Refusing to be Silent

Fabiano de Oliveira, a Brazilian man detained by immigration officials, was allowed to come home.   Karah de Oliveira, his wife, found out around 2:30 p.m. Friday that he was being released, when her husband called from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, the maximum security prison where he’s been for the past month.

The family, who lives in Beverly, MA, were reunited at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Burlington, Massachusetts on Friday night. It was the first time Fabiano was able to hold his wife and their five-year old son.  The family is reunited as Fabiano goes through a legal process, hopefully resulting in permanent residency.

The de Oliveira family live in the city I call home.  Fabiano’s story is that of countless others.  He left poverty in Brazil in 2005 and came with the dream of making a better life.  He worked hard to send money back to his family.

He and Karah (a life long resident of Beverly)  met in 2010 and married in 2016.  They have a child.  Fabiano has worked hard, paid taxes, kept out of trouble.

By all accounts he is a loving family man, a good employee.  The kind of guy you’d be happy to have as a neighbor.

The only problem is he lacks the proper documents.  This makes him illegal in the eyes of the Trump administration and resulted in his arrest and detention for the last month.  Arrested ironically when he went to an ICE office to fill out paper work for legal status.

That he was released is great news.  But the reality is that tens of thousands of others with similar stories remain incarcerated.  Most like Fabiano are loving parents, hard workers, good neighbors.  The truth is that the rate of criminal activity is far lower for undocumented immigrants, than those of us who are citizens.

On Saturday a dozen of us gathered at the ICE office in Burlington for a prayer vigil.  We had heard that morning that Fabiano had been released.  Our vigil continued for those who remained incarcerated.

Imagine our surprise when Fabiano and Karah showed up to say ‘thank you’ for supporting them and ‘thank you’ for continuing to stand with and for other families  being torn apart by the current immigration policy.

It has been said that the nation we become is determined by regular citizens like you and me.  We stand vigil for those who are most vulnerable.  We refuse to be silent.  We refuse to be complicit with an unjust immigration system.

America has always been as much an idea as a place.  A place where if  people work hard and respect others, they find a welcome.

Mr.Trump is putting in place an infrastructure of prisons and an increase of ICE officers, that will result in a more than doubling of those detained or deported by the end of 2018.  The capacity for annual arrests and deportations will soon reach 540,000.

Each of these numbers has a face.  Each has a story.  Each life detained and deported has a ripple effect that affects countless others.  That tears at the fabric of a community.

Here in the small city of Beverly, Massachusetts, we got a taste of what this ruthless policy looks like. It was visited upon one of our own families.

That enough of us stood up and said ‘no’, ‘not in my name’ gives me hope.

The nation we become requires constant vigilance and persistence.   There are many more families who look for people of conscience to stand with them.  To stand up for the American dream.

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: We Belong to One Another

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 (in cities across the nation and world).  Each person who marched has their own story. 

This is the second of two ‘guest blog’ installments by my friend and pastoral colleague, Julie Flowers https://www.fbcbeverly.org/ In the week since the March, President Trump has already written a flurry of executive orders and signaled plans for new laws.  Changes that I believe will erode our core values as a nation. 

Democracy is a fragile enterprise and requires that each generation give voice to and protect those core values that define who we want to be.  I invite you to read Julie’s story, reflect on what you hold dear and get involved.  

Installment 2: In Which We March

(Intersectionality, Connection, Anti-Racism, Feminism, and a Moment That Could be a Movement)

 We followed the crush of people up the stairs and out of the Metro station, stepping out into the overcast Washington, D.C. morning. Elisabeth and I paused, trying to get our bearings. There were people everywhere. There were street vendors calling to us, selling hats, shirts, and buttons; there were crowds moving in a throng toward the National Mall; there were Women’s March volunteers in orange mesh vests, answering questions and pointing the way toward where the marchers were gathering: down toward the Mall, past the vast island of port-a-potties, a chanting, cheering, sign-holding crowded that already, even at this early morning hour, stretched for city blocks. Taking it all in, Elisabeth and I set out toward the Mall, as chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” echoed just beyond us.

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We made our way, merging into the crowd we had seen in the distance. Now we were not outsiders looking in – we were one with this mass of people, closely packed into the streets. The crowd was mostly women, although there were certainly a large number of men – of all ages, all races, and with varied stories. Some were there in wheelchairs. Others walked with a walker or a cane. Some clutched the hands of young children or wore babies in carriers, securely strapped to their bodies. And we were a part of it.

All around us, we saw signs – “Look at that one!” we would call out to one another, as we noticed a favorite. We took pictures. Everyone was talking, strangers in the crowd becoming friends, even if only for those few moments. We were united in a common cause – resisting hate and standing up for women, for our POC sisters and brothers, for immigrants, for Muslims, for the environment, for education, for freedom.

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Something happened, there in that place. For those moments, in that unique time, in a crowd that could have been pushy and angry with one another, annoyed at being packed in too tight and too close, annoyed at being hungry and thirsty and tired, the opposite happened. People saw one another. People worked together to make sure a wheelchair could easily pass through. Young people stopped to help older people down a curb or over a low fence. A middle-aged woman led a young woman who looked faint out of the tightest part of the crowd by the hand. They had only met moments before when the older woman noticed the younger one was struggling, and now, in this place, they were friends – and more than that – they belonged to one another.

There was an attention to and a care for the mutual well-being of those in that crowd. I saw people look one another in the eye. I heard people offer words of care, kindness, and support. I saw countless people in one area open bags and produce a wide array of snacks for a little boy who was hungry.

Lilla Watson, an Indigenous woman and artist from Australia, said:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

In those moments, crowded together there on the National Mall, spilling over onto city street upon city street, there was the spark of the realization that our liberation is, indeed, bound up with one another. We were a sea of stories; a sea of backgrounds; a sea of experiences, and we could not – and we cannot – rise without one another.

Feminism – and make no mistake, the feminist movement has room for women and men – must be an intersectional endeavor if we truly want to bring about our shared liberation. Intersectionality, a term first coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw is a means to express the reality that women experience oppression in varying configurations and degrees of intensity.

There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism. For example, black women face both sexism and racism as they navigate their day-to-day lives. Or a black lesbian woman faces racism, sexism, and homophobia. Intersectionality is the term given to acknowledging those layers and unique lived experiences of women.

To forge a way forward, to truly resist the hateful rhetoric and damaging and dangerous actions of Donald Trump’s administration, we must acknowledge that our liberation is bound up in one another’s. As a white woman, too, I am committed to acknowledging and checking the privilege that the system affords me for nothing more than the color of the skin into which I was born, and to inviting the voices and the experiences and the leadership of my sisters of color to come forward. Women and men of color in this nation have been fighting and marching and chanting and organizing against a system that oppresses and disenfranchises them for hundreds of years.

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For many of us, waking up in despair on November 9th and all that has unfolded since, has been but a small taste of what it’s been like to stand in their shoes in this nation. Respect for their voices, their experiences, and their struggle is imperative if we wish to move ahead and win liberation against tyranny and hate for all of us. If we wish to move ahead and save our planet. If we wish to move ahead and protect women’s rights to make choices about their own bodies. If we wish to move ahead and fight for equal rights and dignity and justice for all people.

Our liberation is bound up with each other. Divided, we will fall. There is no question.

The women’s marches – not only in Washington, D.C. but all across the nation and around the world – were a moment. But there is, within that moment, the power and the potential to unleash a movement. A beautiful, powerful, intersectional, anti-racist, feminist, justice-seeking, movement.

The chants of the march echo still in my ears: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

May it be so.

If you want to read more about feminism, intersectionality, and the Women’s March, here are a few resources (not intended to exhaustive in any way!) to get you started:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional/

http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/1/17/14267766/womens-march-on-washington-inauguration-trump-feminism-intersectionaltiy-race-class

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/intersectionality-womens-march-on-washington_us_5883e2bce4b096b4a23248bb

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

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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.

 

 

When Jesus was Homeless and a Refugee Too

Donald Trump was elected in part by tapping into the fears of a white culture which is projected to cede majority status by 2040.  This along with rapid changes in the economy and shifts in social norms left many feeling dislocated.

Mr. Trump seized upon the fear by creating scape goats. With broad strokes he identified Mexicans as ‘pouring over our borders’ and sending ‘rapists, murderers and drug dealers’.   He’s called for a national registry of Muslims and a halt to accepting immigrants and refugees from Islamic countries.

Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country,  he’s called for mass deportation.  In Nov. 2015 he called for a ‘Mass Deportation Force’ to deport or incarcerate those deemed to be illegal.  In November 2016 he set a policy within his first 100 days in office, to begin deporting 2 – 3 million undocumented neighbors with police records.

The result will be families and communities torn apart.

By making undocumented neighbors and refugees our collective enemy, Mr. Trump can divert attention from underlying issues that confront us: A globalized economy, environmental stewardship, inequality of: wealth, education and health care.

How are faith communities responding to such fear based rhetoric?

Many of my fellow Christians have embraced Trump’s message.  Evangelical leader Franklin Graham (son of Billy) has gone so far as to say that ‘Donald Trump’s election is of God’.

Really?  What are we to make of the following passages:

God calls people of faith to remember that they once were strangers in a strange land and they must, must welcome the stranger as an expression of covenant faithfulness (Leviticus 19:33-34)

  We must “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)

  We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27)

The church I serve, First Baptist in Beverly,(https://www.fbcbeverly.org) takes such passages to heart.  We’ve chosen to reject fear and embrace those whom others would cast aside.  This Christmas season we’ve placed a banner by our entrance:  Immigrants & Refugees Welcome.

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This banner is our response to the anti-immigrant/refugee/Muslim rhetoric that has coarsened our public life.  Inspired by the Christmas story in Matthew 2:13-23 we remember that Mary and Joseph were homeless when Jesus was born.  That the Holy Family fled persecution by King Herod and found refuge in Egypt.

Today untold millions are seeking refuge from violence, violence, misery.  Minority groups within our own nation feel under threat.  How can we not offer welcome?

We don’t know how the next few years will unfold.  But we do know that we are guided by an ancient story that has captured our hearts, expanded our imagination and graced us with courage.

Courage to say ‘yes’ to love and ‘no’ to fear.

Christmas is coming yet again.  Hope reigns. Praise God!

(For more information on how you or your faith community can get involved for causes of justice: http://faithfulamerica.org/  or, https://sojo.net or, http://cwsglobal.org or, check out Beverly Multifaith Coalition on Facebook or,  look for partners in your local community)

 

Post Election Reflection: Not Going Back

Ours is a divided nation.   The rhetoric of this election has highlighted and inflamed the differences within groups and regions and sometimes even within families. We wonder whether we can be restored as a nation.  

We think of the vision celebrated in our Pledge of Allegiance ‘one Nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all’. We are aware that many feel justice is denied them and many feel left behind. An underlying sense of fear and even hopelessness permeate our psyche as a people.

My concern is that our divisions not be glossed over simply in the name of unity.  Rather I hope that we may come to understand the causes of our division…and perhaps in our understanding, we may begin the essential work of addressing what separates us.  Only then can we form what Abraham Lincoln called ‘a more perfect Union’.

A big part of our work is acknowledging the pain caused by harsh words and thoughtless rhetoric during this long election process.   For Mr. Trump to be successful in his presidency (which for the sake of the nation I hope he is) he needs to take the lead in stepping away from the harmful rhetoric that helped him get elected.

Women and girls have been exposed to his misogynistic language.  People of color feel marginalized.  Immigrants, legal and undocumented feel vulnerable and exposed.  If Mr. Trump wishes to truly be a president for all the people he needs to apologize for the words he used and offer safeguards to those who feel marginalized.

Whether he has the capacity or desire to bring people together is an open question. For the sake of our country I hope and pray he does.

I say this in particular out of concern and love for the generation of my children.  The millennials  will soon surpass in size my generation, the boomers.  Millennials have already begun to take on the mantle of leadership and by the next election will be the largest voting block.

Millennials were raised believing in racial justice and full inclusion of LGBTQ neighbors.  They believe too in full rights for women even as they confront the persistent reality of misogyny in our nation and world.

What gives me hope is knowing that the millennial generation will not go back. They will not accept the ‘locker room talk’ of a man who is now our president-elect.   Nor will they allow voter suppression by race to stand. Nor will they allow a government to control their reproductive rights.

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Nor will they stand idly by while immigrant neighbors, legal and undocumented, live in fear.  Last night in a 60 Minutes interview Mr. Trump said he will move to forcibly remove or incarcerate up to 3 million undocumented immigrants who have a police record http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/60-minutes-interview-president-elect-donald-trump/ar-AAkfQd7?OCID=ansmsnnews11.

I wonder who will be picked up in this massive dragnet in addition to the ‘violent criminals’ that Mr. Trump speaks of?  Will this include people with parking tickets or other misdemeanors?

The reality is that families will be torn apart.  As people of faith will we take to heart these words in Leviticus 19:34?

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

To a large degree our young people have been awakened.  A question to my generation and to people of faith…have we been awakened too?

I will stand up for the hopes of my children. To demand that we become ‘ a more perfect union’.  If need be I will turn to the non-violent example of Dr. King and work to hold our elected officials accountable in our shared pursuit of ‘liberty and justice for all’.

Mr. Trump will have a successful presidency to the extent  he understands that he has bridges not walls to build.  Bridges between generations, regions and cultural groups that make up this great nation.