In discussing the theme of Sanctuary and how people of faith and good will can respond to the plight of immigrants and refugees, I was reminded recently by a friend in my own faith community how this call doesn’t fit into easy slogans. He shared about how, in a rally to stand in solidarity with displaced people, refugees, and immigrants, the chant “We are All Immigrants” brought heartache to an ally of this movement.
“That isn’t true”, the man shared, and began to tell his story as a member of a Native American or First Nations Tribe, calling people to remember how the American government made his own people displaced people in countless actions of oppression against indigenous people in our country’s history from the seizing of property by settlers, to wars waged for property, to the recent actions to build a pipeline through historic tribal lands.
His story is a good reminder: we must cast our net to include all people facing oppression in our solidarity and justice work. We stand or fall together.
It also reminds us to not forget our history. The call to move masses of people, to ignore the plight of displaced people, is not new nor limited to immigrants alone. Native American people, people of African descent in our country who fled first slavery and then Jim Crow, queer people fleeing homophobic communities, Jews fleeing the holocaust, all too have been displaced people in our countries under threat. We cannot repeat the horrors of our past, but embrace the example of those like early Congregationalists and Quakers who organized the Underground Railroad and some of whom also fought for the rights of indigenous people in our country as our way of living out our faith in these times. It is such examples which are the inspiration of the Sanctuary movement of our day.
I share a poem I wrote some time ago, inspired by time building relationships with Lumbee neighbors and the lessons they taught me while pastoring in Robeson County, NC.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
A Cemetery for Two Civilizations
All around me lies an asphalt tombstone etched by native tears
where once green and lush lay an earthen womb
surrounded now with no somber silence to mark the passing years
echoing instead with acoustic assaults which resound from our technologic tomb,
tribal chants transformed into honk of horns and screech of tires.
No aromatic potpourri adorns its cracked and aging shape
but smog rising in place of the sage smoke of ancestral fires
while acid rain showers down in rivers that will not drown that scene of cosmic rape
where mingled as one the voices of our ancients and theirs with the Great Spirit weep.