Living so near the border one hears stories. The stories are heartbreaking and eye opening and too real. The stories are from our neighbors, our friends, the folks we meet and greet at the newsstand or bus stop or while waiting for coffee. You hear them especially when wearing a collar because some stories can’t wait to be told — to be whispered or shouted to someone who might have some special line to Jesus. They want Jesus to hear. They want Mary to hear. You can hear a pleading as they tell the story as if they’ve looked all around them and shouted until hoarse, “Is it nothing to you who pass by?”
The stories are beautiful too.
I talked with a young woman who was beaten near to death by a boyfriend in Mexico. She fled. She fled him and the drugs and the police who tried to take her back to the abuser. She fled her parents who told her it was her fault. She fled fists and rage and self-loathing to make it here. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s feisty. It takes courage to flee. She fled here so she could wear a dress again and no one would ask about the bruises. She fled here so she could sleep again and not be yanked out of bed and kicked in the stomach. She fled here because it’s the home of the free and the brave and she was brave enough to be free. She fled here. She went to college. She had two children with a new husband whose love is fierce and protective. Her children want to be a social worker and a nurse — because they want to help women like their mom. She’s undocumented. She’s threatened with deportation. She’s been brave. She’s paid taxes. She’s not taken a dime from our government.
The stories can be heartbreaking in their truth.
A man was found dead in the desert. It took a while to learn his name. He was found covered in dust. He was out of water and out of time. He had been with a group making their way up to where they could take jobs no Americans will take. They’ll pick fruit. They’ll sweat and blister and ache and get cut, bruised, and sometimes cheated for the little pay they are promised. This one man didn’t make it to pick fruit. A helicopter scared the group — the men dashed and darted and this one headed into the desert. He had a small bottle of water he had picked up at some dime store along the way. The water ran out. His legs ran out. He fell. Not for the first time. He didn’t get up again. He died with a rosary in one pocket and three pictures in another of his wife and his two children. He came to work because we won’t and he died for it covered in dust, parched, with only the things he loved in his pockets.
There are more stories.
Family separation. ICE raids. DACA kids sleeping in their cars so they might finish a semester before being deported. The fear is real and it is the intended outcome of our policies. We are now intentionally instilling fear so a woman won’t flee her abuser, a man won’t come to do a job none of us will do, and so no one will take the risk of bringing her child out of poverty we can’t imagine to a country richer than they can fathom.
I wonder at the ugliness of it all.
What motivates men and women impossibly, unimaginably secure in this country to so long to see imprisoned, humiliated, and dead those longing to come here to work, pray, and love alongside us. I know people want to talk about safety, or drugs, or jobs but none of that is true. It takes a willful suspension of disbelief — an active choice to be cruelly ignorant — to insist that we are made safer by jailing, casting out, and chasing to their death these people who could be and long to be the best America has to offer.
It is an ugliness that is unholy. It mars and mocks the Christ who has broken every barrier to welcome us, the unworthy, to the riches of a Kingdom whose border is marked only by his grace and mercy. It’s an ungliness that bends and breaks for the sake of false security — the kind of demand for obedience to the law that instills and feeds and is fed by terror which only ramps up our demand for more enforcement, more cruelty, more soldiers, and finally for the Cross itself.
Is it nothing to us who pass by?
We pass by the terror inciting psychodramas playing out in the news. We pass by as leaders distort and manipulate the truth for the sake of votes cheaply bought with deaths in the desert and hidden bruises. We pass by it all because we, as a nation, have decided that this is one more kind of barbarism we’re content to watch unfold. Whether it’s lions in arenas or gladiators or public hangings or lynchings or numbness to the real cost of a drone strike in a far off land we can’t find on a map — empires grow bloated on their casual thirst for proof that they are winning and that they are great which is proved by the humiliation of the enemy, the other, the ones from shithole places.
If the encounter with God is an encounter with Truth and an encounter with Beauty then we need to hear the stories. Not the manufactured manipulations of our fears but the life, death, blood, and sweat stories of people risking everything to come to live among a people who have nothing to fear. We need the truth of their lives and love. We need the beauty of their courage and hope and sacrifice. We need to head to the borders of our fears and cross them for the sake of Jesus whom we will find there.
We need to long for truth, strive after beauty, and see in the tragedies we will face the hope of Resurrection. The same Christ who harrows Hell bids us to go to the desert, to the borders, and to those who think themselves damned in this life that we might bring the sure and certain hope that we who have been filled with the Water of Life cannot be content to let the deserts be a graveyard.
I’m proud of our parish for being one of three partners starting a young adult intentional community devoted to prayer, justice, and crossing borders too many fear. It is called Beloved in the Desert. It is certainly about creating beloved community here in Tucson — and it is also about going out to seek the truth and beauty of the beloved we will find in those desert stories.
This is a time for communities to come together and work, pray, and give for the sake of the Kingdom whose borders are shaped only by the prayer of Jesus that we all may be one. In that prayer, that we all may be one, lies a perfect love that can cast out the fear that blinds us to the truth and beauty of the stories so many long for us to hear. In hearing them we might freshly know the voice of the crucified one bidding us to behold our family and to become a truly beautiful, beloved community.