Growing up in San Diego, our church was situated next to a long canyon that started in our little suburb and stretched the five or so miles to the ocean. If you looked closely enough at the canyon, you saw a collection of large, nondiscript cardboard boxes that blended in with the dry, brambly landscape. The boxes didn’t attract attention, and most people who saw them pretended they weren’t there. They housed a community of illegal immigrants, men who gathered every morning in hopes of finding day labor.
Among the men was Victor, who not only lived in our canyon but came to our church.
Victor was short with a thick mustache, proud cowboy hat and self-conscious smile. His already dark skin was prematurely weathered from the the sun. He’d occasionally pack a travel-worn, hard-shell suitcase with everything he owned, return to Mexico to proudly give his family all his earnings, and then sneak back over the border to his cardboard box.
Despite living in a box, only a small blanket separating him from the dirt at night, Victor’s pearl-snap, collared shirts and jeans were always inexplicably crisp, as though he’d just picked them up from the dry cleaner’s. It was a detail that’s always stuck with me. Poverty is skilled at hiding itself in plain sight.
Immigration is a complex issue, and illegal immigration – that’s a whole other can of worms. The ramifications are broad in our society, economy, national security, and a host of other big ways. Frankly, I don’t read enough or watch
enough any CSPAN to help me form an educated opinion. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I don’t know how I fully feel about every aspect of immigration — what I am for and what I am against.
But here’s what I know: I am for Victor.
It’s been almost two decades since I last saw my crisp-shirt wearing illegal immigrant friend, but still his story anchors and colors everything I hear about immigration.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, this for and against thing.
God, in his wisdom and righteousness, laid out all His standards of right and wrong. He gave us a list of commands. There are plenty of things to be against. But his two commands, the ones he placed the greatest emphasis on, were to love Him and to love our neighbors.
Love God. Love People. It’s become the battle cry of my generation.
What I love is that God laid out all the do’s and don’t’s, while knowing we wouldn’t be up for the task. He took care of that himself in the hardest, worst, most beautiful way imaginable. And He showed us – over and over, generation after generation – that despite our problems, our failures, our blatant disobedience, our temper tantrums, He is for us.
Paul even said it. “If God is for us, who can be against us.”
How is that even a thing? It’s grace hard to even comprehend.
Amidst gratuitous grace and not-at-all subtle commands to love, it seems like Christians – or at least evangelical churches in America – are against more than we’re for. And it makes me so very weary.
Somehow the message has been warped: God is for us. We are against you.
Who am I for? Who am I against? What am I for? What am I against? I’ve been pondering this for weeks now. And the past weeks have provided excellent, tragic and lame fodder for pondering. Especially when two things happened during the same time frame.
First, there’s the Target gender-neutral toy section “scandal” – like seriously, don’t even get me started on that soap box. I will just say this, copied from my personal Facebook status:
The week the Target gender toy thing was going on, I was creating a brochure for new college freshman female STEM students with inspirational quotes from young professional women in STEM fields. Their quotes and the reality of the discrimination women still experience was sobering. “Expect to be looked down on because you are a woman.” “Nothing will be given to you.” “Prove them wrong.”
It made me stand up and cheer that little girls don’t have to go to the boy section any more to buy building blocks and regular Legos (not the lame smoothie shop girl Legos).
Heaven forbid a girl wants Star Wars sheets or a boy wants Olaf sheets.
Excuse me while I fetch my fainting salts.
As if on cue, Christians everywhere freaked out. Franklin Graham called for a protest, and people inundated social media with promises to never even drive through Target parking lots again. The fake Target customer service Facebook account made for excellent entertainment, but seriously people. Come on.
It’s like any piece of news large or small warrants a preacher-pundant with a $3,000 suit, spray tan and blindingly white teeth to appear on all the cable news channels and tell us all that this…law, policy, social media platform, entertainer, obscure ruling, celebrity haircut…is something we Christians are AGAINST.
We have become caricatures of ourselves.
I know what you might say. The differences between boys and girls should be celebrated. That’s true. Maybe you’ll call it a slippery slope. Here’s all I can say: 1. Pegboard colors, people. They changed the pegboard colors from pink or blue to a light wood grain. That’s it. 2. The reason we have seven aisles of girls/boys toys is we’ve swallowed the pill that we need all.the.things. Kids don’t need half the crap in those aisles. 3. I’ll see your slippery slope and I’ll raise you piles of dead babies and mass graves.
The Target pegboard “crisis” occurred in the middle of the the Planned Parenthood videos breaking. Planned Parenthood, the organization founded by a self-proclaimed racist and eugenicist who preyed on the poor, the vulnerable, the desperate. Now they’ve been caught selling baby parts. They’ve been caught harvesting organs from late-term, aborted, whole, alive babies.
I once watched a future dystopia movie with Scarlet Johansson that had nearly the same plot. (And just so we’re all clear, the people harvesting the organs were the bad guys).
What they are doing is horrible. It’s unthinkable.
In reaction, Christians organized a simultaneous nationwide protest to encourage our lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood and better fund the many nonprofits that provide essential, life saving women’s and maternal health services that are not lining their pockets with livers and brains.
In my head I totally get the reasoning for the protests. Demonstrating to leaders that their constituents are against public funding is valid. Doing it en masse provides support to the assertion that defunding PP isn’t something only the crazies want, but a lot of people who fall on many points within the political spectrum.
But as I watched pictures of protests pop up on my news feed, I felt so uncomfortable. Something gave me this feeling of ick, and after a day of pondering, I could finally name it:
I am against abortion, but to the women walking into the clinics, I am for you. It makes me cringe that even one of those women saw the protesters and felt condemned, less than, shamed.
I watched the pictures of the protesters and the women walking into the clinics, and I prayed for the lives that would be ended and the lives that would be forever changed, and I wanted to scream, I am for you!
In fact, it is these very women who cause me to be both a feminist and an abortion abolitionist. Women who have abortions have higher likelihoods of suffering from things like suicide, depression, infertility and certain cancers. To the woman struggling in mental anguish days or decades after an abortion who were watching those same protests on her Facebook newsfeed, I wanted to scream to her, I am for you! Jesus is for you!
I thought about Planned Parenthood and I thought about Target, and I could not help but mourn for everyone.
When Christians scream with equal volume and indignation about pegboard colors and infanticide, we are ridiculous. We diminish our voice, we forfeit our influence, we waste so much.
Are we so busy running around being against things that being for things has become like those French verbs I used to be able to conjugate? Ten years of inattention and that skill is gone.
The 24-hour news cycle did its thing. I think another celebrity couple broke up. Another famous person got a new haircut or a new purse. And all we remember from the already fuzzy, but not so distant past is that things happened and Christians were against them.
Then my pondering on for and against took an even more tragic turn.
It took a little Syrian boy – his shoes just like the shoes I put on Dub’s feet, his fingers just like the sweet baby fingers I kissed this morning – to wash ashore with the bodies of his brother and mama, all three still covered in the tears of their helpless daddy and husband – to wake the world up to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Why did it take so long? And I’m asking myself that question.
I learned that we’re witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 200,00 people have died, more than a million are seeking refuge. They risk it, though, because if they stay they will surely die. Oh, and America is going to take in 1,000 of them.
I forced myself to look at Aylan’s picture. I said his name. I slapped myself awake up from apathy. Then I leaned into the sadness, let tears fall freely, and I didn’t resist when his lifeless image infected the haunting dreams of restless sleep.
Oh sweet boys, oh sweet mama, I am for you. I am for you.
I have this dream, and I want to tell you about it.
I dream of a day we mobilize as passionately and efficiently for the things we are for as we do for the things we are against. If we did this, we would be unstoppable. We would be so amazing.
What if that day of protests against Planned Parenthood was followed up by a day of service in the same communities?
What if protesters scrubbed the toilets of a dilapidated free clinic where elderly ladies get their mammograms? What if another group called a crisis pregnancy center and asked, “What do you need? Make us a list.” What if the free breakfast pantries of low-income schools were full?
I know there are a lot of churches and Christians doing wonderful things for their communities and world, and I don’t want to minimize that. To everyone who is already mobilized, whose hands are dirty and feet are barefoot, you are rad. To the pray-ers and the people quietly and faithfully serving, you are so close to God’s heart.
I’m not suggesting we chuck discernment out the window and become a people who stand for nothing, nor am I’m saying we need to be bombastic self-promotors. No one likes those people.
I’m saying, what if we are for as loudly as we are against? I think if that happened, people would start to believe us when we say we were for them.
Maybe the poor and the suffering would stop believing we were treating them like pawns in our causes, because maybe we’d stop treating them like pawns in our causes.
It’s my dream that every person who attended a protest; every person who is awash in grief for the refuge seekers, the hurting and the unborn; every person who is used to pulling out markers and poster boards for the next protest or checking off another business to boycott; that all of us would pick something – someone – to be for.
I took the first step today. I researched and found an organization that helps refugees who are in the Oklahoma City area. I want to stop just donating money and start donating time. I’m a natural purger, and take great delight in hauling big trash bags of unwanted clothes and stuff to good will. Maybe I should stop donating things with holes in it. Maybe I should remember the pride Victor took in his appearance. What if I ironed the clothes and organized them by size and dropped them off at a women’s shelter, and found matching earrings? What if I showed how much I care?
I’m committed to making my for’s louder than my against’s. And I’m gobsmacked that through all my stumbling and failing, I am loved by Jesus who said through word and action over and over that He is for me.
Also, I still shop at Target.