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Light in the Absurdity

by Lia Smith

Light in the Absurdity

Photo by Lia Smith taken in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Hermanas con la Luz/Sisters with the Light.

"For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Tim 1:7

Easy answers and quick decisions are so often employed when it comes to immigration. The rhetoric that we often hear and accept (whether passively or actively) includes statements such as “immigrants would rather be in the US than their country”, “immigrants are a drain on our social services”, “terrorists are coming in through our southern border”, and “NAFTA was a positive economic move.” Our list continues to grow as the debate continues. Why do we so easily accept statements such as these for truths? Why do we allow these to dictate our opinions, lifestyle, hospitality, action, and inaction? We have betrayed a gift of our culture. Friends, our values of investigation, truth, and hard work have given way to blind acceptance, false truths, and negligence.

Photo by Lia Smith taken in her neighborhood in Chicago where, due to the large Mexican population, immigration is a big issue of concern.

We also slip into simplified conclusions when we encounter “the poor” or “disenfranchised.” I think of Cristina, a woman who we met in Juárez. Cristina has dedicated her life to improving the education and livelihoods of the children in her neighborhood. She sees potential in her children and commits herself to bringing them out of addiction, poverty, and despair. She runs a library and afterschool program with nothing but a little support from her family and a local priest. Cristina often sacrifices time with her own family. Yet, Cristina remains faithful to the neighborhood children that she cares for. Cristina often makes her way into schools, advocating for education amidst corruption. She brings her advocacy for education into the homes of her children as well. In their homes, she consistently and passionately defends not only learning but any other need of the child at hand. After hearing stories such as hers, how often has our response made light of systems of oppression and focused solely on the hope that individuals carry? How often have we noted that, “Yes, they live in poverty, but what hope they have!” While this may be a valid observation, we tend to use this as a justification for the structures and politics that deny opportunity, smother truth, and steal dignity. This justification not only provides false comfort to the privileged, but, more importantly, robs hope of its significance.

Since leaving El Paso, I have sought what it means to be hopeful. I left the border wondering how one could possibly maintain the light of hope against the oppressive powers that keep the migrant, the refugee, the immigrant, the neighbor as an outsider. In my searching, a close friend suggested that there are two opposites to hope. One, despair. The other, idealism. He suggested that in both cases, these states of being are blind to reality and lack forward motion. Hope, however, allows one to accept one’s surroundings and then create a vision for an unseen reality. Thus, hope is creative, constructive, and most importantly, grounded in reality. Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and philosopher, underscores this thought by stating that, “perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity.”

Photo by Lia Smith. Mural from her neighborhood in Chicago.

Hope, a light that burns in the absurdity, does not cast its light without the oil to maintain the flame. It is a cheap andsimplified conclusion to assume that it is the vision, the hope, alone that is our sole sustainer. No, in order to engage our broken world and continue to put one foot in front of the other, we must be sustained in faith.

Although we may have hope, we have no guarantee that we will see this unseen reality will ever be remotely realized. No matter how thoroughly we analyze the situation at hand or how much logic we use, there is no guarantee. No matter how ‘out-of-the-box’ or how revolutionary our vision, there is no guarantee. No matter how hard we fight or how fast we run, there is no guarantee. How often have we fought for our vision only to become burned out, cynical, and doubtful?

It is faith in a God that is bigger than the absurdity around us that keeps our feet moving forward. It is faith that we are not alone, faith that God loves, faith that God works in ways unseen. Without the daily struggle to step out in faith, we omit this essential companion to hope. Without faithful steps towards the unseen reality, our hope dissipates into puffs of idealism, self-righteousness, well-wishes, sadness, or despair. It is faith that maintains our unseen vision, that corrects us when we stray, that breathes redemption into the everyday. For hope, as a state of being, is not what propels us forward. Friends, steadfast faith maintains the gift of hope-filled vision.

On the last night in El Paso, wrought with desperation for human dignity and anger at the reality of immigration, I told our group that I was leaving behind my hope. I now see that what I left behind in El Paso is false hope. I left behind easy answers and simplified conclusions.

My hope is for a world of human dignity and respect for our neighbors, our friends, and our family. Faithfulness to God means fighting daily for the realization of the Imago Dei in each and every human being, regardless of immigration status, which border has been drawn, or what the rhetoric of fear has perpetuated. Friends, let us carry the light of hope together. Let us remember the importance of the oil which allows our light to burn. We step out in faith as a community.

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