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Why Jesus Wept

There is the child’s face, round puffed brown cheeks, mouth contorted in a wail as his two-year-old eyes stare beyond the chain mesh to which his fingers cling.

“Children in Cages” the caption above the photo states.

Below this image is another: Five little girls, dressed in plain, worn dresses and shirts, the oldest no more than six or seven, are pressed against the thick diamonds of the chain links of their jail. Their expressions range from pleading to resignation.

An ICE administrator explains, “One thing you got to remember, for that parent who was arrested and his child crying and feeling bad about it, I get it, but what responsibility does he have in this? He chose to enter the country illegally in violation of federal law. He chose to do that intentionally. He put himself in the position."

Apparently that’s true even if the parents were seeking asylum and turned themselves in as soon as they crossed the border. They’ve risked everything to bring their families to a place where street gangs and starvation won’t be their futures.

Children in cages ...

I watch my ten-month old granddaughter’s face when I make a Mr. Fox hand puppet give her a kiss. She squeals and starts to close her mouth over his nose.

I make a falsetto voice, “Hi, Audrey. Can I give you a kiss?” Then I tap her cheek with Mr. Fox’s mouth. “Muum, muum, muum!” I am rewarded with a big smile and some babbling sounds of approval.

Children in cages …

A White House spokesman says, "Children and parents get separated every day across this country when a parent is charged with a criminal offense. It's sad to see children cry when you take a parent out of a home, but because it's sad, doesn't mean that we ignore the law."

President Trump is adamant: "The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility. ... Not on my watch."

Children in cages …

Audrey is hungry. I can tell because she is starting to suck on Mr. Fox’s ear. My daughter has left a bottle of expressed milk in the refrigerator, and I’m lucky that this baby has always liked her milk chilled. I cradle her in one arm and tilt the rubber nipple into her mouth. Her tiny hands help me hold the bottle in place. She is hungry and empties it in no time. She starts gumming the nipple because she has two teeth coming in. I hand her a plastic ring that she seems to find satisfactory. Then she gets a little fussy, and I have enough experience to know it’s diaper changing time. I sniff the air cautiously as I take out the wipes and a new disposable. Fortunately, this one is only wet. Just before I snap her onesie back up, I yield to the temptation to make a raspberry sound on her tummy. She gurgles and smiles and grabs my nose with an amazingly strong grip.

Children in cages …

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen agrees. Under the administration’s "zero tolerance" policy, "… we will have to separate your family. That's no different than what we do every day in every part of the United States when an adult of a family commits a crime."

Children in cages …

I can tell that Audrey is tired because she rubs her eyes and squirms a bit, but I cradle her and rock the recliner. I don’t sing, because I can’t, and besides, I know that my voice is too deep to be soothing. So I hum and that seems to suffice. I can feel how fragile this little person I am holding is, and I am reminded how much I loved cradling her mother when she was this small so long ago. A lifetime ago, and yet it flew by so quickly.

Children in cages …

The Associated Press describes a "large, dark facility" with separate wings for children, adults and families: "Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets."

The Guardian reports: “… sources familiar with the matter said Rosenstein told the US attorneys that they could not decline to prosecute cases based on the age of the children who would be separated from their parents because there was ‘no categorical exemption’ under the [family separation] order.

Children in cages …

I remember the day my daughter was born and the realization that came with it that I was, for the first time in my life, truly vulnerable. Prior to that, the worst I figure that could happen to me was that I might die. But with my child born, I knew that the worst thing that could happen was that she could be hurt, and I wouldn’t be there to stop it. Now, holding my grandchild, seeing her asleep, knowing she is just discovering her world and learning to trust the people who wanted to take care of her and to love her, I know just how vulnerable I’d become again.

Children in cages …

Later, I would remember the thing that had moved me from simple disgust with a presidential administration that I felt was bad for our nation to a sense of profound loathing and outrage: Children in cages. What kind of human being, I wondered, could be so hungry for power that he would stoke the fears of our citizens to a point where they would accept such an egregious policy? Yet our Mr. Trump had done so. And apparently more successfully than I thought possible in my country.

I try to understand that mentality, but my mind won’t go there. When I hold Audrey, I know I don’t have the luxury of staying silent, of letting her grow up in a world where such a lack of compassion can exist. I read recently that a Pew Research Center survey found only 25 percent of white evangelicals in the U.S. said that our nation has a responsibility to accept refugees. This seems a remarkably callous attitude by people professing to be Christians, but maybe they have good reason for their lack of concern for all those brown immigrants. After all, none of us can ever be sure that some toddlers (especially ones in dirty diapers) will destroy our economy if we treat them as Jesus told us to. That whole thing about suffering the little children to come unto him (Luke 18:16) couldn’t possibly be applied to the U.S. southern border, could it?

Somehow, in their belief system, the Nazarene didn’t mean for evangelicals to take his words seriously. Imagine how challenging to their faith it would be if they let too many nonwhite kids stay with their parents until we sent them back to starve and be murdered in their own countries. And, in all fairness, what’s a bit of spiritual teaching from a carpenter’s son when one of those refugees could possibly take his job when he comes again?

I am not a praying man—at least not prayers of supplication. I don’t think of God as a lucky rabbit’s foot that I can rub and make a wish on. But I do believe in expressions of gratitude, and I send them beyond myself to whatever fates brought Audrey into my life. And with that thanksgiving I know must come a commitment to speak out on behalf of parents and grandparents everywhere who are as devoted to and loving of their children and grandchildren as I am.

Children in cages …

Now I know why Jesus wept.

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