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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A Non-Book Review for Ordinary Radicals

For better or worse, I grew up in a variety of faith traditions.

My childhood was spent in Southern Baptist and Methodist churches—the Southern Baptist part came from my dad, but I still don’t know how or why I ended up attending a Methodist church to which we had no apparent ties. As a teenager, I faithfully attended every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday service/youth group at a First Baptist church in Arkansas. After a move west, I found myself attending Charismatic services, then after yet another move, a church of the Nazarene. Both came about because of friend- and family ties. As an adult, Collin and I church hopped from place to place, trying to find a home. We ended up attending a Lutheran church for quite a while, then finally settled into the Presbyterian tradition, which is where I now make my denominational home.

One of the many benefits of experiencing a variety of traditions with vastly different ways of being is that I’ve come to disregard many doctrinal differences as irrelevant. You’ll seldom find me caught up in debate over finer points, and though I struggle to reconcile some conflicts in teaching, I mostly follow the creed of “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Having begun my faith journey primarily in denominations that eschew ritual, I’ve long viewed liturgy as something that just isn’t for me. But at the start of this year, I began following Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. What is today…. January 9th? Yes, it is. And in these 9 days, I have felt the benefit of this to such an extreme that I want to shout it from the mountaintop.

In addition to the daily prayers and readings, there are other benefits. After the shooting in France, instead of our normal, brief dinner blessing, we prayed the Common Prayer for a killing in the neighborhood (isn’t the whole world our neighborhood?). At night when my daughter has said she “doesn’t know what to pray,” we’ve prayed the evening prayer together and sung songs from the back of the book, which, like me, come from a variety of tradition. So while we may start off with the Doxology and the Magnificat, we also make our way through Nothin’ but the Blood and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Of course, much of its benefit likely comes from this being a liturgy for ordinary radicals, of which I hope to be one. Keeping with the teachings of my yellow-dog Democrat dad, and living the life I devoted myself to somewhere around age 17, I am reminded daily of my commitment to the finer things in life: Justice. Mercy. Love. Peace. I never “forget” these things, but often I find myself too busy to do anything but remember them in my mind, never letting their truth reach my heart and hands. But in these last 9 days, I have found myself living more joyfully, more honestly, and with growing rededication to my long-ago chosen path.

Lest you think I am replacing scripture or individual prayer with ritual, let me assure you I am not. In fact, quite the opposite: I have found it much easier to fit both these things into my day, something I’ve been struggling with for years given the too-busy life we often lead. But that, too, is changing.

So why am I writing this non-book review? I don’t know. I’m not so presumptuous as to say others would definitely share a similar experience–I know we’re all different. I suppose it’s like when you eat at a really good restaurant: you want to go out and tell all your friends how great it was, how much you enjoyed it, and that maybe they should check it out on their next date night.

It’s only been 9 days. So either this resurgence will bottom out or it will grow stronger. I am so dearly hoping for the latter.

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Snow, Frankincense, and Myrrh

Today, it came.

For months we’ve been waiting, anticipating our first big snow as Marylanders. Even before we moved from California, we talked of a white Christmas, of snowballs and snowmen and all things cozy.

But until today, it never came.

There were false starts and promises, to be sure: One day we got flurries, barely more than thickened rain. Pixelated snowflakes have tantalizing flashed across my iPhone several times, only to be replaced mere moments later with drizzling drops of rain. And still we’ve hoped and waited, breath held, fingers crossed, only to wake to disappointment morning after morning.

So when weathermen and apps spoke of a coming snowstorm on this day, I barely blinked an eye. “Ha!” I thought. “Maybe some other folks believe that tale, but not me. There will be no snow this year.”

Despite my hardened heart, I checked for snow last night, last thing before I went to bed.

Still nothing.

This morning the day dawned different. When my alarm went off at 5am I felt… something. An urging. A voice telling me, “Look! Go see!” And so I did.

Much like ma in her kerchief and pa in his cap, Andy and I flung open the shutters and threw up the sash…. And what to our wondering eyes did appear? The luster of dawn shining through soft and snowy swirls. Our yard turned to a winter wonderland.

It was beautiful.

The unfulfilled promise of snow had left me jaded.

But when it came—pure, clean, ethereal—I gasped in awestruck wonder at the world washed white, my heart melting even as the ground around me hardened in the cold.

Today the news I heard came true, heralding a day full of magic and majesty and of a slate wiped clean, telling a story of the promised spring to come. Today we live softer, lighter, in rhythm with the glorious divine, in awe of the gift of snow.

Women and Taboos: Leaning In, and Getting Frank About Faith, Sexuality and the Bible

In this age of third-wave feminism, many Americans may not realize that Christian women continue to struggle with what many would deem outdated gendered notions. This includes things such as a woman’s calling being second to her husband’s, women as unwitting temptresses who therefore must hide their bodies, and that women may not lead (or sometimes even speak) in church. Both external and internal pressures and fears have historically kept women silent on these matters.

In the recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro, 40 women under 40 were provided a much-needed pulpit from which to break the silence. These 40 women addressed head-on many of the taboos remaining at the intersection of faith and gender, and how they are stepping out of historical oppression to make real change within the church.

You can read the rest of the review at Sojourners by clicking here.

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This is a Day For

knee-falling, anything-pleading, pressure-relieving.

intercession, supplication, massage, and Tylenol.

good quietly appearing, a breadcrumb trail for morning, when heading home becomes all
you’ve got.

cheap pizza, letting your three-year-old paint your face, hoping your rain jacket catches
the drips.

finding your just-clothed baby, puddle-naked, pride-giggling

and happy.

watching her bent head analyze the paint, realizing how the spot between her hairline and her eyebrows is exactly right, and just how much she has your hair

and that your oldest needs you, even more than he knows.

breaking the rule
you created yesterday
about how much TV the kids can watch.

meeting a long blond woman gone platinum. Ankle-length skirt—denim—gold cross, and orthopedics, who asks you, unbidden,

if all four of yours are living,
because hers are not. And before you can answer, she says she can tell just by looking
that they are, and judging by the one at her feet,
that they are all
doing well.

realizing it’s all a metaphor, but refusing
to point it out.

 

The Time to Love is Now

In my family, politics runs the gamut from Tea Party to Green Party, from Fox News to Al-Jazeera. My family is the melting pot of voter registration. And I’m not talking about see-them-at-weddings-and-funerals family, but close family who are deeply loved as well as deeply intelligent and opinionated.

This could be tough. It could cause awkward silences, silent fuming, exasperated incomprehension, and ruined holidays. Thankfully that hasn’t been the case. We instead understand that our love for one another has absolutely nothing to do with where we fall on the political spectrum. That we are all worthy of respect, even when disagreements arise, and that some things are simply better left unsaid rather than fought over.

You can read the rest of today’s post at the Burnside Writers Collective by clicking here.

(This blog post originally ran on June 20, 2013, under the title Realizing What Matters.)

Sometimes they’ll call me a whore.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fortunate to be part of a fierce group of women faith writers. A few of these lovely ladies live near me, and we meet together every six weeks or so to lift up and encourage one another, as well as do some old school workshopping.

We tend to leave these gatherings full of new energy, a renewed since of purpose, and overflowing with words waiting to be put to paper.

After our most recent meeting, one afterglow email read:

“My soul was full after today’s lunch. So grateful for this handful of preciousness that God has given us, it filled a hole I didn’t even know was there until suddenly it wasn’t empty anymore.”

A Facebook post happily reported:

“The NorCal Buds met today. [One member] shared a retreat recap and we ate [another member’s] homemade bread while chatting about tribe and platform and which paragraphs I need to cut out of my manuscript. All this while five kiddos napped or watched Sesame Street in other rooms. Power to the mamas, right?!”

Right.

But earlier that day, as I relaxed into easy mama friendships and felt my perfected defenses soften, I realized I was harboring an insecurity I’d thought I’d lost years ago. This thought consumed me and, unlike my peers, I left feeling not emboldened, but instead like I’d been punched in the stomach.

My husband tells me I’m the most confident person he’s ever met. On a confidence scale of one to ten, I’d say I’m an eight. Don’t get me wrong—I often come home bemoaning a possible misunderstanding with a friend and needing my husband to talk me down from the did-I-say-something-offensive-without-meaning-to ledge. I’m not comfortable in short shorts or a bikini, and I refuse to go out without makeup. But all in all, I’m at peace with myself.

Then, after a few years’ hiatus, I started writing again. And not just writing, but faith writing.

And all of the sudden, I’m back in junior high: searching for affirmation, hoping to prove I’m “real,” and asking my lady friends the writer’s equivalent of “does this dress make me look fat?”

So why the current crisis of confidence?

Because soul baring is hard.

Because my heart and faith and politics are all on my sleeve, and sometimes people will call me a moron, and sometimes they’ll call me a whore.

And sometimes I’ll even lose friends.

After an especially inspiring sermon a few weeks ago, my husband wrote on our kitchen chalkboard:

¤ Brave?

¤ Safe?

This is a reminder to us that each day when we wake up, we have to decide how we will live out that day. As the guy who gave the sermon said, our grandkids will remember us no matter what, but the way they remember us will be very different depending on which option we choose.

I want my grandkids to remember me as a woman without fear.

But how will they know that I go to bed most nights thinking, “I can’t do this anymore. After years of being in comfortable skin, I can’t handle this,” but that I wake up and do it anyway?

The only way they’ll know is if I write it down.

After our last manuscript meeting, I drove home with my friend, Cara, and related a small bit of how I was feeling to her. She said, “This is a no apologies relationship, friend.” The freedom in those words is astounding: No apologies for who I am, or how I feel or think. Where can fear survive in the face of that freedom?

The truth is, it can. Our fears are not always unfounded, but it is always up to us how we handle them.

I think back to the words I first dog-eared in a now-soft worn book almost two decades ago, and I promise myself this—this—is how my grandkids will know me:

I’ll make sure she always carries a pen
so she can take down the evidence.
If she has no paper, I’ll teach her to
write everything down on her tongue,
write it on her thighs.

I’ll help her see that she will not find God
or salvation in a dark brick building
built by dead men.

I’ll explain to her that it’s better to regret the things
she has done than the things she hasn’t.
I’ll teach her to write manifestos
on cocktail napkins.

[…]

I’ll tell her that when the words finally flow too fast
and she has no use for a pen
that she must quit her job
run out of the house in her bathrobe,
leaving the door open.
I’ll teach her to follow the words.