(Brooke’s generosity Blog)
June 21, 2020
Some of the scriptures assigned for this week are about dysfunction. One is about the story of Hagar and Ishmael. It is an accident of timing that this also comes on Father’s Day.
I sometimes look at Oprah’s Book Club recommendations. A recent one is “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins.
Winfrey gave a video of her endorsement, saying, “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up, and I feel that everybody who reads this book is actually going to be immersed in the experience of what it means to be a migrant on the run for freedom.”
I read the book before I read the reviews. (What can I say, I trust Oprah. She would make a fine president.) I was moved by the story, and the reality of migrants fleeing for their lives. It was only later that I learned that the book was controversial because there were accusations of cultural appropriation and because it was ‘politically neutral.’ I will not share some of the comments about the book or author. I read it, learned from it, and my heart was touched with compassion for people who are involuntary migrants, otherwise known as refugees.
While reading the book I remembered a conversation with John Fife. He is a human rights activist and Presbyterian minister who lives in Tucson, Arizona. He was the recipient of a prize from the Presbyterian Church in Canada for his work on the cutting edge of mission. He was arrested many times and worked tirelessly in the sanctuary movement providing safe haven for migrants.
In 1992 Fife was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Rev. Fife was called a ‘distinguished leader’ once when he was moderator. His response: “I would rather be called notorious than distinguished.” Distinguished people seldom get things done. Sometimes this requires someone who is ready to focus on the mission of helping people, rather than the niceties social interactions. John Fife got things done to help. He broke the law, to provide sanctuary for migrants whose lives were at risk if forced to return to their homes.
Everything said about the novel American Dirt could have been said about the bible. All stories have a political component if you dig far enough. Sometimes the biblical stories are meant to be sharp reminders of the reality that ‘Life is Difficult.’ Sometimes there is a deeply buried but powerful element of hope. The hope is missed in a first reading but grows visible when you encounter the story again and again.
One of the tasks of ministry is to open hearts and minds to learning and embracing the changes that God has in store for us. The novel I read, and the bible I am continuing to learn, challenge me towards empathy and compassion.
God’s care inspires our care. God’s intimate concern inspires our concern. God’s quest for safety and wholeness inspires our quest for safety and wholeness for the vulnerable. We can no longer let personal or corporate sin be “business as usual.”
We cannot place economics ahead of morality and compassion. God has a lot to say about compassion and empathy. God delivers and much of God’s deliverance comes through our listening to God’s call for us to hear the cries of the poor and needy, the oppressed and those living with systemic racism. Our empathy and compassion are not just for our prayers and self-enlightenment. Our faith demands that we can come together in communities that will move and agitate and act for a more just world for all God’s children.