This 4th of July, Please, Don’t Look Away

Flags fly in my neighborhood.  Plans are being made for parades, cook outs and fire work displays.  I love it.  But this year, I’m conflicted.

I love my Country.  I love her ideals and aspirations: ‘Liberty and justice for all’.  I honor those who serve and have served, to defend the Constitution and the ideals and values for which we stand.  But this year, I’m conflicted.  

I love the iconic Statue of Liberty.  With this poem inscribed on her pedestal:

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

In this iconic poem, written by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish immigrant, she calls Lady Liberty, ‘Mother of Exiles’.  Each 4th of July, this line humbles and inspires me.  But this year, I’m conflicted.

I’m conflicted because our ideals and values are under siege.  Our President has imposed a policy that is anti immigrant, anti refugee.  Who makes applying for asylum (a right inscribed in our Constitution) as difficult as possible.

I’m conflicted because of undocumented immigrants housed in inhumane detention centers along our southern border. Housed in our name, by our government.  https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKCN1TW3J2

I’m conflicted because I can’t stop seeing or thinking about the photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23 month old daughter, Valeria, dead on the shores of the Rio Grande.   Father and daughter clutching one another.

They were refugees from El Salvador, hoping to apply legally, for asylum in the United States.  The international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico was closed.  They were told by authorities to wait several days (with hundreds already in the cue).   An intentional strategy by our government, to make applying for asylum as onerous as possible.

But America, and the promise it symbolizes seemed so close. Just across the Rio Grande.  So, they swam. They swam for their lives.  They swam in desperation.  They swam to their death.

Perhaps, like me, you’re also conflicted this 4th.  What then can we who love the United States do?

We can choose to not look away.

We can say ‘this is not ok, this is not who we are as Americans’.   We can find ways to ensure our voice is heard.  We can gather with a wide variety of organizations that advocate for the well being of our immigrant neighbors.  We can vote. We can march for justice.  We can advocate for a humane immigration policy.

This 4th of July, I’ll fly the flag.  And, with my fellow citizens, I’ll recommit to the timeless ideals and values which truly make America great.

May it be so.

 

The Counter-cultural Act of Being Civil

The state of our union is fractured.  We’ve moved into camps.  Most political conservatives have rallied around the flag of Donald Trump.  Liberals and moderates are looking ahead to the mid-term elections, hoping for a check on the policies of our president.

Within my Christian community the camps are clearly defined.  Theological conservatives for the most part have embraced Mr. Trump.  Fully 82% of white evangelicals voted for him and still think he’s doing a good job.   Theological liberals and moderates like me are perplexed how our Christian sisters and brothers come to such different conclusions.

Our polarized society has led people to no longer talk with but rather talking at and about each other.  The result is that the narrative of ‘the other’ as an opponent, even an enemy, is reinforced.

What to do?  Is there a third way beyond labeling and confrontation?

Recently I participated with a small group of clergy in a meeting with leaders of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).  We had sent a letter asking for a meeting for the purpose of humanizing and better understanding one another.

To be clear I have grave concerns regarding the policies of our current administration towards undocumented immigrants.  I also know I have the capacity to view those tasked with enforcing such policies (ICE) as the opposition.

With this in mind we sent the letter asking for a meeting.  To our surprise ICE responded quickly welcoming such a meeting.  The meeting consisted of two ICE officers (one a senior official) and four clergy: a Rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Pentecostal pastor whose congregation includes recent immigrants and me (an American Baptist pastor).

For an hour we had a civil conversation.   The clergy group asked questions regarding ICE priorities and methods. We voiced areas of concern.  The ICE officers shared their perspective.

We also got to know the ICE officers as people.  My sense was that these two officers, one who had been working in ICE for over twenty years, are people of integrity, trying to enforce policies in as humane a manner as possible.

Let me be clear.  I think the policies being enforced are often inhumane.  For example, the current policy to separate children from parents at the border, as a means of discouraging immigration, is morally bankrupt https://action.aclu.org/petition/separating-families.

Yet, I think it is unfair to paint all ICE officers with a broad brush stroke.  They don’t set the policy.  They are tasked with enforcing a policy which I suspect can take a toll on their emotional and spiritual well-being.

For my part I am going to continue advocating for a more humane immigration policy.  I will continue to stand with our undocumented neighbors at risk.  My faith teaches that I can do no other.

What I won’t do is paint all ICE with a broad brush stroke. I won’t label them.  I’ll keep the officers and their families  in my prayers, as I surely keep in prayer those arrested and detained and their families.

I’ll work and pray for an immigration system that doesn’t dehumanize those seeking a better future and those tasked with enforcement.  I’ll remember that everyone has a story.

Perhaps that is the answer to becoming a more humane and unified society.  Moving beyond labels and listening to the stories of others.   In listening we discover our common humanity.

 

DACA and the Loss of Innocence

Donald Trump has rescinded DACA fulfilling a campaign pledge.  He has given six months before the protections for Dreamers are revoked.  He has  placed  the responsibility on Congress to come up with a bill that will protect those he has intentionally put in harms way.

Obviously this is a politically calculated move.  By placing the ball in Congress’ court he seeks to wash his hands of a decision to revoke protections for 800,000 young people.  Their only offense is that they were brought here as children by parents fleeing poverty and violence.

DACA (Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals) was put in place by executive order by President Obama only after Republicans sabotaged efforts for bipartisan immigration reform.  That President Trump has put the future of 800,000 young people in the hands of a Republican controlled Congress, while saying that he ‘has a heart for the Dreamers’ is hypocrisy on steroids.

Hosea, a biblical prophet spoke into a time when his nations leaders had turned from God’s heart for the poor and vulnerable: ‘One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law. How long will they be incapable of innocence?’ ~ Hosea 8: 1, 5

800,000 young people who work and go to school within six months will be a risk of deportation.   I can imagine what the prophet Hosea would say to us today.


As a college trustee I have the privilege of getting to know Dreamers.  They are remarkable young women and men who have overcome great obstacles.  Many have excelled academically and as leaders on campus and in the wider community.  They dream of being teachers, nurses, physicians, engineers, accountants.  They dream of raising families and doing good.

A psychologist will tell you that good mental health is dependent on there being hope.  Mr. Trump and his supporters have coldly chosen to say that the hopes and dreams of 800,000 are not important.  By this act Trump and his minions have sought to rob young people of their innocence.

Will we as a nation stand for this?  Polls show that 80% of citizens want DACA to continue.  Will we allow the nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions and Breitbart News to determine who we are and what we will become as a nation?

Several years ago senators Dick Durbin a Democrat and Orrin Hatch a Republican came together to sponsor the Dream Act which would provide many of the safeguards of DACA.  That bill failed by five votes.

It is time for a new Dream Act to be voted on by Congress.  No game playing.  No packing a bill with $ to fund Donald Trumps wall in Mexico.

Today Dick Durbin and Republican Lindsay Graham are  promoting a new Dream Act http://www.msn.com/en-us/video/news/under-daca-deadline-durbin-graham-begin-push-for-dream-act/vp-AArlXng  Such initiatives are worthy of our support.

It is up to us as citizens to hold our elected officials accountable in the name of simple decency.  It is time for people of conscience to stand up for the sake of those among us who are most vulnerable.  All our young people ask for is the opportunity to pursue their dreams.   What is more American than that?

Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!

‘Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!’  Grabbing a line from the Wizard of Oz we are living in a troubling time.  Especially if you are a new immigrant or refugee and God help you if you’re undocumented.

Using a time-tested technique, President Trump and minions play the  anti-immigrant fear card to advance their political agenda.  But this is nothing new.

“New immigration” was a term from the late 1880s that came from the influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Italy and Russia (areas that previously sent few immigrants).

Nativists http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativism_(politics) feared the new arrivals lacked the political, social, and occupational skills needed to successfully assimilate into American culture. This raised the issue of whether the U.S. was still a “melting pot,” or if it had just become a “dumping ground,” and many old-stock Americans worried about negative effects on the economy, politics, and culture.

 Immigration 1930 to 2000:

Restriction proceeded piecemeal over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but immediately after the end of World War I (1914–18) and into the early 1920s, Congress changed the nation’s basic policy about immigration.

The National Origins Formula of 1921 (and its final form in 1924) not only restricted the number of immigrants who might enter the United States, but also assigned slots according to quotas based on national origins. It essentially gave preference to immigrants from Central, Northern and Western Europe, severely limiting the numbers from Russia and Southern Europe, Africa and declared all potential immigrants from Asia unworthy of entry into the United States.

Underneath it all was a desire by those already here to keep America as they knew it.  Essentially ‘white’.

This specter of racism and fear of ‘the other’ has been a reoccurring theme in American history and is once again being played for all its worth by ‘nativist’ like President Trump, advisor Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The antidote of course is building relationships with immigrants, refugees and undocumented neighbors.  In the past two weeks:  An undocumented refugee from Congo (who fled a war) walked into my office to ask me to pray with him.  He spoke of his fear of being deported, separating him from his wife and two-year old son (both of whom are US citizens).

I spoke with a young couple from Brazil who are here on a temporary visa but want to stay and take care of her ailing father who is a US citizen.  And, while my car was being serviced I spoke with a young legal immigrant from Egypt who pumped my gas.  He told me of ongoing insults shouted by passing motorists, calling him a ‘f***ing towel head’ and ‘go back where you belong’.

Such are the stories of  immigrants and refugees that are our neighbors.  ‘Nativists’ would have us believe that they are to be feared, that they are not like ‘us’.

The problem however, is that I’ve gotten to know their names.  Listened to their stories.  Discovered that they want the same things you and I want.  Safety and opportunity.  Their family to be healthy and happy.

Despite  prejudice and hateful rhetoric immigrants and refugees still see the United States as a refuge a place to make dreams come true.  They see what is best in us as a nation…even when we forget.

What is needed is meaningful immigration reform. Something that Congress has resisted since last initiated by Ronald Reagan.

What is needed is the wisdom of a Moses:

‘Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for once you too were foreigners in Egypt.” ~ Exodus 22:21

Stories from the March: Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us

The Women’s March https://www.womensmarch.com on the day following President Trump’s Inauguration was a grassroots movement that brought millions into the streets.  They marched in Washington D.C and in cities large and small across the nation (and around the world).  They marched with the message that ours is a nation of inclusion and that the moral health of our nation is measured by how we treat one another, particularly those who are most vulnerable. 

Each person who marched has their own story.  Below in two installments is a reflection by my friend and pastoral colleague, Julie Flowers.  I invite you to read and  get involved.

Installment 1: In Which We Arrive in Washington

 I looked at my suitcase, giving it one last check to make sure I had everything. Full raingear, ski pants, ski jacket, mittens, emergency rain ponchos, first aid kit, extra wool socks, portable phone charger, bandana, shirts with feminist messages on them – all there. Granola bars, water bottle, small bag to carry with me – also there. I looked by the door where things were piled up and ready to go. Large white foamcore board, markers, paints, and paintbrushes were all set. I was headed to the Women’s March on Washington, and I wanted to be prepared for anything.

The next morning, following our 12 hour drive traffic-filled (all marchers!) to Maryland, my friend Elisabeth and I woke to an unseasonably warm day (I didn’t need any of my emergency supplies!) and headed out. We climbed into the hotel’s metro shuttle, already filled with other women of all ages, and it took us to the station, where we hopped on a train headed into D.C. It was filled with women and men of all ages and from all over the country and of all races and with diverse stories – all headed to the March.

The train was crowded, but the atmosphere was warm and celebratory. People looked one another in the eye. They connected. They spoke with warmth. We were there, together, for a shared purpose. We were there to show the new administration that, together, we would stand up and fight for women’s rights, for LGBTQIA rights, for an end to racism and

photo-womens-march-2
Elisabeth and Julie

systemic oppression, for the environment, for our children, for our public schools, and for peace and justice for all people.

 

The metro stopped at Judiciary Square. Elisabeth and I got off, along with thousands of our closest friends. We could not do much more than get off, however – the metro platform outside the train was filled with those headed to the march. In both directions, along the platform and up the stairs toward street level, all we would see were other people, holding signs, linking arms, ready to stand up, ready to show the beautiful and diverse face of this nation to its new leader. We were ready to show the new administration what democracy looks like; ready to show the President that America’s diversity is her strength.

A cheer suddenly rolled along the crowd as we waited to ascend into the light of day. Like a rumble of thunder coming over a plain, it started somewhere in the distance of that metro station and it roared over us, growing steadily as more voices joined in. People clapped. And cheered. We were ready.

I looked ahead of me, and a sign carried by another woman caught my eye. “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” it read.


photo-womens-march-1Now, if you, like me, are a Hamilton fan http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com you will recognize that as a line from the song “The Story of Tonight.” I was struck by the poignant message – and by the promise – of that sign. It spoke of a movement, not just a moment (more Hamilton references!). It spoke of a commitment to stand up, to speak out, to fight for our planet and for its people, for our sisters and brothers, for our children, that would extend far beyond that one Saturday.

“Raise a glass to freedom,” Hamilton and his friends sing in that song. “Something they can never take away no matter what they tell you.” Those words echoed in my head as we climbed the stairs toward the street level, following the woman carrying the sign. I felt tears well in my eyes as I felt the power and poignancy of that moment – that moment when I, along with millions of others all around the nation, were taking to the streets to insist that freedom is, indeed, something that can never be taken away; to insist that we the people are stronger than fear, stronger than hate, stronger than division, stronger than executive orders designed to turn back the clock and strip us of our rights.

“Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” I thought, as we stepped out, blinking, into the daylight.

Installment 2: In Which We March to follow.

 

 

A Litany for Christmas: Seeking Refuge

Ever felt like your life was out of control? Ever woken at 3 a.m. wondering what would become of your life? Have you ever worried over the well-being of those you hold close to your heart?

Response: The Gospel of Luke: ‘In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child’.

Mary and Joseph were homeless, forced by the Roman Empire to go to Joseph’s ancestral home for the purpose of a census. Imagine living under occupation. You are about to have a child and the only refuge you can find is a barn full of the muck, smells and sounds of animals. Can you imagine a more humble setting to bring your first child into the world?

Response: ‘While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.’

manger

Imagine Bethlehem full of travelers. Perhaps Mary and Joseph weren’t alone in the barn that first Christmas. Could it be that other travelers were also in that barn seeking refuge? Could it be that there were other women attending to Mary, as she brought her baby into the world?

Response: ‘And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, a feeding trough, because there was no place for them in the inn.’

We light a candle for Christmas. We light this candle to remember neighbors who are homeless in our own community. We light this candle to remember millions of our neighbors, seeking refuge from violence in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. We remember that Jesus on that first Christmas was homeless, born to parents seeking refuge. We remember that on that first Christmas, hope was born.

Refugee woman with baby

Response: As we journey toward Christmas, we walk with those who are vulnerable. We walk knowing that darkness gives way to the light. Come let us worship the coming of the Christ child, the gift of light.

Scarcity, Fear and the Refugee Crisis: Part 1

Much of our world is governed by the Economy of Scarcity. The Economy of Scarcity teaches that there is only so much to go around and that the wise person takes care of oneself and one’s own first. If anything is left over then you may choose to share. Nations go to war to protect what they have.

The governing principle of Scarcity is fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of someone else taking what is yours. Fear that you must rely on yourself first and foremost. In the United States our mythology of the strong, independent pioneer reinforces this mindset. Libertarian principles both political and cultural reinforce this ideal.

The positive side is that it leads people and nations to strive to be self-sufficient. The negative is what takes place when circumstances are so overwhelming that individualism is not enough.

We are in such a time. According the United Nations there are currently 195 million refugees the largest since World War II. A series of regional wars fueled by political instability, tribal and religious tensions have formed a perfect storm.

Currently hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan, Libia, Yemen, Somalia and other locals are fleeing for their lives seeking the stability and resources of Europe. The response of Europe has been mixed: Italy and Greece have done their best to cope with refugees coming to their shores in leaky boats (3000 are estimated to have drowned in 2015 to date).

Refugees in boat

Hungary has put up barbed wire fences and is moving to criminalize those fleeing to their country. Germany and Austria which have been the principal leaders for a humane response are at risk of being overwhelmed unless other hesitant countries in Europe step up.

Here in the United States the scarcity mindset is at work. After a long silence the Obama administration has offered to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees. In contrast Germany has said it will take up to 800,000 refugees in 2015.

Donald Trump is leading in Republican presidential polling with anti-immigration rhetoric. He is calling for forced deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA (primarily from Mexico and Central America). He is playing the scarcity card that we can’t afford to take care of others problems whether it be people fleeing poverty or war.

Yet the reality is that our world is inter-dependent. Instability in one region has implications for everyone. The Economy of Scarcity offers no answers. Is there an alternative? I invite you to read this blogs next installment. But before we can explore an alternative we must acknowledge the subtle and not so subtle hold that scarcity thinking has on how we so often function as nations, states, tribes, families and as individuals.

Fear drives scarcity thinking. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Stay tuned.