Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Visitor

OK, since perhaps you are still reading the book from last week, I'll save some of the other books for later. So how about a movie?

Title: The Visitor
Director: Tom McCarthy
Staring: Richard Jenkins.
Etc: Released 2008, 104 minutes long, PG-13


The film was screened at a lot of film festivals (Toronto, Sundcance, Miami, South by Southwest) and was nominated for quite a few awards (winning several, Jenkins was even nominated for an Academy Award for best actor). It's one of my favorites. As you can see from the trailer, The Visitor is the story of Walter, a professor, who comes to his rarely used NYC apartment to find it's been rented out by a scammer to two young immigrants. Walter begins to form a relationship with them and the story goes from there.

The plot is not exactly twisting, and you pretty much know what is going to happen, but the characters stick with you.

It's a lovely film, and it puts a face and story to immigration policy and the immigrant's struggle--but it's worth your time whether you care about immigration or not!

So do yourself a favor and add it to your Netflix queue, hit up your local movie rental store, or if you are cheap resourceful like me--pick it up for free at your local library (FYI: FW/Haltom City/Abilene all have copies!). 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: Christians at the Border

OK, remember last week when I suggested you start slowly with a couple of half-hour podcasts? They were thought provoking, weren’t they?

Well, to up the ante, I am also going to recommend a book by the same person.

Here’s the details:

Title: Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible
Author: M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas)
Page count: 143 pages

Christians at the Border deals most specifically with Hispanic immigration, but can be applied to other aspects of immigration, too. The book is on one hand a more thorough look at the immigration stories and teachings in the Bible, (if the lectures piqued your interest in that area, the book will flesh things out some more). He has two chapters on the Old Testament materials and one from the New Testament which all end with “implications for today” sections. Carroll also deals with some of the main points of contention in the debate over immigration (the impact on national identity and economics) and discusses the impact Hispanic immigration has on American religion. The author gives a good overview of the history of Hispanic immigration in the US, too (which will brings the current immigration discussion into new light).

As far as style, the author has a PhD, but the book is written so that you can all read and understand it (there aren’t a ton of statistics and charts, and he makes an effort to define all his terms). He also helps put a personal face on the issue of immigration. Part of the way he does that is that Carroll himself is half Guatemalan and half Irish-American. One of the things I really appreciated about this book is that Carroll can easily identify with both the majority culture and the Hispanic community.  He takes the heat out of the discussion.

It’s a great place to start thinking about Hispanic immigration from a Christian perspective, or even just from a balanced viewpoint (the chapter on history/economics/American identity is really helpful). There’s also a great appendix with lots of varied resources if you want to start digging deeper.

It’s short, easy to read and practical…but it also pushes you to think outside of the dialogue we are used to hearing in the immigration debate.

Give it a look! (Besides, my mom already ordered the book after hearing the lectures last week. And you know you want to be like her!)

OK, I’ll leave you with the book’s dedication (first to the Hispanic community, and then to the Christian church in the US):

Al pueblo Hispano—
peregrinos en tierra ajena,
artesanos de una vida nueva,
semilla de esperanza—
paz y animo para el largo camino

To the Christian church in the United States:
may we never forget that we are
sojourners in a strange land,
and that among us
there is neither Jew nor Greek

PS. The book has also been translated into Spanish. You can buy it on Amazon and can maybe find it in your local library—I know Hardin-Simmons and TCU have copies.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Organization Spotlight: ISAAC

Note: (Again) To get ourselves rolling here I thought I would post a couple of thing all at once. Feel free to follow or check back later for more! Scroll down to see the first two posts: a welcome post and an audio resource. 

ISAAC is one of my favorite places to send people for information on immigration (specifically immigration in Texas).

ISAAC, or Immigration Service and Aid Center, is (according to their website) a collaborative ministry between Baptist University of the Américas and the Baptist General Convention of Texas that focuses on equipping churches and other organizations to engage the immigrant community along a continuum of ministry options.

The continuum involves quite a few things. There are the regular offerings, such as support for churches and organizations wanting to set up ESL, literacy and citizenship classes. ISAAC has also placed an emphasis on the legal issues surrounding immigration. They are helping churches become accredited to help immigrants wade through the muddy waters of the legal process. Because, if you didn't know it, the legal process is complicated. And expensive. And, often times, involves people out to scam immigrants.

 Again from their website,

There is a dire need for quality immigration counseling and service at an affordable price.  Far too many immigrants have been scammed by “notarios” and immigration consultants who prey on their lack of familiarity with the legal system.  For others, the cost of an immigration attorney keeps effective legal counsel out of reach.  In response, the Federal Government has allowed non-profit organizations, such as churches, to become “recognized organizations.”  To become a recognized organization, the church will have to undertake a rigorous application process and must have “accredited” representatives.   ISAAC provides technical application assistance and trains church representatives.  The application process takes approximately 1 year and there are some costs involved, but the results are outstanding.  ISAAC has helped two Texas Baptist groups become “recognized” in the past year and a half.  These groups have aided immigrants to become citizens, processed paperwork for visas, and, in some cases, even helped undocumented aliens to remain legally in the United States. 

ISAAC's model attacks the problem from a different angle than most organizations, and I really like that.

Finally, ISAAC attempts to educate churches and the public on immigration. Their goal is to provide "unbiased immigration information from a Christian perspective," to help "separate the wheat from the chaff." I really appreciate that.

I frequently send people here to brush up on their facts when they get a little lost in all the rhetoric thrown around on the news...or in certain cases print off ISAAC's information, highlight and tab the sections and refuse to speak on the matter until they have read the facts (Hi, Dad!).

They have lots of resources (in both English and Spanish) and ISAAC has worked to present the issue in a variety of manners: through photos, personal stories, statistics, theology, etc.

So, are you wondering how much immigrants cost the state of Texas each year? (You'll be surprised!) Are you wanting to set up a ministry to immigrants at your church? Are you curious about the complications of the legal process? Give ISAAC a look. It's a great resource and, in my case at least, they even return emails.

Start Small

Note: To get ourselves rolling here I thought I would post a couple of thing all at once. Feel free to follow or check back later for more! Scroll down to see the Welcome post. 

Want to start small?

I've read and thought quite a bit about immigration, but I will admit that the less-than-35-minutes it took me to listen to this lecture rearranged some of my mental furniture. Mental furniture that left creases in the carpet it had been there so long.

Books can take a little bit of commitment to get through, so feel free to start slowly by doing some listening.

Details: Dr. M. Daniel Carroll R. (a half Guatemalan Old Testament professor) gives a two part lecture titled "Thinking Christianly About Immigration" at Denver Seminary.

Where: Go here: and scroll down to October 4th and 5th. Both are highly worth a listen. The first was my favorite and deals with immigration narratives in the Bible (and a Christian approach to immigration in general). The second part (October 5th) deals more specifically with the law. Both are under 35 minutes.

It will be an hour well spent. You can stream them online (and listen to them at your computer at work if you have one of those kinds of jobs) or download them (and listen to them while you drive to work or wash dishes at home). 

Welcome! Bienvenidos! Karibu! Etc.!

Welcome to Strange Pilgrims.

The title is a nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story collection of the same name. In the book he writes 12 short stories from the lives of South American immigrants living in Europe and in it manages to capture some of the joys, heartbreak and absurdity that is involved in living in a country that is not your own.

I also like the word pilgrim. Ever since completing my Camino de Santiago (an ancient pilgrimage across Spain on foot) the world pilgrim has found its way into my everyday vocabulary. It was also on the Camino that I looked around and thought what fun it must be to live along this pilgrimage route—such interesting people coming through each day, such a privilege to be able to help them along their journey.

Then it hit me.

I live in the United States, in Texas of all places. Thousands of people are pilgrimage-ing though my home each year.

I do live on a pilgrimage route.

Now that I am back home I have also gone back to doing some reading and researching on immigration. Immigration seems to be one of those topics where finding information is either frustrating (where are all the resources?) or narrow and polarized (can’t we all be civil?).  I thought it would be a nice idea to have a place to keep all the resources I do find in one place—and also to help out anyone else who might be looking. Also, while statistics are compelling and I am sure we will find some of those, I want to make the discussion larger than that. Hopefully we will find some personal stories and music and art, some food and sermons and literature to flesh things out.

So, here we go--This should be fun!