By Camille Loomis
Why do we sing in the face of struggle?
This past June, members of my Pasadena church community joined clergy and activists from across the state of California to prayerfully protest separation of migrant families at one of the culpable detention centers. Faith leaders from across the state and from across traditions gathered at Otay Mesa Detention Center outside San Diego to worship, lament and bear witness to people detained inside.
Bolstered by megaphones and sheer numbers, we chanted for justice and stretched our hands towards the windowless buildings. We called across the chain fences and concrete walls, “Escuchamos. Estamos aquí. Te queremos.” We hear you. We are here. We love you.
The 700-person crowd drew into silence, and every heart broke when muffled cheers and cries soared back at us from behind the walls. People inside the detention center – mothers who had been removed from their children at the border – sang with us. A Pentecost moment where the tongues of fire were not vertical, but horizontal. The movement for justice and love at the border is far from over, but everyone gathered knew Holy Saturday was one second shorter.
This Advent season, CityWell Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina, mourns the seizing and deportation of their brother, Samuel Oliver Bruno. On November 23rd, Samuel emerged from protective sanctuary and showed up to what was supposed to be a biometrics appointment to further his immigration process. Samuel’s family and community accompanied him as an act of solidarity and worship. Fears of duplicitousness were sadly justified, as the appointment turned out to be an ICE set-up. Samuel, a beloved brother and model community member, was arrested and ultimately deported, separating him from his son and critically ill wife.
Samuel’s community did not let him to be lowered into the lion’s den without a fight. Dozens of people surrounded the ICE van attempting to take him away and refused to move for hours. Faithful supporters sang “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” even as their singing bodies were carried away in handcuffs.
What good is it to sing, if you ultimately get carried away to a cell? What defense is song in the face of expulsion to a foreign land?
The scene reminds me of a phrase I heard at the Otay Mesa protest: “This is what theology looks like.”
We sing precisely because it is absurd to resist evil through words and melody. We sing because the Word is the absurd story of the oppressed witnessing to a Ruler no earthly agency can ever overcome.
We sing because we must. We sing to declare our unity with our Christian family who sang before us. We sing because we can do it together. We sing because the music of God’s approaching throne silences the powers of our world.
Camille Loomis is a 2nd year Master of Divinity candidate at Duke Divinity School. She is a CBF Leadership Scholar and choral singer.