Of The Empire
by Mary Oliver
We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.
I didn’t want to write on this issue. Not yet. I don’t feel like I’ve done enough research, I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s going on, and I don’t know the laws all that well.
I also don’t know how to begin to describe how utterly disgusted I am at people’s greed and ignorance, and I absolutely cannot find a way to express how deeply it wounds my heart that human beings are viewed only through the lens of our very flawed, soon-to-collapse-just-like-all-empires-before-us (looking-a-little-too-much-like-the-last-days-of-rome) empire. Empire cares nothing for individuals. Empire cares for power and money.
They say we have an immigration problem. I say that’s nothing new (as Jon Stewart says, we’re a nation of immigrants who hate the newer immigrants) They say they’ll take our jobs. I say they already got your jobs when your business was outsourced because money. They say “not our kids, not our problem,” and this is where I can’t think clearly about what I want to say because Jesus’ words are too loud: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, …. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
I like to think that this is enough reason for Christians to respond to such current issues with love for our neighbor, hospitality to the stranger, and generosity to anyone in need. When I hear of protests to those crossing “our” borders for safety, when I hear of the outrage against human beings seeking protection from threats to their lives and daily well-being on “our” land, and when I hear statements and remarks from my own home-state’s governor dripping with disdain for people who just want a chance to live and see their children live, I am filled with grief. Grief that our politics matters more than our gospel.
A few things to keep in mind for those individuals:
1) Most of Americans today are here because of immigration or slavery. And I don’t recall the first settlers requesting citizenship by the laws of the natives then. I also would like to call into question how much the law has to do with the justice of the circumstance anyway – crossing the border undocumented is illegal, yet bringing thousands and thousands of slave workers against their will was at one time legal?
2) We think we belong here and they don’t in this “great nation” when the reason this nation exists as it is today is because of our ancestors’ genocide of one entire people group and the mass enslavement of another? (p.s. Don’t tell me this nation was founded on Christian principles)
3) We haven’t been in their shoes. We’ve never had to go through the immigration process. We’ve never experienced such fearful circumstances in our own nation. We’ve no right to make judgments on their lives and their well-being.
4) I don’t recall any references in our Bible to strangers and aliens that do not include instructions to welcome and offer hospitality to them. If we fear what it will cost us as individuals or as a nation to provide that to those who need it, we need to find another model to follow besides Jesus, because as far as I understand, the path that follows him requires extensive sacrifice on our part as we put the “other” above ourselves. This national attitude is unfortunately an accurate reflection of us as individuals as we hoard and store and put away, never to share with those who really need it because what if we may need it later? Us first. What about storing treasures in heaven? What good will it do you when it all rotted away and someone needed it all along? Someone that wasn’t you because you already had plenty for the present? WHY DO I HAVE SEVEN COATS WHEN TOO MANY PEOPLE HAVE NONE?
5) And finally, here’s a thought which you will hear again if you watch the trailer below: in regards to them taking our jobs, they already have our jobs. They’re already growing our food and mining our minerals and sewing our clothes. Wouldn’t we rather it be in the safety of our borders under our supervision in circumstances and environments we can control? I don’t wish this to be an excuse for injustices on our part, and I know there’s already unjust work situations on our land as we utilize undocumented immigrants for cheap labor, but I also believe it to be a testament to how these individuals are willing to do anything and how far they are willing to go to provide better opportunities for their families. It is a step forward from child labor in Honduras or Indonesia.
I am far too concerned with me and mine at the expense of others. I don’t want to be remembered as a nation that denied safety and opportunity to others. And I know some want to say but there’s a right way to do it! Just come over legally! It’s not that hard! But I also know that the majority of people I hear that from have never gone through that bureaucratic process of paying thousands of dollars (if they could afford it), waiting months and months at a time, and then being rejected for any number of reasons. Yes, I agree, there is a right way to do it, but clearly the way we have available is not it if it’s not working. We always want to point fingers and talk about what they’re doing wrong and how it’s everyone else, immigrants from every other nation, even though we’re the only common factor. Again I say, clearly this process is faulted.
This trailer below documents this very issue from a faith perspective. I haven’t seen it yet, but will have my hands on a copy soon. I encourage us all to question our opinions on a regular basis. We all like to think we have it right. But what harm is it to consider another way? I would never have believed I would be saying these things five years ago. But the more I learn and the more I understand of my scriptures, the more I expand my understanding of God and this world, and I realize that both are far bigger than I or the knowledge I attain will ever comprehend.