Un-Documentable

In the last three weeks I have been drawn into at least five separate conversations regarding immigration.  The general tone of these encounters has been critical of current USA policy.  At the more benign level people argue that Christianity and hospitality are connected.  This call to hospitality demands that Christians advocate for an open immigration policy.  On the more radical end there are those who say that the USA made its wealth by taking much of the American Southwest from Mexico and continues to reap benefits from unfair trade practices and sweat shops.  For these folks immigration isn’t so much about hospitality but rather it is about reparations.  People are coming here because they want their “stuff” back. As you can well imagine, these discussions are filled with a whole lot of emotion.

The exchange that I keep coming back to occurred this week.  It was with my friend Anton Flores.  He runs a small not-for-profit in La Grange Georgia called Alterna.  Alterna is a group of people that offers community, fellowship and hospitality to the “un-documentable.”  It is important to note that “un-documentable” does not equal criminal or terrorist.  These are people who have come because providing for their family in their home country has become all but impossible.  More often than not the conditions that have driven them to the USA are tied to foreign policies and actions of the past and present.

I empathize with those who wish for stricter immigration laws and regulations.  The desire to feel safe and secure is powerful.  What I do not understand is why the church so often supports these laws uncritically.   Hospitality and making things right are cornerstones of the Christian faith.  As believers our first loyalty is to each other and humanity.  When this loyalty comes into conflict with the laws of the land, our faith commitment must always come first.

Effective

Every once in a while I decide to organize my life.   I file all the papers scattered around my office, delete old emails, reorganize my inbox folders, and sort the books on the bookshelf.  For a day or two I feel better about myself and slightly more efficient.  Within a week I am back to my old ways and feeling like I should reorganize my life. What is it that makes for effective ministry at the personal and institutional level?  I have been to seminars that proclaim the virtues of time management.  There are the books and charts I have poured over outlining healthy organizational structures.  Well-meaning friends have advised me develop comprehensive policies and procedures.  All of this is good, but I sometimes wonder if all of this is a smoke screen designed to keep people and programs committed to ministry from following their call.

Some of the best advice I ever received was from a stranger.  It was his belief that we show value to others by choosing to waste time with them.  It is not surprising that potential employers shy away from hiring people who value wasting time and hanging out.  On one hand I understand this; effectiveness and efficiency are seen as opposite sides of the same coin.  This is too bad.

Hanging out or wasting time with other people are the activities that develop understanding and respect for the other.  When we understand and respect each other it becomes much simpler to work with each other.  In a world that is religiously pluralist, culturally diverse, and ideologically separated - understanding, compassion, and empathy will only emerge if we take the time to simply be with each other.  Wasting time together and hanging out without an agenda.

I cannot help but wonder what the impact would be if we started to value time together just hanging out over developing programs and structures?  I am not sure that Jesus ever started a program, but his time on earth just hanging out changed everything.