Why I’m a Dreamer Too: A Perspective from a Middle Class, White, American Christian

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Pull up a chair. Some of you may be inspired by this. Some of you may want to take some pre-emptive Advil.  The point of this is to provoke thought, not anger. If you end up needing the Advil, I choose to love you anyway.

I’m a believer that history is one of our best teachers. History is full of stories. True stories that have framed the kind of people we are becoming. Ancestry.com gets this, and has built quite a successful business based upon this knowledge.

In my own family history, my (7-greats) grandfather Melchior (yes, what was his mother thinking?) fled from Germany to the Netherlands as a religious refugee, along with his wife and another couple with whom they were friends. The friends (who were able to afford passage to America) boarded a steam ship bound for America. On a summer evening in 1767 in Rotterdam, my great7-grandparents went to visit them to say goodbye before departure. The captain invited them to spend the night with their friends, and they accepted. When they awoke the following morning, they were out to sea. On October 29, they arrived in Philadelphia and the ship’s captain (who had orchestrated this scenario intentionally) demanded their fee for passage across the Atlantic.  Since they could not pay, they were forced to remain at the port until they could be purchased as indentured servants and their fare paid. They waited at the docks until November 27 before a buyer came.  My non-English-speaking ancestor, the illiterate Johan Melchior Blanckenberg signed his name with an “X,” which got shortened to John Melchior Plank.

Renamed. Resituated. Sold. They had dreamed of coming to America, but this was not the beginning they had imagined. After 5 years of work for a Pennsylvania family, a group of Mennonite friends at a local church purchased their freedom, and the Planks were finally able to begin a new life as American citizens.

Learning that this is how my family began its journey in the United States has reframed my personal story. And knowing now what the 20th century would entail, especially for Germany, I’m very thankful they weren’t sent back.

Before I say any more about where we currently are in our own American story, let me say this. I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I’m actually not completely sure what I am. I’m left-ish about some things. I’m right-ish about some things. I long for Kingdom politics. Like many, I usually steer clear of the word “politics” because so much ire gets attached to the word. I think we’ve lost the concept of what politics is. This is a good definition:

Politics (n.), the art of recognizing that resources are limited and working together to distribute and replenish those resources in the best ways possible for the good of all.

But we certainly do get bent out of shape because we have so many opinions about how to accomplish the art of politics. This word is VERY closely related to a word used prolifically in the Church. The word is liturgy. If you are a Christian, you may likely immediately think of the “order of worship” in your church bulletin. But this is not what it is. Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia, and literally means “the effective and prosaic work of the people.” It was a governmental and military term used in the Hellenistic world that the earliest Christians decided was the best term to describe how the people of God should live and move in the world. We ripped it off from the Romans! The second half of Acts 2 gives us a remarkable picture of how the earliest Christians were acting politically in their societies, caring for the needs of those around them—a picture of a radically different community compared to the world. Incidentally, leitourgia is the word translated as “worship” in our English Bibles in every instance except one from Acts 1 until Jesus returns in Revelation. The politics that I am for are Kingdom politics. I’m still learning them. They are hard and uncomfortable. They are sometimes risky and costly. They involve a lot of attention to the least of these. They are the way of Jesus.

As one who is responsible for teaching the Word, here is something that has been stalking me lately…

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked by an expert of the law what the most important commandment it. He responds, “love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” I imagine he paused as they all nodded in agreement. But then in classic Jesus fashion, he reaches back into the Jewish scriptures, into the middle of Leviticus 19 and says, “and the second it like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” This was a jaw-dropping moment for the crowd. Jesus has done something very deliberate called a remez. He knows that this audience has the Torah scriptures memorized and that they understand this in context.  Look at the context:

18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Footnote: We are to take care of our own, even the ones who have wronged us. (Our own is also our veterans, our homeless, and any “least of these” among us).

33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Footnote: We are to care for and treat as family those among us from other nations, because we were once aliens, estranged from God and he has done this for us.

Christians like to say we are “a New Testament church,” but that does not mean the Old Testament has no bearing upon us, especially when the Savior of the world reaches back into history and elevates this specific text to secondary priority status. The politic of the Christ-follower is to do everything possible to obey this and to extend enormous grace in order to assimilate into our community those who want to be with us. From a biblical and theological perspective, there is absolutely no way to apologize our way around this. To do so is picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we want to obey. By the way, this is also a large part of the context of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. If you are unfamiliar with this, please read Luke 10:25-37. Note how Jesus frames the priest and the Levite. Ask yourself how it would be possible for a “religious” person to become so focused upon one’s self and to step over the least of these. The great irony for all of us wanting to follow Christ is how great a temptation this is. Brennan Manning once said, “to deny the Pharisee within is lethal.”

Enter where we find ourselves now with the proposed repeal of DACA. I know we need immigration reform. I know that we cannot have people streaming across our borders. We need to work together to fix this and not make it so hard for the many, many people who legitimately want to be here, work hard, pay taxes, worship and participate as full citizens. Using these people to run restaurants, clean hotels, landscape and work construction while dangling a carrot out front and continuing to move it is detestable when many are working so hard to do the right thing. I realize that DACA was a temporary step, but a step toward creating a legitimate path to citizenship. Nearly 800,000 who did not choose to cross the border illegally, but were babes-in-arms, holding their mother’s hand or who were born here voluntarily signed on to this offer. How can we possibly allow the rug to be pulled out from under them? It is unethical. It is disloyal. It is immoral. It is oath-breaking. We do not want this to become a part of our story. Or theirs.

When we open our doors, for any reason, do we risk something? Of course we do. But what do we risk in slamming the door? To the dreamer who is deported, what do we risk changing in their attitude toward a country who said “we know you’ve been here 15-20 years trying to work it out, but we don’t want you?” How will that story play out with their children and grandchildren? Do we want to produce more people with ill feelings towards our country? The biblical principle is this: with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you. The world states it this way: what goes around, comes around.

I was reminded of a couple of history lessons this morning when my 5th grader brought me his notes for me to quiz him before his test today. The topic? Native American history, their cultures, how Americans drove them all out to make space for ourselves, and how we began allowing them to have some land back in the 20th century.

Here is another interesting piece from the 20th century story: 29 million of my generation (Gen X) were deported aborted. This may appear like a tangential subject, but is it any wonder that a population has swelled to fill positions that 1/3 of my generation should have been here to assist with? Human beings who would have been paying taxes and supporting the American story?

There are many more examples, but I share these to point out that we have many stories from our own history of getting rid of people whom we perceive make things inconvenient for us.

In contrast, when the Church has engaged well in Kingdom politics, when we have tilted headlong into the fray to be a voice for the least of these, we have always grown and thrived. The Church has also been purged of those who were along for a pleasant ride. For one of many examples, I’d encourage the reading of Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity. I can promise you will be stunned by the Kingdom politics of the earliest followers of Christ. https://www.amazon.com/Rise-Christianity-Marginal-Religious-Centuries/dp/0060677015/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504889584&sr=8-1&keywords=rise+of+christianity.

I understand that these words are challenging for some believers, but here’s the thing about Jesus: he calls us to hard things. For all who follow him, at some point, we are asked to surrender things that matter more than they ought to.

In the meantime…

  • Call your Congressman and ask them to refuse the repeal of DACA, and to please work across party lines toward immigration reform, a clear, understandable and manageable path for those who desire citizenship. Remind them of what we promised.
  • Find Dreamers and listen to their stories. Most of them are astounding human beings with so much to contribute to the American story. They would be very fine citizens. Let them know you care. They are afraid.
  • Dear Church, let’s walk alongside these and help them in their quest for citizenship. Help them figure out how to proceed. What if we helped them pay their fees, assisted with their paperwork, re-learn the American history they will be tested on? If you’ve ever been to a foreign country and tried to figure out how to do something, take that feeling and magnify it by 1000. Now imagine no one wants to help you. If your faith is only about your personal relationship with Jesus, you are missing most of the gospel. Shame on us if we are silent.

Each semester in my college class, I have my students write their names on a card and then write something they think I should know about them. This helps me get to know them and also to remember their names. One young lady wrote on her card, “when I was 8 years old, I walked with my uncle from Honduras to California.” This kind of tenacity became evident as I observed her as a student and watched her achieve a near perfect score by the end. She is one of several Dreamers I know. She is trying hard to do the right thing and to go through the correct processes. I will not sit idly by and watch her work and sacrifices (I’ll pick a different vocabulary term as a pastor) be defecated on. My dream is to see her, and all the rest who deserve citizenship so much, be able to realize it without so many obstacles.

I’m very thankful my ancestors weren’t shipped back to Germany. If they had, I would not have had the privilege of being a pastor here these past 25 years. Thousands of people would not have been touched by the gospel in my parent’s 50+ years of ministry in Northeast Georgia. Part of my dream is that you would imagine our great future possibilities by reaching out to the Dreamers, rather than retreating into fear, self-protection and deportation.

This is an emotional issue for sure; but if you are a Christian, it’s also a theological one that cannot be ignored.

As a semi-public figure, I generally try to follow the way of Tina Fey and eat my cake. But not this time. I have put my fork down.

 

 

 

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