Current Events

The Hardest Stories to Tell #EndFamilyDetention

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The stories we most need to tell are often the hardest to tell. I’ve struggled mightily to figure out how and when to tell this story. I’m sure there will be more to tell, later, but for now I tell it for a simple reason: Patricia and those like her want their story to be heard. I translated this story into Spanish for Patricia and she corrected a few minor details. Everything told here is with her full consent and permission.

I met Patricia in October of last year, while she and her son, Mario, were detained in Karnes Family Detention Jail. Immediately, I was struck by her smile and her positive energy and bright eyes. Though she was optimistic and happy, it was impossible not to feel the deep sadness within her. We didn’t talk about the details, then, but I knew they must have been horrific. She fled El Salvador with her eight year old son, Mario, because his life was in danger. He would be forced into a gang if she didn’t get him out, and quickly. Mario is eight years old. He has a sister they had to leave behind.

I went to visit Karnes several times, and I brought someone new with me each time, first my colleague, Kelly, then a parishioner from my congregation, Melissa, next my husband, Elias, and finally my two and three year old boys, Clayton and Samuel. This is the part in the story where I want to be crystal clear that I was taking my toddlers to a to a jail where other children their own age and younger are detained as prisoners.

In the visitation area there is a play kitchen and mismatched toys. The three boys played together.  I wrote this in my journal that day:

We sat on the carpeted space with the toys and the little refrigerator… we didn’t talk too much this time about Patricia or El Salvador or what she left behind or what she’s going toward, we just played with the kids. We laughed when Clayton identified a piece of pretend meat as a watermelon. We scolded Samuel for taking a toy away from Mario. We praised Mario for saying ‘That’s ok.’ We pretended we were normal friends, not in a prison.

But we were in a prison, a fact that was painfully and viscerally evident when Clayton asked “Why is the door locked?” I said nothing.

The night after my husband and I brought our boys to Karnes Family Detention Center I had a dream that we were all back there again and when it was time to leave the guards wouldn’t let me take my children out. They said when children come in here, we don’t let them out, ever. You can’t prove that they are yours.  When I woke up the next morning, I told Elias that I was never bringing the children to visit Mario and Patricia again.

I changed my mind and we continued the visits. The nightmares continued, though.

Mercifully, thanks to the dedication of RAICES lawyers and the bond fund, Patricia and Mario were released to come live with us on January 1 of this year, after five months in jail.

I have vivid memories of dinner on New Year’s Day. Some El Salvadoran friends told us that El Pollo Loco was a good choice, and so we got roast chicken with all of the sides. I remember Mario gobbling up every morsel and seconds. We found something for Mario to sleep in. They came to us with the clothes on their backs and some legal papers.

The first few nights with all of us under the same roof were intense and emotional. Elias was out of town for a week and so Patricia and I had a lot of time to talk. She told me about the violence she fled. She told me about the journey. She told me about the incredible sense of isolation and hopelessness she felt in detention and how hope filled and happy she was when we would visit.  She talked about El Salvador and why she had to leave. I journaled about the terrible details of other stories she has shared but I cannot bear to read them.

There has been a visible transformation in eight year old Mario since he has been out of detention. When he was inside, his mother said he was getting sadder and sadder every day, but here, the opposite has been true. Just eight days after getting out of detention I wrote this in my journal “Today at dinner Patricia said “his face is filling out a little bit. he doesn’t have as much of that sad look in his eyes anymore. I wanted to ask her, ‘will there come a time when he doesn’t have it at all?’”

Since January we’ve felt an outpouring of love and support from our community. The church I pastor has showered us with gift cards to the grocery store, clothes, school supplies for Mario, money for vaccines and warm smiles. The Interfaith Welcome Coalition brought hot meals, listening ears, legal help, and a guest house for them to stay in when my parents were in town for an extended visit. We’ve formed a strong bond, and so have our children who play together and fight together like brothers.

Yet, these months have not been without challenge and struggle. It’s not easy to squish two families who barely know each other together in a modest home. We’ve all had moments of stress, misunderstanding and sadness.

At times I felt buried under an avalanche of pain, which has led to tremendous guilt. Why is it, I wondered that I am feeling so much stress when I should be rejoicing that things are getting better for Patricia and Mario? Part of the answer, I think, lies in the fact that seeing Patricia and Mario every day is a constant reminder that there are hundreds of children and their mothers locked inside for-profit (yes, for profit) immigration detention centers like place we first met in Karnes City.

In a few weeks, Patricia and Mario are moving on. They’ve gotten some things situated, they’ve made some choices, and now they’re headed for beautiful Seattle. You can help them get there. My family has never been to the pacific northwest, but now we have the perfect reason to visit.

If you would like to contribute to Patricia and Mario’s relocation fund, there is a Go Fund Me site set up. Donations of any size are welcome. 

Other Ways to Help

To Donate to the Refugee Backpack Program, go HERE.

If you are a faith leader, sign this letter.

To learn more about Family Detention, here are some good places to start:

What I Saw at the Detention Center

Locking up Family Values, Again

RAICES

#EndFamilyDetention

Q&A with Kyndall Rothaus, Author of Preacher Breath

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It’s with great joy that I’m hosting this Q&A with my friend Kyndall (pronounced like Kindle. In fact, we call her Kindle Fire in our house.) Rothaus.  Kyndall is a preacher-poet. Ever met one? Me neither. Let me say this: everybody needs a preacher-poet in their life. Kyndall recently published a book all my preacher peeps have to read, and I asked her to do a Q&A for the blog to start getting the word out. 

TS: Kyndall, thank you so much for stopping by my blog and doing a Q&A about Preacher Breath. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time! Ok, how about I give you a question that sounds kind of artsy and awesome and gives you a wordy challenge. You are a poet, after all. Here goes. Give us your resume in 10 words: 

KR: pastor, poet, lover-of-words-and-nature, very solidly human

TS: Yup. That describes the Kyndall I know, at least. Ok, how about something juicy. Three pet peeves: 

KR: ?

TS: Seriously? No pet peeves to report? I assume those will be revealed in your second book. Moving on… Three hidden talents?

KR: I am an eighty percent free throw shooter, I can fit in small spaces, and I am almost always the coldest person in a room no matter how many layers I am wearing, which I find remarkably inexplicable.

TS:  How about three writers who influence your work?

KR: Hard to narrow it down to three! At the current moment, these three writers are near the top of the list: Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, and Alice Walker.

TS: Ok, so the reason we’re all here. You just published a book! Tell us a little about your book, Preacher Breath

KR: Preacher Breath is a written reflection of my ongoing journey to live as a wholehearted person, to preach with sincerity and imagination, and to approach both Scripture and world with a sense of wonder and playfulness. The last two years of my life have been extremely difficult, but out of that dark place emerged this book—evidence to me of the light that dawns after long nights.

TS: Who is the target audience?

KR: I sorta see Preacher Breath being for anyone on the journey towards an authentic life, but of course I imagine it having a special appeal to preachers who are fed up trying to be perfect.

TS: Wait, I’m supposed to be trying to be perfect? Ha! I know what you mean. As a pastor, I found it to be so affirming and just… gentle. I love how yur book is organized around the human body. There are chapters like “Heart: Purpose in Preaching” and “Veins: Emotion in Preaching.” So clever and so true. How did you come up with that? Was there one chapter/part of the body that inspired all the others? 

KR: The chapter titles sort of just poured out of me. But I think the chapters happened that way because the connection of the body to the soul has been a significant aspect of my spiritual growth. I want a full-bodied faith, you know? It’s easier for me to stay stuck in my own mind, but I’m on a quest to let faith seep all the way down to my toes. A disembodied religion just doesn’t do justice to the miracle of the

preacher, poet, friend, Kyndall

  incarnation. 

TS: The chapter that was the most interesting to me was “Skin: Vulnerability in Preaching.” With Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, it seems to be a “hot topic.” For me, I always feel like I’m walking a thin line between some of the things you say (vulnerability is good for the congregation when tastefully expressed) and some of the other wisdom I’ve heard (namely that too much vulnerability or “falling apart” is unhealthy for the congregation.) How do you balance the two? How does a preacher know when she is being “tastefully” vulnerable, or just a wreck? 

KR: Well, the preacher rarely knows for certain when she is being tastefully vulnerable versus being a wreck. You have to make your best guess and go with it. I know my natural tendency is to be private and to hide, so if something is prompting me to be more honest and open, that prompting is probably exactly what I need to do. I don’t know how to balance it perfectly, but I do think it helps to pay attention to your motives. If you’re being “vulnerable” to get attention, to make people feel sorry for you, or to try and feel better, that may be a sign you are falling apart and expecting the congregation to fix you, which won’t work. If you’re self-disclosing your human struggle and feel scared to death what will happen when you do, chances are, you’re on the right track.

If you believe your troubles are worse than anyone else around you, and that by sharing them, you’ll get sympathy, this is not good. If you think by daring to expose what is most personal to you may in fact have the capacity to resonate with other hurting people, this is good. Very good. I think it means you’re getting it—that we are all having a hard time and that we are all connected.

Share in order to connect, not to get attention. But do share. If you want your people to stop hiding, you have to be willing to go first.

TS: Which chapter/passage of the book are you most proud of, and why? 

KR: Well, I feel proud of “Bones,” but it is hard to explain why—I’m not even sure I know myself. I can tell you I am most surprised by “Legs”—the last chapter of the book. It was the unexpected chapter that came to me after all the others were finished. I wrote about “authority in preaching,” which just shocked the socks off me as I was writing it, because I’m rather averse to the word authority. But as I wrote, I redefined the word, and I was startled to learn I rather liked my own definition.

TS: I rather liked it, too. In fact, I loved the whole thing and encourage everyone to get it. Get it from the publisher HERE or Amazon HERE. Keep up with Kyndall at KyndallRae.com

Thanks for stopping by, Kyndall and congratulations on Preacher Breath!

An Immigration Policy We Can All Agree On: #EndChildDetention #EndFamilyDetention

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I’ve been visiting a mother, Alicia* in family detention in Karnes City for a few months now. Family detention is the almost unbelievable practice of locking up young mothers and their children in prison. No matter what we think about the right of immigrants to cross the border without proper authorization, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone believes that children deserve to be locked up. The United Nations agrees. The committee on the rights of the child says:

Children should not be criminalized or subject to punitive measures because of their or their parents’ migration status. The detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status constitutes a child rights violation and always contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child.

For several months I’ve been actively volunteering and working with Mission Presbytery’s efforts to help refugees from Central America who find themselves in the bounds of our Presbytery. There are a lot of overlapping, complicated issues. Though we see these issues through the eyes of faith (“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21) our work necessarily takes us to places where broader policy is involved.
Not everyone agrees on what the policy should be. Should there be quotas? Should more people be given asylum? How should new arrivals be handled? Should people be deported right away? How many people should be allowed to come and under what circumstances? What about people who have been here for a long time? And what about family members? Should adult children of US citizens be automatically given visitor’s visas to come visit? (This affects my own family and Elias’s adult children who have not been allowed to visit in the 6 years Elias and I have been married, though they have applied). It would take a lot of blogging to address all of these policies and to propose solutions, and these are all very complicated questions and solutions.

Instead, though, I want to focus on this mother and her children, because I think it’s something most of us can agree on:

Children do not belong in detention. Family detention must be ended.

I’ve heard people who work inside the family detention center in Karnes talk about how nice it is. “The children have school and they are fed three meals a day and they are permitted to play outside.”

These things are true, and even so, family detention is outrageous. When we talk about facts and statistics, sometimes our eyes glaze over. (Although, if you’re interested in facts, I suggest reading THIS or THIS.)

Instead of summarizing the facts you can easily read yourself, I want to tell a story, and it’s a story about the mom I’ve been visiting in detention. More specifically, it’s a story about her 8 year old son, Camilo.*

Alicia says that Camilo is having a lot of difficulty in detention. After making a harrowing journey all the way from central america, fleeing imminent gun violence and threats of death, they spent some challenging days at the US/Mexico border. Once they made their way to Karnes Detention facility, she noticed the problems: acting out at school, hitting his head against the wall, outbursts. She says he cries a lot. One of the problems, according to Alicia, is that he can’t make friends in detention. Friends mysteriously arrive and leave. He doesn’t understand why. He also doesn’t understand why they can’t go anywhere. Ever. They can’t go to the store or to church or to the soccer field. They can’t go to get a haircut.

It’s this last one I want to talk about for a second: a haircut. Last time I went to visit Alicia, I asked about Camilo. “He’s sad today. He was supposed to get his haircut, but then he didn’t. He’s been crying about it.”

It didn’t seem like she wanted to talk more about it, and so we didn’t. But I can’t stop thinking about that haircut. As I pack my two boys up in the car to take them here and there and everywhere, I can’t stop thinking about the hundreds of children in Karnes Detention facility who are locked up, in cells, because their parents dared to try and give them a better life. Family detention is outrageously costly to the US government. There are cheaper and more humane options.

#EndFamilyDetention #EndChildDetention

Three ways to begin to make a difference about child detention in the US:

1. Look for information and learn about it. Family Detention seems to get lost sometimes in the middle of a much larger immigration debate. Another reason it gets lost is that the family detention facilities are far out of the way of any major city or area. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

2. Don’t worry too much about being “too political.” It’s a dangerous narrative out there when showing compassion and basic common sense is somehow a political agenda. There is room for all kinds of politics in the immigration debate. There is not room to ever justify locking up children and denying them freedom to live in a house with friends or family while their cases are processed. Whichever political party you support, your leaders can get on board with some kind of meaningful reform. Children deserve to be free. (And, yes, some can come live with me. Mission Presbytery has families lining up to receive families in our own homes if people are given the opportunity).

3. Connect:

Mission Presbytery Refugee Family Response

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

See also: Babies in Jails

 

*Names changed for privacy

World Mental Health Day: 5 Thoughts from a Pastor’s Perspective…

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Today, as I’m sitting in a hospital waiting for my mother to come out of recovery for her knee surgery, I’m reminded that today is World Mental Health Day. Here are five things that are on my mind a lot when it comes to mental illness…

1. Mental Illness deserves the same treatment as physical illness in the church. I’m talking about the casseroles, the cards, the prayer requests, the phone calls from the pastor, the full court press. People who are suffering with mental illness (and their families) need real support. So many times, though, we’re afraid to mention it. There’s a stigma and a shame we can’t get over. I know the reasons for this are varied and complex, and I don’t have easy answers. I think the first step is for us to admit that we don’t talk about it enough. Maybe the first step is for everyone to say to each other “You know, why don’t we bring someone a casserole when they are depressed?” or “Why don’t we know when someone is suffering with bipolar disorder?” Mental illness is largely hidden away under layers of shame and silence. Lifeway Research points out how infrequently mental illness is discussed by church leadership which is part of the problem.

2. Colleagues… how can we help each other when we ourselves are suffering with mental illness? The same study referenced above also found 1 in 4 pastors reporting that they (we) are suffering from mental illness. We need to speak up in our clergy groups. We need to seek counseling and help if (when?) we suffer. We need to help each other.

3. Another reminder to my colleague brothers and sisters We need to find the best therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists in our town and refer to them often. In the same way: parishioners – your pastor is not a therapist (usually). Most ministers are not trained mental health professionals yet many people with mental health needs come to us. This is only a problem if we aren’t clear on what will (should) happen in that situation. We should provide appropriate spiritual care and then refer out to excellent appropriately trained mental health professionals. Every pastor has his or her own policy on how and when to counsel and the “rules” are different depending on circumstance. I usually agree to meet with someone (or a couple) up to three times about the same issue or situation and then always refer out after that. Sometimes it takes even less meetings to know when something is out of my area of expertise and education. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit that we can’t help, it’s a sign of strength. 

4. A word to all of the mental health professionals out there: thank you! Your work is so important and often invisible. Thank you for working long hours and taking on difficult cases. Another word — pastors in your community can help. Though we’re not trained to treat mental illness, we are trained to provide spiritual care. Many of your patients need that too. We can help. Let’s work together.

5.  I want to pledge to keep learning more I want to end this post with a shoutout to fellow Chalice Press author Sarah Lund and her new book Blessed Are the CrazyI’m not going to lie, the title of this book makes me nervous. I was really happy to read the Huffington Post Article she recently published explaining and defending the title. The book is important. It’s Sarah’s story about mental illness in her family. I think she’s exceedingly brave to tell it. More than this, the book aims to bring the topic to churches around the country that we might begin (or continue) to talk about it. What an important and worthy goal. Congratulations, Sarah, and I can’t wait to read your book.

Why I Won’t Remain Silent on Adrian Peterson

Credit: Mike Morbeck  Creative Commons Licence  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Credit: Mike Morbeck
Creative Commons Licence
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

First: Adrian Peterson did not “spank” his child, he beat him bloody. This is not a matter of a “judgement call.” This isn’t “well some people think differently.” He beat him up. Look it up. There isn’t room for debate here.

Second: Prominent evangelicals as well as Adrian Peterson himself defend this type of action because of the Bible and the faulty belief that somehow God is pleased when parents beat their children on the back, buttocks and scrotum, with a tree branch.  I’m not making this up.

Third: The phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” does not appear in the Bible, though there is an entire industry and collective consciousness built around it.*

These are the reasons I’m unable to be silent about this. It’s not that I want to jump in on a current news story about a professional sports player behaving badly (which would be a full time job right now, it seems.) I wrote a book on Christian parenting and many other books on Christian parenting advise spanking as a legitimate form of “discipline.” I’m ashamed to be a part of this genre of work if that’s the connection people are going to make.

You wanna know who the loudest proponents of hitting your kids are? Christian Pastors. I’m ashamed to be a part of this profession if that’s the connection people are going to make. 

Adrian Peterson’s little boy was beaten bloody with a stick because his dad thought God told him to. This is not ok.

* Proponents of hitting children as a valid form of Christian parenting often use two verses: Proverbs 13:24 and Proverbs 23:13. I’m not going to engage this debate in this post because it’s an example of what is called “prooftexting” which is “is the practice of using isolated quotations from a document to establish a proposition.” I will engage anyone on this question using a debate from either of these two verses if that person is willing to say that disobedient children should also be stoned to death. (Also in the Bible: see Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

See Also: Adrian Peterson and the False Gospel of Spanking

The noisy news…

Sometimes the news just seems… loud to me. Death. Violence. Wars. Screaming. Shouting. Bills. Laws. Minority opinions. Majority opinions.

It seems to me that the only thing that can break through, sometimes, is art.

Today it was quiet enough for me to really see and hear this short poem by Khaled Juma…

 

rascal children of gaza

A Prayer for San Antonio Parents and Teachers in a Time of Fear

Single Butterfly Line Art

One of the obvious things I do as a pastor is pray. I often feel that my prayers are insufficient or incomplete, but I feel called to continue to do it. I lift up, every day, the needs of my congregation and the concerns they lay before me. It is an honor and a privilege.

This week I’ve been praying for the parents in my congregation who have children in school. Though we always pray for our children, these parents have been especially troubled this week as threats have been made against their children’s safety. What are these threats? Are they a hoax? In this context what does a “hoax” even mean? Any threat against our children is to be taken seriously. Very seriously. And so, I do what I always do, I pray.

I wanted to put a prayer on this blog for parents to share with one another tonight and tomorrow, an encouragement to stand together and come to God with our hopes and fears and solidarity.  Fear is powerful, and when we are afraid we can always come to God in prayer. Let us all come together and light candles together, and pray.

A Prayer for Parents and Teachers in a Time of Fear 

Gracious and Loving God,

We come before you with anxious and worried hearts, asking for you to hear our prayers on behalf of the children you created. When our children are threatened, our hearts are heavy and emotions run deep. We are anxious, sad, scared, tired, overwhelmed.

Draw near to parents, we pray, whether they decide to keep their children home or send them to school, help them to have peace of mind that the decisions they make are best for their family. May we support and love one another, knowing that Your Spirit leads each of us in different ways.

Draw near to teachers, we pray, give them strength and courage as they do their already difficult jobs on an even more difficult day. May they feel our support, our compassion and our love.

Draw near to our children, we pray, and give them a palpable sense of security not just today and tomorrow, but each and every day. May they know that they are loved, protected, and safe. May they know that the adults in their lives will stop at nothing to ensure their safety and security.

We trust in you, O God, and ask you to draw near to us when we feel worried and afraid. Give us strength and courage, and a knowledge of your presence. In Christ’s Name we pray, Amen.