In the fall of 2009 I helped to organize a Boston-area chapter of the New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith coalition of activists and congregations committed to supporting immigrants in the U.S. who are suffering because of unjust treatment from the state, from employers, and from their neighbors. The Boston New Sanctuary Movement aims to ally itself with immigrant families and organizations that advocate on their behalf for just and humane immigration policies, fair treatment from employers, and an end to discrimination. Through our own efforts at education, we seek to recruit and train lay and ordained religious leaders to speak from the values of their tradition for the dignity and well-being of our immigrant sisters and brothers. Through our efforts at advocacy, speaking truth to power and taking direct action in the corridors of political and economic power, we hope to bring about positive social change for immigrant families.
Before I joined the Capuchins I was a member of the steering committee for our chapter. Now that I have returned to Boston I have been brought back on to the steering committee.
This morning I went to First Parish in Brookline, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, to attend an antiracism workshop our steering committee organized. The purpose was to make us conscious of racism on the internal, interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels; and then to reflect on what it means to be an ally to marginalized peoples -- to name ourselves as such and make this identity a key to working faithfully and effectively for more just communities.
For me, at this moment, being an ally has to do with putting my privileges (or gifts and talents, if you will) at the service of my suffering neighbor; and doing so in a way that allows them to decide how those privileges, those gifts, those talents, are to be used, not me. Just as I must put my innate abilities and acquired skills at the disposal of my province and the brothers, so would I do for the least among us. And thus is my obedience made complete.
In thanking the women who organized and conducted this workshop, I lifted up in gratitude their courage and commitment to diversity and equity in the Boston New Sanctuary Movement. I am a better person for knowing these women, more mindful of the things I carry in my "knapsack of privilege." As Franciscans living the vow of poverty know, material poverty is the easy part. Spiritual poverty, or minority, or solidarity with the poor, is the hard part. Even when you have given away your material things, you still hold on to other forms of privilege: social capital, cultural hegemony, the theological values of your group enshrined in secular policy, etc. But in the company of my friends in the New Sanctuary Movement, Interfaith Worker Justice, I can learn how to give away even these "sticky" spiritual and social gifts for the common good, for all peoples. Without their knowing it, these sisters hold me accountable to my vow of poverty!
As I take up ministry of service to low-wage workers and to immigrants through Interfaith Worker Justice and the New Sanctuary Movement, I look forward to learning from my fellow aspiring allies of the disinherited how to be a better lesser brother with the poor.