Mothering the Children of Others

In the April 11, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, writer Rachel Aviv presents the story of a Filipino woman named Emma who moved to the United States in 2000 to be a nanny for an American family. Although Emma was a college graduate who enjoyed a white-collar government job, life in her home nation was difficult, as she and her husband struggled to raise nine children. Seeking a better life for her family, she decided (like many others do every year) to emigrate to the United States.

Since 2000, Emma has worked as a nanny for a series of wealthy American families. Sending a large portion of her wages home, she has managed to send most of her children through university in the Philippines. But the job has come at a significant price; Emma has never returned to the Philippines to see her family. They have kept in touch through letters and Skype, but the heartbreak of physical distance is an ache that all of them feel.

In letters from home, one daughter wrote: “It is so lonely without a mother!” while another wrote, “I’m lost without you.” But she was faced with few good choices besides working, year after year.

This problem extends around the world — women who leave their own children behind in their home nation and travel to a far-off country to care for someone else’s offspring. Though these women provide significant economic benefits for their families back home, the situation seems, at it’s heart, tragically sad. Global poverty is so extensive that we make the poor choose between family and survival.





Social Justice is not a Bad Word

I grew up in a church suspicious of “social justice.”

Social justice issues just weren’t important, you see. The most important thing was to make converts, and just below that was to get people motivated, Spirit-filled, active in the church, teaching others, and being discipled.

Was there any room for taking on social issues? Marching for civil rights, protesting injustice in public life, standing for the dispossessed? Not really.

It led to an imbalanced Gospel. Worse, in some people (including myself), it actually led to the opposite of social justice. Some of us actually defended social injustice, too often insisting that the status quo must be God’s default setting, and that upsetting the status quo was threatening, radical or destructive.

As Stephen Mattson writes in Sojourners, this view is antithetical to the true message of Christ.

Christians do a disservice to the gospel message by removing the cultural context from Jesus’s ministry and watering down his message to one of religious platitudes.

Because everyone is created in the image of God and loved by God, we are responsible for identifying the victimized — not rejecting their existence.

That’s why the New Testament goes into great depth detailing the newfound worth given to the Gentiles, slaves, and women. These countercultural instructions to believers were radically progressive, to the point where the gospel writers had to put them in writing to make sure they were implemented within the newly formed church.

I think many believers get freaked out by social justice issues because they falsely see such issues as secular. Some issues — like environmental care or campus rape awareness — seem to be exclusively the domain of the secular world. But aren’t those issues important enough to warrant a Christian voice?

It wasn’t always this way. The church was once a leading voice in the fight against slavery. The African-American church was the driving force in the modern civil rights movement, and in fact continues to champion several social justice causes.

But more is needed. If American churches were leading drivers in advocating for higher wages for the poor, for example, there would be more pressure — politically and culturally — for true change to begin. As it is, many churches have a very hands-off approach to such things as social safety nets and wages, or (worse) many churches preach for an ever-diminishing safety net.

Such stances run counter to the words and actions and ministry of Christ. May we be bold, as Christ was, and stand up for those who ware marginalized.

Welcome to the Jungle

I’m writing this on Saturday, July 9, in the aftermath of a truly horrific week.

  • In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot and killed by police officers. Video of the incident revealed a shocking and unwarranted use of force, and immediately generated outrage on social media.
  • A day later, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, another black man, Philando Castile, was pulled over for a minor offense — a busted taillight — and shot four times by police as he was reaching for his wallet. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, captured the shocking aftermath on her cellphone.
  • The following night, protests unfolded across the country. A large and peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas, erupted into violence as former Army sniper, Micah Johnson, opened fire on Dallas police, killing five cops and injuring seven others.

Waking up on Saturday morning, and realizing that we had actually made it through a day without another awful, national incident, was a relief. But the issues are still with us, and it’s not far-fetched to suggest that things are getting worse.

Race relations are tense, sometimes lethally so. Across the country, police forces seem to be targeting African-American residents (primarily men) for dubious or non-existent crimes and employing absurd levels of violence in the process. Our veterans, like Micah Johnson, are returning from war zones with untreated trauma. Civilians (like Johnson) are allowed to be armed to the teeth in gun-happy America, thus placing more police at risk, which thus causes them to be more likely to preemptively lash out.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and death, played out in our cities and suburbs.

I don’t presume to offer any insight, any depth of understanding, on such tragedies. Far smarter people than I — the president, members of Congress, criminologists, pastors, big city police chiefs, mayors and governors — are as baffled as anyone else in developing solutions that are politically and culturally feasible in 21st century America.

I’m also not interested in adding to our nation’s trite dialogue after such tragedies, although the fact that I’m composing such a piece as this probably makes me guilty of that. Blogs and articles are rife with injunctions to think about what just happened, pray and hope it doesn’t happen again, and go about your business.

I’m not going to knock prayer. Prayer accomplishes much, I believe. But prayer in a nation awash in guns, and prayer in a nation infected with racism, will be little more than spiritual comfort food that we eat after another heartbreaking tragedy. And really, does God even listen to the prayers of a nation that hugs its guns and spits on its marginalized minorities, and pledges its intent to maintain a bloody and hateful status quo?

I do indeed want change. As my more conservative brethren say, I do want national revival. But I think we’re talking about very different things.