Caring for the alien

Caring for the alien

October 6, 2013
Stina Pope


Yesterday I went to a demonstration. This was a demonstration to protest our appalling immigration situation. You probably know all of this, but until I was working at a church that had undocumented immigrants, I was not aware of how totally broken our system is at this point. The people I knew would gladly have gone through whatever process was necessary to become citizens. What I learned is that there is no process. It is simply not possible. Therefore, they stay here illegally. They work, they pay taxes, they try very hard not to break the law, because the consequences for them are much worse than for us. They risk losing their children – who are usually born here and therefore US citizens. We now have a huge number of children in the foster system that are victims of this situation. Unlike children who were taken from homes that were not safe for them, these children are victims of our government taking their parents away. It is a mess, and we need to fix it. Therefore I was standing out in the sun yesterday in my black clergy clothes, as a representative of the clergy, saying by my presence that we care. I cannot do much, but I could do that much.

Our first readings are from the book of Lamentations. I want to lift up the section that we read together (3:19-26). Many of us have gone through the process of moving from a familiar place to an entirely new one. Sometimes that process was very bitter, when the government came in and said you have to leave everything and go live in a camp. Sometimes that process was very hard, even if it was chosen, to go live in a new place, leaving friends and family behind with no assurances of work or housing in the new place. Sometimes it was easier, but even in a chosen move, where there is enough money, there is housing, and a new job to go to, it is still a difficult time, even then, it is easy to get depressed. We can relate to the writer of Lamentations who says: “The memory of my suffering and homelessness is bitterness and poison. I can’t help but remember and am depressed.”

But look at what he writes next. It really is quite amazing, and instructive. He says: “I call all this to mind” in other words, he is not forgetting it, he is not minimizing at all. And then he says: “therefore, I will wait. Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning…I think: The Lord is my portion! Therefore, I’ll wait for him. The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the person who seeks him. It is good to wait in silence for the Lord’s deliverance.” What an amazing faith statement for someone who has just seen his country destroyed, the leaders killed, and the people forced into exile in a foreign country.

He is quite clear that there is good reason for depression, and his answer is to say, well, yes, all of that is true, and, I will wait in silence for God to act. Then he says: the Lord is my portion. What does this mean? A “portion” means that this is what is going to be given to you. It is similar to how we use the word now. It is used for food, as in, this is your portion, and it also means your lot in life. What he is claiming is that his “portion” is God. He claims that in light of his belief that God’s love has not ended, and because God is faithful, he can be faithful too. Could we do that? Could we claim that God’s love has not ended, no matter what happens? Can we be faithful in a terrible situation, based on the claim that God is faithful?

When we look at the Gospel lesson (Luke 17), we find the disciples being frustrated, wanting more faith. One can only imagine that they tried to do something, and it didn’t go as they expected, and so they come back to their sensei and say: “Increase our faith!” And what does he say back to them? “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could do anything.” Do you know how big a mustard seed is? It’s tiny! So what is Jesus saying here? One of the theologians in the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” suggests that we are so afraid that we say “I believe” and in the same breath say “no I don’t” about 10 times.” It is not about the amount of faith, it is holding it that is the critical issue. And, I would add to that, that it is a spiritual muscle that needs to be exercised. It is not something that we can suddenly decide that we are going to move mountains, we have to start with a little something.

Starting with a little something. Today many churches celebrate the Feast of St Francis. They do this by bringing their animals to be blessed. Thinking about St Francis and the animals is the easy part, the safe part of St Francis. He also is known as the patron saint of ecology, because he had a great love for the earth and for the non-human creatures of the earth. By focusing on St Francis and the animals, we can forget about the rest of him. When we read the whole story, it makes us uneasy. He was crazy! He was an anarchist, he had no time for anything except God. If he were here now, we would lock him up. Of course, making him into a saint is another way of doing that. We lock up the really dangerous things he stood for, like really giving everything away and being totally dependent on God and the goodness of other people.

But Francis had faith. He had faith in the goodness of God’s creation, and faith in God. He took the commandments that he found in the Bible seriously, the ones that suggest that the disciples of Jesus are to go out into the world without any supplies, and that they are to preach good news to the poor.

When we look at St Paul’s letter to Timothy, we see Paul exhorting Timothy, who was like a son to him, to not forget to preach the good news, to not be ashamed of sharing the good news. Here Paul says the very important words: God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid, but one that is powerful, loving and self-controlled.

So what do we do with all of this?

I think we are all called to preach the good news, and that good news is that God loves you, no matter what you have done, no matter what has happened, no matter what. God loves you because you are a child of God. Period. Because you are a child of God, and I am a child of God, you are my sister, you are my brother, and I must love you. I may not like what you are doing, but that is another issue. Then we get to the shame part. Paul says, don’t be ashamed of this message. How difficult is it for us to tell people that God loves them? A good churchman told me that he cannot bring himself to invite friends to church because he might be considered to be “pushing” religion. What if we thought about the number of people who are taking anti-depressants in our society, and offered them a place where they would learn about a God who loved them and who had faith in them, and offered to be with them in their pain? Is it “pushing” religion to give people something they are desperately seeking? What if we became known as the people who believed that God loves the world – not just the people, but the whole world, so much that God’s son came to teach us how to live.

At the same time, I am nervous about being labeled “Christian” because of the terrible things that are being labeled Christian right now. My brother-in-law sent me an article about the “Christian” churches that are far beyond the individualistic me-and-Jesus mentality, even beyond the love-Jesus-and-you’ll-get-rich mentality. This is we-are-going-to-take-over-the-world-in-the-name-of-Jesus mentality that is the theology of some of the well-known Tea Party folks. They simply do not read the same Bible I do, one that commands us, it is not a suggestion, it is a command, to take care of the widows and orphans, the vulnerable ones.

So how to do this? Be ready! When someone starts spewing terrible stuff, try something like this: I thought Jesus told us to take care of the poor. I thought the Bible commanded us to take care of the widows and orphans. I thought we were commanded to love our neighbors. And I know we were commanded to take care for the alien in our midst. How does that fit with what you are saying?

The thing of it is, there are many people who are afraid to say anything. When we say something, we speak for many people. Silence kills, unless it is the kind of silence that St Francis recommended. He said: Preach always, if necessary, use words. That is, he was more in favor of our actions showing the love of God for our neighbors than us saying nice things and doing nothing!

It’s scary to think about this. Yesterday when I was at the demonstration, I thought about what would happen if ICE showed up suddenly. What I realized was that I was willing to get in the way and make ICE mad at me, because they could throw me in jail, but they cannot deport me. They cannot take my children away. And it doesn’t look good to throw a white-haired lady priest in jail. And I remember that we have been given the spirit of power. Therefore I have to be willing to speak for those who are my neighbors who cannot speak. And I have to speak for the animals and for the land and for the ocean that we are killing. Maybe I cannot speak for everything, but I can speak for something, and I will, in God’s name. Will you?