This is terrifying. If I walked into my kitchen and there was a bowl of M&M’s on the table with a note saying just one of them was poison it would take me all of 2 seconds to dump them in the trash and get them out of MY house. Well, unless they were those Mint Chocolate M&M’s….have you had those? They’re absolutely delicious. I might try ONE of those. No! I would dump them all out and get myself a bag of skittles. Skittles would never hurt me.
I get it. This #refugeeroulette image communicates a message. The message is clear: There is a very real risk that no rational person would ever take.
But there is much more in that image than a message.
Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said…but how you made them feel”
That image of potentially poison M&M’s makes me feel something: fear. Fear is powerful. It makes us act contrary to how we would want to act.
In the 5th grade I liked a girl named Elizabeth. She did not like me at all. So I cut my losses and just tried to act cool (And if you know me you would be surprised not at all to find out that I’ve never been particularly good at that). Well, a friend of mine went up to her during recess one day and threw a sno-cone in her face and said, “This is from Michael!”. To be clear, it was most certainly NOT from me. Just about that time when that ‘friend’ was reporting back to me I see a purple faced Elizabeth coming my way with a few friends. So I did what any 10 year old boy committed to looking cool would do…I climbed a tree and cried. Because I was afraid. I didn’t want to climb a tree and cry, but fear grabbed ahold of me and I acted. To be fair, it totally worked. Elizabeth left without retribution. In that instance, my fear saved me from her (and from any hope of success with the ladies for years to come).
I let fear dictate my actions. I didn’t want to be afraid. It’s just a very powerful emotion. It can make us do what we know we shouldn’t do.
That’s where this M&M illustration that’s been going around breaks down. It doesn’t reinforce the Christian’s call to act. It distracts from it. Illustrations are tricky like that. Sometimes you hear an illustration, like The Man with The Golden Arm, and it links beautifully what you believe (Jesus gave His life for me) and what to do with that belief (give your life for others). Illustrations like that are a preacher’s dream!
But then there are others that don’t work so well. One time I opened a sermon with a story about a medical procedure I had done. It was funny and sort of applied so I ran with it! Turns out it was too gross and too personal. I lost the room completely. All that illustration served to do was to distract from the message of God that day.
These M&M’s are a distraction from what we, as Christians, are meant to be focusing on. Yes, there is some risk. There is something to fear.
But that is not the point. We are not meant to live afraid. We are meant to follow Jesus into the demonstration of love despite any fear.
The other problem is that this illustration deals with RISK, which isn’t the issue. The issue is, and will always be, whether or not welcoming refugees is RIGHT. You see, if we are only evaluating our actions based on RISK then it stands to reason that we would apply the M&M’s in a lot of situations
“One M&M in this bowl of 100 represents the snotty kid that can share norovirus with your child in school” –> Don’t send your kids to school
“3 M&M’s out of 100 represent the likelihood you will spend all evening in the bathroom if you eat those tacos” –> Don’t eat delicious delicious Mexican food
“99 M&M’s out of 100 represent the chances you will prefer to be in your warm bed if you go camping” –> Don’t ever go camping
“1 M&M out of 100 represent the amount of registered gun owners that break the law” — Uh oh. I don’t think we are fully thinking through this approach of “punishing the majority for fear of the minority”. Because you can’t have it both ways.
Ultimately the Bible doesn’t teach us to make our decisions based on what might happen. We are called to follow God and His Scriptures regardless of the risk involved. Self-preservation, for all the sense it makes in our heads in times of risk, is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus and His plan for loving the world.
Philippians 2:4 – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”