Dear United States, We Can Do Better

I re-titled this blog entry a few times because words just cannot express my disappointment in our country and the urgency for Americans to act and for white Christians to examine the intersection of faith and politics in new ways.  I wrote two blog entries on the experience of visiting the migrant caravan, the other of which can be accessed by clicking here.  This piece is an informative call to action; the other is more of a spiritual reflection.

If you read the news, you know about the caravan of people, fleeing their home countries in search of safety in a foreign land. And you probably read news stories about US military deployment to the area…before the caravan arrived…and before the election cycle.  You’ve probably read news stories that dramatize interactions between a small number of migrants and US authorities.  Of course, these stories are presented in ways that build fear, even though there have been minimal confrontations, met with disproportionate show of force by authorities.

Well, on Wednesday, December 5th, 2018, almost exactly 18 years after going into Tijuana for a day trip during my honeymoon, I crossed into Tijuana again, and it was incredibly calm and uneventful compared to what our current leadership and the news cycle would have us believe.  This is how it went.  I walked through customs along with others in our group.  When I got down to street level, I hopped on my Uber app and typed in the address where the migrant caravan was staying.  A car arrived.  We hopped in, and we were dropped off near our destination.  There, we found a guarded area with a few thousand people camping out in a holding pattern.  We were allowed to enter, talk and pray with people, and express our support and solidarity.  After a few hours, we got an Uber back to the border, stopped in a coffee shop to regroup, and then went home.

That’s it.  It was less intense than visiting as a tourist years ago, thanks to Uber and some Spanish-speaking group leaders who knew the area well.  There was nothing I would label as unrest, chaos, or tensions.  But I did learn a few very concerning things about our own nation that I’d like to share with you, and I’d like to ask you to do something about.

Did you know that the United States deports veterans who have served in the US military?  I’m cynical and disillusioned with our nation right now, shocked by little, but this one shocked me. There are people who are in Tijuana right now who served in the US military and cannot live in the US, but if they die today, they could be buried in US soil. I don’t need to tell you that this isn’t right.  All it takes is one bad day, one bad choice, one symptomatic moment of PTSD…a condition that is a direct result of someone’s service to our country…and that veteran is eligible for deportation.

Did you know that there are hunger strikers in Tijuana right now, and that all they are asking is that the United States follow its own laws? According to its own policy and protocol, the US is supposed to process 300 asylum applications per day and is equipped to do so. The current administration has implemented a “metering” system, reducing the number of applications processed per day to around 50. This is an obstruction of justice. Seeking asylum in the US is a long-standing, historic process that the US has always valued and upheld.

What can we do? As citizens of a democratic society that upholds the ideals of liberty and justice for all, it is our responsibility to speak up and let our voices be heard when authorities are compromising those ideals…and that means more than spreading angst on social media. Our representatives make decisions based on pressure and input from constituents. That’s how the system of representative democracy is designed to work.

  1.  Matthew 25 of Southern California will be circulating a letter asking for the US government to process the usual 300 asylum seekers per day instead of the 50 or so they are currently processing daily.  We can sign the letter and create a version for our own states.  More than just California officials impact these decisions.
  2. I will be joining the hunger strikers in a modified way, and I urge you to join me. Once a week, I will be fasting, and during the day of fasting, I will use the hunger as a reminder to do two things:
    1. Pray to the King of presidents and Lord of senators about justice issues in our nation, including closure to immigrants and mass incarceration.
    2. Contact at least one elected official each day of fasting to ask them to do whatever is in their power to push the authorities to process the required 300 asylum applications per day and stop the fear-based and dismissive rhetoric that is pervasive in our leaders right now.

In closing, I know there will be some of you who read this and disallow yourself from engaging the conversation, based on safety concerns and economic concerns. My response to the safety concern is this: Are there people who commit crimes in the migrant camp? Very likely. In any group of thousands of people, especially those who have been through severe trauma, there will be people who do bad things. This does not mean the vast majority of people seeking asylum deserve to be ignored and dehumanized.  My response to the economic concern is this: Firstly, our economy can absorb a few thousand people right now…certainly more easily than more impoverished nations. Secondly, the Bible is very clear that one cannot serve both God and money.  The Holy Family fled political unrest and pursued safety in the more affluent Egypt (an economy also built on the backs of slaves at one point in history). I, for one, am thankful that Egypt absorbed Jesus and his family into their economic and societal structures when they sought asylum. And I’m thankful they didn’t have to wait 1-3 years for their application to get processed because of “metering.”

A Non-White, Asylum-Seeking Jesus

I wrote two blog entries on the experience of visiting the migrant caravan, the other of which can be accessed by clicking here.  This piece is more of a spiritual reflection; the other is an informative call to action.

After a long journey, I met with a group of concerned citizens (primarily people of faith, led my Matthew 25 of Southern California) to cross the border to experience the conditions faced by the migrant caravan and received a t-shirt that said, “Jesus was an immigrant.”  I was told I would come face to face with trauma in Tijuana’s migrant shelter, but I suspected I would be well-acquainted with the pain and harsh conditions and be able to process everything without too much shock.  You see, secondhand trauma is a real and routine part of my life. I’ve learned to cope with it, on most days. I’ve learned to do all I can to alleviate the suffering of those around me and then check out and turn the situation over to God. I do this to keep my own savior complex in check and for the health and well-being of my family and I.

I really didn’t feel shocked by too much of what I experienced amongst the community of migrants this week.  I was told to expect chaos, but what I experienced was anything but chaos.  The migrant community was well-organized, and, well, a community. There was an atmosphere of mutual trust in the camp, without a lot of tensions that I could feel. There was an indoor shelter for women and families with children, but it was still just a huge room filled with tents (for those fortunate enough to get one). The rest just had foam mats as their personal space on which to sleep with their belongings. As a woman, I can’t imagine actually sleeping enough to stay healthy. I’d feel like anyone could take advantage of me at anytime. I’d feel the need to stay half awake and on the alert at all times to protect myself and my children. I’d only sleep when my body could no longer keep going, and even then, only for a few hours at a time. As someone who needs plenty of alone time, I’d also lose significant psychological stamina. I found myself praying for the introverts in the room.  As a matter of fact, one of the most disturbing pieces to me was the vulnerability of everyone in the camp, but especially the women and children. I played with a little, seven year-old girl for over an hour and never saw her parents. Such trust (or exhaustion) results in extreme vulnerability.

The pain and suffering of the people was intense because conditions were awful, and yet, thousands of people felt enough fear and desperation to choose the conditions of a refugee camp over their homes, their families, and the cultures in which they were most comfortable. Quarters are tight, and this results in the spread of infectious disease quickly.  And yet, in spite of all of this, people are banding together, organizing, and supporting each other as family.  I guess I’m just not understanding why we as a nation are scared of these people.  They are hurting, vulnerable people seeking safety.  That’s all.

As I reflect twenty-four hours later, I find myself especially emotional because of my long-standing, deep relationship with Jesus. I began this blog entry by saying that I am well-equipped to turn off the pain of others’ trauma for the sake of my own emotional survival, but that is not the case when someone who is extremely close to me faces something awful. Yesterday, I saw a pregnant woman in the camp and thought, “Dear God, conditions at home must be awful to take on this journey pregnant. Where will she have the baby? When? Does she know she will have medical care and a sanitary place to give birth?” Today, after truly reflecting on Jesus as immigrant, I see Mary, the mother of Jesus, in this pregnant woman, and I want to weep. Yesterday, I saw a little baby laying on a mat beside his mother and marveled that someone with a new baby was making this journey, taking such risk with a new life, and I knew that meant the risk of staying felt greater to the mother than the risk of leaving her homeland. Today, I see the baby as Jesus, on a mat, in a refugee shelter, his mother and father fleeing for his safety, and I don’t know if I can stomach my pretty manger decoration when I get home.   (Yes, there will be a manger scene in my house this year, but there will be conversations with my kids, and I will see Jesus in the migrant shelter in Tijuana.)  I feel the pain of the people fleeing for safety as His family’s pain, and it brings it all to life in a way that rattles me just a little bit more.  I learned more about God yesterday.  I learned the story of Jesus and immersed myself in the Christmas story without even realizing it until later.  The Holy Family fled political unrest and pursued safety in the more affluent Egypt (an economy, like the US, also built on the backs of slaves at one point in history). I, for one, am thankful that Egypt absorbed Jesus and his family into their economic and societal structures when they sought asylum.   I hope we will think of this when we consider those seeking safety in our own country.

Calling Cannot Be Escaped

Whelp – I guess since they used my quote, I need to post something on here.

There are many reasons I oppose the current jail proposal, three of which I outlined at this morning’s public hearing: expanding capacity for mass incarceration…by someone with a history of ethically questionable financial dealings…in a school!

I was disappointed by the blame-shifting evident in King’s closing comments and the attempt to shame the public for holding the commissioners accountable. We work with the city regularly; they help facilitate and fund many initiatives. This decision, however, is on the county. I was thrilled to see Riggins listen to the public, motion to table the decision, and have the strength to vote “no” knowing her fellow commissioners would oppose her. It is too bad her fellow commissioners are not listening…yet.

We are not done. We will continue conversations. We will continue working to negotiate for a solution to the current, substandard jail conditions that do not include expansion of mass incarceration, that do not include a school, but that do include addiction treatment and mental health care.

 

IPR Coverage of Public Hearing Here

Sabbath is Completion

Some people say that the number seven is the number of completion.  Today I am enjoying the feeling of being done.  It’s been a busy few weeks of preparations for Inspire Academy’s Giving Gala and our float in the BSU homecoming parade.  When I got home mid-day today after the parade, I realized that I was done my work and that there was nothing else that needed to be done right away.  What a great way to rest!

As a school leader, the work was never done.  There was always a to-do list longer than the time needed to get it done, and with every tasked ticked off, three more were added.  There were always people waiting to hear from me, people who needed something from me.  In education, we’re focused on continuous improvement.  After all, that is what the educational process is all about – constantly growing, changing, and developing new skills and insights.

I am keenly aware today that one of the gifts of this sabbath year is being able to enjoy the feeling of being finished.  I haven’t felt that in years, and it brings great satisfaction and relaxation.  Even though there are busy weeks, I get to the end, and they are done.  I’m not staring down the next busy week that’s about to take the wind out of me.

So, here’s to completion!  Whether it be marking the end of a season (school envisioned, opened, and in its second charter term – check!), the end of a few important events (giving gala, homecoming parade – check!), a benchmark in my kids’ education (met our academic goals by fall break – check!), it feels good to be done!

Sabbath is Flexibility

I am realizing that one of the gifts of Sabbath is the space to be flexible. When spending some time with my sister and her husband recently, it came up in conversation that both my husband and my sister’s husband had “always wanted” to go to Havana. Normally, a trip like this would take a good bit of planning ahead, but a quick look at airfare and calendars told us the price was right and that all four of our calendars had nothing that couldn’t be rescheduled for four days just a few short weeks after the conversation. As I write this, I am sitting on a small second floor porch in Vedado, Cuba, after a few days of supporting the local people, and just a few hours before we leave for the airport to head back home.

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On a larger scale, we are rescheduling our biggest trip of the year! We planned to drive the skoolie out west this spring for 5-6 weeks. Our hope was to see everything from Mount Rushmore to the Redwood Forest to Santa Fe. (For someone who likes Rent, likes to sing, and likes to start new initiatives, Santa Fe has been on my wish list for years. “Let’s open up a restaurant in Santa Fe!”)

As a family, we’ve been experiencing transition fatigue. Going for a few weeks, staying home for a few weeks, going for a few weeks, staying home for a few weeks. So, we decided to condense our travel to one semester instead of spreading it throughout the year.  As we began to complete the necessary planning and arrangements to head west before winter sets in, we quickly found out that winter is already arriving in Yellowstone National Park, one of our destinations. We also learned that winter will still have things shut down during our originally planned spring timeline. Basically, in a skoolie, there will be no safe and enjoyable way to get over the western mountains during November – April. So, we must throw away both original plans and figure out if we can do a western tour as the grand finale of our Sabbath year, in May and June.

I could never have done any of this during the past six years of my life. Work schedules and school schedules had us locked in. Sure, we could travel some during school breaks, but not weeks on end. And we certainly couldn’t have played with three different months and had the flexibility to make any one of the three work. This flexibility alone is a form of rest for me.

Sabbath is Pruning

I spent a couple hours pruning trees and bushes on our property recently (contrary to true agrarian sabbath practice).  I had forgotten how much God speaks to me through gardening and how much this type of work renews my mind and spirit.

Pruning is always hard for me – in my gardening and in my daily life.  Something doesn’t feel right about cutting off pieces of a plant, and it feels so wasteful dragging piles of limbs and branches to the waste pick-up pile.  But it is exactly what the plants need.  John 15: 2 says, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  I sometimes find entire branches that are dead, and their removal increases oxygen flow.  I sometimes find branches that are growing into the space another branch needs to grow and develop.  Leaving both branches will cause neither to flourish.  I sometimes clip branches growing in the wrong direction, taking nutrients from a tree’s main trunk that are needed further up in the tree.

A lot of pruning has been going on in my own life as well, some things intentional and some things unintentional.  Of course, the obvious is choosing to step out of the day-to-day leadership of the school so that I can breathe, reflect, and restore my energy.  There have also been activities and relationships that I thought I would dive back into and find nourishing but instead found out there were reasons I didn’t prioritize some of those things over the past several years.  I find myself letting go of certain things indefinitely, even beautiful branches that hurt to eliminate, because they are not life-giving and are not a good fit for me.  I also reflect on the process of letting go of branches or relationships that had died and needed to go in order not to kill the whole plant.  This has been and still is a painful process of self-reflection, intentional pausing, and soul-searching.

Pruning is a painful process that restores life and health, and I am still in the midst of learning sorting this all out.  One thing I know, tending to my little plot of land helps me reflect and feeds my soul.  I guess I won’t be pruning that out anytime soon!

Sabbath Year: First Quarter Reflections

Like most spiritual practices, Sabbath has subjective elements to it and is interpreted differently by different people.  A few weeks ago, someone told me that my current schedule isn’t really a sabbath – that it’s normal, a manageable schedule.  You see, when I’m home in Muncie, my schedule looks like this.  I get up at 7:15 a.m. and get my kids up and moving so that they are start school by 8:15 a.m.  From 8:15 a.m. to around 3 p.m., I am busy educating my children.  It takes a lot of work to make sure they are getting the education they need to be successful in high school, even with the virtual support.  During times when they are working independently, I am am doing a better job of tending to the work in my home.  I clean a few corners, put away clutter…you know, all the things we all have to maintain in our home but don’t post on social media because it’s not very glamorous.  I also get to sit on the porch some, read a little (with interruptions), and sip tea, so this really feels like a sabbath practice to me compared to my former pace of life.   Then, at 3 p.m., I begin my Inspire hours, the part-time work I am continuing this year in support of our school…and in support of funding our skoolie adventures and paying the bills.  My husband takes over ensuring the kids finish their work and provides any necessary supports (what would be “homework” in a traditional setting).  I have worked well under 20 hours for the school all but one or two weeks so far, so the hours are very limited.  Around 5:30 p.m., I usually stop and enjoy the evening with family and friends.

Fair enough, this is not a sabbath schedule that has me sitting with my feet propped up all day, every day, but I don’t think that is what I’m looking for…or what God is looking for from me.  I am taking trips with my family quite frequently.  These are restorative for the body and soul, even the busy ones.  I suspect that I am finding a pace of life that will work for the remainder of the years my children are in my home.  I am almost beginning to see this year as a time to sort through where I should land by the end of it.

The biblical concept of a sabbath year is actually for the land, not for people.  It is a year to let the land rest from being planted, a year to rest from giving all of its nutrients away to sustain other life, but I’m not working my land.  (I’m probably tending to my yard more now than in the past five years.)  I’d love to fix all the issues of being disconnected from the land.  I’d love to plant my own gardens and live off of them, but I am fairly certain, for a variety of reasons, that my little plot is full of more contaminants than the average.  This is not the thing I need to fix. I am simply fumbling through how to practice a sabbath year in a society in which I am disconnected from the land because I know that letting the land rest in an agrarian society means the people were working less.  I need to figure out practicing healthy patterns of rest and work as a healthy being who believes God’s voice holds authority.  He says, “Rest.”