Tag Archives: immigration

Elements of Reconciliation – Listening

Read a tweet this morning from @mattgallion, “The humility built into community is the recognition of incompleteness, not of partial incorrectness. – @pagitt

In trying to develop a series on the Elements of Reconciliation (The first one in no particular order, is memory), I’ve been reading more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and been very convicted by the fact that listening is a key component to healing.

The basic concept of the Truth and Reconciliation is that amnesty is granted when perpetrators and victims confess their crimes and losses before the other and they must listen to one another fully. The perpetrators disclose fully their acts of violence, even to the gory details. The victims and survivors listen. Then the victims talk about their grief and pain, the perpetrators listen. Then after the hearings, amnesty is granted by the commission.

One of the reasons why reconciliation doesn’t happen in Christian America is that we listen to caricatures and we speak as caricatures. People who have been victims and are victims don’t have the space/freedom/choice to speak and those who carry these crimes out don’t speak either. Or worse, we speak into these huge amplification systems of media and fear mongering (sometimes even the church participates in this one) that keep us from really listening to what is happening.

Case in point, do you know any “illegal” (the preferred term is undocumented, btw) immigrants? Have you ever asked them if they pay anything for their hospital visit? Have you ever asked them how long it takes to get citizenship? Have you ever heard their story? Did you listen, really listen?

Or do you know the stories of the people struggling with their sexual identity and sexuality? Have you heard their stories and how painful their journey has been? How they would have given anything to be “normal”? How many of them have trouble reconciling with their faith in God because of the tempest of emotions, morals, and ethics they wrestle with on a daily, if not hourly, minutely basis? Have you listened?

Don’t get me wrong…I know that ultimately it is important to align our lives to God’s answers and God’s story. Yeah, I get that. I’m just saying you can’t just say that and not listen. Christians don’t have a very good reputation when it comes to listening. Christians are more likely to roll their eyes at words like racial reconciliation and oppression. We are so tired of taking the blame, I suppose. It can feel like there are all kinds of things that we as American Christians can be faulted for on issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, that we just begin to get tired and defensive. But I think as followers of Christ we don’t have a choice. How can we expect people to really hear the gospel of Jesus Christ if we aren’t willing to listen to their story? If we don’t ourselves cultivate our own stories?

Our “hearing” is directly related to our obedience; the Hebrew word for “hear” is synonymous with the word, “obey”. I think in the work of reconciliation, to “listen” is also closely related to “hearing.” If we’re not hearing the stories of our brothers and sisters who live at the margins, who are disenfranchised, who are suffering and feel slighted, does it not also bring up questions of our ability to obey? I don’t know, maybe that’s a stretch, but I am convinced that listening is more important in the work of reconciliation than speaking, even. What do you think?


On Probation

If you haven’t heard Lowe’s along with some others has decided to remove its sponsorship of TLC’s All American Muslim. One of their justifications is they felt by sponsoring a program showing the daily lives of Muslims in Cosby Show mode was too controversial.  Huh?

To arrive at such a conclusion one has to of course have already formed an opinion about what being a Muslim is.  If showing them being smart and rather pedestrian is “controversial,” I hate to think what the decision makers at Lowe’s starting point of viewing them are to begin with.

Apparently the group spearheading the efforts to get companies to pull out is the Florida Family Association.  They have been a one man band in sounding the alarm about the show.  Essentially their position is a good American Muslim is an oxymoron.

Wow is all I have to say to that.   Not really sure who made them the American police.  However I can’t say that I’m surprised.  Immigrants have often operated under the cloud of probationary citizenship.   Different racial groups are “in” and “out” based on public mood.

After 9-11 one of my friends from India said her world changed overnight. She has stopped wearing clothing from her homeland in public spaces because of the insults she receives, and people look at her much differently now than when she first immigrated into this country in the 1980s.

She told me one story of how her husband was pumping gas at a local gas station and a guy yelled at him to “go back home.”  He said he was headed home, that’s why he was getting gas.  The yeller mumbled something and drove off.  Her husband wasn’t even aware that he was being racially harassed and being told to leave the country until it was pointed out to him by his wife!

Regardless of ethnic background or religious belief, we as Christians have an obligation to not make people probationary based on public sentiment.   We should follow the example of Paul in Acts 17:16-34.   He kept at the forefront the importance of being able to dialogue with all segments of society.

We must realize as Christians we must display attitudes that allow us to reach a wide spectrum of people.  No one is ever probationary.  I encourage you to watch the show, as it might give you some insight into the Muslim mindset.  You never know when the Spirit might call on you to witness to one.


How Did We Get Here?

“Here is a question that you need to wrestle with.  How much time do you spend with sin sick people?  I’m not talking about some evangelism program.  I’m talking about intentionally building relationships with people you know need the Great Physician.   To quote Jesus I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”   This is clearly the method of His mission.  So maybe when those undocumented workers from Mexico show up on your job instead of parroting that Mormon Glen Beck or acting like Romans 13 is the only chapter in the Bible you follow the teaching of Philemon, welcome the stranger, and turn it into an opportunity for the gospel to be spread.” –  An excerpt from one of my sermons  

Was that offensive to you?   A few months ago I had an experience that was a first in my 20 years of preaching.   After this  sermon on social justice a man came up to talk to me about this point.   He started off cordial but no more than 30 seconds in I realized his niceness was a set up.   He kept inching closer and closer, literally getting in my face and angrily chewing me out over my comments.   I literally had to walk away in fear of the guy hitting me and trust me, I don’t scare easily.  It was a very tense moment.

But that wasn’t the end of it.   He stormed off and chewed out the host pastor for inviting me.  Other people chewed out one of the staff pastors.  Furthermore some people tracked down my home phone number and called, demanding a meeting about the sermon.   I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.  I don’t know maybe it’s me but I didn’t think what I said was so offensive.   But obviously it was.

Last week at my Alma mater (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) Al Mohler and Jim Wallis debated the question “Is social justice an essential part of the mission of the church?”  I didn’t watch the debate because for me I read Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and a host of other Scriptures and that’s a wrap.   Personally I’m not even sure how  this a question that can be debated.   So how did we get here in the first place, where we are questioning whether the church and justice should be paired together?   And people want to deck a 6″5, 275lbs guy at their own peril (I may be a minister but I ain’t but one generation from the street!)

So let’s have our own debate.   How did we get to the place in the American church where its Gospel v. Social Justice?


I’m the Felon

Yesterday I went to my local municipality city hall court to accompany my Brazilian housekeeping friends caught without a license and yes, without proper documentation.

We waited a lot with a great deal of anxiety. The matter from the beginning always had an undertone of money. According to a paper we were handed upon passing through metal detectors said that we would be fined between $250 up to $5,000. We were certainly not getting out of this unscathed.

Our lawyer arrived and with an air of know-how he greeted us and went about seeking people behind closed doors.

We picked out seats in a room crowded with speeders, drunk drivers, and other such violators. I wondered how many faced another trial with an immigration court after this one.

Our lawyer reappeared with a triumphant smile. We would only have to pay for not having a license. $787 and change. After two days in the county jail and this fine, I’m sure we have learned our lesson. But for those who say that immigrants have a free ride, I just want to vouch for the opinion that I think they pay through the nose.

Next month, the stakes go up. Stay tuned friends and pray if you have an ounce of compassion.

When I told Alex Mandes, the EFCA Hispanic Ministries Director, about the situation, that my housekeepers had gotten arrested, and now could face the possibility of deportation. He smirked and said, “You’re the felon.”

And indeed, I hired them without asking the question because I feared the answer. But to hear Alex say it so directly, “You’re the felon.” I am the criminal. I am the lawbreaker. For just a moment, I felt defensive and defenseless at the same time. As a Christian, knowing what I know now, how much they needed the work to pay for the surgeries and treatment for her thyroid and her swelling eye, how she had to send money home to take care of her aging parents, how her heart had been wounded by other Christians — would I still have had them clean my house?

Would I break the law again? Would you?


No More Strangers

In my home state last week, the governor signed House Bill 87 or the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, and I have such mixed emotions about it.

My emotions got a little more complicated yesterday.

Every few weeks, a Brazilian couple comes over to my home and helps us keep it clean. Over three years, my wife and I have gotten to know them a bit better and have heard their story. The woman has been through a lot and has fended for herself most of her life. While I don’t know all the details, I know that she was in an abusive home and that she has been on her own since she was a teenager. The man, though not her husband, is her partner in the housecleaning business. He believes in Jesus, but he has told me that she doesn’t like to hear about him or the church.

In recent years, I know that she has been wrestling with Grave’s Disease, which has caused her eyes to swell, so much so that she has had to seek complicated surgeries to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. In order to pay for them, she has had to work unceasingly, cleaning houses everyday in a declining economy. She drives around to any part of Atlanta where a house may be cleaned; she cannot afford to choose her clients. Her car bears all the scars from the commutes. One of the front headlights is held in place by blue painter’s tape and the tires are bald. Also, if you should look close enough at her passenger door, you  see indentions  all along the top as if someone had been trying to break in. It made me wonder how safe her apartment complex is.

Yesterday they came and cleaned like so many weeks before over the last three years. I thank them with the only Portuguese words I can say with credibility, “Obrigado~ moito obrigado. Tchau.”

They called me a few minutes after leaving. The neighborhood police had established checking everyone at a stop for licenses and identification. She had none. They took her to jail. He was frantic. We returned to my home so I could gather money for bail. Then all of his emotions came rushing out: How she pays for her family back home; how she needed to get care for her thyroid; how hard-hearted she had become over the years of working her fingers to the bone; how she felt Christians talked too much but were untrustworthy; how she felt all alone; how working with her had become so hard; how he had begged her to let him drive; how frightened they were of the immigration laws.

We visited the county jail next, where we were told by the police she would be held, with its concrete walls and metal doors. They don’t allow phones in the building any more. They make you take numbers even when no one is being served at the window. Nobody smiles inside. And we waited for almost forty-five minutes to speak to someone.

We went straight to the bonding center, passing the doors for domestic violence and theft. And we passed them on our way out because they couldn’t accept payment for a different municipality’s bond until that town’s office had closed for the day. So we went to the town’s city hall down the road and asked to pay the bond, but the paperwork hadn’t come in. The clerk told us that we could simply pay after the office closed at 5pm.

So we went back to the bonding center at 5, to be told that they wouldn’t accept our payment for the bond because her fingerprints hadn’t come back for identity verification. When would they come back, we asked. Within 24 hours, they said. How will we know it’s back, I asked. We’ll call you, they said.

They had not called this morning. So I called them. The fingerprints had come back, but now she was on “immigration hold.”

The man and I went back with an immigration lawyer once again to the jail’s bonding center. Pay the bond first in the town where she was arrested, we were told.

On the way there, I asked the lawyer what he thought about the passing of HB87, and he said, it was one of the saddest days he has ever seen in Georgia. He called it a travesty and a tragedy and a dark day.

After spending the day with him, I would have to agree. The days have grown darker here in Georgia.