Immigration: Alabama is Organizing... Again!

My adoptive dad’s family goes back five generations in Mississippi. They endured the most ruthless lashes of American slavery and the most brutal state-sponsored terrorism during the Jim Crow legal regime. In fact, my dad personally had a brush with the Klan as a child. The Ku Klux Klan broke up an evening meeting at his grandparents’ church in the early 1950s. He doesn’t remember much about the night, except the terror. In his adult years, he looks back and realizes they were probably organizing.

Organizing… in Mississippi… before Rosa Parks said “No” in Montgomery, Ala. My grandparents were organizing.

Yet even my family history—along with images of sneering white southerners during the desegregation of Little Rock High School, complicit whites riding near-empty buses during the Montgomery bus boycott, and white officers hosing down black children in Birmingham, Alabama—did not prepare me for what I encountered when I traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, last month.

I boarded a plane in Washington, D.C., to fly to Montgomery early on December 17. There I would conduct Sojourners Organizing training for Immigration Reform in partnership with the Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM), a faith-based organization dedicated to building more just communities and systems in Alabama.

The Immigrant Days of Christmas

The Holy Family by Margret Hofheinz-Döring via

The Holy Family by Margret Hofheinz-Döring via

I noticed this Christmas season, for the first time, that not only were Mary and Joseph forced to migrate under Rome’s census; not only was the Incarnate God born into a humiliating space — but, as they fled to Egypt, they never registered in Bethlehem with the census. A dream, an angel, told the migrant father to gather his family and run from the authorities. Unaccounted for in the empire, baby Jesus’ first movement in this world was a government-evading trek through the desert by night.

I think about this as, right now, my friend Estuardo is probably crouching in the dark somewhere in the desert along the Mexican border. At the same time my wife and I hang electric Christmas lights on our tree, get out our nativity sets, and read familiar illustrated books about the stars in the sky above the shepherds. Estuardo has told me, from previous voyages across the border by night, how clear the stars are when hiding from the border patrol lights.

Christmas Mourning

"Holy Family's flight to Ethiopia." Image via

"Holy Family's flight to Ethiopia." Image via

In the Incarnation, Christ brings hope to a world where, for the time being, Herod is still king, and all is not as it should be. Christmas includes the story of a terrible genocide — a traumatic refugee experience for young Jesus and his parents, and all the worse for those parents who were not warned in a dream and thus did not escape to Egypt before their infant sons were murdered — but as evangelicals we seldom reflect on this part of the story. (Catholic & Anglican Christians remember these victims on the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28, a practice I adopted for the first time last year.)

The great hope of Christmas, though, is that it represents the entry into history of a Prince of Peace, who will eventually dethrone Herod and Caesar and set all things right. We’re still living in that tension: Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated but is not here in fullness yet, as the injustice of last December’s DREAM Act vote and a thousand other tragedies of poverty, conflict, and marginalization throughout our globe remind us. So Christmas is a time for mourning and for hopeful joy: and it is entirely right that Advent is a time of eager and expectant yearning. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

The Morning News: Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

New Law Aims To Shine Light on Conflict Metals; Immigration Effort Mistakenly Holds U.S. Citizens; North Korea’s Persecution of Christians Expected to Continue After Kim Jon Il’s Death; Muslims push Lowe’s boycott over reality series; Two Muslim religious leaders sue airlines for discrimination; Christianity goes global as world’s largest religion; (Opinion) Obama’s simplistic view of income inequality.

The Morning News: Monday, Dec. 19, 2011

North Korean Leader’s Nukes, Threats Stoked World Fears; Extension of Tax Cut Stalls in House as GOP Objects; Christian Group Recalls Pink Bible; For Times Such As These: The Radical Christian Witness of the New Monastics; ‘People’s year’ gives hope that the tide is turning; Speaker targets immigration law; Vaclav Havel, Czech’s Velvet Revolution Leader, Dead at 75; Paul Leads Iowa, Gingrich drops to 3; Mitt Romney’s Dream World: Cutting Billions Out of Medicaid Will Not 'Hurt the Poor'.

The Friday News: Dec. 9, 2011

Young, Hip Jews Leading a Makeover; EPA Finds Fracking Contaminated Drinking Water in Wyoming; Dick Durbin May Block Religious Freedom Commission’s Renewal Until Feds Buy His Favorite Prison; Against “Taking Things Back:” Rethinking the OWS Slogan; Rick Perry Anti-Gay Ad Puts Spotlight on GOP Consulting Class; Black, atheist and living in the South Benjamin; The New Evangelicals; Why Rick Perry’s New Ads Are Wrong On Religion–And Obama; Latinos Don't Vote On Faith Or Religion But On Economic Issues; Faith And Family Values At Issue In Republican Contest; Children Of Immigrants Ask For Halt To Deportation That Splits Families; Sesame Street Muppet Pitches Government Dependence: Free Food At School; Economic Experts Gather In DC To Explain Why Politics Has Doomed Us.