We sat at that same small square table covered in a vinyl tablecloth morning after morning and evening after evening. In the morning we would talk about the delicious breads that were for breakfast and how we slept; in the evening I would try to recount my day in what little Portuguese I knew. I had been living with Merces and her family for about two months; I had learned quite a bit of Portuguese and they a bit of English. One night, near the end of my stay with them as I was trying to immerse myself into Portuguese language and Brazilian culture, Merces and I had a conversation; it was probably about 40% Portuguese, 20% English, and 40% creative charades.
She told of the horrible lengths that some Brazilians were willing to go to try to get to the United States; those who saw no other way out would pay coyotes, who said that they could help people get to the US. These people would have exorbitant fees, $10,000 and up, and would often leave people in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest to die. Merces spoke with tenderness and compassion, but also deep frustration – what could be worth that risk for your family? There are legal ways to enter into countries with better ways of life – student or work visas, for example, which were often expensive, but not as expensive as the fee for the coyote. We had this conversation in their very nice house, in a very nice neighborhood in Belo Horizonte, the third largest city in Brazil, while their housekeepers did their daily tasks. I loved this conversation, it is seared into my brain, in part because it was the first full(ish) conversation I had in Portuguese and in part because I got to learn something. It was a shame that people would go to such lengths for an imagined better future, but those people that Merces told the story about were not seeking asylum. What we have happening now is something different.
After seeing the photo from Reuters of a small Honduran family running away, barefoot and in diapers, from a recently exploded tear gas bomb, I was overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed not just because I’m frustrated or because I don’t know what to do, I’m overwhelmed because I know that there was a time when I would probably have tried to justify such an action. Maybe I would have leaned on a feigned concern for the border-patrol officers, or maybe I would have tried to hold those seeking asylum to a level of behavior that I find socially acceptable as a middle-class, white woman raised in the south, but either way, I would have found some way to defend the action.
Maybe not; I do have a ridiculously tender heart and can cry at the first sign of deep emotion anywhere in my eyeline. But to rule it out, to think that I am better than this, is to negate what is happening in our country. No one is entirely evil or entirely good; we all just find our boundaries and try to stick to them. Sometimes we violate them, and we feel guilty and hopefully repent, but sometimes, our boundaries move. Inch by inch we move our moral compass.
As Christians, our moral compass should always be trying to inch closer into more alignment with the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Messiah. This movement is a good thing. But we live in this world and it can also be influenced by outside forces, and we will inevitably move away from Christ.
I am at a loss and I’m overwhelmed. I am at a loss as to how anyone, Christian or not, could defend these actions. What could justify such horrible, inhumane treatment of those fleeing violence? I know that I will never be able to fully understand this, even as I acknowledge the ways in which I have changed. It is not just a horrific act; it is vicious and unjust, and I don’t know what to do.
So I pray, and then I act. I pray for those fleeing violence and encountering a different sort of cruelty at our southern border. I pray for those firing chemical weapons, those who feel it is the only way to stay safe; I pray that they may know that their actions were wrong and that they come to repent. I pray for those who have spent today defending chemically attacking migrant families. I pray for those who are at a loss, those who don’t know what to do. I pray because prayer doesn’t change the situation, but prayer changes our hearts and we work to change the situation. May God have mercy on our souls, and may our lives be continually oriented toward Christ.
Here are some potentially helpful things to do after you pray:
Read this thread on the use of chemical weapons by David Peters, U.S. Veteran and Episcopal priest.
Listen to this podcast episode from the Liturgist about Epistemology; it identifies many of the reasons that we are talking past each other in today’s political climate.
Watch this informative, but satirical, take from Hasan Minhaj on the migrant carrivan and the danger of refugees/immigrants and the shifts that have happened in our government’s structure and approach to immigrants.
Call Mitch McConnell at his BG Office- Phone: (270) 781-1673 or Washington Office – Phone: (202) 224-2541
Call Rand Paul at his BG Office – Phone: 270-782-8303 or Washington Office – Phone: 202-224-4343