Worship At Home
Small Group Reflection of 06-21-20
In these days of social distancing we have endeavored to provide a Corpus Christi online worship experience. The Worship At Home web page has been our attempt to provide that. One of the ways our community has used this resource has been to gather virtually in real time using video conferencing software like FaceTime, Skype, Messenger, and Zoom. In an effort to hold onto our deep liturgical roots, one virtual group has gone to the point of having rotating presiders, lectors, and even homilists. The reflections provided by the members of this group have often been very inspiring. In an effort to share these reflections with the larger community several of them have been collected and published here on the CC website.
Reflection from 06-21-20, provided by Gail Chang Bohr.
Our readings today remind us that God hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed. Jeremiah exhorts us to “Sing to the Lord, Praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.” Jesus said: “So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”
When I volunteered to do reflections, I thought it would be straightforward. A few weeks before that, I had written in an email to this group, “I feel very sad, helpless, and close to despair.” That was on May 31, five days after George Floyd was killed and the protests had become more violent and destructive. Putting my thoughts and feelings down on paper has not been easy. We had brief discussion over the last few Sundays about racism and racial justice and there was surprise when the discussion turned to people of color in our church who have not felt welcomed when people have refused to shake hands to pass the peace. I did not mention that that has happened to me as well. I was surprised when it occurred. It was at a Christmas Eve Mass and the person was clearly a visitor. After the discussion last week, I thought, why didn’t I say something? I believe fellow parishioners know me as someone who usually speaks up. I also realize that not saying anything is something we Chinese do. We just take it silently because we don’t want to disturb you. Talking about it now is not to make you feel bad, but to put it out there so you know it happens.
I was born and grew up in Jamaica, the 9th of 15 children. My parents are both Chinese; my father came from China and my mother was born in Jamaica. Starting with nothing, they built a successful supermarket. My mother was an Anglican but converted to Catholicism. She was a staunch Catholic and was instrumental in getting our parish church, Holy Cross, built. Archbishop Samuel Carter of the Diocese of Kingston, Jamaica, now deceased, was her childhood friend.
As we say in Jamaica, we grew up with the Jesuits, the Catholic Religious Order in Jamaica. It is from them that we learned about a discerning conscience. My parents also taught us about caring for those weaker than ourselves. If I had to boil down the Jesuit message and my parents’ message into one message, it would be the message of love. To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Before I left Jamaica to go to college in America on a scholarship, my 21-year-old brother, Glen, was killed in a car accident. We never got to say good-bye, we never got to tell him we loved him before he was snatched from us. His sudden death made me realize that our time together is fleeting and whatever we need to say to one another or do for one another to show our love must be done now while we are still alive. Recently, Floyd’s murder underscored again the preciousness and fragility of life and the urgent need to be agents of racial justice.
As Chinese people growing up in Jamaica, we were in the minority and faced prejudice. Coming to the US, I identified with the underdog, minority groups, black and brown people, and other foreign students. As I went from college to social work school and to my first job as a clinical social worker at Beth Israel Hospital, Roxbury, Boston, I had to check in with INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) at every transition I made and at least once a year – that was the law then. I pretty much followed the rules and had a familiarity with that system.
I benefited from the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act which abolished the 1924 national origins quota system that only allowed for 105 persons of Chinese origin a year to immigrate to the US. Even though I was born in Jamaica, I would have come under the Chinese quota, a racial quota. That backlog was already a decades-long waiting list. As you may know, the 1924 act abolished the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. That was the first US Immigration Law enacted specifically to exclude a group of people, the Chinese, based solely on race.
Even now, anti-Chinese sentiment is not far from the surface as evidenced by Covid 19 being labelled the Chinese flu and violent attacks on people of Asian descent who look Chinese.
Living in Boston, I was involved in learning more about the Vietnam War –attending many Teach-Ins and participating in the Vietnam Moratorium March in Washington, DC on November 15, 1969. I volunteered with Physicians for Social Responsibility and was active in civil rights. But, because I was not a citizen, I was very aware of the limitations of what I could do. I became a citizen in 1986 when, after our family was returning from a trip abroad, at Immigration and Customs, I was separated from Richard and our children, Aaron and Jessica. They went through the US citizens line, and I went through the permanent resident line. My line was longer and by the time we caught up with one another, the children were upset. They thought they would never see me again. I realized then I had to apply for citizenship so we would never again be separated at the border.
After I became a lawyer and was an associate at Faegre, the most rewarding cases were the ones I did pro bono. I worked on a death penalty case, won asylum claims in two cases; one a family from Somalia and the other, a Christian evangelical woman from Belarus. And, later at Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, I was able to use my knowledge about refugee and asylum law to stop child protection services from sending a child refugee back to Nigeria where she belonged to a persecuted minority group. As a China expert, Richard also helped gain asylum for a young Chinese teenager by testifying in Immigration Court on his behalf.
So it is no surprise that I am deeply upset by what is happening to immigrants, refugees, and unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Many of the children coming here are fleeing gang and governmental violence in their home countries. The violence is fueled by the easy access to guns – guns which are imported from America. Think about that. America exports guns to these Central and South American countries which become destabilized and violent and cause their citizens to leave their country to escape intimidation and death and then they risk death and exploitation in their journey to the US. It’s a round robin!
For years, unaccompanied children were placed with relatives in the United States until the paperwork could be sorted out. Instead, over the last three and a half years, they have been placed in cages, in unsanitary, unhygienic, and crowded conditions, often with no bedding or means to clean themselves. Between July 2017 and June 2018, at least 4,300 families were separated and minors were recategorized as unaccompanied children. Following public outcry, the administration revoked the policy and a federal judge ordered the families reunited. However, separations have continued.
Furthermore, children are sexually assaulted in these detention holding areas and Health and Human Services has taken the position that they are not responsible if children are sexually abused at their facilities.
In the midst of these atrocities and racial violence, how do we know when God is calling us to become agents of racial justice? How do we listen to the cries of the poor and turn that into action? Dismantling the systemic racism that is the legacy of slavery and achieving justice for black, brown and Asian Pacific Americans will not be easy. For too long, the majority have been able to ignore the violence visited by the law and law enforcement on people of color. Cell phone videos are now the eyewitness, and social media ensures they become wide-spread and permanent.
When I was having a hard time preparing this reflection, I asked Aaron for help. He prescribed prayer. He said, ask yourself, where is God in the midst of the struggle for racial justice? How is God acting? How is God calling you? How is she at work in the people? In the community? Prayer is an ongoing process.
In closing, I believe God calls us to action, not only to listen but to act. I hear Floyd’s cry for his mama as a summons to me and all mothers. God hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed and summons us all to be agents of racial justice.
As a Catholic Chinese Jamaican with my roots now here in America, I cannot be a bystander.