Christmas Present

When I wrote this poem, back in December 2019, I was thinking primarily about Mexican and Central American immigrants to the United States, and about the inhumane ways that these individuals and families are too often treated in our midst and at our borders, despite their tremendous contributions to our society and their innate value and dignity as human beings. And in this time of COVID-19, I fear more than ever for the already precarious well-being of Latin American migrants who are working vital agricultural and other jobs without the kinds of safety precautions, compensation, health care or other “benefits” they need and deserve.1 2 3 4

Today, as we see an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, largely Coronavirus-related, I am also grieving the irrational, unprovoked racist violence being done to this group of human beings.5 6 My grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from China after World War II (having spent much of her childhood and youth in Wuhan, incidentally), and though I am certainly not unbiased, I do believe I can truthfully say that her presence in this country was a blessing to the people and places her life touched here. She is no longer with us in body, but it breaks my heart to think that if she were, this honorable, kind, generous, deep-thinking, compassionate woman could be a target for attack simply because of where she was born and the color of her skin—and to know that the beloved grandparents, parents, siblings and children of many Americans of Asian descent are so targeted.

Though it can be hard to maintain optimism in the face of current realities, it continues to be my fervent hope and prayer that our nation (including/especially those among us who claim the Bible as our source of moral guidance) will grow in our commitments:

  • to “not oppress a foreigner” (Exodus 23:9);
  • to “treat the foreigner residing among you as your native born” and “love them as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34);
  • to recognize that “you and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord” (Numbers 15:15);
  • to “not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow [citizen] or a foreigner residing in one of your towns” (Deuteronomy 24:14);
  • and to “do no wrong or violence to the foreigner” (Jeremiah 22:3)—

to reference just a few of the Old Testament’s teachings on this subject.

When it comes to the New Testament, it seems helpful to remember:

  • that Jesus and his family lived for a time as refugees in Egypt, fleeing violence in their home country (see Matthew 2:13-15);
  • that when Jesus launched his ministry (see Luke 4:14-30), he reminded the gathered worshipers that God had a history of healing/providing for foreigners who were suffering from illness, famine or other afflictions;
  • that Jesus himself showed compassion and respect to a variety of people who hailed from outside of his personal national/ethnic/religious background
    • e.g., the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42),
    • the Centurion and his servant (Matthew 8:5-13),
    • the Samaritan leper (Luke 17:11-19), etc.;
  • and that Jesus’ disciples were challenged to move past their senses of exclusivity and entitlement, and to enter into deep fellowship and resource-sharing with culturally different neighbors
    • e.g., Pentecost multi-lingual gathering & Early Church community life (Acts 2),
    • inclusion of Greek widows in food distribution (Acts 6:1-7),
    • Peter & Cornelius (Acts 10),
    • Paul confronting Peter about separation from Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-16), etc.

And so, from this inner turmoil of fear, sadness, anger, hope, gratitude and awe, I offer these musings about the tremendous gifts that migrants (and descendants of migrants) bring to communities they dwell in, as well as those they visit along the way.


 

Christmas Present

It couldn’t have felt a lot like Christmas
when the weary couple staggered into town
that silent night.

No room at the inn—
or was there just no room for them?
Had their appearance been more presentable—
or their resources more plentiful—
would that innkeeper have discovered
that he did in fact have one more vacancy?
Had their accents been more polished—
or their offerings more lavish—
would this young, pregnant woman
and her quiet, hard-working husband
have been welcomed in this place,
where they had deep ancestral roots
but a crushing lack of current standing?
Would their arduous trek have been heralded
and their newborn baby celebrated
by more than a few startled shepherds
and some wise men from afar?
Would their tenacious faith have been honored
and their humble obedience emulated
by those who claimed to know the Scriptures
and comprehend the heart of God?

But, to be fair,
do we who have the benefit of hindsight—
who have peeked behind the scenes
and seen the blueprints undergirding
God’s exquisitely mysterious ways
of working in the world—
do a better job of cherishing those exhausted sojourners
who venture into our communities,
bearing this profoundly good news:
that the life they carry with them
can in fact tear down the dividing wall of hostility
and create in place of “us” and “them”
one new people:
indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all?

© 2020
Alexis Spencer-Byers


1 What Happens if America’s 2.5 Million Farmworkers Get Sick? (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/opinion/coronavirus-farm-workers.html?smid=em-share)

2 Farmworkers’ COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund (https://hipgive.org/project/farmworkers-covid-19-pandemic-relief-fund/)

3 Justice for Migrant Women (https://justice4women.org/)

4 New Resource: A List of Relief Funds for Undocumented Workers in California (https://legalaidatwork.org/blog/relief-funds/)

5 Asian Americans speak out after rise in hate crimes during coronavirus (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-asian-americans-report-racism-anti-asian-hate-after-trum-china-daniel-dae-kim-jeannie-mai-speak-out/)

6 Asian Americans Advancing Justice (https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/covid19)

Blooms

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending a morning at The Huntington Gardens in San Marino, California. As I strolled through the Desert Garden, admiring various aloes and cacti, I was reminded of the profoundly hopeful truth that beautiful and healing things can and do grow in those places that on the surface appear to be least capable of nurturing life.

This Advent season, I have needed to hold fast to that truth.

As I think of the young men I encounter at Camp Miller and the pressures they will face when they return to their ’hoods…

As I think of the children in my neighborhood who struggle to read at grade level and the negative outcomes that frequently attend low reading proficiency…

As I think of so many families who lost loved ones far too soon over the course of this year…

I wish for all of us a hope as resolute and lovely as the flowers that adorn sidewalks, deserts, and other hard places of our world.

Blooms

The most exquisite flowers
spring up
in the least likely spots—
lending splashes of color,
     beauty
     and grace
to landscapes otherwise barren,
     desolate
     and drab.

Their slim,
seemingly flimsy stems
mask the strength it must take
to push through hard earth,
     concrete
     or weeds
on valiant quests
     toward sunlight
     and rain.

As I breathe in their scent—
     a heady mixture
     of sweetness and tenacity,
     resilience and hope—
the petals of my own stunted spirit
begin to unfurl,
and I turn up my face
     as I stretch toward the sky.

© 2012
Alexis Spencer-Byers