I have struggled with our national immigration system all week – or rather the implementation of it. I’ve seen the pictures, heard the audio, from refugee seekers and those in detention facilities. I’ve heard supporters carrying out the law. I’ve heard the president shift from saying that his hands were tied to signing an executive order changing the situation. I’ve read numerous accounts about what the law and policy is and is not – none really agreeing with each other – the same goes for the executive order.
I’ve found the policy to be immoral at its core, but at the same time, I think that’s simplistic.
It’s easy to complain and point fingers and to scapegoat. I’ve seen plenty of that on social media. Heck, I’m willing to admit that I’m just as guilty. Being right feels good after all. Being able to point a finger and blame someone and label them as wrong, evil, or immoral feels really good. And we as a nation are really good at that.
And it’s exhausting. And it doesn’t end. And we’ll be exactly where we are next week, only on some other divisive issue that will cause the nation to be divided, to point fingers, and to throw labels around.
I’m tired of it. But I’m not quitting. I will speak up – but hopefully in a different way. Will I fail – most likely, I’m a broken and sinful person. I have my opinions and ideas. I have my biases and worldviews.
And like the disciples in the boat this Sunday, I’m sure I’ll be distracted by the storms of life, rather than focused on Jesus who is in the boat with me. I’ll keep asking “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus won’t answer. He won’t answer because that’s the wrong question. The better question comes from Jesus – “Why are you afraid?” Ouch.
Good question Jesus? I don’t have a good answer to that question. But maybe I can start to ask that question to myself and others. To really hear people where they are – what they fear. To hear what they place as their identities. To voice my own fears. To really connect with people in a vulnerable way.
We want simple answers to these challenges that we face. I heard plenty simple answers: “Just follow the law” “The Republicans can change the law anytime” The Democrats passed it – it’s their fault” “The Administration decided to carry this out six weeks ago” “Democrats didn’t care about this before six weeks ago.” And back and forth it goes. Until we get to the next issue that where the arguments are not really any different and people are forced to choose sides in the battle of partisanship.
And like the disciples in the boat, we are missing the more important question – Why are we afraid?
Are we afraid because we know that our memes, and tweets, and one-liners, and insults, are as empty as they sound? Are we afraid because we know that our simple solutions aren’t solutions at all – but rather blunt objects meant to cause damage to our opponents and enemies? Are we afraid because we don’t know the answers and we don’t like not knowing? Are we afraid because deep down we know we are not in control? Are we afraid because the answers might require us to change? Are we afraid because if we became vulnerable with each other, we might actually learn that we are more alike than we thought – not just political opponents, but refugees, law enforcement, people with different skin colors, people who speak a different language, Democrats, Republicans, Hillary, Trump. Whoa!
It’s easy to offer simple solutions. It’s easy to attack and divide. It’s easy to dehumanize and devalue people. It’s easy to do this either as an attack on someone or a group and it’s easy to fall into this for defense. It’s so easy that often we don’t realize we are doing it and then what?
Right now I’m reading a book called “Living without Enemies” by Samuel Wells and Marcia Owen. Yes, living without enemies. The premise is that we don’t get to choose who is our enemy – we aren’t God. And God sees everyone as a Child of God. Because we claim to follow God, then we are to see the world the way God sees the world – God empowers us to do that. And to God, there are no enemies.
One of the key ideas in this book is Being With. It’s the theology of presence. Not coming up with answers, because sometimes there are no answers. When I sit with a family who’s 28-year-old son is dying, there are no answers. There is nothing I can say that will change the situation. All I can do is be present, to sit with them in their sorrow, their grief, their questions, their anger, their doubts, their fears. That’s it.
There are no simple answers to our immigration system. That doesn’t mean we sit idly by and do nothing. I think the only way we will ever be effective is to start by being present with each other.
In silence there are no answers, only companionship. There are no explanations, only humility. There is no blame, only common humanity. But that silence takes discipline, self-knowledge and many years of practice, because it runs counter to a great many instincts and social conventions. Often we want to speak because we don’t want to feel. And sometimes we speak to try to stop people from feeling.
(Living without Enemies, pg. 78)
Let’s start with Jesus and his question for the disciples – “Why are you afraid?” We may not have an answer, just like the disciples. So let’s sit with that for a while. Let’s sit together and admit we are afraid and we don’t know why. Let’s just sit together and be afraid. It’s as good as any starting point that I know of. It’s not a simple answer to the challenges we face. But it’s the start of something different. I want something different. Don’t you? Or would you rather wait until the next outrage happens and revert back to the same thing of seeking simple answers that don’t exist?