Immigration: the unforgivable sin?

When I share the story of how brutal the path to citizenship is for us, people are often shocked.

We are not what people have in mind when they think of ‘immigrants.’  We are white. We speak English. We have graduate level degrees. And yet even for us, as documented workers, it sometimes seems nearly impossible that we will be able to gain permanent residency. The path is so much narrower and steeper than people realize, so we speak up.

I speak up because I would love legal residency to be more easily within our reach. As a mom, it would give me so much peace of mind to know we could continue to build a life in the U.S. with our children. But mostly, I speak up because I can. As a legal immigrant, I have a first-hand perspective on just how harsh the current legislation can be, and I also have the freedom to speak about it without fear of being deported.

And so I speak and write in favor of equitable and reasonable immigration reform. I believe it is the right thing to do ethically, and it is the wise thing to do socially and economically. However, whenever I raise the issue I am met with this response: “We’re not objecting to you — because you got here legally and have obeyed all the laws. We are objecting to all the law-breakers who are here illegally: if they disrespected the law, they should not be rewarded for it!”

I am never quite sure how to respond.(Read the rest over at Sojourners….)

The Case for Excommunication

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This was meant to be a no-blogging week, but I have a story to tell and now is the time to tell it.

Why now?

Well, last week Leadership Journal published an article written by a former youth pastor and convicted sexual predator entitled “My Easy Trip From Youth Minister to Felon“. I do not want to detail the ins and outs of the article, and to their credit – Leadership Journal took the article down and issued an apology.

(If you do want some quick background, though, I would refer you to the hashtags #takedownthatpost and #howoldwereyou on Twitter if you would like to read up on the outcry for justice that erupted after this post. Also, I would commend to you Karen Swallow Prior’s #HowOldWereYou: Origins of a Heartbreaking Hashtag and Halee Gray Scott’s To Publish a Predator. If you read nothing else on this topic, read those two.)

This is not a post about sexual predators in the church, though. This is a post to say that at times like this, I want to make a case for us to take the Bible’s words about church discipline, or excommunication, to heart.

In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus spoke about how we were to deal with situations where a Christian sins against another – calling for an increasing number of witnesses and publicity if the person does not repent. If the person did not fully repent, Jesus said to treat them as “a Gentile or a tax collector” (in other words, outside of the worshiping community). Such a public “binding” would be reflective of a heavenly binding, said Jesus: the words we speak corporately against egregious deeds echo in the heavens.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, Paul wrote to a church where some had been caught in terrible sexual sin – and the community had done nothing about it. Paul had strong words for this church, who had “become arrogant and had not mourned instead, so that the one who did this would be removed from your midst.” Rather than turn a blind eye, they should have spoken up and dealt with the couple – excluding them from fellowship to show them the grievous nature of what they had done. This expulsion, or “handing over to Satan”, was hoped to show the offender the seriousness of what they had done, in the hopes that the “wake up call” would bring them to repentance (v5).

Furthermore, Paul says, to fail to exclude them from fellowship would mean that the church was keeping a breeding evil in its midst: it would be keeping “leaven in a lump of dough” – a combination which could only lead to further spiritual and moral fermentation (v6-7).

Waste no time: said the Apostle. Deal with this kind of stuff swiftly.

I am not unaware of some of the incredible difficulties that might come from putting this into practice. Abusive and cult-like churches can quickly turn these passages into licenses for witch-hunts and a paranoid control of others’ lives. In addition to the problems of the abuse of this practice, there is also the problem of discerning when it should be applied: should all young couples who are known to be engaging in pre-marital sex be called out? What about those who download pirated movies? Or use their cellphones while driving?

We are always in danger of hypocrisy here: none of us are without sin; none of us qualified to throw the first stone. The threats of being piecemeal, hypocritical and partisan are tremendous, not to mention the damage we fear it would do to the church’s reputation as a place of grace and welcome. How would we communicate grace if our community knew we were people who sometimes singled out unrepentant sinners?

These considerations are enough to stymie almost every church I know into a position of passivity in the face of gross sin. But when I read this last week’s articles – I was reminded of a story I want to tell.

I once attended a church where someone was excommunicated. The situation was this: an elder in our church had decided to abandon his wife. I knew the couple well, and his behavior tore our community apart. Those who served with him and under him in church were angry and felt betrayed. Those who loved them both were hurt and bewildered. Those who watched his young wife respond with an almost impossible amount of grace and strength were heartbroken. We all felt so helpless. Our pastor spoke with him: he would not change his mind. A few more elders went to see him a second time: he would still not change his mind. And finally, after much prayer and consideration, a closed meeting of church members only was called after one Sunday morning service – and in it, our leaders announced that he was officially being removed from our church community as a response to his behavior.

Granted: the man was not there and did not hear what was said (he received a letter informing him of the decision after the fact). Granted: he could easily have attended the church around the corner who would have been none the wiser about what had happened behind our closed doors. BUT those 10 minutes of church discipline (the only I have ever seen enacted in my 30+ years of church attendance) made a significant etch on my soul – for in that moment, our community named what he did as unacceptable. We called it sin. We took a side. Doing so brought a clarity and a relief to our hurting community who had felt so helpless in the face of someone who had been causing hurt. We said “that’s not okay, and God says it’s not okay,” and just the saying of it made a difference.

I am reminded of this one incident, more than a dozen years ago, when I read of pastors committing sexual offenses against parishioners in their churches.

Yes, they should be prosecuted by law. Yes, they should be fired.

But for the health of our communities – they should also be excommunicated. There is healing in a hurting community standing together and saying “that is NOT right, and we will not have it here.” It is an extreme thing to do- but it occurs to me that in these extreme cases which cause extreme pain, it is appropriate. The hurting church is not without remedy to call out evil.

And more than that: I believe the Gospel demands it.

 

The post I don’t want to write, and you don’t want to read (but we must)

I was one of the first people I knew to get a cellphone in the 90’s: a sleek black Nokia about the size of a pencil case. It could make and receive calls, and when texting became available a few years later – I texted on it too.

And for 17 years, that was all I needed my cellphone to do.

But then last year, my sisters bullied persuaded my Dad into buying me a smart phone, since I wasn’t willing to make the change. “We stay in touch through apps,” they said, “and we don’t want you to be left out.” And so I got a phone. With apps. And it was wonderful.

The arrival of a smart phone also meant the arrival of some other things: the ability to get driving directions whenever and whereever! the ability to put my earbuds in and speak to my family overseas via skype for free while driving long distances, with sound quality as good as if they were sitting in the passenger seat next to me! the ability to check the opening time of the local pool, or the start time of a movie before heading over there! wonderful!

But also: the ability to check my facebook updates when I stopped at a traffic light, and the ability to see if that email reply I’d been waiting for had come in, and the ability to see what witty and wonderful things had been posted on twitter. At first, it was the occasional check. But with the weeks passing by, I found myself driving with my phone in hand more and more often. Not calling on it, or texting on it, but just… you know… checking.

Friends – I say with shame that this is the DUMBEST HABIT I have ever developed in my life: and after the second or third time I had an “oops” moment where I had to suddenly veer  back after drifting into another lane, or screech to a halt behind someone who put a turning arrow on, alarm bells began to go off. It was just a matter of time before the “that was close!” moment became an “it’s too late” one.

Last year I fell off my bike. I was going about 3 miles per hour and was new to riding a road bike with clip-in pedals. I didn’t clip out fast enough, and I toppled over and smacked into my driveway. I was nearly stationary, and the weight of the fall was just me and my super-light bike – but it hurt like the BLAZES and I sported a bruise for weeks. Also, last year, my daughter fell off her 1-foot-off-the-ground bed… and broke her elbow.

If falling off a stationary bike or rolling off a 1-foot-high bed could cause such damage – WHO WAS I KIDDING that driving a two ton speed of metal at 30 miles per hour wasn’t going to cause SIGNIFICANT pain and suffering to my loved ones (and others’ loved ones!) if I were to get into an accident. Even at low speeds. Even just a fender bender.

And then yesterday, this video started to go viral – which hammered the point home even more:

Whoa.

I am an addict and I know it. But in the spirit of being proactive and responsible and a LIFE-SAVER and a parent, this is the plan I have come up with:

When I buckle myself into my car, I pick up my phone and scroll to the settings menu. I select “cellular”, and it looks like this:

 

20140610-094243-34963075.jpgAnd then, I make it look like this:

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No internet on the road? That means no social media on the road.

Easiest thing ever. Or easier yet – put it in airplane mode.

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Or turn it off.

Please.

Please.

(I’m so sorry it took me this long).

But Please, do this with me. It can be our safe driving covenant, okay?

 

Tattoos and Cardigans {Jamie Hanauer}

Today’s post is from my friend Jamie Calloway-Hanauer. I am deeply honored that she was willing to share this here.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Once upon a time, I was young.

I thought all the admonishments, advice, and wisdom of my elders would not apply to my life, and I shook off their words.

I believed but didn’t always live prayerfully.

I thought through things as wisely as I could, often better than most, but youth does have its shortcomings.

I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen. A friend performed the task, in my living room, using a hollowed Bic pen, thread, India ink and a guitar string. I was in a band then (Christian punk), and each member got the same x-eyed smiley face to commemorate our commitment to one another.

I received my second and third tattoos when I was seventeen. Fairly well done, this time by a different friend, using an actual pro gun, once again in my living room.

The fourth I got at age eighteen. This time in a professional shop, done by an elderly man whose hand shook towards the end.

The fifth and sixth I got as an adult—a parent and law student at the time, you might think I would have known better.

But I didn’t.

Truth is, I very much like tattoos of a certain variety (the Sailor Jerry type). I find them attractive and I often like the stories that they tell about those who bear them.

What I failed to consider as recently as eleven years ago, however, is that no matter how much we rail against it in our youth, we do actually grow up. And buy minivans. And join the PTA. And wear wedding gowns and become bridesmaids and take the children to the park in hot weather. We attend church picnics and pool parties and workout in gyms. And—surprise!—people will see us during these times.

And people will judge.

Tattoos have become commonplace in my generation. I served on the PTA with women (and men) who had a few. After getting to know someone well, the presence of a little (or a lot) of ink usually goes unnoticed. But in those first moments, that first glance, or even when wearing a short-sleeved Easter dress for the first time to a church you’ve attended for eleven years, eyes travel to the vivid color on pale skin, and minds begin to calculate (or recalculate) just exactly who it is they are talking to.

And believe it or not, I don’t like this. I don’t like the knee-jerk assessment, the reassessment, or the stoic attempts to be “accepting.” And so by the time I hit 30, I’d learn to invest, heavily, in cardigans.

Thankfully I live in Berkeley. That has multiple benefits, one being that it is, well, Berkeley, and the other that it’s fairly cool here year-round. Most women carry a sweater with them at all times, and so my long sleeves in July warrant nary a glance.

We are, however, about to move to DC, a place not known for its temperate climate. I will be making new friendships, new first impressions, searching for a new church, and in general trying to develop a new community with whom to laugh, cry, and pray over the coming decades.

That isn’t something to enter lightly.

I wonder: should I or shouldn’t I? Meaning, should I swelter in the August heat until I’ve solidified my “personality” and good graces? Or should I live in relative physical comfort and risk being labeled a “type?”

Some might say, “Who wants to be friends with those who would judge or ‘type’ you anyway?” If only life were that easy. I have children. I have a spouse. As an adult, friendships are often born of what your children choose to do on Saturdays, or where you/your spouse finds employment.

Over the last seven years, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say in incredulous tones, “You have tattoos? You?? You are the LAST person I ever expected to have tattoos.” This statement comes from a belief that a mini-van driving, church attending, faith writing, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-partying mom of four would ever, EVER, think to get a little (or a lot) of ink.

They are both right and wrong. Would I today, being the person who I am, get tattoos? No, I wouldn’t. Do I regret, being the person who I am today, having gotten them? I would say, emphatically, yes. Does that have to do with me and how I feel about tattoos or how others do? Sometimes the line gets blurred and something born of societal influence becomes an “I’m doing it for me” type thing, but in reality the chicken and the egg have become a bit confused.

There are those who wear their tattoos as a badge of God-accepts-me-and-you-should-too honor. I believe that, but that’s not who I am. I don’t want second looks, discussions of a past life, assumptions of a present life, or a walk through Leviticus. I just want to be.

A friend once prayed for me that I would know I am more than “tattoos and cardigans.” As I move from my well-established home here in Berkeley to a life full of new friends, new church, play dates, and summers spent at the pool, I find that prayer coming back to me time and again. I have taken bold steps already—I purchased some new cap-sleeve dresses. I put a picture of my largest tattoo on Facebook (much to my mother’s dismay) and answered honestly when someone who I’ve known for years asked whose arm it was on.

I’m echoing daily my friend’s prayer for my life, and I’m getting closer to baring it all. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to throw in the cardigan.

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a work-at-home mom of four—two under five, one in college, and one called away too soon, for whom the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” was surely written. After practicing law for eight years, Jamie has put that chapter of life behind her and begun a new chapter of editing, writing, and considering whether or not she should donate all her suits to charity. Be sure to check out her blog where she writes pseudo-weekly on the absurd, the ironic, and the faithful, and connect with her on Facebook or on Twitter.