“Then is Donald Trump still president?” my 6-year-old asked.
Our family was passing around the morning’s newspaper the day after the Women’s March. I had just pinpointed where I had been standing, visible in ink as a collection of dots around a tree in the sea of people standing in front of Michigan’s Capitol.
Yet here my family sat, eating marshmallow cereal at our kitchen table. And Donald Trump was still president. To my youngest daughter, thousands of protesters should’ve been effective enough to change something.
Her pragmatic 8-year-old sister piped in: “So it didn’t work?” No one listened? Nothing changed? Thousands of people can gather and still nothing can change?
At ages 8, 6, and 4, they were at risk of losing their passion for change.
“No, it worked,” I said. “We were there to let people know that things that our government was doing to our friends and the words they were using weren’t OK with us.”
Marching mattered, is what I meant. Look to our Old Testament brothers, the prophets who were ridiculed, ignored, and long-suffering. They compel us to use our voices. We repeat their unpopular messages: return to God. Love justice. Offer mercy.
And yet, as my 8-year-old can see, the horizon doesn’t seem any closer. Just as Jeremiah and Isaiah before us, our words of lament and pleading don’t seem to catch anyone’s imagination. Aren’t my friends still sharing on social media heated conversations about refugees, public education, women’s rights, and the rights of our gay and lesbian friends? Haven’t enough petitions been signed, haven’t enough phone calls been placed to our state legislatures and our representatives in Congress?
Yet, doesn’t it seem that with each cabinet appointment and revelation from within the White House that the landscape is tilting away from peace and safety for the refugee, the poor, and our youngest and most defenseless neighbors?
This is where Jesus’ life and perpetual reign has to witness another way. Yes, speaking out like prophets — using our stories and voices to advocate, protesting and signing petitions — proves our orthodoxy, our adherence to beliefs. We must continue to speak on behalf of the prisoner, the immigrant, the children, and the poor until justice rolls down.
But our orthopraxy–the way our beliefs shape our lives–will cement our places in Jesus’ story of redemption. Here is where I want my kids’ focus: on the small ways we can live the way of Jesus. Today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.
So: last night my husband made fajitas with halal meat for two families: ours and our newly resettled friends.
Our American kids ate a pastry from another place that smells of dates, sugar, and fried dough. Their new west African-born friends tasted Mexican food. “Bread?” they asked us, holding up a floppy flour tortilla. Yes, bread. And enough for all of us–disciples of Jesus and Muslim alike.
This is how we bring the kingdom of God into spaces where people feel threatened, angry, and helpless. We put down our signs for the night to pass tortillas around the table: one small thing.
Over dinner, the conversation touched on the world outside. “Trump — this is bad we think,” said our friend. His family is six months into their new lives in the United States. They fled a country that’s been committing horrific human rights violations for longer than he’s been alive. They’re here in a warm townhouse in a snowy city with new jobs and new things to learn.
“This is bad,” we repeated.
But our kids, six of them between our two families, chased each other around the kitchen in their bare feet. My 8-year-old discovered how squishy clay crosses language barriers. A look between me and the other mom confirmed Play-Doh is terrible in all languages. That was a small reason to laugh.
Hours later, our friends back at their townhouse a few minutes away and my kids in their own beds, I was picking green Play-Doh from our carpet with my fingernails. Embodiment is sometimes messy, I suppose.
But Jesus stepped into more consequential messes than Play-Doh. His orthodoxy to the Father and his orthopraxy of healing and friendship — that’s our dual commandment now. We speak, and we embody. We are as Old Testament prophets, with the example of Jesus.
We can’t make our friends less afraid of people who mistake their hijab for a target. We can’t explain Trump’s reasoning.
We can help them get car seats so they can leave their townhome together for English class. We can celebrate when the dad gets his first job. We can help their 4-year-old learn to write his name left to right, in ABC letters. We can sit with them for hours the first time they have to go to an American hospital for an emergency. These are a litany of small things, but that’s all we’ve got at this point. Small things and our small voices crying in the wilderness.
These acts of mercy, as our Catholic brothers and sisters call them, help us shake our own fears and our postures of defense that come too naturally. With each small thing, we recommit having our hearts broken over and over on behalf of other people. Like Micah and Jeremiah and Isaiah, our voices rise and little seems to changed. Like them, too, though we remember we’re not to stop speaking.
But like Jesus, we recall that sitting in a living room with friends isn’t inconsequential. Jesus gently reminded his friend Martha that she might be focused on the job that needs done instead of the embodied God in her living room.
Maybe we need to be reminded too.