Comfortability is not a word, and it is far from a theological norm. To put it otherwise, such a concept does not spring from the impassioned heart and mind of God, and it does not issue forth from any of the Name’s unsettled messengers. The word “comfort” does, but not this modern mode of being (and, one might even say, inveterate life-goal). The concept of comfortability is nonexistent in the vast majority of our truly rugged human history, so agonized and antagonized. Comfortability is, in fact, an exclusively modern first-world contrivance, and a very current idol in our country—the infinite abstraction of an earthly boon.
I should be clear from the beginning, first and foremost for myself, but no less importantly for anyone who might read this. Where I see and think and speak from, especially within the parameters of this essay, is what might be termed an overlapping of Christianity and Americanness. My relation to these two forms of identity is dynamic and plural, just as these forms themselves encompass a plurality of perspectives throughout past and current culture. But for all their flux and manyness, my Christianity and Americanness presuppose a continuity in human experience and thus an interconnectedness with other people who participate within their circles. In fact, both, to my understanding, postulate such broad and indefinite circumferences that much of church and American history, respectively, with ethics either theological or democratic, might be understood as the attempt to comprehend the many forms of humanity in a more ultimate sense, whether in their relation to eternity or to country, to God or to the entire race.
But this is also to say that there are assumptions that these forms of identity take, or rather that I take through them. In saying “Yes,” I must also sometimes say “No.” The intention with both my Christian and American “No”-sayings is not a violent severance of any and all interrelatedness, but rather a clarification of the particular dynamic within it, and thus a proper maintenance of it. To say “No” to you, to disagree, is not the same as saying you are not “you,” or even that we cannot be “we.” It means that in some effective sense you are you and I am not, and vice versa. It means that either one of us, and preferably both, can say, in fuller clarity and confidence, that we do not agree on this—whatever “this” might be. Any language that does not honor such interconnectedness bespeaks a thinking that too often leads to noetic and rhetorical homicide. There is such language today—much, too much of it—and I hope in my “Yes” I can say also say “No” to it.
In my “Yes” today I must say “No” to comfortability, because my theological resources tell me that it is vanity to escape in any static sense the experience of being uncomfortable. My Christianity tells me that in fact the embracing of truth worlds away from my own might prove the greatest blessing. And this negation-affirmation coincides with a democratic claim, proven so many times in American history (even as it has also struggled for validation), that the welcoming of the new, no matter how apparently different and strange-seeming, despite the threats of test and tension, can open up individual and collective experience toward larger, heretofore unthought-of liberties. In other words, of comfortability’s desire to stay permanently in the house, my resources tell me there is no such possibility. As an American, I am always involved in otherness. And whether I like it or not, my little Christian self is always meant to be at home with the stranger.
This is all to say that I feel deeply involved in the immigration situation happening at our borders, and I believe I am given to say something about the issue. Being an early childhood educator, my participation in recent events has greatly increased due to the specific treatment of children under the current “zero tolerance” policy of this administration, but my engagement with the stranger should have occurred no matter their age, nationality, legal status, or any other factor of identification. Being a theologically educated person, my sense of involvement has turned into a full-on call based on the scriptural rationales that certain officials have averred in defense of their aggressive, absolutist policy. Continue reading “Somewhere Between Salem and Gehenna: Christian Complicity in the Immigration Crisis”