"...I am fully alive and flying with faith soaring above the clouds creating what will be from what is not yet and meeting God in me and all around me. I dance with the doubt so I can fly with the faith."
From "Dancing Into Doubt, Flying Into Faith" Diana Wilcox ⓒ 2010

Monday, July 18, 2011

Are we lost in the desert?

I recently traveled down to the southern border of the US as part of a group looking at immigration issues and the impact on people in Arizona and in Mexico.  Walking through the desert in 110 degree heat, and seeing the discarded hopes of those who traveled so far in search of life, opened my eyes, ears, and heart to the effect that our trade and immigration policies have had on our brothers and sisters to the South.  Before I left, I was aware of those in my own community who were trying to help undocumented immigrants, and those who complained about having to "feed all those illegals" in the soup kitchen line.  But when we consider that Abrahamic faiths begin with the story of families that sojourned from one land to another (sometimes in search of food, sometimes at God's command), it is no wonder that we find this in scripture:

"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." Lev. 19:33 - 34, NRSV

The Good Samaritan
Throughout the bible it would seem that there is a clear exhortation to love each other, and most especially to care for the stranger among us.  Perhaps it is because we are all strangers on this planet Earth, as God says in Leviticus, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Lev. 25:23, NRSV) And Jesus, in this most beautiful verse from Matthew, makes it clear that we are to care for all of God’s children, not only those we know, or those with whom we have common bonds:

"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’" Matt. 25:34-40, NRSV

But if the codes of the Hebrew testament, or the words of Jesus, are not enough, perhaps it is best to at least heed the author of Hebrews who cautions, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Heb. 13:2, NRSV)  So whether one is seeking to live a life in obedience to God, or simply hedging their bets, the scriptures are clear - the stranger among us, the immigrant who crosses our borders, is to be welcomed and treated as equals.  So how did we get to this quagmire in the first place - we, a nation of immigrants, and what can the church and we as Christians, do to help?

I am reminded of the writings of the theologians of the Social Gospel movement that began in the late 19th century.  They sought to find relevancy for the church in the modern world - a world caught up in the sea of rapidly expanding industrialization, market panic, and cultural changes.  While we are facing a different social crisis, one of economic collapse, the market panic and cultural clashes still abound.   One of the theologians of this movement, Walter Rauschenbusch, wrote “No social group or organization can claim to be clearly within the kingdom of God which drains others for its own ease, and resists the effort to abate this fundamental evil.”  

With this in mind we can certainly agree that our desire for low costs goods and services cannot come at the expense of our brothers and sisters, whether here, or in other countries.  Safe working conditions and fair wages are not a luxury for Christians, but an imperative if our own theology is informed first and foremost by scripture.  And yet we argue back and forth about NAFTA as though it was some abstract puzzle to be toyed with by economists and politicians.  NAFTA and post-9/11 fear has placed a heavy boot on the necks of our brothers and sisters south of the border, and we must no longer stand idly by and let this happen.  They are walking through harsh desert conditions, risking everything to feed themselves and their families - for a chance at the very things we sometimes take for granted here. No policy that results in that level of desperation, no matter the benefit to others, can be seen as ethical when one considers the imperative to love your neighbor and to treat strangers as you would treat Christ.

Why has it been so difficult for us to act with compassion toward our neighbors to the South?  It is not because we are heartless, but I believe it is because we are so very far removed from the impact of our actions that we cannot easily see the pain we are causing.  I have witnessed time and again the compassion of people who respond to those in need, particularly in the aftermath of disaster.  I have seen those who are economically able make changes in purchasing decisions based upon the desire to improve the lives of workers, or that of animals.  But, our eyes must be opened for our hearts to engage, and it means we need to shorten the supply-chain, or open it up to scrutiny, if we are to be changed by the experiences of the world around us. 

The deaths in the desert, the poor conditions of those living in collonias bordering the maquiladoras, the shackling of detainees in mass deportation proceedings, should challenge us emotionally, intellectually, and theologically, and will if we open our eyes, hearts, ears and minds to it.  If we are to act ethically, we must take the approach that no one can benefit at the expense of another.  We must also look at our own lives, and determine true need, from want.  When we begin to think outside the box into which our governments and corporations have placed us, or into which we have placed ourselves, we can begin to envision new ways of being neighbor in the world - new ways of living into our faith.

The view of the world from above shows no boundaries, no countries, no borders.  These are of humankind not of God.  We created the physical, emotional and spiritual walls that divide us, and we can break them down.  We must break them down so that we may stand face to face with our brothers and sisters on this Earth, our common sojourners.  And, when we do, and we look into their eyes, may we remember that we are commanded by God to love the stranger, and care for them.  We are taught by Jesus to love our neighbor as we love God and ourselves.  Neighbor is not defined as those who look, think, or act as we do.  May we also remember our heritage as citizens of this melting pot we call the United States of America. Save those who can be called Native American, we are a people of migrants.  We are the children of those searching for the very things the migrants of today long for in their march across the desert landscape.  And may we pray together that our country should always live into these immortal words:

"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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Teeming shore - harsh desert land - it is all the same.

No Mas Muertas!

In Peace,
Chaplain Diana