The police surrounded the rotunda of the Russell office building as we prepared to march into the center space. As we read out prophetic messages from various saints on All Saints Day the police began their warnings of an unlawful assembly. We were standing there together as illegal residents of the space. The arrests began shortly into our scheduled readings. We were being taken one by one, seemingly at random. As those left behind, we tried to focus on our prayers and singing but found it hard to focus as our group began to shrink and we were left wondering who would be taken next. We continued in song and at times we sang loudly and proudly but at other times our voices seemed to lose some of its strength and focus. With each person taken, our grips on one another became firmer and our circle became smaller. We instinctively shrank into one another, both a moment of empowerment and pointless hiding. When it was my time to be taken away I continued singing as the arresting officer told me why I was being arrested. I nodded in understanding and was taken away.
This was all known beforehand. We had spoken with the police letting them know we were going to disobey the law and that we were willing to be arrested. We informed them that we would be nonviolent. Since I went in knowing I would be arrested I didn’t expect the atmosphere to seem as heavy as it was. But something happens when you say you will stand with others. Something happens when you use your voice to speak with those who are crying for mercy and justice. As your story begin to intertwine with others your perspective changes. What we went in expecting to be a minor inconvenience became a opportunity to see the world through the eyes of others. We went in surrounded by police, knowing they would take us. But many people live their lives in constant fear, never knowing when the officers surrounding them will come and take them or their family members. We went in knowing that even though we would be separated we would see one another later. But many have no clue when, if ever, they will reconnect with their loved ones. As I was being taken away, the stories I had heard of people living in fear and loved ones being taken away came flooding into my mind. My perspective changed in that moment and those stories became a little more real for me. We have seen from various saints and from our savior that to stand with the marginalized means you begin to become marginalized.
In general American Christianity has not done a great job with this truth. We have desired to be seen as a Christian nation and the American Empire, uncertain of whether our path is to follow the way of Jesus or of Rome. We have not been able to see how counter those things are to one another. Connected to this point, we have not done a good job of remembering our own history. Neither as a nation nor as a faith. As a country of immigrants we struggle to pass humane immigration policies. As people who were brought into God’s covenant and grafted in (Rom. 11:17-22), we struggle with offering a branch to others. As American Christians we read scripture as the insiders. We have learned to read the Psalms and the prophets as our own. We have learned to read ourselves as the disciples, those in Jesus’ inner circle. Some of us have even learned to read ourselves as Jesus. But we are not God’s chosen people, we are the Gentiles. We are the outsiders. We are those people that these insiders struggled to welcome in. We are the people that God’s chosen looked at and said “even them Lord?”
Because we have forgotten our Gentile heritage it is no wonder our faith often has nothing to say about hospitality to the stranger. Instead when these topics come up we rather talk about “law”, something that Jesus seems to call the religious leaders out for. Scripture is full of quotes about welcoming the stranger and loving the foreigner but we don’t hold those up because we don’t read ourselves as the stranger or as the foreigner. We have the tools to be relevant in this conversation but we have no clue of how to apply them. In both matters of our citizenship and our faith we must begin with extreme humbleness, and probably repentance, for the names and titles we carry.
We have the great opportunity to live out the calling of neighbor. We have the great opportunity to be the neighbor Christ calls us to be. We have the great opportunity to be the communities we all desire to be. One’s that are hospitable, that look after one another, that bear one another’s burdens. Chapter ten of Luke’s gospel begins with Jesus sending out the 72. And I’m sure those of us who have this missional bend to us love this chapter. Because people are getting out of their comfort zones and going to spread the good news. They are healing people and blessing people in a number of ways. All of this seems exciting and everyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ has been called into this. We have all been called to do this in some way or another. It is good to see ourselves from the perspective of the 72 but the text’s richness is discovered when we shift our perspective. The text reveals something for us in our modern day conversations when we don’t see ourselves as the insiders of the story, not as the 72 being sent, but rather as the towns deciding whether to accept them or not. We are the towns deciding how hospitable we should be. We are the towns deciding whether or not to welcome them into our neighborhoods. The question shifts from where is God sending us, to who has God sent to us? Who are the people who are dependent upon our hospitality? Who are the marginalized in our communities? Who are those who are being told they are unwelcome? Who are those who are being taken from our towns? The question that terrifies me as an American is what if we have been turning away God’s immigrant disciples? Christ’s answer terrifies me.
“But if a town refuses to welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘we wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate, And know this- the Kingdom of God is near!’ I assure you, even wicked Sodom will be better off than such a town on Judgement day.”
The good news is that its not too late to be the communities Christ calls us to be. It is not too late for us to be the neighbors we are capable of being. We cannot allow fear to keep us from being hospitable. While we were in DC we talked to our members of congress, our employees, and told them the people they represent want a Clean Dream Act. Something practical we all can do is call our representatives and let them know we want a Clean Dream Act.
Tell them we want to be a nation that truly welcomes those seeking a better life. We want to be a nation that truly practices the hospitality it preaches. We want to be a nation that treats the immigrant among us the same as the native among us. A nation where we love the immigrant as ourselves, for we were once immigrants.