Thursday, May 20, 2010

Love Your Neighbor

In March of 2008, I spent a week working in Tucson, AZ, on the US-Mexico (AZ-Sonora) border with a group of students from the Presbyterian & Disciples of Christ Student Center at the University of Florida and an organization in Tucson called Humane Borders, which, among other things, provides water in the desert (see Isaiah 49:10). Our activities included clean-up of an abandoned migrant camp, painting water barrels (this helps keep the water cooler, even under the blistering desert sun), cleaning a storage shack with No More Deaths (another migrant relief organization) just south of the border, and sitting in on a court hearing. It was a really humbling experience all around, seeing how little people have and what they are willing to risk for a better life for their families. In court, there were men who had crossed the border and been caught multiple times but had nothing to go back to and so had nothing to do but try again to cross. (I'm not defending the illegality of their actions, but it's important to understand that these people aren't just doing this because they feel like it; it's a last resort kind of thing. They don't think there are any other options left, and there may not be. So many misconceptions run rampant in everyday American discourse, and so much is overlooked--so many people are overlooked because everyone's too busy with the politics of it.)

[Incidentally, during the trip, I was reading Art Spiegelman's Maus books, which are the story of his parents' experiences in World War II concentration camps and his own coping with that as a child and then as an adult. (They're graphic novels, and I highly recommend them both. You can find them in a one-volume set here.) Anyway, I ended up writing my weekly reflection for that lit class on the parallels between the treatment of Jews as depicted in Maus and the treatment of Mexicans and Central Americans on the border today.]

A while ago, a friend of mine asked what I think about. I told him about Tucson. Since then, I've realized that the real answer to what I think about has less to do with illegal migration specifically and more to do with the general lack of love in our society. We're so focused on doing what's best for ourselves as individuals that we lose sight of the fact that love is necessarily based in community.

(A lot of this is inspired by - and some of it stolen from - the writings of Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President. He wrote it a lot better than I can so if you're not satisfied with what's here - and I daresay you won't be - read his books. Read them anyway.)

Biblically, we are called to care for one another. The Lord's Prayer, a prayer I've known since I was seven years old and getting ready to make my first confession, says "Give us this day our daily bread." (Matthew 6:11; emphasis added) It doesn't say "Give me this day my daily bread." It is a request on behalf of the group, for all of us, not just for myself. And yet, we overlook that, it seems. We are so worried about where our next meal is going to come from (or perhaps more accurately, the money for our next vacation) that we forget about our neighbors who are starving. And I don't just mean the people who live next door to me. They're doing just fine. But what about the families who visit the food pantry at my church? When do I think about them except when the pastor's wife announces food pantry pick-up hours or the bulletin asks for donations of egg noodles?

What does this have to do with illegal migration? We met a woman in Arizona, just this side of Mexico, who said we shouldn't put water in the desert because it will encourage "them" (migrants) to come. So what? For the record, the most water is put out in the summer months, but the most migrants come in the early part of the year. It's not a causal relationship. Migrants have been journeying across the desert of the southwest since long before Humane Borders started placing water barrels. If someone is wandering the desert in search of a better life, in search of a way to improve the plight of their family, they should not have to die of thirst in the process. In a truly Christian nation, a nation living after the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who said that the greatest commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" and that the second greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:36-39), there would be no question of providing water. "When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink."

(This flag marks the location of water barrels. It flies 30 feet in the air, bringing hope to those in search of renewal.)

Living that kind of love would turn upside down the whole way this country functions. Yes, it may be difficult and uncomfortable to change how relate to the world around us, to our neighbors, to ourselves. We can do so much if we choose to follow those two great commandments and stop thinking only of ourselves. We do not live in a vacuum. We do not live or love alone.

Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not jealous.
Love does not brag.
Love is not arrogant.
Love does not act unbecomingly.
Love does not seek its own.
Love is not provoked.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness.
Love rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things.
Love believes all things.
Love hopes all things.
Love endures all things.
Love never fails.

(from 1 Corinthians 13)

"Currently Homeless"

Near where I live, just a few blocks away, a river flows past a peaceful waterfront park. I used to go there for lunch every day. Probably will today. Last night, I was sprawled by the water on the concrete ledge where boats dock, reading and journaling and breathing in the scent of spring, watching the river rush by (murky and brown but still beautiful). As I scribbled, lost in my thoughts, I could hear a family somewhere behind me, looking at the river. I was only vaguely aware of their approach until I heard, "Look, it's a homeless girl. Hey, look, Jacob, it's a little homeless girl." I looked up. They--three adults and two children--walked nearer, and one said, "Do you mind if we push you in?" (Please, don't.) "Aren't you afraid to sit there?" (Not really. No.) "But she has a cute sweater so she must be 'currently homeless.'" It was the adults who spoke. After a minute or two, they went on their merry way, and I returned to my journal.

This wouldn't have been so disturbing had I known the people. (I think I have friends who might joke about pushing me into the river.) I didn't know them, though, and for all they knew, I could have been a homeless girl. If I were, I think I'd have felt mocked and dehumanized and humiliated. As it was, I felt that way a bit. My journal entry was derailed into a diatribe on this unsettling experience. They were speaking as though I were nothing more than a thing discarded by society, trash worthy only of mockery. As though they somehow were more significant than I by virtue of their having a home, a roof.

I was drawn back to Sonora, Mexico, and the Arizona desert, a place teeming with life but shadowed by death and prejudice and injustice. A place where a man may be stripped of his dignity without understanding why, when he is simply trying to make a better life for his family, and this is the only way he knows how because no one has ever shown him another way. The un-love of it all is infuriating.

Sitting there, writing about their words and the memories they invoked, the clouds that had been receding the whole time I'd been out by the water, slid back behind me entirely, and all I could see was this brilliantly blue sky, lit by the setting sun. Then, all I could think of was the glory of God and his love for us to give us that sky and that sun, to fill us with joy when we are downtrodden by the hurtful words of others. He loves me, and that is bigger than anything else.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness."
Jeremiah 31:3

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Clothe Your Neighbor As Yourself

Check out this movement of love in Christ Jesus:

Be sure to read some of James' journal entries on the "The Tour" tab. It's a really fantastic testimony to God working in someone as he ministers through him.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

On Love and Dating

A little back story: Last November, a friend of mine asked what I wanted to be loved for, and I gave him this long and rambling answer about generosity, but since then, the question has been rolling around in my head. So the other night, I wrote this letter to him. It's kind of in two parts. The first is the real thing I want people to love me for and the second is an explanation of my views on dating (sort of). I'm sharing it here because it's part of this whole stumbling and standing thing.

Something’s been running around in my head almost since you asked last November what it is I want to be loved for, and I finally found the time and words to write it. What I wrote before didn’t really get at what I was trying to say and what I really want to be loved for. The generosity is a part of it, yes, but it grows out of something much more powerful and much more significant than generosity alone (and particularly my own meager human generosity alone). I want people to love me because they see Jesus in me. That’s why I’m so willing to give of myself. What I have is not my own, not time or money or possessions; it all belongs to God. So if I can share Christ with the people who cross my path by sharing of that with which God has blessed me, that I will do.

Not that I am always good at this. I fail constantly at living the love that Christ gave me. My flesh gets in the way, but that’s part of being a flawed human. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) At the same time, God is always calling me back to him, back into the fold. He doesn’t want me to fail; he wants me to stand strong in faithfulness, despite the temptations that may come my way. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

One of the most difficult parts of following Christ is in dating (or not dating, as it happens). I am just as guilty as anyone else of regarding my constant state of singlehood as a curse, rather than a blessing, especially when it seems like half of my friends are married or engaged or at least dating someone (and I’m sure that’s only multiplied as you get older). Still, a season of singleness provides the time to prepare for marriage, from managing a budget to keeping house to cooking to learning to rely on God rather than a mate for fulfillment. Right now, I’m relishing this time that I have to spend studying the word of God without the responsibilities of a husband and children. I do want those things, but I know that at this point in my life, I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.

My eyes wander far too much, along with my mind, playing house in my imagination with half a dozen of my guy friends, depending on my mood and the day. Getting married wouldn’t automatically make my eyes stop wandering, wouldn’t reign in my imagination. Sure, I’d have someone on whom to concentrate my romantic fantasies, but what if he didn’t fulfill them? What if he wasn’t the prince charming I’d made him up to be and I got discontent and impatient waiting for him to become that pretend character (which he certainly isn’t going to miraculously become overnight, if at all)? What then? We’re married and that’s it. Or what if his eyes wander and then his feet and I’m at home with the kids while he’s gallivanting all over the place?

A season of singleness creates time to reign in wandering eyes and wandering hearts and wandering feet. It gives us the opportunity to devote ourselves fully to serving God rather than ourselves. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

So that’s what’s been running around my head. That’s who I am (or who I am hopefully becoming). I don’t know where you stand with God or what you believe about him or what kind of relationship you have with Jesus Christ, so maybe I sound completely crazy. Maybe I’d sound completely crazy anyway, but that’s a risk that comes with following Christ. Hope this letter finds you well, wherever it finds you.