Friday, September 20, 2019

This Past Week...

My home town specializes in being demolished. I remember when we flooded back in 1979. My dad loaded up the John Boat with me, my brothers, my mom and our two month old baby sister and pulled the boat down the street. My brother lost his shoe. We stayed at a neighbor's who had a two story house, and watched as the cat fretted at the guppies swimming across the kitchen floor. Eighteen inches of water in the house, we lived on cereal and for the AM radio news reports. It took days to return home, and the recovery included six months of repairs, carpet free concrete floors and the throwing out of most of our childhood toys.
The night we sat down to dinner, when everything that needed repairing or replacing had been fixed, we cooked a steak dinner. Right after grace, the dining room table, which had held up all throughout the flood and the repairs, collapsed, and we ate in the kitchen instead. A month later, we flooded again. Beaumont's been through Hurricane Carla, countless floods, took in refugees from Katrina, only to be chased out by Rita, and again with Harvey and Ike. My mother moved after Harvey, when Beaumont became an island in land.
So today I watch the news, knowing my high school will be digging out, and the dancing school, and the church where I got married. The town paper is showing picture after picture of people riding around in little John Boats, rescuing the elderly, rescuing kittens, fishing people out of cars before they drown. I watch them all, and I know the streets and the names, On Facebook, I've watched friends and neighbors check in, and with all this mess, this ongoing mess, this mess that is becoming a regular part of every decade, I wonder, why this town continues to exist. It's flooded so many times. 

Looking at the news, I see people boating around, rescuing people's pets. It's beautiful and heroic and seemingly minimal, but it so matters.  It's a reminder that all these little things matter, these little acts of kindness are bigger than any of the floods or hurricanes or messes that floods and hurricanes leave behind. 

That's why Beaumont continues on, because this sort of good is what the world needs.   It is a good often only noticed when people decide it would be reasonable to quit and go away, and to let things fade.  Beaumont floods, but it does not fade.  It's too Texas stubborn, too Texas Proud, and Too Texas Strong to let go.  
So I'm proud to be of Beaumont, and to know all the people and places that will still be there, even after all of this, because it proves something of who these people are.  They are the ones who stay.   

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Purpose of Story, Beyond the Story

Recently, aliens from a galaxy far far away landed in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and promptly found their spaceship ticketed for parking in multiple spaces, and F-16s scrambled, owing to DC airspace violations.
At the historic first contact, government officials learned that the aliens failed to speak English or come through proper customs. 

Though officials originally struggled with the proper response to this invasion from the very clearly defined borders of our planet, much less nation, they failed to agree and as such, opted to separate the families from their children and confiscate their property.

“We are obligated to ensure nothing illegal or dangerous was being brought across the border.” One official who insisted upon anomynity explained.    


When the adult aliens (we’re assuming the bigger ones), used a universal translator to relay they sought asylum, the United States Government explained, “There are too many just humans here already, we cannot possibly accommodate you.  After all, who knows how many more might be fleeing from your planet.”  
The aliens protested, offering gifts, talents, technology and knowledge. Officials directed the adult aliens to wait on the moon for processing and/or further notice, but that their children, (and here, administrative officials stressed the lack of documentation of relationship), remained in US custody indefinitely until well, until.
 
“Just a matter of prudence.” One unnamed official agreed to be quoted. “After all, who knows what sort of problems exist on that planet. We might be unwittingly dragged into a war by offering sanctuary. These aliens might be criminals.”  When pressed by reporters about whether such treatment violated human rights conventions, “They aren’t human so…they should be sent back. No question.  After all, there are other planets.” 

Aliens explained, they lacked the resources to return, and “Returning would likely result in our deaths.”

When countries offered sanctuary if the children were reunited with their families, the officials declined.  “If they go somewhere else, they might share their technology and gifts with our enemies.”  One journalist pointed out, by taking their children, we’ve created enemies, and no one has more reason to fight, than the parent who has been kept from their child.” 

The official pointed out, "There’s no law requiring reuniting of an alien with other aliens.  Human law doesn’t apply to aliens.  Also, there’s no way to know what the family structure is, so there’s no reason to act a particular way.”  

Another reporter asked, “What assurances can be given for the safety of these alien children?”

“They’ll receive basic needs.” The official pulled out a power-point showing a recently renovated Toy’s-R-Us” building. We’re housing them in here.”   

“You don’t know what their needs are.”  The reporter protested.

“It’s a difficult situation, I hope you understand the US government’s need for security and privacy, particularly when dealing with minors.” He gave a curt bow and left the podium.  

Weeks went by, and as the remarkable story faded from the collective memory of a busy nation, reports trickled out about neglect, overcrowding, insufficient food, sanitation concerns, and even, 218 deaths owing to disease, malnutrition, and lack of sufficient medical attention/knowledge, but all of these were merely incidental, accidents according to government experts.  
Some government officials and members of the press pushed for access to the alien children and received tours.  They came back with stories that shocked people –and still, nothing changed.  

Why?  The government explained, “Those reports distort the reality and reflect the opinions of political malcontents who just want to score points on their political enemies.  The situation is hard, true, but people are doing the best they can, and those who want to use these alien children as a means of acquiring power, they’re just using the kids.  They don’t care.”

None of this changed the treatment of the alien children, but officials remained unmoved.  “We have evidence, the political people arguing against this, also incarcerated aliens when they were in power, so it's not about the aliens or their well-being.”  The alien children remained pawns in the game.

Soothed into sleepy neglect again by the next shiny star of the internet, and the next rude crude and socially uncouth cruel thing the leader said, the nation went back to ignoring the aliens locked away and forgotten. Countless cruelties of neglect and unnecessary separation, even six or more deaths, remained insufficient to rouse more than a momentary outrage from the collective public.  Which leaves all of us who consider ourselves people of good will, Catholics, Christians, disciples of Jesus, “How many people must suffer before we consider what is being done to them to be wrong?” 

Sometimes, Science Fiction makes it easier to look at hard reality.   The problem with looking is, now we have to do something, or we shall be counted amongst those who knew and did nothing, those who said, “Lord, Lord, when did we see you hungry?" 
It’s easier to pretend, we don’t know about these camps.  We don’t know what they’re doing, and even if we did, there’s nothing we can do about it. Despair is easier than action.  Outrage feels like action, but it isn't. Only sacrifice, is actual action, actual love.  

What do we do?  
1) Educate yourself.  Start reading about the crisis, use first and secondary sources to find out what’s happening, to whom, and in our name.  
2) Reach out to your local charity that works with immigrants, through your church or an organization that focuses on immigration and the crisis at the border. 
3) Offer your talents, your two cents, and your passion and words. Persuade hearts and minds. 
4) Sponsor a child or a family through your parish.   Push. Insist and be prepared to work. 
5) Pray for our nation, and for all of these people injured by the actions both of those who made their situation desperate enough to flee, and those of our nation who compound the injury by our policies and procedures which ignore what is morally right and allow legality to trump what is God’s law about how we are to treat the immigrant, the stranger, the sick, the vulnerable, the poor and the needy.

 According to the New York Times, over 900 children were separated from their families at the border this year. There are 17,615 parishes in the US, more than enough to ensure all the children and even, all the families, have safe havens, sanctuaries.   The church needs to be a physical and spiritual sanctuary from what is an unjust means of addressing a problem no party has been willing to face for decades.  Alone, we can do little, but are we even doing the little we can do alone?   The only way this situation will get better, is willing hearts, willing hands, willingness to push outside of what is comfortable and sleepy.   We will have to offer to do more.   It’s that simple.     

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

September 11, 2019

Today almost feels ordinary, and that's a good and bad thing. It means we aren't living in the shadow of fear that pervaded every breath after that horrible day eighteen years ago.  I remember flinching at the mere sound of a plane overhead.

  It also means we don't always stop to recognize that for some people, very vital components of their lives (husbands, wives, children, sweethearts, good friends), died. 

For me, the reminders of this day and that shared moment of witnessing death always comes as  a shock, both by its permanence, and by the irritating reality that the rest of the world just buzzes along, When someone aches, we should stop, we should stand or sit with them. We should recognize, these are souls deeply loved by someone, who we can't meet anymore.  So September 11th makes me think of the before and the after, and all the blessed afters that we got to celebrate that others did not.  Someone still aches.  Someone still stands there at that moment wondering why the world keeps spinning when so much went wrong. 

So  today, pray for peace, in our nation and abroad.  Pray for a soothing of all the wounds caused by time, by loss, and by violence, both by those who invented and carried out or supported the evil acts on September 11th, and by all of us subsequently in our attempts to either seek justice, or avenge, or revenge, or by all of us in ignoring the problems which festered until they became part of both what we accept and allow, and what others must endure. 

We've always been a kind nation, kinder than what makes the news, and a generous people, in addition to our faults of ambition, arrogance and yes, greed.   We are fallen but hopeful, we are a nation of dreamers, who often forget, we weren't always here, either in history, or in blessings.  I've seen people posting how much they miss the feeling of unity found on September the 12th, but to me, that's a call to action, not a lament.   We must be the community we long to become, and that's a day to day challenge of putting in the time, and allowing others to respond.   

To those who embrace one party or another, we can't stay stuck there if we want a better nation, a united country.  We must somehow find friends across the aisle, and things upon which we can mutually work together.   We can't be a city on a hill, if we sluff all problems under the collective carpet of forgetful history.  We can't be a beacon of hope to the world, if we allow ourselves to pretend, some people's suffering matters, and others' suffering does not.  We cannot be a free nation, if we spend all our energies condemning anyone who disagrees with us or always pretending, whatever the problem is, someone else is responsible.  We will not be a United States, to the extent we refuse to see our neighbor as something less than worthy.  We will not be a United States as long as we spend all of our time, viewing all things and all people and all actions through a political lens, which ascribes to all actions, machivellian motives at best.  We cannot be United when every action is judged as to whether we agree with the cynical manipulation of others or not. 

To be a United States, we will have to declare we are all unworthy and of infinite value.  We currently have things backwards, where we just see our own merit with greater weight, and the faults of our neighbors as justifiably condemned for all time.  Now is the time to offer, and to embrace mercy, most especially for those whom we think irredeemable, for that is the very essence of mercy, to offer love to hate, to offer forgiveness to wrongs, to offer peace and pardon to injury.  It does not mean the wrongs or the hates or the injuries didn't happen.  It is not to forget.  It is to forgive.   Not easy, not by a long shot, but oh, so necessary, and so much better than the alternative. 

The longing of many, for something better than what our politics and policies currently advocate, gives me hope.  Perhaps our country's people (if not our government)  which has always tried to pretend it doesn't have a past, can finally grow into something of its always proposed legacy.  Perhaps today, we can somehow look at our own history as a nation without reflexively self loathing or self agrandizing,  If we look our own faults in the face, and likewise work (with progress, though not perfection), to increase our virtues while minimizing the injuries done by those faults, we will come closer to being the Utopia we've never been. That is my hope, for this day, and for every day after.

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