I’m sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops. Heart rate up. Chest and throat feeling heavy and clogged with unshed tears. I’ve just texted a friend the anxiety I feel over still more social media posts expressing one political stance or another, and my jaw is tender from another night of teeth grinding–ordinary personal stress perhaps, but more likely the result of feeling it as this country and any plausible excuse for civil public discourse dissolve into a riot of angry voices, none of whom are actually listening to each other.
Meanwhile, people–especially children–are suffering. Truly, suffering. Whether we’re talking divorce or city budget or war, children always pay the costliest price for the choices of adults.
Everything I believe about who God created us to be, everything I believe about God’s loving intention in creating this world, calls me to heartache for real suffering. For wanting to alleviate it in whatever way I can. I am willing to go to the mat if necessary for children who do not have enough food or drink or shelter or clothing or care. Of course, I don’t have to go further than a few miles from my own home to find such children, never mind anywhere else in the nation or the world…and sometimes, I think this is the very root of our problems–we excel at expressing moral outrage and righteous indignation at national or global events and find it all too easy to ignore the very same issues in our very own backyards.
The current issues in the US surrounding immigration, the detention of minors, an influx of refugees, and what possible solutions might be to it all are literally keeping me awake at night. And I find the snark, social media hot takes, memes and blame-casting that pass for addressing the issues far more harmful than helpful.
Y’all, I am begging–begging–us to put the damn knives down and have some real conversation. As one of my loved ones said last week, “We’ve gotten so far right and so far left when it comes to immigration that we cannot even have a real conversation or seek real solutions.” Right now, across the board, and in all sorts of ways and with all sorts of issues, we are letting Congress lead the way in a strictly bipartisan, ego-driven deadlock.
America has always been at its best when her people lead the way. Not just her government.
I am no immigration law expert. I’m not even a policy expert of any kind. And so what I am about to write, I write as someone who 1) believes in a just, loving and always-present God, 2) truly feels as if I have no political voice in our current deeply divided landscape, 3) fiercely loves people with starkly opposing views on immigration and US borders, 4) often, in my listening, hear people with those opposing views actually seeking the very same things.
With all that said, here’s what I am praying for in the face of what is destroying us:
Humility. Of the biblical sort. The kind that seeks to listen, serve and care with deep compassion. What I mostly see is arrogance–an assumption from all corners that there is one particular viewpoint to blame. Y’all, this southern border crisis did not develop overnight. It did not even develop in the last few years. It has taken decades of leaders unwilling to really confront the issues, decades of pretending that war and unrest in South and Central America would not eventually affect North America, decades of holding some lives more valuable than others, to get us where we are. Sweeping policy change is necessary. And that takes time, cooperation, and hard work. It does not happen overnight. And it does not happen with a house divided. It also does not happen when just about every single politician, of every ilk, is way more interested in campaigning than they are in offering real solutions. There are exceptions to this, I know. But the thing about exceptions is that they are exactly that….
Humanity. As in the ability to see it in one another. I am vividly recalling a story about one of my heroes as I write this–Will Campbell, a southern and Baptist and writing preacher who devoted his whole life to seeking and extending justice, equality, and unconditional love for people, and who lent his voice to the Civil Rights movement in ways that changed our nation and our churches. He also once took communion to the (at that time and imprisoned) Grand Dragon of the KKK, and shared it with him, offering the most powerful witness I’ve ever seen to the truth that God’s love and grace are truly for all people, sometimes most especially the ones who do the most harm and breed the most hate.
Brother Will did not excuse the Dragon’s actions. He did not condone his choices or behavior or sins. He simply recognized him as a human being, created by and loved by God, and y’all–this is everything. Recognizing this in each other is a game changer of the highest sort. It completely changes how we interact with one another, how we make decisions, and how we behave both individually and corporately.
Honesty. And here I mean taking an honest look at what drives our deeply held beliefs and our behavior toward those who do not agree with us. We are, all of us, baggage-laden, and our life experiences have shaped who we are with definite precision. A person’s politics emerge for all sorts of reasons (so does a person’s theology and general life philosophy, but that’s another blog post…), and those reasons are never as black and white as it seems. And if your current definition of any Democrat is an unborn baby killer, or your current definition of any Republican is a racist, then it might be time to check yourself and your own ingrained experiences, biases, and journey.
One small example of all this: I once knew a church member who got more than a little nervous when the congregation he belonged to chose to engage in dialogue and fellowship with a local Muslim community. At first, this got written off as hate of anyone different. The truth is that this man was a decorated veteran with five tours in the Middle East. Five. Tours. Of course he could not separate what he’d seen there from his daily life; of course he wanted desperately to keep his fellow church members safe; of course he had some reservations. And once this reality was known? Once his truth had been shared? Tension eased. Some understanding emerged. Perfect harmony? No. Not by a longshot. But at least an honest and humble recognition of his humanity and what had led him to that particular moment in time.
Do not mistake me for being either Pollyanna or conflict averse in what I write. I get accused of both on the regular, and I’m familiar with the sort of things I write that lead to such accusations. I am not for one second defending hate, and I refuse to accept the status quo when it means people suffer. Dissent can be so valuable, and free speech matters. And conflict, when practiced well, leads to needed growth.
But what I also know is this: in the last few weeks, I’ve heard multiple people, from various political corners, talk about our border crisis. And not a single one of them wants children to be suffering alone. Not a single one. They may not want entirely open borders, or they might. They may think we need a border wall, or they may not. They may have voted for our current administration, or they may not have. But not a single one wants children to be suffering alone.
And in this tiny but mighty space of common ground rests my equally tiny but mighty hope.
I don’t know what all the answers are. But I know a problem of this magnitude, with such far-reaching implications and such immense trauma, never gets solved in the vacuum of ego or tribalism or social media screaming.
I also believe that prayer matters. I really, really do. Not as a magic wand or Christmas list…but as a way to examine our hearts–individually and corporately–and offer what we find there to a God who is not only at work among us, but who calls us to work, too, with that same God’s love as our first and most important guide along the way.
And so I pray, desperately these days, for real solutions to all that threatens us as a country; for families who find the prospect of leaving all they know and love better than staying; for those who create national policy; for those who are waking up every day to meet the immediate needs of those suffering; for the fear and anxiety and anger that plagues our nation; for the tension in my own heart brought about the disagreement of those around me; for you…for all of us.
And, always, I pray for love to win–preferably sooner rather than later.