In the early morning we gathered together, watched and listened to our stories. A morning mist rose as the sun broke through the rising dew. As we walked our bodies split the clouds. Placed next to a Texas highway, we proceeded through the stations of the cross. The Basilica de San Juan falls in a Texas plain land, that stretches out underneath highway and trucking routes. As we moved, the city of San Juan slowly came to life. We were largely silent and reflective; being the middle of the week, we had already gone through several busy days of conversations and presentations with local South Texas and Borderland organizations. This was a time for us to place our context into a faith story. From Pilate’s sentencing to Simon’s lifting of the cross, our voices re-collected and re-categorized our experiences of the past week. Jesus’ passion might speak directly to individuals’ confrontation with power in their lives. It might speak of the failures of humanity and the strength in gathering together our selves. Picking up pieces we’ve dropped to the ground, overflowing from our arms, we are charged by this story to muster enough honesty to continue broken, imperfect and weak. Our re-presentations of the stories you’ve read about – the maquiladora workers, the union organizers, the comite de apoyo, the small San Antonio Pastor, the refugee center – all of these memories place Jesus’ power against that of a force displaced through bureaucracy and lines of authority. And as we reached the tomb, as we reached the final procession, Dr. Machado brought us together, asking us simply, “What have we learned? What do you do about it?”
I have found my theology challenged in this borderland. We met recently with Mike Seifert, the lead organizer of Equal Voices, a non-profit organization coordinating ten different non-profit social justice and community development organizations. Mr. Seifert, in the time we spent with him, made it clear that he was infuriated with the passivity of the church in South Texas. He and the other leaders he works with across the borderlands, have confronted churches on many occasions, finding little commitment; acquiescence to a disinterested religious life of social concerns seems to have taken hold. I can sympathize. It seems this statement accurately characterizes my home church in Kansas. Now, I do not want to make statements concerning church participation or church activity within the United States. To reconcile Mr. Seifert’s anger, it would be useful to focus on the social empirical reality of our country. You have seen, in this blog, our reflections on real life stories. You have read real life suffering, and real life pain. Were these stories new? Are you surprised these conditions exist in and are caused by the United States of America?
The stories we have come across are not unique, however, in their experience of poverty. To use common and inadequate stereotypes, one might find the “third world,” in the “first world” of New York City. Children all throughout this country suffer from hunger: 1 in 4 children in the United States is at risk of hunger.
But how many communities have you witnessed as trapped? How often do you hear of youth committing suicide because of stunted dreams? The Latino community in the Borderlands is a community assaulted from all sides. Every day operations, such as going to the store, or going to school, or going to work are activities that are ridden with crushing anxiety. So what can I do?
I asked Kellyann Conners and Stephen Tickner this question last night. Late, we had a night free where we might decompress a bit. As we played cards, our game slowed and the conversation deepened. Loud sighs filled the air. Oftentimes we become overwhelmed with the impressiveness of these problems. How do several seminary students speak a theological, just, social truth to debilitating maquila power?
In everyday actions: from the products we buy to the way we talk about immigration issues and the truth of NAFTA’s economic repercussions. We have come to understand that all of us are caught in violent struggle. I don’t assume we end consumerism, I ask we merely begin to think about how we are operating in the world. Yet is that enough? For many of us seminarians, we will make large decisions in the upcoming years as to our life direction. I don’t assume everyone will have the same passion for the Texas borderlands as I do. After organizing with an IAF organization in San Antonio last year, this trip sits well in furthering my life education on this space and place. Yet, as Dr. Machado put so well in a reflection earlier in the week, our communities cannot respond to things that they don’t know about. Undeniably, those who have seen and heard of this space (certainly unique if not in its poverty, then in its militarization) carry with them charge to continue telling this story. Again, as we reflected on this responsibility during the same reflection, it became obvious of our return: our ability to leave this space. Questions of how we use our citizenship become extremely important: how we vote, how we engage in our community, and what sort of institutions we create. Start conversations with family members on what poverty looks like in your community. Educate yourself concerning the cracks in this nation that speak of disturbing truths. Only when we know this land can be begin to change this land. For certainly, as has been said, the churches we create are emblematic of the communities we desire.
I don’t claim to be any farther along this path than you all; I claim to begin this muddling through, this difficult yet important process of being a witness to all of the realities that exist in our country. These are tangible small steps that begin to suggest the undeniable structural and ideological change that needs to occur to bring justice to all of our communities.