Sunday, January 25, 2015

Selma: Stories We Need to Hear

I went to see Selma yesterday, in a nearly empty theater. If you haven’t seen it, please do!

The film does a masterful job of capturing the conflict, fear, faith and courage that carried the Civil Rights Movement forward during the dark days of 1965.

It portrays Martin Luther King as an imperfect man, deeply conflicted between his calling, his family, and a deep inner exhaustion. Actor David Oyelowo brilliantly captures the grandeur of King’s rhetorical cadence, but also the weakness and pain of a man prodded into leadership in a costly, dangerous journey.

Watching the story unfold, I was struck by how little I know of the reality of segregation and the still ongoing struggle for full integration. The civics and history curricula of my New York State education in the sixties and seventies carried little exploration of racial struggle. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was the only nod I remember to a minority point of view. Even in college and graduate school, with degrees in Humanities and American Lit, I read more by Irish poets than by African-Americans.

From what I can, those curricula have changed, amd I celebrate the changes. But I’m not sure that excuses those of us who missed Black History Month, or whose educations somehow omitted the less-dominant point of view.

I’ve been reading the work of John M. Perkins, born just a year after MLK in New Hebron, Mississippi. When he was 16, he left the south, swearing he’d never go back, after his older brother Clyde, a Purple Heart veteran of World War II,  died in his arms, shot by a white deputy marshall.

A profound conversion to Christianity a decade later prompted a revision of priorities, and he and his wife Vera Mae went back to Mississippi to create a community of love. In the years following the March on Washington, the years covered by Selma, they helped register the first black voters in Mississippi, enrolled two of their children as the first black students in Mendenhall, Mississippi’s all-white public school, and worked tirelessly to challenge the seemingly immovable structures of racial oppression.

In 1969, he helped lead a boycott of Mendenhall’s white-owned stores; in 1970, after a protest march in Mendenhall, he was arrested, badly beaten, and made to clean his own blood from the walls.

Perkins and Vera Mae, like King, have written about the pain of working for integration while white Christian observers urged them to be patient, to stick to saving souls and leave politics alone.

In his 1976 autobiography Let Justice Roll Down, Perkins described the threats, arrests, beatings, and economic hardship suffered by his family and those who walked with them, and asked that those outside the situation take time to learn and understand before forming opinions or passing judgment:
One of the things for Christian observers is that there are times when the biggest need is for information rather than exhortation.  We need to know more about what really goes on before we solidify our theoretical ideas about what a Christian “ought” or “ought not” to do.
 Whether we admit it or not, our reading of biblical ethics is colored by our perception of the world around us.  If we think that there are only a few “bad guys” such as burglars or murderers, and that all the given political, legal and economic structures around us are basically okay, then we are bound to read our Bibles in a certain way.  We will assume that it tells us to “lay low,” whether we are a part of the law or only under the law; that the person who speaks out is a rebellious agitator.
But that assumption can be badly shaken up by a good look at what happens to many people who are simply crushed by, rather than helped by, these social structures and institutions that we take for granted.  If sin can exist at every level of government, and in every human institution, then also the call to biblical justice in every corner of society must be sounded by those who claim a God of Justice as their Lord. (Let Justice Roll Down, 195, 1976 edition)
I was in my early thirties when I met Dr. Perkins. After a lifetime of starting and leading organizations addressing economic and racial injustice, he had agreed to be a board member for Prison Fellowship where my husband, Whitney, worked for fourteen years. I remember sitting next to him at a board dinner surrounded by men who had held political office, or run Fortune 500 companies. At a tableful of powerful men used to being heard, his soft voice commanded attention. He had seen the injustice of our prison system in ways the others had only heard of, and his integrity and gentle authority were, and still are, a gift to all who knew him.

Voices like his, though, are too rarely heard.

We’d rather hear from sources that confirm our unacknowledged biases and affirm our unfounded opinions than take the time to listen to unfamiliar voices saying uncomfortable things. 

I don’t pay much attention to the Oscars, but it’s hard to miss the discussion about the current nominations: none in any category for an actor of color. None for Ava DuVernay, Selma’s masterful female African-American director.

Does that matter?

It does if our point of view is shaped by the stories we hear.

And those stories are told from a narrow, too familiar point of view.

Watching Selma, I was struck by how many different people played a part in keeping the dream alive.

The housewife who hosted the leadership team, cooking food, and more food, for a group that had nowhere else to meet.

The reporters who braved tear gas and flying clubs to broadcast the story from the Edmund Pettus bridge.

The grandson, Jimmie Lee Jackson, tracked down and shot by an Alabama trooper for his longing to see his grandfather vote before he die.

And the grandfather, Cager Lee, in his eighties, determined to claim the rights he’d been promised, but never fully seen.

The priests, pastors and rabbis who came thousands of miles by bus to stand with the marchers as they crossed the bridge again.

The students who lived for months, even years, in poor communities far from home, winning trust and struggling to register voters.

The movement depended on the actions of people whose names aren’t remembered. Men, women and children who were near the eye of the storm in Selma, and others, like the Perkins family, in other storms, in other states, all sharing the same vision of equality for all.

The marvel of the civil rights movement is that the energy that in some places exploded into violence was channeled through peaceful means into a united voice that cried out together, “no more!” Through a miracle of prayer and determined unity, through the disciplined work of many courageous, faithful men and women, through endless hours of preparation and attentive listening to each other and to scripture and the Holy Spirit, the leaders of the movement pressed on to remove obstacles to integration and to ensure the right to vote.

That’s part of who we are.

But the swinging clubs, the tear gas, the guns. The illegal wiretaps. The trooper who followed an unarmed man, shot him while he was down, and was never reprimanded:  that’s part of who we are too. 

They're part of our own story, the story of all who call the United States home.

When we talk about Ferguson, or prison overcrowding.

When our legislators pass Voter ID bills without asking who they’re shutting out.

When we underfund urban schools.

When we fail to speak out when critics challenge our president’s credentials as an native-born American, or hint that he’s "less American" than the rest of "us."

We would do well to remember who we are.

Where we’ve come from.

Which story line we’re adding to.

What denouement we’re hoping for.

And along the way, we would do well to know our stories better. 

Information before exhortation.

Black History month starts next Sunday. Not a bad time to do a little winter reading. For a start: 
Let Justice Roll Down, by John M. Perkins
Coming of Age in Mississippi, by Anne Moody

Hands on the Freedom Plow, Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

Voices of Freedom by Harry Hampton

And yes, please, see the movie: Selma.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome. I'd be interested to hear if you've seen the movie, or to know what books or films have enlarged your understanding of this chapter of the American story. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Creative Extremists for Love

Rereading Martin Luther King, Jrs. Letter from a Birmingham Jail this past week, I was reminded that his letter was addressed to clergy, to churches, to people who claimed the Bible as an authority in their lives and professed to follow Christ as both example and lord.

Jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting without a permit, he was explaining once again the basis for his involvement with non-violent protests against segregation and deep economic inequity:

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails so express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
He had been called an extremist, told to slow down, encouraged to support the status quo and leave the work of change to God. His response is as timely today as it was fifty years ago, and his critique of the church as appropriate now as it was the day he wrote it:
Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus and extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like am ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvery's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime -- the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action. . .
I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.
In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.
. . . In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
. . . In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful -- in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators." But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey Gad rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent -- and often even vocal -- sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
I posted last week about this time of change we’re living in. Paradigms are shifting, loyalties are changing. Existing power structures hold on in fear, and many good people look back with nostalgia and long for the certainties of a more settled time.

Fifty years ago, King asked: will the church become a visible colony of heaven, a powerful voice for love of enemy, an unstoppable force for justice and mercy?

Or will it be dismissed as an outdated bastion of an unjust, self-protective status quo?

Some days it seems that question is still undecided.

Some days, I confess, I share King’s deep disappointment.

Our colonies of heaven are still few and far between.

There are still far too few creative extremists for love. 

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.   

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Looking Back, Praying Forward

The Synchroblog topic this month is “looking back”: 
highlights of the past year, things that stirred us, shaped us, moved us. Things we loved doing and seeing and experiencing. Things that were hard but good.  Things that were fun. Things we don’t want to forget.
In many ways I had a wonderful year: two weeks in Greece, interesting opportunities, fun times with family and friends.

But what strikes me, looking back, is a sense of something gone terribly wrong.

Bougie Black Girl, August, 2014
Maybe it’s that the topic comes as I was considering an exploration of race, gender, power and privilege in preparation for Martin Luther King’s birthday and then the bacchanalia of Super Bowl Sunday. Looking back, I see the faces of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, and troubling collages of other faces: unarmed men, women, children, victims of unnecessary deadly force. 

But maybe it’s the intersection of tragic violence in France and preparation here at home for the trial of Boston marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and grief at the way these sad occasions turn ugly for so many peaceful Muslims.

Or it’s the conversation at a meeting yesterday morning about how tragically off-course our criminal justice system is, and the attendant reflection on the years, dollars, lives wasted by corrupt politicians and greedy enterprise.

Or puzzling and praying about a conversation days before with a Christian from elsewhere who raised this difficult question: Why are so many American Christians willing to listen and assent to ideas that sound more like Hitler than Christ?

And the way that conversation reminded me of others: Why do so many churches seem to pride themselves on how they exclude others? Why are so many Christians impervious to the failure of compassion in so many of our current systems?

So many young adults who have walked away from the church completely.

So many older adults who, when facing a choice between compassion and church, have decided on compassion.

Where did that choice come from?
We live in strange and difficult times.

Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the religion department of Publisher’s Weekly and prolific writer on church history and spiritual formation, summarized her book “The Great Emergence” at the last National Youth Worker Convention I attended, in Atlanta in 2007. Her thesis was that Christianity has experienced a dramatic paradigm shift every 500 years. Each shift has been presaged by a century or more of dissonance, turmoil, a sense of unraveling, before something new and different has emerged, bringing new leadership, new structures, and a period of relative stability.

In her book, she describes each shift as "a giant rummage sale, shattering the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity," with three attendant results: a revitalized understanding of Christian faith, emergence of a new, less ossified version of the Christian church, and a new, more lively witness to those alienated by earlier expressions.

It’s a tidy theory: the fall of Rome around 500 A.D., with Gregory the Great and the monastics stepping in to offer leadership as authority structures shifted. The Great Schism of 1054 AD, as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches divided. The Reformation, marked by Luther’s posting his 95 ideals on the door of Wittenberg in 1517 A.D.

According to Tickle, we are now in the middle of what she’s named The Great Emergence.   

"Like every 'new season,' this one we recognize as the Great Emergence affects every part of our lives... and is the context for everything we do socially, culturally, intellectually, politically, economically." 

I remember watching Tickle drawing on an easel, creating a graphic representation of her theory in action: a quadrilateral with four main groups historically in opposition:
“social justice Christians,” “renewalists” (charismatic or Pentecostal), “conservatives” (fundamentalist), “liturgical” (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican).

According to Tickle, things have been shifting for decades, with questions about authority, epistemology, order. In her book, she describes 60 percent of current Christians as “emerging”: moving toward the center, losing confidence in the divisions. 30 percent fall into the oval categories, designating movement toward the middle: “hyphenateds” (“Presby-mergents, “Metho-mergents,”), “progressives,” re-traditionalists,” “traditionalists.”

from The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle, 2008
The remaining 10 percent Tickle describes as staunchly stuck in the far edges of their categories, “reactionaries” who act as “ballast” in the rough seas of change.

It’s an interesting framework, one I’ve carried with me.

I’ve also carried with me her words at the conclusion of her talk, but I hadn’t really understood them until very recently.

She talked about the accusations and disruption that have accompanied times of change.  Inquisitions, beheadings, violence and horror from challenged religious powers.

Whenever there is so cataclysmic a break as is the rupture between modernity and postmodernity… there is inevitably a backlash.  Dramatic change is perceived as a threat to the status quo, primarily because it is.

She ended with a warning so sharply stated I’ve remember it almost word for word: “If you leave here and you don’t do ministry on your knees, in constant prayer, you haven’t heard a word I’m saying.”

I heard her, but didn’t understand: what we’re seeing, in immigration, economics, church governance, a host of other troubling issues, is a paradigm shift, a battle for authority and power. And we’re nowhere near done.

Tickle, now 80, raised concern and questions after comments at the close of a conference in her honor in 2013, when she seemed to blame women for disrupting families and unsettling the forms of faith.  

And her books, The Great Emergence – How Christianity isChanging and Why (Baker Books, 2008) and Emergence Christianity – What It Is,Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters (Baker Books, 2012) have been targets for endless discussion about the term “emergent” and “emergence”, debate about specifics of Tickle’s analysis, arguments about whether the “emergent church” does or doesn’t adequately portray the new paradigm Tickle predicts.

Who can say.

What I CAN say is this: we are currently caught in powerful cross-currents of fear and hunger for power.

Those who have power are fearful of losing it.

Those who long for stability are fearful of what comes next.

New voices still waiting to be heard are fearful they’ll be closed out again, whatever new forms emerge.

We find ourselves caught between nostalgia and anger.

Between a vehement, often volatile insistence on conformity to old structures, and a dangerous, disruptive freedom with no boundaries in sight.

I don’t agree with everything Phyllis Tickle has said, in books, speeches, other forms.

But I do agree with this: we are living in a time when paradigms are shifting, violent backlash is possible, and prayer is essential. 

It’s a time when we would do well to read and reread the Gospels, reminding ourselves of Jesus, how he spoke to power, how he loved the powerless, how he turned the other cheek.

There are voices we have yet to hear.

We have logs in our eyes.

And miles to go before we sleep. 

This is part of the January Synchroblog, Looking Back. Links to other Synchroblog posts: 

  • Done With Religion – Looking Back, But Moving Forward 
  • Mark Votava – Learning to Love: Crossing a Decade of Rootedness 
  • Tara at Praying on the Prairie – A Year of New Beginnings
  • Mary at lifeinthedport – roaring chickens: how i found my voice
  • Moments with Michelle – The Year that Was: Looking Back at 2014
  • Jeremy Myers – What I learned from almost following my GPS to my death
  • Glenn Hager – Things I Don’t Ever Want to Forget 
  • Michelle Torigian – Looking Back at All the Stuff 
  • Fedex at His Urban Presence - A Year of Changes
  • Charity at His Urban Presence – God is There 
  • Lisa Brown at Me Too Moments for Moms – Lessons from 2014
  • Bram Cools – 2015: Looking Forward, Looking Back 

  • Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome.Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.   

    Sunday, January 4, 2015

    Epiphany and Filoxenia: Entertaining Angels

    Albert Decaris, Paris, 1953
    The liturgical twelve days of Christmas bridge the start of the new year, with celebration of Christ’s birth on Dec. 25 and remembrance of the traveling magi twelve days later, on January 6 (celebrated today, Epiphany Sunday).

    The narrative of the season, Matthew 2, recounts the arrival of the magi (kings, wise men, astrologers, “distinguished foreigners”) inJerusalem, their interview with Herod, their travel on to Bethlehem. After their departure, the story continues with Joseph’s response to an angelic warning to take Mary and infant Jesus to Egypt to escape the violence of Herod, where they stayed until Herod’s death and further angelic instruction to return to Israel.

    Viewed from one perspective, it’s a fanciful story of mystical creatures and mythical travelers.

    From another angle, it’s a story deeply embedded in its historical context: violent autocrat, porous borders, refugees on the move.

    No mention in the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth certificate, of passports, of border patrols. His family, like the magis, simply vanished into the stream of travelers seeking food, safety, work, or wealth.

    When we talk about “illegal aliens” we forget that up until the last century, all immigrants, everywhere, arrived without documentation: visas, passports, birth certificates.

    My own grandfather arrived on Ellis Island in 1906 with little more than a name, an approximate date of birth, a vague explanation of place of origin (Northern Italy). My grandmother’s family lived for centuries along the waterways of New York, Ottawa and Quebec, unimpeded by our northern border.

    Even now, there are people born in places where birth certificates aren’t routine. I’ve been praying with a family whose American son married a woman from Zambia, then discovered that without birth certificate a visa wasn’t possible.

    Economist, Feb. 8, 2014
    And I know children, born here, who may never meet their grandparents, because without a route to proper documentation, there is no way to cross borders and be sure of a return.

    The 114th session of Congress started January 3, and one of the immediate questions will be this: Will there be immigration reform? And if so, what will it look like?

    The US has been deporting undocumented immigrants at a rate of over one thousand a day for the past six years. I have trouble wrapping my brain around that number: one thousand fathers, mothers, children, every day, taken into custody, sent back to places where they may not be safe, may not be wanted, may have no way of finding food or shelter.

    Human Rights Watch, for years, has documented US failure to comply with international treaties regarding immigration: 
    While international law permits states to establish immigration policies and deportation procedures, it does not grant them discretion to violate human rights in the process. The United States regularly fails to uphold international human rights law in its immigration laws and enforcement policies, by violating the rights of immigrants to fair treatment at the hands of government, to proportional sanctions, to freedom from arbitrary detention, to respect for the right to family unity, and to protection from return to persecution. Such policies violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Refugee Convention, treaties to which the United States is party. 
    At issue in Congress will be President Obama’s November 20 executive action offering a reprieve from deportation for some undocumented immigrants. Of this, Human Rights Watch US advocacy director Antonia Ginatta has said: 
    President Obama’s plan to keep nearly 5 million immigrants and their families from being broken apart by deportation is a strike against arbitrary cruelty.  . . By ordering major reforms to immigration enforcement, Obama is improving public safety and making millions of people less vulnerable to abuse. 
    Yet the president’s action offers to no legal route to citizenship, fails to address legal safeguards for agricultural guest workers, and allows “the summary deportation of asylum seekers arriving at the border.”

    According to Ginatta, 
    So long as the administration uses rapid-fire deportation procedures, prosecutes and incarcerates those already deportable, and detains entire families, hundreds of thousands of people will still suffer family separation and unfair treatment. Obama’s plan is a temporary reprieve for millions and a first step in the right direction, but the need for a more lasting and comprehensive solution remains. 
    National Migration Week 2015
    National Migration Week, sponsored by the US Roman Catholic Bishops, begins on Epiphany Sunday (today): “it reminds us that the Holy Family also endured migration, as they fled from Herod and the threat of violence.”

    The Evangelical Immigration Table, representing a broad coalition of denominational leaders and non-profit organizations, offers this statement of principles for immigration reform
    Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America. Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other’s positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost.
     We urge our nation’s leaders to work together with the American people to pass immigration reform that embodies these key principles and that will make our nation proud.
      As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:
    • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
    • Protects the unity of the immediate family
    • Respects the rule of law
    • Guarantees secure national borders
    • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
    • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents 
    Thinking and praying about borders, migrants, refugees, and the Biblical command to welcome the stranger, I found myself tracking down the Greek origin of the word translated “hospitality.”

    We think of hospitality as offering a meal to someone we know, entertaining guests we’ve chosen.

    But the Greek word is “philoxenia” or “filoxenia”: love of the foreigner, or sojourner, or person far from home.  

    It’s a word still in use, one I found defined this way:   
    Filoxenia (φιλοξενιά, say: fee-lohk-sen-YAH), that literally means "love of strangers," is a generosity of spirit, a joyful kind of the-best-of-what's-mine-is-yours attitude in which Greeks take great pride as a defining attribute.
    Filoxenia is the reason strangers walking by may find themselves invited to a Greek family celebration. Filoxenia is the reason obviously lost tourists may acquire a volunteer tour guide. And filoxenia is the reason that guests in even the poorest Greek home will certainly find themselves presented with the best of whatever food is on hand - from the simplest cheese, bread, and olives, to many dishes created as though from air. 
    I experienced this filoxenia firsthand during a trip last March in Greece: gifts of wild lavender and other flowers, an invitation to coffee, raki and mezethes with someone I’d just met, complimentary desserts and drinks in restaurants along the way, more food than anyone could eat provided by our gracious hosts.

    Hebrews 13:2 says “Don’t forget to filoxenia – to entertain/welcome/feed and shelter strangers – for by so doing some have entertained angels unaware.” The verse points back to Abraham, creating an impromptu meal for three mysterious visitors passing by his tent. But it also points to Jesus’ own teaching: that in caring for the stranger, we care for him as well.

    What if our immigration policy reflected filoxenia?

    What if laws were based on our unshakeable love of the person far from home?

    What if our borders revealed a joyful desire to share the best of what we have?

    And what if our determined, generous welcome opened the door to avenues of instruction enjoyed by those who entertained angels unaware?

    Ah, yes, I must be naïve. I’ve heard that word before.

    Yet, what I’ve seen of the kingdom of God is that it upends our logical assessments, our confidence in our own force and reason, and offers new ways of being, new ways of seeing. Invites us to embrace rather than exclude, to forgive rather than fear, to welcome with love rather than wall off with contempt.

    So again -  what if our fear of others closes us off from fully enjoying the best God has to offer us?

    What if closed borders close out and silence the divine messengers we most need to hear?

    While some Christians find themselves repeating the partisan platforms of exclusion and suspicion, there have always been followers of Christ committed to offering sanctuary to those who need it, determined to find room for those undocumented travelers who find their way to our borders.

    Not sure?

    This would be a good time to learn more about the realities of our current immigration policy

    To encourage constructive dialogue:   

    To pray for and support real reform:   

    My prayer is that the year ahead will be a time to re-envision welcome, to celebrate and demonstrate filoxenia, the joyful, generous love of the stranger. 

    Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst … With these He conceals Himself, In these He hides Himself, for whom there is no room.  (Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable, 1966, 72)

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