Friday, October 9, 2009

Insights from Worship & Bible Study

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday night worship

Musicians worked hard through the day to prepare and had great music, drawing songs from a wide variety of countries and musical gifts from staff. During the day we coordinated to have a processional at the beginning with some streamers and the kids that do the traditional dancing using their dresses. That turned out to be great fun at the beginning and end of the service. It was perfectly appropriate to see the image of the little girls in their flowing dresses, flapping them back and forth, as we sang “Come, Holy Spirit, Come!” I was struck again, as I preached, by the similarity of the Biblical text with immigrants’ lived experience. This was particularly the case when I re-read the beginning part of the Kings reading, where it describes Elijah running out of water and wishing to die, and the story I told of “Martin Lopez,” an immigrant who – like many – miraculously survived his desert crossing. As I went back and forth between English and Spanish in preaching, I also noticed the difference in how it feels to preach in each language, and even something as basic as the fact that in the text the word “desert” is used in Spanish, but “wilderness” in English. The latter makes the connection between those Biblical stories and today’s immigrant stories a bit less obvious!

Bible Study on Moses (Exodus 1-2)
Solid participation – about 30 or so people; a good mix of male and female. People jumped right in and participated.
Some of the insights:
  • We talked about stories and the importance of them for us to know who we are, and that the Bible is a book of stories – stories meant to be told, shared, discussed and connected to our own stories. I highlighted in that first paragraph the importance of knowing who all the names in that list were, even though it can be easy to want to ignore it (in the way that we get tired of hearing grandma tell her stories!).
  • The fact that the Bible is a story of immigrants was already in the room. A woman from Puerto Rico, who turned out to have much insight and much to say, started us off in the right direction.
  • People connected immediately with the idea of fear of the immigrant and the concern that there are too many of them. People offered a few examples of things they had heard in the radio: “Go back to eat nopales en México” to white flight when “Hispanics” begin to move into the neighborhood to people avoiding the streets or making faces at immigrants in stores.
  • I emphasized the generational change and the fact that the new Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph. People also connected immediately to having their stories and contributions ignored. I emphasized the importance of countering the society’s narrative, and the importance of telling our own story to be more complete, to recognize the contributions and the need to do so in supportive communities and out loud.
  • It is out of fear that Pharoah acts and begins to rewrite the law, forcing people into hard labor. “They ask us for social security, and either for being immigrants or being women, they close certain jobs to us.” The laws must be adjusted, for those who can’t be trusted! There are systemic things in place meant to force them into specific types of labor.
  • Chapter 1 verse 12 talks about the way that the people of Israel actually “flourished” under oppression. One participant pointed out that the hard work immigrants are forced to do actually makes them stronger and more determined – hence backfiring in its attempt to exclude/drive them away, same as it did for Pharaoh. In his attempt to get rid of the people, he actually made them stronger.
  • Another participant, however, pointed out that this “flourishing” is not automatic. That if people accept only work – what the Pharaoh wants to dish them – then they can be eliminated. Instead, the participant called for people to go beyond work, and spend time with their kids: guiding them, nurturing their own lives, educating themselves and finding their way forward. At the end of the day, I said, after spending all day baking bricks in the hot sun, they went home and gathered their kids around the fire to tell them the stories of who they are and feed them that alternative narrative.
  • The alternative narrative is hugely needed, against what people hear in the radio, from others, in school, on television and sometimes even from one another.

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