Last weekend in politics and immigration sort of threw me. It has made me think about what it means to be an American and more importantly a Christian. On both counts I feel lucky. You may already object because you would say that it is grace not luck. And you would be right. It certainly has been grace that has brought me to today, but as I review my life - it often feels a lot like luck.
The luck of grace let me be born in middle America. The luck of grace opened doors for me that are shut to so many others. The luck of grace brought me to a woman far more kind, dedicated and skilled than I have a right to be married to. I remember the lucky grace of my three children who are healthy, when I have a hard privilege to go to a children's hospital.
Sometimes I feel that when we Christians speak about grace, we somehow think we made it happen. It stops feeling like grace, and more like a right. What if we knew that God was in charge, but acted like we are lucky? Maybe then we could walk with Christ in humility? We are lucky that we are children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John1:13. This is a gift not to be lessened by our pride of place.
Last weekend made me think of all those aren't so lucky. If you're waiting for me to give you my political views in a sound bite, I'm sorry, but I think you can figure it out by reading the following story. It comes from the last half of a podcast called "reply all".
Nazanin Rafsanjani works behind the scenes at a podcast company. And the story picks up with her telling a little bit about her life and her reaction to last week's ban. "Struthi" is the interviewer. I deeply resonanted with Nazanin's sense of patriotism and confusion, even though I have never been driven from country.
The following is part of the transcript from reply all's website. I will leave you with this story, my beloved lucky ones.
--- warning - third to last paragraph drops an fbomb, but I left it because it highlights what I am trying to say----
SRUTHI: ...And I remembered that her (nazanin's) family, she came from Iran when she was young and Iran is on that list of countries that were banned. And I also remember that this other show at Gimlet, Twice Removed, had done this giant story that centered around Nazanin and her family. And i listened and the whole thing just felt so relevant to everything that was happening, and i wanted to ask her about it — but first let me just play you a short clip from that episode.
You’re gonna hear Nazanin’s mom and her sister, … talking about the year they decided to leave Iran, 1979 …
Mina: The year that I got pregnant by Nazanin, was the year that they forbidden everything, alcohol and western movie… and they put the hijab in the woman’s head.
Nilu: my least favorite part which I absolutely hated, was the, um, this thing they called a man na’eh… which is like a lycra almost… fabric that would cover your hair. I hated that… and I just didn’t understand why the boys didn’t have to wear that and I did. And I would get in trouble.
Mina: She would get so mad. And she would, she would argue yeah, yeah And the head covering was just one new requirement under the Ayatollah. There were restrictions on where women could travel, what jobs they could do… The way your mom tells it, Nazanin – it was overwhelming…
Mina: Everything was tighter and tighter and harder to breathe for woman. It was horrible horrible. They take your identity. They take everything. Who you are. What you think. (exhales) It feels like you’re trapped. You’re in a wheel that you just keep – just keep uh screaming and nobody hears you.
And on top of all that, there’s a war between Iran and Iraq. Nazanin’s neigborhood in Tehran is getting regularly bombed.
I had a bunch of questions for Nanzinin like how you know does like how is this different, Syrian refugees who are trying to leave Syria … so I asked her. …
SRUTHI: I don’t even know anything about what it means to apply — how does a refugee become a refugee.
SRUTHI: I only know that the like, you know, student visa, the H-1B visa. Like that whole track, which is totally different.
NAZANIN: Yeah. So the way my family came here they actually applied for asylum, which is a completely different track than a refugee.
A refugee is somebody who they are outside the country–
NAZANIN: And from outside the country they’re making the case that they need to be somewhere else from where they are because their life is in such grave danger. So that’s what the Syrian refugees are facing now. My family, completely, like we lucked out. And we, we got, we got visas.
NAZANIN: So we, we left Iran.
SRUTHI: Like a tra – like a tourist visa?
NAZANIN: A tourist visa.
NAZANIN: We got a tourist visa. And we left Iran-
SRUTHI: Which must have been hard, like was it hard back there?
NAZANIN: It was very hard.
NAZANIN: There was no American embassy in Iran at the time there still is no embassy in Iran.So we went to Turkey.
NAZANIN: We applied for tourist visas. And we got them. And we, it was just, it was literally just, I mean it was just luck. Dumb luck.
SRUTHI: Sorry, you’re just totally blowing my mind right now. Just like, in the 1980s, so I was a kid in India. And I just remember like if you drove by the US embassy you’d just be like, you’d see these lines of people who had spent, you know, people who’d slept there.
SRUTHI: But even to get a tourist visa you have to show you had a lot of money in your bank account, like you had reason to stay in the country that you’re coming from.
NAZANIN: Yeah. Yeah.
SRUTHI: And so, okay. So you, you arrive in the States.
SRUTHI: How do you get asylum status.
NAZANIN: You need a lawyer. …
NAZANIN: No. It definitely wasn’t something I thought about on a daily basis, you know, ever. Or like growing up, or. I only, I only ever felt like everyone else here. Until, honestly, until now. Like, really until now. From last Friday until now. Like I mean it’s like 4 days. That’s how, that’s what I mean.
SRUTHI: Yeah — so i actually wanted to ask you about this one tweet of yours that for me was like totally a punch in the gut was, you had this picture of the Syrian man, I think? Yeah, it was a Syrian refugee holding a boy, of course, it’s like we see these pictures all the time. But you wrote, “Does America feel great again? It’s just a lack of imagination that separates you and your children from these people.”
NAZANIN: Yeah. That, I think that picture and that tweet. It, it just, like for me, it goes back to like, um…I don’t. I don’t know exactly how to answer this question, except that someone responded to that tweet being like, “So, everybody has a, so what you’re saying is like everyone has a right to be, being a US citizen is a human right.”
NAZANIN: And what I was trying to say was that it’s actually the opposite. It’s not actually anyone’s right. So, if you, it’s just like dumb luck. And I think that that’s, I think that that’s all I was trying to say, is that like it’s my dumb luck that I got to move here and it’s like your dumb luck that you were born here. And neither of us really did anything to deserve it. And so, and so like, saying that some people don’t deserve it and others do is…just makes no sense to me?
NAZANIN: And, like, like you, it’s like my most, I think like that kind of patriotism, I guess is the right word for it about the United States, is like, it’s really like my most earnest feeling.
NAZANIN: Like, it’s always been my most earnest feeling. Like I’m embar – I feel like a little embarrassed about it. Like, it’s not, it’s never been cynical. Like, I really have always felt like, yeah. Like it’s [laughs] it’s like you’re lucky if you live here and it’s fuckin’ awesome to live here. And like, and it’s, it’s like just by virtue of being here you’re like one of the luckiest people on earth. I really feel that way.
NAZANIN: And it’s, and I think that that felt and feels like threatened. And that’s why I think I was reacting that way.
SRUTHI: You can follow Nazanin on Twitter @nazraf. And also, definitely check out the episode of, of Twice Removed that features her and her family. It is incredibly moving and the ending … just wait for the ending.