On Sunday, with lots of turkey, stuffing and pie still in the fridge, I joined the #Fast4families movement, abstaining from food and drink for a day in order to pray for immigration reform. At first, I hesitated because it wasn’t necessarily my ideal time for fasting — besides being Thanksgiving weekend, I was about to enter the last two weeks of my academic semester, the most mentally demanding and sleep-depriving time of my year.
Quickly, however, I realized that all the worries I had going into the fast came from my white, privileged, experience of the world. Because of my privilege, I could believe in the illusion that immigration reform does not affect me.
The more I thought about this, the more I concluded that my reasons for not fasting were pointing to the ugliness of my own privilege and participation in racism, for if we do not actively challenge racism, we affirm it. This is what Jesus was getting at in Matthew 12:30, when he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus does not call us to merely advocate, but asks us invest our whole lives.
My hesitancy to fast was also a reflection of Western spirituality, which privileges the mind over the body and knowledge over action. Before I knew about the fast, my inclination was to spend my day’s energy on academic work, ignoring the body I live in, as well as those bodies that suffer far more than I ever would under an oppressive immigration system.
Joining in the #Fast4families reminded me of the basic needs of my body, human frailty, and the idolatry of an academic culture that makes the mind all-powerful. Unlike Western spirituality, which often makes fasting into an individualistic act of self-improvement, this fast was not about me; it was about recognizing my community’s frailty and its need for change.
As I prayed for immigrant families and became more aware of my own weakness, I saw the reality that privilege hides. Immigration reform is not only an issue for undocumented immigrants; it is an issue that affects everyone. As I experienced hunger, I was reminded of the needs of humanity: food, water, and community. We are all dependent on the land, and we are all dependent on each other. When we face hunger and difficulty, we see that Western individualism fails us.
As these common needs draw us back to our dependence on the land, we encounter the greatest irony of immigration: the white government that is so strongly anti-immigrant is the same government that took the land through the genocide of First Nations peoples. At the base of this issue remains the problem that First Nations people are still advocating for immigration reform that will honor the hundreds of treaties the U.S. government broke. From this standpoint, it is not the prerogative of white people to determine who should live on this land.
Most of all, it is privileged people who need to join in this fast, to remember our bodies, and to remember that the land upon which we live is not our own. Because we are all deeply dependent on each other, the exclusion of immigrants is a great loss to all Americans. In recognizing First Nations people as the original stewards of this land, we can learn from an indigenous society that does not value land ownership, but rather views the land as a gift and thus shared it. Fasting teaches us that as human beings, we are too needy and hungry to exclude others from our community.
Drew Milleris a student chaplain at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., and a member of Evangelicals for Justice.