One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Arbitrary Lines and the Brutality of Borders

Day 5: On to Mexico
After driving for what seemed a day's journey, including an interesting interaction at the border that included a full sweep of our vans, we arrived at the Larry Acton Center.  We had beds.  Four nights of sleeping on the floor made us all quite excited for the beds that night.  Did I mention the beds?  A wonderful meal was followed with an orientation to our site in Mexico and some fun with a trip for ice cream.  Having traveled extensively in Guatemala, I remembered the streets and the concrete-construction homes.  Of course, there are significant differences; yet a common thread persists.  How many American policies on trade and production impacted local communities in Mexico like Rio Bravo creating the poverty and violence that so many were fleeing?
We met one man who was deported from Colorado.  Now living in Rio Bravo and helping at the center to assist with other immigrants who are displaced or have been deported, he seemed filled with a calling for this work.  While driving back from the ice cream place, he shared that his son was in the United States.  He had not seen him since he was a toddler.  There was a familiar tightness in my chest as I considered that I was missing my own kids after five days.  He had not seen his son in years.  He had not spoken to him in almost a year because they changed numbers and he could not find him.  Here, I traveled freely from one border across another simply by accident of my birth while a father was denied his son because of his birth.  Our policies must change when they tear families apart.  No one should be an exile because of a border made by human hands.  No child should be orphaned because of the arbitrary lines we've drawn.

Day 6: Returning

With one quick day of service, we concluded our time with a visit to a residential school being built for the children who are orphaned and left in Mexico.  Some of their parents have died because of violence from gangs, others because of a drug addiction, for some one parent may be in detention and the other died, and yet others find themselves caught in waiting for a relative from the United States to call.  This is the reality of borders.  All of our laws and policies are at some point in sufficient for the completion of justice.  True justice requires both mercy and compassion, not easily billed into law or courtroom.  Yet, here is a school grounded in compassion with people who have no incentive to teach and care for another's child beyond the truth that there are no other people's children, no other people's pain, no other people's problems.  We are one, for better or worse.  I close my time with a chilling humility of what it means to be American, to be able to freely cross these borders and to return to my children.  I close my time with an ache and a new awareness that I know will tug at me even as the plane lands in New Jersey.  You cannot journey on a pilgrimage without being changed.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What Yes Can Mean..Day 3 and 4 of the Journey

Day 3: House of Hope

Posada Esperanza was not a large home.  You could easily have driven by without realizing that it was this place that offers shelter against the storm of political expediency that is immigration enforcement today.  That morning, we learned about the reality of release from the detention center.  You were dumped at a bus station.  No assistance, no instruction.  Welcome to the U.S.A.!  Without the advocacy groups who offered backpacks with humble supplies (granola bars, toothbrush, bus pass), survival was hard to imagine.  As it was, human traffickers had already scoped out the bus stations waiting for people to be released. Under the pretense of help, they would lure new immigrants into vans and cars.  Imagine after being released from a detention facility in a place you do not know at all, removed from your family for perhaps years at this point, and the first person who offers you help turns out to be kidnapping you.  We met with advocates who seemed to be drinking from a fire hose as they attempted to stop the pain and save lives.

And the government?  As we left the bus station to walk back to our vans, an officer said to me, "please use the pedestrian crosswalk. If you get hit by a car, that's a lot of paperwork for me."  There are good officers.  There are good people harmed by their responsibility to enforce unjust laws.  There are good people whose compassion is killed by the culture we are soaked in.  I did not feel anger at his words, just gratitude that I was still shocked by them, not normalized into such disregard for human life.  Yes indeed, sorry for the paperwork of human suffering.

Day 4: The Miracles in McAllen

Imagine you are the religious leader in a church.  You get asked to help provide some support services for immigrants being released from detention as well as those crossing the border.  You agree to a small corner in the social hall of your church.  At the end of a year one, 70,000 people come through your doors.  Such is the boldness of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen Texas.  A deep, abiding and sustaining yes.  Even as thousands came through their doors and the corner became the whole hall, and then out into tents and a chapel, and beyond their property, Sacred Heart continued to say "yes."  I left that day with a humble prayer upon my own heart.  Please let me move past my fears, my apathy, what can be normalized to say the "yes" I can say, and to mean it, even when it becomes difficult to do so.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Modern Saint Human- Marianella Pilgrimage Day 2

Day 2: Saint Marianella

I don't think she is really a saint, but there is a house named for the civil rights attorney who worked with Oscar Romero in El Salvador for basic civil liberties.  She was killed, like Romero, for her "progressive" ideas. Since when is human dignity and free speech progressive?  I had not heard of Marianella until I visited Casa Marianella, a home for those who are released from a detention center and seeking to put their lives back together after the trauma.  We met with some of the folks who have been touched by Casa Marianella.  Again and again, we heard stories about how the idea of such a place helped them get through the trauma of a detention center.  Just knowing that a place existed where Americans were trying to welcome immigrants helped ease the pain of being held in a place called the fridge, where temperatures could be as low as 40 degrees all day.   The idea of Casa Marianella helped some make it through detention centers that did not allow those being detained to have human touch.  Imagine not receiving a hug for a year in a windowless cage?

Across Casa Marianella were beautiful mosaics painted by refugees and immigrants who received care and compassion in that place.  Some were inspirational with leading figures while others depicted landscapes and yet others served as a memorial.  Not all were signed.  I imagined the idea of a place mattering as much as the place itself.  Imagined the work of these artists extending beyond anyone they would ever meet.

Sometimes, our work has impact that we never see on people we never meet.  It can move past all the walls, and locks and every measure of deprivation, because our humanity will struggle to survive like all life, the smallest piece of earth in concrete will sow seed.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Making a Pilgrimage, Day 1 to the Borderlands

In mid-April, twenty-six of us boarded a plane leaving from Newark airport in order to begin a pilgrimage that would eventually carry us into Rio Bravo, Mexico.  Led by Rev. Brenda Ehlers of Morrow Memorial Methodist Church in Maplewood, NJ we were a mixture of Unitarian Universalists, Methodists, at least one Quaker, adults, youth, teachers, pastors and students.  Early in the morning we rose, not having all met until we were aboard that plane en route to Austin, Texas.

In Austin, we found somewhat warmer temperatures, food trucks, antiques, art, and classic cars (we were there during a car show).  Pastor Brenda warned us that you cannot take a pilgrimage expecting to return the same person.  In a pilgrimage, you are somehow changed by what you experience.  That night, sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of First UMC, Austin, I wondered if that was really true.  I knew a fair bit about immigration.  I traveled in Latin America.  I experienced much of Texas before this trip.  I heard the pilgrimage line before and I had made quite a few pilgrimages.  I felt the familiar resistance rising within me.  What was really going to change me in six days?

Day 1: Palm Sunday

I forgot it was Palm Sunday.  It's not a religious observance central to my faith, but I recognized it right away as we walked into the church.  It's a familiar story to me nonetheless- the one of Jesus being greeted with fanfare like a king only to be crucified days later.  It's always been a reminder of how fickle a mob can be, and how difficult it is to be a prophet to your own people.  We moved on from one faith community to another, the second being Unitarian Universalist.  Aside from the Sundays that I've led services, it was the highest number of services I've attended as a congregant in one day!  At the UU congregation, we met with Susan Yarbrough, a former immigration judge who is now a candidate for ministry.  I marveled at Susan's ability to hold a variety of perspectives and experiences at once.  She both demonstrated compassion with a grasp of facts and details from people she had met decades ago.  At the same time, her position on matters would not easily fit the liberal idols of sainthood.  And yet, in the nuance, she shared stories where we found common agreement.  As she shared the story of one person she granted asylum too who had been forced to eat their pocket bible page by page in a field, I became aware of something within myself.  When I listened to people, I had begun at some point to test their answers against my own created paradigm of "rightness."  The only time that paradigm fell away was when I heard a story, decided to trust someone or became curious.  With Susan, in some sense, she easily represented multiple perspectives.  It would not be easy straight away to put her into one category.  It was a little unsettling to realize how quickly, especially when fatigued, I learned to either/or another human being.  Day 1 and a small opening in my being began.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Swallowed by the Devil Whole!

Growing up in a small, relatively Catholic community, I would sometimes hear someone say (usually about someone dead) "oh she was a saint!"  Like all good compliments it could be a little back-handed in nature.  You were a saint: a nice, clueless well-intentioned person.  Or perhaps a naive, good-natured person who was often conflict-avoidant.  Sainthood was often bestowed upon enablers far and wide.  At other times, it was merely the sainthood bestowed upon those eulogized.  You could have been a real jerk among the living but someone, bless their heart, was going to stand up at the funeral and say what a "saint" you were while a good number looked down and murmured.

So why call this blog saint humans?

Until I was about twelve, the only experience I had of saints were Mary, the mother of Jesus and Anne, Mary's mother.  I was born on the feast day of the immaculate conception so I had heard the story about Mary's conception just shy of twenty times (bonus points in Catholic trivia if you know that the immaculate conception is not about Jesus!).

I knew I was not a Mary-type, at least how she was portrayed in the stories, nor was I a Saint Anne.

Enter my aunt who purchased a book all about saints.  I started reading, landing pretty early on with Joan of Arc.

Whoa!  No demurring there, no passive politeness.

From there I read about the sometimes gory death details.  Other details were just a little quirky.  One saint had a pet lion.  Another, was cured of the plague by a dog.  Another is said to have been "swallowed by the devil whole."

Point being- sainthood need not be a backhanded compliment.  Scratch the surface beneath the stories and some strange stuff comes up.  Real saints and prophets are not often adored in their time.  And many of our heres were perfectly flawed.  What made them extraordinary?

Their oddities and failures alongside the judgment of others did not stop them from fully living their life and bringing truth into the world.

A saint human is counter-cultural, fully-present, bold, and brave.  Often misunderstood.  Sometimes loathed.  Commonly derided until they succeed.

But what would you rather have said at your memorial, "she was so nice" or "The devil swallowed her whole!  And she survived!"


I'd rather the latter, every time.  Then, perhaps write a country song about it.  Is that so much to ask?

Like Albert King sang it, "everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die."