Dreaming of a Competent Congress

Trump ImmigrationMy father backed the car out of the driveway in the dim light of early morning, while my mother, my sister, and I wept. We were leaving our beloved home in Milledgeville, Georgia. I had only been a few months old when my family moved to this small, historic town, and I could not remember any other home. My father, however, had taken another position in New York City, and he wanted his children to go to Catholic schools. And so, we were New Jersey bound.

I was nine years old when we moved to New Jersey, where I would live until I was halfway through college. We all grew to love it, too, as we made lifelong friends and put down roots. My dad made good decisions for his family, all because of his desire to provide for us and give us a better life. As children, we had no vote in his plans, and I never remember his asking us for our opinions.

According to news reports, there may be as many as 800,000 young people in the United States who were brought here illegally by their parents when they were children. They are popularly called “Dreamers,” as in, dreaming of a better life. Just as I had no say in my parents’ decision to move us from state to state when I was a child, neither did these people have a say in their parents’ decisions. If someone had said to me when I was 20— and then living in South Carolina— that I had to “go back,” where would I have gone? My parents were from Rhode Island, but I had been born in Paterson, New Jersey, where they spent less than a year before moving to Georgia. I have no idea what Paterson looks like, since I have never been there since I was six months old. What would happen to these young people if they had to move to Mexico or Central America, when all of their memories are of the United States?

This problem moves the heart of most of us, even those who agree that crossing the border illegally is a crime. However, Christians recall the many verses of the Bible that speak to God’s compassion for foreigners and “sojourners.”

Leviticus 19:34- “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (NIV)

Exodus 22:21- “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (ESV)

And many more in a similar vein. There is no doubt about how God wants us to treat foreigners in our midst.

President Obama was very concerned about these young people, and he called upon the members of Congress to pass laws to protect them. They did not. Both houses of the U.S. Congress seem to have lost the ability to pass legislation, which is, unfortunately, their entire job. They are so paralyzed at the thought that someone in their district will be offended by their activity and will vote against them in the next election, that they do nothing at all except give self-serving, dishonest speeches in front of a camera. While Congress dithered, President Obama stated publicly that he was not the Emperor of America, and therefore could not make it happen by himself. Apparently, he changed his mind later and signed the executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The recipients of this deferred action are called Dreamers.

Since DACA is an executive order, and not a law, it is expiring, and President Trump has decided not to renew it. A great many of the things that were accomplished during the Obama administration were done by the pen and the cell phone, so we can look forward to crises like this happening regularly. That is both the beauty and the tragedy of executive orders: they are not laws and they cannot last.

While the news media are screaming that people opposed to the renewal of DACA are racists, I will jump out on a limb and tell you: I am cautiously optimistic about this turn of events. The hundreds of thousands of young people who are here because of their parents’ actions deserve better than an executive order. They need for Congress to pass a law to set them on the road to legal status. Sometimes I want to send each legislator a copy of the children’s books that I buy for our library system with titles like, How a Bill Becomes a Law. I could put a note that says, “Read this carefully. This is what you are supposed to be doing. Do it for the children.”

Will Congress muster up the courage to do this? The track record is not good, but I don’t hear anyone on either side against it. If only they could compromise, but I am afraid that our entire society has forsaken the art of listening. Not everything has to be a binary choice. If you care about the Dreamers, it doesn’t mean that you’re for open borders and total amnesty for illegals. It might just mean that you have a heart. If you think it is appropriate to end DACA, it doesn’t mean that you’re a cruel racist. It could mean that you want the government to function constitutionally and to hopefully have an even better resolution for the Dreamers.

Congress has six months to do the right thing. Let’s remind our legislators that we’re expecting them to earn their pay. I plan to write to my Republican congressman and senators to let them know that it’s OK to tackle just this one part of the immigration issue right now, and that I’m not going to take revenge on them for letting 800,000 people stay home.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Image by the Chicago Sun-Times, accessed 9-7-17.


Benedict on the Porch 1

Benedict OptionA few months ago, I started reading The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, which I reviewed on EatReadSleep here. The book was complex and controversial, yet it dealt with so many of the issues that had been on my mind lately that I wanted to discuss it with a group. Three other women agreed to join me for book discussions, and we’ve met on the porch a couple of times and have had rich discussions on the first four chapters. Last week, we hashed out the politics chapter during a thunderstorm, which is somehow apt. I look forward to our next meeting, in which we will consider the church and community. Here are some notes that might give you a flavor of our conversations.

Who Are We?

We are four women who share a common love for Jesus, but are very different in other ways. Our age span is about twenty-five years from youngest to oldest, although I have not made close inquiries on this question. We are or have been teachers, librarians, homeschooling moms, military officers, and successful entrepreneurs, among other vocations. Our religious backgrounds include Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, charismatic nondenominational, Calvary Chapel, Lutheran, military chapel, and all of the alphabet soup Presbyterian sects. There are probably more, but suffice it to say, we’re diverse in that respect. We all like to talk, so we have really good discussions, and our copies of the book are full of underlinings and margin notes. One of us bought the ebook first in order to get it quickly, and then bought the paper book just to mark it up.

Why This Book?

Alert readers may have noticed that things are a mess in this country these days. I’m sure that I am not the only Christian who was quite shocked at the behavior of the church during the election season last year, and considering that I was still reeling from some experiences with the church in my own life at the time, this public disgrace really hit me hard. Suddenly, I went from trying to sort out my own beliefs and the local, small “c” church, but now I had to worry about the entire, big “C” Church, as well. This process has been truly beneficial in the long run, since it has given me a firm foundation to weather a new and even more stunning small “c” church upheaval. Human beings never cease to disappoint us, but God is trustworthy and unchanging.

Rod Dreher has chosen to use Saint Benedict, a monk in the sixth century who founded the Benedictine monastic order, as a model for how Christians should conduct themselves in our post-Christian times. Yes, I thought, that’s what we need. We can all draw into monasteries, shut out the world, and only deal with people who agree with us on everything. Furthermore, they are often under vows of silence, which would be difficult for me to carry out, but would be so awesome for everyone around me. I’m assuming that that includes no texting, Tweeting, writing blog posts, and posting on Facebook or other social media. Not that I couldn’t argue with myself in my own head, but at least I wouldn’t be tempted to argue with other people, and then replay my own intemperate remarks mentally for days on end. Think of the benefits to my blood pressure.

Alas, that is not what Dreher is proposing. Rather, he lays out the Benedict Rule, which is the set of rules that the monks agree to obey, as a way of ordering and strengthening our own lives and the structures in which we live: our families, churches, and communities. Just as the monks preserved and built up the church during the many centuries of the Dark Ages, Dreher proposes that the values of the Benedict Rule can do the same in our day. The rules are very simple, such as prayer, work, asceticism, community, and hospitality. Yes, hospitality, because Dreher does not want us to leave our culture altogether, but rather to “embrace exile in place” and form a “vibrant counterculture.” (p. 18)

So, the work begins in our own hearts, and our group has had deep conversations on how to pray and what was preventing us from ordering our lives correctly. Some of us get up punishingly early (Can you tell I’m not one of them?) to read the Bible and pray while it is still dark. We all agreed that we need to spend more time listening and being with the Lord, rather than just doing perfunctory Bible reading and reciting a list of petitions. We discussed lectio divina, a practice that is considered controversial in some circles, yet recommended highly by Dreher and his monk friends. I had a long chat with a co-worker about lectio divina, and he lent me the book Praying the Word: An Introduction to Lectio Divina, by Enzo Bianchi, which I shared with the group and later purchased. It is written in a very Catholic style, but it is thorough and wondrously short: 118 pages, and a lot of them are notes. Our group considered the distractions in our lives that might be keeping us from spiritual order, and there were many, but all agreed that television and smart phones were two of the worst.


The political discussion is based on Dreher’s assertion that “the culture war as we know it is over” (p. 79), and that Christians should establish and build parallel structures within their own communities instead. He believes that unless Christians are called to work within the government as a vocation, the church should only fight for religious freedom on a federal level. From my perspective, it will be frustratingly difficult to convince the American church that they are completely wrong-headed in their idea that this is their country, and that they are part of a silent majority. This is not true, and it has never been true, although patriotic virtue—which often masquerades as religious faith— was certainly more widespread and encouraged a few decades ago than it is now. I grew up as a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools (a parallel structure) almost all of my life. Although they make up almost a quarter of the population, Catholics have always had an understanding of their identity as outsiders in what was a WASPy culture during the waves of Catholic immigration a century or so ago. After I became a Protestant, I was surprised by their assumption that they owned the culture, and convincing them that devout Christians are now a despised minority—and not just in the news media— may take some time, particularly for those who socialize only within their own circle of Christian friends.

Dreher uses an extended example of the Czech resistance to the Communist party in the twentieth century and their devotion to preserving their religious faith in the face of a harsh secular government determined to crush them. They knew that they might never live to see the results of their labor, but they were willing to wage a generational struggle so that their grandchildren might once again be able to practice their religion openly and freely. In a similar way, we need to be committed to resistance in our times. Not the so-called resistance of those who already own the government, the media, and academia, but the true resistance of a despised minority, facing the oppression of those in power with an example of a loving community, living separately but not in a ghetto, open to any who wish to join.

Are we willing to withdraw from the mainstream? Dreher gives a list of ways to do just that, and, interestingly, many of them are also found in secular books on mindfulness. It’s not just about giving up things in our lives, but also about good things to put in their place. It is so offensive in our world to hold strong religious views without wearing signaling costumes like the Amish or Orthodox Jews. If we wore a hijab, like Muslim women, the world could see us coming and adjust their expectations accordingly. Finding out that your conversational partner is religious when they look just like regular people is so annoying. Dreher encourages us to leave our secular culture even more pointedly, insisting that neither political party is fully consistent with Christian truth. (p. 96) Let us concentrate instead on “the everyday, thankless, and never-ending struggle of human beings to live more freely, truthfully, and in quiet dignity.” (p. 97)

Moving Forward

Next time, we will talk about the church and, hopefully, community. That should be lively. The members of our group have made some changes in our personal and spiritual lives, but we have not yet decided on concrete steps for public issues. I may have an update on that later. I encourage you to read The Benedict Option for yourself, and even to gather your own group for discussion. None of us agree with everything Dreher proposes, and I have a feeling that there will be a good bit of debate in the chapter about church, but it is very beneficial for believers to get these topics out in the open and to make some conclusions about the direction of the Christian community as a whole. As a matter of fact, the only way forward is together. Join the discussion!