Sermon by Sue Browning
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton
Original version in English by Tracy Bleakney, traducción en español por Theresa Soto
A child journeys far from home
Fearful and brave,
in need of safe harbor.
Guided by this chalice, may we seek to understand the causes of flight.
Like the comfort of a candle flickering in a window of darkness,
Let us welcome this child into our home with
warmth, nourishment, and love.
Would we not want the same for our own child,
lost and alone in a strange land?
(traducción por Theresa Soto)
Un niño viaja lejos de su casa
Temeroso y valiente
Careciendo de un puerto de asilo
Guiados por este cáliz, tratemos de comprender
las causes de huir
Como el consuelo de una vela encendida
en una ventana oscura
Demos bienvenida a este niño, a nuestra casa
con simpatia, alimento, y cariño
¿No quisieramos lo mismo por nuestro propio niño
perdido y solo en tierra extranjera?
Where is Home?
Recently a couple new to this area asked me to officiate a combined blessing of their new home and renewal of their vows. The vows they had written included this language, “On this day when we consecrate our new house and land, I remember, and always will, that home is wherever we are together. I promise to you anew to love you without reservation, to honor and respect you, to grow with you in mind and Spirit and to always be your safe harbor.”
In our reading, we hear of child ‘fearful and brave’ in need of safe harbor.
Home is a place where one should not be afraid.
A home provides shelter, is stocked with food, and has access to clean water. Home is where we lay our head at night between days. Home is a container providing the next opportunity to thrive.
Through our lives the answer to ‘Where Is Home? varies. From house to apartment, at times to submarine quarters, or a friend’s couch. The vows shared by this couple include the phrase, ‘wherever we are together is home’ – claiming relationship is part of home for them. It might also be reassurance that in the midst of their physical move, they’ll make it through the challenges together.
I’m virtually certain everyone here has lived in more than one place. Maybe not true yet for a few of the youngest here earlier, but for those here now you have moved.
Moves from one less than perfect home, to another. No home is perfect. Parents aren’t perfect. Partners and kids are perfect. Resources aren’t evenly distributed. Some here may be able to tell stories of deep fear on about where their next meal was coming from, or whether rent could be paid. ‘Homes come with leaks, and broken appliances.
While ‘home’ tees up and image of family and warmth, there are gaps we try and fill. When we pour care into our own home – from the paint choices, to keeping cabinets stocked, to planning for connection, and setting routines for rest we are creating home.
Home is about care, not perfection.
And no one should be afraid in their own home.
Is feeling safe a privilege or a human right? Do you have to ‘earn’ safe harbor?
It’s easy to jump in and answer with certainty. As UUs – as humans – we don’t want children – picture say a 4 year-old – terrified. We want them to know safe harbor… to know love from their family and community. We want them to be able to depend on the basics being available in the pace they eat, play and sleep.
Yet, we know some children do live in fear, as do youth and adults. When we talk of immigration we know children are caught outside safe harbors; parents and grandparents are stranded outside safe harbors.
Immigration raises a complex set of questions. Where national borders are in play, what could a fair policy be? As with healthcare, or education, our hearts can lead…care for all…and our heads need to help see ways to spread limited resources, and to make systems efficient, and to address safety for the many involved in community. Layered and complex matters.
To enter the complexity, it’s helpful to imagine a single child, who maybe lives in Talbot County and ask: What if that child arrived at my door and asked for a drink of water? What if this child isn’t 4, but is 12, and arrives at your door and asks for a sandwich?
While policy is not simple, starting with compassion helps as we ask: How wide should gates to entry be? Should immigration policy tie to American’s economic well-being first or to the plight of the person arriving first? Should priorities go to extending family ties or not? How do you define a need for refugee or asylum status?
These are not hypothetical questions. There are terrified 4 years olds, and 12 year olds, and 27 year old parents…and grandparents – some in the US afraid, others outside the US hoping for a path to economic opportunity and safety. Idealistic answers aren’t sufficient.
Our UU faith calls for engagement in the complexity.
To help with the deepest of immigration questions, I keep coming back to how difficult it is to decide to make a physical move.
I ask you to think about geographic moves in your life. Which was the most difficult move? The furthest move? The shortest move?
Stats show that the average American moves about 11 times in their life. Some moves across town – others 50, or 100, or 1000, or more miles away.
One move for me and Bill was just 1.6 miles. On the scale of easy to difficult moves, it way at the easy end of the spectrum. We moved of choice for more space. Our children were 6, 4 and 2. The rising 1st grader did change schools, but beyond that employment, preschools, and doctors, and even library cards, and our brand new UU church home didn’t need to change.
Yet, the move meant sleeping somewhere other than the place we had brought home three infants…it meant deciding which belongings were worthy of keeping, and not…it had financial implications…and the general hassle of a sale of home, purchase of another, packing and unpacking.
More difficult moves – loss of jobs, changes in relationship, and adjustments for age are often hard and disruptive. While even the most difficult moves, may eventually open new doors, at the time of a move it’s hard to predict if, when, and where the doors might open.
Physical moves are a part of life. Maybe it was your move, or a child’s move from a home town and miles creep into the relationship.
Where Is Home? What do we need to do to make someplace home?
Immigration is about physical moves. Immigration is virtually always loss coupled with possibility. To keep my family safe, I wonder how much would I risk? Immigration comes with worry about what is being left, and worry about welcome and survival in the new location?
When it comes to immigration, what are we as a congregation willing to do to create safe harbor and sustain a safe path for immigrants in our community?
UUFE labels itself a social justice-oriented place. Would you like to be more active and effective in supporting immigrants in Talbot County, the Eastern Shore and our nation?
I hear at UUFE both interest and some frustration when it comes to social justice efforts. We have easel papers and other input saying we want to work together on a project. There is frustration when we get close, but don’t start or sustain meaningful engagement.
Several UUFE leaders have recently travelled to conferences in the area, and who have their ears to the ground locally, validate there may be both interest at UUFE, and enough energy and a willingness to commit in a sustained way.
There are guidelines and best practices on ways do this. Good social action begins first with learning. Not a ‘study it forever’ mindset, but enough to know what is needed and useful. Can you answer the basic questions on immigration. What motivates your involvement?
The next focus needs to be connection. Where do you have relationships? Do you know some who are in struggle? Do you know leaders who are also working on the same or related issues? Which groups could be partners? This is community organizing 101. Support and engagement arise from relationship.
Action builds trust, and in trust the deepest needs are revealed and the beginning of change happens. When the foundation of social action is relationship, there’s an implicit and explicit knowing the partnership guides which issues to address. As an ally, one might start hearing of financial needs – could you help with funds for camps or legal support?… and in time one might be driving to Annapolis or DC to stand firmly policies which keep Dreamers safe.
And with the support and engagement begin may come signs and the telling of the story, inviting more into relationship.
Grace arises through connections as creative and loving response.
In their book What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? Red Letter Revolution authors Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo tell this story:
“Recently in my neighborhood a congregation began opening their church building, as many congregations do around the world, to the homeless so they could have a warm, safe place to sleep overnight. The city government heard of this and began to crack down.
The pastor was told they were not allowed to run a shelter because they did not have the proper permits, nor would they be granted them because the city did not want a shelter there. But you don’t mess with Pentecostals.
So the congregation prayed, and the Spirit moved. They came back to the city officials and announced they would not be running a shelter, but they would have a revival from 8 pm – 8 a.m. every night. It was fantastic watching the news try to cover the story.
The city didn’t dare stop that revival – it was brilliant! They began with some great singing, worship and sharing. After about two hours, the pastor stood up and said, ‘Well, that concludes the formal service tonight. The next 8 hours will be silent meditation.’ ”
It’s a story of heart working through the practical matter, rather than efforts being derailed. .
What if UUFE next focuses on the issue of place and immigration?, Jim Richardson and I have talked of a ‘Task Force on Immigration’ to do to learn, connect, and engage together on immigration. We’ve imagined a group that meets regularly for 4 months and helps the congregation act with shared focus and a creative response. This is not unlike the work done by Talbot Interfaith Shelter that resulted in this space, and space in other congregations, becoming sanctuary for the homeless each winder before TIS had permanent a fixed home, and the work that still continues.
If you are interested in being part of UUFE’s Immigration Task Force, or working on immigration in some way, please leave your name in my office and Jim and I will set a date for a kick-off meeting.
As we do this work, we need to hold two truths at the same time. We need to hold the truth that immigration policy is complex, and worthy of our energy, and we need to hold the truth that there are 4-year olds afraid and thirsty and in need of safe homes..safe harbors.
Hope comes when we trust in possibilities to come – not always clear to us each alone, but a bit clearer as we connect with needs in the community, and when we work together.
And some things are clear. For everyone, everywhere, home should be a safe place where no one is afraid.
May It Be So