Back in middle school, I read the book “The Hiding Place” about the ten Boom family. Corrie ten Boom and her family choose to be part of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. In a hidden room, behind a fake wall in their home, they harbored those people the Gestapo hunted. Historians estimate that the ten Booms saved nearly 800 lives before they were also captured and carted off to a concentration camp.
I can vividly remember the impact that book had on middle-school-me. As I pored over the pages, I wept at ten Boom’s description of the concentration camp and their suffering. Would I be brave like that? I wondered. If I had lived during World War II, would I have had the courage to place my own safety at risk to hide others?
When I learned about slavery and the Underground Railroad and the Civil War, then when I learned about the Civil Rights Movement, I wondered similar things. Would I have risked my own security and comfort to help those without the same security and comfort? Which side of history would I have been on?
Similarly, as I studied World War II, I wondered, How did good people let things get to that point? How did an entire country of people allow that to happen? As I learned about plantation owners buying and selling human beings, separating children from their parents, auctioning people off like livestock, I wondered, How could any decent person have agreed to that? How did an entire country of people allow that to happen?
And here I am – 45 years old, and I am finally understanding the answers to those echoing questions from my childhood.
Which side of history would I have been on? Well, which side of history am I on right now? As little brown babies are being forced from their parents’ arms and placed in internment camps – or Tender Age Shelters as our government is calling them – what am I doing? As border patrol agents turn asylum seekers away at our border, what am I doing? (Similarly, what am I doing as black people are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites? And what am I doing about other forms of systemic racism in my community or in my country?) As Glennon Doyle says, “The best indicator of whether or not we would have shown up in that civil rights era -in the 60s- is whether or not we’re showing up in this civil rights era.” The best indicator of what I would have done then is what I am doing now.
I know some people wish I wouldn’t post so much about what they consider political issues on Facebook — I, however, consider these topics to be human rights issues or moral issues or faith issues, rather than political issues. I know this because I’ve seen the status updates about how Facebook has become too political or the status updates proclaiming I don’t want to be political or I don’t like to read the news or I just want to keep Facebook lighthearted and fun. I’ve seen the threatening Facebook status updates, I’m going to have to unfriend people again because some people are just too political. And I’ve actually been unfriended by 5 people this week alone.
I wonder if Martin Luther King Jr.’s friends told him they were sick of hearing about politics and racism or if Harriet Tubman’s relatives told her, Enough already about the depressing topic of slaves who need help being free! Let me just re-enact this hilarious thing my cat did the other day! You have to see it!
The thing is — I can’t stop speaking up about oppression and abuse of power. My conscience won’t let me. The Spirit of God living inside me won’t let me. I believe my purpose in life is to love God with all that I am and to love other people as much as I love myself. I believe my calling is to show other people who Jesus is through my words and my actions. And I know how Jesus feels about the marginalized and the oppressed. I know how he feels about abuses of power and mistreatment of those he would call the least of them.
I grew up going to Sunday School and church every single Sunday. Then in my teenage and young adult years, I went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. At the small Christian college I attended, I was like one Bible class short of a Bible minor. And for years, I participated in Bible Study Fellowship Bible studies. None of that makes me any more holy. None of it makes me special or good. No, I tell you all that so that you’ll know that I’ve spent a lot of time studying the Bible. I am familiar with God’s instructions on how to treat strangers and aliens. I know who Jesus says my neighbor is and how I should behave toward her. I know that in God’s eyes, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28), there is neither American nor Mexican, there is neither citizen nor immigrant, there is neither black nor white. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
Because of the teachings of the Bible, I know that I am supposed to treat other people the way I want to be treated. That’s the most basic thing I learned in Sunday School as a little girl.
And so I cannot keep quiet. Even if people on Facebook unfriend me and even if I don’t feel wanted at the next family reunion. Even if my zeal is too much for some people. When my grandchildren sit around my rocking chair and ask what I did during the Great Immigration Crisis of 2018, during which time little children were taken from their parents and shipped to holding centers around the country, I want to be able to tell them that I spoke up every chance I had, that I refused to be silent, that I wrote my representatives, that I donated money to help reunite them with their parents and to get legal representation for them, that I did what I could with my voice, my time, and my money. I definitely don’t want to say, Well, I didn’t want to be too political so I kept quiet.
In her book, Corrie ten Boom tells the story of watching police officers and soldiers round up Jewish men and women and children. She cried to her father, “Those poor people!” And her father echoed, “Those poor people.” But her father was looking at the German soldiers. He went on, “I pity those poor Germans, Corrie. They have touched the apple of God’s eye.” Corrie ten Boom and her family helped the Jewish people because they believed that the Jewish people were the apple of God’s eye. They helped every person being hunted by the Gestapo because they believed every person is made in the image of God. And after the war, after her release from the concentration camp, Corrie ten Boom offered forgiveness to the Germans who participated in persecuting and killing her friends and family. Because those German people were also made in the image of God.
In Mark 9, Jesus said Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me. In Matthew 25, Jesus said that when we offer food and drink and shelter and clothing and visits to the those who are in need, we are offering those things to Jesus himself. These people who are my neighbors (Luke 10), these people are the apple of God’s eye. These are people made in God’s image. And so I will do what I can to advocate for them and provide for them.
Would I be brave? Would I risk my own security and comfort, the approval of others, to help those without the same security and comfort? What side of history would I have been on?