Image Bearers

CrossOver reflection for Week 43 • Beginning September 29, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 4

Rev. David Valera


It was one of those moments when something spoke so powerfully that it stunned me. After a few moments of figuring out why this social media image so genuinely captured me, I realized that it spoke words I have been searching for and wanting to say.

I have long wanted to name and describe a growing emptiness within me. Significant events have adversely affected my life these past few months — the sad decisions of General Conference 2019, my dad’s passing and then having to leave my mom in the Philippines, the uncertainty of a future for of The United Methodist Church. 

And as I read and reread the description of Catalano’s sculpture, the words became louder and louder.

THERE IS A VOID CREATED BY LEAVING ONE’S COUNTRY, FAMILY AND ONE’S PEOPLE FROM ANOTHER LIFE.

I am learning that being an immigrant in the United States comes at a very dear price. Not only in terms of distance from my birthplace and family but also in the way I am perceived. I did not come here to steal someone’s job — just one of the barbs thrown casually around at immigrants, which is harder to brush off.

To many immigrants, leaving one’s life and culture behind creates a deep sense of emptiness. They do not know how they will flourish, much alone survive in an environment that is new and foreign. One has to face and be willing to endure the hardships of racism, prejudice, bigotry, and racial bias. It does not matter who or what you were where you grew up. You are now in a foreign country where your skin color is your primary identity. Your ability to speak the language determines whether you get what you are asking for, not what you deserve. And you will have to make decisions on how all these experiences define you and your legacy. You are now the pioneer of your new identity.

As a first-generation immigrant, I know that there is no “Immigration for Dummies” book to ease the process. And if there was one, (I googled) that premise itself is wrong, as it assumes that immigration can be simplified and interpreted as a dummy move. For every immigrant, there is a deep-rooted “WHY?” behind this life-changing decision. Whether it’s fleeing from conflict, economic depression, or the pursuit of opportunities in career, livelihood or calling, whatever the reason, the decision will never come easy. Just as depicted in the sculpture, immigrants arrive with a lot of emptiness.

And often, that decision to move to a new setting is not just for the person making the decision. There could be a whole family line of 1.5 and 2.0+ generation immigrants affected, who also have to deal with the crafting of new identities as well.

Filipinos are known for our hospitality. We like to celebrate the blessings of life through meals, music, and hospitality. Rich or poor, it does not matter; hospitality is in our DNA. We have been taught to serve, care for, and help. Maybe that is why you will find a majority of Filipinos/ immigrants working in those industries. So many times, folks assume that I work for either a hotel, a cruise ship, or a hospital. And I probably could. That is perhaps the image that I bear — a brown-skinned, English speaking adult, who likes to help, laugh with, and enjoy conversations with others. A receptionist. Ta-dah! 

Funny, but that’s still a racial bias.

In “We Make the Road by Walking,” Brian McLaren reminds us how humanity has been set to be image-bearers of the Great Creator. We are in a relationship with God who invites us to live with generous desires, to create, to bless, to help, to serve, to care for, to save, and to enjoy. 

This makes a great parallel to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

To immigrants, those words have been and continue to be welcoming, inspiring, and life-giving.

So now as an American, I often ask myself, “What image do I bear when I come across another immigrant? Do I become threatened, defensive, and afraid? Or will I dig deep and live out my value of hospitality and welcome.

And what image should I bear when I am in the midst of the dominant culture? Inferior and weak? Bitter and angry? What about living out God’s call to be co-creators of a world that thrives in peace, justice, joy, and love?

Brian reminds us of the stories in Genesis, where the choices of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, led them to become rivals with God, resenters, blamers, and murderers. It all revolved around the drama of desire. “The desire to acquire what someone else has, the desire to compete and consume, the desire to judge evil those who get in our way, even the desire to harm or kill those who are obstacles to our desires.” 

I pray for the day when I will not be seen as the enemy because of my skin color, a day when immigrants are not branded as killers, rapists, and drug dealers. 

I pray for the day when humanity lives to respect and care for each other, lifting each other in prayer and thanksgiving, for we know not what burdens we each bear. 

I pray for a day when we all bear the peace of God, as we make the road by walking.

Amen.


Rev. David Valera serves as Executive Director of Connectional Ministries for The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Image Credit: “Les Voyageurs” by Bruno Catalano via Pinterest

Comments (3)

  • GREAT insight! Than you for sharing, David. I once read, “Hospitality is a sure evidence of one being filled with the Holy Sprit.” (Dale Brunner, I think). Open welcoming of ALL ….

    Karen & I are now living in No Calif and attend a local UCC congregation, her heritage. After guest preaching there once, haven’t been asked again 🙁 Meanwhile, two local, separate UMC congregations have invited me into their pulpits, and we are in midst of setting up preaching schedule with one for which the Pastor is 1/2-time. The irony? Both UMC’s are led by openly married lesbians. 🙂

    God bless you, and I pray for our church. –Edward Purkey, clergy member, retired.

  • Thank you for sharing your truth with us. Growing up in Hawaii in the 50″s and 60’s.I learned early on that if I stopped looking for a friend because they had a different skin color…I missed out . Everybody is Something or other in Hawaii.
    If the outside stops you…you miss out on all the good stuff on the inside. Still my mantra 50+ years later. May the Lord continue to bless you.
    Barb Miller, lay leader Bay View UMC

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