Immigration: A Matter of the Spirit

Marco Saavedra is an artist, poet, writer, and sometime-dishwasher at his parents’ restaurant in the Bronx. He’s also an undocumented immigrant and one of nine Dreamers who, in 2013, turned themselves over to border patrol at Nogales, AZ to lift up the plight of two million deported immigrants under the Obama administration. The previous year he had put himself in the hands of Florida immigration agents to infiltrate the Broward Detention Facility and expose the abuses occurring there. Dozens of detainees were released as a result. Today Saavedra’s deportation case is still pending, but he continues to make art, to voice protest, and to lift up the urgency of the lives of those around him. He speaks with us today about how faith has influenced his actions past and present, and how the current debate over immigration is not simply a matter of politics, but rather a matter of the spirit.

By purposefully placing yourself in the hands of border guards, you could have been deported to Mexico, a place you haven’t been since you were a baby. How did your faith impact your decision to take such a personal and possibly life-altering risk?

Yes, of course, faith has always been crucial in my migration journey. The last words I said before turning myself over to border patrol two years ago were:  “There is no fear where there is perfect love” (to loosely quote St. John), and I meant that. And to go further into my past, faith was the only thing left after my parents and I first came into this country illegally 20 years ago; we had already left behind our language, native home, extended family, culture and everything known until that point. Our migration started (as I believe most all do) with faith and was sustained by it. And so when I turned myself over to immigration 20 years later—in order to raise up the plight of the deported—it was only adding to that faith that instructs us to “love one another as [Jesus] has loved us” (John 13:34).

Is social justice activism of this extent the province of the young? What about the middle-aged, the old, those with small children, aging parents, etc. Do the social justice teachings of Jesus require such action from these folks as well? Why/why not?

You can read the rest of my interview with Marco at Red Letter Christians. When you’re done there, check out the remarkable photography of Steve Pavey of Hope in Focus.

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Don’t Shop at the Safeway!

“Don’t shop at the Safeway!”

This is what my husband and I heard time and again when we told people where we had purchased our new home.

We heard this from bankers, realtors, doctors, nice people, smart people, goofy people and everyone-in-between people.

Why, we wondered, did everyone keep telling us this?

Our neighborhood and the immediately surrounding neighborhoods are very nice. Exceptionally nice, I might even dare to say. Children ride their bikes on the streets and freely knock on neighbors’ doors in search of playdates. Adults host block parties and on Halloween they put fire pits in their driveways for hand-warming, marshmallow roasting, and so Aaron has something to attempt jumping into.

It is also true that the only way to get to our neighborhood—which is located a little off the beaten path—is through a poor neighborhood. It is, as one person euphemistically put it, a dark neighborhood.

“Ohhhh. Is there a bad drug problem there? Like meth houses and such?”

“Er, no.”

“High crime rate?”

“Not exactly.”

“Well… it doesn’t sound bad to me. As long as it’s safe, we’re fine with it. We really love that house!”

“Yes, but it’s… dark. Oh, and you wouldn’t want to shop at the Safeway.”

“Bad produce?”

“I wouldn’t really know. I don’t go there.”

Upon first meeting my primary care doctor and giving her our address she immediately said, “Don’t shop at the Safeway!”

When signing the closing papers on our house, the facilitating broker said, “Well, you’ll just have to drive down to the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. You sure won’t be shopping at that Safeway!”

Well, let me tell you a secret: we shop at the Safeway.

There are armed guards, locks on the bathrooms, and only one point of entry/exit (easier to monitor). To enter the store I often walk through a plume of cigarette smoke and conversations that I, prudishly, might call inappropriate.

But I go there anyway. And I’ve never, ever, not even once, felt scared, threatened, under attack, or uncomfortable in any way, shape, or form (unless you count the fact that its Starbucks doesn’t heat its chocolate croissants before serving them. That is just not okay).

Today, though, I went to Whole Foods.

I don’t often go to Whole Foods. In fact, I haven’t been there in about a decade. Why would I buy overpriced organic health food at Whole Foods when I can get the same food at a better cost at almost every other store in the fantabulous-to-shop-for-food-in Berkeley?

But alas, those days are gone, and we are the furthest of far from the land of farmers’ markets and Alice Waters.

Because my husband and I want to eat healthy, organic, grass fed, and hormone-free food when possible (though let’s face it: most nights we just have Annie’s Mac-n-Cheese), we’ve decided to supplement our Trader Joe’s and Safeway excursions with trips to Whole Foods. Today was one such day.

No cigarette smoke greeted me as I walked through the door. Instead, I entered through a well-lit foyer with handsome displays of nice looking things that made me want to buy them.

It was overwhelming.

It was like Ikea, but without the free meatballs.

It was also a bit like a fair-trade, living wage Walmart: I couldn’t decide whether to buy coffee from the coffee bar, soup from the soup bar, bulk grains from the bulk grain bar (conveniently located by the salsa bar!), or get a facial.

The cashier had so little sense of humor I had to explain that one of my many jokes was a joke. To this she replied, in a tone slightly too defensive to call deadpan, “I was just teasing back.”

The woman behind me in line was clearly the blue-ribbon holder of the local stroller wars.

And the super-toned, Luluemon-wearing, iPhone-talking woman in the produce aisle clearly, CLEARLY, had gone shopping that day only to make me feel gross and lazy.

And that’s fine. All of this is fine. The cashier is probably overworked and tired, and I bet I’d be friends with the woman behind me in line (in fact, I bet I’d even be friends with the guilt-inducing super-fit mom from the produce aisle).

I shelled out the big bucks for my few items then headed to Safeway to get the rest.

And there they were: smokers smoking, talkers talking, and yes, even deadpan cashiers.

And you know what? I felt equally safe in the aisles of Safeway as I had in the maze of Whole Foods.

Self-segregation is self-perpetuating.

As innocent as it may seem, advising folks new to the area not to shop at the local Safeway—at the very least not at night, as some said—builds up the litany of beliefs we like to call “being safe,” rather than “being racist.”

Some of those who gave us their sage shopping advice were strangers to me. Some were people I know, and I know them to be quite nice and educated and all that good stuff. And yet… they felt inclined to warn us. To repeat what they’ve been told.

And isn’t that how it goes? Don’t shop there, it isn’t safe. And suddenly, I think shouldn’t go there, should warn others as well.

Don’t buy a home there; the neighbors a few blocks a way may not be right for you. Confused by this ambivalence, I worry about crime and safety and look elsewhere for my home. Property values begin to fall.

I have, unwittingly, become part of the cycle.

But I won’t.

I’m not saying that I’m saving the day, building up an economy, or blessing a particular store with my privileged-status self in hopes that it will become the seller of high-end organic goods and that all the doorway smokers will realize the error of their carcinogenic ways. That would be a bunch of malarky. What I am saying is that small acts of resistance are sometimes all that we can muster. I know that’s true for me right now, in these tired middle years. It’s certainly easy enough for me to say, “Hey! Look at me! I shop here and, believe it or not, you can too.”

Truth be told, I’m not even a huge fan of Safeway. I don’t feel a strong desire to put it ahead of other stores, and I won’t. I’ll go where I can get what I need when I need it. But each time I choose the Safeway by my house, I’ll give a little fist pump and nod to this, my (infinitesimally) small act of resistance. Silly, isn’t it?

Nothing but Love in God’s Water

We began today much like I imagine many other touchy-feeling, social justice-y, liberal do-gooder families did: by reading about Martin Luther King, Jr. The littles and I gathered ‘round and read from the book of Common Prayer, but in an act of civil disobedience we read from January 15th instead of today. The 15th is MLK’s birthday, and it’s where the good stuff is. Our sweet educational moment went something like this:

Me, reading: “In 1983, celebrating his contribution to the civil rights—”

“Mama, hold on. Stuffy’s not supposed to be over there. I need to get Stuffy.”

“Two seconds, Rachel. You’ve got two seconds.”

Rachel grabs Stuffy then returns, satisfied. She and Stuffy settle in and I began again: “…. We also remember his insistence that the church exist as the “conscience of the state—”

“Mama? Can I have two more seconds? Stuffy needs a baby wipe.”

“No, Rachel, you may not have two seconds! We’re trying to have a learning moment here, darn it.”

Eventually we made it to the end, Aaron attempting the never before seen feat of climbing into my left nostril while Rachel alternated between caressing Stuffy with great love and swinging her around like a cowboy lasso gone wild.

What went a bit better than this sad (but worthwhile!) effort was the impromptu moment we had in the kitchen this morning when Rachel and I talked about dark skin and white skin and the miracle of love. Aaron, wearing his diaper around his ankles and in hysterics over the shuffling this caused, didn’t stop throwing all the low items off the pantry shelves, but Rachel seemed to be listening and, importantly, absorbing. And really, that’s all we daisy-picking parents can ask: that a little bit of our pacifistic hot-burning ball of ginormous love be passed down to those entrusted to our care.

We’re working on it.

Later, driving our dog Winston to the groomers where he would magically become slightly less stinky, I saw a great big sign that read, “Hatred has no cure.”

Hmmmm.

I almost wrecked, this bit of wisdom caused me to think so long and so hard.

I know a local church put this sign up. How do I know this? Because they put a similar looking sign up right by their giant cross display, which somebody has surrounded by symbols of other religions. (I think this is awesome: Put it all out there people. All of it). Anyway, I’m betting that these church folks had good intentions with this message. I bet they were saying hate is bad and love is good. But they sorely missed the mark.

I’ve hated. I’ve hated and loathed and cursed and even broke someone’s nose once. I’ve wished death upon my enemies, preferably of the slow and painful variety. I’ve acted on this hate in hateful ways, and felt it eat away at my soul. And still I’ve hated. Rolled in the crap-filled pigsty of self-righteous anger, ate at the trough of soul-killing slop. It’s addictive.

This isn’t the kind of hate that aims itself toward a person simply because of their skin color or religion. No, this is the kind of hate born of having something done that I took offense to. But no matter—hate is hate is hate.

And, dear church people with the cross on the hill, it has a cure.

I know this because I myself have been cured. I’ve forgiven the very worst of the worst, and I promise you that the worst really was quite bad. I don’t hesitate to say we all know what the cure is, so there’s no need pretending that we don’t, however cliche it is.

It’s love.

(can I throw a “duh” in there somewhere?)

Elie Wiesel said the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. C.S. Lewis said love’s opposite is power. Okay, sure. That’s some deep stuff, and I’m not saying it’s wrong, but we’re talking about the cure for hate, not it’s opposite.

Self-education helps too, as does removing one’s self from hateful groups of people, among other things. But those steps can’t be taken without the first desire, that first hot spark of love, to do and be something better. To begin your journey down the path of namby-pamby daisy-picking love.

But really it isn’t so namby-pamby after all.

It actually takes quite a bit of strength to stop saying, “But I’m RIGHT, dadgumit,” (okay, maybe only I say that), and start saying, “maybe I ought to reconsider…” And then do just that. You and I both know this from experience.

Frankly, I feel rather like an idiot writing about love. Like I’m jumping on a love bandwagon, because oh dear God, folks have been writing and writing on this forever at this point, banging their heads against a seemingly-unmoving wall. But I saw that sign sticking out there on a busy road for impressionable early readers to see, and it struck me as so odd a message, so wrong, that I just couldn’t help myself.

On the way to pick up Winston from his doggie spa appointment, I listened to a radio program featuring the author of a book, “Nothing but Love in God’s Water.” Before becoming the title of his book, this cool little assertion was (and still is) the name of an old African American spiritual. I agree with its point and think it’s kind of lovely, so I stole it to use here. This title got me thinking in a sort of shallow, bad analogy kind of way that when a group of folks turn up pregnant at once, or crabby, or whatever, some like to joke that “there must be something in the water.”

And to this I say: There sure is, and there’s no drought in sight. So drink it up. There’s no reason not too, other than the fact that for some strange reason it’s absurdly hard to give up poking a voodoo doll of yourself by claiming the glory of self-righteousness.

It’s been quite a while since I vandalized anything. Almost two decades by my math. But I’m thinking of taking up revisiting my teenaged years in an act of civil disobedience in honor of this day. If you Annapolitans drive down Forest and happen to see a big red X through the sign proclaiming there’s no cure for hate (followed by a link to my blog) I swear I didn’t do it.

5 Ways Churches Can Support Families Providing Foster Care

The rewards of foster parenting are many, but that doesn’t change the fact that it, like all parenting, can be difficult and emotional work.

Even those who have raised a brood of their own biological children may not be fully prepared for the circumstances of foster parenting, such as court hearings, therapy appointments, visits with the birth family, medication evaluations, individualized education plans, and the rollercoaster of emotions and deep vulnerability that comes from opening one’s heart to a hurting child.

This is why we often give foster parents pedestal status. We assume they must be more patient, more giving, more loving, and more capable than the rest of us. But the truth is, they, like the rest of us, need all the help they can get.

Churches have a unique opportunity to provide this needed support, as well as to help those considering becoming a foster parent to make an informed and prayerful decision.

1. Extend new-parent ministries to include foster parents. Many churches have a network in place to support new parents. This network should extend to foster parents, including those who are fostering an older child. While there may not be night wakings and seemingly endless 2 a.m. feedings, opening one’s home to a child comes with its own kind of fatigue.

You can read the rest of this post (and the four other ways your church can help foster families!), at The Christian Century by clicking here.

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Mental Illness, Biblical Counseling, and the Role of the Church: A Conversation with Alasdair Groves

Alasdair Groves is the Director of Counseling and a member of the faculty at Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) in New England. He has a passion to foster genuine relationships in the local church, especially through counseling and counseling training, and his hope is for a church-based movement toward providing robust, Biblical pastoral care.

Paraphrased, CCEF’s stated mission is to bring “Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.” Can you explain what this means and what it looks like in practice?

Good question. When we talk about bringing Christ to counseling, we mean that to counsel well is to take seriously that the Bible has the deepest, richest framework for all of life. Ultimately, whether we are dealing with schedule stresses or schizophrenia, Jesus is our only hope and the wisdom he gives must ground and direct all the help we give. This doesn’t mean that we never use Google calendars to help the disorganized or that we are against Prozac for someone who’s depressed. But it does mean we will counsel best when our goals and methods of helping people spring directly from Jesus’ goals and methods for helping people: relationship with, worship of and obedience to him.

In practice, bringing counseling to the church means equipping pastors to do rich, insightful, compassionate, and just pastoral care. It means training para-church counselors like me who work hand in hand with churches to care for congregants in the context of the community of Christ’s body rather than in an isolated corner of the congregant’s world. Finally, I think it means developing the best content we can on connecting problems in living to Christian faith. We want to influence the culture, both in the mental health world in general and in the church in particular, toward a higher view of how the Bible meets us in our times of greatest need with powerful, non-simplistic help.

With 1 in 4 Americans suffering from some form of mental illness, it only makes sense that the church would want to be on the forefront of providing mental health services to those in need. Why have so many churches been slow to provide these services, and what is CCEF doing to help those diagnosed with mental illness?

You can read the rest of the interview with Alasdair here.

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Mythbusting for Foster Parents

As a community committed to caring for those in need, Christian families looking for ways to reach out and serve often think about foster parenting. Barna Group reports that 31 percent of Christians have seriously considered foster parenting (compared to 11 percent of non-Christians). Strikingly, only 3 percent have actually become foster parents.

Why the discrepancy between those who are interested in the opportunity and those who have actually gone on to serve in this way?

While there are many practical reasons that could prevent people from taking on foster children, negative perceptions of the foster care system—such as front-page stories of social worker neglect and the belief that most foster parents are only in it for the money—loom large in America, including among Christians.

Whether from movies, media, or word-of-mouth, people worry that they will be unable to take on the responsibility of welcoming a child into their home for foster care or will become frustrated with the demands of the system itself. The Dave Thomas Foundation, which advocates for orphan-care in the U.S., cites this negative view as the most common reason people choose not to foster.

As with most things, it helps to know the facts. We are more comfortable and more willing to commit when we are well-educated about a cause. As an attorney and advocate who has spent 14 years working for and volunteering with foster children and their families, I’d like to offer the nearly one-in-three Christians considering becoming foster parents a realistic look at the demands and benefits.

To have the top truths and myths explained and debunked, click here to read the rest of the article on Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics.

Six Ways Single Christians Can Help the Orphans

Faith-based organizations, church leaders, and Christian families across the country have propelled the orphan-care movement in the past decade, inspired by the repeated biblical command to “father the fatherless,” to take care of children who need our help.

Often, though, we associate orphan care with married Christians who can adopt children, who can welcome foster kids into their home, and who can afford to send hefty donations. Single Christians, even those who feel the issue of orphan care weighing heavy on their hearts, may resign to wait until they’re ready to start a family before they can live out this biblical call.

Read the rest of today’s post here.