Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. I grew up in a small evangelical church that only paid attention to the Christian calendar on Christmas and Easter. But over many years now, I have learned to celebrate the richness of all the Christian seasons from my friends in more liturgical traditions and from marrying a Church of England priest!
Lent offers us the much-needed spiritual preparation for Easter. Ash Wednesday is the place to begin; and that often includes fasting — in different ways and traditions. At Sojourners, we usually have a big staff pancake breakfast on Shrove Tuesday morning, the day before Ash Wednesday. But today, many of us are fasting.
Ash Wednesday doesn’t begin a hunger strike, but rather a season of self-examination, spiritual reflection, repentance, sacrifice, and focused prayer. Lent is a time to examine our hearts and lives, to acknowledge our sins, to look for the ways we are not choosing the gospel or welcoming those whom Jesus calls us to.
You probably haven’t heard of Sioux County, Iowa — but if you’re ever on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, you’ll fly right over us and know you’re at the midpoint of your trip. We’re just about exactly in the middle of the country.
But aside from U.S. geography, Sioux County isn’t often known for being in the middle. We’re found in the 4th congressional district of the state — the constituency represented by Steve King, where close to 80% of our electorate is Republican.
Recently, Sioux County, Iowa was blessed with the visit of Eliseo Medina, a hero in immigrants’ rights movements for over 40 years. Eliseo was a key part of the farmworkers movement and went on strike with Cesar Chavez. He served as a board member of United Farm Workers from 1973 to 1978.
At the Sioux Center Library, approximately 130 people gathered, overflowing the room. College students and professors, church members, and Latino workers congregated to listen to a prophetic voice calling in the wilderness for God’s justice to the powerless and voiceless in our midst. Congressman King was invited but did not attend.
Imagine a young girl growing up in a small town going off to college then law school. She then takes the bar examination and becomes a licensed attorney. She has accomplished what most people would call the American Dream.
However, one thing is missing — her father. You see, her father was deported when she was three years old and they have been separated ever since. She has lived 30 years without him.
Her father came to this country from Nigeria. He saw America as the land of opportunity. Her mother tells her that before coming to America he believed the streets were paved with gold. I’m not sure if his statement was figurative or literal, but I do know that he saw it as a wonderful opportunity.
Her father came to this country as a student on a student visa. He was able to obtain a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He worked hard in school and earned both degrees. He longed to begin his career as an architect in America. He desperately wanted his piece of the American Dream.
I completed my fast. I fasted for seven days as a participant in the Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform & Citizenship. I fasted because Jesus cared about the "least of these" in his society, and as a follower of Jesus, I'm called to do the same. More specifically, I undertook this fast to raise awareness of these particular "least of these" in our society.
I was quite certain that some within my community of influence would disagree with me on this particular spiritual practice, whether theologically, politically, or socially. The pushback I did receive turned out to be more theological than anything. Perhaps that is just because of the circles I am in, but it went something like this, “I’m all for fasting as a personal spiritual thing, but associating it with a political cause is just wrong. Jesus came to save us from our sins and keep us individually out of hell.” The assumption is that Christianity has nothing to do with Public Square.
I'm still processing the political and governmental, not to mention partisan, implications of immigration reform. I'm certainly not under the impression that one simple bill at a federal level will "fix" immigration any more than the Civil Rights Act of 1968 fixed discrimination. Which of course is not to say that either is unimportant.
I’m a white southerner, ordained Baptist, and have built a career over the past decade working on a broad spectrum of projects in the civic sector. In that time I’ve been blessed to lead and work on some of the most prominent issues of social change throughout the globe. Whether it was working on funding for our veterans, organs for kids who need transplants, better schools and public transit, justice for Trayvon Martin, freedom for the Wilmington 10, or on political campaigns — I’ve had the opportunity to help grow and lead some of our nation’s largest and most vital organizations. Now, inspired by those in our generation who choose to dream instead of choosing despair, I’ve stepped out on faith to join the immigration reform movement. I hope you’ll pledge to join it as well.