Yesterday we went to visit our Venezuelan friend at the Eloy Detention Center. She celebrated her birthday last week. We sent her a card and spoke to her on the phone, but it’s always better to see someone in person, and I can imagine it’s tough to be in a mood to celebrate when you’re locked up behind barbed-wire-topped fences. (She said she had thought it would be a sad day, but connecting with her friends and family by phone had made it a good birthday.)
In order to visit, we had to enter through two separate locked gates, carrying nothing but tissues, ID, and car keys in our pockets. Once inside, we had to fill out paperwork, get a number, wait our turn to go through the screening system, then wait for our turn to pass through two more locked doors to the visiting area. Fortunately, once we got in, we got an hour to talk with her. There’s a barrier across and under the table where we sit, and we’re not supposed to reach out and touch her while we’re talking, but we are allowed to hug her when we arrive and as we leave.
There are so many rules and barriers, and sometimes it feels like they’re designed to break down our innate and common humanity, though I’m aware that those in charge think all this will prevent crimes of one sort or another. In contrast, I feel that the crime is the way we treat immigrants, the vast majority of whom have the most honorable of intentions about what they will do once they arrive in the United States.
Then I remember what those in power are doing to disenfranchise and impoverish the citizens of this country and know, deep in my soul, that it has little to do with status and everything to do with power and control.
It seems that desiring to live as one human family is a crime. To believe the best of another person is a crime. To treat everyone equally is a crime. Jesus did it, and the powerful killed him for it. It’s a recipe for despair—if it weren’t for resurrection.
So…every day I ask myself what I can do to be like Jesus rather than like the cultural “Christians” who hold positions of power in this country. I grieve how Christianity’s reputation is being destroyed by power-hungry oligarchs. Perhaps we need another death and resurrection—not of a person or a child of God, but of the institution of Christianity, which has been so blatantly warped and coopted by the power structure.
Meanwhile, back at the detention center, we chose to celebrate our friend’s presence in our lives by simply being together, laughing and sharing stories. I can well imagine Jesus doing that with his friends. They didn’t have a lot of freedom, either. I can imagine that their Roman overlords had plenty of rules for them to follow. For me, the point is to make those rules and fences invisible—at least in our hearts.
If we could, we would have brought cake. Instead, we feasted on words. Someday, when she’s free, we’ll celebrate with cake (and ice cream; she’s so excited that I have an ice cream maker!).
In what ways are you being disenfranchised and impoverished by those in power? Where can you still find ways to connect with members of this one human family, and celebrate what we hold in common?
Shirin, I appreciate your clarity in describing the way those in power, and “cultural Christianity”, have shamed and marred the true community of disciples of Jesus.
But rather than asking how else we have become impoverished… in what other ways we have become victims ourselves… let’s wrestle with what we can do do demonstrate the true character of Jesus and his Kingdom… the Gospel… in our broken world. A better reflection might be: how can we demonstrate God‘s radical hospitality? I am finding Rosaria Butterfield’s book, The Gospel Comes With A House Key, to be a good start.
Thank you, Marcia. I believe Henry and I are demonstrating God’s radical hospitality in accompanying our Venezuelan friend on this journey; if ICE would have let her out (we petitioned them to release her into our custody, but they refused), she would be living with us during this time of waiting for her asylum petition to be heard. Thank you for the book recommendation; from the title, I can guess that it’s along the lines of what we had hoped to do…. I appreciate your call to demonstrate Jesus’ character, as it is what we are trying to do, as I know you also are.