A Migrant Mother’s Journey

Watch this video. See a mother trying desperately to find a new life for her children. See her tears because drug gangs in her home of Honduras killed her husband, took her home, left her boys in danger. See her anger when she tells her kids the government of Honduras did nothing because they are poor. See the blisters, the dehydration, the dangerous, desperate crossing of the river on a raft. See the young man describing his fruitless two year search for work. See that these aren’t violent and scary monsters that Fox News is telling you they are, but are human beings, mothers, children, young men, trying to get away from violence and unemployment and wrenching poverty.

For decades, we – you and I and America -have told them that America is the greatest, safest, richest, most compassionate and desirable place on earth. They took our words seriously, they believed our promises, they accepted the invitation on our Statue of Liberty as authentic, and not a cruel PR trick. Now, 6000 believers in the American promise – 2300 children! – are at our door and the question is, what are we going to do? Are we going to embrace fear? Are we going to tear gas them? Are we going to throw up our hands and decide the hard work is too daunting , that human lives aren’t worth getting our hands dirty and solving problems? Are we now outsourcing the promise of the Statue of Liberty to Mexico, too?

We have to find compassion. We have to stop being afraid. We have to stop believing the lies – the lies of our president, who tells us these people are evil; the lies of right wing media, who tells us they are dangerous; the lies of the rich and powerful, who tells us if we take in these people, we won’t be able to afford to take care of our own, when in fact we are rich enough and smart enough to do both, we just choose not to. We have to take their pleas for asylum seriously, we have to understand we have a duty, an obligation, because we are responsible for what is happening in Honduras and El Salvador and all across Central America. We have to live up to our own promise.

And, for those of us who are Christians, we must remember that Christ himself was a migrant, that Scripture and the tradition demands our compassion and sacrifice on behalf of the stranger and the immigrant. This isn’t an optional piece of the Christian faith, no more consequential than grape juice or wine at communion. This kind of love and compassion, put to work for others, is the very center of our commitment as disciples of Christ. That means that, no matter the reality of immigration laws or processes, we Christians have a calling to figure it out and respond to the pain of fleeing mothers and children and young men and old men and anyone. This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. Screw politics. This is a human being thing.

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Jesus Was Tear-Gassed This Weekend

I don’t know exactly what the United States’ policy response to the migrant caravan should be, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be this:

The first wave of men, women and children fleeing drug war-induced violence in Central America were met at the border this weekend by Border Patrol agents who proceeded to fire tear gas at them.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that those who are his disciples would be welcoming to the immigrant and the stranger. He tells us that as we do to the least, we also do to him. He implores us to love our neighbor. He is shown to us early in life as a migrant himself, fleeing with his parents across the border into Egypt.

If we believe Jesus us with us here today, then we almost certainly could find him in the caravan of people fleeing and looking for asylum.

If we really do think Jesus is found in the face of our neighbors, then he surely was subjected to tear gas this weekend at the border.

If we take seriously the Jesus we read of in the Gospels, then we know he is not found in the halls of power. He is not sitting in the Oval Office, and he is not blessing those who give orders to tear gas innocents, and he is not casting blame on those who are looking for a better life.

The Gospels show us that, time and time again, Jesus takes the side of the suffering, the poor, the convicted and the hurting. I have no doubt Jesus is fleeing back south, away from America, with tears streaming down his face, both from the chemical attacks he was subjected to, and because of the sorrow he feels for those who are victimized by the powerful.

Miguel de la Torre writes powerfully of the Jesus who was a border crosser and a migrant in The Politics of Jesus:

And while most border crossers today do so as an act of desperation, Jesus, theologically speaking, chose to be a border crosser as an act of solidarity with the least of these. The biblical text reminds us that, although divine, Jesus became human, assuming the condition of the alienated. Accordingly: “[Jesus], who subsisting in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, in the likeness of humans, and being found in the fashion of a human, he humbled himself, becoming obedient until death, even the death of the cross” (Ph. 2:6-8). The radicalness of the incarnation is not so much that the Creator of the universe became human but rather that God chose to become poor, specifically, a wandering migrant.

Is it any wonder that the second most common phrase used throughout the Hebrew Bible exhorts the reader to take care of the alien among you, along with the widows and the orphans? For those who claim to be Christians, responsibility toward aliens is paramount; after all God incarnated Godself as an alien – today’s ultra-disenfranchised. Jesus understands what it means to be seen as inferior because he was from a culture different from the dominant one.

Politicians have used fear of immigrants as a tool for countless years to win power in this country, and we are at a point where those words are being translated into violent action against innocent people. Christians have a duty to stand with those who are in need, because that is where we find Christ. All Christians should find what is happening abhorrent, regardless of how we feel about immigration laws in this country. No law is more important than a person.

That is what our faith is all about: love before legalism.

Christians should consider it their duty to welcome the immigrant if America won’t. We must be the hands and feet of Christ, regardless of how hard the powers of the world try to exert control through fear of the other. Let us find the love for our neighbors that America is unwilling and unable to muster.

Thesis Ideas: Defining Group Identities

One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is group identity, and what group identities we cling to, which we shed, and when and why we do either. In my thesis work, where I’m attempting to speak about the group of people of I grew up in – white, working class, rural, Protestant, conservative – the issue of group identities plays a big role. In essence, the work I am doing is asking why these people claim certain identities first, and background others.

Practically, I want to explore how to bring to the fore those “other” identities, before and even in place of the the ones currently foregrounded. The identities I see embraced first and foremost – in public, at least – are conservative, Republican, American, white. These are first order identities that establish notions of loyalty and, more importantly, distinguish who those “out” are – in essence, the groups that will be treated as a threat.

Crucially, this isn’t unique to white, working class, conservative people. On the left, people’s first identities are progressive, Democrat, liberal, among others. In America today, everyone does this. Our identities are dictated by political and social commitments, and we define ourselves against others who are in groups not our own.

What I want to do in my thesis is get my people – who almost all identify further down the list as some form of Christian – to make that their primary – maybe their only – group identity. I think this is what the Gospel demands of us. As Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This isn’t to minimize the importance of difference in people. Especially in a time when global capitalism demands that everyone conform to certain ideals of human existence in order to get ahead, the vital differences – and the resulting multiversity of experiences and ideas and appearances and talents and beauty that is produced – is crucial to lifting up and making whole each and every being.

But, when it comes to how we define ourselves in relation to other people and the way those definitions shape our interactions with others, then the call of Christianity to knock down all barriers of difference and avoid othering one another becomes a moral imperative.

So what it means to say that, in Christ, we are no longer Jew or Greek or slave or free, but rather that we are disciples of Christ, is to say that we are human, first and foremost, because Christ was also human, but that we are also all caught up in the Divine, just as Christ was. That is what defines us, and makes us who we are. And that knowledge – that feeling of being irreducibly human – comes before anything else, in how we think of ourselves, and how we think of others as well.