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We could have even done more repair work on Marie's home which sorely needs it. But our wise treasurer thought building Marie a chicken coop was the best thing to do and she was right.
Our community met Marie in the summer of 2012 when our team insulated and replaced a ceiling in her home. We all feel instantly in love. It was easy to do. We were quickly encircled in her gratitude and hospitality.
There are objects all over Marie’s home that reveal her nature: bird feeders, pictures of children, grandchildren, great nieces, handmade objects, baby dolls, and the most telling—a toy once enjoyed by a grandson who died. Marie has lived a life full of great sadness and great love. She has raised a gaggle of children, not all biologically hers, and with such love has come sorrow. She is honest about her heart break and free with her love. Her husbands have disappointed her, but she continues to live in the world as one who trusts love is the only answer.
How could we not have fallen in love with Marie?
Last year after installing a skirt around her trailer and painting the back of her home we had a lazy afternoon before us, talking with Marie about her farm. She had lost her coop in a fire and now only had a few chickens strolling around her yard. One of these chickens, a rooster, had a comb splattered with white paint from our children’s wild painting job. Marie was tickled pink at the sight. She enjoyed even more watching our children play in her field, exploring the nooks and crannies of her beautiful farm.
Not too long after I was called aside by the treasurer in our community. Knowing the numbers, she was happy to report we had a surplus in our mission trip account. What if we hired someone to build a coop for Marie to house her chickens? It didn’t take long for the “official” leaders in our community (note: that is pretty much all the adults) to agree that this would be the best way to spend our surplus. By October, Marie had a coop. Last winter she wrote us twice to report on her snug chickens and the joy they brought her was evident on the lined page.
I once read an article entitled Bread and Roses. Although I cannot remember the details of the article, the title has forever informed my thinking about those who Jesus calls the least among us. The author of the article argued (more articulately than I ever can) that the poor need both bread and roses. We could have made sure Marie’s oil tank was full for the winter, paid her electric bill, or filled her pantry. We could have even done more repair work on Marie’s home which sorely needs it. But our wise treasurer thought building Marie a chicken coop was the best thing to do and she was right. Marie, like all of us, needs bread and roses. Her new chicken coop is, I am sure, more beautiful to her than a vase of long stem roses. And there is no question that is has brought her great joy.
We’re going to see Marie in a few short days. We are eager to see her new coop and meet her new chickens. Hopefully her roosters white painted comb has worn off. I am sure Marie will encircle us in love and her natural hospitality. But I wonder what roses we might offer her this year. I wonder what roses we all need in our lives, beyond daily bread, that remind us that love is always worth the risk of heartache.
I wonder, in a nation that loves to identify itself as Christian, why has immigration become so complicated?
My friend called me panicked: her husband was in a car accident.
Her husband does not speak English. He is an alien in and alien land. (Leviticus 19:33). As I drove my friend to the scene of the accident, she was on the phone with her husband. I could not understand what they were saying to one another, but I knew they were afraid. Had the Police arrived?
I had assumed that since my friend was speaking with her husband that he was standing beside his crushed car, unable to speak with the driver of the other car, needing our help to relay insurance information or call a tow truck. When we arrived at the scene, I quickly realized that was not the case.
We could see from a distance the flashing lights. There were fire trucks, ambulances, police cars. My friend’s husband was strapped to a back board desperately trying to use his cell phone with his restricted arms.
The fire fighters must have seen the fearful look on my face. They quickly assured us that everyone would be okay. The EMT’s were relieved that my friend could translate so they could understand the severity of her husband’s injuries. I offered my friend’s information to the police officers on the scene: name, phone number, address. Should I give them their real address or mine? Would they find out he was undocumented?
“When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt.” Leviticus 19:33
My friend and her husband are fine. The feds have not arrived at their door. They’ve had to do all the normal things after a car accident: insurance claims, paying the tow company to take their car to the junk yard, and living as a one car family until they save enough money for an additonal car.
The emergency workers that arrived that night were excellent. Luiz’s lack of English was treated as an inconvenience, not as something that marked him as less that human. For that, I was and am deeply grateful.
Yet the sight of Luiz strapped into a stretcher, his head stabilized, emergency workers surrounding him, clutching his phone, desperately waiting for our arrival, lodged itself deep inside me.
I had never realized how much power I possess until I saw Luiz on that stretcher. I am white. I am educated. I speak English. I am American. I have credit cards, bank accounts, and investment funds. I have many connections with other powerful people like me. I have never once felt helpless. Emotionally vulnerable, yes. Unaware what to do next, yes. But never absolutely helpless.
Luiz is a very capable man. He can do anything with his hands and can make an enormous smile flash on the face of any child he meets. Yet that evening he could do nothing. He was utterly helpless, utterly dependent on the arrival of his wife.
We can treat undocumented, non-English speak immigrants anyway we want. Like Luiz, they are utterly helpless in many, if not most, situations. We hold all the power. This awareness has left me bereft for my friend and Luiz.
What protection does Luiz have as an alien in an alien land?
I am a Christian, long before I am an American. The man I follow spoke of a totally new world order where the first shall be last (Matthew 20) and the poor are blessed (Matthew 5). He reminded his followers that we could not act anyway we like, but instead the law of love, not power, governs us (John 13 & Matthew 22). And the God of the Hebrew Bible was very clear about how to treat aliens in an alien land who had no tribal protection: the same as a native. (Leviticus 19:33)
I wonder, in a nation that loves to identify itself as Christian, why is the immigration question so complicated?
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unawares.” ~Hebrews 13:1-2
The above quote isn’t strictly a Christmas text, but it should be. We need to be careful not to tame it, imagining it painted on a tea cozy in a nice cursive hand, but see it for what it is: a call to radical welcome, and risky service. After all, the author of Hebrews goes on to say: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Tough words, when what it means is to pray for violent offenders.
But I didn’t mean to go there. It is Advent, after all, that sweet and spicy time of the year. It’s a time when a lot of us are doing extra entertaining, and being entertained. But what would it mean to make strangers, in addition to loved ones, the beneficiaries of our hospitality? What would it mean to entertain an angel?
The Christmas texts are rife with angels: from the angel of the Lord’s visit to Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, on through the heavenly host singing the Messiah over the shepherd’s fields. In almost every instance, the first thing they say to those they visit is “Be not afraid!” What kind of message is this?
We have so stripped angels of any kind of awe-ful presence, so domesticated them with our tchotchkes that we can’t imagine being afraid of one. But who and what are angels actually? What are they for?
Angelos means messenger. Angels are the FedEx workers of God: there to deliver urgent letters and instructions, some welcome, some unwelcome. They also arrive, on occasion, to help or heal, hence the mythos of the guardian angel. They always come unannounced, and do nobody’s bidding but God’s. But Angels are not always safe—don’t forget that Satan was once and is forever an angel. They are strange, and they are strangers.
In New England, strangers ignore each other in public—it’s the polite thing to do. But I’ve seen this: when that rarity, a natural extrovert (usually a Buffalonian) shows up and starts acting all friendly, we’re grateful for a chance to drop the façade, to get to know one another, to bridge the gulf of loneliness and difference and feel that there may be something to this “body of Christ,” “one human family” thing after all.
One thing the angels and the newborn Jesus have in common is this: anyone might be a divine messenger, or Godself, disguised in ordinary flesh, walking around on this planet. That is what “incarnation” means.
During this holy time of Advent, why not try to redefine the normal magazine definition of “holiday hospitality.” Forget about the cute place markers and perfect bottle of wine to accompany the perfect spread of Hors D’oeuvres. Instead try making a connection with a stranger (yes, a stranger!). Say hello on the train. Invite the neighbor you say nothing more than “hi” to for dinner? Talk to the mom who always waits quietly to pick up her child from school. Sit next to someone you don’t know at the senior center. Speaking with stranger is about really believing that YOU are worthy of visitation from an angel—that Someone has a message for you.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.