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Signs of the Times  •  26 January 2017  •  No. 106

Processional. “What good is love and peace on earth? / When it's exclusive? / Where's the truth in the written word? / If no one reads it / A new day dawning / Comes without warning / So don't blink twice / We live in troubled times.” —Green Day, “Troubled Times” (Thanks Michael.)



Strangers & aliens

Special issue on immigrants and refugees

Introduction. The age of trumphoolery has begun. Our new "America First" president has come out of the gate swinging, with executive orders severely restricting Muslim immigration, threatening deportation of undocumented residents, ordering construction of the Mexican border wall, rescinding a provision that would have lowered the cost of mortgage insurance for lower and middle class home buyers—not to mention declaring the day of his inauguration a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.”

Right: Greenpeace activists hold an anti-Trump protest as they display a banner reading ‘Resist’ from a construction crane near the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 25, 2017. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

        Few things in Scripture are clearer than how “strangers” and “aliens”—immigrants and refugees—are to be treated. It’s time for communities of faith to make this clear and join with other people of conscience to insist on appropriate public policies. —kls

¶ Invocation. “You shall also love the stranger [non-citizen], for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” —Deuteronomy 10:19. See “Strangers and aliens” for a collection of biblical texts relating to immigrants

Call to worship. “Gracious One, who jealously guards the lives of those at every edge, we lift our heavy hearts to your Mercy. We live in a fretful land, anxious over the ebbing away of privilege, fearful that strangers are stealing our birthright, aliens breaching borders, refugees threatening security. Loud, insistent voices demand a return to ‘the rule of law.’ Speak to us of the Rule of your law, the terms of your Reign. Incline our hearts to your command.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “You shall also love the stranger,” a litany for worship using texts on immigrants

¶ “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien” (Leviticus 19:33).

Good news. “First came the mayors of New York, Chicago and Seattle declaring their cities ‘sanctuaries’ and saying they will protect undocumented immigrants from President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to deport them. Then thousands of students, professors, alumni and others at elite universities signed petitions asking their schools to protect undocumented students from any executive order. Now, religious congregations, including churches and synagogues, are declaring themselves 'sanctuaries' for immigrants fleeing deportation.” —Elizabeth Evans and Yonat Shimron, “ ‘Sanctuary churches’ vow to shelter immigrants from Trump crackdown,” Religion News Service

Hymn of praise. “For the wretched of the earth / There is a flame that never dies. / Even the darkest night will end / And the sun will rise. / They will live again in freedom / In the garden of the Lord. / They will walk behind the plough-share, / They will put away the sword.” Les Miserables Finale (Thanks Thom.)

“Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.” In 2005, a volunteer sorting old World War II refugee files in New York City came upon a dramatic discovery.

        “Oh my God,” she said, “this is the Anne Frank file.” Along with the letter were many others by Otto Frank, frantically seeking help to flee Nazi persecution and obtain a visa to America, Britain or Cuba—but getting nowhere because of global indifference to Jewish refugees.

Right: This 1941 cartoon by Dr. Seuss was in reaction to the fact that most Americans opposed Adolph Hitler’s anti-Jew policies while also being opposed to granting safe haven to refugee Jews.

        • The New York Times in 1938 quoted the granddaughter of President Ulysses S. Grant warning about “so-called Jewish refugees” and hinting that they were Communists “coming to this country to join the ranks of those who hate our institutions and want to overthrow them.”
        • President Obama vowed to admit into the US 10,000 Syrian refugees. [The actual total was increased to 12,000.] But that number is less than one-fifth of 1% [.0002] of the total.
        • “‘When the safety of the country is imperiled, it seems fully justifiable to resolve any possible doubts in favor of the country, rather than in favor of the aliens,’ the State Department instructed in 1941.” Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

Watch this brief clip (4:26) about Emma Lazarus, German-Jewish immigrant, who wrote the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

Christians only. President Trump’s executive order halting immigration from select Muslim-majority countries “orders the secretary of state and the secretary of homeland security to prioritize those who are persecuted members of religious minorities, effectively ensuring that Christians living in predominantly Muslim countries would be at the top of the list.” —For more, see Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Trump Blocks Syrian Refugees and Orders Mexico Border Wall To Be Built,” New York Times

Left: A Ku Klux Klan march in the 1920s in Binghamton, New York, then the Klan's state headquarters.

For a summary of the tortured political history of the phrase “America First,” see Lily Rothman’s “The Long History Behind Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ Foreign Policy,” Time.

Confession. “Mother, mother / There's too many of you crying / Brother, brother, brother / There's far too many of you dying / You know we've got to find a way / To bring some lovin' here today.” —Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On

¶ "Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against . . . those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 3:5).

Short story. “Some of you may recall hearing the story of Manuel Jesus Cordova. While sneaking across the border from Mexico, Cordova happened to find a 9-year-old boy, Christopher Buchleitner of Rimrock, Az,, alone and injured in the desert. Christopher and his mom had been in a single-car accident when their van went over a cliff on a remote road in southern Arizona. His mother had been killed, and Christopher went looking for help. Cordova gave the boy his sweater and some chocolate and built a fire to warm the boy. It was that fire that drew the attention of the border patrol. Authorities say Christopher would likely have died had Cordova not stopped to protect him.
        “Cordova was honored for the rescue by US and Mexican officials at a border crossing station. Then he was arrested by federal agents and returned to Mexico.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Out of the house of slavery: A Bible study on immigration

Right: Sign at the Women's March in Portland, Maine.

¶ “Even as researchers find that the foreign-born commit fewer crimes than their native-born peers, the perception that immigrants are uniquely crime-prone permeates public and political discourse.” Dianca E. Bersani and Alex R. Piquero, Los Angeles Times (Thanks Billie.)

Words of assurance. “When God imagined me / the Trinity was in harmony / I was no afterthought, no oversight.” — Alana Levandoski “When God Imagined Me” (Thanks Lenora.)

For more analysis and ideas for action

            • Sign the pledge opposing deportations. “As people of faith and people of conscience, we pledge to resist the newly elected administration’s policy proposals to target and deport millions of undocumented immigrants and discriminate against marginalized communities. We will open up our congregations and communities as sanctuary spaces for those targeted by hate, and work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people.”

        • One short video (6:07), using gumballs, to clarify US humanitarian response to global immigration and poverty.

        • To find written resources, a list of local coalitions of groups working on sanctuary, visit the “Sanctuary Not Deportation” website.

        • See this concise summary, “Key points in Trump’s immigration executive orders,” Tal Kopan & Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

        • “What Trump’s Executive Orders on Immigration Mean for Cities,” Tanvi Misra, citylab

        • “Dear President Trump and Members of Congress. As religious leaders from a variety of backgrounds, we are called by our sacred texts and faith traditions to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner. War, conflict and persecution have forced people to leave their homes, creating more refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people than at any other time in history. More than 65 million people are currently displaced–the largest number in recorded history.” —Signed by over 800 religious leaders, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition has reopened for signatures its earlier letter. Add your signature.

¶ “Strategies for Hope,” by Rev. William Barber. Best 3 minutes you’ll spend all year. You may remember Barber’s stem-winding speech at the Democratic National Convention. He’s a pastor, head of the NC NAACP and of the Moral Monday Movement. (For the video, scroll down to the second photo.)

This weekend, here in my own modest-sized city (Asheville, NC), more than 120 people from 20 faith communities and eight civic groups are registered for training on providing sanctuary to the undocumented. Ours is not an uncommon story.

Hymn of intercession. “Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights / What did they think the politics of panic would invite? / Person in the street shrugs—‘Security comes first’ / But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” —Bruce Cockburn, “The Trouble With Normal” (Thanks Thom.)

By the numbers. Cost of Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall. The cost of building such a wall has been estimated at least $12 billion and perhaps $15 billion for a single-layer barrier. Roughly a third of the U.S.-Mexico border is currently blocked by a fence. According to an eight-year-old estimate by the Government Accountability Office, the border fence cost the government $3-$4 million a mile to build. Estimates for additional fencing—in harsher terrain—could surpass $10 million a mile." —“ ‘A Nation Without Borders Is Not a Nation’: Trump Moves Forward With US-Mexico Wall,” Bill Chappell, Tamara Keith & Merrit Kennedy, NPR

Preach it. Listen to Maya Angelou recite her poem, “And Still I Rise.”

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Our side, the conservative side, needs to reeducate its people that we own the entire [biblical] tradition." —Representative Dave Brat (R-VA), responding to President Obama’s quoting of Scripture during a news conference in response to Republican resistance to accept Syrian refugees. —Jordan Fabian, The Hill

Call to the table. “I was born to endure this kind of weather / When it's you I find like a ghost in my mind / I am defeated and I gladly wear the crown.” —First Aid Kit, “Emmylou

The state of our disunion. The US contribution to the Syrian refugee resettlement crisis is impressive at $5.1 billion. But if you calculate each contributing nation’s portion on a per capita basis, the US total represents only $16 per person. Norway, on the other hand, contributes $240 per citizen, Germany $32, the UK $26. Kim Hjelmgaard and Valeria Criscione, USA Today

For the beauty of the earth. Full moon rising over Mt. Victoria Lookout, Willington, New Zealand. (Thanks Paul. 3:45 video, accompanied by Dan Phillipson’s “Tenderness” instrumental)

Left: The Refugee Art Project

“Enter the ladies.” The best biblical-theological commentary I’ve seen about the historic Women’s March on Washington (and 599 other cities in the US and around the world) is that of Rabbi Joanna Samuels, commenting on Exodus 1:8ff, “Then a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

Altar call. “You gotta move / You gotta move / You gotta move, child / You gotta move / Oh, when the Lord gets ready / You gotta move.” —Mississippi Fred McDowell, “You Gotta Move

Benediction. You who were formerly illegal aliens and undocumented workers in Creation’s midst are no longer strangers and aliens, but members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19, adapted)

Right: Art on the US-Mexican border wall. Photo by Sarah Strosahl-Kagi. The writing translates the first part of a quote from Frederick Buechner: The resurrection of Jesus signifies that "the worst thing is not the last thing." [The rest of the quote: "It's the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It's the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring."]

Recessional. Japanese jazz band plays “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

Lectionary for Sunday next. “I’m really tired of your smells and bells and frills and thrills."
        From the hollow of the Most High thunders the complaint of Heaven against every piety peddler. Good God a’Mighty, when we say our hail marys, our thank-you-jesuses and our god-bless-americaswhy don’t you tip your hat and offer a prize?!
        “Your prayer breakfasts don’t cut it, given the way you treat school teachers and ICE-hounded immigrants.” —“Riff on Isaiah five-eight,” a litany for worship inspired by Isaiah 58

Just for fun. Four cellists, one instrument. Wiener Cello Ensemble playing Maurice Revel’s “Bolero.”

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “You shall also love the stranger,” a litany for worship, using texts on immigrants

• “Out of the house of slavery,” a Bible study on immigration

• “Strangers and aliens,” a collection of biblical texts relating to immigrants

•“Mamrean encounter: A meditation on the threat of refugees, the burden of strangers and the bounty of God,” a poem

• “Riff on Isaiah five-eight,” a litany for worship inspired by Isaiah 58

©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

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