Month: March 2017

Day 23 – Stranger Love

2 Chronicles 2:1-2

Solomon decided to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself. Solomon conscripted seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, with three thousand six hundred to oversee them.

Solomon embarks on an ambitious building project that included thousands of workers.  However, it is clear that the workers did not voluntarily enlist for the project–they were very likely slave labor (or close to it).  Where did Solomon get all the workers?  According to 2 Chronicles 2:17-18, all 153,600 workers were “aliens” residing in his kingdom.  The temple and the palace were built by immigrants.

Throughout U.S. history, labor intensive construction jobs have often been given to slaves (the White House) or immigrants.  In New Orleans, work on the 60′ by 3.17 mile New Basin Canal began in 1832 using the labor of newly arriving Irish immigrants.  The construction was back-braking, dangerous work–often in waist-deep water.  Over the course of the 6-year project, it has been estimated that 8,000 – 20,000 Irish laborers died–many of them succumbing to mosquito-borne Yellow Fever.  The true number will never be known as most of the men were simply buried in the levees that lined the canal.

Our current immigration policies give highly skilled immigrants preferential treatment.  However, most of our fruits and vegetables are harvested by low-paid migrant workers with little protection.

Questions for Reflection

“Immigrants are taking our jobs!”  We often hear that statement in the immigration debate.  How do you respond when you hear it?

What jobs are most likely to be filled by immigrants today?  What do you think would happen if immigrants just stopped working?

The “Undetermined” Death of Ben Keita

Eighteen year old Ben Keita went missing from his small town Washington home in November 2016.  All that was found was his car, his cell phone and his wallet.  After weeks of searching, Ben was finally found–hanging from a tree 8 feet off the ground.  Initially, his death was ruled a suicide by the county Medical Examiner’s office.  But several weeks later, officials changed the cause of death to “undetermined”.   His family and his community believe he was lynched.  Ben is black.  Ben is Muslim.

Since November 9, 2016, incidents of attacks on Muslims, Jews and people of color have increased.  Mosques have been burned, Jewish cemeteries vandalized, immigrants have been attacked.  And our president has either been silent or has tweeted that America needs to “get smart” about our immigration policy.

Today, we remember the story of the “Sons of Thunder” who wanted to call down fire from heaven to obliterate a Samaritan village that did not welcome Jesus who was on his way to Jerusalem.  But Jesus rebuked them.

Today, let’s rebuke the spirit of bigotry and hatred in ourselves, in our nation, and in our world that leads to violence and death.  Today, let’s choose life.



Day 22 – Stranger Love

John 4:4-9

But [Jesus] had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus crosses a literal territorial boundary (Judaea/Samaria) and then crosses soci0-cultural boundaries (male/female, Jew/Samaritan).  Jesus unexpectedly (from the woman’s perspective) takes on the role of the immigrant/stranger in need of hospitality and welcome.  Jesus frequently crossed social lines, and was roundly criticized for it.  “He welcomes sinners, and even eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)

While the Teachers of the Law were like border patrol agents determining who was “legal” and who was “illegal”, Jesus joined those who were deemed “illegal” and showed solidarity with them.  Jesus blurred the lines between insider and outsider by blurring his own identity in relationship to those on the outside. (See Philippians 2:5ff). It is within this new place without boundaries that grace is extended and received.

Questions for Reflection

Even if we choose to cross a socio-cultural boundary, we often maintain the prevailing power dynamics–refusing to become vulnerable.   How does Jesus’ actions challenge your relationship to “strangers”?

Are you more likely to act as the “Border Patrol” determining who is “legal” or as Jesus who doesn’t seem to care about status?  What pulls you toward one or the other?

Day 21 – Stranger Love

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Ched Myers in his book, “Our God Is Undocumented”, makes the case that cultural and linguistic diversity is God’s plan for humanity.  Interpreting the story of the tower of Babel, Myers suggest that cultural and linguistic homogeneity is the plan of  the powers of the city-state (“let us…”) to unite and mobilize human capital to build a monument around which all life will gravitate and from which all life will be ordered.  Babel is more than simply a beautiful skyscraper.  Babel represents the imperial center of the world that controls global life socially, economically and spiritually.

God’s response to what Myers calls “the problem of imperial monoculture” is to “confuse their languages”.  God “decentralizes” Babel by dispersing and diversifying the people once again.  Rather than the scattering being an act of punishment, Myers sees it as an act of liberation.  Diversity (as seen in all of creation) is God’s will.  Yet humanity continues to centralize and homogenize, to assimilate and dominate to fulfill imperialist agendas.

Interesting Fact:  According to Ethnologue, there are currently 7,099 languages spoken in the world.  However, 43% of them are considered endangered.  In fact, 1 language becomes extinct every 4 months. (Languages have disappeared at this rate for the past 40 years.).  In the words of the Linguistic Society, “when a language dies, a world dies with it.”  For more information about world language diversity, go to Ethnologue.

Questions for Reflection

Do you see “the problem of imperial monoculture” in our day?  How?  Do you think it really is a problem?  Why or why not?

How does the pull toward centralization and homogeneity inform our policies regarding immigrants and refugees and what we expect of them when they come to the U.S.?

Though we talk of the value of “diversity”, do you think we truly encourage it?  Explain.

Day 20 – Stranger Love

Ruth 2:14-18

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied. 

The field of Boaz becomes a place of provision and security for Ruth.  Boaz welcomes her to glean in his fields throughout the remainder of the harvest.  Naomi rejoices that Boaz has shown them favor, suggesting that not every field (or owner) would be a refuge for the poor and the immigrant.

There is a growing “sanctuary” movement in many cities across the country to protect vulnerable immigrants by providing a place of safety.  While controversial, many churches have identified themselves as “sanctuary” for immigrants.  In some states, laws are being proposed to ensure the safety of immigrants.  Twenty-three Illinois state representatives have signed on as sponsors of the Safe Zone Act which would ensure that ICE agents could not enter schools or healthcare facilities without a warrant.  (Churches were included in the original legislation, but have since been removed.). Another proposed law, the Illinois TRUST Act would limit local police involvement in federal immigration enforcement.

In other states, immigrants have become increasingly vulnerable.  In Milwaukee County, WI, Sheriff David Clarke wants ICE  (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to immediately authorized his officers to enforce U.S. immigration laws through its 287(g) program.   In a letter to ICE, Sheriff Clarke wrote, that he is “deeply concerned about the potential threat posed by illegal aliens to the safety and security of the citizens that reside within the nineteen cities, towns and villages in Milwaukee County.”  Read more about Sheriff Clark’s involvement with ICE HERE.

Questions for Reflection

Where are the places of refuge for immigrants in your community?

Would you include your faith community among those who protect immigrants?  On what do you base your answer?

While Sheriff Clarke seems most concerned about undocumented immigrants, how do you think his actions impact immigrants that have documents?  How would you feel as an immigrant living in Milwaukee County?

Day 19 – Stranger Love

Leviticus 19:9-10

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

Ruth 2:1-13

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.”

Ruth is a Moabite woman, a widow, and a poor immigrant in the land of Israel.  As such, she is vulnerable to abuse and neglect because of her status.  But she also has the protection of God’s Law, which instructed land owners to allow the poor and immigrants to glean their fields in order to support themselves.  Fortunately for Ruth, she gleaned the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech, who faithfully observed God’s Law.

Questions for Reflection

In what ways might immigrants to the United States be vulnerable to abuse today?

What protections are you aware of that ensure that immigrants can support themselves?

What does it say to you that God specifically identifies “the alien” in God’s gleaning law?  Do you think our laws go far enough in protecting immigrants?  What additional laws (if any) would you want to see passed?

Day 18 – Stranger Love

Ruth 1:1-5

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

People often migrate for physical survival.  Drought and famine drive people away from their homes in search for food and water.  The largest migration in U.S. history was caused by the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.  By 1940, 2.5 million people had left the Plains States (especially Oklahoma), with 200,000 moving to southern California.  But the “Okies” were met by the “bum brigade,” 125 Los Angeles police officers that were sent to the California state line to turn away “undesirables.”  Long after the end of the “bum brigade,” the Dust Bowl migrants were treated with contempt, discrimination and violence.

Environmental disasters frequently are created by human greed.  The severity of the 1930’s Dust Bowl was directly related to farming practices and Federal land policies.  Today, climatologists are warning of a global increase in human migration due to the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and shifting weather patterns.  Read the Time magazine article HERE.

Questions for Reflection

If Elimelech’s family showed up in your community in need of food and shelter, how do you think people would react?

If you were faced with Elimelech’s situation, where would you go?  How do you think you would be received–especially if you had no relatives in that place?  How would you want to be treated?

We’ve heard the phrase “Water is Life” around concerns about the Dakota Access Pipe Line.  That mantra is now being heard throughout the nation as the Environmental Protection Agency has been slated for a 31% decrease in its budget for the next year and the elimination of programs like the Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up.  If the effects of the cuts resulted in the displacement of communities in search of clean water,  where do you think people would go?  How would you react if they came to your community?

Day 17 – Stranger Love

Recently, Lisa B. of Lancaster, PA, posted a song called, “Who We Are”.  Lisa is involved in refugee resettlement and has been a part of this year’s Lenten Compact Fast from Xenophobia.  She was deeply moved by the lyrics of the song by Gungor and the images that were a part of the music video.

Lancaster, PA, (population 59,332) has been described as the America’s Refugee Capital–taking in 20 times more refugees per capita than any other city.  Since 2013, 1,300 refugees have found a home in Lancaster, 407 of them in 2016.  Lancaster is so welcoming because–according to its residents–it is their heritage.  German immigrants started Lancaster County and it is still the epicenter of Pennsylvania Dutch culture.

But if Benjamin Franklin had had his way, Germans wouldn’t have settled in Lancaster–or anywhere else in Pennsylvania.  As a resident of Philadelphia in 1751, he voiced grave concerns about allowing German farmers into the state.

“Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements and, by herding together, establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours?  Why should Pennsylvanians, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them?  (Franklin’s quote referenced in “Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror” by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, 1997).  

One can only imagine how Franklin would feel about Lancaster’s attitude toward welcoming refugees.

Questions for Reflection

Were you moved by the song, “Who We Are”?  What (if anything) did you want to do after watching/listening to it?

Benjamin Franklin’s nativist sentiments are similar to what we hear today about immigrants and refugees. Do you think Franklin would express the same sentiment today?  Why or why not?