Friday, September 19, 2014

The Angel of the South


The Angel of the South

The Angel of the North
broods beside the motorway
past and future
brought into the present
vast arms wingspread
Spitfire image
a past of glory, a future of hope,
when I saw the Angel of the North.

I would like to see the Angel of the South
brooding witness over the border crossing
metal fences
rework the barriers
wrought into a sign of peace
witness above us the arms widespread
“Come to me all you who are weary”
standing besides the coyotes’ spotters
the smugglers on the hill
overlooking the border
but watching the crossers
south with nothing
but what is in their hands,
north with nothing to declare,
but a few cervezas under the belt,
or a 150 Fords in the railcars
or a memory of the people with nothing
in their hands but beans and rice
and a memory of welcome at el comedor.

El comedor del Kino is a place of welcome
where people fetch up on the shore
of exile, newly deported from el Norte.
Now they have someone
who at least speaks their language
or doesn’t
but speaks the universal sign-language of peace
a plate of food
a chance to be human to human
rather than one to be expelled
or shipped
across the barriers.

So I want to see the Angel of the South
metal re-wrought
from fending off
to sheltering
sky-witness to a new horizon
a border crossing of hope not fear.

Tucson, Arizona
© September 19, 2014.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

everybody welcome

A day's wage ... how does that relate to hospitality?

A landowner recruits some day laborers. He goes down to the marketplace - or the Shell station. There are people standing around, hoping someone will hire them that day, give them a chance to get their daily bread.

Give us this day our daily bread...

So the landowner takes whom he can find and sends them out to work in the vineyard.

It is a hot day, we are told; perhaps they are in Sonoma - or Arizona.

In the heat of the day - here in America - workers get a lunch break. They take it in the shade of the trees by the side of the road. You see them on the way to the tasting room. 

How did they get here? Today - you know. This season - perhaps they live here, perhaps they have green cards, perhaps they "entered the United States by a legal point of entry." 

Perhaps they are among the one-third of vineyard workers who have no papers to show.

But they come and work, anyway.

Are they welcome?

The wine industry, one vineyard owner told me, would collapse without them.

A long time ago there was a harvest in another field. It was the barley harvest and the landowner was Boaz. It was his family farm - near Bethlehem. 

He saw someone out in his field, following his work crew, picking up the grains that had fallen, that they'd missed.

- Who is that gleaning in the field?
- It is a stranger, a foreigner, who walked across the desert, for several days, from the mountains of that other country. 

She is here, a widow, destitute.
- She came alone?
- No, she came with her mother-in-law, to look after her. Naomi.
- Naomi. My cousin.

We are all cousins here, Steven Talmadge the Lutheran bishop said. All of us here along the Borderlands. And in Tucson sometimes you feel that's true. We are all related - to the land, to each other, to our common situation.

Sometimes we are the stranger, welcomed or not. And sometimes we are the host.

Boaz put down his hoe, ran his hand across his forehead, and thought a minute. 

- Let her glean - among the sheaves ... even pull out some grain for her. And let no one bother her - tell the men that.

Later he saw her, and said, 

- I have heard about you, about all you have done for your mother-in-law, since you left your own country and came here to a land you did not know. You sought shelter under the wings of Yahweh. Bless you!

I was a stranger ... did you welcome me?

A stranger comes to town, a man goes on a journey: two stories  - the only two, some say - but they are really one.

Once some years ago I went to call on Cele Peterson in her store. She said she only had twenty minutes as she was expecting a visitor. In the time we had she said of the border, "We've got to stop doing this" - and she held her hands palms-out as if fending off a stranger - "and starting doing this" - and she faced her hands towards each other and interlaced the fingers. And then I opened the door to Gabby.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing .... You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.  

(Deuteronomy 10:19, 17-18, 20)

In Scotland, in Duddingston Village, I was the guest - and invited to a Queen's Jubilee wine-and-cheese party. (We were about a mile from Holyroodhouse and she was in residence.) There in the garden someone introduced me and someone identified me ... Oh, you're the foreigner ... strange feeling.

When the priest takes your offering, you shall make this response before the Lord your God:

"A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there..." (Deuteronomy 26:5)

I was a stranger and...
 ... you welcomed me.
 ... you did not welcome me.
(Matthew 25:35, 43) 

Who are we welcoming? By the oaks of Mamre Sarah and Abraham pitched their tent. In the heat of the day three strangers approached. Come stay with us. Let us prepare you something to eat. Here, let me wash your feet. You must be tired...

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides among 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.

Over and over in the Old Testament we hear stories of hospitality, of welcome to strangers; Lot, in Genesis 19; the father of Gideon, in Judges 6; the father of Samson in Judges 13. Like the father of Isaac (to be) they welcome strangers...

Who are we welcoming?

In the story of Abraham and Sarah and the three men at the oaks of Mamre, what do we see as the ideal of hospitality?

In the story of Ruth, who is the stranger? 

What does the story of the vineyard tell us about the abundance of God? 

In a time of harvest plenty, or of famine, what is fair? just? generous?

What do these stories tell us about fear, hope, longing, joy?

What do they tell us about home?

Come down, Zacchaeus, for tonight I must stay at your house.

"God of unfailing generosity, making no distinctions of wealth or ability, root out from us the spirit of envy and greed, and transform our bitterness into an open-hearted welcome of those we are tempted to despise. We pray this after the pattern of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit." -- collect prayed at the Come and See service, St Philip's in the Hills, Tucson, 4pm Sunday 21 September 2014. (from Jim Cotter,

These are notes for a leading a reflection on the gospel on Sunday 21 September 2014 at the 4pm Come and See service at St Philip's in the Hills, an Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. JRL+