Immigrants, Independence Day, and Race

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I walked through a sea of faces from every tribe, every tongue, every nation, all smiling wide from ear to ear. They were dressed in suits and turbans, in hijab’s, and sari’s, adorned in beautiful and brilliant colors to match the celebration of the day.

They stood in circles, smiling, lost in the joyous conversations of their native tongue while their children, playing and laughing, danced around them. Families walked hand-in-hand, swinging their arms with what seemed to be a newfound air of lightness. With their heads held high, exuding pride, families posed for pictures; two, three, even four generations on hand for this momentous occasion that could very well change their family’s destiny. As their smiles grew even larger than before, they clutched their certificates, and with a new and bright hope for a different future, they lovingly pulled their children close in a beautiful embrace. I felt as if I experienced a brief glimpse of what heaven might be like.

These refugees and former asylum seekers, immigrants, foreigners, “others”: after a long and grueling process of bureaucratic paperwork, filings and deadlines, civics and language tests, all stood together in the shadow of the American flag on July 4th and swore an oath of allegiance to this country and became her citizens, her standard bearers… fully and truly American.

“American.” There is nothing that can be done to take this achievement away, and yet somehow it’s a realization that they will never fully experience. Because of an accent, because of the pronunciation of certain words, because of a lack of pop-social history, being “fully and truly American” is something they will never truly experience: they will always remain a “they”, an “other” in a somewhat exilic existence—always American and yet known as something altogether other.

Comedian and Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj, in his comedy special Homecoming King, shared his own experiences of “othering” as he weaved together his own stories to illuminate the lived tension of being American and yet something altogether other. Born in America, he highlighted his experience as a member of an immigrant family from India and the othering he experienced on the regular growing up in California. Both laugh out loud funny and punch in the gut painful, Hasan brings to the forefront just how far we still have to go as a people–a white, American people.

And sure, for some of us it is easy to write off a Daily Show correspondent, or a comedian and say ‘that’s anecdotal’ it’s not the norm… except it is–are you listening?. I have spent a lot of time listening to the stories and experiences of people who are citizens of this country–whether naturalized or natural born–tell similar stories. Friends of mine who of Indian descent (like Hasan) have been treated differently, profiled as terrorists at worst or non-American at best (is that really the best case scenario?). Or friends children who were born in this country, yet are of hispanic origin, told by people at the mall to “go back where you came from before you breed!” or “we only speak english in this country!”–even though they are being raised in homes with two languages (a benefit, not a curse!)

I have written on race here in the space a time or two or three (even providing some resources for the conversation)–in fact, this is what my dissertation dives into–even sharing about my short-lived lobbying career for immigration reform. Mainly these writings have been about the white-black divide (I put white first in this dichotomy because we have historically been, and currently are the aggressor) and the consequences of slavery. While this has been the main thrust and focus–this was, according to founding Father James Madison (and still is) America’s “original sin” (of which we still have not yet repented)–let us not negate the fact that this is a much larger issue. Our racist proclivity, as a white, American people must change not only individually but structurally speaking. We must open our eyes not only to what we have done, but what we are still doing today. Denial is no longer an option. It is past time for us to pay attention, especially as Christians.

You see, I have this terrible feeling in the pit of my gut–hence one of the reasons why I write so often about race–that many white, American Christians will stand on the outside of the gates of heaven looking in to see a sea of faces from every tribe, every tongue, every nation only to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome at best, and at worst turn and walk away saying, “that’s not my heaven.” And while we may argue against this, saying “but I support missionaries in the Dominican or in India or in Kenya, I want to see every tribe and tongue and nation in heaven” our lived reality in our churches and our Facebook rants and Twitter posts reveal a different posture altogether. We are no better–in fact, in many instances much worse than the culture around us.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “Till We Have Faces” wrote, “No man can be an exile if he remembers that all the world is one city.” We must remember this, and turn it on its head to understand that ‘no one is an exile because all the world is one city’ (check Revelation 21). May we, white America, stop our exilic tendencies and begin to recognize and realize that this is what heaven looks like, and our role is to work towards and pray that “Thy Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven.”

Missing the Point 02: Race

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Race
We missed it. We missed an opportunity to speak life and hope; to walk with people through their questions and grief and suffering. We missed it.

This past Sunday many churches all across the country were packed. Some of them experienced “Easter-esque” numbers in their church attendance–and in the middle of the summer! (For the non-pastor/clergy among us, this is a really big deal. Typically church attendance numbers are paltry in the middle of the summer… it has been deemed the “summer slump”.) Tweets and Facebook posts rang out with, “The church is packed today!” “There isn’t a single seat available!” “Hurry up and get to the 11a, the 9:30 was full!” There was an expression of both shock and excitement. Where are all of these people coming from?! And rightly so, this is seemingly unprecedented!

But we missed it. On July 10, 2016 churches weren’t randomly full. People had come looking for spiritual guidance and wisdom for how to respond to the horrific tragedies of the past week in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas. People went expecting the church to speak words of healing and unity, to create a space where dialogue could begin, to experience a space that sought God in the midst of such chaos and confusion. But instead, they experienced silence.

Silence.

We missed it*. We remained silent. We remained indifferent. And all of those people who came looking for healing, and dialogue, and widsom will turn somewhere else other than the Church.

We have lost our voice in society for no other reason than we fail to use it. When the stakes are high, when the words of Jesus need to be applied to our current cultural situation, and in the few times when people are looking to the Church for answers, we climb into a hole or hide behind the pre-determined sermon plan and say, “We’ll talk about it another day.” But we don’t. And we won’t. We have abdicated our responsibility. We remain indifferent and we misuse the platform that Jesus has given to us. In many ways I do wonder how this indifference, this abdication of responsibility mimics the one-talent servant in the parable of the talents.

If as a church you offered up A Sunday Prayer or something similar, that is a start but it is not enough. If you incorporated a line or two in your Sunday sermon and believe that’s enough, or if you said nothing at all I want to encourage you: Today is Monday but Sunday is coming. It’s not to late. We may have missed a moment, but it’s not to late to enter into the conversation. The first place to begin is to simply say, “I’m sorry.” Be a true leader and apologize for remaining silent this past Sunday. Chuck your sermon plan for this week and the following–you can always come back to them later–and do something to engage the conversation. Invite voices from the “other side of the tracks” to participate in your service. Listen to their stories of pain and suffering. Learn from their experiences.

In The Imitation of Christ Thomas à Kempis wrote:
“But if Christ is amongst us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace [read: shalom or wholeness or complete unity]. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore trust not too much to thine own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

White Christians, we must drop our opinions and our limited understanding of what is happening to our black brothers and sisters. We must listen first and we must listen carefully. We need to hear their experiences and their stories. We need to turn our ears towards them with love and care, seeking after understanding. We can no longer sit idly by in silence and in indifference. It was Elie Wiesel who once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Let us not be indifferent to our black brothers and sisters.

Church, we may have missed it. We may have remained silent but we don’t have to stay that way. It won’t be easy. This conversation will offend many white people–just as this post certainly has–but as church leaders we were never promised an easy faith or an easy road. We were called to carry the cross of Christ. And yes, the cross of Christ is offensive. Let us not lay down the cross when it matters most to our brothers and sisters of color, but stand with them arm-in-arm walking with them through their pain and suffering until change can come.

* I fully realize that there were many churches that did walk into the deep end of the conversation regarding race. There were several churches that put together spaces for healing, where fruitful dialogue happened. This is beautiful, and if you are a part of one of these churches you should be proud of your church and your leadership. You should champion them, encourage them, and write them a note of thanks. But unfortunately, these churches were few and far between this weekend.

Our Need for Lament.

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lament
We must take time to Lament.
In a world that looks for instant answers and solutions,
In a world that seeks to point fingers utilizing one-upmanship and memes,
desiring to be right more than compassionate,
We must take time to lament.

Lament takes patience.
It cannot be microwaved, or achieved instantaneously.
It cannot be swiped through, pushed through, nor sped through with haste and hurry.
Lament must be inhabited.

In lament we experience the darkness, the extinguished light of hope.
In lament we recognize the void, we listen to the void, we experience the void.
In lament we hear the created silence,
and we sit in it.
Lament must be occupied.

Lament is not comfortable.
It is not pleasurable.
It is not amusing nor delightful.
Lament is where pain is clutched,
where we look pain in the eyes, acknowledging its existence,
confronting the mayhem it has created.

In lament deep calls to deep, for what is in the depths of your being cries out to be connected with the depths of God. To be connected with his suffering, to know his suffering, and to know that he suffers with us. We are not alone.

In lament we experience the depths of God’s love for us. We are not alone.
In lament we are confronted with God’s reality,
that this is not the way things are supposed to be,
or were supposed to be,
or will be.
Huh… Or will be.

As our long national nightmare continues on, we must learn to lament. We must pause to grieve, to connect deeply and profoundly with our own pain and suffering and with the pain and suffering of others. No matter how much we desire to escape or sidestep pain and suffering we cannot, we must not. We must allow that connection and experience to others pain and to our own to change us both individually and collectively. We must be changed by our pain… because if we are not, then what is it for?

The vision of Jesus is to bring people together, meeting one another, dialoguing with one another, hearing each others stories: loving each other. Jesus wants to tear down the walls that separate us, bringing healing and wholeness… this is why we must sit in each others suffering. We must know each others pain, and from the knowing grows compassion, and from compassion grows action, and from action comes change: real change, true change–change that not only breaks down walls but breaks down the systems and structures that tear us apart. That is why we as the body of Christ, the Church, are called to be at the forefront of this mission. We have a call to make our world a place of love and peace.

It’s our move.

For a New Beginning

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new beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

John O’Donohue
To Bless the Space Between Us