Given the current divisive atmosphere and mean narratives, I feel compelled some evenings to share information and inspiration on topics other than poetry, which support our shared ideals.
In a courageous and compassionate move two faith organizations in my neighborhood just announced that their congregations have voted by overwhelming majorities to give physical sanctuary to vulnerable neighbors, the kind of move that has growing support across the United States under the banner of The New Sanctuary Movement, a movement with historic roots in human sanctuary (as opposed to spiritual sanctuary) in England, 600 A.D. This latest revival is a renewal of the 80s Sanctuary Movement in the U.S.
In the 1980s faith organizations were responsible for transporting and sheltering some 500,000 escaping the violence in Central America. Hundreds of congregations sheltered refugees and moved them to the U.S. and Canada.
Why give sanctuary:
The Rev. Ben Meyers minister of the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo states: “Our Unitarian Universalist principles call us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people; to seek justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and to create world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We commit our values to action as we work with other people of faith and moral conscience congruent with these principles and this purpose. Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Standing together on the side of love, our faith communities can make a real difference.”
The Rev. Dr. G. Penny Nixon, senior minister of the Congregational Church of San Mateo says: “Each week we gather in our beautiful sanctuary to remember who we are as a people of faith who follow the teachings of Jesus. For us, providing refuge means opening that sanctuary as a “safe place” to those who are an integral part of our community, and providing a haven for families to stay together.” –The Rev. Dr. G. Penny Nixon, senior minister of the Congregational Church of San Mateo
I do not represent either of the churches featured here this evening nor speak for their ministers and congregations, but this story is compelling. I hope that by featuring their justice efforts other faith organizations that haven’t picked up the banner will do so. If your synagogue, church, temple or mosque is not in the process of becoming sanctuary, then please consider initiating that conversation. If you are the leader in a faith organization or a professional journalist who would like more information, contact the ministers at email@example.com or contact me via direct message on Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to connect you.
As you might suspect, there was a reason for featuring Emma Lazarus and her poem, The New Colossus, as part of the American She-Poets series this a.m. … the reason being a reminder of our American ideals in the face an unreasonable ban, free-flowing hostilitities, and the fear vulnerable people have given the ramped-up deportation policies finding support and stride under the current Republican administration. Almost all immigrants to this country are refugees even if they are not formally declared so. Formally or informally they seek refuge from violence, poverty, joblessness, hunger and environmental degradation.
“Now ‘refugees’ are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by refugee committees …. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. . . . ” We Refugees, an essay by Hannah Arendt in the 1943 issue of Menorah
The lack of empathy and compassion for and the fear of and prejudice toward immigrants is not new in American history and, as better people than me have said, unless you are a Native American, you are an immigrant, no matter how far back your roots go in these United States. It is likely that your own progenitors felt the sting of prejudice, might have suffered greatly and even died at its hands.
Here I report on the programs and practices that are being implemented by our interfaith community with the help of a number of organizations including Faith In Action, which is integral to the design of a Rapid Response Program. My hope is that in reading this more people in our own community will become involved and that other communities that don’t have programs and collaborations will be inspired to create them.
The Peninsula Solidarity Network of clergy representing diverse faiths was originally initiated to discuss and address the shortage of housing and affordable rents throughout the San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay area and is now taking on another crisis: creating sanctuary andbuilding a Rapid Response Network to witness, accompany and advocate for immigrants facing deportation. On Wednesday, February 8th, it hosted a training by Faith In Action Bay Area. The training was on the Sanctuary Movement and The Rapid Response Network, a project of Faith In Action Bay Area, PICO and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in collaboration with Pangea Legal Services and California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.
Please note:I do not speak for or represent the Peninsula Solidarity Network or its clergy and lay-leader members, Faith In Action or the Rapid Response Network, but I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in and report back to you. This is what I learned. Any mistakes or mistaken assumptions are my own. If you are clergy or a professional journalist interested in the Peninsula Solidarity Network, the Sanctuary Movement, and/or Rapid Response email email@example.com J.D.
While deportation is not a new problem, these efforts by the federal government are escalating and Faith In Action is working to bring our congregations together to foster the bigger scale of action and involvement that is necessary now . . . and we need everyone. Our job is to facilitate support among the races. Everyone has a role to play: diverse immigrant communities supporting one another and the greater community showing presence. Vulnerable ethnic and religious groups need special help and American citizens have responsibility to be present for victims and involved in this work.
Within the immigrant community congregations are the center for hope. Faith organizations can offer training to help families to defend themselves, to know their rights, and to get deportation defense through community campaigns, solidarity networks and for advocacy at local, state and federal levels.
Each city needs RAPID RESPONSE TEAMS of at least forty people. First responders verify raids, are moral and legal observers and connect families with legal services, social and economic services, advocacy and accompaniment services.
Victims of immigration raids can’t leave home or work to find sanctuary in a congregation. With rapid response, the congregation goes to the people.
In California, clergy and congregation members can also help by supporting the proposed California Values Act (SB 54) of California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. Here is the short link to info about SB 54: http://tinyurl.com/j6e6ayv
Donate to Faith In Action Bay Area, 1336 Arroyo Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070-3913 (510) 234-8983
OUR PENINSULA RESIDENTS ARE INVITED TO attend the Faith In Practicing Solidarity During Immigration Raids Training (Rapid Response Network: Witness, Accompany and Advocate) to be offered on February 12, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 225 Tilton Ave., San Mateo, CA (Parking on Catalpa). You will learn how to witness (be a legal observer), accompany (provide moral support) and advocate (prepare for opportunity to pass new protections). There will be a second training offered on February 28, 6:30 – 8:30pm, 2266 California St, San Francisco.
What follows is a short film (about 20 min.), which tells the history of immigration in the United States. If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the video.
Too many people are deported – or “returned” – many of them are long-term residents woven into the fabric of our communities and congregations, including our neighbors. Often this results in splitting up families with children who are U.S. citizens.
Time after time Congress has refused to address our broken immigration system. Donald Trump launched his campaign for president pledging to build a wall and deport immigrants. During his first two weeks in office he issued orders intended to begin implementing his vision for America. An order establishing a travel ban on Muslims from seven majority Muslim nations has had a chilling effect on nearly all foreign nationals living among us as friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers or family in communities nationwide. Consequently, a New Sanctuary Movement is rapidly gaining momentum among people of faith and moral conscience.
Why get involved as a Faith Community?
Our shared religious ideals call us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people; to seek justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and to create world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We commit our values to action as we work together to transform ourselves while creating congruence between our ideals and our actions. Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Our congregations can make a difference. We can get involved in the New Sanctuary Movement by taking the National Sanctuary Pledge and becoming a Sanctuary Congregation, joining hundreds of others from all faith traditions across the country
What does it mean to be a Sanctuary Congregation?
Principally, it means helping prevent deportation of persons facing an order of deportation, on a case-by-case basis, one at a time, in concert with their legal representation. Participation varies from joining Networks of Protection and Rapid Response teams; Advocating for due process and policies; Accompanying Immigrant families and youth for protection and providing a safe haven. This latter role means hosting or otherwise supporting a person in your facility and possibly their family too, while the person is engaged in legal proceedings intended to prevent them from being deported. We expect the duration of a person’s stay in Sanctuary would be from three weeks to three months. As part of growing coalitions of congregations you would not be doing this alone.
Is a house of worship a safe place?
Historically, churches, schools and hospitals have been classified as “sensitive locations” under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Sensitive Locations Policy. ICE has not entered any of those venues to take custody of a person facing an order of deportation. However, we should be aware that this could change as the current administration implements its plans. [ICE officials can make entry with a warrant. / J.D.]
How are candidates for Sanctuary vetted?
As a Sanctuary Congregation, you will have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with one or more not-for-profit organizations providing legal services for immigrants in or around your area. That organization, in concert with a person’s lawyer, will decide that the person would be the right candidate for Sanctuary: (1) ICE would not likely consider them a priority for deportation; (2) they are a good candidate for prosecutorial discretion, winning a stay of removal or an order of supervision or some other form of legal relief from deportation; and (3) they would satisfy any other requirements specified in our MOU. Where a candidate meets the requirements, the organization presents the case to the Sanctuary Congregations’ rabbi, minister or Iman and a “Vetting Team.”
What are the risks?
During the last forty years, no congregation has been prosecuted for allowing undocumented people to find shelter in their Church; no person associated with a Church Sanctuary Program has been convicted for offering Sanctuary; and no Church’s tax-exempt status has been affected. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “There comes a time when a moral man [sic] can’t obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And the important thing is that when he does that he willingly accepts the penalty – because if he refuses to accept the penalty he becomes reckless, and he becomes an anarchist.”
This essay was originally published in the December 2016 issue of The BeZine. It is by Reena Prasad (Butterflies of Time – A Canvas of Poetry) and with her permission I share it here today. It is simply not to be missed. I can’t think of anything better with which to start 2017. Over the years, I have not seen another poet work with quite the same passion, consistancy or intelligence at her craft. She is diligent not only in the creative process but in getting her work out to publishers. I am pleased to be able to feature her essay here and her poetry in The BeZine. Enjoy! Reena’s bio is below the essay. J.D.
Poetry finds you when you are broken, insists on taking you into its fold, puts your pieces together and then you never leave.
It struck me when I was standing at the doorway of my home one July that the sunshine over the mussaenda was a rare shade of rose-gold and that the leaves under it were a luminous green. The street noises seemed to recede as if the stage had been taken over by some other troupe and sure enough, there was a sudden onset of activity. An excited squirrel ran up and down the guava tree, a few babblers screamed and the jackfruit tree came to life with bird cries. All because there was a long rat snake slithering leisurely across the sunlit ground. There had been stray tears on my cheek and I was a dam on the verge of a collapse but then the other world swung in and took over from me.
I was privy to nature’s poetry slam. I wanted nothing to capture it, not a camera, or a laptop nor pen and paper. A poem followed by several others swung its legs over the cacophony of humdrum routines and marched into me settling deep into waiting trenches filling me up with purpose and with immense joy. While steadily ploughing up the driest top soil and turning it over to the elements to ravage, it was changing me.
I remembered Stanley Kunitz’s translation of Akhmatova’s lines . . .
“No foreign sky protected me, no stranger’s wing shielded my face. I stand as witness to the common lot, survivor of that time, that place.”
Writing a poem is akin to exercising. To begin is difficult at times because it is easier to wallow in conceptual dramas and imaginary hammocks than to sit in one place and write or type. Think about the singular joy of munching on peanuts and reading fitness magazines on the couch compared to going running on a cold day.
Some poems are difficult to birth even while being exhilarating with senses functioning at heightened awareness and making one sore with the intensity of thought . Once begun, every thought zooms into the present; nature, politics and emotions collide, collaborate and confound the notions of what constitutes poetry. The end comes when the experience has gone through like a sword and untwisted all the overlapping images to give one’s vision a clarity that is brighter than the sunbathed green leaves of the mussaenda.
Winner of the T.S Elliot award 2012 Poet John Burnside said,“Poetry reminds us that lakes and mountains are more than items on a spreadsheet; when a dictatorship imprisons and tortures its citizens, people write poems because the rhythms of poetry and the way it uses language to celebrate and to honour, rather than to denigrate and abuse, is akin to the rhythms and attentiveness of justice.” Central to this attentiveness is the key ingredient of poetry, the metaphor, which Hannah Arendt defined as “the means by which the oneness of the world is poetically brought about”. It’s that power to bring things together, to unify experience as “the music of what happens”, that the best poetry achieves.”
It also unifies the people reading it and the poets who write it because we search for affirmation, for reassurance that our feelings and experiences are shared by someone else somewhere and that we aren’t all alone though our pursuit of the game is almost always solitary.
While the visualized poem changes a lot after being handed over to language, the thing that is most changed at the end of the writing is me. I feel kindly and tolerant to all forms of obstacles and injustices that were hindering the poem till then, feeling mostly gratitude for the crash course on changing perception. If there is more indecision, more poems might be written.
As David Biespiel says”You become a poet when you navigate your poem’s labyrinths of mutability, not to a point of stasis, but to a point where your discoveries blossom into ecstasy, intoxication, even beatitude — or, to downplay that bit of grandiosity, into clarity, insight, judgment, understanding, private vision.”
And believe me language plays a mighty role here – give it all the vocabulary and range you can and the poem rushes through like a thing on fire. Don’t let anyone tell you that language doesn’t matter. It does. It does. It does. You wouldn’t want to be subjected to an operation if your doctor uses an rusty, blunt knife he found while swimming in the ocean. It is the same thing with poetry. Hone your weapons before you go to war. Because after that poem is written, you are healed of whatever ailed you. The better your poem, the better you feel. I have no complaints about life as long as I can write because there somewhere between the thought and the written word, lies my wetland, my wildlife reserve, my sanctuary.
Leaving you with Amiri Baraka’s lines from Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . .
“Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way The ground opens up and envelopes me Each time I go out to walk the dog. Or the broad edged silly music the wind Makes when I run for a bus…
REENA PRASAD is a poet from India, currently living in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). She is the co-editor with Dr. A.V. Koshy of The Significant Anthology (2015). She writes poems looking in awe at the world from the seventeenth floor of a high rise in the Arabian desert. Her poems have been published in several anthologies and journals including The Copperfield Review, First Literary Review-East, Angle Journal, Poetry Quarterly, York Literary Review, Lakeview International Journal, Duane’s PoeTree, and Mad Swirl. She is the Destiny Poets UK’s, Poet of the Year for 2014. More recently her poem was adjudged second in the World Union Of Poet’s poetry competition, 2016.