As the Spirit Moves

I think my training in the ways of justice making sometimes leads me to enter a situation with skepticism instead of love. I enter and ask with immediacy, what is the problem/ injustice/sin here? I am on high alert to find that which is not equitable and I often do this at the expense of seeing that which is equitable.

I came to Fiji looking through this lens. Where are the effects of climate change and how can I think about God in the context of a changing climate?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a most necessary question. But when my question precludes my ability to laugh, to smile, to find the love, the laughter, the smiles here, then I am missing half of the picture. I am negating the work of the Spirit. In my pneumotological understanding, the Spirit, works in the world in powerful and mighty ways which resist the Empire. But the Spirit, in its round dance with the Creator and the Son, was, is, and always will be– Love. To forget the work of Love which the Spirit is always doing is to miss most of the picture. And the picture is a beautiful one. To miss it is a shame indeed.

And shame is not something I choose to live in any longer.

Because when we see this work of love, it changes us. Brings forth courage and creativity. It is Spirit work and it connects us to each other and to all of creation.

It is through this lens that I am attempting to write a bit about my experience thus far. It has been filled with love and simultaneous aching because I love. Because I have so much love in Tennessee, I am aching every second I am away from it. And, at the same time, I have come to know my team here of Mimi from N. India, Palesh from Calcutta, Andrew from S. India, Silpa from India, Wesley from the Philippines, Hashan from Sri Lanka, Tamera from Zambia, Vawvawni from Taiwan, and Shalom from S. Korea as Love. They are family. We have had to become family because families care for each other and it takes a lot of care to navigate this intense program. They open me up and remind me that the Spirit works in us and through us as we love each other.

The Spirit moves resisting the Empire and I have seen the Spirit in the fresh fish I have been served as the honored guest of village tables (which are mats); I have seen the Spirit in the children who have graciously and patiently taught the Westerner phrases in Fijian; I have seen the Spirit in the concerned taxi driver who rushed me to the hospital after I was bitten by a dog; I have seen the Spirit as we served each other the milk of the coconut; I have seen the Spirit in the peace-building team working for restorative justice here in Fiji; I have seen the Spirit in the lei I was given at the welcoming ceremony; I have seen Her in the rest that I took; I have heard Her in the choir’s singing and the lolly (drum) ringing; I have seen the Spirit here in the incredible hospitality that I have been extended. I have seen the Spirit here.

The Spirit is here and I would be remiss if I did not take off my lens of skepticism so that I can actually see Her moving.

She’s moving; she’s resisting through Her love in Her mysterious way, calling us to join the work of caring for the creation that the Creator lives in, through, and with.

Can I lean into the work of the Spirit? I am not sure. I know that I need to try though because when I do, I am my best self, the Kate who welcomes love instead of skepticism, the Kate who listens before she analyzes, the Kate who asks Love to be her guide instead of judgement or fear.

Thanks be to God for many chances to get it wrong and a few chances to maybe get it right.

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The Church at the US/ Mexico Border

The painted desert, the Sonoran, home of lumbering Pipe Cacti, coyote, sidewinders, rattlesnakes, mice, owls, eagles, desert primrose, hawks, roadrunners, sunsets that wrap the day up with a bang and towering mountains of the Santa Catalina range. The fragile Jan- June 2014 163ecosystem of the Sonoran is disrupted by roads. Roads used for transporting tariff-free goods from Mexico to the United States and vice versa, roads which welcome U.S. citizens to pass, roads which carry U.S. Border Patrol to remote parts so they may patrol the border. A visible, visceral wall lines the border as a tangible reminder of who is and is not welcome into the United States.

The Sonoran desert drew me into the conversation of US immigration policy; it called me to witness the human rights violations being committed within it; it called me to walk its trails of hope and hopelessness.

In the desert, I walked along migrant trails which were littered with socks, jeans, underwear of persons frequenting the trails in the hope of crossing the border undetected. I stopped at a shrine on the trail which was created by migrants who passed through and stopped for a rest and prayer to the Holy; there they left small crosses and pictures of St. Jude, the patron Saint of Lost Causes.

The Patron Saint of Lost Causes.

At critical parts of the trail, a humanitarian group called No More Deaths left water in milk jugs with messages written on them. Some said “this water is safe to drink” because they are often told by their trail guides, or coyotes, that the water has been poisoned. Jan- June 2014 135Some messages were those of hope and love. The dichotomy of the unforgiving desert and inhospitable wall was countered by pictures of St. Jude and gallons of water from persons who cared. It seemed to me like many folks in this country, legislators, citizens, officers have forgotten basic human rights. Over 6,000 basic human rights.

To date, over 6,000 bodies have been found in the desert and this count increases daily, especially as the summer temperatures soar well over 100 degrees.

It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I heard personal accounts of detained migrants treated like dogs as they ate their food off the floor in detention and stories of cells being incredibly cold. It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I sat through two hours of migrants being charged with criminal offenses for coming over the border and being given about 45 seconds a piece with a judge to accept a plea bargain. Or maybe it was when these men and women came in the courtroom with their hands and feet shackled that we forgot human rights. It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I stood in Nogales, Mexico where a US Border Patrol officer shot 16 rounds through the wall and killed 16 year old Jose Antonio for throwing rocks at him.

The Reverend John Fife.

Our paths crossed in Tucson, Arizona at Borderlinks, an organization committed to facilitating education for groups desiring to come learn first hand of the activities along the border. Rev. Fife sat down and told the story of the Sanctuary movement; he is a retired pastor and served at Southside Presbyterian in Tucson; in the 1980s, Southside responded to the human rights crisis of the US rejection of Central American refugees coming across the border. The US was complicit in helping create the toxic civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala by training military leaders and providing weaponry. Southside, under Fife, began the US Sanctuary Movement wherein Southside essentially answered Fife’s question of “what does it mean to be church in the particular context that we find ourselves?” Southside, along with

Wall between US & Mexico

Wall between US & Mexico

Quaker support, conducted night-time border crossings of many refugees and then housed them in the sanctuary of the church. On average, Southside would host 50-100 refugees a night. In 1982, Fife and others were indicted by the US Attorney’s Office and decided that they would go to the media to highlight this grave injustice and need.

When Southside went public with this, the response by US churches and synagogues was staggering. Within two years, 237 houses of worship across the United States had declared sanctuary and welcomed refugees coming across the border. Colleges and universities also joined in what became known as The Sanctuary Movement. Somewhere on the order of 13,000-15,000 refugees received Sanctuary during that time until eventually Fife and others sued the US Government and settled out of court; the government agreed to cease all deportations from Guatemala and El Salvador, giving asylum and work permits.

When faced with the question of why he spearheaded this movement, Fife said,

“when the government violates human rights, the church has to make the ethical move from advocacy to resistance. I have never figured out how to duck that move. There is a role for advocacy, but when so many lives are threatened and dying, you have to make that next move from advocacy to nonviolent resistance. Sanctuary became that ethical move.”

Fife went on to say that “the church is right in the middle of the empire and the largest section of the church has blessed the empire, but at the same time, there has always been a segment of the church who has moved to active resistance.” This resistance is something that Southside did not see as a choice, but an obligation because they were paying attention and giving voice to the immediate needs of the Tucson and surrounding communities.

What does it mean to be the church in the context in which we find ourselves?

We are reminded of ancient Hebrew hospitality in the writings of the Torah: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NRSV). We are reminded of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan wherein a Samaritan, who shared the same heritage of the Jewish man but their tribes were enemies, saved a Jewish man. Here this story shows that hospitality was given by the least likely passerby, the enemy. And hospitality was withheld by the most likely passerby, a Jewish Levite and also a priest. We are reminded of the Writings of the Psalms, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:13-14a, NRSV). Here we see and believe that all persons, regardless of any identifying feature, are made in the Imago Dei.

So I ask, what are the borders that are drawn in our communities, and even in our own congregations? How are we complicit in blessing the empire? How are we challenging the empire? Have we well researched the US’s immigration policy and how difficult it is to achieve a US citizenship unless you marry a US citizen, are independently wealthy, a famous athlete, a scientist, etc.? Are we aware of the current trade policies, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that have significantly contributed to the desperate poverty in Mexico and Central American countries?

What is the role of the Church as a social movement? And is this role a prophetic voice?

If we truly believe that all persons are made in the image of God, then how can we, as a church, allow migration to be criminalized? How can we allow hospitality to be criminalized?

The Reverend Fife ended with saying, “I can’t imagine being the pastor of a suburban church for 35 years and asking myself, ‘what the hell did I do?’”

As a Baptist seeking ordination, I want to be able to answer that question with integrity after a lifetime in ministry. I want to be able to say that I lived my life and served in a church which sang, ate, and breathed radical hospitality.

May it ever be so.

The Weathered Hands of a Nobel Peace Laureate

I apologize for my delayed posts as of late as I have been trying to meet other deadlines in a busy spring semester; however, ideas for posts and this blogging community are frequently on my mind.

It is my great pleasure to relay to you the sentiments of Dr. Shirin Ebadi. This past Friday night, Belmont University partnered with STARS to host the Mid-South Peace-Jam event. A human rights organization, Peace-Jam teaches youth  about peace, allows them to develop peace proposals for various topics, and then present these to Nobel Peace Laureates at an annual conference. Pretty cool, huh?! This year, Dr. Ebadi was invited to receive the youth peace proposals and to be the keynote speaker.

The night began with a techie-heavy video that defined the sometimes ambiguous term: “human rights.” The short video can be found here and is well worth your time. After video, Dr. Ebadi took the stage. In 2003, Dr. Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, was  awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a historic ceremony, signifying the first Iranian to have received this distinction.

Fall 2012 Beauty 100

Dr. Ebadi is a small woman with a big voice. She spoke of the disjunct between the Iranian people and their government, stating that many Iranians do not promote the enrichment of uranium in their country, even though their government will not back down from it. She spoke of Iran’s involvement in Syria and about human rights violations occurring within Iran’s borders. Two womens testimonies in court are the equivalent of one man’s; by law, the life of a woman is considered half of that of a man’s. If one is not a Shi’a Muslim, life is very difficult, and often results in religious persecution (even Sunni Muslims experience this in Iran).

She spoke of the harsh economic sanctions imposed on Iran by western countries (ie. the US), sanctions which have affected the citizens in many detrimental ways. She suggested this was not the best or most humane way to force the government to disarm; instead she suggested very specific political sanctions.

When asked when she believes Iran will be a full democracy, she questioned the definition of democracy. Yes, Iranian citizens can vote, but do they all have basic human freedoms, such as a freedom of speech and religion? No. So, in her opinion, a true democracy does not exist in her country. She is hopeful that such structure will come through students and through feminists: stating: “The feminist movement is very strong in Iran, so is the student movement. I am sure that one day democracy of Iran will be brought through the youth.” I am happy to suggest the same is true for America, in that, I believe positive change is coming through students and feminism.

Asking the last question, a female student quietly inquired: “What can we do?” Shirin responded by saying: students must not be indifferent about what goes on in their country and the world. They must be informed activists. They must have larger goals for their life than achieving PhD’s or buying houses, (though these aren’t inherently negative), they must be real human beings.

Wow.

Though she is currently exiled to London, it is clear that Shirin is still fighting for the human rights and dignities of her countrymen/women.

Though this woman can’t be taller than 5’1, is Iranian, and does not speak my native tongue, I suspect she and I are a lot alike. We believe that equality is a prerequisite for peace and that we, as humans, have a social responsibility to each other to work for these human rights. She and I realize that when women are disenfranchised, so are children, and so are men, everyone is. That when Iranians and Syrians suffer human rights violations, we do as much injustice to ourselves as we do to the sufferers of it when we refuse to care or engage.

Her eyes told me she had seen much injustice; her hands showed me that she had fought it with ferocity, not because she was suffering its oppression, but because this was what “being human” meant to her.

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Is equality a prerequisite for peace? Are my standards too high, my thoughts too idealistic?