The sanctuary of this worn Catholic church looks like what I imagine the churches during the Montgomery bus boycotts looked like: families of all sizes filling the pews, smiling children, deep personal investment, loving arms swung around the shoulders of neighbors, laughter among friends, a sense of purpose in the air. There is an adorable toddler walking back and forth as he practices his new mastery of ambulation.
Tonight is a bit different. It is nearly sixty years later. The people are still people of color, but a different hue. A few white faces – Anglo – dot the largely brown-faced crowd. And the linguistic idiom is different: Spanish rules here.
And if Spanish is the idiom, then mariposas – butterflies – are the metaphor. A group of school-aged children wait patiently at the front of the sanctuary for the event to start, holding giant-sized monarch butterflies they have handmade from cardboard. The sign adorning the lectern at the front does not mention immigration, but migration.
Words are powerful. Immigration reinforces the notion of state-imposed borders. Migration, not only of butterflies in the air, but humans throughout the course of history, is a natural process.
National borders are socially constructed. They do not exist empirically. View the earth from space and borders are not evident. Generally, borders serve political purposes, often as the established legacy of imperial agendas. Reinforced through concrete or metal, they not only keep people in, they also keep people out. Supposedly.
I no longer believe in national borders. I’m not sure I ever actually believed in them, but I know now they are arbitrary, they are often imposed by victors upon the dispossessed, and it seems, at least at this point in history and from my point of view, they do more harm than good. This is not a particularly pragmatic stance. It is good that I am on the path to becoming a minister, rather than seeking election. And it is the primary reason I understand myself to be a social-justice-seeking person of faith, rather than a religious political activist.
Here’s the paradox, the spiritual and political and social rub: humanity has been on the move for millennia, throngs and distances, seeking better lives, escaping deprivation, crossing into and out of empires more brutal than modern day ones (despite some of our best efforts to rival them). Sometimes war disperses peoples, sometimes natural disasters, sometimes climate change. Modern-day borders, even the high-technology-laden ones, laced with punitive legislation are merely and ultimately impotent arrogance in the face of this ceaseless, and dare I say, natural human process.