by God to leave the city of Ur. 


The Call of Abram

1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  (NIV)


I encourage your reading about Abraham starting with the 12th chapter of Genesis. I have been reflecting on the Genesis story of Abraham more than once in these blogs.  


The headlines in the QCTimes read"Strangers in a friendly land." The stories by Paula Parrella begin with this line, "Imagine yourself in an unfamiliar country where everyone around you speaks a different language." I wonder, did Abraham know the Egyptian language? Or did everyone speak Arabic? When did Hebrew come in?

The article documents four families: Two are from Bosnia and two are fromVietnam who left the familiar for the unfamiliar. As America becomes more multi-cultural Genesis 12 takes on more meaning. America has been a place to dream, vision, learn, work, etc., a promised land. Have we not been agathering place for Genesis 12 folk? Thomas Jefferson wanted to have "acloud by day and a pillar of fire" on the dollar bill. We do have “a new order under heaven.” He was proposing a direct image from the book of Exodus andthe way Moses and the Hebrew people traveled in the wilderness for the promised land ... another journey story and a continuation of the journey of Abraham.

All my ancestors left the familiar as Abraham to come to this unfamiliar land of promise. They came for different reasons and from different places, there is more than one Ur. The Whitmer’s came to escape religious persecution before the Revolutionary War, coming out of Switzerland and arriving here from Holland. Another Great Grandfather came with his wife from Germany to escape military conscription or jail. We have more than one story. My Irish Great Grandparents came to escape starvation, the potato famine. My Scottish Great Great Grandfather, I am not sure about the reason. He came early but moved along with the Whitmer’s to become a well know blacksmith in the early days of Cedar and Muscatine Counties, Iowa.   


The result, my mother's first language was German. She grew up on a farm near Louden, Ia. When I went to the Krienbring Reunions as a boy I heard the elders speaking German. My mother understood. My father did not speak German. He felt out of place. Plus he didn't play cards or drink beer. There was one other man with a German background and a farmer who did not play cards or drink beer. They would visit about farming. 


During WorldWar 1 my mother abruptly stopped speaking German while in grade school. America’s participation in the war brought criticism to Germans for using their language. Iowa passed a law forbidding the spoken language. The trauma of that event continued for my mother’s lifetime. She would not even share a German word or phrase when asked. 

I remember going to a Japanese New Years party in Chicago. I was the only Caucasian. My friend George Hayashi, seminary classmate, had invited me as we were on our way back to Virginia Seminary. It was agreat party. They had plenty of food, mostly pickled. The women said they had been preparing for months. I like pickles and it all tasted good even if I didn’t know what I was eating.  They had plenty of drinks, warm saki. Wow! Laughter was also plentiful although I didn't know what they were laughing about. George would occasionally translate. It must have been funny in Japanese. A number there were survivors of the Japanese internment camp. George had been in the Japanese internment camp during WW11 as a young boy. Another story. Another harsh treatment of immigrants.


This reflection was first writing in January 14, 1999. Now under some revision I submit this with the acknowledgement that Donald Trump is the President of the United States. He must have an entirely different interpretation to Genesis 12 with the rhetoric of the building of a wall along with deportations and severe limits on immigration. He reminds me of our previous mistakes generated by fear and the impact it had on people's well being, like my mother.

Do you have any Genesis 12 memories and/or current Genesis 12 happenings in yourneighborhood? I think it is important to reflect on these stories as we struggle with our post 9/11 world that lives in fear of the “other.” We were once the “other.”




Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the Art of story metaphor listening in 1975. 

Read the blog "Comfortable with the Uncomfortable."  

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