I am an immigrant and a naturalized citizen, and I work for an organization that resettles refugees and serves other immigrants, and right now we are in the midst of global refugee crisis. There have never been as many people displaced by conflict and war—from Syria to Ukraine to Somalia to El Salvador.
It’s a tragedy of incredible proportions. It’s hard for me to think about the fact that most of these refugees have been created because of the foreign policies of western nations, waging wars in already vulnerable places.
And now after this election, many immigrants/refugees, particularly those with intersecting identities: women, Muslims, Latinos, other people of color, and LGBTQ immigrants, are in a predicament.
We have found refuge in the home of the free and the land of the brave, but we have woken up to an America we did not think existed—one who is telling us that we don’t deserve to live within her borders. Racism says, “I’m better than you.”
But xenophobia says, “Not only am I better than you, but you don’t deserve to take up space here.” We are “the other” and are not wanted. In fact, the election of Donald Trump by our neighbors legitimizes all the hatred and vitriol that has been directed at us. Our president-elect has promised to do “extreme vetting” for refugees, a vulnerable community that has endured years of suffering already. He has also promised that on day one of taking office he will revoke President Obama’s protection for those immigrants who were brought here as children and only know the United States as their home.
I am devastated and despairing. I had hoped that as a nation founded on principles of freedom, America was kinder, more inclusive, and more compassionate. It is clearly not. I feel so distraught, so powerless—there is nothing I can do heal our broken society.
I cannot prevent people who are my neighbors from fearing and hating immigrants, and I cannot force them to care for people on the margins of society as Jesus did.
How long must we wait for our lives to be valued? If there’s a connection between sowing in tears and reaping with joy as the Psalms say, where is the reaping for those of us waiting for renewal and restoration of the world? Waiting for our lives to matter?
For the past two weeks I have been a ball of anxiety as I waited for Election Day. It has now come and gone, and I find myself feeling more anxious than ever, so I turned off all news coverage last night, and decided to turn to the place where many before me have gone in times of distress and anxiety: the Psalms. I especially love Psalm 126 because it brings to my mind the renewing work of God in places of suffering, places of waiting, places of trouble and distress—the very places where I find myself after this election.
A Song of Ascents.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,*
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negev.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Picture the pilgrims in that Psalm trudging along a dusty desert road and sighing with nostalgia. Those were the days—God has done great things for us, they say, and we were filled with joy.
But that was then, what about the present? It is a reality, too. They’ve moved from that work of deliverance to yet another set of misfortunes: maybe drought or debt or injustice. And having no recourse for their situation—no way to make things right themselves, they turn to the only thing they have left: prayer.
We read their desperate one sentence prayer: “Restore our fortunes!”
Actually, they don’t ask; they command God to bring back the water to their parched lives. They know that even the summer drought of the Negev Desert is interrupted by rain, causing the desert to bloom beautifully.
But when? How can they resolve this tension between their past and present realities? When will the harvest of blessing finally arrive?
These are questions I’m asking right now. The ugliness of humanity has been on full display during this election season—it is the worst that I remember.
It has brought to the surface covert racism, xenophobia, and misogyny that even I, a cynical pessimist, had hoped had gotten better through time. It appears that is not so.
The pilgrims lament and weep. After all, losses are losses, and we can’t skip over grief and sadness into joy and restoration.
Their experience might be best summed up in a Mexican proverb that says, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
Their grief is hopeful, but it is grief nonetheless.