At the Golden Door

Statue of Liberty

Words for the yearning masses at the Golden Door of Wall Street

A long-time friend of mine wrote on my Facebook page, "Somewhere in New York it says, 'Give me your tired, your poor.'  Well people are tired and people are poor. What are we to tell them?"

Of course that place in New York is the Statue of Liberty where the wonderful poem, "The New Colossus," written by Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus in 1883 is engraved on its base.  The Statue of Liberty stands there to welcome people to the shores of America, and the poem describes just who is welcome here and what America believes it stands for.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

While it can certainly be argued that the tired, poor, and yearning, huddled masses never really got the red-carpet treatment from us, the woman with the lamp still stands by the Golden Door and brings up uncomfortable questions, like the one my friend has asked.

But her message is out in the harbor, and you have to take a ferry to see it.  I don't hear political candidates waving this poem around like they do with talk of the Founding Fathers, and it is easy to forget the values to which we once aspired, even if they often fell short of reality.  Our memory is selective, and we have suffered for it.

The "storied pomp" is not just in ancient lands anymore.  It is in the lifestyles of our own rich and famous.  The Golden Door has been re-named "Wall Street" and it stands closed to those without the golden key.  And so the "Mother of Exiles" has sent her tired, poor, yearning children a bit closer to the Golden Door.  On Wall Street and in cities around the country, they march, bringing the challenge of Lady Liberty to the Golden Doorstep.  And they knock.  And they call out.  And they wait to see if the promise is true, if there is a human heart that beats behind the door of gold.

I don't know if anyone will appear from behind the Golden Door to listen.  I don't know what, if anything, they will say.  They may just take their golden parachutes and jump to some distant shore.  But the question of my friend sits with me.  He doesn't ask what they will tell them.  He asks what we will tell them, and that has made me wonder what God would tell them.

Of course there are things that resonate to some degree.  "Give me your tired, your poor" sounds very much like "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)  Or we hear Jesus speaking to his followers in Luke 6:20 "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God." and Luke 6:24 "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation."

But I don't imagine that any of that would seem soothing to those now gathered to knock on the Golden Door until their hands are calloused and bruised from the effort.  Instead, I imagine that God would turn to Lady Liberty's children and say the same thing that God's messengers always seem to say in Scripture:  "Be not afraid."

It's not that there is nothing to fear.  "Be not afraid" does not mean that everything will end well or that there is a hidden easy path to gain our objectives.  "Be not afraid" is simply what is necessary to keep our heads clear, our motives pure, and our objectives plain. 

When we are poor; when we are being stepped on; when we feel like little David fighting the mighty, armed Goliath with only a sling and a stone, it is easy to become fearful.  And when we are fearful we act impulsively and are easily manipulated by others.  When we are fearful, we are much more likely to bring our fears to pass.  When we are fearful, that which we fear becomes our master and our freedom is gone.

Maybe God has some other message for those knocking on the Golden Door.  But if I had to choose a message, it would be, "Be not afraid."  As long as you remain unafraid, you remain free.  If you set your fears aside, you will see solutions that were invisible in fear's shadow.  If you knock on the door with the confidence of justice, it will eventually give way.  The heat of freedom's torch can melt the Golden Door, but only with a steady hand.


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