Ruthie and I watched the president's speech last night with tears in our eyes. His appeal to scripture resonated deeply with our beliefs about God's posture toward "strangers," "sojourners," or "immigrants." His tactics might not do anything to heal a partisan divide, but they'll probably either force a move by congress on immigration or showcase congressional obstructionism.
After the speech was over, I popped over to Facebook to see a ground-level response. I speculated with one of our advisors and friends, Barbara, about the looming backlash and praised the compassion communicated in the speech. I looked around for more specific policy notes from my friends who work in the legal arena.
But my mood changed from cautious optimism to concern when my friend and soccer teammate Luis Zarate posted this comment on his facebook page:
As I scroll down and read comments on a post regarding Obama offering legal statuses, it amazes me the amount of cruel and racist Americans wanting us out.Zarate has been here most of his life. He graduated from a local high school. He works on cars, and is saving for college. He's engaged to his high school sweetheart.
In speculating about partisan responses and motives, I had forgotten to think about an important aspect of this political conversation. It's that every time a move is made, for better or worse, thousands of people who are remote from the issue make comments without regard for how they affect the real people and neighborhoods affected.
Americans post these statements on an issue that is remote and political to them, but deeply personal to my neighbors.
The tone of the national conversation was a reason I avoided politics entirely for most of my twenties. It was also a reason to avoid theological exploration. Both arenas seemed rife with the sort of impersonal rhetoric and cold logic that neglects or bulldozes lives caught in their teeth.
Until I moved into a neighborhood where politics and theology had a profound impact on daily life, there was no life in either conversation for me.
So in the time it took me to read and respond to Zarate's post, my thinking turned from political chess to the real lives around me. I told him that most Americans wanted him here, and that the unkind people just spoke the loudest online.
Now, the next morning, after the words were said and things settle a little, I think that's a good thing to think on. Our politics and theology need to move from sound concepts into the mess of our communities. And until they have run through that filter, they'll be empty frames, and we'll be clanging gongs or resounding cymbals.
Let us ground our thoughts and speech in love. When we speak in and from neighborly relationships, good ideas become real things, and other noise washes away.