300 pilgrims… 8 miles… 6 straight years… one love…
300 pilgrims… 8 miles… 6 straight years… one love…
As Jesus continues his pilgrimage into the heart of Jerusalem, exposing the powers of imperial domination and its religious collaborators, we come to Tuesday, the longest recorded day of Holy Week in Scriptures. Interestingly, while more is recorded about this single day than any other of the week, it may be also be the most overlooked day of this week of Passion. And this year a modern-day imperial ritual, April 15 – Tax Day, overshadowed any reflection on these 24 hours of Jesus’ final days.
But not so in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Our Tuesday leg of the Holy Week Pilgrimage for Immigrants commenced at the government’s administrative center of this county seat. How appropriate on a day we render unto Caesar our taxes it is to remember a prophetic encounter Jesus had on this day:
Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ (Mark 12:13-17)
Those seeking to set-up Jesus sound almost Southern; all that’s missing is a “bless your heart, Jesus.” The trap is set with an introduction filled with syrupy pleasantries so as to camouflage the snare. Even the question about the greatest commandment was not asked in hopes of seeking counsel, but to hopefully find an acceptable way to violently subdue the Galilean’s growing popularity and revolutionary potential which threatened the privileged positions of the elites of his day.
With this story as our theological reference point today, we stood outside the government administration center on one of the most loathed days of the year. As we gathered outside this building in preparations for our sojourn, I pondered aloud the question, “as we think about our immigrant brothers and sisters, what does it mean to render to Casear that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s?”
I shared with the gathered pilgrims that 34,000 of our immigrant brothers and sisters are currently held in detention centers without due process and not for any criminal sentence. In fact, many of those detained are asylum seekers whom our government incarcerates, often for very lengthy periods of time, whilst determining the best way to protect these individuals from persecution in another land. Furthermore, many of these immigrants, refugees and asylees are being held in for-profit detention centers. The most egregious example in Georgia is the 1800-bed, medium level security prison, Stewart Detention Center, owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and named one of the ten worst immigration detention centers in the nation.
It is my tax dollars (and yours) that pay for our federal government, and its corporate collaborators, to enforce our unjust and outdated immigration laws. In 2012 alone, the federal government spent nearly $18B on immigration enforcement, with much of that money going towards detaining immigrants when less restrictive and more humane alternatives exists and the US-centric root causes of migration go mostly unacknowledged and unaddressed.
What belongs to Caesar or the emperor or any imperial power? What belongs to God?
It is increasingly clear to me that my immigrant brothers and sisters have always and will always belong to God. Therefore, my tax dollars , or Caesar’s demand, must reflect that truth. This conviction has left me with two life-altering responses.
First, I must work for the abolition of tax dollars being used to fund inhumane policies that strip my immigrant neighbor of her dignity. Second, I must refuse to fund such policies via acts of tax resistance. These two reasons play a significant role as to why I have chosen to forgo any salary these past eight years, ever since leaving academia to pursue a life of solidarity and vocation via this life in community, a community we call Alterna.
Later this same day in the life of Jesus, he was asked which is the greatest commandment. Note, he does not mention love of country and definitely not love of emperor. But I think it’s safe to say his answer would call us to demonstrate towards our neighbors from other lands a deep love.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (Mark 12:28-31)
Immigrants are our neighbors, they belong to God, therefore, we are commanded to love them as we love ourselves.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Sunday was a holy, and seemingly asinine (pun intended), means of evocatively differentiating the Kingdom of God from the kingdom of imperial domination. The contrasting street-theater-style triumphal entry was meant to be a strong criticism of the militaristic entry of the Roman imperial might and a nonviolent retaliation of the not-so-subtle repression of the Romans during the approaching Passover season.
On Monday, Jesus turns his attention to corrupt religious leaders and empty religiosity; an institutional worship that is devoid the loftier demands of holy justice.
Mark records the scene this way:
They came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19)
Unlike the feel-good, felt-board Jesus we’ve domesticated into a Mr. Rogers-esque figure with forgivably long hair, the Jesus of Holy Week doesn’t seem too keen on making friends and influencing people. In The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan remind us that Jesus’ actions these past two days of Holy Week “proclaim the already present Kingdom of God” against the also present imperial power and its religious accomplices of oppression.
To the religious collaborators of domination, Jesus channels the spirit of Jeremiah and charges the high priests with converting a place of prayer into a “den of robbers.” When read through the lens of Jeremiah’s initial charge, however, the reader realizes that Jesus’ actions directed towards the money changers may be an indictment of something more sinister than just the regressive form of the commerce of sacrifice.
Read here the original accusation to the thieves in the temple as proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah:
If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, IF YOU DO NOT OPPRESS THE ALIEN, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever… Has this house, which is called by my name, become a DEN OF ROBBERS in your sight? (Jeremiah 7:5-7,11, emphasis added)
Borg and Crossan state that clearly “a ‘den’ is a hideaway, a safe house, a refuge. It is not where robbers rob, but where they flee for safety after having done their robbing elsewhere.” Could it be that all this time I saw those who exploited the poor inside the Temple as the thieves when, in reality, it is any of us who enter the house of God to worship but check the demands of holy justice at the door? What a turning over of the tables!
Jesus insists that true worship must involve praying and acting for justice. Borg and Crossan remind us that “God has repeatedly said, ‘I reject your worship because of your lack of justice,’ but never, ever, ever, ‘I reject your justice because of your lack of worship.” (see Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8) In the Temple or in the Church, exploitation of the poor inside the walls can only be permitted if a house of prayer is converted into a den of robbers; a place of refuge for those who mistreat the alien and the marginalized in their everyday dealings outside the place where we gather to worship God.
Tomorrow I will continue to walk with Jesus, but why is it beginning to feel so uncomfortable?
(An adaptation by Anton Flores-Maisonet of “The Way of the Cross of the Migrant Jesus,” by Gioacchino Campese, CS, Centro de Pastoral Migratoria Scalabrini.)
FIRST STATION: Jose and Maria Flee to Georgia
Reflection: Jose and Maria, like most unauthorized immigrants in the United States, did not travel here as tourists. The structural violence of poverty that is propped up by oligarchies, unjust trade policies, the militarization of the hemisphere, a failing drug war, unrepentant racism, and unbridled materialism is the primary force behind the exodus of millions. Over the past decades and until recently, Georgia had become a destination of choice for many seeking to escape desperation and find work, albeit often times in less than dignified work conditions.
Prayer: Beloved Jesus, who in the company of the first migrant Maria and Jose learned the trials of migration in your exile from Egypt, we pray for the countless unauthorized migrants, refugees, and displaced children who are so much like you. May their parents find work, food, and shelter. May they be received everywhere with love, acceptance, and welcome. May all those who come from afar find in us brothers and sisters who love them, in the same way that you do. Lord Jesus, free them from all spiritual and bodily danger. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
SECOND STATION: Jose is Tempted by the American Dream
Reflection: Migrants also face temptations that put themselves and their families in danger, both during their journeys and after they reach their destinations. There are many problems and risks that they face: robberies, accidents, violence, exploitation, corruption, harsh weather, and lack of understanding and hospitality. In these conditions it is easy to succumb to frustration, desperation, or depression, all of which can lead to drug addiction or alcoholism. Another temptation is the obsessive search at all costs for money and success, which makes many migrants forget their families, their origins and their cultural values.
Prayer: Holy God, grant all of us the gift of strength so we might overcome the earthly temptations of wealth and success, and the bitterness and desperation that impede our pilgrimage toward your Reign. Guide all people, especially the migrants, in the ways of hope and true human values. We ask you this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
THIRD STATION: Jose Purchases an Automobile
Reflection: In a country that is still overly dependent upon automobiles as the primary mode of transportation, most unauthorized immigrants must confront a dilemma – the need for transportation in a land that denies them access to a driver’s license. In an effort to make Georgia inhospitable, the legislature in 2008 succumbed to fear-laden xenophobia and eroded all of our civil liberties by making repeated driving without a driver’s license (or with a suspended one) a felony. But Jose must work and to live as a family without an automobile in Georgia, is next to impossible.
Prayer: Migrant God of all peoples, who through Jesus made yourself a pilgrim wandering from town to town by foot and via the transportation of the day, help us to identify with those who suffer, those who are discriminated against and criminalized by society for doing something we all do too much of – driving. Help us to build a new world in which automobiles are a thing of the past but where the human right to migrate and move freely is upheld. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
FOURTH STATION: Maria Is Betrayed by her Employer
Reflection: Desperation leads unauthorized immigrants to our desert. On the other side of the wall that says “Do not trespass” are a plethora of signs proclaiming, “Now hiring”. However, once an immigrant crosses the river, she is no longer a person with a story, a family, and an identity; she is now a dehumanized “wetback”. Since dehumanization is the precursor to violence, the migrant is now susceptible to all manners of discrimination and exploitation, including at the hands of one’s one employers. Low wages and even outright wage theft is common practice waged against a group of hard-working laborers with little legal protections.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, who felt firsthand the pain of betrayal by one of your own, guide the betrayed on the path of forgiveness and accompany all those who betray others on the path of conversion and truth. Help us to recover and renew our collective memories and to transform our hearts that we might make room in them for compassion and solidarity. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
FIFTH STATION: Jose Prays at a Roadblock
Reflection: With his wife now unemployed, Jose’s $8 per hour does not go very far. On his way home from a hard day’s work in a local poultry plant, he is almost home when Jose spots a roadblock just one block from his home. Driving unlicenseable, Jose knows what awaits him – the humiliation of arrest, the impoundment of his vehicle, a fine likely over $1,000, and possibly a transfer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation proceedings. Jose’s heart is pounding and his hands are sweating as he prays to God, “Mi Diosito, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, primero Dios.”
Prayer: God of justice, it is not your will that families be separated via unjust arrests and deportations. And yet, this bitter cup is drunk from every day by hundreds of immigrants. Wake us up from our slumber! We have deserted you every time we desert the migrant who faces unjust arrest. Help us to stay alert and keep watch against injustice. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
SIXTH STATION: Jose Is Arrested
Reflection: The police exist to serve and protect. Yes, they are enforcers of the law but every human being has a moral conscience that is greater than any law. Therefore, officers of the law must refuse to enforce any unjust law and, furthermore, must not use the rule of law to legitimize the inhumane and unjust treatment of another fellow human being. When law enforcement officials engage in racial profiling, conduct targeted roadblocks in immigrant communities, or refuse to assist immigrant victims’ of violent crimes, this is a betrayal of both their oath and their conscience.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, unauthorized immigrants live in precarious situations. They live in the shadows of our society due to oppressive immigration laws. The shadows may protect them from la migra but it does not protect them from those who would prey on their vulnerability. Help our law enforcement officials discern what is good and right in Your eyes and may they unwaveringly commit themselves to serving and protecting the most marginalized among us. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
SEVENTH STATION: Jose Is Interrogated by Jail Guards
Reflection: Now the interrogators were looking for ways to transfer Jose to ICE for deportation. Afraid he would destroy this nation with his “unwillingness” to learn the language and assimilate, the chief interrogator stood up and said, “Hey amigo, have you no answer? Are you an “illegal”?” But Jose was silent for there was no interpreter.
Prayer: Good and gracious God, free us from the temptation of turning migrants into scapegoats in our communities, into the object of our accusations and political campaigns, or into mere statistics. Give us a spirit of compassion so that we may understand the suffering of these people who have to leave behind their homelands and families in search of a better future. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
EIGHTH STATION: Jose Is Detained for ICE
Reflection: What began as just another journey home to his family after a long day’s work, is now a via dolorosa of forced detention, deportation, and separation from family, friends, and work. After being arrested, Jose’s fingerprints, one of the unique markings that God gives to each human being, is now utilized by the promulgators of fear to determine whether or not Jose has a “right” to remain united with his family in this land we call the United States.
Prayer: Liberator God who sets the captives free, we pray for those who govern our societies whose decisions affect our communities. Enkindle in them a spirit of justice so that our laws grant everyone, especially migrants, the rights and dignity that all human beings deserve. May our society protect above all the lives of the poor and the insignificant. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
NINTH STATION: Jose Falls under the Weight of the Detention
Reflection: Jose spent a total of three months locked up in three different detention centers. He had no access to legal counsel, no visits with his family, and was treated like a prisoner. With the Atlanta immigration court having a deportation rate of 98.8%, is it really a surprise that so many immigrants fall under the weight of detention and, without legal counsel, sign for “voluntary” departure?
Prayer: God of life, close down these detention centers of death. We remember Roberto Medina and Miguel Hernandez who literally died in CCA detention centers in Georgia and we also pray for the thousands of men who every year face a “little death” to their dignity as they are detained for prolonged periods of time without due process. Please, with Your mighty arm, shut these detention centers down. We ask this of you. Amen.
TENTH STATION: Corrections Corporation of America Helps Carry Jose Away
Reflection: At $122/day, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has no qualms about turning people into a commodity. Hidden in remote locations like CCA’s Stewart Detention Center in rural southwest Georgia for an average of 53 days, CCA’s record-breaking profits is being made off of the unjust and unnecessary detainment of “violators” of a broken, civil (not criminal) immigration system.
Prayer: God of mercy, do not allow us to let the migrants to be alone, abandoned, or hopeless. Teach us to act in solidarity, compassion, and a spirit of welcome. Show us how to overcome our selfishness and challenge the greed of prison corporations so that we might accompany our migrant brothers and sisters who walk with us in this world. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
ELEVENTH STATION: Jose Is Stripped of His Garments
Reflection: Forced to where color-coded prison uniforms inside Corrections Corporation of America’s immigration detention centers, this hard-working father with no criminal history has become the sacrificial lamb of a country unwilling to renounce its material wealth gained via exploitation of the world’s poor.
Prayer: Compassionate God, we put in your hands the lives of our migrant brothers and sisters, especially those who have suffered the humiliation of being stripped on their journeys. You know the injustices, the exploitation, and the abuses that they have suffered… Heal their bodily and spiritual wounds with the strength of your love. Change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh… We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
TWELFTH STATION: Jose is Flown to the Border with 500 Others
Reflection: On one of the most holy days to Mexican Catholics, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Jose was deported along with approximately 500 other Mexican nationals. He saw this as a sign of hope offered by God and the Virgin. Those of us who are Americans should see it as a shameful act and ask forgiveness for our complicity for the ways we all dehumanize our migrant brothers and sisters.
Prayer: God of truth, grant us new eyes so that we do not to look at our migrant brothers and sisters like criminals and no longer call them “illegal.” In Your eyes only our selfishness, violence, injustice and exploitation are illegal. Give us the necessary courage to be able to conquer our selfishness. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
THIRTEENTH STATION: No One Wipes Veronica’s Face.
Reflection: We are reminded that on a daily basis, scores of women are forced to make a processional of shame across the bridge in Brownsville, TX. Filled with anguish and with tears flowing down their faces, who wipes their face? Surely a Veronica has been counted among the innumerable mothers whose hearts literally ache as they turn their backs on this land but never on their children who are left behind.
Prayer: God, as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, gather those women who are forcibly separated from their children due to detention and deportation. May your motherly love and compassion be the unbreakable link that unifies all migrants and their families. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
FOURTEENTH STATION: Jose Is Deported
Reflection: Let us silently recall all those migrants who have been stripped of their dignity and returned to their homeland in an inhumane manner only meant to kill their human aspirations to be free from oppression and discrimination. Through them and with them Jesus dies again today.
Prayer: God of liberty, console the families of the deported. Forgive us for those who have died seeking to enter our nation through our deserts. Help us to promote dignity, family unity, life and fight against all laws and policies that cause the antithesis of these values. May the cross of your Son be for us a cry of protest against all injustice and a symbol of justice for all. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
FIFTEENTH STATION: Jose Returns to the United States
Reflection: The Returned Jose is reunited with his wife and children and with us, reminding us we are all pilgrim and migrant people, even if we do not always recognize this to be true.
Prayer: God of the journey, inspire us now so that we can lovingly and generously accompany migrants on their journeys… Help us to recognize your resurrected Son in our migrant brothers and sisters… We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
An all-time high of 585 PILGRIMS!!! 8 miles…
Yo te amo con el amor de Jesus;
Yo te amo con el amor de Jesus.
Yo veo en ti el rostro de mi Dios;
Yo te amo con el amor de Jesus.
I love you with the love of Jesus;
I love you with the love of Jesus.
I see in you the face of my God;
I love you with the love of Jesus.
125 pilgrims… 4 miles…
When we entered the sanctuary of Douglas Street United Methodist Church, a video of this moving song as performed by the legendary Mercedes Sosa was filling the air like a true Lenten hymn (see video below).
SOLO LE PIDO A DIOS words and music by Leon Gieco (This song simply says) I only ask of God He not let me be indifferent to the suffering Solo le pido a Dios Que el dolor no me sea indiferente Que la reseca muerte no me encuentre Vacio y solo sin haber echo lo suficiente Solo le pido a Dios Que lo injusto no me sea indiferente Que no me abofeteen la otra mejia Despues que una garra me arane esta frente Chorus: Solo le pido a Dios Que la guerra no me sea indiferente Es un monstro grande y pisa fuerte Toda la pobre inocencia de la gente Es un monstro grande y pisa fuerte Toda la pobre inocencia de la gente Solo le pido a Dios Que el engano no me sea indiferente Si un traidor puede mas que unos quantos Que esos quantos no lo olviden facilmente Solo le pido a Dios Que el futuro no me sea indiferente Deshauciado esta el que tiene que marchar A vivir una cultura diferente Chorus (2x)