D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

monuments and memorials and me

“The way to write wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them” --Ida B. Wells, anti-lynching activist


 

So I have been working on a piece for some time now. It all started last December, when I went to Montgomery to meet and hear from Bryan Stevenson with some people from Red Letter Christians. I could not get out of my mind what I saw/heard in Montgomery, and I knew precisely what audience would need to hear this message.

 

This piece turned out to be one of the hardest things I have ever written. Not only because the subject matter is grim, but also because it was a delicate balance of compromise and caveats to get the message in a manner that would reach the people who needed to hear it the most. If you are new to me or my writing (or if you have never met me in real life) then you might not know: I am not good at compromise, at least not at first. I have a lot of emotion, a lot of thoughts, I am always wanting to do good and right by my actual neighbors who have experienced so much oppression, and so sometimes toning down my message or making it palatable can feel like a disservice to the people I love. It is a constant struggle, especially as an Enneagram 1 who so longs to be right and correct. But when it comes to being a white girl writing about race/lynchings/monuments/memorials/evangelical Christians in America--there is simply no way for me to be right. So writing this article over the past seven months was like a spiritual discipline in humiliation and sorrow and grief and fear.

 

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It became important for me to include in this this story both a concrete action and highlight racial terror in the PNW. I was born in northern California and grew up all over the “west”—Alaska and Wyoming and California again, but the majority of my life has now been spent in Oregon. People from this part of the country tend to view themselves as distanced, both by geography and ideology, to the rest of the US, but most particularly the South.

 

So when I researched lynchings in my state I found one on record. That number is small compared to other states and counties (Mississippi has over 580 lynchings on record, for instance) but there is a reason for that: in 1849 the legislature made it a law that “no negro or mulatto may enter into, or reside” in Oregon. The pacific northwest made it clear they didn’t want institutional slavery, but they also didn’t want to live alongside African-Americans. The laws had their intended exclusionary effect—even to this day, less than 2% of Oregon is black (for more on Oregon and our history of racial injustice, read this piece).

 

I knew that I had grown up in a state that had criminalized blackness from the start, and that I needed to do something to acknowledge a history that had been ignored and forgotten, brushed aside as we instead celebrated the “pioneer” spirit while overlooking the pain and trauma of both the original inhabitants (native Americans) and our exclusionary practices towards non-white citizens.

 

Writing this piece was like falling down a rabbit hole of all that I didn’t know. I am not an expert in this field and I don’t pretend to be. What I am is a writer, someone who is interested in things, and I became very, very interested in why so many of us grew up without hearing or understanding the history of lynchings in America. (And lynchings is only a small part of it--there were massacres and lack of civil rights such as voting and education . . . the history of racial injustice seemingly has no end). A few years ago, when it really started to sink in about both the realities of lynchings and the response of white Christian communities to them, it was like a veil had been lifted. But I wasn’t just horrified. I was implicated. Lynchings were not just public executions--they were strategies for terrorizing black people and for uniting white people under a banner of supremacy and “order”. One of the most chilling photographs is one from Marion, Indiana in 1930. How can I not see my own face reflected here?

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(Side note: an artist created a mural of this same cropped portion of the photograph--leaving out the men who were hanging from the tree--and recently there has been activity to take down this mural due to white discomfort. But the artist wanted to portray just how it is that ordinary people are the ones who perpetuate and uphold racial violence in the US. These conversations are continuing, and need to be had--but will not go anywhere until we can face our true history).

 

I’m amazed at the timing of this piece. Last December, when I started writing it in my head, I did not know that we would be having a national conversation about monuments and memorials. But I am glad we are. And more than anything, I pray that we listen to the voices of the people who have been the victims of racial terror, both past and present, and take their lead on this. Bryan Stevenson is a good place to start, but there are so many others out there. I encourage you to find these voices, sit yourself down, and listen for a good long while. Any then, when the Spirit tells you it is time, I implore you to go out to your own community and share all that you have learned.


 

//

 

If you are like me and want to start to re-learn the history of our country, I encourage you to start with the Equal Justice Initiative. Spend some time at their website, learning, looking at pictures. Watch the video for the new memorial (it will give you chills). Consider asking your church to send a group of leaders and lay pastors to travel to Montgomery to visit the new memorial and embark on a spiritual pilgrimage of remembrance and repentance (perhaps forgo a mission trip to Mexico and use your funds for this instead?). And then I encourage you to start looking into the history of racial violence in your own state, city, and county. There are spiritual ramifications to our history, often done in the name of Christ. We will not be able to move forward into repair until we have dealt with this.


 

Other resources:

 

Read Ida B. Wells (my new crush!) who was a pioneer sounding the alarm so many years ago about the horrific violence systematically being perpetuated against black people in this country.

 

Read Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. This book is incredibly impactful, and is story-driven--making it accessible to most everyone.

 

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race by Emerson and Smith. Perhaps the most important book that looks at why evangelicals are so segregated and so unwilling to address the systematic factors of racism. I wish everyone would sit down and read this one.

 

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. This book might be the most excruciating devotional on the suffering of Christ I have ever experienced--because it is made concrete in the sufferings of our black brothers and sisters in America.

 

Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew G. Hart: This book helps makes connections between our history and the present day experience of people of color in America. A must-read for Christians who want to engage.

 

Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith: I so appreciated this book for helping people walk through the steps of confronting our history (in several different areas) and walking through prayers of confession and repentance.

 

RAAN Network. This is a great place to go if you don’t have real life relationships with Christians of color. I am not reformed, but my faith has been revitalized by the voices I have found here--especially Jemar Tisby, Tyler Burns, and Ekemini Uwan (of the amazing Truth’s Table podcast). There have been multiple discussions about confederate monuments, modern-day lynchings, and more and I cannot encourage you enough to go dive into these resources.




 

Thank you for taking the time to read, prayer, and process these topics. Please share any of your favorite resources in the comments. I know that I still have so much re-learning to do.



 

the summer of mustard seeds

I almost forgot my password for the blog, so I know it's been a long time. School ended in the middle of June and we have floundered, predictably, ever since. Half of my time is spent gazing out the window while my children argue and scream over some small slight and I wonder at what all is going on in the big wide world; the other half I am in a frenzy of research, internet scrolling, keeping up with the horrors of politics, both local and big, always behind on emails and ideas. 

It's the summer of la croix (who am I kidding, the past 4-5 summers have been the summer sparkling water). the summer of trying every kind of pan dulce at the tienda. the summer I got a tattoo inspired by the parable of the mustard seed (and done in the style of Ade Bethune, the artist for The Catholic Worker). it has been a pleasantly hot, rain-free summer. saturdays we see everyone at the school for a BBQ event for the kids, once or twice a week we get together with neighbors, I see people at church and at Tuesday night prayer, but mostly I am alone with my children. When my husband is home a few mornings a week I try and slip out to write but instead find myself filling up my precious few hours with meetings, so many meetings, or answering emails or applying for grants.

one moment I think to myself: what am I doing? I am doing nothing. I am kissing babies and trying not to lose my temper and cooking meals and keeping tabs of all that we need and all that we want and all that we can't afford. nobody in my family is very good at crowds and chaos and unfettered free time so in a tangle we rove around the house together, making messes and cleaning up, playing for a few precious moments in the sun-filtered outdoors, clamoring around for more screen time, reading the same precious books over and over again. What am I doing? I am being a mom.

the other moments I think to myself: how am I doing it all? I have been working on a few writing projects that have staggered me emotionally (why, o why do I choose to exclusively write about gentrification, racial injustice, and white supremacy these days?). I will have two stories on the covers of magazines this year, and a few pieces up in places I have never published before but have long admired. I interview people (badly) sometimes. I read and read and read and never quite have the time to sit down and start writing what I hope is another book. instead, when I open my computer I see the dozens and dozens of emails that linger, begging something from me. I helped start a non-profit this year, which is simultaneously draining and life-giving. We are trying to start places of welcome and hospitality for refugees and immigrants in E Portland (now more than ever this feels urgent). The work is slow and tangled and complicated and full of forms and expenses, but the end result will be good, we know this. None of us get paid and we all get more added to our plates every day, because the need is there and we are here too. I feel the transition. the one between where I would see a need and rush to fill it, and the place I am in now: I see too many needs, and I want to create pathways for other people to join in the process, I want us all to be changed by the ways of radical hospitality and mutual relationships. I train other people to run English classes and welcome centers, I stand by while they do the work I always did: standing at the front, greeting people, serving coffee and tea and snacks, gathering people from so many places who are hungry to learn, hungry for connection, hungry for a space in the wilderness that is our neighborhood. 

and always, always, there is the undercurrent. the thought that never leaves me, that I am never doing enough. there are so many people, so many apartments, so many friends. so many injustices, so many meals being prepared the same way they have for generations, so many children running around trying to save every little ladybug and flower that they find. the needs, the experiences, the relationships spiral out from me in circles, ripples that I cannot catch. I have no rhythm or routine, just my children asking for more water to drink, my thoughts gnawing on some problem or another, a thousand different points I need to try and connect, both online and in my real life.

I am never enough for the people in my life. Sometimes this thought crushes me, sometimes it liberates. I read my Bible in the mornings and drink my coffee and write my frantic thoughts for three pages in my journal. I relish the cool Oregon morning air and the fact that my husband gets up with the kids so I can have a few moments to collect my scattered and despairing and curious self. I drink sparkling water as if I was royalty and share empanadas stuffed with coconut cream or pineapple with my children. I hang out with a refugee friend and know that she needs more from me than I can give, I read text messages full of problems too complicated to fathom. I watch silly TV shows at night and glory in the luxury of a partner who listens to anything I might want to process about. I grieve my country and the religion that has co-opted it, every day. 

And then I get up, and do it all over again. minute by minute, this summer, this year, this life is being built. And the reason I am writing this out right now is to tell myself something that I know I have a hard time believing. it all matters. every second of it. the kingdom of God comes through small things. seeds of obedience, of self-sacrifice. seeds of tiny little pleasures and the seeds of listening patiently to little children with big emotions. and of course, the seed that is hardest for me to honor the most of all, is the one I am becoming friends with, it is starting to sprout and grow. 

the seed of accepting that you are not as useful as you once were, that you are small and fragile and yet still driven to stretch out, wherever your are, reaching for the birds looking for a place to sit and rest.

 

 

 

 

(I hope your summer is going well! a few quick things: my book is currently on sale for kindle for 1.99 and it ends on 7/31 so snatch it up! secondly, I'm still sending out my newsletter every once in awhile which includes a round-up of all the places I am writing at. Thirdly, if any local folks want to help out with the Refugee and Immigrant Hospitality Organization, hit me up! We are always in need of volunteers . . .)

 

happy birthday, baby

There are a thousand other things I should be writing but I want to write this:

Yesterday, you waved your chubby little hand and yelled “hi!” to the old Somali woman sitting in front of the elementary school. For months now she has tried to get you to like her, she has grabbed your cheeks and kissed your hands and spoken rapid-fire Somali to you. You always get a crumpled face, turn to face me, fling your arms around my legs. We all laugh, all of the moms and grandma’s who gather every day to pick up their kids, but yesterday you did the opposite. Yesterday was your last day of being one, and from your perch in the stroller you spotted a friend, a grandma, an ayeeyo in a teal green hijab, and said hello.

Baby, you stomp your way through life. When you smile you squint your eyes, just like your dad. We thought you were an easy baby, whatever that means, but you are just as complicated as all of us. You have intense opinions. You like to be snuggled. We still rock you to bed, every night. You desperately wish you knew your numbers and your ABCs, but don’t worry—it will happen. You like to dance to music, especially the music your baba listens to. You like to make people laugh.

When you came into the world you were perfect. You didn't know how hard the world was, how sad your mama could get, how unfairly everything is divided. You still don't know, for the most part, you still think everything is glorious right up until the minute it isn't. You teach me, with your goofy grins and obsession with balloons and fierce love of calling yourself "super baby", to try and savor the good as much as possible. To be surprised by delight, when I am tempted to remain entrenched in a low-scale despair. You won't let me, is the thing. You are a string keeping me tethered to God, you are the one leading me into the kingdom of heaven, just like Jesus always said would happen.

//

I have written so much about the birth of my second baby, but none of it is publishable. Perhaps because it is tied to so many thoughts that people don’t like to dwell on: mortality, heaven and hell, anxiety disorders. But due to the nature of my children’s births I can’t help but relive some of that time. The way I cried to Matt Kearney’s song on all the drives to the high-risk OB appointments. The way it was a constant struggle to balance my failing body with the growing one inside of me. The way it all went perfect, up until the moment it didn’t. The long months and years of unraveling and starting to reconstruct again. The body, the faith, the life that has been changed, irrevocably, both for bad and for good.

My life is surrounded by resilience and trauma. I know I sound like a broken record, because life is like a broken record. I have grooves in my brain which have taught me to always be on the lookout for sorrow and sadness and injustice. Facebook tells me that three years ago this post was published, and it remains just as true today as it was then. The sparrows are still everywhere, losing their housing, forging a life, falling to the ground unseen by so many.

Today my mom brought a bunny to one of my neighbors. Her ethnic group, the Rohingya muslims of Burma, is counted as one of the most persecuted groups in the world. What would it be like to be her? I will never know, is the thing. This woman had casually mentioned she wanted a rabbit, and my mom was happy to supply one. I didn’t really believe it, as I had never known any of my friends and neighbors to keep a pet. But when my mom delivered the bunny today, my friend and neighbor was beside herself in excitement. She clutched the little cage to herself and I swear her eyes got teary. This is my last baby, she joked to me and my mom. I was totally unprepared for the delight that a small brown rabbit could evoke in someone like my friend. But I tried to savor it, as best as I could. I am trying, as hard as I can, to get better at nothing the good parts of the world too. I am trying very hard to create some new grooves in my heart, rhythms and routines of hope and joy. 

//

I made a list of things that have changed me the other day, and this is what I wrote:

My neighbors

Almost dying

Having kids

Growing older

My community, mortality, motherhood, and time. Each one of these both wounds and heals, depending on the way you squint. Days of remembrance, days of celebration, cause me to stop and reflect on the positive elements, to see it all as a gift. I’m not the same person I was two years ago, and I’m so glad for that.

In a few days we will have a party for my baby. I invited some refugee friends and they told me it was the first time they had ever been invited to an American’s home. We will have rainbow cupcakes. It will be awkward. There is a good possibility nobody will show up, or dozens and dozens will. We don’t know the future, and there is little use to be gained in worrying about it. Both of my babies and Jesus himself taught me this. Might as well buy some extra Doritos and hope for a good turn-out.

My life looks so different to me, but what was I expecting? I spend hours in meetings with powerful people, I spend hours sitting on the floor listening to women who live very far from their mothers and feel so sad about it. My children fill up the hours of my day with their smiles and screams and sponge-like minds. I read articles on my phone about the terrible things people in government do. I walk by murals for people murdered, I buy a piñata for my baby and carry it through the crowded parking lot for everyone to see. Everywhere I go I am on the verge of tears. My angst, it follows me like a guardian angel, never letting me feeling entirely happy, entirely sad. Welcome to the in-between world. Welcome to what being cracked wide open for the long-haul looks like. 

Welcome to being two years old, my little guide. The world will never be the same, all because of you. 

 

 

 

*for those interested in hearing me talk a bit more about my birth stories, you can listen to the recent episode of the lovely motherbirth podcast. I'm thankful for the opportunity to both share and process. 

Lent 2017: Palm Sunday

I'm going to cry if I write about Jesus today. The day we wave palm branches around and pretend he is our king, just like they did so long ago. But really we long for retaliation, for power, we long to make ourselves safe, we long to conquer death on our own, we long to forget our responsibilities to each other. Jesus brought a fire that divided, he brought the fire of neighbor-love and a kingdom without borders, a call to a life based on thousands of willing deaths and thousands of miraculous resurrections. And we killed him for it.

There is a man who grew up in my neighborhood, who runs a food bank so many of my neighbors use. I have not met him, but I have been touched by his life and work, even though he is so young. A few weeks ago he was arrested at his house by ICE. Due to a large outcry, he was later released on bond. He awaits his trial, which could be a year or two in coming. He did everything he could--applied to DACA, checked in with immigration--and yet there is hardly anything that can be done for him. The US has so few paths to citizenship (marriage to a citizen being one, or a family member applying for you--which is backed up at ten years waiting time or more). Isn't this so cruel?

And yet, Fransisco has faith. His community perseveres. I am surrounded by people who know intimately how bad the kingdom of the world is, the way power always tramples on the people who need it the most. 

In Oregon, there are estimates of 130,000 undocumented neighbors. I love them, even as I profit off of their vulnerabilities in status. They cook the food I eat in restaurants, they pick my strawberries and blueberries and tomatoes, the drop off their kids at school with mine. Without them, our economy would collapse. They pay taxes and they do not reap the returns. They are constantly sowing into our communities and country, and yet they are the first to be betrayed when it comes time to make a political show of power.

I used to feel so sad for Jesus, on palm Sunday. He knew what was coming, didn't he? But then I got older, and I met so many people who have suffered, been tortured, watched family members die, be torn from their communities. Jesus, fully God and also fully human, met all of these people too. When he rode that donkey down that road, as he watched people pledge allegiance, as he knew how quickly it would all change, he did it for them. He came to show us that God doesn't punish us. He showed us that God suffers with us, and enters into it willingly. That is the direction Jesus is always going. Do we have the faith to follow after him?

//

I was reading this lenten devotional about today, how Jesus references the sign of Jonah. How Jonah was a messed up man who experienced the strangest of resurrections out of the mouth of a fish. It made me realize how nonlinear the invitation to suffering really is in this world. Sometimes I imagine that delving into a topic like immigration in America is almost a form of penance--the horror stories, the human rights abuses, the large-scale injustices, the current waves of fear and hatred. But it is also beautiful, and invitation to be swallowed whole and spit up on the shores of life very different than when you started. It is an invitation to be reborn, complete with sharper ears and eyes for what God might actually be up to in your own heart, and in the hearts of your neighbors.

Going into Holy Week, I want to take a moment and say how grateful I have been for this Lenten experience of reading, praying, meditating, and contemplating action in the area of loving our undocumented neighbors in America. I expect I will have more to say about it, but for today I will leave you with this discernment step from Street Psalms:

"As you pray this week, consider what the sign of Jonah might be pointing you toward. What in your life is being “storm-wrecked, drowned, swallowed whole, and vomited up”? Or might need to be? In the Communion Prayer, we ask God to forgive us “for all the ways we diminish the meal for the ways we guard against your mercy and withhold it from others, for all of our misplaced and displaced desires that have caused so much harm.” This hasn’t been an easy course of the meal to digest (just ask the creature who swallowed Jonah!). Are you able to discern, however, something of the presence of Christ and the movement of the Spirit in the hard places in your life? In the life of your community or the people you serve? Receive with openness what God might have to offer in this most significant week in the rhythm of our spiritual life together."

 

Lent 2017: At the Border of Jesus and the Law (Interview)

Lent 2017: At the Border of Jesus and the Law (Interview)

The following is an interview between my good friend (and neighbor) Lindsey Boulais and her co-worker Nancy. After serving in the Philippines for several years, Nancy moved into a low-income immigrant community in Central California. For more than a decade, she has worked alongside her neighbors to see change come in their lives and in their neighborhood. 
 

LB: What do you wish people knew about those who are undocumented?   

ND: So much! Basically I wish people knew that so much of what they hear are really myths and not the truth. For example, there is no "line" for legal immigration to get in. Also, undocumented neighbors pay taxes, contribute to our culture and society in their food, businesses, educated minds, etc. There is a long list printed somewhere of the myths about those who are undocumented. I wish people recognized that most of their negative beliefs are really myths. Also, I wish people realized that most undocumented neighbors do not want to cross the border because they are in love with America, but because they want to feed their family and keep their family safe. Hunger and violence do a lot to propel people across the border. It is not out of a desire to live in America. The youth I know who came over as very little children did not want to leave their grandparents, did not want to leave their dog or friends. They had to come.  

 

What have you learned about God through being in relationship with immigrants? 

I think I have learned that God is way more gracious than we are. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the places where we start this discussion. If we start on the side of the law, we end up with one conclusion. If we start on the side of humanity, we end up somewhere else. I think God is on the side of humanity. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve clearly broke the law. There wasn’t immediate banishment or eviction. There was relationship first. God still went to the garden in the cool of the evening to look for them and walk with them. He listened to their story first! He provided clothes for them that would last longer than the leaves they had sown together, and then there was the consequences and the removal from the garden. Also if you look at Jesus, he always stood on the side of the person versus the side of the law. He healed on the Sabbath, he stood with the woman caught in adultery. This isn’t to say that we dismiss the law, but we look at it from a more humane side. I could say a LOT more on this . . .  

 

Immigration is a complicated process. What are some of the barriers facing immigrants applying to the US?  

It is super complicated and I don’t know everything. However, I do know that money is often a huge barrier. People fleeing poverty have to pay a lot of money to a coyote to cross the border and then when they get here finding work can be difficult and most continue to live in poverty for at least a generation or more. Finding money for the legal process is hard.  A friend of mine was working through the DACA process, there was lots of paperwork that had to be submitted, creative ways to prove she was here in the US after she graduated high school but couldn’t work. Paper work, time, energy, money, ability to face disappointment and setbacks and keep going.  

There is just absolutely no legal way for most people I know. I have 2 good friends and both came to America as children, one from Mexico and one as a refugee from another country. Both as youth got into legal trouble with gangs and prison time. Both have come to know and love Jesus. Both serve in full-time ministry doing amazing things I could never do. Both are married with children and have stable lives and bless our city in ways too numerous to mention. Both are on the list for deportation. Both have sought out legal counsel with immigration lawyers and criminal lawyers. Both have been told there is nothing they can legally do to fix their situations (each for different but super complicated reasons - but basically there is just no way for either of them). So they continue to live and thrive and work for the peace of our city, and we pray against their deportation. 

 

What happens when someone is deported? 

It is horrible! As soon as someone gets caught by border patrol crossing over or by ICE they get thrown in a detention center which is literally a prison. Most will go before a judge for a trial to hear their case. A friend of mine called the trial a "charade of justice." Based on the judge and the court, they could be put back in the prison, (I mean detention center,) for a month or for two years. Most of the detention centers are for-profit, so there is a lot of motivation to keep the beds filled ($160/bed/day)! When they get deported they are released on the Mexico side of the border. They have nothing or mostly nothing with them. They feel like failures. They were not able to provide for their families in their own city or country of origin and couldn’t get work in America.  It is really hard.  

 

Nancy at a portion of the wall that has already been constructed

Nancy at a portion of the wall that has already been constructed

 

(note from DL): I'm grateful for Nancy and her honest assessments of what she sees going on around her. This season I have learned so much about the ignorance that most of America has when it comes to the situations, circumstances, and sufferings of our neighbors who are undocumented (and the lack of options available to them to become legal citizens). I will be thinking about Nancy's answers for a good long while, and I hope you do too.

 

About the interviewer:

Lindsey Boulais is passionate about Christ, His heart for the marginalized and how the church can get involved. Living and working in a low-income community in Portland, Oregon, you can find her losing in UNO to the neighborhood kids, drinking too much tea with Afghan refugees or stealing away to read. Follow her at lindseywithlove.wordpress.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @lindsey_boulais

 

Lent 2017: Weekend Reading and Action Plan

I am still reading the stories, still letting them sink into my bones. This Lenten practice has been so hard, and so good for me. There are so many things to be upset about, so many issues I want to engage with. But it always comes back to the people. My neighbors, be they near or far. Am I listening to them? Am I allowing their stories to change me?

I have been heartened to see and hear more coverage in regards to the Christian response to our undocumented brothers and sisters. Today I would like to highlight some of these readings, in the hopes that you will take the time over the weekend to read them and reflect. 

CT has published this podcast on a conservative church which has become a sanctuary, and they also posted this wonderful interview with Alexia Salvatierra (done by Sarah Quezada). The interview especially is wonderful because the joy and perseverance of those involved in this work is made evidenced, despite the magnitude and nature of the suffering involved. My favorite quote is at the end, addressing the topic of burnout:

"When I was a missionary in the Philippines, I witnessed what I perceived to be incredible, ongoing heroism from believers living under a dictator. And I began to understand that their example was not necessarily incredible, ongoing heroism but the Christian life. We just are very soft, and we struggle to carry our crosses. People everywhere else in the world and throughout the ages know a lot more about that practice than we as American Christians do. But God is faithful, and our spirituality is deepened as it’s tested like gold."

Isn't that gorgeous? 

I wanted to highlight another resource, this one coming from a pretty conservative background, the Christian Life Commission. I thought this PDF was a helpful way to view the complexities of this issue (I appreciate the interaction with Romans 13, for example). Here is a quote from the end:

"Immigration in the United States today presents a challenge to American Christians. The biblical message is clear about how we are to treat immigrants, but the Bible also implores us to respect law and this creates problems in relation to unauthorized immigration. It is possibly most helpful to remember that the whole world belongs to God. National boundaries, while useful for ordering society, are not part of God’s good creation but, rather, have emerged over time. God gave the whole world to the descendants of Adam and Eve, and God is working across those borders. People who cross national borders to flee from poverty and danger today are seeking the same things as earlier immigrants – opportunity and safety. They are our neighbors even if not authorized to be here, and they are in need. They are loved by God, and we can show that love to these new neighbors. The government of the United States needs to form appropriate policies to support national interests, but those of us who follow Christ can see a bigger picture – one of humanity and of the need to share and show the love of Christ."

Here is Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty commission (and everybody's favorite or least favorite southern baptist) writing about immigration a few years ago. I think it is a great response: "I’m amazed when I hear evangelical Christians speak of undocumented immigrants in this country with disdain as “those people” who are “draining our health care and welfare resources.” It’s horrifying to hear those identified with the gospel speak, whatever their position on the issues, with mean-spirited disdain for the immigrants themselves." 

And here is Noel Castellanos, president of the Christian Community Development Association, writing about why the recent executive orders targeting immigrants is profoundly violates the principles of faithful Christians. It is also an excellent look at how widespread and damaging these policies are. 

I hope to read more of these types of articles in the coming days. I hope to hear more and more Christians speak up about this issue, and specifically about how unjust and inhumane the recent policies regarding mass deportation are. 

 

Action Step for the Weekend

After you read these articles (and others, I hope) take the time to contact your local representatives and give a heartfelt plea why we need to show hospitality to our neighbors and work for overhauling immigration and providing numerous more pathways for legal citizenship. I know that everyone says to contact your representatives but I have to be honest and say I am lazy and overworked and have never been good at this. But be creative and find a way that works for you! One of my friends sends hundreds of postcards (and even goes to parties where people write them together. Other people use the five calls app (it prompts you to do something like make five calls? IDK). For me, I found something that works and it is wonderful. It is called ResistBot and you use it to to write faxes to your representatives (which Resist Bot locates for you) all just by texting! It is so easy and so strangely satisfying--and better yet, it is free! Here is an example of a message I sent the other day:

This took about five minutes of my life and was sent to my two senators and my state representative. Easy peasey--So this weekend, find a way to contact people in power and advocate for our undocumented neighbors. If I can do it, then truly anyone can.

As always, if you have any articles or resources or apps to share, please do so in the comments. Thanks for journeying along with me this Lenten season. 

 

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Lent 2017: Prayers

Last night a few of us got together to pray for refugees (I brought up undocumented immigrants as well, because of course) and it was very good for my soul. I wanted to share a few of the prayers here, as well as some Scriptures we prayed through (thank you Erin, for putting this together!). I did the first part, guiding us through praying/reading Isaiah 58 and starting with repenting and lamenting. It is funny how bad evangelicals are at this. Everyone wants to rush straight to good news--we are sad, but God is in control! Everything is terrible, but it is covered by the blood of Jesus! Yes, yes, I know . . . but can't we just sit in the sadness for a moment? To me, that is what these times require. To sit and feel the lament, at least for a bit.

Sometimes when I am around Christians who use a lot of Christian language I feel lonely. Do they not know their words sound like gibberish to people who have real and present needs now? What does it mean to wait on God when the world is falling apart? What does it mean to evangelize someone when people are dying of starvation? This may seem like a weird tangent to go off on, but it is all connected. It is bringing me to my main point, which is this: the Bible is not a book of Christianese.

We have turned it into such, sadly. Or maybe I just heard bits and pieces of it too much, so they lost their sheen, lost their context--which is a bloody, messy, horrible world full of extremely messed up people who ended up being used by God anyways. As such, the full expression of humanity is on display, constantly. The Bible was written by traumatized people who were trying hard to believe in a good God in a very bad world. 

I thought about this, last night. The way I need the Bible so badly. The way it speaks to all the needs of my heart and of my neighbors. It doesn't leave anyone out. It pierces the hearts of those who need it, it comforts those who are oppressed. This is comforting to me. Which is why praying through Scripture has become such a comfort as well. And so:

 

The action step for the weekend is this: pray.

Take a few moments to thoughtfully meditate on these Scripture passages or creeds or prayers. Keep your suffering brothers and sisters close to you, your neighbors who fear for the ends of their lives and livelihoods due to their immigration status. Better yet, find a ground of people to pray these prayers with!

 

Prayer of Pope Francis on the beach at Mytilene, Lesbos, 16 April 2016 [Adapted]:  
 


Merciful God, We entrust to you all those who have made this journey, enduring fear, uncertainty and humiliation, in order to reach a place of safety and hope. Just as you never abandoned your Son as he was brought to a safe place by Mary and Joseph, so now be close to these, your sons and daughters, through our tenderness and protection.

In caring for them may we seek a world where none are forced to leave their home and where all can live in freedom, dignity and peace. Merciful God and Father of all, wake us from the slumber of indifference, open our eyes to their suffering, and free us from the insensitivity born of worldly comfort and self centredness.

Inspire us, as nations, communities and individuals, to see that those who come to our shores are our brothers and sisters. May we share with them the blessings we have received from your hand, and recognize that together, as one human family, we are all migrants, journeying in hope to you, our true home, where every tear will be wiped away where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace.

 

Isaiah 58 English Standard Version (ESV)

“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
    lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”


 

Prayer for Migrant Families

Good and gracious God, we thank you for the gift of families.

We are grateful for all of the joy and love that they bring into our lives, and we ask that you provide special protection for all families, particularly those who face hardships as they move in search of a better life.

Show mercy to those who travel in danger, and lead them to a place of safety and peace. Comfort those who are alone and afraid because their families have been torn apart by violence and injustice.

As we reflect upon the difficult journey that the Holy Family faced as refugees in Egypt, help us to remember the suffering of all migrant families. Through the intercession of Mary our Mother, and St. Joseph the Worker, her spouse, we pray that all migrants may be reunited with their loved ones and find the meaningful work they seek.

Open our hearts so that we may provide hospitality for all who come in search of refuge. Give us the courage to welcome every stranger as Christ in our midst.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

 

Psalm 37 (1-6) New Living Translation (NLT)

 

Don’t worry about the wicked

    or envy those who do wrong.

For like grass, they soon fade away.

    Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

Trust in the LORD and do good.

    Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.

Take delight in the LORD,

    and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Commit everything you do to the LORD.

    Trust him, and he will help you.

He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,

    and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the LORD,

    and wait patiently for him to act.

Don’t worry about evil people who prosper

    or fret about their wicked schemes.

 

 

 

Lord, hear our prayers.

 

 

Lent 2017: Stories

Obviously, I haven't been posting every day like I had originally envisioned. I can't imagine doing that going forward, either--but I hope to post to links and resources at least twice a week until the end of Lent. The thing is, this is an incredibly heavy topic. Not to mention all the complexities involved. And it is impacting my real life and my neighbors in really big ways. I will share that at my daughter's school (which is 57% Spanish-speaking) we cannot advertise any sort of informational night when it comes to immigration for fear that ICE will target the event. This is my world. This is your world, too, no matter how far away you might feel from it.

I have become deeply immersed in this book. Sometimes the stories are so troubling and so sad that I have to sit down and cry for 30 minutes. This is not hyperbole. One of the reasons that these stories impact me so deeply is because so much of it takes place in restaurants, factories, and fields of MY country. The human rights abuses, the continual de-humanizing, the fear that people face . . . all so that they can work and support their families. My life is propped up by their sacrifices, and my country created policies and laws that ensure that they will work in sub-human conditions due to their lack of ability to get papers.

Papers. That's it. That is all that separates me from them. Don't you feel how thin the veil is that separates the perpetually suffering from the blissfully ignorant? It seems almost see-through to me these days. 

Please read the stories from Underground America (and other places) yourself, and see if you don't find yourself as shaken as I am. Here is an NPR interview about the book, and I will copy and paste two short excerpts below.

 

 

Polo, 23
Gulfport, Mississippi

Polo comes from a small town in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and speaks both Spanish and Zapotecan. He worked for a subcontractor to a subcontractor to a subcontractor to Kellogg Brown and Root—which until recently was owned by Halliburton—cleaning up the Seabees Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

We went down to Mississippi to the Naval base at Gulfport, and started to work. Our job was to clean all the mess—the houses, the trees, everything—all that the wind had damaged, had destroyed. We collected all the trash from the streets. We cut up the fallen trees, piling them in one spot. This is the type of work we were doing. It was a big, serious disaster, and there was so much cleaning up to do.

The bolillos, the white people, drove the machines. We were more like the helpers. There were other people living on the base, black people. They were people who had lost their houses. They were like refugees. I imagine that the black people went to work, but with their own people, with people of their same race. We were pretty separate in our work.

We returned to our cots at about seven at night. We slept there, in an airplane hangar on the base. We weren't allowed to leave the base at all because the poyeros—human smugglers—guarded us strictly. They would charge us if we wanted to go out. Once all our debts were paid, then they said we could leave.

Our boss kept a notebook with our names and all the records of our hours. We'd been promised eleven dollars per hour. We worked every day—Monday to Monday—and the first three weeks we weren't paid at all. When we complained about this, the bosses would say, "it's fine, don't worry. I'm going to the bank right now." Then they would come back and tell us that the bank wouldn't give them the money, that we would have to wait. That's the excuse they gave us.

After two weeks, they started to take away some of the cots. We were totally taken aback. Some of us had to sleep outside. We didn't know what to do. We worked it out according to who needed the cots most. The people on the floor had some blankets, but that was it. There was intense heat during the day and intense cold at night.

Well, then the boss disappeared. We tried to find her so we could get our checks, but she was gone. After three days, the military men came. They spoke to us in English. As they were soldiers, they had their guns. They came up to our cots—the few cots that we had—and took them. Then they shut off the bathrooms. And they took us out, like they were cleaning out the base.

After that the group of us stayed next to the cemetery, under plastic tarps. I felt so sad. I hadn't been paid. I had nowhere to go. I didn't know where they wanted me to go, what they wanted me to do. That's what I was thinking: What am I supposed to do now? I thought about my family because they were thinking that I was earning money, and there I was, without work, and without any payment for the work I had done. I really wanted to go back at that point. My idea was to get to Mississippi, to start working, and to earn money to send to my family. I thought that here it would be easy to earn money. I couldn't imagine this kind of humiliation. Yes, humiliation. They humiliated us.

[Editor's Note: After a complaint from an activist group to the U.S. Department of Labor, the direct subcontractor to KBR paid the workers a total of $100,000. Another payment of $144,000 is forthcoming. Polo is currently working in a furniture factory in Mississippi, trying to save up money to build a house for himself in his hometown.]

Rose, 43
Galesburg, Illinois

Rose was born in Beijing, China in 1965 to working-class parents. She married a laborer and graduated from nursing school in 1989. She remembers attending many of the student lectures in Tiananmen Square. In 1990, she gave birth to a son and named him "Sunrise." After divorcing her husband, Rose found an opportunity to come to the United States and make a better life for her child, then nine years old. By way of San Francisco, she went to Chicago to stay with a friend who got her a job waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant. There she met her boyfriend, a cook, whom she would later follow downstate. Surrounded by corn and soy, Galesburg, Illinois lies between the Mississippi and Spoon Rivers.

When I arrived in Chicago, I wandered the streets of Chinatown, which didn't seem strange to me. It was clean and prosperous, just like Beijing. Lots of merchandise in the windows. I thought I would learn English and then apply for nursing school, but I had debts to repay. So I changed my mind and went to work at a restaurant in Chicago. Working in a restaurant is simple physical labor. Although the restaurant was owned by Chinese, these Chinese were from a different region, with different customs and dialect, which made things hard. I missed my family and friends and often wanted to cry, but didn't dare in public. One time a cook found me crying during a break. When he saw me, he tried to console me. He took care of me and we became close. We started to date and have been together for eight years. Before, we laughed together more. Now, we are silent more.

Now that we live in Galesburg, I work in a different restaurant but it is all the same. The pressures and monotonies of work and lack of social activities in this town make me feel like I will go stir-crazy. I love to watch television when I'm not working. I cry with the people on TV and sometimes my eyes swell up from the crying. The tears on my cheeks feel warm and I think it's relaxing. It doesn't seem normal.

I wonder what I will be like eight years from now. Will I be insane? I worry. Did I do the right thing? I left my son and everything I love back in China. My parents are more than seventy years old and every day they hope for my return. Whenever I think about them, I think I couldn't face them. When I was little they went to work every day, came home, cooked, and did laundry. My mother did physical labor, loading and unloading crates. Every day she came home stressed and tired and still tended to our needs. During the New Year, she bought cloth and made clothes for us under a single light bulb. She sewed one stitch at a time and it took her a month. I didn't understand and complained that the clothes were ugly. When I think of this, I feel embarrassed and full of regret.

My son is growing older and getting more and more distant with me. On the morning he was born in 1990, the sun rose bright in the east so we named him "Sunrise." I had great ambitions for him. I wanted him to be like a dragon! I wanted him to be outstanding. I tried to teach him to be virtuous, like my father. He was bright and remembered all the stories and fairy tales that I read to him. But before he was big enough to understand, I had already gone.

 

 

 

God, be merciful to us, those who have willfully turned our eye to the oppression that we demand. God, be with those who suffer, even now, under our unjust laws and our unequal societies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest post: Married to an Undocumented Immigrant

Sarah is someone who I have met only once IRL but for whom I have an immense amount of respect and gratitude for. In sharing her story she is inviting us into the complexities of this issue, and I am so glad we can all read along. Be sure to visit her blog, which has a lot of resources and information on how to best love our neighbors who are undocumented (this post is one of my favs) 

 

 

Married to an Undocumented Immigrant: What I Learned About Our Immigration System

by Sarah Quezada

 

“Well, I don’t exactly know what it means to ‘not have papers,’ but I hope if this relationship goes anywhere, he gets that worked out.”

These were my exact thoughts when Billy - my boyfriend from Guatemala - told me on our third date he was an undocumented immigrant. I assumed it was a paperwork issue, like neglecting to update your driver’s license when you move to a new state. I figured he just needed to take a half-day off work and go to an embassy or someplace and get it all straightened out.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In fact, I will rival anyone for “most awkward DTR conversation” when he finally told me the only way he could, in fact, “fix” his papers: marry a U.S. citizen. I was stunned. Is it uncomfortable to talk about the legal ramifications of your potential future marriage when you’ve been dating about two months? Why, yes it is. But Billy felt strongly that he wanted me to know the full situation and its implications as soon as possible. Then, he immediately suggested we break up because he didn’t want me to be concerned about his motives. My, that escalated quickly!

But we didn’t break up. And along the way, I learned a great deal about our U.S. immigration system. Many of our experiences directly contradicted statements I had heard about this topic prior to my dating and marriage. Here are five things I learned:

 

There’s more than one way to become undocumented

Not every undocumented immigrant crossed the border or was smuggled into the country. Billy did not cross the border. He flew into Los Angeles on a plane with a legal visa to enter the U.S.. So what happened? His visa expired after he’d been here six months, but he remained. I’ve often heard that approximately 40% of undocumented immigrants in this country entered legally, but a recent study puts it as high as 60%.

 

There are limited ways to gain legal residence

Visas allow temporary visitation, such as to attend university or for tourism. But for legal permanent residence (commonly known as a “green card”), there are essentially three paths. These are sometimes referred to as “blood, sweat, or tears.”

  • Blood: A U.S. citizen relative applies for you to gain status. Priority is given to husbands and wives (yep) or parents applying for children, but adult children can also apply for parents and siblings for other siblings, though these are lower on the priority list.

  • Sweat: Companies can sponsor immigrants and eventually support their access to legal permanent residence. This avenue is generally reserved for specialized positions that cannot be filled by current U.S. citizens.

  • Tears: Asylum seekers are fleeing violence in their home country. This is different from refugee status. Refugees apply from refugee offices in the home country and are offered resettlement support and certain benefits upon arrival. Asylum seekers apply once they arrive to this country and are given no benefits or support. This category is tricky because applicants must prove their life is in danger upon return, which can be very difficult.

 

The process - even to visit - is not straightforward

When we decided to get married, Billy’s parents applied for tourist visas to attend our wedding. We did everything “the right way.” They completed all the paperwork. They met all the stated requirements. They paid the fees. Still, they were denied, but encouraged to apply again. So they did, and they were denied a second time.

They missed our wedding and the births of our two children. Eight years after we were married, they applied a third time, and my mother-in-law was granted a visa, while my father-in-law was denied once again. Because of the “Blood” avenue mentioned above, it would actually be easier at this point for us to apply for him to become a resident of the U.S. rather than a visitor, except for one thing: He doesn’t want to live here.

 

Yes, immigrants work legitimate jobs

What industries hire undocumented immigrants? So, so many. When we were dating, Billy worked in telecommunications for two companies whose names are widely recognizable. Of course, he was never on their employee list because big companies often work through contractors and subcontractors, who do the actual hiring. This structure allows parent corporations to claim they know nothing and are responsible for nothing.

These workarounds allow companies in many industries to hire foreign workers. While my knee jerk reaction sometimes is to vilify these businesses, it’s actually just a testament to how our immigration laws do not work for anyone. I’m glad Billy had a (mostly) good job while we were dating. However, I also saw how workers without the protections of legal employment were exploited: not trained to use dangerous machinery, not paid on time (or occasionally, not at all), working obscene daily hours, and rarely given days off or breaks. However, when I traveled to D.C. to advocate for immigration reform, I was surprised to be surrounded by national leaders in fields like technology, agriculture, and food and beverage. All were asking Congress to pass working immigration laws. The current system makes it difficult for both companies and workers to follow the law.

 

Yes, immigrants pay taxes

I know this because I was married to an undocumented immigrant. I saw his paychecks come home every two weeks, and I saw the line item deductions printed on his pay stub. I also know that, during that season, we mostly received tax refunds each April, but he was not able to file. Interestingly, the IRS actually provides a work around called the ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), which is a tax number specifically for those without social security numbers. It is my understanding that some undocumented immigrants use this number to file, knowing that the IRS does not collaborate with immigration enforcement. I am unaware if this practice has changed as enforcement laws have changed, but I know we were too nervous to follow-up a potential refund this way and relied on our lawyer who processed our taxes, along with our immigration adjustment.

I know there’s a lot I haven’t addressed here. And I know there’s much I’m still learning as I spend time with immigrants and as the national landscape on this issue continues to flux and change. I am doing my best to continue learning and to ask how I can love my neighbors as a Christ follower and one committed to advocating on behalf of the marginalized. If you’d like to read more of my husband’s and my story, you can do so here.

 

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Sarah Quezada is a writer and nonprofit professional living in a bicultural household in Atlanta with her husband and two kids. She has a master’s in sociology and writes regularly about social justice, family, and living across cultures on her blog, A Life with Subtitles. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Here are five posts you might want to consider reading by Sarah:

Immigration 2017: A Beginner's Guide to Action

We Need Different Friends Now More Than Ever

Do You Live in a Good Neighborhood?

An American Girl's Guide to Kissing

12 GIFs Only People at a Bilingual Church Will Understand 

 

 

Lent 2017: Listen

 

1. I live in a neighborhood which is full of scared and sad kids. Maybe you are not like me. Maybe you don't know anyone who is scared or sad about their family being ripped apart. If this is you, then I can't think of anything better than listening to the first 11 minutes of this podcast. You will meet a little girl who is trying very hard not to be scared. Maybe, just maybe, she can be the one to help you understand what God's kingdom is like, and that it is full of compassion and mercy. 

Click here to listen to the prologue of Vague and Confused, the most recent episode of This American Life (or download where ever you normally listen to podcasts). 

 

2. There is a lot of debate about immigration, and this episode follows a very interesting (and complicated) case. I loved this podcast because it focuses on someone who is not the "perfect" case, and therefore throws some more complexities in there. Stick around until the end, when the hosts interview a libertarian economist who is both a Christian and is pro open borders (on both an economic and moral basis). Fascinating. 

Click here it listen to listen to the episode Encore Plus: Who is A Good Immigrant, Anyway? by CodeSwitch at NPR. 

 

3. And finally, my husband and I started recording our long-talked about podcast where we discuss Adventures in Odyssey episodes. He's a huge AiO nerd and I am . . . not so much. Our third podcast discusses an episode set in Venezuela, and brings up interesting themes in regards to how our American evangelicalism has been shaped to intervene in inequalities and injustice elsewhere while willfully ignoring those that happen in our own country (discrimination, or health care, for instance). Listen along and see if you agree with us that American exceptionalism has been very damaging to our sense of morality.

Click here to listen to A Mission for Jimmy. You can also subscribe to The Prophetic Imagination Station wherever you listen to podcast. 

 

Thanks for listening with me. If you have any podcasts/sermons to share, please mention them in the comments. 

 

 

Lent 2017: Myths

To be honest, I feel overwhelmed at the task of learning about and sharing information on undocumented neighbors in the US. There is so much to learn. It is all very complicated. There are very large and very pervasive lies that are spread in order to increase fear and discrimination. It is clear that there is no one article I can point you to to convince you of anything; instead I just think about how there are millions and millions of stories, and each is so very different and unique.

So perhaps we should start with some myths about immigration. I think probably the most common response to undocumented immigrants is: why didn't they just do it the legal way? But to be perfectly honest, at this point I feel like if someone is asking that question, then they probably do not want to know the real answer. Because the truth is, there are very few paths to citizenship for people from Mexico and other countries, and there are not even nearly enough temporary visas. Why is this? I don't have all the answers, but from all of my reading it seems clear that our economy is one that thrives on the shadows created by an immigration system that is inherently broken, unjust, and only enforced sporadically.

It is unjust in that it only creates a few legal pathways for visas (and fewer still for citizenship) and yet depends on the labor of so many migrant workers. By only enforcing the laws (deporting people) sporadically, it makes examples of a few in order to keep everyone else without proper documentation living and working in fear. This means employers can threaten deportation while paying people poverty wages in horrific conditions, essentially meaning that many of our warehouses, factories, restaurants, and fields are filled with workers submitting to multiple human rights violations in order to make our economy run. My life, my food, my neighborhood, is built on suffering. And yet here we are, enjoying the fruits of underpaid labor, all the while vilifying the people who are working the hardest. 

Of course, another myth centers around crime. Why would we let all these violent people into our country? This is the message we have gotten from our President, and countless others. To be sure, there are violent offenders and people involved in criminal behavior who are unauthorized immigrants. But the percentage (3%) is lower than that of the average US citizen (6%). So it's not really about crime. It's about demonizing an entire group of people in order to gain political power, which is sadly one of the oldest plays in the book. Are we paying attention?

There are other myths, and perhaps we will get to them on another day. But the bigger myth I want to talk about is the one that continually gets shattered in front of my eyes: it is the myth that America is a land of opportunity for immigrants, a place where life, liberty, and the pursuit of a small scrap of happiness is available for anyone. The more you dig deep, however, the more you realize that this does not happen for most. America works out pretty well if you are white and if you have money and are from a Christian background (it also helps if you are male). Beyond that, things start to get very messy, 

Here's the truth: we have closed our doors to the vast majority of people seeking a way out of poverty, war, and famine. We capitalize on fear and monetize it. The people who cook our food sometimes don't have enough to eat themselves, and we don't know this because we live and operate in completely separate worlds. America is not a great nation, and it never ever was. It has always been a mess, full of promise and ideals and yet also built on the backs of dehumanization and exploitation the likes of which history has never seen. 

This is the myth that is the hardest for me to deal with. This is the myth I will have to spend the rest of my life coming to terms with. This myth is slowly being revealed in front of all the world for the lie that it always has been. Is this a silver lining? That seems too bright of a phrase for it. All I can do is pray along with the author of Isaiah 58:

"And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in."

I pray that one day, our foundations might be full of justice, instead of inequality. That we might honor those who work and live and raise families in our country, instead of oppressing and exploiting them, all the while claiming that God is on our side. 

 

 

 

 

Resources/Notes:

 

Here's one woman's personal story of being an undocumented immigrant. 

Here's a website which talks about the complexities regarding the elusive (and fictional) "line" that people can get in in order to become a legal immigrant. 

Here's a NYTimes article that lays out the complexities pretty well (including crime statistics, and a breakdown of countries where undocumented immigrants are from). 

Lent 2017: Terms

The words we use are important. Not so important, however, that we should spend all of our time discussing tone and word choice while ignoring content--but important enough that we should address it straight out of the gate. 

Perhaps you have seen people use the word "illegals" when it comes to undocumented immigrants. Perhaps you have used this word yourself, or know many people who do. For me, this word is unacceptable, and has been used strategically to dehumanize wide swaths of the human population. Instead, I use the term undocumented immigrants (my friend Jessica is fond of "economic migrant" herself). For the duration of lent, this is the word choice I will be using.

Why? First off, the Christian response demands injecting a humanizing element into the conversation about immigration in America. Illegals is both derogatory and has been used to expand anti-immigrant propaganda that is as old as time. As this video shows, Hitler himself used this tactic to change the popular opinion of Jews in Germany. Do you really want to use the same terms and tactics that Nazi Germany did?

 

Or how this article from CNN states that when we call someone an illegal immigrant, we are assigning everything about their existence to be illegal, which we do with no other population (making it, effectively, a racial slur). "In this country, there is still a presumption of innocence that requires a jury to convict someone of a crime. If you don't pay your taxes, are you an illegal? What if you get a speeding ticket? A murder conviction? No. You're still not an illegal. " 

Now is the time to listen to Elie Weisel, who made the point that no person can be illegal (even if their actions can be). 

from http://nohumanbeingisillegal.com/Home.html

from http://nohumanbeingisillegal.com/Home.html

 

Action step for the weekend (and beyond): gently and firmly confront any and all usage of the word "illegal/illegals" to describe people who have been made in the image of God.

 

(Yes, this includes Facebook!). Share the above resources (plus any others you have) and let us all work together to change our collective language to one that reflects a Christian perspective. I know it won't be easy, especially if we have to get involved in conflict with people who we love. But this is of the utmost importance--confronting the first steps of dehumanization in order to save the dignity (and life!) of so many of our neighbors. 

Or, to take it a step farther, wear your beliefs on your heart (or chest).

no human being is illegal. tshirt from philaprints. 

no human being is illegal. tshirt from philaprints

Or, why not get creative with this phrase? Go out and make a little guerilla art, construct your own stickers, write it on post-it notes, teach it to your children . . . let's get this phrase out and circulating in the wide world. For we know that every single person is made in the image of Christ, and we know that the world thrives on oppressing others in order to elevate some. So let's work hard during this incredibly difficult season to shine a spotlight on the imago dei of our undocumented brothers and sisters. 

 

16996934_561397484431_718006306_n.jpg

 

Thank you for reading along, and I will see you on Monday with more resources to share. 

Lent 2017: Reading List

So today I want to share a few books I am aware of that center the stories of undocumented neighbors in the US. I am sure there are more out there--which is why I need *you* to leave your recommendations in the comments!

 

Jesus was a Migrant by Deirdre Cornell

First off, there doesn't seem to be that many books written about the struggles and challenges of our immigration system within a Christian framework that espouses dignity for all involved. This one does.  And isn't the cover amazing? I reviewed this book a few years ago at Englewood Review. You can read the review here. (Spoiler alert: you should read it!)

 

 

Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang.

I just got this book and am so excited to dive into it. I've chatted with Matthew quite a bit and had the privilege of hanging out with Jenny Yang before and let me tell you that these are QUALITY people who are currently working very hard to engage with the wider church on these very important issues. I will be writing a bit about my reflections on this book as we go throughout Lent, so get it for yourself!

 

 

Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives.

Now, here is the other book I am currently reading (this one is not faith-based, but will incite our Christian imagination all the same). It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the Voice of Witness series (oral histories edited and compiled around human rights abuses). I knew for this time of studying it would be of paramount importance to read stories from undocumented folks themselves. This collection (which I am only halfway through) has already made me sob like a baby. I don't think there is anything more important than taking the time to read the stories from undocumented people themselves. There are so many reasons why and how people find themselves in the US without papers. This book is humanizing, and so incredibly complex--but the common element is the amount of suffering that leads someone to be in a position where they live undocumented in another country. 

(You can read my review of another book in this series, Palestine Speaks, here). 

 

So those are the books I am committing to immersing myself in. I also have these two on hold at the library, and will let you know if/when I get to them:

Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

 

 

For topics as complex as the US immigration system, I know that we will have to look past clickbait articles and simplistic solutions. Diving into books seems like a great way to counteract my own impulse to respond in fear and anger to all the anti-immigrant sentiment in our news and in our current administrations. 

I am 100% sure I am missing some vital books on this subject. So please, jump in on the comments and share the wealth of your knowledge.

 

 

 

The Fasts We Choose: Lent 2017

Lent is here today. I didn't grow up observing this season of prayer, fasting, and a re-turning to Christ--but like a lot of people, it has become more attractive to me with time. As my life spirals out to include so many others--my husband, children, neighbors, extended family, friends, readers--rhythms have become so important. And so here we are, with Lent such a perfect opportunity to step back from the frantic pace of worry and stress I have found myself in. 

My neighborhood is struggling. People are afraid. As my pastor mentioned on Sunday, people like my neighbors--immigrants and refugees, Muslims, people of color, people who cannot afford health insurance, kids who qualify for free school lunches and depend on the local public school--they are getting the message that they do not matter. Some of these populations are actively being vilified for political gain. This is heartbreaking to me. So I'm not giving up coffee or chocolate. Instead, I am re-setting in a different way. I am choosing to focus on one injustice that has been bothering me, and I am prayerfully going to immerse myself in reflection and education about that topic. For me, learning how to best care for and understand our undocumented neighbors is at the top of my priority list. I figure that others might want to learn more about this subject as well, so I will share what I find. 

Please join me? I will be posting several times a week, and hope to have a mixture of articles and podcasts and videos to share. On Fridays I hope to have some tangible action steps and plans. And of course, if you have access to resources about how to best understand/support our undocumented neighbors, please comment and let me know!

To start with, a simple request (something I saw from Lynn Hybels twitter account. What a world we live in!):

Start each day of Lent by reading Isaiah 58.

Print it out and hang it in your bathroom. Keep it in your journal by your bedside. Or just read it on your phone. What would happen if we let these prophetic, challenging words shape our imaginations when it comes to fasting, when it comes to how we think God is at work in our world?

This gorgeous chapter is not just about social justice, or a reprimand against how corrupt the people of God had become. It is also a guide for how to be resilient in the face of injustice and inequality. More than anything, I want to be here for the kingdom coming. 

"And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in."

https://www.esv.org/Isaiah+58/

So here's to strong bones. Here's to choosing to fast by focusing on one of the most vilified and least understood populations in America. Here's to becoming repairers of these wide, wide breaches that we find in our world. 

Let's choose our fasts carefully this year.

 

 

(Tomorrow I will be sharing resources for books to read on the topic of undocumented immigrants in America. I can't wait to hear your suggestions.)

 

 

 

 

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