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The Body, The Blood, The Border

Written by Jason Evans : October 8, 2008

Editor’s Note: The following was originally published on October 6, 2008 on Ecclesiacollective.org

“[T]he Eucharist does not simply tell the story of a united human race, but brings to light barriers where they actually exist.”
- W. T. Cavanaugh, “World in a Wafer”

Yesterday, we gathered with many others at Friendship Park to celebrate communion with sisters and brothers from both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. It was a somber celebration of the Lord’s Table. Rev. John Fanestil–who has led the communion celebrations at the border for the last few months–wrote a great article that summarizes our reasons for taking this action. It was the cover article of this month’s issue of The Christian Century and can be read here.

As John finished his introduction, he explained to those gathered that we, the organizers, had been warned that to pass anything through the border that did not go through customs was illegal. If we chose to take communion from those serving from the other side of the fence, it would be an act of civil disobedience. The risk was little to none. Armed Border Patrol agents have stood around and watched us do this for weeks. But at the same time, they did threaten to arrest a man whose kite had flown over the border only a couple of weeks ago.

John asked Dr. Jamie Gates and myself to help serve the elements. I walked up to the monument that stands directly on the border line, corn tortillas in hand, ready to serve people from both sides of the border. To my surprise, almost every one that came forward pressed their hands to the rusty fence to receive the Body of Christ. My only task was to translate, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” to those that received communion. I’ve never been more happy to not serve communion.

In his “World in a Wafer” article, William T. Cavanaugh writes “[T]he Eucharist does not simply tell the story of a united human race, but brings to light barriers where they actually exist.” This statement was such a reality yesterday. While we were brought together as one Body, the boundaries–both physical and social–that divide us were exposed for what they are. Our friend, Sunil Sardar, founder of Truth Seekers Int., has a similar mindset in how he has chosen to lead people in communion in India. Rather than the cup and bread, they celebrate communion with people of all castes using a traditional Hindu celebration element, the coconut and it’s milk. Through this they challenge and expose the assumptions of who has access to the Table and who doesn’t.

Back to San Diego, concern of this issue heightened for us during last year’s firestorm that ravaged San Diego county. For more information on that you can read the report, Firestorm: Treatment of Vulnerable Populations During the San Diego Fires, which was published by a handful of local organizations. It can be downloaded off of the Justice Overcoming Boundaries (JOB) website (look under “Publications”).

What became evident through that season is that the varied reasons of opposition to immigration to the U.S. from Latin America, while under the guise of policy and economics, are more often than not rooted in racism.

Is this strictly the hypothesis of a “liberal”? No. This is my experience. I’ve lived most of my life in San Diego county, something few people that live here can say. I was raised in a loving, conservative Christian home. We were taught that racism was wrong. That to hate was to sin. But at the same time we were taught that racial slurs such as “wetback” and “beaner” were acceptable. This duplicity created a disconnect in my mind. Eventually it seemed perfectly acceptable to perceive of Hispanic people differently than others. During my late elementary school years, I lived in the rural part of northern San Diego county. Many migrant workers lived throughout the hills close to the orchards that provided them income. One summer, I found one of these migrant worker camps during the day while the men were out working and destroyed everything I could. I gloated to family and friends of my actions. My tale was returned with laughter.

I tell this story to expose the blindness of our racism. My shameful behavior is alarming but not uncommon. Later in life as a youth leader at various churches, I heard many such stories treated by parents and others as simply, “kids being kids.” Condemning racism while still willing to refer to and act towards a particular group in a degrading way exposes how blind we actually are.

Assumptions are commonly made of people with Spanish surnames or brown skin. What isn’t often acknowledged is that people throughout Latin America come to the U.S., still Hispanic peoples are universally called, “Mexican” by many. Frequently, there is a “guilty until proven innocent” assumption made of the immigration status for those of Latin American decent–many just assume a Latino/a crossed without documentation. And there is the “illegal alien” term which degrades someone’s humanity based on their legal/illegal behavior (Have you ever heard of someone guilty of tax evasion called, “illegal”? No, because it is their actions that are illegal, not their existence.).

Together, these ignorant and improper labels tend to de-humanize Latinos–whether consciously or subconsciously–in the minds of others. As a result, hate crimes against Latinos eventually begin to be perceived as acceptable. This kind of cruelty is not restricted to Minutemen or other like-minded citizens. Through the ICE raids that happen throughout Southern California, government officials echo the same kind of disregard for humane treatment. Should neglect of the well-being of families, especially children, becomes acceptable when someone’s documentation is suspect?

This over-arching posture must be called for what it is. It is racism. I am not a policy maker, nor do I have hopes to be one. I am not a theologian, but that does not make my understanding of my experience any less valid. I can see how inhumane our current system is and how necessary it is to see change happen. As a follower of Jesus who seeks to participate in the Kingdom he announced, I feel that I must allow that conviction to enter into areas of life that may be uncomfortable. Those that were dehumanized in his culture, Jesus treated with dignity, humanity. His acts of love challenged a theo-political system that disregarded them.

Our actions yesterday were important because of the statement it made. Our actions, even though small, exposed the shameful posture of policy makers and citizens towards our Latin American sisters and brothers. As well, our actions proclaimed our alignment with an authority that moves in, through and beyond the nation state, the Kingdom of God. We chose to act as Jesus would have us rather than the state.

Our inability to recognize our biblical call to a particular social posture towards the alien, the immigrant and the ostracized is to expose our complicity with temporal powers, of putting the authority of the nation state above that of the call of Christ. We in short confirm the words of The Thermals‘ song, “An Ear for Baby” from the album, The Body, The Blood, The Machine, that lashes out against a Christianity that has sold it’s soul to political and economic benefit:

good luck getting over the fence
good luck putting even a dent in
the mission, the dream!
the body, the blood, the machine

If you are interested in learning more about this issue, I would encourage you to join us on Saturday, October 25 from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Friendship Park to discuss the role of Christians in San Diego at the border. Contact us for more details.

Jason Evans, along with Brooke and their two kids, are a part of an intentional community called the Hawthorn House. He is a co-founder of the Ecclesia Collective, a group of people committed to nurturing grassroots expressions of the Kingdom in San Diego, CA. Before the EC, Jason and Brooke helped start Matthew's House, a cluster of house churches at the north end of San Diego county.


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Comments

Viewing 6 Comments

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    While we were brought together as one Body, the boundaries–both physical and social–that divide us were exposed for what they are. Amen. For we are One Body in Christ's Body, whether we choose to see it or not. It is only sin that blinds us to the truth all around us. Prayers to "become One" in Christ are a symptom of that sin; to acknowledge it, with acts such as the Mass you describe at the border, we see it, and must choose! God bless you. There are no walls to the Kingdom of God!
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    As a latino (more exactly colombian) I feel very touched by your article. May God still bless you.

    Ps: I remember someday my fahter told me "it is not that the mexicans are ilegally trespassing the border; they have been there before "gringos" expanded to the southwest".
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    Mountainguy, your father is right and it is unfortunate that the powers and many San Diegans do not take this into consideration. Thanks for your kind words, both of you.

    Paz,

    J
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    Greetings.

    As a Chicano with a complex identity and unique experience related to the issue, I appreciate the action, meditation, honesty, and repentance. But foremost as a son of God this article really resonates with me

    There is much I can say about this issue.

    I agree this is just another issue where so many "Constantinian Christians" go along with the powers that be and don't see our mandate to be concerned for the treatment of the immigrant.

    I would also add that in the discussion of "illegal immigration" we must always remember, like a brother mentioned in response that the U.S. first "illegally immigrated" into Mexico. With their strong armed tactics they eventually "won" the rights to the land just like earlier American Imperial expansion pushing out and massacring native populations.

    I've heard people say "well, before it was Mexico the Spaniards colonized the land as well." Of course, the unjust officials in the Mexican government and prior to that New Spain had their fare share in the hand of oppression as well. The point must be maid though that the majority of Mexicans are mestizo meaning they have a good portion of Indigenous heritage.

    Even the nationality title Mexican comes from the name of the indigenous (Nahuatl) word for Aztec that is Mexica. The point is most Mexicans have a good amount of indigenous heritage and if anyone has a write to inhabit the land it is the indigenous who have been here thousands of years prior to any european.

    Also a majority of the illegal immigrants are coming from poor villages in Mexico whose population is primarily indigenous. You don't see rich or well connected Mexicans immigrating illegally. Latin America's history and political structure and economic hierarchy to this day tends to put the more indigenous on the bottom strata of society and the more Spanish at the top. The reality is that racism is just as real (albeit different) in Latin America as it is in the U.S.

    Latin America has a genocidal record on treatment of indigenous populations as well. A point I am making t is that the American/Mexican border situation also brings up the issues of indigenous rights as well. In addition, migration from we would call central Mexico to the American S.W. and vice versa has been going on for thousands of years. The American S.W was considered the ancestral homeland of the Mexica!!

    I finds some interesting parallels between this issue and the Israeli Palestinian situation....although there is too much for me to say about that for this response.

    I think Americans especially sincere Christians need to be critical of American history and our "Right" to the "homeland".......and the very construction of the U.S
    The reality is that the expansion of the U.S. borders from sea to shining sea was built upon the backs of slaves, the blood of the indigenous and Mexican with outright racist doctrines.

    This is not a "victimization" mentality but is plain historical fact that must be wrestled with and referenced in the current political situation. I know immigration is a complex discussion and there are many issues associated with it such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, and other criminal activity including those of vigilantes.

    At the very least we need to see the humanity in those who cross illegally and understand the economic forces that pull them up here....of course just vrs. unjust economics is another important strata within the discussion, but if we are to call ourselves disciples of Christ we better see beyond man made borders that separate and lesson our solidarity with brothers and sisters in Messiah and the least of these.

    It is interesting how people will go to Mexico for a "missions trip" but don't see the opportunity to "reach" the Mexican community here in the u.s.

    With this issue of borders ultimately this is Our Heavenly Father's world and the entire earth belongs to Him!
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    Your line -- "It is interesting how people will go to Mexico for a "missions trip" but don't see the opportunity to "reach" the Mexican community here in the u.s." -- pierces into a very scary, very dark, very discomforting part of the American evangelical heart. What is our true motivation for house-building trips to Mexico? A way to cleanse our conscience? Are we just baptizing a group vacation in the name of the Lord? I've wanted to not believe my own cynicism about this. But the simple fact that churches can send their teenagers for a week to Mexico, but not even SEE the plight of the Latinos suffering from bigotry, gov't persecution, illegally low wages, abusive labor demands, and the temptations of gang culture?

    May God open the eyes of the American church to see these things, and may he change our hearts as we see such pains, and may he cause us to act in humble love to "speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves." (Proverbs 31:8)
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    Amen.
 

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  • Out and About

    October 8, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    [...] Jason Evans discusses the significance of eucharist in a world of closed national borders. [...]

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