Feb  2016 01
Borderlinks: Debunking Treasured Maxims

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Borderlinks immersion course, a group of Phillips students and Dr. Mindy McGarrah Sharp, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Ethics, kicked off 2016 by traveling to the borderlands between the United States and Mexico along the Arizona border in January.

In her fifth Borderlinks course (the seminary’s 19th), McGarrah Sharp reports that the group arrived with a hunger for good coffee and for learning about justice in the context of the borderlands, including these and other questions:

  • Why is immigration such a complex issue?
  • What is life like for our neighbors who live in the borderlands?
  • What is our role as faith leaders?
  • How do our practices around food and clothing relate to border issues?
  • What role should churches and faith communities play in the lives of undocumented persons?

The group left with many memories of amazing and troubling conversations, insights, and concerns to help them imagine responsible leadership in the way of Jesus around the complex issue of immigration. McGarrah Sharp offers perspective on four commonly held ideas about the border and immigration.

1. The Maxims

You’ve heard it before: give a person a fish and they eat for a day, teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime. If only it were that simple. Since returning from my fifth Borderlinks immersion class where we engage with what life is really like for our neighbors who live on the borderlands, I’ve reflected on this troubling maxim.

From conversations in the borderlands with persons from a wide range of positions and political persuasions, it is abundantly clear that our immigration policies aren’t working. As much as possible in one week, the class works to raise questions, listen deeply, and imagine more just alternatives. This work requires debunking some of our treasured maxims about the shape of responsible responses.

2. The Line

Let’s try another version of the maxim: give a person in crisis amnesty and one person lives, teach a community in crisis to follow the rules, get in line, and they can find refuge in the United States legally. I regularly hear this maxim in news coverage as I commute to work.

It breaks down on the Borderlinks trip when we learn that our neighbor’s turn in the line is calculated by a complex matrix of education, personal wealth, family connections, employment, relationship status, country of origin, and more.

In 2016, the US is currently processing applications for legal entry that were filed (in English, with appropriate fees, etc.) in 1994. For people and communities in crisis, their turn in the line is determined by rules that privilege the privileged. For some in crisis, there simply is no line to get in.

3. The Leaving

What about this version: give a farmer in crisis some money and she makes it one season, have agricultural experts teach her to maximize her crop yield and she won’t leave the farm for work in the city. Our class visited Café Justo where we learned how NAFTA trade policies contribute to the price of coffee falling to unsustainable levels for independent farmers, pushing people in Chiapas off of treasured land.

Highly skilled coffee farmers leave in search of work that may provide a small living, typically in factories along the border’s free trade zones 2000 miles from home. At Café Justo, we drank amazing coffee grown from a collective of 25+ families who stayed on their family farms by imagining and organizing collaborative business models and land use, in resistance to unjust market forces.

4. The Leader

Let’s return to the first maxim: give a person a fish and they eat for a day, teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime. Examining this maxim in the context of immigration requires learning about hunger, about fishing and other eating practices, and about lives and lifetimes. Most importantly, it requires asking what responsible leadership might look like.

At Phillips, we constantly ask ourselves, “What kind of education will form leaders who learn to lead in the way of Jesus?” As Borderlinks participants, we have a unique opportunity for self-reflection as we become immersed: What kind of leadership is most just in this situation? Who should lead the way? Who is teacher--the person who is hungry or the unnamed benefactor in the maxim?

Immersion learning involves learning from and with the people whose lives are most directly impacted—in the maxim above, the person who is hungry becomes the teacher and the teacher becomes the learner.

This is truly difficult on the ground in a week-long class experience! What I have learned is that people who live in the borderlands know complexities of the problems around immigration and have the tools of just and responsible solutions, more than we who visit the borderlands for a week could or would ever be able to understand alone.

To lead in the way of Jesus is going to be disruptive to some common maxims among the privileged, this Jesus whose signature teaching involves inverting powers for justice-making. I believe that a change of heart from charity to education is involved.

We also have to learn that we don’t go to the borderlands to give simple charity or to teach the people we encounter what we think they need to know and do. Rather, we go to learn what justice requires of us by listening to and imagining in solidarity with the people whose lives are on the line.

Browse more posts by: Melinda McGarrah Sharp, Phillips Faculty
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