First UMC Costa Mesa is another one of the amazing turn-around stories. Near closure, this congregation has not just revitalized, it is a transforming force in Costa Mesa and Orange County.
(San Diego) In preparation for speaking at First United Methodist in Costa Mesa this Sunday, August 12, I talked with David Trotter who will conduct the service in an interview format. It is part of a five-week series, while Pastor Sarah Heath is on spiritual renewal, dealing with major topics Christian face today (including immigration, addiction, race, and human trafficking).
The first service this week was with Pastor Cue Jn-Marie of The Row Church, a church without walls that gathers on Friday evenings on Skid Row in Los Angeles. For the past eighteen years, Cue has advocated for many of the most vulnerable in our society.
In the second interview, I will discuss immigration; not from a political point of view where the discussion centers too often these days. Our focus is on the human experience and the heart of God for all people involved/impacted.
David asked me to address immigration from the standpoint of:
(1) If we were to experience this issue “on earth as it is in heaven” (i.e., Kingdom of God coming), what would it look like? How would things be different?
(2 What’s holding us back from experiencing that? And,
(3) What does it look like to take action for the average person? What about for the person who is deeply passionate about the issue of immigration?
Challenging questions, for sure. So here is a preview of my responses.
First, if we experience immigration “on earth as it is in heaven”, it would be from a family perspective. By that I mean it would be Pentecost every day. At Pentecost, people from every nation were gathered in Jerusalem. They were “of one accord”, a spiritual family. Yet they spoke different languages and had different cultures and customs.
But when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, the walls of race, religion, language, custom and culture all came tumbling down.
For me, every day is Pentecost. I am surrounded daily by immigrants from every corner of the earth. But I have never had a problem communicating via the language of love.
Immigration “on earth as it is in heaven” would look like Pentecost, where God’s love transcends the otherness that too often divides us. Just as at Pentecost, miracles will occur daily, we will be “together” (not separated) and have everything “in common”.
Second, what is holding us back from experiencing every-day-Pentecost are two four-letter words: fear and hate.
When we fear our neighbors, or the strangers God sends our way, it soon metastasizes into hate. And when voices fan the flames of fear and hate, it turns into evil.
I suspect we have “sipped the Kool Aid” of fear and hate for so long that we rationalize immigration is dangerous and must be prevented on “humanitarian grounds”.
Rather than seeing angels unaware, we equate refugees with thieves – they are coming here to steal what is ours. Our hearts have been so hardened that we have become the victims of our own irrational fears. We have gone to extraordinary lengths to say, “zero tolerance is in the national interest”. Such perverted logic justifies ripping babies from their mother’s arms.
Marcel Marceau, the great mime, acted out the story of a gardener who prepared a magnificent bed of flowers which everyone admired. Children came, and in their playing, unconsciously damaged the flower garden. The gardener built a low fence around the garden, but the children jumped over it. He built a higher fence, but the children climbed it. Finally, he built a fence so high that even their balls could not be thrown over it. Now no one could see the garden. Worst of all the sun could not get in and the flowers all died.
Before we build the wall of fear and hate so high it shuts off God’s love and face, let’s remember the Bible teaches the face of God is found in the stranger. Whether an alien, asylum seeker, an exile, a refugee or a foreigner, the stranger has a special place in the story of God’s people.
Third, how can the average person take action? I realize not every church or home can provide immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers with shelter and basic needs. But imagine how things would be different if every one of the 250,000 houses of worship in the U.S. took in just one immigrant or refugee family. Through the Safe Harbors Network, we are greatly expanding the capacity of beds available to immigrants in California and the United States.
But we must speak, for silence is complicity. Now that speech doesn’t have to be vocal. We must speak with our vote (in 90 days). We may speak with our money, supporting those people and organizations who are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk of faith and justice. And we may advocate, activate and demonstrate if God leads us to do so.
Thank you First UMC Costa Mesa for engaging us in these vital conversations. May our minds and hearts expand, and may we be motivated by the love of Jesus to take action. I am honored to be a part of these discussions.
For Christ's Sake,