Witnessing for Justice and Compassion in Michigan

Within the last year, the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network (MUUSJN) has partnered with the Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Reform Michigan to educate Unitarian Universalists about immigration reform. On December 28, 2011, members of the alliance had an opportunity to take action that got positive results!  MUUSJN and local Unitarian Universalists from All Souls Community Church of West Michigan  attended a rally in Grand Rapids to stand up for three small children and their immigrant mother, Victoria Lorenzo-Calmo.  In this post,  Randy Block, Director of MUUSJN, tells the story.- Ed.

Victoria Lorenzo-Calmo fled to America in 2001 after being brutally abused by her ex-husband. After coming to the United States, Victoria met and married a man from Guatemala who appreciates and loves her. Until recently, they lived in Grand Rapids, MI with their three children, who are American citizens.  Earlier this year, her husband was deported to Guatemala. Until recently, she awaited her own deportation hearing. Every time the phone rang, Victoria feared it might be the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) calling to tell her that her immigration date had arrived. (more…)

Who Belongs Here? Exploring Immigration with Children and Youth

Many UU congregations are looking for help in engaging children and youth with immigration justice issues. In February, the UUA will publish a four-session curriculum for children. With this post, we publish an annotated list of websites and books about immigration compiled by religious educator Karen Scrivo as a course project at Starr King School for the Ministry. In this post, she introduces her project-  Ed.

When my Italian grandparents came to the United States as children during the early 1900s, they and their parents arrived at Ellis Island without papers, passports or visas. My grandma Rose Siciliano was about 7 and my grandpa Louis Scrivo was 12. Their families made the long arduous trans-Atlantic journey to escape the harsh poverty that gripped southern Italy.  They came knowing no English and with dreams of finding a better life in America.

Their stories are similar to those of many of today’s immigrants – except then there were no quotas for how many Europeans could enter the United States.  So their undocumented status did not brand them as “illegal aliens,” nor did they constantly look over their shoulders, worrying they might be deported.  Had they been coming from Mexico, they would have not have encountered high barbed wire fences or been detained or turned back by menacing border patrols.

My grandparents went to school, learned English and later met and married in Freeport, Pennsylvania.  A carpenter, my grandfather built a house and also worked in the coal mines near Pittsburgh. My grandmother sometimes worked as a seamstress for a local department store.  They raised three sons – my father Bill and his older brother Bob and younger brother, Vic and lived to see their many grandchildren. (more…)

Introducing … “The Journey Toward Phoenix” on blogtalkradio

I am pleased to be a guest speaker for this exciting new project organized by Rev. Carlton Elliot Smith of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA.  Here’s a chance to do some “cooking together” on immigration justice issues using talk radio as a medium- ed.

What if we could have a live national conversation among Unitarian Universalists about our Justice General Assembly this June? What if we could learn in real-time about what other congregations across the country were doing to address “Immigration as a Moral Issue”? What if there was an audio forum where UUs could be in dialogue with leaders in our movement about how to prepare for this unique gathering in our 50+ years of history?

It’s all happening, starting this Saturday, January 7, 4:00pm-5:00pm EST. Welcome to “The Journey Toward Phoenix”, an internet-based talk-radio program originating from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia. Each week, the program will provide a platform to showcase what local congregations are doing regarding the immigration issue in their communities, as well as providing information about resources available from the UUA as we look toward our Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, June 20-24. Leaders in our association will share experiences, plans, and details as they develop, and listeners will be able to call-in live to ask questions of our guests.

Among the topics we expect to cover over the next six months are youth involvement in Justice GA, the DREAM Act, Secure Communities, the emerging detention industrial complex, UU curricula and resources regarding immigration, participating in Justice GA on a budget, our public witness in Phoenix, and working with community partners.

This week’s topic is “Immigration as a Moral Issue.” The program will feature Marilyn Baker and Sarah Bazzi, co-conveners of the Immigration Working Group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia, in the first half-hour. In the second half-hour, we welcome Gail Forsyth-Vail, Adult Programs Director at the Unitarian Universalist Association (and editor of this blog!). Listen in to the conversation this and every Saturday from 4 -5 PM Eastern. There’s a phone number on blogtalkradio page so you can pose a question of our guests or contribute a comment.

Looking forward to greeting you on the radio as “The Journey Toward Phoenix” becomes reality!


Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith is a Team Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA. Throughout 2010-2011, much of his attention is going toward the congregational/denominational focus on justice for immigrants and their families.

Films on Immigration

Perhaps you have a little more time than usual for watching movies at this time of year.  Perhaps you are looking for a good youth group or other small group activity.  Perhaps you are looking for a selection for your congregation’s book and movie group. Here are some recommendations for movies that explore immigration issues. -Ed.

DRAMA

The Visitor (2007) 104 minutes, PG-13
In this fictional drama, an American college professor and a young immigrant couple grapple with the treatment of immigrants and the legal process post-9/11. The film makers are using the film to call attention to issues of due process, detention and deportation. Learn more about what you can do in response. (more…)

Taking Jesus Seriously

This is another in a series of posts exploring the wisdom Jewish and Christian scripture and tradition offer as we strive to faithfully respond to immigration issues.  This is an excerpt from Rev. Lucinda Duncan’s  sermon, “Taking Jesus Seriously,” preached  at Follen Church Society in Lexington, MA on December 19, 2010- Ed.

In the Gospels, Jesus says:

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

A more accurate translation would have said, Blessed are the destitute…

What is this all about?  Was as Jesus saying that God actually blessed the destitute, the beggars? Was Jesus simply a romantic charismatic liberalwho thought everyone could be taken in and fed?

"Mary and Joseph Welcome" at Occupy Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA

The reality is that Jesus was saying that God blessed the destitute, the beggars, because they were the poor who had then hit hard times.  After struggling to eke out a basic minimum living, they were crushed by debt, disease, or drought and could no longer make a living.  They needed to beg on the streets to gather enough coins to put some food into the mouths of their children.  Now let me just say: We know these people. In modern times these are the people who, in desperation, pay a year’s wage to a mafia coyote for the opportunity to risk life and limb to be transported illegally into the United States.  Once here these are the people who are hired by major corporations to pick crops for substandard wages, to pluck chickens for fast food chains, or to wait around in groups on empty city corners to see if someone might drive by to offer them a single day’s wage.

Do you get what I’m talking about here?  Yes, it’s our immigration issue, and it’s not going away.  Yes, I’m saying that the people Jesus would call blessed by God are these very people, the undocumented immigrants carted into the United States by crime rings who care not a whit for the life or safety of any of their recruits and who are now the cause for such a ruckus in states like Arizona who believes every undocumented immigrant is a criminal trespasser.

If we are to take the words and the actions of Jesus seriously, we need to look at and listen to the needs of the poor, the undocumented, and the impoverished in this nation.  We have the resources to do this.  We used to have the heart. Could listening to what Jesus had to say, and how he lived his life, help us to realize hope and dignity must be supported somewhere, by someone or some people?  Does listening to the words and looking at the life of Jesus change any of your minds about our immigration issues, about the minor actions — like the DREAM Act – that could possibly affect some of those in the right age group to win legal approval from the land in which they were raised?  Can we bring ourselves to see what is morally relevant about Jesus’ philosophy and work together to provide hope and dignity to those who are settling this land?  How seriously do we want to take Jesus?


Rev. Lucinda Duncan is Minister Emerita of the Follen Church Society, Lexington, Massachusetts.

The Birth of Jesús

This is an excerpt from the Epilogue of The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands, by Margaret Regan.  The book was chosen as the 2010-2011 Common Read for Unitarian Universalists, and has a downloadable discussion guide.

The weekend before Christmas 2008, temperatures dropped sharply across southern Arizona. By midnight on December 21, the border town of Douglas was shivering in the low 40s. By the time a baby boy was born in the desert a few hours later, it was down to 34, so cold the soft earth had hardened and the cactus spines were crackling. The baby’s mother, Lilian Escalante Abrego, had been hiking the wilderness for three days, in a group of quince compañeros caminando, “fifteen friends walking”: five women,a nine-year-old girl, and nine men. Lilian had started out with a friend in their native Honduras, and the two of them had met the rest of the migrants along the way. The journey
lasted weeks, and the travelers had become close. That night they were in the foothills of the Perilla Mountains, ten miles east of Douglas, hoping to make it to a road and a ride. Lilian wasn’t expecting her baby until January. But in the wee hours of December 22, she went into labor.

Unlike those who walked with Josseline, Lilian’s compañeros didn’t even consider going on without her. They shook off their backpacks and spread a yellow blanket on the cold desert floor, trying, vainly, to find a spot free of rocks and prickers. “I lay down on the ground,” Lilian said later, and the wayfarers gathered around under the stars to await the birth of the child. They were in ranch country, and cattle were lowing. With Navidad on her mind, Lilian prayed to the Christ Child.

This was her fifth baby and the labor was short. After only two hours, Lilian brought her baby to the light, lo dio a luz, as the Spanish term for childbirth has it. At three thirty in the morning, near where Silverio Huinil Vail had died eight years before, Arón Jesús Escalante Abrego was born.

“One of the muchachas”—the women—“cut the umbilical cord with a knife,” Lilian said. Both the baby and his mother were in trouble. Arón Jesús was dangerously small and Lilian was bleeding vaginally. She had banged up her legs during the trip, and her feet were badly blistered. “I couldn’t run,” she said. “I couldn’t even walk. I wanted help from la migra.” So someone lit a fire. The birthplace was in lonesome country, and the agents never saw the flames blazing in the winter night. When no help came, ten of the migrants set out to find it.
“A man stayed with me in the desert,” Lilian said. “A Mexican compañero. He told me, ‘I’m not going to leave you alone.’ ” Nicknamed Capulina, he had already teasingly asked the widow Lilian to marry him. She’d teased him right back, saying he was too old, forty to her thirty-nine, but at her moment of crisis he was there at her side. “He cried when the baby was born.”

At daybreak, the others found a solitary ranch house and banged on the door. The owner peered out and, hearing of the birth in the desert, put in an emergency call to the Border Patrol. When la migra arrived, the migrants regaled them with the story of the Christmas baby. The agents hurried out, and in the morning light tracked the walkers’ footprints back to the yellow blanket. They found Arón Jesús and Lilian swaddled in sweaters and trembling in the cold…

On Christmas Eve, the upward arc of Lilian’s story—and the heartwarming tale of the Border Patrol’s rescue of a new baby in Christmas week—spiraled back down. In the early afternoon, I found her dressed and sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, discharge papers in hand. A new Border Patrol agent was standing by. Now that she was medically able to travel, the agent had orders to take her to the station. Never mind that she was a nursing mother with a newborn son in intensive care. And never mind that it was Christmas Eve…

From The Death of Josseline copyright Margaret Regan 2010. Published by Beacon Press.

Read the full story of Lilian and baby Arón Jesús in the Epilogue to The Death of Josseline. It is one of many moving immigration stories from the Arizona Borderlands found in Regan’s book. How have you used Regan’s book in your congregation?  What insights did the book offer to you?  How did it call you to action?  Send us your stories!

Grace and Gratitude

With thanks to the Rev. Sonya Sukalski for this post! -ed.

We accept life’s gifts with grace and gratitude and use them to bless the world.

This piece of the chalice lighting often heard at Starr King School for the Ministry is an easy sentiment to connect to at Thanksgiving. Through the jostling at the dinner table about who says “Grace” and prodding about every person present voicing their gratitude, we try to reconnect to the abundance of harvest time.  “Grace” as a word for what we do before a meal (sometimes, perhaps not often enough) has not always retained its meaning as something we enjoy but did not earn.

The apple tree in my back yard reminds me of this and opens doors to the joy of our interdependence. I have to pause to thank the woman who planted and nurtured the tree.  I have to thank the workers who laid pipe and keep water flowing so that in times of drought, it was able to have life-sustaining liquid.  I ponder the first people to try apples (Eve and Adam?), and know apples were good food. I do very little to this tree- I trim off the branches that break due to the weight of the apples, try to pare back the blossoms or tiny apples so that the branches don’t break, and then sit back and enjoy the shade.  Hopefully taking time to notice the beauty of the fruit growing, and praying that I notice when the apples are ready to harvest.  In the harvest, I am always limited by the time, help and imagination for products or recipes.  There are always more apples than I know what to do with.  Seeing this abundance connects me to grace, and helps me appreciate a world of plenty. (more…)

Training the Next Generation of UU Social Justice Leaders

The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California (UULMCA) is paying attention to training the next generation of UU Social Justice leaders.  This fall, they launched a 10-month internship program for passionate, idealistic, and entrepreneurial young adult leaders. Under the direction of Rev. Sonya Sukalski, the program aims to build leaders who are healthy in spirit, mind, and body. They will engage with current campaigns and leaders while also discovering how to sustain a lifelong commitment to social justice via theological reflection, community building and personal spiritual practice. The SALT program flyer invites you to follow adventures of this year’s 16 SALT Fellows on the website of the UULMCA, and to look for them at Justice GA in Phoenix!

We Are Not Guests

A Reflection by Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde

 

Am I a guest here. Here in this House. Are you?

Are we guests here. Here in this House. And, whose House do we inhabit?

In the small world of our lives

the borders between us: easements, fences, gates, hedges – serve to delineate,

to separate us. To remind us of where my property begins and ends.

Where your property begins and ends.


If you cross over: you are a trespasser or a guest in my house.

(more…)