The God pointed to through the Bible is often identified as “the God of the orphan, the widow and the foreigner [who sojourns among us].” It’s an expression that the all-powerful, the greatest force we can imagine is identified not with gold and might, not with weapons or victory, but with the smallest and overlooked, those on the margins and powerlessly in need. It’s a completely violent contrast with the victorious image of God we most commonly follow: a God who wins, overcomes, heals and protects, gives generously and responds when we call. Is it any wonder then, that when we don’t experience this false-God we’ve created, that we lose faith?
That’s not to say that God isn’t true, or big, or actively present. I believe God is. But what I often look for is not who or what God is. I need glasses to see more completely, yet even then when I look and interact with the world I see first through the lens of my privilege. I never worried about going to college. The question wasn’t if, but where. I have never worried about getting the next meal, except when traveling in a foreign city that I didn’t know how to navigate. My opinions are usually heard and respected, even in loud rooms. I do not fear the police. Ever. I have yet to have someone follow me when I enter a store, scare when I knock on their door, or generally refuse to help me when I ask out of great need. I’ve never wondered if my life matters, except when I have wallowed in self-doubt from my ambitions dreams.
But that’s not true for many, if not most others in my world, or parallel to it. I have been an immigrant to Europe. I had bureaucratic travails, but was never left in a train station, locked in the back of a truck or desperately stuck enough to get on a sinking boat. I look at the immigrant explosion in Europe of those feeling destruction in death in their crumbling homelands, and I’m certain that God would be, is on their side. Those who have power, often don’t need God. Those with nothing and no one, have no where else to turn, or maybe more accurately see clear enough to know that they have no real power or control over the chaos and suffering of life. They’re looking for the God of the universe, not of their universe.
I look at my own city and see the way in which children are treated differently. I don’t fear sending my kids down the street with cash to go to a store to buy an ice cream (of course I’m choosy about where I do that). I don’t fear that they’ll be shot or hurt by police. When I see them not having their academic needs addressed in their public school, I am frustrated, but I know that I have the skill and means to ensure that they overcome those problems.
I look in my own Presbyterian Church and see a church in Oakland that has long hosted a nesting and emerging, and now vibrantly alive community of faith. I see how the decreasing historic church is envious of the success of the immigrant church, and so strikes out to take back the little the immigrant church has in order to become like it. I see how an Hispanic pastor acts against her own Hispanic community because of institutional racism, furthering the notions of a society of privilege, calling people like herself campesino, backwards country-bumpkins, because they don’t fit in to the majority image of what American, successful, or Christian looks like.
When I slow down and really look, I can see how we visit the sins of our ancestors upon our children. My privilege, (which isn’t bad in itself, but most likely was acquired at the expense of others) enables the privilege of my children. That’s not bad in itself. I love my kids. I want the best for them. And that doesn’t have to be at the expense of another kid. I see the floods of immigrants coming into our own country, into my city, fleeing murder and persecution by gangs, extortion and kidnapping in Central America. It’s not that different than those fleeing ISIS into Europe. We don’t need a fence to keep them out. We don’t need guns to chase them off. They aren’t coming to take what’s mine. They’re coming because they see hope, they see a chance that they would like to receive, a chance that my ancestors received generations ago.
It’s not a question of me or them. It’s not a question of fight or flight. It’s a question of faith: faith in a God who identifies with the smallest, and overlooked; the powerless and the least. A God who is not afraid of being overwhelmed, defeated, depressed or dragged down. I believe in a God who calls us to give our lives away, to take up a cross, to embrace a life of radical solidarity. My faith invites me to join my voice to theirs, to give of my time and resources, to invest my life-force and hope first and foremost in a God who is identified with orphans and widows and immigrants – those that don’t have others looking out for them. To do otherwise, is to follow a different god, what the Bible calls idolatry.