Moving Towards the Sunrise: An Essay on Immigration

F6C9AEAC-5F90-4F42-B0D9-FF50DDA7D60F.jpegI could decide to stand on this side wondering what life might hold on the other side. I can see the brilliant sunrise, perhaps a symbol for a bright new life for my children. I can see the tiny lights of dwellings or businesses. I’m not sure what they are but perhaps each tiny light is a warm welcome, a place of refuge, a safe haven.

I hold on tightly to the hands of my children, and now I look back and remember the violence, the fear, the drugs, the hopelessness for the future of my children. I consider going back, barricading my family in our tiny hovel and hoping for the best. It’s the life we know. It’s what we’re used to. But do I want my children to grow us “used to” violence and crime? Do I want then to be used to fear and hopelessness?

I decide to take a chance toward the sunrise and the tiny lights that will surely open their doors to a mother and her children. The land of the sunrise is called “the land of the free.” The land of the sunrise offers the wonderful promise of welcome . . .

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free . . . 

Give these, the homeless tempest tossed to me. 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Yes, I resolve. We will go forward. Yes!

I make, in this very moment, the most significant and life-altering decision of our lives. I choose  hope! We will go!

With great fear in the depths of my spirit, I move us toward the sunrise. I hold tightly to my children and begin the hope-filled crossing. Holding them all close on a grueling hike, I can see that we have almost made it to the other side.

Now we are actually standing in the light of the sunrise. We have crossed. Those who are to welcome us are approaching. Finally, I have made the journey to new hope for my beautiful children. Thanks be to God for safe passage! 

The welcoming people come near. But they are loud, boisterous, frightening. I never expected this. Oh my God, they have ripped my children from me. The youngest is crying, pleading for me, struggling to get away. The others are screaming “no” as they try in vain to work themselves loose from the powerful arms of those who restrain them. But the grip on them is too strong. I cry out and plead that they will not harm my children. I fall into the dirt, sobbing as they take my children away. 

Dear God, what have I done?

May God have mercy on us all.

Dear Students Marching for Our Lives,

5C1D4656-F263-49DD-8CC3-44E1AA6A3695Let us pray with our legs, let us march in unison to the rhythm of justice, because I say enough is enough.”

— A Parkland shooting survivor.

Dear students,

Yesterday you sat in classrooms all over this country. Today you are marching all over this country, all over the world. Teachers, parents and other supportive adults are marching with you. We older folk marvel at your commitment and your resolve. We are proud of you. We cheer you on and pray that your efforts will bring positive change.

You are marching to demand that your lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools. You are relentless and persistent in your quest to end gun violence. You are standing tall, lifting your voices to proclaim “Enough is enough!”

Every day, 96 Americans are killed with guns. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children between six and seven years old were killed by a gunman, 7,000 children age 17 and under have been killed by guns.

Today, thousands of you have gathered to call violence by its true name. You are calling out the adults. You are confronting the NRA. You are challenging all who put their own self interest above the safety of our children,You are marching today for those who died and those who live. You are marching for the children who will be in classrooms in years to come, little ones who still have the joy of innocence. You are marching for their lives. You are marching for them. You are marching for all of us, and we thank you. Our hearts are with you,

For each of you, I offer this prayer.

God who holds ouryoung in your arms of grace,

Make of us a people who hold our children in the highest esteem, who give them respect and encouragement, who take their fears seriously, who commit ourselves to their safety and protection.

Protect them, God, as they march for their lives today.

Help them to know that their resilience and persistence might just change the world.

Make every city where they march a welcoming place, filled with people that open their hearts to the message our children speak.

Assure our children of the love that surrounds them and of the support that enfolds them. Assure them of our love and respect for them.

Continue to embolden them to demand change.

Infuse them with the courage to stand and the strength to speak truth to power.

Grant them an extra measure of perseverance.

Guide their steps. Ennoble their conviction.

Calm their fears and soothe their anxious hearts.

And may their reward be a world free of violence, communities infused with peace, classrooms that surround them with understanding, acceptance, protection and learning.

For your deep love for our children, O God, we give you thanks.

For your compassion toward our young who have been so deeply harmed, we give you thanks.

For your comforting presence with friends and families who have lost people they love, we give you thanks.

For your tears mingled with our own as we mourn the loss of innocence our children have experienced, we give you thanks.

For your abiding protection and mercy in our violent and frightening world, O God, we give you thanks.  Amen.

*****

Fast Facts

  • Organizers of March for Our Lives expect millions of people to participate in today’s marches.
  • Acting out of their profound grief, students from across the country are fearless, empowered and motivated to speak out today as part of the March for Our Lives movement that was born out of the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 students and staff members.
  • President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama sent a handwritten letter to the students of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School commending them for their “resilience, resolve and solidarity in helping awaken the conscience of a nation.”
  • Today, there are marches in over 800 sites across the country where students are still “calling BS.”
  • Marches are also taking place all over the world.
  • Florida students have planned a voter registration effort as a part of the march in Washington, DC.
  • The message of these students is “never again,”

 

14,000 Shoes

965E6AF4-46EA-445B-91E0-003F05D3284214,000 shoes placed to tell a very, very sad story.

14,000 shoes laid out so that we will never forget our history.

Seven thousand pairs of children’s shoes were lined up on the southeast lawn of the U.S. Capitol building today in memory of every child who has died due to gun violence.

The 7,000 shoes in the “Monument for our Kids” installment represent every child that was killed by gunfire since the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

“We are bringing Congress face to face with the heartbreak of gun violence,” said one of the activists, Oscar Soria. “All of these shoes cover more than 10,000 square feet.”

Though most of the shoes were collected in a two week period, some of those were donated by families that lost their children to gun violence.

May God grant that we never forget this national grief. May our collective mourning bring lasting change.552D1FD3-63EF-4301-8FD9-FEE605FA755D

A Prayer for Protection

Hear us, O God, protector of children.
Hear our prayer of penitence, our confession that we have failed to keep our children safe.
Hear our cries, as we shed tears of mourning for each child we have lost to gun violence.
Hear our cries of grief as we recall every danger that our children face.
Hear our voices shouting, “Enough!”
Hear our voices of commitment that make a sacred promise that we will do what must be done.
And most of all, God, ennoble us to holy action, and make us protectors of children.
We pray in the name of the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Rootedness

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Photo by Jeremy Bishop

I spend a good deal of energy trying to understand myself. I wonder about the places my emotions go, how I got to where I am spiritually, where my deepest convictions came from. Self-assessment is a lifelong process. Saleem Haddad expresses the process with great insight when he writes this in his book, Guapa.

 . . . Digging through my roots to understand the way my branches grew.
(https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14107015.Saleem_Haddad)

These days, I have been digging through my own rootedness, and as I have contemplated my roots, I recalled the deep childhood influence of the two people who literally nurtured my sense of rootedness — my Aunt Koula and Yiayia, my grandmother. It is clear to me that I was rooted in the devotion of these two strong women.

From my dear Aunt Koula, I received the kind of lavish love that is most surely a part of a Greek aunt’s DNA. And from my attentive (sometimes intrusive) Greek grandmother, fierce protection. One can thrive on lavish love and fierce protection, and I did thrive.

But my teen years brought change. I was no longer near my aunt, my grandmother, or even my mother. Instead, I lived with a harsh and abusive father, a broken man held together with alcohol and the sexual abuse of his only daughter. So I was a troubled teenager, adrift for a season and feeling that I had lost my rootedness.

But inside me was a persistent resilience. In the midst of abuse, I sent my roots even deeper into the nurturing soil, a soil that still held the nutrients placed there by my aunt and my grandmother. I managed to keep myself rooted. Through the pain of abuse, I became stronger as my roots pushed deeper into the earth beneath me. I found the Divine Source that made sure I would be rooted and grounded in love.

I was always a religious child with meaningful ties to my Greek Orthodox faith. But as an eighteen year old, I discovered an even stronger foundation of faith. I found God in a new way, reborn by a fresh faith in Christ.

My roots held me firm. I was stronger than ever before. And at times during those difficult years. I would fall into God’s arms of grace as I repeated the prayer that, through the years, would inspire me more than any prayer in scripture.

. . . I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

— Ephesians 3:14-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

To all around me, I appeared strong and vibrant during those years of chronic and constant abuse. Like a tree that displays the splendor of its verdant leaves in the sunlight, I displayed my own “leaves,” in spite of the destructive and pain-filled environment that was my life.

Budding. Growing. Greening. Branching out.

Outwardly, I seemed healthy and strong, but the real strength was below the ground, roots and taproots pushing deeper into the soil. What happens there is unseen — below the ground. But that which happens below the ground, unseen, literally fashions the glory of what is seen, above the ground, branches reaching high into the sky toward the heavens, pointing to the God of the ages.

It is miracle, really, a grace gift from the God who longs to plant us firmly and deeply into a holy foundation. And so we can withstand the storms and the winds when they threaten, even gale force winds that move us, but cannot destroy us.

I call it rootedness.

 

Me Too: Wounds of the Spirit, Scars of the Soul

95CD73CB-3B8E-44AB-B1F4-4057D76D838FFor weeks now, women have been making heart-rending declarations — “Me too,” they cry, as they reveal their experiences of past sexual abuse. As for me, I say, “me too.” Add my name to the mournful list of women who have endured the pain of sexual trauma.

I was sexually abused literally dozens of times, by many men. The abuse began when I was about four years old and continued throughout my years as a young child. Sexual abuse did not stop through my teenage years. And even as an adult I faced sexual violation. Never, not one time, was it consensual.

Questions always bombard sexual abuse victims:

Who was the man who sexually abused you?

It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t believe me. You would refuse to believe that I was sexually abused by more than one teacher, by a coach, by a Baptist deacon, by a Baptist missionary, by an employer, by my father and several of his poker playing friends. You wouldn’t believe it because you know them to be “moral, upstanding men” who are a part of your community.

Why didn’t you tell anyone?

I did tell. I told many people about every act of sexual abuse I endured, naming every man who hurt me. But I knew all the while that people simply would not take my accusations seriously.

Didn’t you believe that telling might have brought these men to justice and have prevented them from abusing other children?

No, I did not believe those men who caused me suchbdeep hurt would ever face the consequences of their crimes, because most of the people I did tell simply did not believe me. The men were known and respected and no one wanted to challenge that.

Why did you wait so many years to tell?

There are several aspects to this question. First of all, as I said, I did tell certain people who didn’t believe me. Not being believed serves to silence a victim who just doesn’t want to be labeled a liar, an attention seeker, a trouble maker, or worse, an emotionally unstable person.

Secondly, and most importantly, the passing years never take away the pain for someone who has been sexually violated. Sexual abuse is something you never forget. After 55 years, I still remember the time of day, being called into the teacher’s office next door to the classroom, the way he smelled, everything he said and did, and exactly what I was wearing. He was a person I had looked up to and admired. But on that day, he inflicted a permanent wound of my spirit which would become a scar on my soul. Once again, I mourned the loss of my childhood, of the innocence of a young child.

In these days, newsfeeds are constantly reporting the allegations of victims coming forward to say “me too.”  The women have named their abusers — Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, George H. W. Bush. Ben Affleck, Roger Ailes, Lockhart Steele, Michael Oreskes, Mark Halperin, John Besh. Roy Price, Chris Savino, and the list goes on to name perpetrators in present time and perpetrators from the past. I do not say this lightly, but I have wondered just how many men might be holding their breath, hoping beyond hope that their victim(s) won’t expose them.

Wounds of my my spirit, scars of my soul

The unspeakable wounds heal in time, but the soul’s scars remain. And every reminder through these many years — a smell, a memory, a color, a song, and the cries of the women who are saying “me too” and telling the stories of their abuse. All of these are triggers that bring back the sharp, stabbing pain of the old wounds from long past. That’s what I have lived with throughout my entire life— multiple assaults, multiple times, multiple men.

We can come forth and tell our stories. We can give voice to our spirit’s wounds, no matter how far in the past they may be. We can speak of our soul’s scars. But the reality is that we will be judged as women who have fabricated a false story of sexual abuse for some sort of personal gain.

How dare we ask why a woman would wait forty years to bring light to this kind of story! For since the day it happened, she lives with vivid memories, feelings of shame, fear of relationships, the disappointment of betrayal by someone she may have admired. There is a catch in her throat when she speaks of it, and there are tears, lots of tears along the way.

Wounds of the spirit, Scars of the soul

The writing of Saint Francis de Sales describes the depth of this kind of pain with this thought:

The soul is aware of the delicate wound . . . as though it were a sharp point in the substance of the spirit, in the heart of the pierced soul . . . This intimate point of the wound . . . seems to make its mark in the middle of the heart of the spirit, there where the soul experiences . . . feels.

– Living Flame of Love 2.1

So is it any wonder that this kind of wound would leave a permanent scar on the soul?

I am deeply saddened, but also gratified, that so many women are speaking out. I hope beyond hope that their courageous stories will give light to a dark, dark sin that has destroyed so many people for so many years. I pray that we will have the moral, ethical, spiritual and political will to crush the societal culture of abuse and violence and in its place create safe spaces free of fear for every person, every child, every young girl, every woman.

At times, I really want to expose every single man that abused me. But I want peace more. I want a serene spirit and a quiet soul. I want to rest in a prayerful place where my heart can call out to a God that desires for us a world of peace, communities of care, homes that are havens of safety. I want to see God ennoble people of faith to wrap their arms around the hurts, pray for God’s light to dispel the darkness, and live out their sacred calling to be agents of a better, more excellent way. May God make it so.

 

Seeing the World, Loving the Earth

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“The Earth is not barren, but alive!”

I don’t see it much. There is an enormous, beautiful world that I simply don’t take time to see. I admire those who take nature into their souls, who breathe in the freshness of the wind, who see pictures in the sky, who hear music in birdsong. I imagine that those who know how to do that are emotionally and spiritually healthy. I imagine that life for them is pure joy.

The closest I can get to their experience is to read about it, and then to practice it in the smallest ways. I love the words of Bishop Steven Charleston that describe such a love for the earth.

I looked up, and as if in a dream I saw them, ancient spirits from the mesas, gliding on rain clouds above the desert, flashing lightning as they passed, primal spirits from the forest deep, rising up to dance on the trees, mountain spirits trailing snow white capes in the wind, and the spirits of the sea, moving like a storm toward the land. The Earth is not barren, but alive, filled with the spirits of life, the forces of nature around us, old powers from the time of beginning. God is not constricted to our temple walls, but roams the wild places calling to all who will look up, see the dream, and follow.

“You Can’t Help Me”

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When I look back on my years of working with victims of violence, one young boy stands out. His story changed my life. I will never forget the day he said to me, “Why should I tell you anything? My dad would find out and things would be worse for me. You can’t help me.”

He was right. We couldn’t help him, in spite of our tireless efforts. No matter how we approached advocating for him in family court and with the Division of Children and Family Services, we failed. At times, we even made the situation worse. Eventually the corrupt family judge banned our staff from the courtroom.

I have included in this post a picture this child drew. It is heartbreaking to know that a child would be forced to live with an abusive father. But it happens every day in this country. According to one conservative estimate, more than 58,000 children per year are ordered by family courts in the United States into unsupervised contact with a physically or sexually abusive parent.

Do we have the moral and political will to do whatever it takes to protect vulnerable children? Can our communities and our faith communities find way to advocate for abused children? Can we help end this national shame and protect the children? God grant that we never hear the words, “You can’t help me.”

Failure to Protect

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Looking back on various dates leads to nostalgia at best, horrific memories at worst. Almost exactly 53 years ago yesterday – on May 2 in 1963 – the Children’s Crusade began in Birmingham, Ala. as thousands of school aged children marched to protest segregation and were met with hoses, attacked by police dogs, and jailed.

It’s a scene we can hardly imagine today, and yet there are so many ways even in 2016 that we fail to protect our children. There should be no child in America going to bed hungry. No child in this country should have to sleep in alcoves on city streets. Children should not be victims of trafficking. Children should not have access to weapons and drugs. Children should not be used as pawns between warring parents. Children should not be victims of court-ordered abuse. Children should not be continually surrounded by violence. Children should not be incarcerated, rather they should be offered restorative justice. Children should not be physically, emotionally, spiritually, educationally or sexually abused.

Children should live in loving, nurturing families. They should attend clean, safe schools where they can get a quality education. They should have health care and mental health services.
They should be a part of caring, protective communities.

Shame on us if we fail to protect every child.
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. NRSV