How to Bless Someone — 2/28/05

This is longer than a usual post, since it was a message in the Sunday meeting. I offer it to stir up some good-speaking in a mean era.

I love weddings. So I have had a good time presiding over quite a few of them in the recent past. I keep trying to convince the couple and the crowd, too, that the high point of the wedding comes after the bride and groom have exchanged their vows and rings and I say a prayer of blessing. This is the point we have all been waiting for, not the kiss. This moment of prayer is why the bride and groom came from their respective camps and made a processional through the town and up the aisle to the altar before God, to get the blessing, as pronounced by his duly-assigned representative, me. It would make more sense for everyone to clap after the prayer, not as the couple is  introduced. It would make more sense to stand for the prayer of blessing, not when the bride appears at the door.

I am not making much headway with my reforms. I think that is  because few people know how to be blessed anymore. We’ve lost consciousness of blessings, and that is not a good thing. So I want to talk about it. Before I am done, I hope you will know what a blessing is, to some degree, know how to receive the blessing and the blessings that God would like to give you, and, most of all, know how to bless someone else.

 What is a blessing?

 Literally, a blessing is “good-speaking.” In Greek: eulogy – like saying a few nice words at a funeral. In Latin: benediction – like the pastor says at the end of the meeting “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you his peace.” A blessing is the act of speaking goodness into being, naming goodness as present or calling it out, covering something with goodness. Like my father-in-law always prays before the meal: “Bless us O Lord as we take of Thy bounty. Help us and keep us in Thy way. Bless portions of this food to our bodies and us to thy service.”

When I bless the marriage, I am, in a sense, transmitting God’s power to seal the couples’ love with goodness, to grace it. I am being used by God to sanctify the union. Like when my father-in-law blesses the food, officially receiving the Creator’s powerful, good work and, in a sense, setting the food apart as having a special meaning, as the gift of God it is.

Many people kind of blow by such actions (even at our own wedding!), because they think they are a little weird. We don’t have much skill in handling spiritual things. I think a lot of people shy away from spiritual things because the whole idea of something being blessed or of some words conveying some kind of power can get way out of hand.

El Santuario de Chimayó | State Employees Credit Union
El Santuario de Chimayo

In many ancient religions people would recognize a place where a good thing happened and assume that such a place had good power. Soon people would go there for a blessing. I visited such a place called Chimayo a couple of years ago in New Mexico. There is a chapel built on the very site where in around 1813 a farmer named Don Bernardo Abeita had a vision while working in his field one day. The vision told him to dig beneath his plow where he would find earth with great healing powers. The farmer did as he was commanded and discovered a cross and pieces of cloth belonging to two long-ago-martyred priests. Ever since, pilgrims have come to the site to get a bit of this holy dirt in hope that it will cure them as nothing else can. Special dirt, special words in a special place will convey the goodness.

I suppose God could convey healing through dirt, but I doubt the actual dirt has much intrinsic power. Because one of the many great revelations to Israel that came after God chose to dwell among them as his own people was that God is not an impersonal force, God loves us and relates like a parent to us. So she bestows her favor as she chooses in relation to those she loves.

  • God’s first blessing can be found in Genesis 1:27-28. It shows how we can bless someone by speaking to them.  It says: God blessed [humankind] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’ ”  To bless someone is a creative act. God is speaking goodness into being. Be fruitful. Be activated. Work well.
  • We bless someone when we speak well of them. When Jesus first revealed himself to the world in his baptism, as he came up out of water, taking on the form of a person who needed to be baptized, they heard a voice saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” To bless someone is an affirming, praising act. God is naming and calling out the goodness in Jesus. You are my pleasing Son, whom I love.
  • You also bless someone when you speak well over them. The prophet Ezekiel was speaking for God when he looked into the future and saw a better one. He spoke this blessing for God over the whole nation: “There will be showers of blessing…, the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them” (Ezekiel 34). It is like God is wrapping up their future and putting a wax seal on it. Setting the whole nation apart for goodness. You will be free. You will be alive with love and fruitfulness.

These days in this country, it is very popular to reduce the blessing of God down to a commodity you can get by saying the right words. A few weeks ago, Creflo Dollar, the pastor of the 23,000-person World Changers Church International south of Atlanta said, “The blessing of God is the ability to have success in every area of your life. When God’s blessing rests on you, it will transform your ‘average’ existence into a life of overflow. He teaches that we who are created in the image of God so we are little gods, since Gods do not give birth to other kinds of species any more than dogs do. So what we speak into being will occur, so we best speak into being the blessings of God.”

It is a compelling twist for people surrounded by what all the recording stars call the “blessing” of their wealth and what the the politicians call the “blessings” of democracy – everyone wants to get some of this American blessing! Meanwhile, Jesus looks suspiciously poor and unsuccessful. Meanwhile, when Jesus talks to the poor he says: How blessed are you who are poor, who hunger now, who weep now,…because great is your reward in heaven.

I definitely think we need to learn how to bless people. We are moved to participate in God’s creative activity by the Spirit of God who moves in us. But we dare not forget that it is God’s Spirit moving and whatever blessing we give is by God’s grace, not just a matter of dialing something up, as if we were qualified to commandeer God’s goodness. God speaks to us and names us and surrounds us. When God blesses us, he is speaking good – that good comes to us, it is called out of us, it creates and environment in which we can thrive.

Try it. People need a blessing.

I have never known anyone who found it easy to receive an authentic blessing from God. I remember one of my spiritual directors, tentatively but tenderly holding my shoulder as he prayed a blessing on me once. “May Rod know he is loved, beyond the lacks he feels, beyond the hurts he carries. May you reveal your tender love to him. In the name of Jesus, you are Rod the beloved of God.” Warmth flooded my body! My usual defenses began to melt and I sensed I was receiving that truth: I am the beloved of God! But almost immediately, it seemed, something in me kicked in and I was doubting what was going on. I inexplicably started to resist it.

The beginning of 4617 Woodland

It probably takes a half an hour a day, for who knows how long – maybe years for some of us — to listen long enough to God’s blessing: “You are my beloved child. I am pleased with you,” before we actual receive that message. To be blessed is not fast food – you can’t drive up to the window, demand your blessing, get it, and then drive through to your next success. It is a discipline of being transformed. God is takes a broken, bent up, corrupted creation and, according to its own design, brings it back to goodness, blesses it. It is like what Gwen and I and many friends have been doing with 4617 Woodland. We have been pouring ourselves and our riches into the new house where Circle Counseling will live – we are “blessing” that ruined building and transforming it. It takes time and effort. God wants to rehab us by blessing us with her presence and her wealth.

But even when we are good at it receiving this, there is so often the voice of contradiction that tells us we are cursed. God speaks well of us, or someone else does, and we say inside, “If you only knew.” I’ve got news for you – we know. You cannot hide how messed up you are. God knows very well and we know most of it too — we can see how banged up you are and we are going to speak well of you anyway.

How to bless someone else.

So you know something of what a blessing is: to speak well, to and of and over people. And you are at work to receive that blessing from God. Here’s the final thing and the point I wanted to get to: how does one bless others?

When I was a little kid I was taught an old song about blessing others. It was written in 1924, so it was about as old when it got to me as early Beatles songs are to Sadie Petersen. I’ve always remembered it — so let’s teach Sadie some good songs, too! It is called “Make Me a Blessing.” I couldn’t remember all the words, so I looked it up. If you know it, sing it with me:

Out on the highways and byways of life, Many are the weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife, Making the sorrowing glad.

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing; Out of my life may Jesus shine.
Make me a blessing, O Saviour I pray, Make me a blessing to someone today.

That might sound a tad sentimental to most of us, since it is apparently part of this generation’s birthright to be responsible for no one but themselves and to be alienated about their chosen alienation. But the song shows the essential discipline for how to bless someone: you want to do it and you ask God to do it through you.

It happens just like I have been talking about, just like God does it and how God does it to us.

First, to bless someone, speak well to them

There is some power in our words. They can create or destroy. You may have heard what James said to the first believers: James 3:9-10 “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. …This should not be.” We need to determine to say good things to people.

“You are a good friend. You are a good person. Your hair is beautiful. You are God’s child. You are a gifted leader. You just spoke well to me. I love what you are trying to do here.” These are easy blessings. But they still take discipline.

One reason they take determination might be because you question your motives, or you listen when others question you. “Am I being dishonest about my true feelings? Won’t I be living a lie? I’m really mad – what if I just let that go? I’m bored – if I’m nice, will they stay around? I’m unsatisfied – I don’t want them to give up trying.” Blessing people is not for the shallow or the spiritually faint of heart. It takes heart muscles. It might take suffering to speak good to another person.

Second to bless someone, speak well of them

You call out the best in others, you strengthen what is good when you name it and bless it by setting it apart as notable, noble, holy. Proverbs 25:11 days, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” At the end of Proverbs the family is blessing mom: Proverbs 31:28-9 “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  [he says] ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’”

I don’t think anyone can get enough affirmation. We are on the edge of the cliff of curses ready to fall off into self-loathing, which we think is very realistic. When you speak well of me, in my hearing, I am blessed. When it gets back to me that you have spoken well of me when I cannot hear, it is like you are providing me a solid place to stand. It is person -building. It opens us up to our original goodness and reconnects us to the goodness of God.

Here’s few blessings from me (Who could use a blessing from you?):  Courtney has been an amazing addition to the office. Paul went to such lengths to make sure we were ready for drywall last week he got sick. Everyone, over ten people, who I asked to lead us during Holy Week said yes. You amazed me by coming up with more than our budgeted income so we can give a substantial amount for tsunami victims. Trevor Day has been a faithful cell leader for nearly four years. Dan Kayser has worked overtime to get plans for our new building done. It is really quite fun to bless. But it is not easy.

Blessing is not easy because we usually ask ourselves, “Am I being dishonest about these people to present just one side? Shouldn’t we get a balanced view?” No we don’t need a balanced view. Leave the news to Dan Rather. I don’t think anyone should be treated objectively at all. We can’t be “balanced.” We are to be loved. Jesus is so unbalanced he says: bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6). Peter teaches blessing as a discipline we practice:  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).  It will definitely take some effort. If we don’t make the effort we will probably lapse into cutting others down to build ourselves up – the most useless way to self-bless there is.

Finally, you bless someone by speaking well over them

This is kind of the “graduate school” of blessing. Isaac, son of Abraham, father of Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament beginnings of Israel, bestows his blessing on his heir in a very formal, irrevocable act of transmission of his power. “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed” (Gen. 27).

People need to know they are blessed, that God is with them, that they are getting something spiritual and good. It is hard to receive these things. So if you stand in the place to give it, do it.

Yes, it does seem theatrical – the movies regularly make fun of people who do it. It does seem arrogant – but whenever you think, “Who am I to say this?” just say what you believe God wants to say, because all blessings flow from God. Maybe it seems a little grandiose? – but the blessing of God is grand, to feel surrounded by grace, endued with power is grand. We are grand. Why should we submit to what curses us? The blessing lifts it off and shields us from the power that would reduce us back to dirt. It is a very powerful weapon for good.

That’s why I wanted to encourage you to learn it, receive it and use it. Bless someone. Bless as many as you can. Will there always be results? No – for some the reception of the curse is deep. But quite often yes, quite visibly. Talk about that in your cell this week – name a time when you felt blessed by someone. It was probably a lovely moment, very worth sharing.

Fridays for the Future #10: My letter from Senator Casey

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

Jews Demand Senator Casey Hear the Call for Climate Action Now! -- Dayenu | PRLog
Click pic for news about the Dayenu demonstration in Philly in September

I wrote to Senator Bob Casey to ask him what he was doing about climate change. I’m not too interested in what he is saying about it. Two months later I received a letter back.  He said:

As a member of the Environmental Justice Caucus, I will continue to work with my colleagues to address the legacy of environmental injustice in frontline communities and to advance bold climate solutions that prioritize the health of our communities.

I looked up the Environmental Justice Caucus. They do have a Twitter account with less followers than I have. But I did not find out too much more. So that might not be going too far.

He also said,

If done properly, our national climate change policy will reduce greenhouse gas pollution to the levels scientifically proven necessary, while strengthening jobs, re-energizing the manufacturing sector in Pennsylvania, and revitalizing our Nation’s and the world’s economies. Please be assured that I will keep your views in mind as I continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to develop legislation that will help Pennsylvania’s workers, economy, and environment.

National climate change policy?

I researched what the “national climate change policy” might be.

At the EPA  website I discovered Executive Order 14008 from January 27. Biden got going on climate change not long after he was inaugurated. One thing the EPA is doing “pursuant” to Biden’s order is figuring out how to best adapt to the climate disasters in progress such as fires and floods associated with extreme weather.

As far as Congress goes, it might just give me an anniversary present on Dec. 13 when Chuck Schumer intends to bring the Build Back Better bill up for a Senate vote. There is powerful opposition to some of the climate provisions, so we will see what happens. This would be a good time to talk to your senators. Here are some of those provisions:

  • The Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) will pay utilities to switch from greenhouse gas-emitting electricity sources, such as coal and natural gas, to non-emitting sources such as wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear. New gas power plants could still be built if they have costly systems to capture their carbon emissions. But the plan mostly favors renewable and nuclear power. Coal would take the biggest hit. The plan would eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2030.
  • There is $13.5 billion in the bill for more electric vehicle charging stations and for the conversion of trucks to electric. This investment, combined with a proposed $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles, could mean 61% of total vehicles sales in 2030 would be EVs.
  • There is also a proposed fee on methane, or natural gas, that’s a big concern for oil companies.
Click pic for FoodTank article

Senator Casey?

He is a sure vote for Build Back Better

About a year ago Casey was on a 300-person Zoom hookup sponsored by PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental organization. There were a couple of things he emphasized that show what he is interested in doing:

  • “Agriculture is the top Pennsylvania industry and our farmers are dealing with floods, drought and pests as the front-line managers of land in the state. Forty-eight of the 67 counties are considered rural, so it’s essential to have our farmers at the table and have their support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
  • Many participants on the call voiced their opposition to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in the state’s Marcellus and Utica shale gas regions (PennEnvironment wants it banned). Senator Casey will not talk about banning it, but said, “I support responsible gas extraction, including tough regulation at the federal and state levels and the resources that that level of regulation requires.” He has repeatedly offered the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act for approval since 2009, which would require oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process and allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate and monitor those operations. It has not passed.

This year 

  • Senator Casey introduced the Restore Environmental Vitality and Improve Volatile Economy by the Civilian Conservation Corps of 2021, or the REVIVE the CCC Act (S.2414). He wants to revitalize the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps into a modern-day employment, job training and conservation program. The act would advance efforts to tackle the climate crisis while creating well-paying, quality conservation jobs that “protect and restore waterways, working lands and the health and resiliency of our rural and urban communities. My legislation would renew vital efforts to bring conservation jobs to our communities, invest in our local economies and ensure farmers continue to play a critical role in climate change mitigation. It is past time for us to take action to address the climate crisis and create jobs while we do it,”
  • I was interested in the groups listed as sponsors of his bill. I am especially interested in the two groups of evangelicals and the two groups of farmers.

“The REVIVE the CCC Act is endorsed by: Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Evangelical Environmental Network, Forest Hills Borough Council, Keystone Research Center, National Wildlife Federation, National Young Farmers Coalition, PASA Sustaintable Agriculture, PennFuture, ReImagine Appalachia Coalition, The Corps Network, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

I hope you already understand more about the process of government than I do. I am convinced that its monopoly on power either helps the planet recover or propels us into deeper disaster. So I am trying to understand.

As a Jesus follower, I think it is my duty to care. So I am wondering how to do that in new ways, since my church does not appear to be super-interested (and that may be typical of most churches). There are many organizations that do care, however. I have already joined a few in a small way. If I want to be part of getting Senator Casey’s attention, it is apparently better to come in the name of a group of like-minded people.

Jesus Collective is taking us back to the future on the “third way”

Jesus Collective is having a hard time keeping their “third way” idea from sinking into the polarization that dominates North American thinking these days. Here’s a podcast that reveals the struggle.

I think some Christians, likely more “progressive” types,  might bristle when they brush up against Jesus Collective and hear “third way.” They might think we refer to more third way politics, which is an idea common enough to have its own Wikipedia page.

A third way approach to politics is probably why “the squad” is usually frustrated with Joe Biden who practices a kind of centrism which tries to  reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics by synthesizing elements of center-right economics with some center-left social policies — a third way between the binaries.  Some elements of the church have been meandering through the minefields of post-modern discourse for some time with this third way political approach. It feels tepid to much of the new generation.  The newest regimes are busy deconstructing entrenched compromises that perpetuate evils like white supremacy and heteronormativity.

At its best, the “third way” Jesus Collective is talking about is older and newer than finally taking a side within the politics of the present era. The best way of Jesus is not one side or another in the endless arguments of the world and not a tepid way of conflict avoidance down the middle. It is a transcendent way of love following Jesus in his death and resurrection.

Click pic for James Emery White post

A new flowering of the third way

There is a new generation of leaders in the church, worldwide, who have taken the Third Way baton from thinkers in the 1970’s, who were experiencing what some people name the “fourth great awakening” in the United States. In his famous book, The Dust of Death (1973), Os Guinness said,

How often in the contemporary discussion a sensitive modern man knows that he cannot accept either of the polarised alternatives offered to him. In Christianity, however, there can be a Third Way, a true middle ground which has a basis, is never compromise and is far from silent.

Jesus Collective is fond of referring to Paul Hiebert and his 1978 application of “bounded” and “fuzzy” sets to human groups and proposing the church as a different, or third, kind of set: a “centered” set. Heibert, the great missionary and practical theologian, suggested that rather than staying stuck in a Western, left-brain-dominated prison, Christianity needed to be released to regain its natural dynamism and allow everyone, as it traditionally had, to be a part of the movement toward Jesus as their definition of belonging rather than a set of superficial and static identity markers.

The new leaders carrying this old baton are running into a difficult world. It is hard to say where the politics of the world is moving right now. It seems hopelessly polarized. No one knows what to do. In some sense, the politics all seem very new, since the world has never been so united by common media, by huge technologies, by a pandemic and by climate change. But something very old is at work, too. An authoritarian spirit has often accompanied social disruption throughout history. It is here again. Leaders are promising troubled people a return to what was, or a reform to what should be — promises of safety sure to disappoint.

I think Gerald L. Sittser in his book, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World (2019) helps people who only know third way politics to understand third way Christianity — a way that transcends whatever are the most common ways the godless world relies on and presents an alternative way.

Sittser says the Christian alternative,  the new or “third” way, was first identified in a second-century letter written to a Roman official named Diognetus. You can read it, here. In this letter, an anonymous apologist is trying to explain the essence Diognetus has noticed in this new people group expanding across the Roman Empire. Other people were writing similar things at the time but this letter is the first, extant piece that alludes to a “third way:”

You want to know, for instance, what God they believe in and how they worship him, while at the same time they disregard the world and look down on death, and how it is that they do not treat the divinities of the Greeks as gods at all, although on the other hand they do not follow the superstition of the Jews. You would also like to know the source of the loving affection that they have for each other. You wonder, too, why this new race or way of life has appeared on earth now and not earlier.

When the author uses the word “genos” to describe the “new race or way of life” of the Jesus followers, it is a bit hard to translate since the word has some dynamism to it, much like the movement Hiebert sees in his centered sets. Jesus followers are a people defined by how they were born and where they are going. They don’t match the definitions of the present age. They are born and live just as the Apostle John said:

[Jesus] was in the world (a fuzzy set), and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own (a bounded set), and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name (a centered set), he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13)

The way of Jesus in the second century was noticeably in contrast to the Roman way (the first way) and the Jewish way (the second way) which Romans respected. Neither of these distinctive features of the church lasted, unfortunately, and the “third way” became a persistent minority in the church at large. At least in Europe, the church became Rome and reinstated the imagery of the sacrificial system of the Jews along with its legalism. But at the time Diognetus received the letter, these things were not true. He was a Roman searching out the way of Jesus which is presented as a new or third way.

What makes the third way an ongoing new way?

Many people are talking about the third way these days, which is why Jesus Collective is being found by people all over the world. In every denomination and nation people are seeing beyond what polarizes them, moving toward Jesus, and travelling with others on the way. Many people are teaching what the third way means. Here is are three of its distinctives I can name for you.

  • The Third Way is about a transcendent destination

Sittser says

Christians believed in the reality of another and greater kingdom over which God ruled. It was a spiritual kingdom—not of this world, but certainly over this world as superior and supreme, for this world’s redemption, and in this world as a force for ultimate and eternal good.

To move with Charles Taylor, Jesus followers have an appreciation for what lies outside the immanent frame of modernity.  In the words of Iain McGilchrist they are not in bondage to the left-brain philosophies and practices associated with scientism and capitalism. Like James (4:4) says, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” Having a relationship with Jesus conditioned by the ways of the world is unsustainable.

  • The Third Way is a movement

Like the sun overwhelms the lesser light of the moon and stars, God’s kingdom transcends lesser authorities. This revelation can only be known if one is moving toward the center. One day mercy and justice will be revealed to all. Now is the time to move with the light we have toward that glorious day.

I don’t totally understand this chart, but i feel it.

Heibert struggled for a way to help people out of their static orientation when it came to knowing God.

Centered sets are dynamic sets. Two types of movements are essential parts of their structure. First, it is possible to change direction—to turn from moving away to moving towards the center, from being outside to being inside the set. Second, because all objects are seen in constant motion, they are moving, fast or slowly, towards or away from the center. Something is always happening to an object. It is never static.

Illustrations of centered sets are harder to come by in English, for English sees the world largely in terms of bounded sets. One example is a magnetic field in which particles are in motion. Electrons are those particles which are drawn towards the positive magnetic pole, and protons are those attracted by the negative pole.

Much of Christianity and most of postmodernism is bound by definitions and power struggles about purity. Heibert was struggling to present a deeper picture. I think he is moving with the Apostle Paul, who writes to the Corinthian church:

 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God [here are those three ways again],  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Cor. 10:32-3)

He is not trying to find a secure place in a well-defined and protected territory, he is moving with the mission of Jesus.

  • The Third Way is fueled by a passionate motivation

Love is deeper than righteousness. The Apostle Paul struggles to get this across in his letters. To the first way Romans he writes:

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-9).

That is the subversive conviction that undermined the authoritarian Roman Empire.

To the second way Judaizers in Galatia he writes,

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”

We always need to keep ourselves reminded that law condemns but love forgives. Law makes for fuzzy or bounded sets, but love is the centering impulse of the Lord.

If love for Jesus and others, love from Jesus and others, does not hold the church together, there is no center, nothing to keep it together and moving together. It is only a fuzzy or bounded set and has rejoined the way of the world at the cost of the Word. The growing, new understanding of the Third Way which was so humbly powerful in the Early Church is still the best way to move with Jesus through this troubled time.

Fridays for the Future #9: The joy of climate action

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

Climate change is like a dark cloud hanging over every week. We try not to see the changes when they roll in like stormfronts; we try to make them coincidental; we are tempted to call all truth about climate change fake news. But it is hard to hold back the flood of reality. Sometimes the truth comes in the form of a 100 year flood, like the one we had five years ago!

Climate change is depressing. But climate action can be full of joy and wonder, even hope!

Stormclouds and lightbeams

I recently read a book called The Sea Is Rising and So Are We: A Climate Justice Handbook by Cynthia Kaufman and Bill McKibben. Kaufman is a community organizer (and she teaches people how to organize!). Along with her several books, she has written about social justice at Common Dreams. Bill McKibben received the Right Livelihood Prize for The End of Nature. He is the founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement.

Their book is blunt-spoken, succinct and well-researched. They lay out what we are up against with climate change in all its depressing peril and perfidy. But they spend most of the book on what we can do about it. They painstakingly include what fine people are actually doing, all around the world, to fight for the future of the earth.

If you have not read a book on the most important subject in your lifetime, apart from  following Jesus, this would be a good place to start. These two paragraphs give you a good idea of their core message.

Those of us close to the world of climate action know that huge changes are already happening [in response], as cities develop sustainable and egalitarian systems of transportation, as countries invest in renewable energy, and as regenerative agriculture is developing. But we also know that those better systems won’t naturally “outcompete” the fossil fuel–based ones for as long as our political systems remain captured by the forces of free market capitalism. As we will explore further in chapter 2, capitalism is a social arrangement that allows major social decisions to be made by for-profit businesses, those businesses operate through markets which are shaped by those with power, and it allows “externalities,” such as fossil fuel companies being able to use our atmosphere as a dumping ground for greenhouse gases.

We know that to get the changes needed, at the speed and scale we need, governments will have to be captured by those interested in a just transition to a sustainable society which serves human needs. And while that may seem wildly unimaginable, especially in the US, where our government is controlled by the interests of the 1 percent, something like this has happened before and it needs to happen again.

“Sustainable” and “egalitarian” vs. “capitalism” and “1 percent” may cause those paragraphs to feel good to you or feel out of your normality. But it might be time to stop ignoring the realities of the moment and get into the dialogue about what to do. It is a new climate out there and it is changing rapidly. We are living in it, not in a media-induced argument.

The joy of bus rapid transit

One of the many examples of creativity and invention noted in the book comes from the city of Curitiba, Brazil. Mayor Jaime Lerner, a trained architect, successfully argued that expensive subways were designed for the wealthy and the city needed to do something cheaper and better. He famously said, “if you want creativity, cut one zero from the budget. If you want sustainability cut two zeros.” He moved the discussion in his city from the idea of expensive trains and polluting cars, to making buses into something that really work.

Over two million people a day ride Curitiba’s system, and more than two hundred cities in the world now have bus rapid transit. What’s more, in 2018 the country of Luxemburg made all public transportation free. Last week, Joe Biden signed the infrastructure package that includes billions to increase the number of public charging stations for electric vehicles. The package yet to pass includes subsidies for EV purchases. People are doing things!

At the end of their book the authors do a little cheerleading.

The alternative to  playing out our trauma by living online and trying to win the Oppression Olympics, is to focus on the bigger picture of the beloved world we are trying to create and to try as much as possible to enact that world in our work to get there.

I did not note too much overt Christianity in Kaufman’s and McKibben’s book. But that last bit sounds like some pretty good theology, doesn’t it? Jesus followers can look into the future with confidence no matter what happens. That security frees us to be the presence of that future in a troubled world with real joy.

All the unimportant places: Maps of civic and personal tragedy

In August we were in Sequoia National Park with our grandson and passed the cut-off to Porterville. I told the story of going to nearby Poplar as a preschooler to see my Father’s father. I think of Poplar as an even poorer suburb of Porterville. My grandfather lived in a two-room migrant worker’s house, as I remember it – a free-standing studio apartment with a kitchen and little bath off the back. I became famous for crawling up on his bed and finding his gun in the headboard.

From Tulare County files

Just last week I flew over the Oklahoma panhandle where my father grew up as a farmworker, each year joining the planters and harvesters who lived in the Great Plains, never completing a year of high school because both ends of the schedule were occupied. If you draw a raggedy line between Poplar CA and Strong City OK you can create a history of dried up towns and forgotten people.

All the unimportant places

So I was struck with Matt Black’s map of his epic research of all the regions of the United States where the poverty rate is higher than 20%. He traveled 100,000 miles through 46 states and Puerto Rico to create a monumental work of documentary photography titled American Geography. He calls the lines on his map “veins waiting to be opened.” He wanted to create an “inverse map” since whoever draws the map decides what is important. He went to all the places people deem unimportant. I grew up, my father and his father grew up in those places. They install a certain kind of memory of the world.

Even if you didn’t grow up in such a place, I think you probably have such a place in your heart somewhere. There is some territory in us where we feel we are more impoverished than others. It’s the place where we feel unaccepted or irrelevant. It is the place where we see ourselves as unimportant or in need of more importance. The experience of that place is as simple as being shocked and angry over the driver who is inconsiderate to us. It is as profound as finding out the friend or lover we trusted could turn their back on us, even a parent.

It is a blessing we are on Jesus’ map. Jesus is from one of those unimportant places, called Nazareth. He is much more like a migrant farmworker than a CEO. He says he has no place to lay his head, which even makes him dependent on others for housing. He spends a lot of his life and ministry on an itinerary from one forgotten place and person to more of them. I think he is still doing that. I know he has been to those places in me.

I wish Americans, in particular, related to the woman who grabbed the Lord’s hem, or to the man who told him about his self-destructive son, or to the out-on-the-margins shepherds coming up in the Christmas story. Some do, of course. Just last week one of my well-off friends was identifying with Zacchaeus, found by Jesus in a tree, welcomed to be somebody by not striving to become somebody.

Why do people accept their unimportance?

But it seems that most people do not reject the the hierarchical structures that define them as less important and valuable than others. For some reason, they rank themselves in relation to their oppressors. Everyone seems to accept there is a 1%, viewed like a beautiful species on the Discovery Channel, and they deserve to be important, they made it. The unpercentaged people at the bottom accept who they are as someone at the bottom. They even have trouble being valuable to God since their value is defined by the economy. Poor Jesus, offering beggars what they really need and they want Trump to free them instead.

As he made his way through his map, Matt Black began to internalize the common outlook and language of the territories where people at the economic bottom live. He found the feeling that “we don’t matter to the rest of them” is much more important there than the money people don’t have.  In those places, being unimportant affects everyone’s self-worth, their self-esteem, their pride. It makes them angry — many Jan 6 rioters report feeling like a stranger in “their” own country. It drives them to despair — places of greater poverty have greater opioid deaths, which last week set a record of 100,000 overdose deaths in a single year with five weeks to go.

Feeling unimportant creates a sense of self constantly skeptical about the possibility for health, for safety, even for love. A narrative gets stuck in one’s head:  “When opportunities arise, our town never comes to mind. After a storm comes, our area won’t be the first to get fixed.” People get used to nothing coming their way, no redress, not even any listening. They hunker down and stop looking outward. The people huddled up against the Mexican border are certainly doing that. The couple I got to talk to from Honduras were from an unimportant village. When they reached the border, they found they were from a throwaway country. I have never felt their pain. I do not need economic shelter right now. But part of me knows the dread, the potential overwhelm of facing how unimportant I can feel, and might actually be.

Matt Black’s map plots the places where people are on the edge of being homeless, where they are often resigned to feeling overwhelmed. Black found a tragedy being played out in all the places he visited. He was a bit surprised to realize in the unimportant places people usually internalize civic failures are as personal failures. Immigrants come to the portals into the country and are unwanted, tagged “illegal” when they get in. Citizens at the bottom go to the doorways to the treasure house of the U.S. and discover they don’t have the means to get in, they are unworthy, not from the right place. They blame themselves.

I don’t know whether to attribute this whole sensibility on Christianity or not. But I do know a few people who are recovering from their grandiose personal responsibility to be holy and to save the world for Jesus. At one point, they drank blame for breakfast. They have never succeeded in their lives (at least succeeded enough), the promise of God’s blessing notwithstanding. There are congregations full of depressed failures waiting for someone to tell them they can be greater, or tell them their failures were really successes — like Trump telling them he did not lose the election. Evangelicalism can run like a multi-level marketing scheme luring the poor to get-rich quick (see John Oliver); the government gets into the act of promising glory by perpetrating a voluntary tax on the poor through lotteries (according to T1J). The leaders all promise it will be great, but only if you do what you need to do. If you have bad luck, that’s just the way it is.

Being beloved

The American dream trumps Jesus all the time. Everyone is supposed to get rich. And one does that by working hard, being smart and doing the right thing — clawing their way up  the hierarchy by grit and luck. That’s the subject for much cable  content, self-help sermons and a lot of church sermons too! Despite all the evidence to the contrary, people still think the dream is reality and they’ll vote for whoever affirms it.

Inquirer, Sep. 2020 after presidential debate

As long as people believe it is their fault they are poor, it is their fault their town has poisoned water, bad air, no jobs, the pyramid will stay in place. Someone is at the top and it is right to give them a tax break, so you vote for the people who do that.  If people who have all the power promise to protect you, you vote for them. Even when they tell you you are at the bottom because of your personal choices, your immoral life or your bad luck, if they promise you the dream, you’ll believe them. Even if they tell  you you’re stuck because you grew up in this impoverished town under terrible parents, you’ll wear the town’s t-shirt and expect it to prosper. I have a “Bad things happen in Philadelphia” t-shirt; that’s Philadelphia where the poverty rate hovers around 23% (read Inga Saffron).

Jesus is on the side of the poor, but his poverty in wealth or spirit does not define him, and neither does yours or mine. Even if we win the jackpot or are rewarded for our work, we’ll still feel that place where we are unimportant. We may have grown up in it, or it may have grown up in us; regardless, it will be a place where the homeless Jesus  settles. Creation is wondrous and all the fruit of it is ours to eat, but it is all a reflection of the one who calls me “beloved,” who’s love affirms my worth. My ancestors firmly believed in the American dream and fought anyone who tried to take it away. I think I still feel their worthlessness aroused in me by the smallest things that make me feel small.  Thank God, in Jesus I can even choose being small and not end up angry or in despair about how unimportant I am.

Fridays for the Future #8: U.N. COP26 Climate Summit Ends with a Fizzle

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

COP26: How humans save the planet

Diplomats and leaders from over 200 countries finished up COP26 in Glasgow last week. They met to  save the planet.  Stick with Jesus.

Scientists agree that a change of even 2°C (3.6°F) in average temperatures will have devastating effects. The negotiators all agreed that something must be done, only they didn’t agree on exactly what or exactly when. But if everyone continues to do what they are doing now, the average temperature on the planet will rise by 2.4°C in this century. To prevent catastrophe, all nations need to cut their carbon dioxide emissions in half this decade, beginning immediately. That won’t be easy or cheap, as this photo of coal barges in Indonesia by Willy Kurniawan of Reuters makes clear:

Coal barges in Indonesia; there are a lot of them, and they are absolutely loaded. There must be 500 tons of coal visible in the picture.

The climate talks finished Saturday with a declaration, as they usually do. Some of the main takeaways from the declaration are:

  • A call for a phase-down of unabated coal use and a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. (Unabated” means that no technology was used to removed carbon emissions from the air when the coal was used — yes that’s a plan. See this Mother Jones article, too).
  • Rich countries promise to help poor countries deal with the climate-induced change. (Keeping that promise has not happened so far).
  • Rules for carbon offsets have been set
  • Countries are encouraged to revisit their 2030 targets once in a while
  • Some observers think that limiting the planet-wide temperature increase to 1.5°C might be doable

Not everyone is smiling and praising their great work. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres responded by putting out a statement thanking the U.K. government for being lovely hosts. But it went on to say:

Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread.
We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.
It is time to go into emergency mode—or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.
I reaffirm my conviction that we must end fossil fuels subsidies. Phase out coal.
Put a price on carbon.
Build resilience of vulnerable communities against the here and now impacts of climate change.

In short, he feels it is too little, too late. Better something than nothing, but the earth won’t wait until Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Coal) is out of office.

Greta Thunberg told BBC Scotland:

“They even succeeded in watering down the blah, blah, blah which is quite an achievement.”

Political fiddling while the climate burns

The COP26 agreement does have some nice-sounding words though. Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies sounds good. Does that mean we now need efficient fossil fuel subsidies? How does one measure the efficiency of a fossil fuel subsidy? Of course, phasing out subsidies is not the same as phasing out coal itself. The problem with fuel and other areas is that making changes is very disruptive and expensive and somebody will have to pay for it. People are now going nuts about 6% inflation — imagine energy costs going up enormously! Such increases won’t be popular in Arizona (think: air conditioning in the summer) or Minnesota (think: heating in the winter). The oil companies are in full court press mode to save their profits, not the planet, even though they have the resources to do so. (Did you even know the oil company CEOs were questioned by congress?)

The deal is just words, of course. It is the implementation that matters. In each country, domestic politics will play a huge role. In the U.S., if the Biden administration and a Democratic Congress is replaced in 2025 with a Trump administration and a Republican administration, the implementation might just be a bit different. Currently, the U.S. and the European Union have promised to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2050. China has promised it by 2060. But a Trump administration, under pressure from fossil fuel companies, could just say “climate change is a hoax” and rip up the plan.

Many countries are already seeing the effects of climate change in the form of more wildfires, fiercer storms, flooding, and other effects. But the rich countries can manage those effects better. California will not be depopulated due to more fires. But if the global temperature rises by 2°C, the country of the Maldives will be under water and uninhabitable. So will much of Bangladesh. Florida will, too, but at least Floridians can move to Georgia or Alabama. The Dhivehin and Bangladeshis have nowhere to go. Hundreds of millions of climate refugees will try to escape to other countries. It won’t be pretty. (See my Todd Miller post from Mexico).

The power struggles are killing everything

The current administration will do its best, but the Republicans will undoubtedly do everything possible to block all the necessary steps outlined during COP26 because:

  • climate change is a hoax,
  • the Democrats want to do it,
  • not doing it will own the libs big time,
  • the oil, gas, and coal companies don’t want to do it
  • it will cost a lot of money and that means either new taxes or energy prices will have to rise or both.

If Congress refuses to pass the necessary laws (e.g., banning the operation of coal-fired electric power plants by 20[XX], banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 20[YY], etc.) there is only so much Joe Biden can do by executive order and every step he does take by 20[XO] will be met by an equal and opposite lawsuit and likely a counter-order the next time a Republican is in the White House.

On the other hand, if fighting climate change becomes a dominant issue in 2022, it could help the Democrats since most people—and especially the college-educated suburban voters who pulled the lever for the Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey—believe climate change is real and something needs to be done about it. Calling it a hoax and pooh-poohing it will probably not work well as a campaign issue for the Republicans next year. They are better off trying to make the midterms about parental rights, not climate change.

When I read sentences like those last few, I sit back and take a deep breath and turn my attention to Jesus, who calls me his beloved. I turn to love and then decide how to show it in troubled times. We all need the breath of life: coal-free from without, fear-free from within.

*** I lifted much of this from my favorite news aggregators, pleading jet lag.

Resources for Understanding and Impacting the Borderlands

Saulo Padilla at the wall.

I am going to use this entry to collect resources I have for understanding and experiencing the tragedy and grace happening at the border in Arizona. The area on both sides is called the “borderlands” since it has a character and government all its own. On the American side the military presence of the U.S. and an array of Christians, mostly, who alleviate its cruelty meets the power of the cartels on the Mexican side, who have taken over immigration and made it human trafficking. The shadow Mexican government is also met, mainly by Christians, who care for people caught in the many crises that bang up against the U.S. wall.

Each of the headings is a link to one of seven blog posts I wrote while on the learning tour. Click the title to go to that page. On each of those posts are more specific resources connected to what we were learning each day. Below are general resources.

1. Fridays for the Future #6 — Phoenix/Tucson the most unsustainable: It’s about water

As far as I can tell, now that I know some, Tucson residents are as in denial about their unsustainable sprawl as my research indicated.

2. Education in Agua Prieta

I later got to know more about David Bonilla. He was an intelligent, kind beginning to our exploration of the borderlands, the first of many amazing people making a difference.

Root Causes

Webpage:
Migration Root Causes – MCC US Video
https://mcc.org/safe-refuge

Article:
Indigenous diaspora: Leaving home and the journey across Mexico

Podcast:
Aviva Chomsky on the Real Root Causes of Migration

3. Twentysomething migrants out in a cruel world

I had dinner with a young family of migrants in a shelter designed for their care. They gave me a personal picture of what is happening.

The Migration Experience/At the Border

Article:

How climate change is fueling the U.S. border (3 part series)
Border Patrol Leaves Migrants In Remote Town As Deaths Rise
https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/landless-mayans-coups-and-death-squads

Podcast:

The Out Crowd I: Goodbye, Stranger (thisamericanlife.org)
On Being: Luis Alberto Urrea-Borders Are Liminal Spaces

Books:
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America
I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Rigoberta Menchu – Nobel Peace (Book)

Film:
Harvest of Empire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gW84cAN2Pw

Short Youtube Videos:
Guatemala, the CIA and United Fruit Company
Banana Republic: Guatemala, CIA and UFC

4. The two sides of the border wall

One of the main reasons I went to the borderlands was to see where Jesus was there. This was a good day for sensing the Lord’s presence in one of the wounds of the Earth.

Border Militarization and Deterrence

Website:
 The Birth Of Border Militarization
100- Mile Border Enforcement Zone

Article:
Failing To Bring Back The Dead
La Frontera: Artists Along The U.S. – Mexico Border

Podcast:
Beyond the Wall: Reflections From A Former Border Patrol Agent
The Out Crowd II: Take the Long Way Home (thisamericanlife.org)
NPR: When Migrants Die, Many Bodies Remain Unidentified

Books:
Intercultural Church: A Biblical Vision for an Age of Migration: Safwat MarzoukSafwat Marzouk
The Devil’s Highway
The Death And Life of Aida Hernandez

5. The legal razor wire on the other side of the wall

I helped migrants during the 2-5am shift at the immigrant center at the port of entry where people can come after they have been caught and summarily removed from the U.S. Then I learned about the lawyers who are trying to help them as they hold the U.S. accountable.

Border Crossing/Sponsorship/Detention

Video: Locked in a Box
Title 42 video: https://www.facebook.com/jorgeramosnews/videos/175798981046625

Podcast:
 Seeking Asylum: Reality at the US / Mexico Border

Books: Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants

6. Fridays for the Future #7: The Climate Wall

We met Todd Miller who has spent a lot of energy looking at the borderlands. He even wrote a book about how climate change  is creating immigration issues.

7. Death in the harsh desert

On the way to Sasabe we got into the desert ourselves to see and feel the desperation and courage of migrants – and to see how many of them die.

2020 open letter on migration from MCC U.S. executive director J Ron Byler.

 

Death in the harsh desert

On day six of our MCC learning tour of the Borderlands in Arizona, we spent a stirring time with Brian Best, one of the Tucson Samaritans. They are devoted to saving the lives of migrants who are making their way through the treacherous Sonoran desert. We took a dirt track off the two lane highway to Sasabe and were soon off the beaten track. The following video gives you an idea of the terrain a migrant has to get through without getting caught by the border patrol.

Our group was ending a time of prayer and remembrance around a cross placed by artist Alavaro Enciso on the spot closest to a reported death of a migrant. Thousands of deaths have been verified since Pima County started carefully tracking twenty years ago; many more people have never been found.

A baby cholla invaded my shoe

Brian Best gave us three hours to get a taste of what it is like to try to make it into the US. For one thing, almost every plant has stickers. I stepped near a baby cholla and spent the next hour getting spines out of my foot and shoe. It takes days to get through the desert and no one can carry as much water as they need. It might be safer to travel by night but hard to navigate and avoid the dangerous plants. There are rattlesnakes, coyotes, scorpions and other animals you need to avoid. It is very likely you don’t have the best clothes or supplies because you can’t afford them. It is quite cold at night and very hot in the day. It is a miracle anyone gets through.

As soon as we exited our van to walk with Brian, we saw a backpack laying on the ground, and then a pile of camouflage shirts and hats nearby. From the bushes we extracted two little satchels we saw. One had three phones in it. Brian’s best guess was the Border Patrol tracked the migrants with hilltop cameras and drones until they emerged at a convenient place to nab them.

My heart broke for these poor, desperate, invisible young men. Most people do not care about them. But they deserve to be remembered like anyone else. I took comfort that God sees and loves them, just like you. But I suffered over the fact that most Americans don’t see migrants as people and feel obligated, for economic reasons, not to love them.

Further resources

In Sasabe we visited the recently-opened welcome center for migrants, Casa de Esperanza, a project of Salvavision. Sasabe is a sleepy little desert town, but it is still a point of entry for migrants and a place where removed people are set loose. While we were there we were treated to snacks in the Super Coyote convenience store down the street.

Sasabe is the starting point for the annual Migrant Trail experience, which you can join. One of our MCC leaders for our tour, Saulo Padilla, walks the trail every year. He would be glad to tell you all about it. (Read Open Your Arms: An Invitation)

Saulo Padilla 
MCC US Immigration Education Coordinator
saulopadilla@mcc.org
574-304-9196

The next day we had another feast at the Tucson table of compassion and activism. We met John Fife, one of the originators of the Sanctuary Movement, which has spread much further than sanctuary churches. (More history)

Fridays for the Future #7: The Climate Wall

On day five of our learning tour in the borderlands in Arizona we met Todd Miller (toddmillerwriter.com). He has been writing about the borderlands for many years and filled us with useful, if a bit terrifying, info.

Miller wrote Storming the Wall: Climate change, Migration, and Homeland Security in 2017 and co-authored Global Climate Wall last month for the Transnational Institute (tni.org). I was glad to meet him. What follows is a version of what he is trying to get everyone to hear.

Climate change drives migration

Guatemala provides a good example of how the changing climate is impacting immigration and what the wealthy countries are doing about it.

As soon as the floodwaters of Hurricane Eta began to recede in November of 2020 people began to head north. 339,000 Guatemalans were displaced by natural catastrophes in 2020. Many people became desperate. They felt they had to face the walls, armed agents, and surveillance systems deployed by the U.S. — and forced on other countries, starting with the heavily enforced border in southern Mexico, to have a chance to live.

The U.S. Government knows environmental catastrophe and displacement within and migration from Central America are linked, whether caused by flooding or drought. In September 2018, after a year of severe drought in the region, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner Kevin McAleenan told the press, “Food insecurity, not violence, seems to be a key push factor informing the decision to travel from Guatemala, where we have seen the largest growth in migration this year.”

U.S. climate scientist Chris Castro said Central America is “ground zero” for the impact of global heating impact on the Americas. “It’s a paradigm of the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme.” There is an ever-widening swathe of land populated by subsistence farmers where rain has become less reliable.

Then came 2020. At the end of a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic came two back- to-back category four hurricanes. By January 2021, the World Food Programme calculated that those experiencing hunger nearly quadrupled from 2018 to 8 million, and 15% of people surveyed were making concrete plans to migrate north, twice the 2016 level. In 2020, in Honduras alone, almost a million people were displaced because of climate-related causes. This was only only a glimpse of what was happening worldwide with over 30 million people displaced by such events, three times more than those displaced by conflict or war in the same year.

Mexican police corral migrants after they cross the Suchiate River in January 2020

The response of big polluters? Invest in border security

In response the climate disaster and the migration it causes, wealthy countries are building security walls. I have now seen the incredible investment in border security at the US border with my own eyes. All over the world, the largest greenhouse gas emitters are also the world’s top border enforcers. Besides the US, countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany and the UK, as well as the European Union and its 27 member states, are constructing walls, deploying armed agents, erecting sophisticated and expensive surveillance technologies and biometric systems, and unmanned aerial systems, often in collaboration with a burgeoning global border industry. Globally, 63 border walls have been built, with 9 new ones announced, up from six when the Berlin Wall fell and South African apartheid was dismantled in 1989. This wall-building has accelerated since 9/11, and particularly since 2010. The US is funding and forcing Central American countries and Mexico to reinforce the US border by militarizing their own.

It seems that there is no limit to spending on national borders and immigration enforcement. US spending on militarizing its southern border and detention and deportation of immigrants has nearly tripled since 2003 from $9.2 billion to $25 billion today. Yet the world’s richest countries have failed to meet even their inadequate promises of money to tackle the impacts of climate change in the world’s poorest countries. The ratio of U.S. Border spending to climate financing, for example, is 11 to 1, based on the annual average between 2013 and 2018.

We are living in a world in which walls, border patrols, Black Hawk helicopters, unmanned aerial systems, motion sensors, and infrared cameras are placed between the world’s highest emitters and the lowest ones (like Guatemala), between the environmentally relatively secure and the environmentally exposed. The U.S. is exporting border protection to Central American countries in an attempt to deter people before they get too close.

This expanding global border regime is increasingly built by private industry. This fuels a lucrative border security industrial complex. Many of the same companies that the US, the EU and Australia have contracted to fortify their borders and detention systems also have been hired by fossil fuel companies in order to protect oil pipelines and other parts of the industry. The company G4S, for example, not only has contracts with the CBP to provide armed and armored transport for migrants arrested near the US–Mexico border, but also provides protection services to Royal Dutch Shell, the seventh largest corporate emitter of green house gas worldwide.

Rhetorically, political leaders from the world’s highest emitting countries are aware that the poor bear the burden of suffering. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, for example, says he knows that the “consequences are falling disproportionately on vulnerable and low-income populations. And they’re worsening conditions and human suffering in places already afflicted by conflict, high levels of violence, instability.” With such awareness, one might assume that US national budgets would reflect the will to alleviate the suffering Blinken describes. Instead, the United States – and many of the other high-emitting countries – pour increasing money into border and immigration enforcement.

At the end of the day, budgets speak much louder than rhetoric. In the present status quo, tens of thousands of people from Guatemala and beyond will face the armed guards and gates of the United States, as thousands of others face the rough Mediterranean waters around Fortress Europe.

The Bible consistently tells us that how we treat the stranger is a measure of our right relationship with God. How the rich treat the planet creates strangers on their doorsteps. What would the Lord have us do?

Further Resources

One of the big moments of this day on our learning tour was visiting Casa Alitas. This mission started when someone found an immigrant released from custody and wandering around the bus station in Tucson, where they had been dropped. Women, especially, started inviting these strangers into their homes. They got a house where they convinced the authorities to drop released people. They outgrew it and moved into a soon-to-be-demolished monastery. The country eventually gave them a large, unused part of the youth detention center. I was moved to tears by the generosity and service of these inventive, compassionate people! Over 400 volunteers make their mission effective. One of them became an MCC worker and the leader of our tour. You might like to know her:

Katherine Smith  
Border & Migration Outreach Coordinator
West Coast Mennonite Central Committee
Tucson, AZ
Cell: (520) 600-1764
katherinesmith@mcc.org

Valarie Lee James found a manta buried in the desert sand near Tucson. It is the all-purpose cloth Central American women often embroider and then use to keep tortillas fresh or any other regular purpose.  It was a shockingly personal item to find. She then found another and another. She cleaned them, honored the, and turned them into art installations. One of which is in a permanent museum collection in Sweden. She then encouraged migrant women by engaging them in their art. She then realized their art could support them and other causes. Thus, their is an Etsy shop called Bordando Esperanza (hope embroidering/crafting).

The legal razor wire on the other side of the wall

I actually fell asleep in the back set of the van yesterday and missed my second visit to Bisbee Arizona!

I was sleepy because I volunteered to help with the 2-5am shift at the Migrant Resource Center, which is right at the exit of the border crossing. It is a project that began in the Church and remains a wonderful place of mercy for tired, scared and often bewildered people. We had sandwiches, coffee, blankets, a place to nap and a few supplied for about 80 people by my count. I helped one young man find a new pair of pants since his had been ripped on the razor wire. I also found him some new outerwear since his coat was full of thorns. Most of the mostly men waited to be retrieved by their smuggler and taken to a cartel “safe house.”

I was glad to be awake enough to meet Noah Schram of the Florence Project out of Tucson, now 120 lawyers and trained people advising and defending people in the immigration process. One of us jokingly told him we were on our learning tour trying to make sense of the U.S. Immigration process. He laughed too, because no one can really do that.

Right now Title 42 is still in place. It was one of Trump’s executive orders that effectively closed the border. In the name of public health no one was allowed in when they went the legal route of presenting themselves at the port of entry and there was no means to appeal. All the lawyers note this is against the international agreement on refugees to which the U.S. is a signer.

People still get in, however. They evade capture when they scale the wall or they manage not to die of thirst or exposure when they cross where the wall ends far out into the desert. Many do die and their remains quickly dry up; no one knows how many.

Those who cross and are captured from certain countries can get through an asylum loophole since Mexico will not take anyone back who is not from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. Unaccompanied minors get dropped off and get through the port of entry now under Biden’s rules. If a family with a young child is caught in the desert they usually get through.

Getting through and into the legal process of gaining asylum means going to the detention center part of a prison. There 14% of the migrants will get representation to help make their case to the immigration judge. Imagine being in your twenties, fleeing your impossible or violent situation, making it through the longest trip you’ve ever taken under the thumb of the cartel, making it over the wall or around it and through the desert, being caught by the military presence in the United States, taken to a prison, then getting into a bureaucratic and legal fight which is done mainly by English speakers!

That’s where Noah and his people come in, God bless them. The system is not designed to welcome strangers, just repel them. The judges are rarely impartial, taking the side of the unrepresented; many of them function more as another prosecutor. When I read the Bible these days I see how much of it is written with such injustice and lack of compassion in mind.

Further Resources

Noah Schram in making such good use of his law degree! The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project is on of many such projects along the border. Every immigrant needs an advocate to get through a system designed to trick them, detain them, and thwart them even when they are in line with international and U.S. law.

The 1951 Refugee Agreement is still in place.

The United States has long guaranteed the right to seek asylum to individuals who arrive at our southern border and ask for protection. But since March 20, 2020, that fundamental right has been largely suspended. Since that date, both migrants seeking a better life in the United States and those seeking to apply for asylum have been turned away and “expelled” back to Mexico or their home countries. These border expulsions are carried out under a little-known provision of U.S. health law, section 265 of Title 42, which the former Trump administration invoked to achieve its long-desired goal of shutting the border. The Biden administration has continued using this provision, and over 1.2 million expulsions have been carried out since the pandemic began, even though ports of entry remain open with nearly 11 million people crossing the southern border every month and thousands flying into the United States every day. (full article from the American Immigration Council)

The Department of Justice contributes to non-profits like FIRRP through its Legal Orientation Program. Only 14% of people seeking asylum are represented however. We spoke to one of them who somehow connected with people from a Tucson church visiting  Eloy. It took TWO YEARS for her unjust detention to be ended, but she made it. Now she has started a business.

Why do the authorities release people without their shoelaces? What in the impact of the Migrant Protection Policy (MPP)? (Anchorage Daily News)

Immigration court judges are not impartial. The system in broken. (NYTimes)

On this day we also visited the brick-making neighborhood of Agua Prieta, Sonora, to see DouglaPrieta. It is a project begun by women seeking more dignity to make their own way in the world. It is a mutual teaching center for backyard farming, sewing, carpentry and other skills. What we witnessed was how good a training center it was for disempowered women to become leaders and builders. They even made their own adobe bricks to make one of their buildings! I bought some of their work to take home.