The Takers and the Dwellers

Once upon a time, the Church of England was filled with imperfect people who did some really bad things. Others in the church were so fed up with the impurities they saw, that they separated themselves and eventually sailed for a new place where they had been promised land and freedom to live how they wanted. Those giving the land did not own it but saw it as their right since the dwellers worshiped in a different way and were therefore labeled heathen with no voice or value.  A few days after arrival in the new land, the takers went exploring and found a cache of corn that had been grown, harvested and stored by the dwellers and caretakers of the land. They took the corn and came back later and stole even more corn. They also found graves and stole pretty things out of the graves. This was only the beginning. The takers continued to take and showed no respect for humanity and the earth. In spite of this, the dwellers shared with and taught the takers how to survive in this new land.

Eventually, the takers took the entire land and, in the process, set off the largest genocide in human history, taking the lives of 100+ million dwellers. The genocide continues today, as shown in this video by Truthseeker.

Today the takers celebrate the beginning of all of this with a feast called Thanksgiving. They are in the process of building a giant wall around the borders of their land because they fear more takers will do to them what they did to the previous dwellers.

Reasons to Vote

Weary, so weary. Stories of injustice clog my ears. My tears turn to lead as I hang my head and wonder how we got here, to a place where beautiful souls are gunned down in a place of worship, where cries of greatness have turned into building walls and ripping children from parents. A place where protecting the life of the unborn is more important than caring for those who already breathe in the air we share, where we incarcerate African Americans at a much higher rate than “white” Americans for the same offense. Where thousands in my city are not registered to vote, convinced that their voice would not make a difference. Where women are squashed like unwanted bugs and choose to stay silent because they are not believed, where abusers are protected and victims are shamed.

So I am not going to vote in hopes that some greatness will find us. The greatness is already here; we have just shut it down and hidden it in a box or a cage or a cell. The greatness we seek is best seen in the least of these. So I am going to vote for the sake of these –

  • For the woman on the other side of the wall who ran to keep her children safe from gang-lords. For the boy who works the night shift then goes to school all day to care for his family because of what ICE has done in my city. For the families in hiding, though for years have been trying to be legal like me, whose hard working tax dollars benefit everyone but themselves and now they wonder where their next meal will come from.
  • For the families in my district who cannot own homes or borrow a dime to improve their spaces. This ensures that property values and taxes stay low, so low that not enough goes to fund the schools and their children are fought instead of taught by teachers who exhausted and under-equipped.
  • For the African Americans unjustly incarcerated who line the cells of private prisons while the owners line their pockets with billions. For the black bodies laying on the ground through no fault of their own, silently screaming for us to take note. For the daughters of the woman who remembers her uncle being tarred and feathered and hung from a tree for just being who he was. For the same woman whose last words to her daughters were, “Don’t ever stop.”

I will not stop. I will remember these and I will vote for their sake.

 

Columbus Day – To Celebrate or Lament?

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he certainly did not discover America. Instead, he landed on one of the Bahama Islands. For months, he went from island to island, searching for the gold and riches that he had promised to the Spanish Monarchy in return for funding his journey. One of his ships was wrecked off the coast of what we now know as Haiti, forcing him to leave some of his men there when he returned to Spain with only a handful of gold and six indigenous people as slaves, who were paraded up and down the streets of Spain.

He returned to Haiti on his second voyage and discovered the makeshift settlement in ruins and all the men he had left there murdered by angry locals for raping their women. On this voyage he captured 500 Native Americans and sent them to Spain as repayment to the monarchy for their investment.  While Queen Isabella was horrified and sent many of them back to the Caribbean, insisting they were Spanish subjects and not slaves, Columbus continued to capture locals and is said to have enslaved 5,000 of them. In addition to this, he and his men forced them to convert to Catholicism or be burned at the stake. He also ate so much of their food that a famine was created, forced them to dig in mines to search for gold, and introduced European diseases that wiped many of them out. In less than 20 years, the population had decreased by more than 50%.

Guacanagari, one of the five kings of the island at the time, who had also showed kindness to Columbus when his ship had wrecked, is quoted to have said the following before escaping the genocide Columbus was responsible for –

“I’d rather eternally burn in hell, than to go to a heaven where I would find people of your kinds”

These words haunt me and I find no celebration in my heart for the destruction and carnage this man is responsible for. Today, I honor the brave men and women who were the first to discover and settle this land. Women and men who gave their lives being kind to those who came after them in greed and stole this land, nearly wiping them out and calling it a great victory. I lament on this ground stained with the blood of millions who once lived here and truly cared for her. If history teaches us anything at all, it should be that, once again, those who were taken advantage of are the true heroes.

Today, I honor them.

The Divide

Imagine you’re standing on the street corner and a young man comes running up to you with blood running down his face, screaming and crying because of some trauma he just endured. Would you sit him down and school him in the proper way of asking for help or would you call 911 and start screaming a bit yourself, trying to get help for the person in need?

Schooling someone in the proper way of asking for help shows that you care more about the way things look than about the raw and very real pain of the individual in front of you.
It is time we stop telling black people the proper way to ask for help. Do you think another way of protesting would be better? Please keep that thought to yourself. It is not helpful. You may think you have good intentions but it makes you look heartless and creates a bigger divide between us as people.

Let’s not be more concerned about appearances than about the reality.

Let’s be a part of a solution, not the divide.

This Land

She lay quietly, waiting, until they found her. Like a treasure, they cared for her and she, in turn, birthed the deer, elk, and buffalo, while berries ripened on her branches and birds filled the space of her breath with song. The bushes, trees and grass burst out in all vibrant shades of green and flowers danced daily in her light. She swelled with life under their care. And they multiplied and soon chubby little feet caressed her face and she laughed at their joy.

But then, the pale ones came. Some were kind, and tired, and grateful for her. They settled in and cared for her. But many others – they tricked, and killed, spread disease and reduced the ones who treasured her from a mighty number to a frail few. They spilled blood quickly to demand more and more of her. They brought in others in chains and shackles and forced them to pull from her what little life she had left so they could feast and sit in ease. Generation after generation they grew, and consumed, and hoarded until an empire emerged.

Then they built walls around her and said, “No More!” to those standing at their doors. They took what was never theirs, hoarded it and turned their eyes away from the tired, the hungry, the ones running for their lives. They shut their eyes and put their hands over their ears and would not share her. But what they did not see was when they shut their eyes and closed their ears, they shut down her life as well. The empire they made for themselves alone, the one that could have fed all the hungry and brought healing to millions, distorted into a poison that consumed them, and they dried up with her. Too late, they realized that their self-protection had become their suicide.

But still she whispers her secret to those who can hear.

I belong to no one; I am both gift and treasure. My bounty multiplies when I am loved and shared. Share me so that I can come back to life and dance again.

 

 

Walking Inside the Story

I put my hands on my ears to block the callous cheers of those rejoicing at the deportations that have been ongoing. There is a rending inside of me as something fierce, something long trapped, seeks release. I cannot give voice to the scream of anguish that I feel rising in me as bone and limb holding families together are torn apart. You see, it’s personal now; I’m on the inside of this story. I have the privilege of walking with him for a bit.

His shoulders hunch under the weight of years, though he has not lived two decades.

He barely meets my gaze, and I feel his grief encircle my heart.

Separated from his mom.

Unwelcome by dad, he does his best to manage…alone.

Siblings scattered across the nation.

Taken advantage of by those who should be caring for him.

He survives on little more than noodles.

He pays the rent.

He goes to high school.

He sends what little is left to Mom, the one he loves more than life itself.

Our nation created this. We are creating orphans. Misery. Chaos. Abandonment. Child Labor. Desperation. Unimaginable pain.

Not a great America. Not a cleaned-up country. Enforcing pain, not laws, we are creating our next disaster.

Can you hear the roar?  Can you feel the excruciating pain of families being torn apart, limb from limb? Our inclination towards self protection does us no good until we can learn to protect all of US.

 

Be Love

I gotta be honest with you. Sometimes the fight for justice for the oppressed takes more than I have. Some days the cost of it all leaves me spent and I’ve got nothing left. But I realized something yesterday, as my husband was being arrested for taking part in an act of Civil Disobedience. Fighting for justice is costly but allowing injustice to go unchecked is the greatest cost to us all.

When we are more concerned about the law than we are about the safety and basic human rights of others, we all lose dignity. When we are turn our backs to the break up of families, essentially creating orphans and widows, the impact on the next generation is profound. When we deny prisoners and detainees communion, prayer and a listening ear, we lose bits of our own soul. When we are don’t bat an eye at the millions of tax dollars being spent in the deportation process of many who have been trying for years to become citizens and have been paying taxes into a system they will never benefit from, we subtly give the message to the next generation that ethnic cleansing is okay.

Injustice unchecked creates monsters. Ignorance feeds them. A society that cares about itself more than others opens the doors and lets them out. But love is greater and always finds a way to push back.

Be love. Let it define every thing you do. It will pick you off the floor and grow you into something so much bigger than the monsters.

 

The Law of Kindness

It didn’t seem strange, at first, to see this young family ahead of me in line when I went to drop my son off at camp for the week. They stood huddled together, quietly waiting, but then when they reached the front of the line, they quietly requested a place to take a shower. While other children excitedly checked in and called out greetings to long lost friends, the silence of these children and their parents suddenly spoke volumes to me and in their beautiful, brown faces I read an unwritten story and it broke me a little more. What does it feel like to live life on the run, with no home, no place of safety to tuck your little ones into at night, no place to wash the dust of your journey off your weary body? How devastating it must be to have your adopted home become unsafe, unfamiliar and possibly dangerous.

By the time I got my son settled in to his cabin, the family was gone. I realized I had gone on through the line, expecting someone else to do the right thing, the kind thing, thinking up all the reasons why I couldn’t, why I didn’t just offer my home to them to freshen up in. I needed to get my son settled in. I didn’t have enough seat belts in my car. I lived a distance away and they probably wanted to stay in the area. I desperately needed some down time. As I went over my list of “reasons” on the long, quiet ride home, I only felt regret. I felt as if the Christ-child had knocked on my door and I had shut it in his face.

Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

So I am writing to myself, as much or more than to anyone else. Something in my bones is grieving, like some ancient DNA that remembers the loss of home, of children, of family. 300 years ago it was not uncommon for Mennonite parents to have their children taken away from them, while they were put into prison for refusing to change their faith. It was next to impossible for them to own land. They were heavily taxed based upon their faith and often hunted down like animals. They were deported, branded (literally) and sometimes sold as slaves,  yet they illegally returned again and again to the places they called home. My ancestors became wandering immigrants, leaving Switzerland and living wherever it seemed safer – France, Germany and eventually finally finding passage to the United States of America.

Recent events have made me keenly aware that I am the descendant of immigrants and that awareness has helped me to step into their stories. And when you are on the inside of someone’s story, well, things just feel a whole lot different.

So today I’m asking all those other descendants of immigrants, especially  those who came here because home was no longer safe, I’m asking you to please stop looking into this story as if you were an outsider, because you are not. Anabaptists, this story especially  belongs to you. You would not be alive today if your ancestors had not broken laws and run away with your great-great-great-great-great-great grandma in their arms. They broke laws so that you could be here today, so how can we be so hard on those who are breaking laws so that their children have a chance of growing up in safety? I’m not talking about criminals who are trying to come in, but the thousands of ordinary, hard-working folks who are running from unsafe situations in their home countries. We have become experts at justifying our existence while denying others theirs. When does it become right for the descendants of immigrants to decide no other immigrants can come here and experience what we have? When did it become right to uphold man-made laws that break the ancient and holy laws of kindness? Our ancestors broke all kinds of laws so that we can be here today but let me tell you what law they did not break – the law of kindness. They fed their enemies. Literally. And remember the iconic story of the guy escaping who heard his oppressor fall into the icy water? He went back, helped him out and saved his life, even though he was caught and put to death anyway. This is our heritage, to love God first with every bit of our being, and then to love our neighbors so much that we are willing to take risks for them.

Remember our heritage, search out our roots. What would our life be like today if unjust laws had never been broken on our behalf?

 

 

 

Juneteenth

June 18, 1865 dawned much like every other morning had for the folks on the Island of Galveston, TX. No doubt quiet whispers of the Emancipation Proclamation had been circling since the day Lincoln issued it in 1863 but nothing had changed here. Texas did not see itself as  part of the United States and, therefore, did not feel the need to comply with the freedom of slaves.

Most of the 250,000 slaves in Texas at this time had moved there from other states when their owners moved west to escape the fighting during the Civil War. A few came through domestic slave trade and fewer still came through illegal African trade, but most had moved in from the deep South. By 1860, the average price for a slave in Texas was $800, though the best field hands could bring $1200 and blacksmiths were valued at $2000. Sugar and cotton production had grown by leaps and bounds, as a result of these slaves and the economy was booming.

But the army rolled in with the heat that day. Union Army General, Gordan Granger, arrived on the island with a troop of 2000 Federal Soldiers. The next day, June 19, he read the General Order No. 3 which stated:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

This day became known and celebrated as Juneteenth.

Upon hearing the news, many slaves left the region. However, over the next seven years, a group of African Americans located across the state of Texas collected and saved money to purchase a piece of ground they would then dedicate to the celebration of Juneteenth. In 1872, they purchased ten acres of open land and named it Emancipation Park. This park can still be found today in Houston’s Third Ward.

153 years have passed. While I believe with all my heart that Juneteenth is worth celebrating, I also know down deep in the basement of my soul, that the fight is not over yet. “Absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property” floats through my mind like a living, breathing, ancient mantra. It’s the way things should be. The way things are meant to be. Yet, too many people are still living as if it were June 18, because, let’s be honest for minute, if the stripping away of personal rights of another human being makes us safer, wealthier, more powerful, we tend to forget about the person behind those stripped rights.

If we really lived this, we wouldn’t have more black prisoners than white, neighborhoods wouldn’t be still largely segregated, mothers at the borders would not have their babies taken from them, Native Americans would not be relegated to small corners of this wide land without so many basic rights and blood would stop spilling on our sidewalks.

White people, June 18 is over. What is it that we are grasping to hold on to?  When we choose to believe in absolute equality, we find something so much better than safety, wealth and power. Push yourself into June 19 and discover the freedom that comes from living life as it was meant to be…a beautiful, colorful community.

Ten Things You Should Know About Undocumented Immigrants

  1. An estimated 50% of undocumented workers pay income tax. In 2015, this was in the amount of 23.6 billion dollars. While some are paid under the table, many find a way to pay taxes because they believe it will help them to become a citizen someday.
  2. Even though they pay taxes, they are unable to take advantage of any government programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, Earned Income Credit, Food Stamps, SSI and Pell Grants/Student Loans.
  3. 67% are between the ages of 25 and 54. They are not content to sit around taking benefits, they work. They tend to take on low-paying jobs, mostly in agriculture, construction, production (manufacturing, food processing and textiles), service and transportation.
  4. They help create jobs. 13% are self-employed and have found legal ways to open up businesses. In 2014, these entrepreneurs generated 17.2 billion dollars of income.
  5. Studies have shown that where immigrants increase, crime tends to decrease. In one study, the ten areas with the largest growth of immigrants had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980. Another study showed that while the population of undocumented immigrants tripled from 1990-2013, crime in those areas fell by 48%.
  6. Current immigration laws make it nearly impossible for anyone to immigrate lawfully. Immigration 101 breaks it down into three ways – if you have an employer in the US who is willing to sponsor you, if you have a spouse who is a US resident (or after 5 years if you are single and your parents are US residents, and after 10 years if you have a sibling who is a US resident) and, lastly, if you are seeking asylum. An undocumented immigrant who has a child that is a US citizen aged 21 or older, can apply as a family member but the wait can be 20 years long. To understand how immigration laws have changed since our ancestors arrived, read this article.
  7. Not everyone who is undocumented came here illegally. They may have had a tourist or student visa and overstayed. They may have been brought here by parents when they were quite young. Even for these children, it is almost impossible to become a US citizen.
  8. Asylum seekers cannot apply for entrance until they reach a US border. Refugees are people who are seeking asylum and receive permission for entrance before they enter, a process which takes years. Asylum seekers are held in detention centers until they can have a Credible Fear Interview to establish that their lives would be in danger if they were forced to return home. For more on the process, read this article. Families were kept together during this time until the recent Zero Tolerance Policy began. Now all undocumented adults entering the US, including asylum seekers who are going through the “legal” way to do things, are criminally prosecuted, which gives authorities the “right” to take their children away from them. Now, instead of being held in detention centers, they are jailed. This separation of families violates international law, according to Amnesty International.
  9. It costs an average of $10,854 to deport one person. Mass deportation could cost the US Government $400 billion. The labor force would shrink 6.4%, resulting in a $1.6 Trillion reduction of US GDP and the US economy would shrink 5.7% according to New American Economy.
  10. Undocumented workers already give more than they take. Imagine if they were given a clear path to citizenship. Not only would most of them be paying taxes, it would open up doors for education and better jobs. All of this would result in an estimated $68 billion in local and state tax revenues within a decade. Federal Tax revenues would increase by $116 Billion and the estimated GDP growth would be $1.4 Trillion.

If you remove the humanitarian motivations, the religious dictates, a heart of compassion, and look at it purely from an economic viewpoint, studies overwhelmingly demonstrate that it costs us greatly to dismiss those often referred to as “illegals”. But these undocumented immigrants give back to us in so many other ways as well.

May their bravery give us courage to speak up against unjust laws. May their willingness to leave everything behind give us the willingness to leave behind our prejudice and the fear of cultures different from our own. May their hard work and payment into a system that they will never benefit from give us at least a little courage to work harder to be open to new ideas and to give them a chance, whether we ever benefit from it or not. Instead of viewing these fellow humans as lawbreakers or animals, may we learn to see them as risk takers and trauma survivors who are also our brothers and our sisters.