CHICAGO — Most Sundays at our church, "Pastor Leslie" begins service with a welcoming prayer asking for strength to "love our neighbors, all our neighbors." This week, she decided to dump her planned sermon to let the congregation share their ideas about what responsibilities people of faith hold in these times.
"In these times" was deliberately vague. But I was heartened that in addition to naming political polarization and amnesia about the suffering of the poor and homeless amid news of our "booming economy," several members of the nearly all-white congregation despaired about immigration.
The owner of a neighborhood restaurant was beside himself because, out of nowhere, two of his longest-serving employees had their work permits revoked by immigration authorities.
Others noted the general fear in the community — not just fear that immigrants have, but that all of us have who love and depend on those immigrants.
In that moment, I felt there was nowhere I could go to get away from the daily traumatic burden of carrying grief and worry about what's happening both at the border and in communities all over America.
The news stories bring an unending torrent of pain: There are still so-called "unaccompanied alien children" being held in detention centers in Chicago and across the country as a result of President Trump's zero-tolerance enforcement policy, which separated children from their families so parents could be prosecuted for crossing the border illegally.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is still reportedly treating immigrants and their friends and family cruelly and without regard to their humanity.
Last week, an unarmed Hispanic man was shot in the face by ICE agents as he attempted to intervene in an ICE house arrest. According to the victim, the agents attempted to detain his housemate without identifying themselves or explaining on what grounds they were making the arrest.
The Trump administration used the incident to double down on so-called sanctuary cities — Attorney General William Barr announced lawsuits, the withholding of funds and possible criminal prosecution against cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration detainers.
According to ICE, the target of the arrest was released by the New York City Police Department on charges of possessing forged papers even though he had been deported to Mexico twice and had been convicted of assault in 2011. Basically, the administration blames NYPD and their sanctuary city status for an unarmed bystander getting shot in the face during a federal house raid.
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Less violent, but equally heartbreaking, are the stories of U.S.-born children being separated from their parents because, for instance, dad was granted a deportation deferral but mom wasn't. Or the stories of states refusing to accept legal refugees who need communities in which to settle. Or the stories of immigration officials arresting, detaining and deporting immigrants who were lured to immigration offices for interviews as they sought legal status based on their marriages to U.S. citizens.
I sat thinking about all the angst rocking immigrant communities as, one-by-one, people shyly asked for the microphone and said it was our responsibility to also recognize and savor all the good that was happening in the neighborhood and the world.
They also said that it is our responsibility to not tune out of what's going on because it's so painful. And that it's our responsibility to have humility.
And, I thought, courage.
The courage to keep fighting for what we believe is right even when it's obvious that the people who hold the highest titles and positions can lie and act in their own self-interest with impunity.
And the courage to do what Pastor Leslie asked us to do this week. She said that we would not be praying for the poor, the weak and the pained.
This week we were asked to pray for the rich, those in positions of power and those who lead.
They, Pastor Leslie said, were the ones who needed our blessings, appeals and the divine guidance to find humility, wisdom and brotherly love.
Courage is not bravery — it means doing something despite intrinsic fears.
It will take courage to not see our political opposites as enemies. It will take courage to not be overwhelmed with fear about what the next four years will bring, and not act out of anger instead of seeking to understand.
Humans are hardwired to cluster into tribes and respond to outsider threats by uniting against the "other." Will enough of us have the courage to pray for the political or national "other" over the next eight months?
Esther Cepeda's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @estherjcepeda.
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