June 17, 2018
Warsan Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents. In 2013-2014, she was the Young Poet Laureate for London. Shire wrote “Conversations about home (at a deportation centre)” in 2009, a piece inspired by a visit she made to the abandoned Somali Embassy in Rome which some young refugees had turned into their home.
In an interview, she told the reporter that “The night before she visited, a young Somali had jumped to his death off the roof.” The encounter, she says, opened her eyes to the harsh reality of living as an undocumented refugee in Europe: “I wrote the poem for them, for my family and for anyone who has experienced or lived around grief and trauma in that way.”
“Home” by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child’s body in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what I’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Marco Antonio Munoz, and his family have experienced grief in that way, a grief so deep that he hung himself while in a padded isolation cell last month where he was taken after being told that he would be separated from his family. The police had used physical force to take his 3 year old out of his arms. The family had crossed the border illegally seeking asylum after leaving Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the world.
The stories, the pictures, are heartbreaking. We hear and read about them daily. Our government has separated roughly 700 families, throwing parents in jail for the minor offense of crossing the border illegally, while the children are placed in secretive shelters at the border for months, or sent to live with foster parents all over the country.
Reporters were finally allowed into a Walmart in Brownsville, Texas housing 1,400 boys aged 10 to 17. They live 5 to a room and are allowed two hours outside the Walmart a day. A worker there asked a reporter to smile at the kids because they feel like caged animals. Now they’re building tent cities on army bases for the overflow.
According to a lawyer from the justice department, once a parent is in federal custody and the child is funneled into the department of Health and Human Services system, the government does not try to reunite them. Think of the trauma inflicted on those children and parents.
The solutions to our immigration problem put forth by our administration and the justice department have divided our nation. On one side, the administration and Justice Department are declaring zero tolerance for anyone crossing the border illegally, no matter the reason: “If you cross the border unlawfully… then we will prosecute you … If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you and that child will be separated from you.” The lives and well-being of innocent children are being used as a deterrent for parents seeking safety for their families.
Our attorney general and others in the administration have now taken to using the bible to justify their actions, using Paul’s words in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” That was to defend slavery.
Excuse me, Mr. Sessions, that is a horrible distortion of Jesus’ message. What God are our authorities, who come out with such statements, listening to?
On the other side are the UN, the ACLU, immigration lawyers, places of worship, human rights organizations, charities caught in the middle who are looking after the children, and ordinary citizens, declaring the governments’ actions inhumane, unconstitutional, immoral, and against everything this country was founded on and stands for today.
In the middle sits our congress, who for decades has been afraid of passing a comprehensive immigration bill for fear of offending some of their constituents, who are also divided on this issue. I was encouraged this week to hear that two bills are finally coming up for a vote, although, as of Friday, they didn’t expect either of them to pass, even though many of our representatives state that they are opposed to family separation.
As Christians, what is God calling us to do? Even that very question raises another very important one: How do we know it’s God’s voice we are listening to, and not just our own, or whoever out there is shouting the loudest? What are we to believe in a 24 hours news cycle filled with fake news, fear tactics and conspiracy theories? Even people of faith are hearing conflicting messages from God these days.
To answer that question I’d like to apply a valuable tool I took with me from my short tenure as a Methodist. It’s called the Quadrilateral. It has helped me to look at my faith in determining my response and actions around sometimes complex and thorny issues.
The overall issue of immigration is far too complex to address in the short time we have, but I’d like us to use the quadrilateral to focus on the issue of separating children from their parents. We will approach it through four lenses: Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason.
The Hebrew bible is filled with stories of people leaving their homeland, escaping from famines, and Pharaoh - dragged off by Babylonians for slave labor. In the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and the prophets, laws are established on how to treat the alien and the poor, the widows and the orphans. (hand out verses)
Leviticus 19: 33-34 and 24:22
When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.
Deuteronomy 10: 18-19
For the Lord your God, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land.
Deuteronomy 24: 17
You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice
Jeremiah 22: 3
Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.
Matthew 25: 34-36, 40
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The mark of a true Christian … Extend hospitality to strangers.
James 2: 14-17
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
1 John 4:7-8
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
How do these scriptures inform how we are to treat immigrants and undocumented in our country?
What has our tradition as Christians in the UCC told us?
Hand outs from the UCC - Resolution from Synod in 2017 and MA conference resolution this week
Statement by inter-religious leaders: read together
Recently, the Administration announced that it will begin separating families and criminally prosecuting all people who enter the U.S. without previous authorization. As religious leaders representing diverse faith perspectives, united in our concern for the wellbeing of vulnerable migrants who cross our borders fleeing from danger and threats to their lives, we are deeply disappointed and pained to hear this news.
We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children. As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.
What kinds of experiences influence your decisions and actions regarding immigration and the current laws - either yours or those of others.
What does your reason tell you?
Where do we go from here? as individuals and as a church?
Add a fifth: Pray - ask for guidance