broken

'We Were Strangers Once, Too'

IF YOU'VE been following Sojourners’ work for the past few years, you know that we have been deeply involved in efforts to reform our nation’s broken immigration system. In the wake of President Obama’s game-changing executive actions in November and the political firestorm they ignited, it’s appropriate for us to reflect on how we got to where we are today and where we might go from here.

After the 2012 elections, it seemed all but certain that we would see comprehensive immigration reform become law during the 113th Congress. The electorate in 2012 had a higher percentage of Latino voters than ever before, in keeping with our country’s changing demographics. The mandate seemed clear for political leaders on both sides of the aisle to prioritize immigration reform or risk alienating a constituency vital to winning future elections.

Beyond this narrow political calculus, however, many of us became deeply involved in the struggle for immigration reform because we strongly believe that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral imperative, and long overdue. Our faith as Christians compels us to struggle for a more humane immigration system. Indeed, the scriptures could not be clearer. In the Old Testament, the Lord commands: “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

In the New Testament, the stranger and all who are vulnerable are at the very heart of the gospel. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

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For Innovation to Have a Prayer, It Needs to Start with Brokenness

Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich/RNS

“Innovation” is a warm and fuzzy word — until you dig inside it.

It’s like “community,” a warm and fuzzy term when taken to mean friendships, sharing, common interests, common values, perhaps working together.

But from a gospel perspective, “community” means much more. As Jesus modeled community, it means mercy — turning away from our instinct to judge and to punish. It means compassion — giving to the least, even when our instinct is to disdain.

A Fast for Families

Miriam Perlacio assembles a prayer quilt in the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall. Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

IT WAS LIKE the end of the movie Lincoln. In an instant, one whole side of the House of Representatives turned, looked up at the five core fasters from the Fast for Families and erupted in overwhelmingly spirited applause. The applause reverberated throughout the chamber for what seemed like an eternity, though it was really only minutes. Ah, but what grand minutes. I wept. My body, standing there in the gallery, could not contain it.

The Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship was launched on Nov. 12 with core fasters abstaining from all food and drinking only water. Based in a tent on the National Mall, only a few hundred yards from the Capitol building, the fast was sponsored by nearly 40 church and labor organizations and garnered support from more than 4,000 solidarity fasters across the U.S. and around the world. Our goal: To move the hearts and compassion of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

In the Capitol building on Dec. 2, during the hour before the startling ovation, Eliseo Medina (the leader of the fast, which had reached the end of its 21st day on that Monday evening), D.J. Yoon (executive director of NAKASEC, a Korean-American advocacy agency), Cristian Avila (from Mi Familia Vota), and I received House member after member who’d come to visit us in the gallery to say “thank you for your sacrifice.” All the faces and names you usually see flashed across the screen commenting on the events of the day on cable television shows—they came to us, standing in the flesh, shaking our hands, grateful and concerned for our health.

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Thou Who Art in Me

And fallen, fallen light renew!
William Blake

Thou, this humid cloak at dusk, a blue
Air flattened, smoldering the same
Field for years. Oh, Thou—this hardened name
For You not joyously sprung, not grown to grace
Out of me: how to instill a tint
Of silver out from ash, a trace
                               Out, out from my cramped cell.
Renew our life, oh Thou! Wake, rise and glint
In me like extended wings slick with dew.
Be the pulse driven from a broken shell.

Robert Manaster’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications. He lives in Champaign, Ill.

Image: Shell on the beach, Jerry Sharp / Shutterstock.com

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Refusing to be Forgotten

Photo by Stacey McDermott

TORU HASHIMOTO, the mayor of Osaka and co-leader of the Japanese Restoration Party, has been known for his provocative statements. In May, while speaking with reporters on Japanese wartime behavior, he endorsed rape and sexual enslavement, saying, “When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort-women system.” These comments drew international condemnation, but they also revealed the all-too-familiar interlocking of sexism, militarism, and sexual violence. Far too often, the idea of a greater “noble cause” is used to justify the sacrifice of women to a military sexual slavery system.

During World War II, historians estimate that 100,000 to 200,000 Korean women and girls, ages 11 to 30, along with women and girls from China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan, were kidnapped or falsely promised jobs and taken to various locations to serve as “comfort women”—the euphemism for sexual slaves. They “served” an average of 30 to 40 soldiers a day and suffered through beatings, venereal disease, forced abortions, mental anguish, and often death. At the end of the war, these women and girls were killed, forced into suicide, or abandoned. Of the few who were able to return to their homeland, many suffered social alienation, humiliation, poverty, STDs, and endless mental anguish.

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A True Contender

Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront"

PAYING ATTENTION isn't easy in a world of infinite content, but there's a reason artists and prophets from Jeremiah to Arthur Miller have called upon us to sit up and listen: A drop of water or a focused breath may be as inexhaustible as a symphony or a thousand-mile trek. And one film? It could contain the world. On the Waterfront is not that film (for me it's Andrei Tarkovsky's transcendent portrait of a 15th century icon painter, Andrei Rublev), but it belongs in the canon all right. The new Criterion BluRay edition not only offers the crispest representation of the 1954 New Jersey dockyard visuals any of us have ever seen, it also illustrates the sociopolitical and creative context in a manner richer than any previously released.

So the story of a former prize fighter torn between his brother's mob ties, a blossoming love affair, his broken ambition, and desire to do the right thing emerges once again, six decades after first exploding onto the national consciousness, winning eight Oscars along the way. It's six decades and a bit more since its director, Elia Kazan, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, another man making a tough decision amid nearly impossible pressure: name names and survive or take the Fifth and receive exile. It's one decade after a perhaps more self-conscious Academy gave Kazan a lifetime achievement Oscar, though half of the audience chose to sit on their hands. We may ask whether or not the grace of God would have enabled any of us to do differently than Kazan, or if he perhaps had good reason to challenge the worst Soviet practices in the 1940s, or if the value of an artwork depends on the integrity of the artist. More questions besides are explored in the array of features on this On the Waterfront disc—interviews with Kazan, a documentary about the film's making, and a transcript of Kazan's defense of his testimony.

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On the Inside Looking Out

Peshkova / Shutterstock.com
Young man looking on city. Peshkova / Shutterstock.com

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — We did a focus group here as part of strategic planning at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Question: if you stood on the edge of your church’s property and looked outward, rather than inward as we usually do, what would you see?

A public school kindergarten teacher spoke about kids who come to school hungry and wearing shabby clothing. She started to discuss the family chaos her kids describe during sharing time, but she began to weep and couldn’t speak at all.

Waiting for Your 2013

Aleshyn_Andrei / Shutterstock
Blonde sitting on the roof of the house. Aleshyn_Andrei / Shutterstock

A new year evokes so many emotions in us. For some a wonder of potential opportunities. Others, the hope of change. Still others, the fear of uncertainty. In each case there lies a moment of suspense. A pause. And yet our resolutions are spoken, written and relayed far before the time has been taken to contemplate what we feel and how we feel.

This year my challenge is to start with the place of inaction and pause to consider what we in fact feel. To each of us we have to slow down after the Christmas season high of purchasing, giving, praying, lighting candles, waiting in Advent, and hoping for the Christ Child to know what kind of year we will encounter.

Resolve to be irresolute until the time of knowing appears. 

Resolve to sit silent and listen.

Resolve to move slower until weary legs are refreshed.

Resolve to know loved ones as they are right now.

Resolve to build, to grow, to transform those parts that 2012 has damaged or left broken.

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