Monday, July 16, 2012

Protecting Our Border

Immigration is a hot topic now. Actually, it has been a hot topic throughout our nation’s history, beginning with John Adam's administration.

At the heart of the debate is how we define and control our borders.

A border tells us where a thing begins. It tells us how a thing differs from its neighbors. It outlines the territory under its control.

Every material thing – every abstract belief come to think of it -- has a  border of some sort.

We feel the difference when we cross a national border. The flags are different. The currency is different.  Sometimes, even the language is different.

When we cross the border into another country, we may feel excited. 

Or, we may feel apprehensive. 

Having lived as an immigrant for long periods of my life, I have felt all of these things. 

Once, after having spent two weeks in the Soviet Union I was relieved when we flew out of Soviet air space. I had been treated well. I enjoy Russian people and their culture. It was just that I had grown up fearing what seemed to be an unavoidable war with the communist block. Things had changed but my emotions were still responding to old fears.

Borders establish what (or who) belongs within the borders and what does not. The influence that comes from inside those borders may extend well beyond them. However, influence is not control and enjoying something from the outside is not the same as submission to it inside.

One will discover all sorts of difference within a nation’s borders. Massachusetts doesn’t feel much like New Mexico. But such differences are held within common boundaries. New Mexico can’t establish a monarchy. West Virginia can’t make Swahili its official language.

Some people get intense about protecting borders. They want to know the exact inch where New York ends and Québec begins. They want what’s over there to stay over there. They want what’s over here to stay just as it is.

Others think of borders as gradual shifts of influence and control.

The influence of Mexico extends well beyond the legal boundary that separates it from the United States. Hundreds of miles before one reaches that border, Spanish place names, language, food and other cultural markers inform us that our country is not merely Anglo-Saxon. Cultures mix and mingle like this on both sides of most national borders.

Nonetheless, there is a border. There is a place where one nation’s control ends and another nation’s control begins. If we do not protect that border, people will stop respecting the nation it defines.  That is why border areas often feel lawless, as though no one on either side of it has enough authority to establish order.

Religions also have borders. Buddhists do not make pilgrimages to Mecca. Hindus do not observe Rash Hashanah. One does not shout out “praise the name of Zoroaster!” in a Christian worship service.

Beliefs and practices sometimes migrate across religious lines through a process that takes a long time. The process radically redefines those beliefs and practices however. For example, early Northern European Christians borrowed the word “God” from early religious traditions. The actual word “God” is not linguistically related to Hebrew or Greek words used to call upon the Creator. Now, English speaking Christians think nothing of referring to the deity of the Hebrew scriptures as "God." The old pagan word "God" got baptised, so to speak.

In many countries, missionaries get into fights about this. In the early stages of Christianizing a people, missionaries often worry about using local words for God. Most of the time, they end up importing a word from holier languages – such as English.  “God” sounds right to them. “Zakox” or “Achapichiti” sound scary and unholy.

The reason missionaries argue about what to call God is that they know words carry connotations and influences. They don’t want to import an alien concept into their faith. Others are less concerned. They want to communicate with their new converts and don't want to burden them with a lot of imported, foreign-sounding terms.

These kinds of disagreements have been going on for two thousand years. It’s why some American believers get upset when they learn that Arabic Christians call God “Allah.”

Because of our long history of making adaptations to local culture, we have all sorts of differences. Some of us make the sign of the cross when we pray. Others raise their hands. Yet others fold their hands. Some make no physical gesture at all. 

We do our rituals differently.  Some claim to not have any rituals. We call the various parts of church architecture different things. We use different words to describe our doctrines.

Just as Massachusetts and New Mexico live within common boundaries, so do Baptists and Copts.

We call the common boundary that includes Baptists and Copts but which excludes Wicca practitioners)  Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is a boundary. for example, it defines what writings we accept as Holy Scripture. That’s why all Christians have a common Bible, consisting of sixty-six books. We have another set of writings, which we may read for our devotional benefit and which we honor. We call that small collection of writings the Apocrypha, or more properly, the 'deutero-canonical' (which means ‘almost canonical’) writings.  Some of us use those writings more than others, just as Texans tend to eat more tacos than New Englanders.

No Christian is free to accept the Bhagavad Gita as Holy Scripture. On the other hand, although we rarely read it, we all accept the Book of Nahum. Nahum is within our borders.  The Bhagavad Gita is not. That is what we mean by the concept of 'canon'. It is a border that defines Christian scripture, drawn a long time ago and honored by all types of Christians.

Some of us are rather like religious tourists though. From time to time we visit other religions and see what they are about. We may even learn from those religions. I have read the Bhagavad Gita, for example. I found it beautiful and, in places, inspiring. However, just as a tourist does not vote in the national elections of the country visits, Christians do not participate in rituals that compromise their understanding of God and faith. I do not bow to a statue of Krishna. I do not pray to Thor.

I am a faithful citizen of the kingdom of Christ. I do not try to carry contraband across the border.

Through the centuries, Christians learned the core principles of their faith, that is to say its boundaries,  through a process of instruction called catechism. Christians did this in order to protect its borders. Most denominations have abandoned the practice. The kids thought it was boring. (Evidently, that is also why we no longer study civics.)

As a result of abandoning catechism, Christianity’s borders are shifting. Paganism is creeping in on one side, humanism on the other. The language of Zion is not well understood now by those who live near our borders. They are no longer sure what “redemption” means. They are unsure of the meaning or utility of “canon.” They may halfway believe in reincarnation. They may not be sure how worship differs from a concert. They often do not know the two great creeds of the Church or understand the purpose these creeds served.

If the sections of a nation do not remember that they share a common border, the differences between places like Massachusetts and New Mexico become more like the differences between New Zealand and Ghana.  People in them keep moving away from one another. They forget their commonality or why that commonality was ever important. They forget their shared history and common ancestry.

Without the knowledge that instruction like civics and catechism, borders disappear.

When a tourist decides to become a citizen, he crosses a border. He takes an oath of loyalty to a new country. He learns a new language. He may even change his clothes.

When one changes his religion, he crosses a border called “conversion.”  After conversion, he prays to a different god. He reads different scripture. He adopts different practices.

There is no conversion unless one crosses that spiritual border.
Without learning where the borders are and what purpose they serve, no amount of anger and anxiety will atone for the ignorance.

Unprotected borders will disappear, and with them, the nations those borders once defined.

1 comment:

Phillip Michael Garner said...

Hello Pastor Dan,

I am writing because I agree with your assertion that borders are to be protected.

Often we invest massive amounts of resources into solutions through means that are quick, forceful and ultimately inadequate.

I think that how we protect our borders is the ethical problem which our country faces.

I understand the birthing of nations to be a process which God has ordained and participated in whether we have been able to discern his activity in doing so or not.

7 Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the LORD. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? (Amo 9:7 NRS)

I think the bible teaches us that the centralization of power is the ever present temptation of humanity (Gen. 10). We recognize this human tendency to centralize power ultimately as 'anti-Christ'.

In Christ we learn to exist with borders while finding fellowship, even kinship with people of other nations. The people of God, the church, is a unifying power in a world divided by borders.

Borders exist to separate people that would otherwise engage in warfare to maintain their culture, their identity as a people.

In Genesis, Jacob and Laban are family yet violence is going to ensue between the two if they do not set up a 'border'. So, they set up stones and make an oath never to cross over to do harm.

This is a good lesson for the people of God; we cross borders for peace not for harm. Even so, the state must maintain the borders and is confronted with how to do so in a way that contributes to the welfare of all concerned parties.

When people risk their lives to cross our border their actions indicate a desperation that we must recognize. There is a significant difference between a drug smuggler and a family seeking a better life in a neighboring country.

I want to pose a question in 'biblical speech'. When the children of Lazarus are laid at the gate of our nations borders how are we to respond?

As a nation we have done well taking in immigrants from IDP camps around the globe. I wonder if we could do better aiding our southern neighbors who cross our border looking for a better life?

In light of the violence currently occurring at our border, perhaps we should follow the money trail rather than inserting weapons into the hands of violent criminals?

I grew up picking oranges with both legal and illegal workers. I was offered twenty dollars by Cesar Chavez to stop working and march with him when he was organizing farm labor in California (I was thirteen).

I was also amazed at the amount of manpower exhibited when the Immigration showed up with helicopters and prisoner transport vans to catch a few men just trying to make a living in a changing world. As a thirteen year old kid I was also appalled by the violence used to apprehend a few illegals that were peacefully trying to survive.

Many people here in the south are unfamiliar with a road crossing sign placed on an interstate highway with the silhouettes of family (husband, wife and two children) holding hands. Rather than 'deer crossing' signs, Southern California's Interstate 5 has 'people crossing' signs.

Dan, I noted that in your blog there was no solution suggested or framework for how we are to protect our border. I want to add that we should do so as people who recognize that God is watching.