Tag Archive | immigration

Christ First

For Christians, it is Christ First, not America First. And no, it cannot be both. People have asked me why I get so upset about having American flags in the sanctuary, singing patriotic hymns, or recognizing military service during worship. It is because our indoctrination as Americans renders us highly susceptible to ignoring or attempting to justify the horrendous acts that have been and continue to be committed in our name. Our society encourages us to equate being a Christian with being an American. Our communal worship must be a time to remind us that our loyalty goes first not to America, but to Christ.
As Americans, we are taught from childhood that the United States is the greatest country that ever existed, the world leader in democratic values, and a place founded by people seeking religious freedom. What is often left out of our education is the fact that before there was ever a Declaration of Independence or a Constitution, there were Africans and African-Americans being sold on auction blocks and Native Americans being slaughtered. What is often left out is that our history speaks less to the search for religious freedom than to the search for land, less to the desire to worship Christ than to worship greed. While there were Christians who spoke out against atrocities and died because of their beliefs, there were others who used Christianity as a tool to justify those atrocities. Our faith has too often been used as a means of distraction, division, and affirmation of what is wrong about our nation than as a force for what is right, just, and affirming of all life.
During this season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, may we remember our commitment as Christians to the principles for which Jesus stood. Instead of getting distracted with calls for cashiers to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or to bemoan who or what institution did not place a manger scene on the lawn, may we focus on the things Jesus, God in human flesh and blood, cared about. May we remember the child whose parents were turned away from reputable establishments, who was targeted by the government for execution, who was carried out of his homeland to seek asylum and who lived as a refugee, and who called on his fellow Jews to follow God’s way regardless of doctrines, traditions, or laws. May we speak out against any American policy, including the closing of our borders and the tear gassing of people seeking asylum, that does not welcome the stranger or treat our neighbors as ourselves. May we not gain secure borders at the cost of losing our souls. May our minds, our voices, and our hearts always be guided not by America first, but by Christ first. Amani.

The Goodness in Us

“She understood that God loves us and helps us not because we are good but because God is good.”(1) A few days ago, I read those words about Julian of Norwich, the 15th century writer and mystic and God placed it on my heart to share them with you in relation to the immigration battle being waged in the United States. I believe Julian’s words can guide us when confronted with two of the three main reasons given for blocking immigration from Latin America and to some extent, for blocking or limiting the entry of people of the Islamic faith. One reason, based on the economy, was addressed in an earlier post. The two reasons addressed in today’s post are the risk of criminal or terrorist activity and rewarding people who are breaking our immigration laws.

For those people who seek to exclude immigrants or certain ethnic groups based on the notion that some of them are criminals or terrorists, I ask you to be mindful of the fact that criminal behavior and terrorism are not limited to any specific racial, ethnic, or religious group. And as Americans let’s be honest with ourselves. If our immigration laws were designed to protect the nation from criminals and terrorists, our history would require limiting immigration from Western Europe as much or more so than any other area in the world. Our history also would require limiting immigration by Christians more than any other faith group. We can site instances as recent as the shooting of journalists in Maryland and the rioting of white supremacists in Charlottesville or as distant as the lynchings of thousands of African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the murder of Native-Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. If we talk about gangs and organized crime, we could talk about the Italian mafia, which many of our organized crime laws were initially crafted to combat, and we could add another area of the great white north and speak of Russian organized crime, which has been a lethal part of American crime for decades. We could add many of the modern day corporate and government criminals to that list, executives who lay off workers, raise prices, close businesses, and slash benefits that feed, shelter, and help heal the most financially impoverished among us, not because they must but for financial gain. So, I ask my fellow Americans and fellow Christians to speak out honestly and forcefully against the portrayal of Latin Americans and Muslims as criminals and terrorists. I ask you to be honest in owning the fact that our immigration policies and laws are not about crime or terror. Our immigration policies and laws, as they always have been, are the rotten fruits of racism and religious discrimination.

For those people who seek to exclude immigrants or certain ethnic groups based on the notion that they are entering the country illegally, I ask you to be mindful of the fact that for the most part, laws are created by human beings with power and they are designed to benefit the people who create them, not the nation as a whole. Legality does not equate with justice. Some of the cruelest and most horrific actions taken by our government and by governments throughout history have been taken under color of law. At this very moment across our land, there are innocent people trapped in jails and prisons who have been legally convicted when justice would demand their freedom.

Even when laws are created with the best intentions, they can never be justly applied to every individual. They simply cannot cover every situation or circumstance. That is why it is vital to have competent, caring, and compassionate individuals as police officers, prosecutors, and judges, and to give them laws that are flexible. This way they can connect with the individuals in front of them, apply the law as fairly as possible, and, at the times when a required application is unfair, seek to find ways to limit or counterbalance that unfairness.

Our focus as human beings must always first be not on law and order, but on justice and grace. Our focus as human beings and as Americans, if we truly value family, community, and freedom, must be on the goodness in every human, not on their faults or potential faults. Relying on the law and punishing people often seem to be great ideas until the laws and punishments are applied to us and to the people we love. Then, we open our mouths and our hearts to cry out for acts of mercy. As people of faith, in particular, we are called to remember that each of us makes mistakes, causes harm to ourselves and to others, and participates and benefits from injustices.

If God sat in judgment over humanity in the way we sit in judgment over each other, the human race would long ago have been extinct. We should give thanks every day for God’s justice, a justice that seeks to empower, connect, and liberate life, a justice that is filled with mercy, love, and grace.

To paraphrase the opening quotation, God is good to us not because of our goodness, our purity, our merit, or our obedience. God is good to us because God is good. May we seek to live as ones created in God’s image. May we love others, help others, and welcome others not by our estimation of their goodness, their purity, their merit, or their obedience, but because we seek to be good as God is good.

Amani.

(1). Gloria Durka, Praying with Julian of Norwich (Winona, Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press, 1989), p. 42.

We Are All Each Other’s Children

We are all each other’s children. There are two components to that statement. One component is that each one of us is a child. The other component is that every child is our child. We are all each other’s children.

First, each one of us is a child. No matter our age, we still have a child within us. We are most aware of that fact when we are overcome with joy and laughter, when we are lonely or afraid, and when we bury the people who raised us. Second, every child is our child. We have a responsibility to care for and to nurture each other. It is not always our responsibility under the law, but it is always our responsibility as human beings.

A few years ago, I went to South Korea as part of a ministry team. The primary reason for our trip was to assist with a Vacation Bible School program. I was blessed in many ways by spending time in South Korea and one of those ways relates to this post. The church was relatively large by American standards and had numerous activities occurring in addition to a large Vacation Bible School program. Every day the building was buzzing with students of all ages, teachers, translators and room assistants, kitchen and maintenance volunteers, members preparing for the regular Sunday worship services, and paid church staff. As for the VBS kids, they were everywhere, sitting in classrooms and on the floor during morning worship services, walking and gathering in the hallways, singing in the praise band and sleeping in sheltering arms. They did not have on identifying wristbands. There were no guiding ropes around their waists. There were no huge name placards on their backs.

After one or two days, I gave up on trying to connect any one child to her biological parent. It was a fruitless and unnecessary enterprise, for every child in that building belonged to everyone else. If a child cried, fell, tugged on someone for food or water, or was being picked on by another child, she was immediately attended to by an older child, a teenager, or an adult. I was blessed by what I observed in that church and saddened by what I had observed in many American churches. Our focus in the United States on so-called child safety has unnecessarily increased the risk of any of us caring for children in the ways in which our hearts guide us. It has caused us to teach our children through our words and our actions that there are good people and bad people, when in truth, every human is born good and every one of us can succumb to sin and evil at any given moment. It has caused us to teach our children that security comes from laws, restrictions, and barriers instead of from inclusion, openness, and love.

We have become a society that neglects our responsibility to every child, that neglects our responsibility to each other as human beings. Our current immigration battle is a prime example of our neglect. I say battle, not discussion or debate, because a battle is what this has become. I say neglect because there’s way too much focus on laws and on which government policies led us to this point. There’s too much back and forth about why we care for one group of children and not for another group of children. If we are not to neglect our children, if we are not to neglect each other, our focus must be on caring for all children. Our focus must be on comforting, supporting, and loving every child.

Yes, there are children who are American citizens who are without their parents due to their parents’ abandonment, military service, imprisonment, or death. Yes, there are children who are American citizens who are without adequate shelter, food, or clothing. Yes, we have a responsibility to each of those children AND we have a responsibility to the children at our southern border, regardless of which side of the border they are on. We have a responsibility as part of the human race to all of the children at the border, including the toddlers and teenagers from Latin America and the parents and other adults fleeing persecution or simply seeking to build a better life for themselves and their families. We have a responsibility to every child, including the border patrol agents, immigration lawyers, social workers, journalists, cooks, bus drivers, and any other person who is in the midst of the cruelty that is occurring. What must the child in each of them be feeling? What must the children in them be remembering from their early years or fearing for their futures? What heartache and grief do they take home to their families?

We must resist the temptation to pit one group of children against another group, to become more and more suspicious and less trusting, to limit our interactions and our sense of responsibility to people like us, whatever that means, and to judge who is good and worthy and who is bad and unworthy. The temptation is great because we think that if we do those things, we will be safe and secure. We think we can avoid whatever risk being open to, vulnerable to, and responsible for others might bring. In reality, we cannot live and avoid risk. We cannot be safe and secure as long as our fellow humans are not safe and secure. We cannot be fully human until we are willing to embrace the child in us and the child in others. We cannot be fully human until we risk being responsible both to and for each other.

When we live as the human beings we are created to be, we recognize the child that rests in each of us, a child in need of love, of kindness, of laughter, and of human touch. When we live as the human beings we are created to be, we are grateful for the child within us, the child that reminds us of our vulnerability and of each other’s vulnerability. When we live as the human beings we are created to be, we speak and act with an awareness that we are all each other’s children. We accept and cherish the responsibility to care for each other and to protect each other, not only other Americans but all people. When it comes to immigration or to any issue that confronts us, may we remember the child in each of us. May we remember that every child is our child. May we remember that we are all each other’s children.
Amani.

The Wall We Need

Recently, I spoke of the importance of language and of how as a nation, we have lessened its importance as we promoted math and science. I spoke of how this was not a choice we needed to make as we could promote both areas. I also noted that I am an English major not a math major. I don’t pretend to quote detailed statistics. That’s not the way I try to understand the world around me. Thus, I state up front that I have done no mathematical research on what I am about to say. This is just my educated guess regarding the question of what as a nation, we could do with 25 billion dollars. One thing we could do is provide transportation (by bus, or even plane if we’re good bargainers) for every unemployed American citizen who will take a job picking produce in the Southwest, working in chicken plants in the Southeast, or washing dishes and similar tasks in New York or Chicago. My educated guess is that a few American citizens would take the offer but that the vast majority would not, even if we threw in housing.

Another thing we could do, which I would prefer personally, is to use the 25 billion dollars to pay for trade school and community college for unemployed citizens whose jobs, like those in coal mines and steel factories, are gone, are not coming back due primarily to automation, and who would be willing to try something new. We also would let them know we realize how difficult this may be and we would offer to help with child care, transportation, etc. through our federal, state, and local governments, our faith communities, and our individual efforts. We would have enough left over to provide basic services for people who are seeking to make a new life here. That would include public education and health services, especially if we have 25 billion dollars plus the money we are spending on immigration officers throughout the country, border patrols, and internment camps.

Yes, there are American citizens who are hurting. There always have been. There is simply a difference in whose hurt we choose to see at any given time and whose hurt we seek to heal. I invite each of you to turn off the televisions, I-Phones, Facebook, and other social media for even one night and think about and, for those of faith, pray about, what the immigration battle is really about. For I submit to you that it is about three main things that it always has been about since the birth of our nation. It’s about greed. It’s about power. It’s about fear.

First, it’s about greed. And no, I am not making this all about class. I have financially wealthy friends, financially impoverished friends, and friends in that dying breed called the middle class. This is about our greed as Americans. We believe we are entitled to more than whatever it is we possess and that bigger is always better. We need more land and more money for bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger buildings, more expansive highways, and yes, fellow Christians, bigger and more elaborate worship spaces. This is a wealthy nation and it is not because of the mental abilities, physical labor, or any other contributions of any one generation, one gender, one race or one nationality. Every person who has ever been born here, brought here, or moved here has contributed something of value to this nation and not one person who has ever been born here, brought here, or moved here survived, much less thrived, without assistance, assistance of other individuals and assistance of governments. And remember that we never have a problem opening our borders to bring in people who will do the work we are not skilled to do or do not want to do from indentured Europeans to enslaved Africans to today’s so-called illegal immigrants. Then when the work is done, we want them to either leave or assimilate into the so-called American culture, which translates as one race, one faith, and one way of believing and living for all. I could speak on a personal level of the psychological damage that does to a person who does not fit into any one of those categories, but that is a story for another day.

Which brings us to immigration problem number two. It’s about power. It’s about who will control the economy and means of production, about who will control the government, and about who will control the American narrative. One Latin-American theologian often says something we should all remember in times like these. He says that the roads on which people are coming to the United States from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other Latin American countries are the same roads we built going in. Our government, our corporations, and our citizens have no problem going into other people’s lands, whether they ask us to or not. This is when it becomes about narrative. Our entries abroad are not invasions or infestations. Oh no, our entries are to bring democracy, economic growth, and culture to others as if people around the world did not have any culture before there was a nation called the United States of America. In fact, in many cases, including Native American communities, they had cultures in which their communities, not only individuals, were responsible for caring for children and the elderly; in which animals were only killed for necessities, like food, not for sport; and in which the land was seen as a gift to all, a gift to be nourished, rested, and planted with crops suitable for the soil and the climate.

I guess that’s what made them weak and vulnerable to our invasions and those of nations with similar narratives. Community, compassion, nourishing and nurturing, and even rest are not the characteristics valued and applauded in those narratives. If you’re thinking, well, we’ll get there, but first we need to have a strong economy, secure borders, and peace for American citizens in our own nation, our own communities. Unfortunately, if that is the roadmap, we’ll never get there. We’ll never get to see or to experience the main characteristics, the characteristics that sustain and nourish all. We’ll never to get to live into the main characteristics of our Constitution and of every major faith tradition. For my fellow Christians, I invite you to try out the theory on Sunday. Go to your home church and/or local church and as soon as any of the main characteristics is mentioned in a greeting, a prayer, a hymn, or a sermon, get up and leave. Okay, La Ronda, I get your point, but it’s just not the world we live in. That brings us to the last immigration problem, fear.

It’s about fear, fear of change, fear of difference, fear that somehow someone is going to take something that we believe belongs to us. Here are some things to consider during the evening’s respite from television or social media. First, change can never be stopped. Some change we have no choice over and for change that is within our control, the only options are to fight it or embrace it. To fight it, including fighting it by trying to ignore it, only brings more fear and misery to all involved. If we instead choose to use our energies and our resources to embrace it and learn how to implement its benefits for all, we will be a better nation for having done so. Second, difference is good. What is the point of all the fascination with DNA tests, ancestry charts, and even world travel if not to learn about and embrace differences of heritage and experience the good that every culture has to offer. There have always been people in this country who feed off the fear of difference. Their goals being what we’ve already discussed, greed and power. To be a better nation, we must not overcome difference. We must overcome fear.

The vast majority of individuals at our southern border only want what every one of us wants deep in our souls, to be valued, to be respected, and to be loved. The real terrorists and gang members are not the helpless individuals we are incarcerating at the border and in cities across the country. The real terrorists and gang members are powerful enough and well-connected enough to come and go as they please. Or they are our fellow citizens, whether they strap on colored bandanas and guns, wear dirty pillowcases on their heads while burning crosses at night, or sit in boardrooms lining their expensive suits with the profits from building and leasing facilities to imprison traumatized children and their desperate parents.

Which brings me back to walls. I woke up this morning thinking about a wall. It wasn’t the 25-billion-dollar wall being touted as a savior for our nation but a wall in Jerusalem. It’s called the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. It’s all that remains of the wall that surrounded the Temple Mount in ancient Jerusalem. There are some people who go to that wall to pray for a Messiah or for the return of Israel to its military and religious might during the days of King David and King Solomon. Those are not the people who entered my thoughts this morning. Who I thought of are the people who go to the Wailing Wall to pray for loved ones who have passed or who are in trouble, to pray for the healing of their nation, or to pray for forgiveness and for God’s mercy on us all. For those are the prayers that rest in my heart at this time. I pray for loved ones whose toil over generations helped to build this nation. I pray for loved ones and for my fellow citizens who are overcome by fear and despair, politics and division. I pray for the families that we as a nation have torn apart and who may never be reunited again on this earth. I pray for God’s forgiveness for anything that I have said or done or failed to do or say that has in any way contributed to or made me complicit in our government’s actions. I pray that our nation does not experience the enveloping nightmare that I and many others foresee. Yes, Great Spirit, I need a wall. We as a nation need a wall – a wailing wall. Amani.