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Following my graduation from San Francisco Theological Seminary, I was ordained by the Presbytery of San Francisco in June, 1966.  My first position was at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Riverside, CA, where I served as the Minister with Youth.  As I began my ministry, it was the Age of Aquarius, the age of the Hippies and Flower Children; it was the age of the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement; it was the Civil Rights movement and the protests against the Vietnam War. The Selective Service draft was in full operation; and protests against the war and the draft took a variety of forms–from the burning of registration cards and the American flag to leaving the country and moving to Canada.  As a newly ordained minister, one way I could join in the protest against the Vietnam War was to provide draft counseling for young people applying for conscientious objector status.  I provided counseling and wrote letters of recommendation for several of the young people in my church youth group.  One particular case was memorable.  First of all, he was an unlikely candidate as I found him more interested in his social life than to take politics seriously.  And yet, at the end of our sessions, I was persuaded that he had thought this through, knew what he was doing, and was doing it for the right reasons.  I wrote the letter for him and sent it to the local draft board.   For me personally, writing the letter for this particular individual carried huge consequences.  The chairman of the draft board was an elder on the session of the church I was serving.  And, this young man was dating his daughter.  

In my files, I have also an angry letter written to the session by a church member who walked out in the middle of a youth-led worship service.  The theme of the service was a protest against the Vietnam War.  The man and his wife had a daughter in our youth group.  He was retired military, having been stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, CA.  One of the oldest members of the congregation, who hosted the Friday Night Prayer Meeting, said to me after the furor died down, “Well Cal, you went a bit too far with that worship service.”

My last position before retirement in 2006 was at my home church, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown.  At one of the regular Wednesday night Bible study meetings, this particular evening was different.  One of our regular participants asked for prayers as her immigration status had come into question.  And she faced the threat of deportation.  I had listened to and prayed with her, discussing potential scenarios and outcomes and considering what we might attempt to do. That evening, I changed the lesson plans.  In place of the texts scheduled for our discussion, I substituted readings from the Old Testament, selecting readings that spoke about immigrants, specifically about how they are to be treated.  The Hebrew word ger makes no distinction among the various ways this word can be translated–sojourner, temporary dweller, newcomer, foreigner, alien, stranger, immigrant, outsider, intruder, interloper, refugee.  In every case, the person has no inherited rights.  The readings from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy all speak strongly and unequivocally about the obligation to treat the immigrant with dignity and hospitality.

• “I charged your judges at that time: ‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien'”.  (Dt. 1:16)

• “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns…You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge.”  (Dt. 24:14,17)

• “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  (Lev. 19:33-34)

We are a nation of immigrants.  The America we live in is captured in Emma Lazarus’ poem:

    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Israel is reminded, “love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt“, so we are commanded to love those who are different from us, not persecute them for their differences.

Rev. Dr. David Vasquez-Levy, former President at Pacific School of Religion wrote:  

We are living in dangerous and fearful times.  And fear is particularly dangerous when it is claimed by the powerful.  In the book of Exodus, Pharaoh sowed fear among his people through the equivalent of an outrageous and unfounded Tweet:  “Look”, he falsely claims, “the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.”  And through a series of executive orders, Pharaoh manipulates reality so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.  The key in the Exodus comes in the resistance to that fear by those who have the courage to stand up to Pharaoh.  Shiphrah and Puah, two Hebrew midwives, refuse to be coerced into the campaign of fear, and instead creatively continue their task of bringing life into the world. 

I am grateful for this declaration from San Francisco Theological Seminary, citing Proverbs 31:8-9:  “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” And making the following declarations:

• We call upon all who follow Jesus to resist conflating nationalist political ideology with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and calling it Christianity.

• We embrace the corrective and prophetic role of the Christian witness to speak truth to power and to stand with the oppressed.

• We say “amen” and join our voices with those who resist unjust actions and advance the good news of the Gospel.

Our citizenship lies not in loyalty to a leader, but in our fidelity to the guiding principles of our faith and to practicing and preserving the democratic ideals of our country. 

All the applicants for conscientious objection whom I counseled were approved.  As for the chair of the local Selective Service Board, he came up to me at the end of a worship service where I had administered the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and he thanked me for conducting a very meaningful service, a service which moved him deeply.  Today, the church member at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown is a United States citizen.  As the CEO of the company she started, she has generously provided employment and compensation for all her employees and their families.  She continues to help the citizens of her country of origin, the Philippines–sending boxes of books and toys to schools, starting a women’s cooperative, providing scholarships for numerous high school graduates.  

In our current political climate, I feel challenged and called more than ever to respond to the threats against the ger of our day.  As the Israelites were reminded, I will not forget that my family and I were once aliens.

1 thought on “Aliens”

  1. Another Wow! It immediately brought to mind one of CK’s Poems for Tai Chi Walking, contemplation and life in general.
    From “Green Blocks” 2nd Verse:
    Green Blocks, Green Drills
    thank you for your time.
    3 Realms, 9 Pearls
    asked to seek and find.
    Feet, hands, waist, heart
    how to weave them all?
    Round, square, three points
    more than what I saw.

    Cal, you saw.

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