Casa Padre by Jennifer Bell

Feb 20, 2020

An Intro to This Blog Series, “Election Year Diaries”

It’s an election year. The Church exists in history, and we are in a particular historic moment. With some trepidation, I’ll be writing a series of creative nonfiction pieces—different from our usual blog fare. These will be part of a series called “Election Year Diaries.”

I recently took a memoir-writing class (I rarely get to take classes these days), and I’ve been anxious to write something about my defunct career in IR. I started off studying and working in International Relations, and then left for the Writing Life! These “Diaries” may be my only attempt at combining interests.

There Is A Great Big Caveat! These are solely my thoughts; they do NOT represent any official Roosevelt Community Church position. I am merely a member, who happens to write. RCC would welcome biblical perspectives that differ. My own willingness to participate in this series rests on a few things: my concern for a Christian perspective on politics, my desire for candor among Christians—being honest about things, and my aesthetics in writing. My aesthetics on writing? I’m writing creative nonfiction for the purpose of writing well about difficult topics that are worthy of consideration. I’m not censoring myself, though I hope to be considerate of my audience.

More than anything, I’d like to foster a discussion.


Casa Padre

A Walmart.

A detention center in Brownsville, Texas for unaccompanied minors, “illegals.”

It’s hard to picture this dystopia. How do kids become unaccompanied? How are they separated from parents, aunts, adults paid to get kids across? Does the child get lost in a crowd on the Mexican border? Are brown-skinned people running through desert, being chased by men with guns, and do they fall in the dust, and do their moms scream, but someone pulls them away in the chaos? Is it winter because winters are mild? Or is it summer because skies are clear and nights are temperate despite days that kill everything under the blazing, unforgiving, uncompromising sun? Where are we when it happens? Do U.S. officials wear sunglasses? Large-brimmed hats? Can we see their badges? Their eyes? Is it a night with roving searchlights or are people blinded, as if onstage for their big number?

I can’t picture it.

Sometimes, I try.

*          *          *

I’ve almost lost a child twice.

First, on my eldest daughter’s third birthday, we put together a small party at that huge park in Anthem. Anthem is like a pre-fabricated home; it’s a pre-fab suburb. It doesn’t seem to have organically “risen up” out of Phoenix. I don’t actually know what I’m talking about, but I get a Stepford Wives vibe from it. More dystopia?

But my three-year-old disappeared in the maze of slides, bridges, and ladders. I only remember tailspin, panic, taking off maniacally, picturing predators swooping in.

Ten minutes: it was only ten minutes.

We found her; she was fine.

That was the first time. Had I been negligent? Was I a bad mom?

Second, a grocery store parking lot when my youngest was six. We left the store, and got in the car. I locked the doors, and started the ignition!

She wasn’t inside, though.

I didn’t put the car in reverse, okay?

There was a frenzied pounding on my side. I turned, and there was my kid, screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Yes, I locked my child out of the car and almost drove off.

(Not really. I would’ve figured it out.)

Now, we laugh together.

She knows I wouldn’t abandon her.

She knows I’d only leave her against my will.

What kind of mother am I?

*        *           *

I teach college kids in Arizona.

Half of my students are DACA students (a mild exaggeration). Dreamers, if you will. “Illegals,” if you want.

Recently, one student—not DACA—wrote that he’d seen a few detention centers. They’re Not That Bad, he said.

I wondered how he managed to see these centers.

But, mostly, I thought about his words: They’re Not That Bad.

Like a refrain, a song.

They’re Not That Bad.

They’re Not That Bad.

*        *           *

I don’t love Walmart, though it’s wedged permanently in my brain in the place where I store “Unpleasant Memories From Early Marriage.” The first time I went in one was on my honeymoon. And it seems, now, as if every vacation involves at least one trip to Walmart.

I hate the smell, the rush of hot air upon entering with one’s dirty cart, the underpaid and elderly greeters who can’t retire, the meth lab atmosphere with the bruised produce and Equate brand of everything.

I suppose it’s a great spot to detain unaccompanied minors.

Kids with lousy moms like me.

More dystopia.

*        *           *

My cousin works for ICE.

My cousin!

He’s older than I and we were never close, though I remember that admiring gaze I cast over him because he was so cool and it was the late-seventies and he was really a nice guy.

Plus, one fine day, he introduced me to Bruce Springsteen.

The Boss

I am forever grateful.

This is true.

Crazily, he ended up moving to the South (we’re from Chicago!) and working for ICE.

We lost touch for decades, finding each other on Facebook during the 2016 presidential elections.

Not a good time to get reacquainted. For either of us, I would guess.

Eventually, I blocked him.

*           *           *

When my nearly-abandoned child was a toddler, sucking her fingers in the back of my Toyota, we headed to Walmart. (There was a dramatic moment in our early days when I put my foot down and switched to Target. Having finished grocery shopping, I was buckling one daughter in the car seat, with the other one already in—and a homeless person was practically huddled over me when I stood up between the door and my kid. Facing him, I was scared. All boujee—as my friend would say—I switched stores.) But that’s all I did those first years of motherhood: put them in cars, go to Walmart, return home.

Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” was playing.

My toddler asked, “Could you turn this up?”

I eyed her through the rearview mirror. This cracked me up. She was, like, two.

I turned it up.

It’s time we stop


what’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down

Soon, I’d almost abandon this very girl, rendering her an unaccompanied minor.

Soon, there’d be cages for kids.

Soon, there’d rogue Springsteen fans carrying guns.

Would we notice our dystopian visions?

What If we barely see anyone moving in cots or erecting cages or blocking empty aisles? Would we also say, They’re Not That Bad?

Out of the mouths of babes: “Could you turn this up?”

It’s time we stop


what’s that sound?

Discussion Questions:

1.              Some of the most basic questions that Christians might ask include the following:

What is our responsibility to motherless children? How does this seemingly distant or mostly-distant situation affect us? Should we respond in some way?

2.              Of course, this begs bigger questions too: What is a godly understanding of immigration, of borders, of the nation-state, of citizenship?

3.              For eons now, I’ve personally wrestled with the stance of a Christian with regards to politics. It seems as if there are a few approaches: an otherworldly pessimism (“why bother?”), an otherworldly optimism (“God is busy elsewhere?”), righteous indignation? Do we throw up our hands? Do we speak out, in breaths of hot air? Should we be politically “off-the-grid”? Should we even care?

Here are some verses that I often think about (I think I could go on and on):

This always comes up, especially as I’ve done quite a bit of reading on MLK and civil disobedience: Romans 13:1-7 ESV

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. …

Um, me? Titus 3:9 ESV

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

On refugees: Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Proverbs 31:8-9 ESV

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Justice and mercy: Proverbs 12:10 ESV

Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.