Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Seeing at the Borders

I was a part of a delegation from the General Board of Church and Society to have an immersion experience in learning and being present on the Mexico Texas southern border October 21-23, 2018.  All throughout the trip we heard, “We need more eyes watching what is happening at the border and in the courtrooms” because the presence of the church makes a difference in the outcome for others. But I often found myself asking, “Do we really want to see?”

Seeing something for what it is takes intentionality.  Seeing can be hard.  Seeing can be painful.  Yet, I am convinced our seeing, as people of faith, is imperative.

When we look we will see the complexity of immigration in our world and the ways it impacts life across our globe.  I don’t pretend to have the answers.  I don’t pretend to see through anything other than my own privileged and unique lens. Yet, I do long to see more objectively and clearly…so I am trying to educate myself on issues of justice facing our world. Here are some of the things this trip has invited me to see more clearly, prayerfully and intentionally.

When walls are erected it does ecological and environmental damage as these unnatural barriers create dams in communities that perpetuate flooding and stops migratory patterns of multiple species causing further harm to endangered species. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trumps-wall-could-cause-serious-environmental-damage/ 

When walls are erected it cuts communities in two causing division and separation that previously had friendly borders where relationships flourished, economies benefited and children played. http://time.com/4509501/donald-trumps-border-wall/ 

Violence against women is being perpetuated and endured without prosecution and punishment. Many women begin birth control months prior to fleeing their countries for asylum because it is expected and known that rape is imminent in their journey.  Many do not have access to reproductive healthcare once they realize they are pregnant from their perpetrator. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/central-america-migrants-rape_n_5806972.html   This summer Jeff Sessions broke with decade old policy and declared that gang violence and domestic violence were not cause for entry as asylum seekers…https://www.aclu.org/blog/immigrants-rights/deportation-and-due-process/jeff-sessions-slams-door-immigrants-desperate This only perpetuates the harm of systematic and institutional oppression of women around the globe.

Unfortunately despite what our intentions may have been our country has connections to many of the root causes for the migration of people from poor and violence stricken countries in Central and Latin America.  Many USA corporations previously took land in Central and Latin countries to be used for growing our crops, reducing the resources and economic benefits of those countries to commodities needing to be purchased from the USA. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/books/review/Kurtz-Phelan-t.html We also provided training for Latin American military personnel in what was called the School of Americas…known by critics for its tactics as a school for dictators, torturers and assassins.  https://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=81917&page=1 The US has been criticized for its role in creating the Latin American gangs that are now driving so many desperate families to seek asylum in the USA.  https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article24771469.html 

People leaving their native lands are often fleeing violence and extreme poverty.  The gangs described are not like the gangs of America…which are dangerous enough.  They are organized crime infiltrating the highest levels of government and life.  They think nothing of raping you in-front of your children as a threat or kidnaping your child and when you can’t pay the ransom, dismembering them in-front of you…all stories we heard while at the border. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-drug-cartel-suspected-in-massacre-of-72-migrants-2010aug25-story.html 

We are violating the Geneva Convention for asylum seekers.  As you cross the port of entry bridge to come legally into the US from Mexico, Border Patrol has set up a metering checkpoint under the veil of blue tarps. Metering is when you intentionally weed out those seeking asylum and then tell them before they cross onto US soil to go back and wait because asylum cases aren’t being processed at this time.  This is breaking international law.  It is a human rights violation to refuse to allow someone to declare asylum and give them a credible fear interview.  And it's happening every day…I walked through one of the checkpoints.  While visiting in Mexico we came upon a group of 23 Cubans who had been journeying up to 4 month through the jungles and urban cities to get to the US with young children.  They had been told to go back and wait.  https://theconversation.com/a-guide-to-the-geneva-convention-for-beginners-dummies-and-newly-elected-world-leaders-72155 

We are criminalizing asylum seekers.  When people are told to wait on the Mexican side…there is no shelter.  They are out of resources, there is no food unless someone gifts it to them.  Eventually many become so desperate they attempt to swim the Rio Grande to declare asylum but this is illegal entry and considered a misdemeanor.  They are immediately picked up.  Children are then separated from their families while adults are prosecuted.  Hundreds of cases are being prosecuted everyday since Zero Tolerance has been instituted as policy.  Public Defenders shared that they are not really able to attend well to violent or serious crimes because their days are now filled with first time offenders swimming the river.  While, yes people with prior criminal records do try to enter our country in small percentages, the VAST majority are young persons or families with NO prior record what-so-ever.  They simply are fleeing harm and when not allowed to claim asylum and enter legally they get desperate enough to enter illegally…and thus become a ‘criminal’. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Trump-pressing-for-mass-criminalization-of-11962046.php 

Families are still being separated.  When families enter illegally and the adults are prosecuted, even if their cases only take 4 hours and their sentence is ‘time served’, their kids are loaded onto buses and shipped to detention centers for minors all around the country…often without the parents understanding they will not get their children back when court is complete.  Many times without the proper paperwork to establish which children belong with which parents.  The children become considered ‘unaccompanied minors’ but they WERE accompanied by their parents until they were forceable removed from their parents. Hearing the stories of parents NOT getting to say goodbye to their children was so reminiscent to the stories I read at the Equal Justice Museum in Montgomery where a woman sold into slavery tells the story of her daughter being sold at auction and being refused to even let her hug her goodbye. Utter inhuman treatment.  I was also struck by how as a nation when the recent documentary BlackFish was released about the policies of Sea World and the capture of Orcas, we cried out STOP this and regulation changed.  Orcas can no longer can be caught in the wild and separated from their pods because we recognize the trauma.  What about human families? Do they not also deserve to not be separated! https://www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621065383/what-we-know-family-separation-and-zero-tolerance-at-the-border 

This is racist…once again.  There is no way around that these issues are systemically directed largely to brown and black skinned people.  We aren’t concerned about our northern border.  When crossing the Mexico border I was first in my group and I only needed to gesture that I did have a passport…the mid-bridge checkpoint never even looked at it.  Because of my blond hair, blue eyes it was understood I was American and could cross.  When entering the second checkpoint the Border Patrol guard referenced how I looked “trustworthy”.  What makes me look trustworthy? Yet other darker skinned members of my group did not hear the same statement. https://www.raceforward.org/press/statements/systemic-racism-root-latest-exec-order-immigration https://www.kcet.org/shows/socal-connected/immigration-101-racism-in-the-history-of-immigration-policy 

And maybe one of the most difficult aspects to see for me is just how complex it all is particularly when our minds want to figure out who is good and who is bad.  We want to say there are good and bad people on this side of the issue or on that side of the border.  But the truth is there are just people on all the sides and across all borders.  People are complex.  We are always a mixed bag of good and pure motivations and selfish and cruel motivations.  This is clear at the border and it is clear in the jobs being done at the border.  There are people doing their jobs with integrity and compassion even as they deny someone status and there are those who are not.  It isn’t easy to figure out one another's motivations or the power we have to change things.  It is complicated…YET we as people of faith must all agree there are more human and dignified ways to treat people regardless of how or why they try to enter our country.  As Sister Norma with Catholic Charities said, “We must restore human dignity”…I believe that means we must restore ours and theirs.  https://www.npr.org/2018/02/06/582706287/former-agent-says-border-patrol-does-good-work-but-there-s-tension-there 

This trip has been full of hearing the most devastating stories of loss and trauma from largely mothers and fathers who have born abuse in the bodies and been pulled a part from their children.  This trip has been full of meeting heroes working hard to do their job, striving to provide justice for all, and a compassionate witness to the image of God in each of us.  This trip has been for nothing, if as people of faith, we cannot move to action to stop the possible atrocities that could come if we do not change our course and see ALL people as full of worth and in God’s image.  If we continue to be embolden by our nationalistic rhetoric and forget that we are first allegiant to the Gospel of LOVE born incarnate in the fragile humanity of a refugee named Jesus…we will be doomed to repeat our worlds worst sins.  

Please write your representatives, write your Bishops and call for compassion and justice.  Ask them to hold the US accountable to following the Geneva Convention to not impede persons from seeking asylum…but welcoming them and doing due diligence in hearing their case. And if you are able…head to the border in 4-6 weeks to bear witness to how we will handle the caravan of asylum seekers and immigrants.  What if for every person coming to cross and every person deployed there was someone of faith coming to bear witness, offer compassion to ALL and be the tangible expression of love. They will be arriving as we are close to entering the season of Advent when we remember that Jesus and his family knows what it is like to hear…”There is no room for you in this Inn.”  We must be another pair of eyes on the border…we must stand up and speak out for one anothers humanity…for the sake of us ALL and for the sake of the Gospel.

You are invited to share your opinion below with representatives on important immigration policy:

And call your representatives today…find their numbers below:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

If you know me well…and many of you do, then you are likely aware that at the top of my bucket list is to ride horse back on a beach like Alex Ramsey does in The Black Stallion  (click on that picture link).  This childhood fantasy could only be followed by riding horse back through sand dunes like Alex Ramsey in The Black Stallion Returns (click on this link too).  Alex and the Black fly through the sand and surf with joy and freedom in such a way every child who loves horses fantasies about being able to ride with such abandon one day J Even while I have grown up this dream has lingered!

I was excited about traveling with my family to Cumbuco because it was widely reported that Cumbuco, Brazil was a great place for kite surfing and horse back riding not only on the beach but also in the sand dunes.  I had hit the jackpot!!!  When we arrived at our Pousada the owner quickly informed me that yes she could arrange for me to ride with someone she knew to take care of his horses unlike some of the other places around the village.  I was thrilled!  The day before I was to go riding I saw some of the “other” horses and they were underfed, overworked and neglected looking for sure.  I was so glad I would be riding with someone who was to have well cared for horses.    But sometimes when things seem to good to be true…they seem that way for a reason.

Immediately upon seeing my horse the next morning I knew this would not be my bucket list fantasy ride.  While fed well my horse too had signs of much over work on her face and hocks.  She was decked out in brightly colored padding and bridle.  It was too much for the heat of the day for her to have to wear.  She also wore a chain link strap across her face, which attached to her girth…keeping her head down.  It had worn a calloused raw spot across her nose.  Her owner rode with a long leather strap.  He proceeded to use this strap on MY house as we rode, once he realized I could ride well.  This strap was used to make my horse gallop as fast as she could across the sandy coast while he laughed with glee.  I immediately made motion to stop my horse and tell him I did not want to run. 

I have longed to gallop fast and free across the beach on horse back, but not if the horse could not be enjoying the lope as well. This nervous animal under me was nowhere near enjoying our jaunt this day.  She was working and working hard.  I know animals in many other countries are not beloved pets as I treat them, but are meant to earn their keep and provide for their families.  I understand this and realize it can be just and fair for all.  But this didn’t feel good for me, even if it was a means of substance for this family. 

I could not enjoy galloping when I knew this horse would be used to gallop in the heat all day long to entertain tourists.  I couldn’t enjoy the ride when I knew this horse was tacked in such a manner as to attract the eye of tourist and to maintain her utmost control despite someone's ability to ride her well.  I couldn’t pretend to be Alex Ramsey winning the race across the sand dunes because I knew my weight bore down on her small frame along with any number of additional riders she would carry that day.

And before you think this experience is just one about horses and that I should join PETA let me say it caused me to think about much more than just the animals I encountered.  I began to think about places where I participate, contribute to, perpetuate or cause the abuse or neglect of other people as well, but just animals.  Where do my desires, my greed, my consumerism, my opinion, my lack of knowledge, my entitlement, my fantasies, my longings, my blindness continue to oppression or with hold good life for fellow humans?

I thought about my experiences last year while exploring Alabama with my ICE group.  I thought about how I was immersed for a day in the life of being a single parent on parole in West End.  I had to use public transportation and also earn $50 to pay my parole officer by a certain time that day.  But when my child ended up in the hospital with a broken arm I had to choose…to be with my child in need or to see my parole officer??? There was no way for me to get to both places on time.  Our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than. 

I thought about how in Birmingham we all know over the mountain you can get a great education…and most of those kids are lighter skinned and well-off economically.  In the shadow of the mountain many children struggle with getting the education and support they need and they just happen to largely be darker skinned and have less economic opportunities.  Our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than. 

I thought about how UM pastors just received documents that informed us about how UM pastors are to be held accountable in 2015 for showing the servant ministry of Jesus in their work and parishes.   In it we are told “Effective ministry is less about work accomplished and more about the transformation of the community in which Christ has first priority, where courageous love finds expression, where the stewardship of gifts is understood as a grateful response to God’s gracious, creative call.”  And yet the same document takes time to also make clear “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual union shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
It states we are, “To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministry and servant leadership” and “ To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world ” yet at the same time in my view, tries to set limits on what Christ's courageous love looks like, where to extend the ministry of Christ in the world, and what Christ’s servant leadership looks like today.  Yes, to me, our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than.

I realize now that apart from me owning my own horse and trailer one day or having a friend who owns horses by the beach, I will not be fulfilling this bucket list fantasy, because it is not possible to fulfill it in such a way that feels life giving for all involved.  I can’t pretend that I feel good about contributing to the workload of an over-worked at times suffering animal. Our world is not yet all it is meant to be.  Sometimes I have eyes to see this and others times I am as blind as a bat.  Sometimes I am willing to consider the loss or struggle in another’s life and other times I am not.  And only occasionally am I willing to acknowledge the sin that comes from my own hand…the sin that I contribute to that causes distress or difficulty of another’s life.   And while these sins may not be intentional or wanted on my behalf…that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that I am not meant to struggle to live in such a way as to offer more abundant life to all instead of just fulfilling my fantasies and desires.  My prayer is that this experience (this horse metaphor) will not just cause me greater compassion for all of God’s 4 legged creatures who toil in life, but to also help me grow in my love and compassion for all God’s 2 legged (or less) creatures as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

So above are some pictures of the less beautiful images I have shot in the Cumbuco and Fortaleza areas, but they do also depict life lived here.  While there is incredible beauty in this country there are also many signs of the struggles and problems within it as well.  Last night as we ate dinner with Steve's friends it was very helpful for me to share what I have been learning in my ICE program about Brazil's poverty, oppression/racism, struggles between religions, etc. Mauricio confirmed and elaborated on much that I had heard. He said yes they the way they were colonized with the incredible use of slavery  is still impacting them in devastating ways today…similar to the United States colonization but to a greater extent.
   Steve has said that being back has been shocking for him as he is realizing that things have not progressed much and at times maybe declined.  Mauricio said that in Brazil Methodist's are considered much more conservative than some of the other denominations…which this seems to have been a shift since the time of Steve's family living here.  It has been said that most churches here are more concerned with "saving souls" than "improving the conditions for the oppressed".  I interpret this to be less concern for the social gospel and more emphasis on the personal gospel.  Mauricio said that yes most churches focus on how in eternity you will find everything is made right for you instead of trying alleviate suffering now.  He also explained that prosperity gospel is being brought to Brazil through some US influence and it is greatly hurting the the true heart of the Gospel here.  He explained how people are being told to give 90% of all they have and that they will get back 4xs what they give. Then he said when this doesn't happen people leave faith all together because they feel the church has hurt them and taken what little they had.  Pretty disappointing to hear this is what is going on, but I assured him that we struggle with similar problems in the US too.

He also confirmed the synchronicity of multiple religions in Brazilians worship.  Much like I was told most are not a fan of this element in the country.  It seems most Brazilian Christians don't appreciate or feel good accepting the Condamble or other religions, they see this as evil or wrong.  Though he did admit that it was true most Africans were not allowed to worship in the churches they helped to construct in the 1500-1800's.  This only added to their need to establish a way to worship, celebrate and have faith on their own.  

Also I have learned that issues of inclusion for LGBTQ persons is also a continuing struggle in Brazil.  Seems each state here has the right to chose about marriage equality as Bahia (where Salvador is located) has approved marriage equality for all persons…while Rio de Janeiro is one who has not yet.  Anglicans and Lutherans seem to be on the far left here pushing for greater equality while others lean more right.

Doesn't seem to matter where you go in our world…as humanity we seem to continually struggle with how to love, care for, deem all people and creation as equally worthy and whole.  I think that is why this quote has stuck with me on this trip…

"History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make anothers pain in the heart out own" Professor Julius Lester

I realize I have been poor in doing this but I desire to be the type of person who no matter the issue or the difference of opinion to try to make another person's pain, ideas, consideration my own…to understand it, to wrestle with it, to consider it, to feel it, to contemplate it so that I can try my best to know where someone is coming from before I respond to them.  I can't say I think this will be easy for me to remember or to do but it is one way I would like to grow  towards loving greater and fuller as invited to by Jesus in the great commandment. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

 Our pousada in Cumbuco.  

 On the beach

Cumbuco is the Kite Surfing capital on the World

Jangada fishing boat are a typical sight

 Our favorite activity so far as a family has definitely been going dune buggy riding…Sawyer was convinced we were calling this "doom" buggy riding :)  

 They took us to a large dune and we have opportunities to ride a waxed board down the dune…it was so much fun!

So far this our family excursion has been very fulfilling.  We have gotten to experience multiple aspects of Brazil.  In Rio we were in lush rain forests and we all loved the solitude of our small community in Vargem Grande.  When we landed in Fortaleza we were prepared for the large amount of traffic…which was crazy!  Fortaleza is a very arid area.  We have been told they have not received large amounts of rain since 2010.  When in rains heavily it will fill the dunes with water but right now after several years without they are dry.  Also it seems that infrastructure is not as proficient in this area.  Trash is everywhere along the roads.  People are highly congested along the roads and motorcycles dart in and out not obeying any traffic laws.  Fortaleza and Cumbuco for me remind me more of what I saw in India when it comes to sanitation, traffic and infrastructure.   The beaches look pristine in our pictures, but trust me they are anything but that.  While the kids we playing we kept having to tell them not to pick up the light bulb, coke bottles, etc. that would wash up beside them.  It is certainly sad to see such a beautiful place littered with trash.  Some folks we have learned blame the population for this…saying they are uneducated and poor and this is why they litter.  Others blame the government saying that the corruption and elitism has led them to not provide adequate sanitation help to lower economic areas.  

Cumbuco is about 40 minutes outside Fortaleza.  It is small and filled with lots of Europeans who come here to kite surf.  The village center is close by our pousada and we can lay out in the hammock at night and hear the music from the local restaurants for hours.  The food and local restaurants have been delightful.  It cracks me up how much Brazilians seem to love their pizza…everywhere I turn there seems to be a pizzeria :)  And they are good too!

The kids have been good to try just about anything we have given them to eat and they like most of the stuff they have tried.  Georgia desperately wants to see a sloth but I am not sure that will happen at this point.

This afternoon we are heading to meet some of Steve's old friends he grew up with, tour a local market that resides where an old prison used to be, try to pay his military fine so he can come back into the country :), and eat at a local churrascaria.  

I'm finding it hard to not count the hours we have left…and I wish we had more time.  This has been great to experience with my family and the kids have been fabulous as they have rolled with the punches and been adventurous with us!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Having lots of fun exploring the rain forest and beach around us…on a plane today to Fortaleza --Steve's home town!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kids as they saw the road Steve have to drive up to get to our house…it was incredibly muddy, slick and narrow!!  But he did it!
The little bridge he drove over…with the river below it!

Our house!

The vegetation is amazing…orchids growing off tree trunks!

Our spring fed pool -- which is cloudy cause it is raining right now.

The farm house kitchen.

The hammock on the porch which we all fight over :)

The living area.

Bathroom…hope no one is out in the woods!!!

What Steve did after we got here last night.

What Sawyer did after we got here.

 What Georgia did after we got here…she found art supplies!

Our dinner spot at Don Pascual

Don Pascual

The view from dinner!

Its rainy but still we are having a blast!