Let us then try what love will do. – William Penn
Last weekend I attended a “Jericho Walk” – around the Manchester Federal building where folks are required to report for ICE check ins (perhaps to be deported). These days are complicated for me – both filled with Joy and Hope that so may come out in solidarity, and yet so filled with despair for what our government is doing right now. There are many aspects to this issue – but certainly, God’s children are being persecuted.
This day was a little different. I was at the back of the line, and a man I had not seen before, without a sign or clergy garb, jumped in, He began to ask Friend Mark a lot of questions about what we were doing, and why, and who we thought we were helping.
It was soon clear from his framing of the questions that he had a different view than us on the walk. He tended to use “facts” about immigration that embraced stereotypes, and were not based in the real world experience of us and people we knew. Mark respectfully listened, and calmly presented another view. As the questions got more forceful, I also jumped in and shared my experience, and that of others I knew personally. A third walker with us jumped into the conversation later on, again providing alternative responses to this man’s deeply held views.
At the onset of this, the man asked Mark “So, do you expect the walls here to fall down, after you walk around seven times?” Mark had a great answer – that he “hoped perhaps walls wouldn’t physically fall, but that hearts would be changed. That would be even more welcome and dramatic.”
I think this was a lesson for me. This person who jumped in and starting asking questions kept talking. He was respectful, and listened to our answers (even if he didn’t agree with them). We learned he was a construction worker on his way to work, he’d stopped when he saw us, and wanted to find out more. He said he was a Christian, and did not dispute Jesus’ call to love all, but had a concern about government systems being overwhelmed. He had taught overseas, and had traveled. We were not going to change his opinion. He was not going to change our call. But, I hope that we modeled some sort of speaking hard truths in Love that day.
To be clear: I’m not calling for us to be “nice” and allow untruths and abuse to happen. We must always be clear to prevent discrimination and abuse when we see it. But to do this while being grounded in Love, to recognize that of God in the enemy as well as friends, seems also important to me. Perhaps this fellow will not change his views. Perhaps the next time he sees a story on the news, or goes to vote, he will think about what we said, in the quiet, and his heart may be changed. That is not my responsibility. Mine is to witness, to speak, to show up.
This call for a better future, a safe and better planet and kingdom of God, involves us all. I can’t be on the “winning” side of justice without acknowledging there are more than two sides. I must model this path of love for my neighbor, not just the ones being oppressed, but the oppressors as well. To remove the systems of oppression, to help others create a new way, has to involve us all somehow. It’s hard, and I’m not sure how to do that without anger most of the time.