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.

Out of Africa: White Supremacy and the Church’s Silence

D4B59064-1AD6-4121-B934-261EB10546E6I invite you to read “Out of Africa: White supremacy and the Church’s silence,” a provocative opinion piece by our guest blogger, Dr. Bill J. Leonard. Many thanks to Dr. Leonard for prompting us to more fully commemorate the day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you are willing to challenge yourself, these words will shed the light you need to do so.

Out of Africa: White supremacy and the Church’s silence

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Dr. Bill J. Leonard

OPINION | BILL LEONARD | JANUARY 15, 2018

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled [Caucasian?] masses, yearning to breathe free.”

Three days before the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. memorial observances, and in the 50th year after Dr. King’s assassination, the plague of racism in America continued, even as white supremacy, long lingering just below the surface, reasserted itself with a vengeance.

On Jan. 12, the president of the United States, at a White House meeting on immigration, allegedly asked why “all these people from shithole countries,” specifically Haiti and Africa, should be admitted to the U.S. He was also said to have wondered aloud why the U.S. could not secure more immigrants from countries like Norway (83 percent Caucasian). Confirmation of his remarks vary from those in attendance. Some confirm the alleged statements; others deny them. Somebody’s lying.

The mere report of the comments was immediately celebrated across the country’s white supremacist network, much as when Trump affirmed “good people on both sides” in last year’s violent neo-Nazi-led demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va. White nationalist Richard Spencer chastised Trump’s defenders for suggesting the statements were related to law or economics, since they were actually “all about race.” Spencer was, of course, delighted. The Neo-Nazi blog, the Daily Stormer, hailed the President’s words as “encouraging and refreshing” since they indicated that “Trump is more or less on the same page as us” regarding “race and immigration.” In America, 2018, white supremacy is now apparently “refreshing.”

Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress defended the president, noting that “apart from the vocabulary attributed to him,” Trump’s comments were “right on target” with his presidential responsibility “to place the interests of our nation above the needs of other countries.” That’s unlike Christians’ “biblical responsibility” to “place the needs of others” above themselves. (Racism’s OK; it’s vulgar language that’s the problem.)

Amid debates over the veracity of witnesses to the White House event, the fact remains that the dogmas of white supremacy lie at the center of America’s long night of racism, in politics, social structures, and racial stereotypes. At this moment in history, how can American Christians, themselves deeply divided over scripture, doctrine, sexuality, abortion, and other culture war accoutrements, foster a common compulsion to speak out against white supremacist fiction before it gains an even stronger implicit or explicit influence?

Even if President Trump did not use vulgar words to highlight his views on immigration, did he in fact wistfully promote a 21st century America where Aryans (remember the history of that word?) are preferred to immigrants of color? Surely it is time to break the silence, not simply because of those shameful remarks, but because they are part of a larger litany of racial dog whistles from Trump’s birther campaign, to attacks on a “Mexican” judge and a Gold Star Muslim family, to the infamous Charlottesville slurs.

We have many reasons to break the silence: First, because white supremacy itself is an inherently evil yet an enduring vision of the nature of humanity, and must be resisted for that fact alone. It has polluted our national psyche long enough!

Second, we break the silence on this matter because we hear again Dr. King’s words from that Birmingham jail: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Third, we Aryan Christians cannot be silent because it’s our racial ancestors who first planted the banner of racism in our laws, our institutions (churches included), and in our hearts. And some among us still won’t let it go. We need to get “saved” from it.

Fourth, we speak out now because American churches, at least many of them, remained silent for too long. Indeed, Trump’s only a symptom; we scapegoat him at our peril. When his remarks hit the fan, I returned to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a book that has taught me, shamed me, blessed me, and broken me for decades. Baldwin writes: “It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible) must first divorce him[her]self from all the prohibitions, crimes and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has had any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” (Whatever God is, it damn sure isn’t white supremacy.)

Mercer University professor Robert Nash illustrates Baldwin’s point in a superb essay entitled, “Peculiarly Chosen: Anglo-Saxon Supremacy and Baptist Missions in the South,” documenting that ecclesiastical collusion with the case of James Franklin Love, corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1915-1928. Nash notes that Love “was profoundly influenced by the concept of Anglo-Saxon supremacy … that white races possessed a superior intellect, religion, and civilization.”

Love’s mission strategy focused on evangelization of Europe since white Christians could more readily convert the darker races. He wrote: “Let us not forget that to the white man God gave the instinct and talent to disseminate His ideals among other people and that he did not, to the same degree, give this instinct and talent to the yellow, brown or black race. The white race only has the genius to introduce Christianity into all lands and among all people.” (In 2017, the Southern Baptist Convention went on record condemning white supremacy then and now. It’s about time.)

Finally, we break the silence, confronting white supremacy and its accompanying racism at this moment because we will neither deny nor sully the African heritage of our African-American sisters and brothers, who as W.E.B. Dubois wrote, “would not bleach … [their] Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism,” since they know “that Negro blood has a message for the world.”

On what would have been his 89th birthday, Dr. King retains his prophetic voice for black and white alike, declaring from his jail cell then and now: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men [women] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

Today, we read again Matthew’s haunting assessment of the Holy Family’s immigration from Herod’s not-so-holy-land:

“Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Sweet Jesus, Egypt’s in Africa! Amen”

 

Bill J. Leonard is the James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies, Professor of Church History, School of Divinity, Wake Forest University.

 

 

 

Looking into the Sky

C6F419F0-5C81-4A26-B890-76C7BCD762FCFor Christians around the world, the end of the Christmas holiday occurs on Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas. It commemorates how a star led the Magi, or the three kings or wise men, to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is about finding Jesus — again — in a fresh new way, looking into the light that has the power to change our lives.

In his homily on Friday before Epiphany, Pope Francis called on the faithful to be like the Magi, who, he said, continued to look at the sky, took risks and set out bearing gifts for Christ.

If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a child. Those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.

Looking into the sky and taking risks is a way of life for women. We have found the need to look up, above the hurts of our lives. We have looked into the sky to escape misogyny, discrimination, disrespect and abuse. We have looked into the sky to search the heavens for hope when we have felt only despair.

It has not been for us just a flighty inclination to retreat from unpleasant realities through fantasy. Instead our sky gazing has been a way to pour our souls into the kind of change that makes life worth living. We have dreamed improbable dreams. We have been wise. We have been brave and persistent. We have taken risks and defied whatever was holding us hostage. We have been determined emboldened and empowered.  We have been inspired and ennobled. We have changed our world.

Like the three Wise Men, we journeyed, wise women in search of the child that would more fully empower us. Our desire and longing led us, like a fire burning within, until we found the flaming star in the night sky. And there we found Jesus —  again. So we celebrated. We rejoiced, because Jesus wanted for us a new day, a new life of respect and well-being and inspiration and hope. That is epiphany. Amen.

Pulling Back the Veil

IMG_5796How good and pleasant it is when people live together in harmony!

– From Psalm 133

How long, O Lord, will we experience hate speech and evil actions? How long will we see the kind of divisive and violent display we saw in Charlottesville? How long will we refuse to lift the veil to reveal the truth about our nation, about ourselves? How long, O Lord, will we remain silent, complicit? How long will it take us to stand courageously as people of God and proclaim in whatever ways we are able that racism, xenophobia, homophobia and every form of injustice will not prevail in our nation?

The God who made us and nurtured us expects us to act with courage in the face of evil, to speak, to write our leaders, to be present in the quest for justice, to wage peace, to pray for the strength to change our world, and most importantly, to be brave enough to pull back the veil, to truly see the depth of the division in our nation and the racism in our own hearts. This is God’s calling and challenge to us. But most of the time, most of us meet God’s challenges with hesitation and questions.

I am only one person with many limitations. How can I make any difference at all?

I don’t know enough to speak out. How can I influence anything?

I am not strong enough. How can I persist in the midst of such violence?

The lives of our sisters who live on in the Scripture encourage us by their courageous example and summon us to be change-agents that work for the day when God will reign on earth as in heaven.

Deborah, prophet and judge in Israel, calls us to emulate her wisdom, courage and compassionate zeal for justice. (Judges 4:4-14)

The four daughters of Phillip the Evangelist call us to prophesy as they did with boldness and courage. Eusebius refers to them as “great lights” or “mighty luminaries.” These strong women held a unique place in the early church, exercising their prophetic ministry freely and powerfully. Will we become “great lights” in the midst of hatred’s darkness? (Acts 21:9)

Esther calls us to the kind of bravery and courage that led her to risk her life to save the lives of her people. Like her, perhaps we have been called for such a time as this. (Esther 4:14)

The five daughters of Zelophead call us to be fearless. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah stood fearless and firm, and as result reformed the culture of their day. Because they spoke up without fear, they reversed precedent. Their call to us is to speak truth to power. (Numbers 27:1-7)

Certainly, our deepest desire is for “people to live together in harmony.” But until that day comes, we will speak and work and pray for peace and justice.

My friend, Ken Sehested shares a prophetic line from a poem penned by Adrienne Maree Brown: “Things are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered.”

In response, Ken writes:

The poet’s counsel in light of these things would be mine as well: “We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.” (http://www.prayerandpolitiks.org/blog/2017/08/12/we-are-charlottesville.2776686)

I end with a wise word from another poet, Maya Angelou.

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

With the example of our Biblical sisters, with God’s unambiguous call, let us move with courage, pulling back the veil, uncovering the truth, working for the day when people will live together in harmony.

Sanctuary

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Churches vow to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants: At least 450 churches are prepared to act as Trump-era “Underground Railroad”

Sanctuary . . . A sanctuary, in its original meaning, is a sacred place. By the use of sanctuaries as safe havens, the term has come to be used for any place of refuge. For people of faith who are providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, a sanctuary is indeed a holy place, sacred and inviolable.

Jeanette Vizguerra is a Mexican mother seeking to avoid deportation. As she held her 6-year-old daughter, Zuri, she spoke during a news conference in a Denver church where she and her children have taken refuge. But when Jeanette Vizguerra walked into that Colorado church, she also walked into the forefront of a possible clash between Donald Trump and many sanctuary churches across the country.

Vizguerra has lived in the U.S. since 1997 with four children, three of them born here. She was due to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Instead, she took sanctuary inside the First Unitarian Society of Denver.

“I did not make this decision lightly,” Vizguerra said through an interpreter. “I was thinking about it for weeks. But I think that I made the right decision in coming here instead of going to the immigration office.”

The pastor of the church, Rev. Mike Morran, said, “It is our position as a people of faith that this is sacred and faithful work. We know Jeanette. We know her to be an honorable human being.”

But critics say the church is violating the law. While it has been for years federal policy not to do immigration enforcement in churches and other “sensitive locations,” such as schools, unless absolutely necessary, today that may be a lapsed policy.

“President Obama’s administration thought it was prudent to avoid rounding people up in places like hospitals or churches,” says Richard Garnett, director of the program on Church, State and Society at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

But Garnett says if the new administration changes that policy, it could set up a conflict between President Trump’s push for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and his administration’s support for religious freedom.

“Sanctuary works,” says Seth Kaper-Dale, pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey. “I can tell you from our own experience that all nine people who lived here have kept their families together, have been able to raise their children, have been able to go back to their jobs. Is sanctuary brutally hard? Yes. But it is a tool that we will use if we’re forced by a brutal regime to use it.”

Sanctuary churches across this country are living out their convictions because of their faith in a welcoming God. The government will, no doubt, enforce immigration law. The Church will live into the law of God . . .

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

– Leviticus 19:33-34 New International Version (NIV)

The invitation from God’s people proclaims, “In the name of God, come! You are welcome in this holy place of refuge.”

 
(Information about Jeanette Vizguerra is from David Zalubowski/AP.)

One Wild and Precious Life

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“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver

I am constantly inspired by the poetry of Mary Oliver. What is it that I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? That is a question worth asking throughout life, asking again and over again at every juncture. Life is definitely not still or stagnant. It moves with the hours of the day, the moments of the soul. It constantly asks of us decisions . . . What will I cherish on this day? What will I do about this challenge? Where will I move at this crossroad?

The answers to such questions steady our journey. The answers give adjustment to our sails as we travel into the wind. The answers are crucial ones, imperative to a life path, making space in the heart for the unimaginable.

I leave you with the words of Mary Oliver.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Delicate Wings

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I love watching the fluttering flight of a butterfly. I am mesmerized by their colorful, delicate wings, amazed that they are so resilient. Monarch butterflies, for instance, possess a mind-boggling skill. Without any guidance, they inherently know how, when and where to migrate across continents—and it takes four generations to make the yearlong trek.

The monarch butterfly’s migration begins in the spring, with the first generation making its debut into the world. Born in March and April, these tiny insects pick up where their predecessors left off, traveling farther north on a generational journey that totals 1,200 to 2,500 miles. That’s quite the feat for creatures with wing spans of only 3.5 to 4 inches.

We could learn a lesson from the butterfly. It emerges from a lifeless cocoon, develops beautiful wings, and embarks on amazing migrations. I like the migration story told by Annie Dillard in her book, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” She writes that the monarch butterfly flies across Lake Superior and makes it all the way without a rest. That is a distance of about 500 miles! We don’t understand how those delicate butterflies do that. But thousands make their way across that mighty lake every single year during their migration.

None of them arrive without being wind-battered, snatched at from behind, hind legs torn off by the birds that pecked at them along the way. Our life journeys are just as challenging. Like the butterfly’s wings, we can be delicate. But even though we may be battered and broken along the way, we take risks, we keep flying, we persevere. We move forward. We survive!

“If footmen tire you, what will horses do?”

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Many, many years ago I heard a sermon entitled, “If footmen tire you, what will horses do?” I was intrigued by the question and headed straight to the Bible to see what it was all about. I found it in Jeremiah 12:5.

If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, wherein you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the swelling of Jordan?

After all these years, I am still intrigued by these questions. I have asked myself similar questions many times. If I am tired out by this small task, how will I fare when the work is harder? If I complain when I have a simple illness, what will I do if a serious illness attacks me? If I am brought low by the harsh words others say about me, how will I endure a complete betrayal?

I have been through each of these life circumstances. I read and read for a word of relief. It took me all the way to Jeremiah’s 15th chapter where I found this consolation in verse 20:

Though they fight against you,
They will not prevail over you;
For I am with you to save you
And deliver you, declares the Lord.
So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked,
And I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.

Life has knocked me flat plenty of times. I have experienced grief, failure, betrayal, sadness. I have seen things I never wanted to see. But no matter how many times I’ve been knocked down, I always, always get up.

I learned two lessons along the way:

Don’t sweat the small stuff.
In the end, God will be with you through it all.

That’s Gospel Good News!

Dreamers and Misfits

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In my younger years, I was a dreamer of dreams, big dreams, impossible dreams, dreams that I had to fight for. Without a fight, the dreams would not have become reality. I was brave and fearless. I would stand my ground in front of any person trying to thwart my dream. I would face off against any obstacle.

Where did all that bravery go? When did I stop taking risks? When did I give up on dreams? When did I lose my strong resolve to help create a better world?

Aging had a role, as did illness. Yet, I cannot help but believe that somewhere beneath this exterior reality, the old dreamer and misfit still lives. I cannot help but believe that I still care about justice and hope, hope for a better future. I am convicted and inspired by the words of Bishop Steven Charleston:

It may seem odd, in this age of doubt and disillusionment, that some of us still believe in a hopeful future, a time of justice, and the power of love to overcome every evil. It may seem odd, in this epoch of technology and consumerism, that we still believe in God, in a conscious and living presence that cares for us and helps us to care for one another. It may seem odd, but there is a perfectly reasonable explanation: we believe these things because we are odd. We are the odd ones out, the misfits and dreamers, the mystics and advocates. We do not follow the party line, but step over it, together, every chance we get. – Steven Charleston

The Bible calls us pilgrims and strangers, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people. Yes, misfits as Steven Charleston says, misfits that go against the grain of the status quo. Misfits that still dream in spite of those who want to maintain the world as it is.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.

So I want to spend my remaining years stepping over the line, taking risks in the name of love, living out of a compassionate heart, challenging the world’s evil ways, dreaming of justice, being a maker of peace, and not counting the cost. I hope you will do the same, sisters and brothers. This world needs all the misfits who still care and all the dreamers who won’t give up.

Pathways

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Life journeys take us through pathways of all kinds – lonely pathways, contemplative pathways, dangerous pathways, mysterious pathways. The pathways make life exhilarating and unpredictable. The pathways lead us to places we never expected to go, discovering things we never expected to discover.

The pathways make life the pleasure that it is. That is, if we ever learn to travel the pathways without fear. Unfortunately, fear makes us forgo countless pathways, and we miss so much when that happens.

Walking fearlessly requires faith and a heart that can still hope. Walking life’s pathways takes courage and persistence. The Bible gives us encouragement to move forward. “When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:12

So let us walk on with hopeful hearts, taking the pathways before us, being delighted at every turn, fearlessly moving toward our destiny.