In my experience as a pastor, there is sometimes a gap between what I read and enjoy theologically and what the people I serve read and enjoy for the same purpose. There is a delicate balance to finding a book for Bible study or book group that is challenging spiritually, but accessible in writing and story-telling.
When it comes to an issue like immigration, it is extremely important (to me) that the book be accessible and energizing. I want it to be readable to congregants who aren’t already persuaded to one side of the issue. I don’t want a book that “preaches to the choir”, but one that takes ideas of law and order seriously, but takes the issues of compassion and neighbor love even more seriously.
This book for me and, I think, for you is The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong by Karen Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the US with her family, through her uncle’s sponsorship of her father (the uncle’s brother), when she was young. In The God Who Sees, Gonzalez weaves her own immigrant experience in between her theological reflections on immigration and immigrants in the Bible and her work with immigrants in the United States.
Gonzalez grew up as a Catholic and is now Protestant, flavor undisclosed. She organizes the book around a few of the Catholic sacraments- reconciliation, baptism, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and communion. I will note that since Gonzalez reflects on her own Protestant background as being a little removed from the mystery of the sacraments, even though there are Protestant denominations that acknowledge and celebrate a sacramental reality many parts of life and liturgy.
Gonzalez tells the stories of Hagar, Abram and Sarai, Joseph, Ruth and Naomi, and Jesus’ parents. She notes the kind of immigrant they would be considered in the present-day United States and if they would be (or would have been) permitted the safety or security they sought within US borders. Gonzalez is honest about history, including when and where the US has contributed to humanitarian crises. Her historical notations are readable, factual, and flow well in her narrative. She also admits to times when she was unaware of certain history or grappled with the tensions of what she learned about the US and her gratitude and pride at being a US citizen.
If your US-based congregation struggles with productive conversation around immigration and care for immigrants, this is the book for you. It provides a safe on-ramp into a deeper and more effective conversation about what it means to truly imitate Christ and show hospitality to God in all people. As a pastor, this may not be the most challenging book you read, but I guarantee that it will be very moving to someone(s) in your pew, perhaps moving enough to spur some action.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.
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