Friday, April 20, 2018

"A Wandering Aramean Was My Father...."

No, it has nothing to do with this post; but it's a good day for music!

Maybe there is a "Blue Wave" coming; maybe there isn't.  If there is, the reasons for it won't just be anti-Trump animus, but it will be because of what Trump did:

“Immigration is kind of a hot-button topic here,” Hank Smith, a fifty-year-old salesman from Morristown, told me. “Some people feel like immigrants are taking our jobs, that they’re not paying their taxes. But others are more sympathetic.” Smith counts himself among the latter group. “I’m a Christian; God loves everybody equally. And I never had a problem with anyone being here,” he said. Nevertheless, in 2016, Smith voted for Trump. He had been mostly indifferent to Trump’s anti-immigrant invective on the campaign trail; the rhetoric didn’t resonate with him personally, but it didn’t alienate him, either. “My kids were getting to an age where they’d be going to work, so the economy was the major issue for my family,” he told me. “It’s the things that affect us the most that we vote on. And immigration didn’t really affect me before. But then this raid happened.”

After Trump took office, ICE announced that it planned to quadruple the number of workplace inspections it conducts. In January, the agency launched stings at ninety-eight 7-Eleven franchises in seventeen states. Smith hadn’t noticed those. But when the arrests happened closer to home, he was immediately struck by the fact that many of the people who’d been picked up had lived in the area for more than a decade. He knew people like them, he told me—“they work hard and they do the jobs that no one else wants to do.” He also felt strong sympathy for their kids. Smith said, “I felt I understood the legal side of it. But this is the first time I really started looking at the human side. Families are being divided.”

Which is going to be the issue, isn't it?  People being affected.  Gay rights was a hot-button issue involving people in New York or California.  I was forced to face it when I went to work for a man whose son was gay, and he told me how he reconciled to it:  "Why, in this world, do we care about how two people love each other?"  I couldn't argue with him, and the walls I'd built to keep "those people" out slowly crumbled.  By the time I got to seminary (which really radicalized me, about race and economics and so many other issues), I was sweeping the ruins of that wall away.  Before the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage was marriage in the same way interracial marriages were marriage (do we even call them "interracial" anymore?), my parents were answering that question the same way, because people they knew (the children, perhaps significantly) were openly gay, and how could you hate people you'd known all their lives?  That person's church could, but my parents, God bless 'em, could not.

As someone said recently, people in Lincoln, Nebraska are more concerned about immigrants and the border than people in Laredo, Texas.  Laredo is in the "blue" part of Texas (yes, there is one; it runs along the border, not coincidentally), but it's hardly liberal or progressive.  It's just practical, and hating your customers and even your family, just isn't practical.  Treating them as strangers, or even a danger, isn't really possible, either.  Which, per that New Yorker article, is what some people in rural Tennessee figured out, too.  And once again Christianity, organized religion, the church, has something to do with it:

Smith and I had met through his pastor, David Williams, who leads the Hillcrest Baptist Church—a large, pale-brick building on the eastern edge of downtown Morristown, across the street from the elementary school where the vigil was held. Most of Hillcrest’s congregants are white—the town’s immigrant community tends to gravitate to St. Patrick, the Catholic church a few miles down the road—but Williams has been among the most vocal members of the local clergy in calling for solidarity with the families affected by the raid. “I look at this from a humanitarian perspective,” he told me. “You cannot be a true Christian if you ignore your neighbor in need.” Some of his parishioners dislike his outspokenness, but not all of them. “The people in the middle have had their hearts soften because of the raid,” he said.

Or what the Mayor of Morristown said:

National politics had further intensified the local conversation about immigration, he said—everyone knew that there were many Morristown residents who were anti-immigrant, and whose views remained the same after the raid—but he believed some of the acrimony stemmed from misinformation about how the undocumented were “gaming the system” or committing crimes. Chesney said, “We all get a little bit smarter as the issue gets more personal.”

A "blue wave" may help this situation nationwide; it may not.  A blue wave won't mean the entire country becomes California; there will be more Joe Manchins, not fewer, in Congress.  What will help more is this humanization, this refusal to see "others" as a danger, as totems of fear and hazard, but as people, neighbors, fellows.  That's not going to happen on a mass scale; otherness is easier en masse.  But it can happen on a small scale, an individual scale, in finding out these categories of people, "immigrants," "gays," even "Republicans" and "Democrats." are people, are humans, are persons.  We should encourage that, whenever it happens.

As long as we realize we can't really make a mass movement out of it.

Hank Smith still supports the President, and even welcomes some of his most contentious ideas, such as the border wall. But when he hears politicians talk about the “problem of immigration,” he told me, he no longer sees it as a question of how to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. but, rather, of how to create avenues for them to come legally. “Maybe the wall is part of the broader process,” he said. “If we see that a wall is working, we need to see a policy to get people in here legally. It’s not going to be fixed overnight, but I want to see the President take a hard look at all this.” At the moment, there are two anti-immigrant bills moving rapidly through the Tennessee legislature. One of them would disallow a form of identification—called “consular I.D.s”—that most Mexican immigrants use in lieu of state driver’s licenses, for which they can’t qualify in Tennessee; the other would impose penalties on towns that pursue sanctuary policies. Smith told me he hadn’t known about the first bill, but that he was incensed by the second. “The sanctuary-city bill is just awful,” he said. “It’ll divide the state. We should be trying to come together.”

We aren't all going to agree on the solutions; but we can find commonality in our humanity, in our care and interest in each other.


  1. It comes back again to one on one ministry. David Williams of the Baptist church in the article is engaged in ministry, softening our hearts of stone. I come more and more to believe that what truly changes us is the one on one interaction, the human face, the human voice.

    A while ago I read this book review on Martin Buber (I confess to having never heard of him before) This part of the review stood out:

    "The basic argument of I and Thou goes like this: human existence is fundamentally interpersonal. Human beings are not isolated, free-floating objects, but subjects existing in perpetual, multiple, shifting relationships with other people, the world, and ultimately God. Life is defined by these myriad interactions ­– by the push and pull of intersubjectivity. This conception ties to Buber’s belief in the primacy of the spoken word." and "By contrast, in the I-Thou relationship, rather than simply experiencing another, we encounter them. A subject encounters a fellow subject’s whole being, and that being is not filtered through our mediated consciousness, with its litter of preconceptions and projections. ‘No purpose intervenes,’ as Buber put it. The I-Thou stance has a purity and an intimacy, and is inherently reciprocal."

    On the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, the best tributes presented him in his own speeches and sermons (thank you for your posting on that day). I read the posts here, but also his last speech in its entirety posted elsewhere. Having this I-Thou floating around in my head, I came to this from Dr. King's last address:

    "Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base.... Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.

    They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother."

    As I continue to work this over in my thoughts, for which I feel often very slow, I am pulled more and more into the need for that personal interaction, those face to face acts of love.

    Now I need to go actually read Bruber's "I and Thou" (though my understanding is that it's a difficult go), more Dr. King, and if you have related suggestions they will be gratefully accepted.

  2. "I and Thou" is not an easy read. I need to get my copy out now, and start it over again (I never finished it).

    Thanks. My reading needed a purpose. If I had better direction, I'd offer it, but my reading is always led more by the wild goose than by a wise guide.