#WorldRefugeeDay 2018

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“you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land” 

“Home,” by Warsan Shire

In the past few years I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing stories from many refugees and displaced people in different parts of the world. From the Sindh region of Pakistan to Northern Iraq, these are people who live out a stubborn resilience and will to not only survive, but thrive.

Brave.Resilient.Fierce.Tenacious.Creative.Strong. These are just a few of the adjectives I would use to describe the people who I’ve met. The stories I have heard include tragedy, humor, and everything in between. It’s a tapestry of the human spirit and a representation of the image of God in each woman, man, and child.

In the midst of the world wide crises another refugee/migrant crisis has been created on the borders of the United States. Children are being separated from their parents due to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy put in place on 4/6/2018. The policy was created by John Kelly and Stephen Miller to serve as a deterrent for undocumented immigration. It was approved by Trump and adopted by Sessions. While previous administrations detained migrant families, they did not have a practice of forcibly separating parents and children unless the adults were deemed unfit and unsuitable to care for their children.

Make no mistake – when voices on the left and the right all agree, then truth has risen above politics. That truth is this: This ‘zero tolerance’ policy that has been implemented at the U.S./Mexico border is immoral and evil. It separates families in unthinkable ways and punishes those who are desperate.

Consider these words released today by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on World Refugee Day: “The United States will continue to be a world leader in providing humanitarian assistance and working to forge political solutions to the underlying conflicts that drive displacement.” 

And yet, recordings of children sobbing at detentions centers go viral while in the background an agent is heard joking with the words: “We have an orchestra here.”

This, my friends, is cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

Most of us have little influence when it comes to big policy decisions, but truth challenges all of us to seek justice and a better way, and what better day to do that than the day set aside for #WorldRefugeeDay?

Can we ask ourselves these questions today:

  • How can we combat the cognitive dissonance that we see in ourselves and many around us?
  • What can we do to overcome apathy or fear?
  • What do you specifically need to do to avoid compassion fatigue and information overload so that you can care about what matters? What prayers need to be a part of our daily life? How do we need to start the day in order to face, with wisdom and grace, our life and the news around us?
  • What specific things in your community could you do to welcome refugees?
    • ESL Classes
    • Boston Area volunteer opportunities to teach English
    • Invite refugees and immigrants into your home or church.
    • Employ refugees – whether it’s for short or long term, if you have the ability to employ someone, do it.
    • Volunteer your skills – Are you a nurse? Social worker? Coach? Artist? Teacher? Use what you do well – don’t try to do something you are not good at!
    • Take this free online course on refugee rights.
  • How can we change some of the common myths and narratives, that are not based on fact, that marginalize refugees?

Lastly, will you take a moment on this day and pray this prayer:

Prayer for refugees from Catholic Relief Services

God of our Wandering Ancestors,
Long have we known
That your heart is with the refugee:
That you were born into time
In a family of refugees
Fleeing violence in their homeland,
Who then gathered up their hungry child
And fled into alien country.

Their cry, your cry, resounds through the ages:
“Will you let me in?”

Give us hearts that break open
When our brothers and sisters turn to us
with that same cry.
Then surely all these things will follow:
Ears will no longer turn deaf to their voices.
Eyes will see a moment for grace instead of a threat.
Tongues will not be silenced but will instead advocate.
And hands will reach out—
working for peace in their homeland,
working for justice in the lands where they seek safe haven.

Lord, protect all refugees in their travels.
May they find a friend in me
And so make me worthy
Of the refuge I have found in you.

Amen.


Friends – I am also incredibly excited to invite you to participate in the GoFundMe to help a country that has faced more than its share of war and displacement. Would you consider helping?


Articles from right to left: 

A Friday Prayer

The peach looked beautiful. It had the feel of a peach that was ripe but not too ripe and it smelled perfect. Inside it was rotten to the core. I discovered this as I was cutting it into slices.

So beautiful on the outside, so rotten on the inside.

How like the United States, with its rhetoric of greatness and it’s perfect exterior. Well trimmed lawns, good highways, fancy buildings, plenty of goods for consumers, coffee shops by the thousands, grocery stores by the million, parades and protection are all a part of the eye candy that is the U.S. Yet it takes but a moment of digging to uncover the rotten interior. From rates of abortion to treatment of foreigners we live in a society consumed by self and misguided protection. We daily watch men and women with little soul and even less integrity mismanage a nation in crisis.

Bullet holes in black boys haunt our collective psyche as we try to dismiss of racism. We hear the cries of children ripped from moms in wombs and at borders, breastfed babies panting for milk from mothers who are nowhere to be found. Pride and corruption are rampant and the innocent struggle for justice.

Cries of “I can’t breathe!” fall on our ears. Coffins fill with black bodies and we try to justify this by focusing on rioting and violence, claiming they are not the way to handle this. How dare we. How dare I. We listen to the voices of white theologians and dismiss the voices of prophetic black theologians, because they might make us uncomfortable. How dare we! How dare I!*

Like the Old Testament prophets we cry “How long O Lord? How long?

Tears dry on faces that look up to the Son for justice.

We plead the cause of the orphan, the immigrant, the falsely accused, the unborn who were never given a chance, the dead who can no longer speak.

We plead and we pray.

May we allow the surgery of confession and repentance to root out the rotten core. May we fall on our knees in humility and repentance. May we see with eyes of justice and love with hearts of compassion. May we act with hands of mercy and speak with lips of wisdom. May we pray for our leaders and for ourselves.

May we, like the prophet Micah, do justly, love mercy, and Walk humbly with our God.

Amen and Amen

*This paragraph was added 5/29/2020.

#FamiliesBelongTogether

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Updated – June 15,2018 – A doctor observing says she has never seen anything like it – a toddler pounding her fists on the ground, inconsolable with longing for a mom from who she was separated. Breastfeeding infants, screaming in emotional and physical pain. God have mercy on the souls of those who sanctioned this; God have mercy on our souls for allowing this government sanctioned child abuse. My friend Laura reminds me of this verse:

“The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.”*

And then she says “Call the midwives!” Amen and Amen.

Exodus 1:17


In late February, a woman named Miriam G. from Honduras walked across the border from Mexico to Texas seeking politial asylum. She had all her papers and her 18-month old son with her.

She told immigration officers her story: She was fleeing danger in her home country. Every day more people disappeared and when her home was tear gassed, she packed up her 18-month-old and headed across the border.

Immigration officials took all her documents, including a birth certificate and birth record for her son as well as her own identity card. She spent that night in a detention facility on the border. The next day, two cars waited outside the facility: one for her, and one for her child. She was told to strap her child into the car seat and then the officer shut the door. Her last view was that of her child screaming as he was driven away to a federally sponsored foster home.


There is a new “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings that is affecting even those like Miriam who are seeking asylum. Due to increased violence in Central America, people are fleeing in record numbers. Many are showing up at U.S. borders with their documents, essentially begging for mercy. Instead, they are criminally charged and their children are taken from them and put into federally sponsored care. In the first 14 days since this policy, over 600 children have been forcibly separated from their parents. This is cruel. There is no other word for it.

Regardless of what your view of immigration policy is or is not,  the forcible removing of children from parents is unconscionable and must be stopped. We must do better.

Root Causes:

Take a moment to ask yourself why a parent would flee to a border that they know has become unfriendly. You have to be completely desperate and fearful to make this journey leaving home, family, friends, jobs and more behind. Those arriving are beyond desperate. They have run out of choices.  Any policy has to address root causes to be effective, but while researching and looking to change root causes, temporary solutions and asylum are essential. We must do better.

Refugee Resettlement:

The United States will only receive 22% of the number of refugees that were resettled in 2016. Refugee programs throughout the United States have seen a dramatic decrease to their numbers. Fully functioning programs with robust volunteer programs do not have enough to do. The United States, with its many resources, can do better. We can do better.

Myths on Refugees:

How many of us have heard over and over of the “refugee burden”? But in fact, the “burden” appears to be only a short-term burden.

From Denmark to Uganda to Cleveland, studies have found that welcoming refugees has a positive or at least a neutral effect on a host community’s economy and wages…beyond the upfront costs of processing and settling refugees, the perceived burden of refugees on a host economy may not be as significant as it seems. “There’s not any credible research that I know of that in the medium and long term that refugees are anything but a hugely profitable investment,” says Michael Clemens, a senior fellow who leads the Migration and Development Initiative at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank.

Clemens cites a study by Kalena Cortes, a Texas A&M professor who followed refugee and non-refugee immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Cortes found that it took the refugees a few years to get on their feet. But soon the refugees were out-earning non-refugee immigrants, and adding more value to the economy each year than the entire original cost of receiving and resettling them. [Source:The Big Myth about Refugees] 

The Punishment of Removal:

Make no mistake, the forcible removal of children is being used as a punishment to parents, and today I stand against this. I stand against this as a mom; I stand against this as a human being; and I stand against this as an Orthodox Christian. The words of scripture sometimes whisper softly and gently; other times they shout from the pages of those who wrote so long ago.

Today, those words are shouting. Today those words are crying out from the pages of scripture, crying out from a God who welcomed children; a God whose hand stretches wide for justice, whose heart beats with compassion for those who deserve compassion and for those who do not; a God who calls out nations and leaders and turns around what the world sees as great; a God who asks that we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him as our guide. Will we listen? 

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Luke 9:46-47 (also Mark 9:35-37)

Though Christians will disagree on immigration policy, let’s not disagree on this: forcibly separating children from their parents, except in cases of abuse or neglect, is inhumane and intolerable.Jen Pollock Michel

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God of the Displaced and Exiled

Oh God of the displaced and exiled,

Hear the prayers of those in limbo.

Wipe the tears of mothers who parent children without a home.

Feed those who are hungry; keep safe those who are in danger.

Give strength to the helpers and the healers; to those who work tirelessly for justice.

Give us the spirit of courage and not fear that we might welcome the stranger in our midst.

Root out lazy prejudice that would block us from receiving those in need.

Give us ears to hear the voices that cry out in desperation, making impossible choices for their families.

Consume the conscience of lawmakers and policy enforcers with the holy fire of compassion, that they may open their hearts and their borders to those desperate for shelter.

Remind us that your prophets spoke words many years ago that are still true today; remind us that you have always cared for the oppressed, have always urged your people to care for the displaced and exiled.

Oh God hear my prayer for the displaced and the exile.

“Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”*


All week my heart has been aching for those displaced. This morning my brother Dan sent me an article that the United States is on track to admit less refugees than it has since the beginning of the refugee program in 1980. There is simply no excuse. With the resources we have and the crisis being what it is, there is no excuse.

*Daniel 9:19

Immigrant Families – A New Report

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Photo Credit: http://www.fhcw.org/en/Home

In the last two years, the immigration debate has become louder and arguably less civil. Political platforms and decisions based on fear have dominated the conversation, but behind the conversation are approximately 23 million people. The number includes those lawfully present as well as those who are undocumented. It includes around 12 million children who are legal citizens born in the United States, but whose parents are non-citizens.

How does the current climate affect the health and daily lives of these millions of people?

Kaiser Family Foundation wanted to find out more, and so began work with a research company to interview families in 8 cities in 4 states. They also interviewed pediatricians who work closely with immigrant families in these cities.

Their findings are significant and troubling. Among those findings are these:

  • Fears of deportation and overall uncertainty have increased in the last year. These fears extend to those who are here lawfully.

“I feel unsettled. Even though we already have the green card, if we do not apply for citizenship, I don’t think we can be at ease.” –Korean Parent, Chicago, Illinois

“Uncomfortable and unstable; we feel that in any moment a new rule could be issued leading to expelling us and sending us back.” –Arabic-speaking Parent, Anaheim, California

“There’s no stability. [The President] could write a tweet on Twitter tomorrow and turn things upside down.” –Arabic-speaking Parent, Anaheim, California

  • Children are facing increased fear that their parents will be deported and/or that they will end up having to uproot their lives and go to their parent’s countries.

“My children would come home from school and say that at school they were saying that all parents would be deported…” –Portuguese-speaking Parent, Chicago, Illinois

“All the children, even if they were born here, are fearful. They fear that anytime they’ll come back from school and won’t find their parents there.” –Latino Parent, Chicago, Illinois

“In Brownsville we have about 1,700 homeless children in the schools. Many of those children are homeless because of a parent that was deported or placed in detention.” –Pediatrician, Texas

  • Pediatricians and participants said that bullying and discrimination at work and at school has increased in the past year.

“They get bullied…told things like, ‘now you and your family will have to leave.’….And so, even though those kids don’t actually have to worry about their immigration status, I think obviously a child, they don’t know the details of how the system works.” –Pediatrician, Pennsylvania

“I work in landscaping, and we’re working and they see you working…and they just start yelling stuff at you…” –Latino Parent, Fresno, California

  • Families are making changes in their daily lives and routines base on fear.

 

“I am also concerned because if anything happens to us on the street, if we get assaulted or something, we won’t even be able to call the police because they will see we are immigrants.”      –Latino Parent, Boston, Massachusetts

“…but now around six or seven in the evening you won’t find anyone in [the neighborhood]… due to the fear we all feel about what is going to happen.” –Latino Parent, Chicago, Illinois

  • Increased fear in kids is resulting in behavioral issues, mental health problems, and psychosomatic symptoms.

“The kids who come in with concerns that you can kind of trace back to anxiety are usually the upper elementary age students, like the 3rd, 4th graders, to middle school students… 7th and 8th grade, who have nonspecific complaints like abnormal pain or headaches or decreased appetites… And then, in kids that are in the junior high to high school age range, it’s a little more overt: sadness, decreased appetite, not wanting to engage in usual activities, decreased in-school performance, those sorts of things.” –Pediatrician, Arkansas

  • Across the board, pediatricians are concerned with the long-term consequences of this environment.

“I think that we are going to have a generation of kids, who, especially in our immigrant homes, who are going to have more adverse childhood experiences than they would have. So, I think that we’re just setting up this generation of kids to have higher incidence of chronic disease, higher incidence of poor mental health, higher incidence of addiction…” –Pediatrician, California

“I think a huge worry is that children who have problems that are minor and fixable now… that, if those children go untreated, those could end up being bigger problems in the future that are going to be harder to treat and are really going to impact the child’s quality of life.” –Pediatrician, Pennsylvania


The health and well-being of immigrant and refugee communities is something I care deeply about. Yes, it is my daily work as a public health nurse, but it is more than that. It is something that is deeply embedded into who I am as a person. I have only benefitted from the many in my life who are immigrants and refugees, and it is troubling to me that there is documented fear and anxiety that is affecting the daily lives of those I care about.

What might we do to change this? What might we do to help those whose anxiety is affecting their health and the health of their families? The answer is bigger than any one of us, but some of the things that can help are these:

  • Know the law* and be able to point people to the law. Some of the fear is based on rumor. It is important to squash rumors and to point people to laws.
  • Sensitive locations. Both ICE (Immigration and customs enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) consider hospitals and other health care facilities to be “sensitive locations.” Both agencies have issued memoranda that say that immigration enforcement actions are to be avoided at sensitive locations, including at hospitals and other health care facilities, unless urgent circumstances exist or the officers conducting the actions have prior approval from certain officials within the enforcement agencies.
  • Right to remain silent. While immigration enforcement at health care facilities is limited by the “sensitive locations” guidance, immigration agents may enter a public area of a health care facility without a warrant or the facility’s consent and may question any person present, but those people have the right to remain silent.
  • Reassure your patients. Educate and reassure patients that their health care information is protected by federal and state laws.

An appeal to those of us who are Christians:

Caution and compassion are not incompatible; instead it is reasonable to assume that they work well together.  The state is not the master of the church. If you are part of a faith community, none of this prohibits you and your faith community from reaching out to those who may be affected. They do not prohibit you from reaching out, in love, to refugees and immigrants in your midst. It is a lot easier to wear a sign and yell than it is to make a hot meal and take it to strangers, to check in with sick neighbors, to pray for those who are anxious and fearful. We must be willing to do more than react emotionally. We must be willing to put our loudly voiced news feeds into real action.

“The ability to love refugees well doesn’t require a certain party affiliation. It doesn’t require you to vote a certain way. But it does require us to show up, to step across “enemy” lines, and to choose love over fear.” from Preemptive Love


*See this document for more information.

Note: Communicating Across Boundaries has never been, and never will be, a political blog, but I see this not as a political issue, but as a human health care issue. The brief is much longer and more detailed than this blog post. This post is simply to raise awareness of the issues that result from an environment of fear and anxiety.

Lewiston, Maine – It’s a Good Story

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“The way they play together, the way they get along, that’s the future of our cultures together…” – Coach Mike McGgraw

The story of Lewiston, Maine is a good story. It’s a story of integration and resilience and how a group of refugees and immigrants can revitalize a dying community.

It all began in the late 1990s when Lewiston was a dying city. Historically a mill town, Lewiston had long seen an economic downturn and jobs had vanished like the leaves off a tree in late fall. In 2001 that changed.

An extended family of Somali refugees found Lewiston. They decided it was cheap to live and may be a good place to begin their lives anew, far from the refugee camps that had been their homes for many years. It was a secondary migration from where they had originally been settled. They told other Somalis about the city, stating it was a place with low crime, cheap housing, and decent education. Soon more refugees and immigrants began to arrive from Somalia, Congo, Kenya and more.

It wasn’t all easy. At one point soon after the arrival of the initial group, the mayor wrote a letter to community leaders asking that they discourage others from coming. There was a public outcry to the letter, with community members and supporters rallying around the community and pointing out the gift that they were and could continue to be to a city that badly needed a new face and spirit.

That was around 16 years ago. Today, Lewiston is a picture of what can happen in a community when refugees and immigrants are welcomed and invited to flourish.

By all accounts, most credit the influx of Somalis, Sudanese, Congolese and other immigrants to Lewiston’s successful comeback. Businesses have sprung up, adult education classes are booming, but nothing represents this community more than their champion soccer team.

The change to the team began when a group of teenagers from the community approached the coach and asked about the soccer team. They assured him that they could play, and that they would play and make the team good. In 2015 the soccer team won the state championship and were ranked as high as 17th in the entire nation.

The story of the soccer team has been filmed and is a poignant picture of a group of kids coming together, playing above the fray of national politics and national and local prejudice. It is a good story to remember during a year when good stories are difficult to find.

Changing demographics and communities makes for hard work. It is hard on the newcomers, and it is hard on the old timers. It requires far more than mere tolerance; instead it requires first identifying, and then challenging our own cultural assumptions. It asks that we look at our own values and beliefs, and commit to communicating across those boundaries. It has taken a lot of time, but Lewiston, Maine can teach us much about what this change looks like, and how to continue the hard work of communicating across boundaries in order to make our communities stronger.

When asked about the team, one of the coaches said that though his own background is far from the refugee camps of East Africa, it doesn’t matter. The players bring something to the field that transcends geography.


On Thursday night, I will have the privilege of speaking at a conference in Lewiston and I am honored. I’ll be writing more about this, but for right now take a look at this short film.

#Onlythegood – Volume One

 

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#Onlythegood – On Tuesday, I felt particularly low about our world, but at dusk I took a walk on the river with our two youngest children. The river, the view, the adult kids – all of it converged to make me sigh and say “This is Good.”

Readers, in light of the overabundance of tragic news from around the world, I am beginning a new project. Every Thursday I will be posting links to things that have happened in our world that are good; activities and people who bring humor, light, and justice to our world. I would love for you to participate.

Each week I hope to bring your attention to one picture and five different articles, essays, or events that speak to that which is good.

If you see something during the week that stood out to you, that made you smile and say “this is good!” then please send it on! I will feature it and attribute the content to you.

#Onlythegood 

New Citizens Hold Their Heads High, 102 Floors Above New York:

On Tuesday, high above the city on the 102nd floor of the One World Trade Center, 30 immigrants were sworn in as citizens of the United States. A judge who is the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany presided over the ceremony, the first ever to be held at this observatory.

“How fortunate we are to have you here, contributing your hopes, your aspirations, your skills, your heritages, your music, your culture, your literature, your food to the tapestry of this nation…The American story is your story.” Judge Katzmann, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

PSG’s Neymar becomes Ambassador for Handicap International

Football (Soccer for Americans) star, Neymar, who made a huge move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, is using his fame to promote Handicap International’s work giving dignity and empowering those who live with disabilities. Neymar will be acting as ambassador for Handicap International.

Neymar, wearing a T-shirt with “repair lives” written on the front, appeared in Switzerland on Tuesday, standing on top of a 39-foot wooden sculpture entitled “Broken Chair,” which the organisation said was “erected 20 years ago by Handicap International in front of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva to call for a ban on antipersonnel landmines.”

“I would like to begin by thanking you all for what you do for the least visible in the world, so they become more visible. I have to say that I am very pleased to be here and to be the new ambassador.”

“I Love Pakistan’s People More than it’s Mountains”

It’s not surprise how much I love my adopted country, so I read this article about a British mountaineer with a smile. Vanessa O’Brien is a 52-year-old American-British mountaineer who recently scaled K-2, one of the highest mountains in the Himalayan range and a mountain that is more difficult to climb than Mount Everest. Only 400 people have made the climb, and Vanessa is the 20th woman to successfully reach the summit. She carried both Pakistani and America flags to the top. On Tuesday, she said that the warmth and love she received in Pakistan was matchless.

O’Brien told media in a news conference at a local hotel here that she had found Pakistani people loving and caring. “I love Pakistan, its people and will like to travel it again,”

Blogger’s note: If you would like to see some beautiful pictures of some of the mountains in Pakistan, take a look here.

Malala Yousafzai, Shot by the Taliban, Is Going to Oxford

I still remember writing the story in 2012 about Malala called 14-Year-Old Courage. As most of you know, Malala was only 14 when she was shot in the head and neck while leaving her school in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. And today the news comes that she is going to Oxford! It is an amazing accomplishment by an amazing young woman.

“Amid the rush of joy, disappointment or dashed expectations for the thousands of students across Britain receiving their A-level results, Ms. Yousafzai’s news carried special weight on social media. The author Emma Kennedy wrote simply, ‘Take that, Taliban.'” 

5 Tips To Reduce Stress Using Humor, Your Best Weapon

We laugh in our family. A Lot. Nothing is beyond humor, there is little that is so sacred or sad that we can’t see a lighter side. In fact, I believe that laughter is a holy gift and I often wonder what it would be like to sit with Jesus and enjoy laughter – not at someone else’s expense, but just to laugh at the whimsy of life.

“The signs of stress are all too familiar: the quickening heartbeat, tense muscles and explosive reaction to something small. Avoiding situations that test your patience may be impossible, but it is possible to reduce stress accompanying these unpleasant events. The secret, say the experts, lies in one crucial art: finding the humor….Humor and laughter are not the same, explains Dr. Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Berkeley. ‘Humor is something that triggers laughter. Laughter is a physical response.’ Although research has found that laughter can lessen the effects of depression and reduce stress levels, focusing on humor is the best starting point. Looking for the humor in a moment, says Sultanoff, changes how we think, feel and process difficult situations.”

Lastly, I want end with a beautiful poem that speaks to our great need for healing.

A Prayer for a Torn Nation

by Kaitlin Curtice

Somewhere between the “us” and “them”

you’re holding together the least of these.

Somewhere completely outside of all of this,

you are ushering in a kingdom not of this world,

one that rights all wrongs and rules in love.

***

Unite in full grace all that is divided.

Mend in full love all that is torn.

Resurrect us, we pray.


What is your #Onlythe good thing to share? I would love to hear it through the comments!

I am Not Muslim: On Identiy Confusion Solidarity

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During the weekend, an “I am a Muslim too” rally took place in New York City at Times Square. A picture of the event shows a large crowd gathered, all mouths opened in unison. A couple of white women are front and center, holding signs of a woman in a hijab made up of stars and stripes – a poster courtesy of the talented Shepard Fairey that has gained popularity from sea to shining sea in the past month. I will spare you and not get into how problematic it feels to create a hijab out of the American flag – that’s another conversation.

For now, I want to focus on the rally. I did not participate in the rally and I’m shaking my head at what I consider the shallow acceptance of the claim:”I am Muslim too.”

Actually, I am not Muslim. I grew up with Muslims as my friends and aunties. I was cared for by Muslim women and learned from them. I went on to raise my children to live and love a Muslim country and the people who surrounded us. Muslims cared for my children when they were small. They were our friends, our neighbors, our babysitters. I continue to count Muslim women as some of my closest friends. But I am not Muslim.

And the grey-haired woman in the forefront of the picture I saw wearing a statue of liberty tiara? I am 99.9% sure that she is not Muslim either.

I am not in favor of participating in identity confusion solidarity. And that’s what this particular demonstration felt like. It felt like a shallow way of showing support. 

By contrast, I had no problem promoting and marching in a pro-immigrant march a couple of weeks ago. The message felt completely different.  It was solidarity without identity confusion.

To say I am a Muslim means that I accept the truth claims of Islam. To say I am a Muslim means that I accept an identity that is far bigger than a sign on poster board. I do not share the identity and I do not share the truth claims of Islam, just as my Muslim friends do not share the truth claims of Christianity. There are many commonalities, many things that can bind us together as friends and neighbors, but there are also key differences.

Why do I have to chant “I am Muslim too!” to show solidarity with my Muslim friends?  There has to be a better way. 

In the past two years I have had the privilege of getting to know the Muslim community in the greater Boston area. I have been doing a health project with foreign-born Muslim women and through it I have been welcomed into several of the many Muslim communities in the area. I have shared meals with Pakistani, Iranian, Syrian, and Somali women. I have been invited to hear their views on health care and learn from them more about how public health can better serve them. I have been to mosques and to homes. The connections and friendships that I have made are a testament to the generosity of the Muslim community.

For me to say “I am Muslim too” feels like it’s an insult to the resilience and experience of the community.

It doesn’t feel like solidarity. Just like it would feel like I was insulting the Black community if I held a sign saying “I am Black too.” Because I’m not black. We cannot assume that we know what the experience of another is just because we march with big signs. I have no clue what it is like to have to flee a country and know I can never go back. I have no clue what it is like to face prejudice because of my skin color. How on earth would I know what it feels like to be concerned for my sons because of their skin color?  I have no clue what it is like to be attacked because I wear hijab. These are experiences that I cannot claim as my own. 

What I can claim is to want to support the community in ways that are lasting and sustainable. What I can claim is a desire to know the community better, to invite people into friendship and connection. What I can claim is to be learning more about my own privilege and how that can be used for good or for ill.

As I looked at pictures from the march this weekend, I wondered how many of the people present actually had Muslim friends. I wondered how many have actually invited people into their homes to share a meal, to share a conversation. I wondered how we can take the obvious energy and time that went into shouting “I am Muslim too” and turn it into something that could help the Muslim community in the long-term.

So – no, I am not Muslim and I don’t believe that this kind of solidarity is helpful for the long-term. I don’t believe that identity confusion will help my Muslim friends. But, because I place high value on my Christian faith, I will do whatever I can in my small spheres of influence to support a community that I love.

The Loneliness of Immigration

old-books empathy quote

My husband and I repatriated to this country many years ago. We came from the city of Cairo, Egypt and arrived at Dulles Airport with five children, 26 suitcases, and an Egyptian Siamese cat. It was the sum total of everything we owned.

The first two years were excruciating. We didn’t know anything about living as a family in the United States. From school to church, everything was new, everything was different.  We didn’t know how or where to shop, get licenses, set up utilities, or find doctors.

Loneliness would creep up on me at unexpected times and places, it’s vice-like grip clutching my heart so that it felt difficult to breathe. I would find my solace in a couple of close friendships and in finding my safe spots – the odd coffee shop where I could retreat with a book and hot drink while the kids were in school; a space in our living room where the sun would shine in the afternoon, bathing the room with light.

The move was many years ago, yet every time I sit with an immigrant or refugee, I still remember the time as though it was yesterday. I still remember the loneliness and isolation I felt; the disconnect of coming from a relational society and moving to one that was based on the individual.

There is a body of research that points to the disenchanted immigrant as susceptible to becoming radicalized. More and more governments are paying attention to this and strategizing on what to do and how to change this trajectory.

The marathon bombing is a an excellent example. Tsarnaev was a part of the community in Cambridge — where we have made our home for the past 8 years. Tsarnaev was at the same high school as my daughter and they had many friends in common. He was a student in a school that deeply cares about tolerance and diversity. Yet, once Tsarnaev was no longer a part of that community, he was lost. Everything I have read or heard points to a fundamental loneliness and isolation that can be a part of the immigrant experience — the loneliness of being ‘other’, parents in Russia, hasn’t spoken to his uncle for years, and living anonymously in a big city. This does not excuse or justify his behavior. His actions killed and wounded people and those wounds have left scars to last a lifetime. Many people feel lonely and estranged and they don’t build bombs and kill people.

I don’t want to tackle the radicalization piece of this – it is too complicated and multi faceted. But the loneliness and isolation is important to address. How can those of us who understand what it is to be ‘other’, to be new to a place, extend friendship to those who are missing so much?

As I think about that question, I can’t help but think about my husband. Through the years he has befriended hundreds of people who are immigrants or visitors in this country. He approaches them with genuine interest and understanding. He is not afraid to enter the story of a stranger. Our lives are so much richer because of the people that he has met.

The seats around our table at Thanksgiving are filled with immigrants, most of them present because of a conversation with my husband. Years ago, he memorized the capital cities of every country in the world and he knows several phrases in more than a dozen languages. All of this has brought our family rich friendships. From pictures to silver bowls to pungent spices, the items in our home are a witness to these friendships.

Loving the one who is ‘other’ is in the fabric of his being and all of us benefit.

We are living in a time of fear and mistrust of immigrants and refugees. This is not new or unique to the United States, nor is it new to other countries. But it is still troubling. As long as we remain isolated in comfortable cul-de-sacs and enclaves, this fear and mistrust will continue and get worse. The only way to escape this problem is to take a deep breath and extend a hand of friendship. If you don’t believe me, just ask my husband.

 

And Lady Liberty Weeps….

 

statue-of-liberty-v3

“Give me your tired, your poor,” she says.

Ah, but first we must verify income and employability; we must make sure these people fit with “our way of life.” We must make sure these creatures are not leeches who steal jobs from those who really belong.

“Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,”

Make sure the huddled masses have clear lungs and negative TB tests, their HIV status is negative, and that no communicable diseases will be passed on to our current healthy, chronic-disease-free citizens.

“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

But first, these wretches must fill out forms in triplicate or learn to swim. UNHCR, Homeland security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement must approve said forms. I heard that one lucky wretch has an interview before 2022.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,”

Wait. What’s that you say? They’re Muslim? Muslims need not apply. And are they really that destitute? Come on! They have cell phones!

“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Which door? Ah! That one – the one that says ‘Trump Towers.’

And so the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning for freedom, the wretched refuse, the homeless and displaced, the refugee turn away, eyes vacant and heads shaking, trying desperately to find another door.

And Lady Liberty bows her head and weeps.

“Letting Them In”

So many beautiful colors of people at the Red Sox game! #NationofImmigrants #Diversity 


Two times a year, I facilitate a patient navigator/community health worker course. It is a core training that helps to prepare this workforce for working in clinic and community settings in the United States. The course is a hybrid of both in-person and online modules and runs for around 16 weeks.

At the end of the course, we have a ‘graduation’ of sorts; a time where we celebrate the success of the students.

Passing out the certificates is always exciting and emotional. It’s not easy to carry on your daily workload of working with patients while completing a course that demands your time, focus, and energy.

But it’s so much more than that. The truth is, the majority of this workforce are immigrants or refugees. They were birthed, raised, and educated in another land. They are doctors and lawyers, engineers and pharmacists. They left all that behind, and now they navigate other members of their community through a complicated health system. These are people that the United States “Let in.” The irony is profound. They have done nothing but make their communities stronger. They have learned the rules and language. They have sacrificed and worked hard.

Last week,  we held our last class of the year. In that space we had the final learning session, but more importantly, we celebrated their achievement. The final exercise is a case study that they have to present to a small group. They all presented in English, even if their first language was not English. Despite the fact that I have studied three languages, I can’t even imagine doing a case study in anything other than English. I’m just not good enough – but they are.

We gave certificates and they walked away knowing that they accomplished something. But this is only a fraction of what they have accomplished. At a recent conference, I wrote this and I echo it today in this space:

Look around you for a moment. You are among an amazing group of people. You are in a room full of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. In this room are community health workers who bridge two worlds to serve their communities.  In this room there are navigators who were doctors in Syria and pharmacists in Iraq; there are people who didn’t know any English when they first arrived in this the country, but now interpret for those with no voice. In this room, you will see women who survived the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and now make sure Haitians in this country can navigate the health care system. You will eat lunch with Syrians who survived ISIS, Iraqis who survived sanctions, an invasion, and displacement. You will have conversations with men and women who have traveled the world, and now sit in this space, dedicated to helping others. In this room you will find people who have a past history that could have determined the rest of their life, but instead they have chosen to share their stories and help others. You will find doulas who work with women who are far from home, comforting them and helping them through the pain of labor and childbirth. Look all around, and you see those who educate and advocate, who listen and connect, who bridge healthcare gaps all over the country. Look next to you and you will see one whose heart is open to so many different people. Look around and you will see a group of people who are, above all, kind. You are in the company of amazing people.

Last night, I was at a Red Sox game in Boston. It was a beautiful night with perfect weather and the Sox won! But it was more than that. As I looked around, I saw people of every different color and ethnicity. All singing “Sweet Caroline” – the iconic Neil Diamond song of the Red Sox; all cheering; all eating the famous Fenway Franks. Every color, every ethnicity. I’m the first to criticize the United States, the first to take a step back and look at it critically, but as I looked around, I had a moment. In all the sadness that has been a part of this week, in the killing and horror of Orlando, it was a moment to be proud to be living here.

And above all, I don’t want that to be taken away. I don’t want our country to become one that gets more and more scared, that shuts borders and fears the one who is “other.” I don’t want the “we can’t let them in” rhetoric to dominate. 

Because all we do is “let them in.” They give us so much more in return. The trade is hardly fair. 


Truth Echoes

Did you hear? Did you hear what they did about immigration?” My friend’s eyes were big and troubled.

“No.” I said.

Janira is originally from El Salvador. She has been living in the United States for over 15 years. She works at a hospital, pays taxes, and tries to get by. She is a U.S Citizen and as such has every right to be here.

But like most people in immigrant communities, she has many friends and acquaintances who are undocumented. People who left their countries for a myriad of reasons – drug and gang violence, unemployment, war, and natural disasters are just a few of those reasons.

Janira was referring to the raids carried out on Monday by immigration officials targeting Central American families. I hadn’t heard about them, so I shook my head and just listened.

“It’s terrible,” she said sadly. “They knock on people’s doors and they just take them in the middle of the night. These people…they have nowhere else to go. So hard. These are people from my community. They are not bad people. They have no other choices.”

We talked until the subway came to a shuddering stop and she got up to leave.

“Thank you.” she said.

But I knew I hadn’t done anything but listen.

There are times in our lives where we wonder what God thinks, and then there are other times when it’s as clear as the sky on a cloudless, summer day.

Because I don’t know what the government should do about immigration, but I sure know what the Church should do once the immigrant is among us. 

And I don’t know all that the government should and must do about racism, but I know what the Church should do. 

And I don’t know all that the government should do about refugees, but I know what the Church should do. 

Because, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., the Church is neither master nor servant of the state. The Church is its conscience. 

Because the Church is about Christ crucified, Christ risen, and Christ coming again. 

Because the voice of God comes with whispers and roars and gentle calls and the words echo through generations because that’s what truth does – truth echoes. Truth will not stay silent. Truth rises up – generation after generation after generation. Truth speaks and hearts are softened.

And the voice of God needs to be heard through the actions of the Church.

And he’s saying this with a mighty roar: 

“But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24

And he is saying this with a voice of challenge: 

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

And he is saying this with a gentle whisper: 

“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien…” Deuteronomy 10:18

And he issues this Call to Obedience: 

“Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”Isaiah 1:17

And he smiles with Joy and says: 

“How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!” Psalm 106:3

To those who would say “We must be practical,” I reply “Every time people try to be ‘practical’ they compromise on the Gospel Message.” Christians in Hitler’s time were just “being practical.” We know what happened.  To those who say “But it takes time and money” I reply “I know.” And to those who say “I’m not sure what I think about these issues,” I shake my head and say “But is it really about your political thoughts? Isn’t it supposed to be about what God thinks? When you are the one who is hungry, when you are the one who needs refuge, when you are the one who seeks justice – then you will know exactly what you think about these issues.”

So next time we wonder what God thinks about immigrants, and black lives, and refugees, and the poor, and the oppressed, and the one who suffers, and the one who grieves, remember – his voice is clear and there is no ambiguity in his words.

Because the God of the universe cries this throughout time and it echoes to eternity: 

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

She Lived a Large Life


The best thing I did all week was attend the funeral of Chong Wright. Chong and her husband, Wilbur, attended our church. Wilbur, a once tall soldier in the US army is now slightly stooped, his shoulders humbly sloping toward the earth. His Korean bride of fifty-one years, Chong, was tiny. Her legs were slightly bowed. Her sweaters, hand knitted and pastel pink, always bunched up on her small frame. The two of them would hold hands and hobble along.

Whenever Chong saw me, her eyes would light up. We would greet each other and have a short little conversations. English wasn’t the language of her heart but she made such an effort, in tiny sound bites, to communicate. What she couldn’t speak with her mouth she shouted with her eyes. They were always bright and welcoming. She looked into you and you knew she was happy to see you.

On Monday morning I read the notice of her death and the announcement that a memorial service would be held that very afternoon at a funeral home just around the corner from us. I wanted to go to tell her husband and their one child, Mary, what a bright spot their loved one was. I wanted them to know she would be missed.

Maybe thirty people gathered in the funeral home’s chapel. The strains of a recorded piano playing, Edelweiss, wafted over the group as we waited quietly in the pews. There were several pictures of Chong on the front table framing a large bouquet of pink and white flowers. Chong and Wilbur—at their wedding, while stationed in Germany, with their daughter, with their grandsons.

During the service I learned more about Chong than I had ever known. Chong Wright was born in Sinuichu, Korea on December 26th, 1940. When she was still quite young both her parents died. She then went to live with her grandmother. At the start of the Korean War, when she was ten years old, they fled, as refugees from North Korea to the safer South. Her grandmother died when Chong was thirteen years old and she went to live with an uncle and his family. Three years later, when she was sixteen, she enrolled in beauty school. Using her own resources she trained to become a beautician.

On September 8, 1964 Chong and Wilbur were married. Not all of Chong’s family was supportive of her marrying an American soldier. One family member told her that if she married Mr Wright, she’d be so poor they wouldn’t even be able to afford toilet paper. This began a personal commitment to paper products! Chong’s daughter, Mary, said that they always had great stockpiles of toilet paper, paper towels, and paper napkins. Long after Mary had married and had children of her own, Chong continued to supply them with paper products!

Wilbur and Chong were stationed in many places before coming to Fort Riley, Kansas. That’s where they were stationed when Wilbur retired from the Army life.

Whatever Chong did she worked hard at it. She was frugal and managed to pay off two homes and two cars. She was generous and good hearted. She was a good mother and a devoted grandmother. Both grandsons spoke of her generosity to them. On Thursdays she gave them money. They played games with the boys. They attended every band concert, school play, choir concert, musical. If the boys were there, so were Wilbur and Chong.

Last December there was a band concert at the mall. The seating was insufficient. I had gone early to save seats for our family. Just in front of me I saw Chong and Wilbur saving seats for their family too. At one point Chong turned and saw me. Her entire face lit up in recognition. She bobbed her head in greeting, her eyes beaming.

Chong Wright’s circle was small. There weren’t a lot of people at the funeral and many that were there came because of love and friendship with her daughter, Mary and her family. It might be easy to dismiss the significance of a person like Chong Wright—unknown, an immigrant, she couldn’t speak English very well. But Chong made a difference in the lives she touched. Her life mattered. Her circle wasn’t large but it was deep. She lived with integrity. She loved well. She made an effort to connect in the ways she knew how—playing with a baby, greeting those she knew, giving to her family. She was loyal and faithful until the very end.

It was such a profound moment for me. I have this relentless longing for a larger world. I want to go places, meet people. I want to make a difference. I want to have a global impact. But here was Chong– Her world, at the end, might have been little and yet her impact was undeniable. She will leave a large hole in the stories of her grandsons, her daughter, her son-in-law, the few at church she smiled at. Her life mattered. The breadth of her experiences, the suffering she had endured, the places she had traveled–for being a person of small stature she lived a large life and then settled into a small space. And she did so with grace.

I would do well to live…and die…..like Chong Wright.

On New Names and Citizenship

name tags

A few years ago, a woman I know from Haiti became a citizen of the United States. It was a long and weary process, full of the pit falls that only those familiar with government bureaucracy would understand.

But she did it. She studied. She took citizenship classes. She worked hard. And she did it. She became a legal citizen of the United States.

She was completing the last set of forms when the woman at the desk asked her this question: “Do you want to change your name?”

“What?” she replied, puzzled. The woman explained that she always asked people if they want to change their name at this point, because if they changed their name right then they wouldn’t have to pay anything extra. They just change it and put it with all the other paperwork.

“Yes!” was the answer. “Absolutely yes!”

In a spit second decision she became Lola. L-O-L-A.

“Done.” said the bureaucrat. And so it was.

When she relayed the story to me, we were driving home from a meeting about an hour away from Boston. We were talking about being ‘other’, about moving from your country of origin, about the journey to belong. She began talking about her desire to become a citizen and then her unexpected decision to change her name. She had no reason for becoming Lola other than seeing someone across a room one time whose name was Lola and realizing she liked the name.

For some reason this story fascinates me.

What’s in a name?

We meet Chinese immigrants all the time whose names are Jeff, Sam, Bob. Scott, Kim, Jessica. Of course, those aren’t their Chinese names at all. They have chosen them because it’s too hard to explain a hundred times a day how to pronounce their names to a group unaccustomed to the different sounds of Chinese. The same goes for other immigrants or refugees. They arrive as Tarek and they become Tom. They arrive as Khadijah and they become Carly. They arrive as Fang and become Louisa.

What is lost in the process? What has to be pushed to the back of our existence when we change a name?

Or is anything lost?

Is something gained by actively taking charge and deciding that a new name is part of the process of adjusting? 

Maybe it’s both. Maybe these new names speak of loss and gain.  Expatriates who have raised their children in other countries will often give their children a first or middle name from their adopted country. We gave our daughter Stefanie the middle name ‘Sevim’ – a name that means ‘my love’ in Turkish. Our son Joel is Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner – ‘Rehan’ is a dear friend of ours, originally from Pakistan. Those names represent countries we love and feel attached to. These names don’t represent loss – they represent gain. They tell a story. 

When we move to different countries there is a lot we leave behind, but there is a chance to change as well. There is a chance to reinvent ourselves, to start fresh. It’s a new beginning in every way. Does taking on a new name facilitate that change.

My friend from Haiti misses many things from her country of origin. But she chose to come here for various reasons. She also chose to take on the name Lola on the day she became a citizen. No one made her do it, she just did it.

What do you think? Do you go by a different name in other countries? Do you think we lose something when we change our names to adapt to the places where we live? 

Photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/name-nameplate-badges-trailers-441078/

Brain Drain to Brain Waste

Lady Liberty

“What did you do in your home country?” I asked.

I was speaking with a nursing assistant from Iraq. Nursing assistants help with patient care. They usually make beds, bring bed pans, and do general non-invasive patient care like bathing a patient.

“In my home country? In my home country I am a lawyer.”

This scenario is repeated all over the country, in every state, in every major city where there is a large immigrant population.

An immigrant’s country of origin is drained of those with degrees and skills desperately needed, only to come here and work at a job far below their educational level. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, chemists — none of them able to work within their chosen fields. So many of them are in jobs that will barely pay their bills and they are unable to complete the education that would allow them to work again in their respective fields.

I hear their stories in restaurants, in cabs, and in the patient navigator course that I teach twice a year. It’s a humble moment when you realize the gentleman from Cameroon that is taking your navigator course has two advanced degrees; or the woman from Senegal is a physician and you are teaching her about breast anatomy.

Researchers at Purdue University now have quantitative data that supports the stories I have heard for years. This team of researchers looked at census data from 1980 to 2009 and found that: ”

…the level of education of nearly half of immigrants was above the education requirements for their job, compared with one fourth of men born and living in the U.S. The prevalence of such “brain waste” exceeded 40 percent for immigrants with a bachelor’s degree, 50 percent for those with a doctoral or professional degree and 75 percent for those with a master’s degree. The overeducation prevalence for U.S. natives was 10-20 percentage points lower. Over time, immigrants find suitable jobs, but not to the extent of U.S. natives.*

The research has its weaknesses. For instance, women were not included in the study. The reason cited was their “complex labor market careers” during the period of time that was researched. Many women worked part time or did not work at all while raising families.

But overall the evidence of brain waste is irrefutable. 

The tragedy of this cannot be overestimated. There are .2 physicians per 1000 people in Afghanistan, while Afghan physicians work in kitchens in the United States. There are 2 teachers to every 1000 people in Ghana while Ghanaian teachers work in parking garages by day and struggle to learn English by night.

The hard thing about this post is that there are seemingly so few solutions. One thing we do know is that the better the language skills of the immigrant, the more likely they are to be able to find a job at their education level, so affordable English classes are critical. Another solution is to make the education and testing needed to meet the requirements of a particular field of study, for instance nursing, more reasonable and develop a mentor program so that people can be mentored in their field.

There is something else equally critical, something that we can address. Over and over I see Americans treating immigrants as though they are stupid. They ignorantly assume that limited language skills equals limited intellectual ability. I have watched interactions where someone who barely graduated from high school in the United States shouts at an immigrant and treats them poorly. This is inexcusable. I grew up outside the United States, and lived in two countries other than the U.S as an adult and I was never treated as stupid, despite my fractured and terrible language skills. Instead, I was encouraged to learn both Arabic and Urdu by both Egyptians and Pakistanis. Not only that, I was applauded for the baby steps I made in language learning.The rude behavior that is so prevalent in the United States toward non English speakers can and must change.

The first step in change is always awareness, so I offer a challenge: next time you are out to eat and you’re being served by a Latino, or Pakistani, or Ethiopian waiter, be reminded that you may be communicating with someone who has multiple degrees. Even if they don’t have multiple degrees, they are worthy as human beings. Next time you are in a cab, get into a conversation with the cab driver and find out more about their life. Next time someone with limited English skills speaks to you, whether to ask you a question or to serve you, encourage them and don’t dismiss them.  Next time someone talks about immigrants ruining the country, challenge them and make them give you facts on just how immigrants are ruining this country. 

While policy change around brain waste has to take place at an institutional and governmental level, behavior change depends on the individual. We can’t change people’s attitudes, but we can behave in ways that challenge their attitudes. 

“Whenever people talk in the abstract about the pros and cons of immigration, one should not forget that immigrants are individual human beings whose lives happen not to fit neatly within national borders – and that like all human beings, they are all different.
How different, though? Different better, or different worse? Such basic questions underlie whether people are willing to accept outsiders in their midst”
Philippe Legrain, Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them

*From “Attracting Global Talent and Then What? Overeducated Immigrants in the United States” 

Photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/statue-statue-of-liberty-freedom-470190/

Wrapping up the Week – January 17, 2015

I have some great reads to share with you today! These are pieces that resonated with my soul in many ways. From depression in an immigrant mom to a dying mom’s prayer, there is a lot to read and take in and process.

Excerpt: “The strain of burying the past, losing one identity and embracing another, can be overwhelming. Home is an indelible place. It is the landscape of unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in the psyche and call out across the years. When home is left behind, or shattered, an immense struggle often ensues to fill the void.

I was born in London to South African Jewish parents. We left almost immediately for South Africa, lived there for two years and returned to Britain. Although the word was never uttered, we were immigrants. Our priority was assimilation into Englishness. Pogroms and penury had been left far behind. The past was as silent as a village at the bottom of a dam.”

  • From Teenage Angst to Jihad: The Anger of Europe’s Young Marginalized Muslims by Abdelkader Benali in New York Times Opinion. This is a powerful piece that looks at the struggle of immigrant teenagers as they come of age and face people and opinions who they feel don’t understand where they are coming from. Jhumpa Lahiri talks about being raised by immigrant parents and says it’s like being raised in an alternate universe. It is a difficult journey for any teen in the western world to work through their identity. For the teenager who is an immigrant, there are some unique challenges.

Excerpt: Something snapped. I was 13 years old, dreaming of books and girls and nothing else — a healthy Dutch kid with a Moroccan background who freewheeled through life. Then something happened that made me feel different from the pack. One day in history class, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie became the subject. Our teacher talked about freedom of expression; I talked about insulting the Prophet. There was an awkward silence. What was that Abdelkader guy talking about? Fatwhat?

  • By Degrees – Living and Dying by Kara Tippetts. Trigger Warning: Tears, maybe sobs. A mom is dying and her husband does what he has to do – calls hospice. This is a beautiful, deeply vulnerable piece about dying – but also about living. Grab tea and tissues.

Excerpt:So, there it is. My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus- and He will provide it.

Excerpt: It is time to start examining our books, our traditions, our hearts. I don’t know what it will take for violence to end but I know one of the first steps needs to be developing compassion.

Compassion: to suffer with.

I don’t mean developing an emotion or an inner attitude of compassion. I mean active, engaged compassion. Intentional. In order to suffer with we have to look at each other and engage with each other. We have to know each other’s stories. In order to do that we have to get into relationships, we have to meet people. In order to do that we have to take the gigantic risk of stepping outside our homogenous circles.

On my night stand: I’m continuing with On Immunity by Eula Biss that I wrote about last week, but I’ve begun I am Malala and that is the book traveling with me to a wedding in Florida! I am loving reading about this young woman and her family. The things about Pakistan are both familiar and remind me how much I don’t know about this country.

Travel Quote: Today’s travel quote is from Robynn and it’s perfect! 

suitcases with quote

How about you? What have you read? Seen? Heard? Any new travel quotes? We would love to see them in the comment section.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/airport-travel-traveler-business-519020/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

The Importance of Moveable Pieces

foundation with quote

In a town in California, a small Serbian community gathers together on January 7th to celebrate Nativity — by shooting guns into the air. A short video taken from a news broadcast shows a community gathered, intent on keeping something from all that was lost, determined to keep traditions alive despite being a small diaspora. You hear the gun shots and laughter, see the pride on faces of community members — this is their time.

I have always been fascinated by communities of immigrants and how they make life work for them in new places. How they take pieces of their past and beautifully weave them into their present. I love the pride with which they share these traditions, set apart in a good way, confident in their collective identity though so much else is lost.

From shooting guns into the air on Nativity to making Lebkuchen on Christmas to curry dinners the day after Christmas, we take moveable pieces from those places we love and incorporate them into our new homes.

Where would we be without those moveable pieces? So much would be lost and moments of joy remembering what was would be absent.

Moveable pieces provide a thread of continuity through change. They offer tangible proof that what we had in the past was real and meaningful. Moveable pieces offer hope that our lives and hearts do not need to forget, rather they can remember with joy even as we move forward, resolute in our efforts to make a new life and new traditions.

Moveable pieces, though not made of brick or stone, are foundations that offer stability in the midst of change.

What are your moveable pieces? What things or traditions move with you, at the ready when you need them in your new home? 

Blogger’s note: I remember my mom telling me that in a life of movement, you need to pack things in your suitcase that can provide a sense of home wherever you are. I always packed a few framed pictures and candle sticks, so that the minute we arrived we would  have something tangible that said “We’re here. We can do this.” Moveable pieces.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/cologne-cathedral-foundation-105260/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Misplaced Identity and Belonging

In all the talk about ISIS one thing emerges – Western leaders are terrified and embarrassed that so many from their countries are joining forces with ISIS. It’s easy to point a finger when it is young men who are outside our borders raised in those countries we deem dangerous and breeding grounds for terrorism. It’s a hard call when the fingers point back at the west and hard questions need to be asked about why this life is appealing. Many of these recruits are born and raised in the United Kingdom or the United States, educated in schools in these countries. They are second or third generation immigrants, whose parents moved from their countries of origin for various reasons.

According to Harry Kitano (who did research on immigrant populations, primarily Asian American groups) many immigrants go through a process or a struggle between two powerful desires:  the desire to retain their native ethnic identity vs. the desire to “become” American.  Many times the individual is not consciously aware of these conflicting desires.   Through research, Kitano developed four “types” to describe where immigrants may be on an acculturation continuum.

  • Type A – High in assimilation and low in ethnic identity.  For all intents and purposes, the immigrant has internalized the lifestyle, values, language and culture of mainstream America.
  • Type B – High in assimilation and high in ethnic identity.  This group includes the truly bilingual and bicultural immigrant, able to move between his original and new American cultural groups comfortably and successfully.
  • Type C – High in ethnic identity and low in assimilation.  The newly arrived immigrant best typifies this category.  Also, immigrants who have lived here a long time, but spent most of their lives in an ethnic enclave perhaps never learning to speak fluent English (e.g., the Italian North End neighborhood of Boston or a city’s Chinatown) would also be considered part of this group.
  • Type D – Low in ethnic identity and low in assimilation.  This group is described as being alienated from both the ethnic and the American communities. (Kitano, 1989)*

Kitano’s work is of great value to help explain cultural conflicts that may occur in the different generations of an extended family of immigrants, all at different levels of acculturation. Perhaps Kitano’s work could also help explain the attraction of ISIS to the disenfranchised, the cynical, the outsider – the one who is Type D.

In a recent article looking at why ISIS has been so successful recruiting westerners I read these words:

“So what is it about ISIS and its uncanny ability to recruit Westerners? Here are five methods the group employs:

It preys on a recruit’s sense of identity

The recruits are often young — sometimes disillusioned teenagers trying to find purpose and make their mark.

For many, it boils down to a lack of a sense of identity or belonging, Barrett said.

“The general picture provided by foreign fighters of their lives in Syria suggests camaraderie, good morale and purposeful activity, all mixed in with a sense of understated heroism, designed to attract their friends as well as to boost their own self-esteem,”

The article goes on to talk about other reasons why westerners leave their supposed lives of comfort in the U.S or other wealthier, western countries including sophisticated propaganda and high-tech media usage, appealing to a sense of religious duty, and several more but it is this first one that I continue to come back to based on the research I cited above.

It strikes me that these recruits would fit the category of Type D in assimilation. They have been raised in an alternate universe where the culture of their immigrant parents and the dominant culture are worlds apart. They don’t fit with either and so they are desperate to belong, desperate to have purpose. And as wrong as this is, as terrifying as this is, these men are finding a way to fill that longing. It’s a misplaced identity and belonging.

If we are created for connection than we will go to extremes to find that connection. If we are created for purpose, we will look to find that purpose wherever we can. And these recruits are finding purpose in spades. It’s wrong. The actions of the group are evil, but they have provided primarily young men, raised in the west, with something to believe in.

I think we’ve failed. I am not negating personal responsibility, personal choices were made and must be acknowledged, but I think we often fail our immigrant kids. And the more the culture of the immigrant differs from western culture, the more difficult it is for immigrant families to feel a part of life in their communities in the west.

We can do better. I can do better. In my own community the alleged Boston Marathon bomber went to school, played, participated in sports activities. And something changed. He ended up believing in a cause that brought on death, pain, and suffering of hundreds, perhaps thousands. He sits in a jail cell awaiting a trial while juries even now are receiving their summons to fulfill their civic duty through the notorious Boston Marathon bombing case. Just blocks from our apartment, another young man whose mom is an immigrant from Ethiopia has also been indicted in the Marathon bombing for hiding evidence.

We can do better. Especially people who hold to Biblical values of justice and loving our neighbors. Who are the disenfranchised in your towns and cities? Who are the immigrant kids who are lost between worlds? Who are the parents who are struggling to get by even as they watch the values they hold dear trampled on by the dominant culture? Can we reach out? Can we forget ourselves for a moment and extend a hand to the ‘other‘?

Will this make a difference? I don’t know – but if the likes of ISIS are willing to reach out and meet the need for belonging, the need for a sense of purpose then we must do better. We must try. 

We can do better. I know we can. 

Source: Communicating Across Boundaries Curriculum adapted by Marilyn R. Gardner and Cathy Romeo, 2009 from Unit III – Beliefs and Barriers.