immigration reform

Send the Crowds Away

By Morf Morford

We all know this line as one of the opening scenes of one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles – the feeding of the five thousand.

Most commentators use this verse to highlight the contrast between Jesus and his disciples; the disciples show their lack of faith in God as the provider, while Jesus steps up, fully relying on, and ultimately proving God’s ability, even eagerness to provide – and not just adequately, but with gleeful abundance (Matthew 14:20).

It is one of the central stories of the New Testament – and it’s not a parable.

The scriptures stake Jesus’ identity, and our own identity as ambassadors of the Kingdom, on stories like this.

I, like many Christians I know, sometimes wish I lived in these times to witness miracles like these.

But I forget that, along with the miracles, will be a first, almost reflexive burst of faithlessness.

And I also forget that if the issues, concerns and values of the Bible were ever true, they still are.

And I look in horror and shame at the living, breathing expression of faithlessness on our southern border as my people, using images and quotes from my faith, curse, threaten and spit on desperate, fearful and abandoned children.

Jesus told his disciples to “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16). But somehow, so many, in the name of Jesus, would gladly shut our doors in the frightened faces of refugee children.

How did faith turn into an expression of fear, cowardice and hatred?

I find it fascinating that so many seem so eager to publicly betray their own individual and national beliefs and values. I see them wave their flags as they send our vigilante groups along our border. Could there be anything more contrary to our nation’s most iconic symbol, Statue of Liberty which carries the lines (carved in stone lest we forget): “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of our teeming shore. Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And how many of these would call themselves ‘pro-life’ and admit, in a calmer moment perhaps, that every one of us is created in the image of God, and every life is sacred.

But somehow we see personal faith, national identity and even basic human decency trampled and ignored in the spirit of a nameless, fearful frenzy.

I am sure that these people at home, are ‘good people’ who care for their own children, but somehow, like the two ‘good people’ in the parable of the Good Samaritan, they find it easy to turn their backs on their own humanity.

Like the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-37) our acceptance in God’s eyes has little, or even nothing, to do with our mastery of theological minutia, but everything to do with our direct, specific and peculiarly human response to the always unpredictable and ever-demanding needs of the broken world around us.

But couldn’t we imagine an alternate reality where Christians were the ‘first responders’ not in menace or hostility, but in compassion, welcome and practical assistance?

The heart of the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ is not so much about being a ‘good neighbor’ or even redefining who one’s ‘neighbor’ is. The core of the story is that being a ‘good neighbor’ is never an abstraction; ‘loving one’s neighbor’ is immediate, practical, difficult and infinitely (literally) rewarding.

It seems to me to come down to a simple equation; are we bearers of the ‘good news’ or willing representatives of even more ‘bad news’?

As Jesus warned us, one way is easy, while the other way will continually challenge us – and those around us.

And perhaps above all, we dare not forget God’s clear priorities; 

The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow
. Psalm 146:9 (NIV)

Anyone who has been in Sunday School in past 30 years knows this song;

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red& yellow, black & white
they're precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They're all precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world

It’s good to know that Jesus loves all the children of the world, especially when, sometimes, we forget to . . .


Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

SCOTUS Decisions—Reflections Part 2

By Rev. Mindi

This morning on the West Coast I quickly turned to the news at 7 a.m. just in time for the breaking news to be revealed that DOMA had been struck down, and in the revealing of the decision and the minority opinion it was clear that Prop 8 would also be struck down.

I rejoice in that there is no federal reason for denying people the right to marry or to deny benefits for certain types of marriages. However, the ruling leaves it still up to states to pass equal marriage laws.

As many have already noted, if one really is for civil rights, for human rights—we cannot rejoice fully. Voting rights have been restricted; Euro-American cultural values have been valued as the norm; we still do not acknowledge the T in LGBT. Trans rights are often ignored or scoffed at, though there are currently several court cases for trans teens fighting for their rights in state courts. Teenagers are the ones speaking out for their own rights because teachers and administrators have failed to do so.  And as a parent of a child with special needs, even though we have had the IDEA act renewed in 2004, we find our rights and our son’s rights violated everywhere we turn in the public school system. And we are Euro-American—add in other cultural differences and different languages, and we find that even Supreme Court rulings do not guarantee rights for all will be granted.

As people of faith, we must lead the way on human rights. We must listen to the minority voices in our congregations and beyond in our communities, and work for justice for all. It’s easy to take a quick look at one’s congregation and see some of the issues they face, whether it’s the right to marry, the right to receive disability benefits, the right to get a driver’s license; it’s much harder to know whose rights are violated with the lack of a comprehensive immigration law, who doesn’t have access to adequate health care, and other rights that may be violated or ignored. If we assume a certain issue does not apply to our congregation so we can ignore it or evade it, we are failing the community at large.

White Need to Talk About Race and Privilege

By J.C. Mitchell

I remember getting ready for school when I was a pre-teen on March 17.  I was certainly wearing green and then I put my favorite jacket as it was a chilly morning.  My mother was adamant I not wear the Mets jacket I wore most days.  She was yelling at me about wearing orange.  I argued that the jacket was blue and simply had orange lettering for the Mets, I was sure that was fine since it was clear I was wearing green and would take my jacket off when I would arrive at school.  My mom was not happy with me, and needless to say I went to school with an older jacket.  I knew we were Irish, but I had no clue about the Troubles and that Orange was the color of the Loyalists and Green the color of the Nationalists, and I certainly did not understand why that should matter in my Connecticut School.

I share this experience because I find it funny, and I believe my mother’s passion should be honored.  One should be proud of their heritage and should not forget the injustices and oppression of your ancestors, be it because of ethnicity, ability, sexuality, gender, skin color, or whatever I might have missed.  I believe there was certainly oppression to the Irish, and I had experienced some of this reality when I lived in Northern Ireland.  However, this reflection is not about The Troubles, or even about immigration; it is about being White.

I had no idea what it meant to be White, when I had to put my Mets jacket aside that day.  I thought I was White, but that was always defined against other people, specifically skin color and/or language--specifically Spanish, yet not those that spoke Castilian Spanish.  I learned between my argument with my mother and living in Belfast that Irish immigrants became White, and not simply because of our pink complexion.  There are certainly many social and political things that occurred that made me, my ancestors and my descendants, White.

However, of all of us that are now in the privileged status of White in the United States, we don’t talk about our inclusion in this label (and it is a label, but with much privilege).  We avoid the subject.  We often invite people that are not White to talk about this subject.  I have been at many conferences and assemblies where the conversation on race, immigration, ethnicity, or diversity is being ran by the small group of people assembled at the gathering that are not White. 

I remember watching the film Traces of the Trade. I was moved by such a film maker who challenged White people to talk about slavery and the economy that all of us benefited from such cheap labor.  She traced her family roots, discovered not only did her family have slaves, profited greatly from the slave trade.  Even us Irish, who came later, benefited from this reality, which we cannot deny.  If we do not have this conversation, we are doomed to keep seeing people who are not White as a deficit that we must find a way to include in our discourse, because White will only be defined by those not.  So even when we desire diversity, we are looking for those that are non-White to give us the answer, instead of having the real conversation ourselves.   It will be difficult, especially as it will often reveal privilege, even for those that worked hard.   If we have the hard discussion, and read and interact with theologies from non-White perspectives, we will benefit, even if it means a larger table.

I know this to be important because I observe that my experience as a child of a first generation mother has many similarities with immigrants today.  But I don’t want to be naïve to claim my experience is just like theirs, for there is a great complexity, but if those who are White are not able to admit this complexity of our own history, how are we truly to live into the diversity we uphold?

Currently I often speak and write about inclusion of people with disabilities, and many of us who do promote the civil rights of those with different abilities, are directly affected by disabilities.  One of the things I often dream of is for people without disabilities to have the conversation (in an intelligent and educated way) of what it means to inclusive of people of all abilities.  It would require very thoughtful and real conversation about the privileges one has in a society and how we assume normal.  We do the same thing with race—even with great intentions; we assume what is normal, if we do not talk about it. We need to be open to different views, our privilege, and the fact sometimes we are wrong.  And certainly we do learn from being wrong—well, at least I know I do.

 

 

 

mr met.jpg

We Need Each Other: Acting for Justice in a Fragmented World

By Erin Miller Cash

If you search the NIV for the word “justice,” you’ll find 134 references.

Some of them are helpful, and some are not.  Some say things like “the tribe of Dan will provide justice.”

I read each one of those 134 verses.  A few resonate with me more than others.

Micah 6:8

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Deuteronomy 16:20

Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Psalm 103:6 

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

Psalm 106:3 

Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.

Amos 5:24 

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Matthew 12:18 

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

From the earliest texts of our tradition to Jesus himself, we find God at work pursuing justice for the oppressed.  Often justice and love or justice and righteousness go hand-in-hand in the Biblical texts.

We are called to be a people of justice.

We are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who ate with the outcast, touched the unclean, stood up to the Religious Leadership.  Jesus was killed because he wanted radical inclusion of everyone in the kingdom of God.  Everyone.

The filthy.

The sinner.

The broken.

The abused.

The powerless.

The betrayer.

Our Denomination strives to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”  We believe valiantly in our causes: for some that is an issue of homosexuality (sin or nature), for some it is an issue of immigration reform (needed or not), for some it is pastoral education (required or optional), for others it is worship style (contemporary or traditional).  We are a people who are passionate about many things.

One of the things I love about being a Disciple is the fact that we hope to live into the words “in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  The quote can be traced back as early as Augustine; the church has been trying to do this for centuries.

As Disciples, we tend to let one another speak about our particular passions, but we rarely come together to work.  Someone may believe that LGBT persons need to have full inclusion in the ministries of the church, but she doesn’t see that this matter of justice is similar to the matter of justice surrounding immigration.  In both cases a minority population is being subjected to the will of the ruling majority population (even if that population’s opinion on the matter is divided).  Justice is justice.  And justice is righteousness.

Can we be the model?

Can we be the generation that begins to show our unity to the world?

Can we be a movement for wholeness?

If we would stop bickering with one another over which issue is most important and start acting in love, we might be able to accomplish some incredible things for the neglected in our midst.  What if we agreed that justice is justice and we worked together to enact change on several fronts?  What if we embraced one another in charity where we disagree on a non-essential?  What if we were able to come together around the table instead of storming out of the room?

A pastor I respect very much once said to me, “I fear for who is next.”  As a government and as a religion (I’m speaking here generally about the church as a whole, not as individual denominations or local congregations.), we have notoriously excluded someone from power.

African-Americans.

Native Americans.

Asians.

Women.

Criminals.

Irish.

Hispanics.

Catholics.

Protestants.

LGBT persons.

Immigrants.

The Handicapped.

Children.

The list can go on if we want to dig deeper into our history.  The more we look, the more we find the truth: someone has always been an outsider in our nation and in our religion.  We don’t like to admit that, but it’s the truth.  We largely define ourselves by who we are not.

The Scriptures I cited above don’t say to enact justice for those who deserve it.  The scriptures say to act in kindness, love, righteousness, and justice.  It doesn’t say to condone every behavior, despite your personal convictions.  It says to work for justice.  It says to love kindness.

Someday I may find out that I was wrong.  I may come to find that the justice we chose to pursue was a tragic mistake.  I may put people in situations where the tradition we’ve known is compromised.  I don’t think that will happen, but I could be wrong.

I’m ok with being wrong.

I’m not ok with being unfair.

I would rather work to make sure every person who wants to work alongside me is able to live into their calling than to exclude someone for my personal beliefs.  I would rather embrace “the sinner” in love than insulate myself from her.  I will always choose kindness.  I will always choose love.

I cannot control the actions of another person.

Keeping someone out of the fellowship will not change their behaviors.

It will only change me.

It will harden me and my community of faith to the outsider.

It will allow prejudices to form.

It will make space for judgment in our midst.

I don’t want to be that kind of minister.

I don’t want my denomination to be that kind of place.

I want us to come together.

I want us to work together.

I want us to love together.

I believe we have the power to make transformative change in our churches, our government, and our lives.  I believe that as we champion our respective causes we can support one another.  I believe that if you are passionate about welcoming immigrants and I am passionate about LGBT rights, we need one another.  I believe justice is justice and love is love.

I will choose to love those who believe I am wrong.

I will choose to love those who refuse to engage me in conversation.

I will choose to love those who others will not.

I will choose love.

Always love.

Will you?

Will you join me in working for justice for all people?

Will you come alongside me to proclaim that all anyone really wants is to feel accepted and valued for who they are?

Will you allow yourself to make space for everyone?

Will you find your voice in the midst of a group?

Will you help someone else find theirs?

The kingdom is a place where God leaves no one out.

I need your perspective, and you need mine.

We need one another if we’re going to make changes.

We need to put aside our judgments and welcome one another.

How will we ever welcome the outsider if we can’t embrace each other?

Let’s talk.