This is the Christ of Maryknoll. The icon does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on. Is he imprisoned or are we? Through our infrastructures and ways of living, we all place barriers between ourselves and "the other." We and our institutions try to imprison Christ in various ways, to tame him and the radical call that we all have from baptism: to live the tensions of life side-by-side with the most marginalized and most vulnerable.
I have always had the habit of calling “home” wherever I’m sleeping that night, whether that be a friend’s couch or in another country or my dorm room. Home is wherever I lay my head that evening, wherever I can comfortably sleep and where I can be near people I love. This has allowed me to wander around, almost always lost but content in my lost state.
On Super Tuesday, my community gathered to eat pizza and watch the elections. We sat open-mouthed as what I had believed to be impossible happened. We watched as state after state came in choosing security (of jobs, of their homes, of the border, of their “culture”) over Hillary. From what I understand, everyone felt isolated in this election. The conservatives were tired of being called racist, bigoted hicks. The liberals were tired of Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, and women being targeted. I understand the sentiment of fear and frustration which dictated this election. I get fear as a person of color and I get it as a woman. I get it as a teacher who has spent her entire career working with marginalized minorities. And yet I must admit, something in my heart collapsed in on itself. I’ve been reflecting on why I reacted so strongly, crying on and off for two days afterwards and I have come to the conclusion it is because this election showed me how alienated we have become from each other, how this vote felt like a proclamation that, “My needs and my safety are more important than those of my neighbor,” and perhaps even “My world is better without my neighbor.” This floored me because this is not my world. I refuse to conceive that this is what we have become.
In the places I have made my home the past two years, security and safety come not from the government, but from the local communities. This sentiment of “I am better off without my neighbor,” would never ever fly in Bolivia or in Kenya. In these countries, there is very little formal infrastructure and so they must rely on each other. They would never pre-purchase coffins or plots of land for burial the way we do in the US. If you have no family and you pass away, your neighbors are the ones who take care of the funeral arrangements. They gather money and pay for your coffin and a simple ceremony. Incredulously, I had pushed my teacher asking, “But what if that person has no friends?” and she said simply, “There is always someone.”
There is no health insurance, but rather a system where a pot is passed around and everyone contributes. And as one person told me, “You always contribute because you want others to contribute when you are sick.” There is a mutual necessity. We in the United States have structures rather than relationships, life insurance policies rather than communities and while it is much cleaner and certainly much more predictable, perhaps we are missing out. There is a certain isolation that comes with never needing anyone, never asking for help. And the more isolated we become, perhaps the less likely we are able to hear each other.
It will be hot and sunny here on Christmas day, but I have friends who are making a Christmas tree out of toilet paper rolls, a fireplace out of paper and scrap wood. We have plans to decorate cookies and make paper snowflakes. I will play The Carpenters Christmas album ad nauseam. Certainly, I am still very much concerned about the path that our country is on, the wounds that go so deep and this yelling into the void that seems to be happening rather than real conversation. Honestly, I am still struggling with this. Constructive conversation seems to evade me, but I refuse to forget that I need you and you need me. I pray that we can work toward seeing each other as havens and places of refuge, admitting that we are incomplete when we set up systems of exclusion, seeking home in one another because we have no other.