Category Archives: Politics
I don’t know many people who aren’t generally disgusted with the political process right now. Left to right, top to bottom, it’s a mess. I thought I’d put a little advice together for would-be leaders.
Further, Baptist preachers are about the most able politicians around. They are more like small-town sheriffs, who have to lock you up AND get your vote. Since Baptist churches are about the purest form of democracy around, where even the least of these can topple the most of those with enough work, a Baptist preacher learns to hone the skills of
diplomacy, bridge-building and persuasion. We have to run for election every year. It’s called “the budget.” A lot of high-handed Baptist preachers take over churches, of course, with dictatorial ways, but it doesn’t last long. Turns out that once you deceive people they decide, for some unknown reason, to stop funding your foolishness.
So here are some lessons from a 33 year veteran who has survived some titanic battles over camellia bushes, building programs, and even got a church to vote for a letter of apology to an offended church member once who got mad when his name wasn’t read at the centennial celebration thirty years before. He wobbled back into church on his walker a few months before he died, looked up and said, “Preacher, you reckon the building will fall down if I come in?” And a good old deacon said, “Well, if it does we’ll build it back.”
A little unsolicited advice:
- You have to learn how to build consensus. Winning 51-49 is not winning. You don’t need unanimity, but until you accomplish good for all, you haven’t won.
- You will learn humility willingly or eventually. Willingly is much less painful.
- Since politicians seem to evidence almost no persuasive ability in the current moment—I add this one: “Learn to tell a story. Keep it simple. Tell the truth. Truth doesn’t need help.”
- The same people you defeat will have to help pay for it in the end. They are not enemies, so unless you can regain their support, you lose in the long run.
- It’s dangerous to claim God is on your side and never leave room for disagreement. Even if you and your mother think so. God is not too keen on preachers as court jesters and God is intolerant of people misusing the divine name, so you’ve been warned.
- Preaching that doesn’t turn into good deeds doesn’t amount to anything.
- You have to trust others to make real changes. Nobody does it by themselves.
- Those who live by demonization die by demonization.
- Forgive and move on. It’s just that simple. Holding grudges is a waste of valuable energy.
- Sometimes you just do what is right and let the chips fall. There are worse things than losing your job.
- Believe in Someone or Something larger than you. Without a real vision, not only do the people perish, but nothing really happens.
- It’s not your church. It’s not their church. It’s God’s church. Seems to me this applies to countries, property, power and prosperity.
- If there isn’t any money, you can’t spend it. It’s not rocket science.
- Doesn’t hurt to let someone else take credit now and then, even if it’s your idea.
- A good staff makes a poor preacher look great.
- Principles matter the most when they are most inconvenient and unpopular. Lose ‘em and you might as well quit anyway.
- No matter how high and mighty you get, the Almighty gets the last word.
- Don’t do the Devil’s work for him.
- Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Even a great idea ahead of its time will lose to anxiety and fear and misinformation.
- As a friend of mine put it, “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and you make bad decisions.”
- Love really is the great truth of life. Politics, even with the noble concept of “justice” will degenerate into darkness without the temper of love.
(Another Imaginary News Update, to be repeated 97 times on Imaginary CNN when there is nothing else to talk about)–
In a late-breaking development in the Native American Immigration Crisis (read the original story here http://garyfurr.org/2012/07/16/what-if/
Canadians illegally in the United States today gathered simultaneously at IHOPs across the country, as they believe that they are diplomatically immune spaces. In a giant Skype call, they decided that should the Native American effort to oust Europeans proceed and threaten them as well that their strategy will be to return to Canada on a single day, forcing a crisis in the Great North. The emigres hope that it might result in an emergency deportation back to the United States.
In other news, Stephen Colbert was ordered by the Supreme Court to no long market his show on the Comedy Network since a recent survey indicated that the majority of Americans could not tell that he was kidding. Most discouraging was that the percentage of elected officials who thought he was “a serious journalist” exceeded the general population.
Indians Sue for Possession of the U.S.:
Ask for Return of Lands and Deportation of
(Imaginary Press Release) The immigration crisis in the United States took an unexpected turn today when Native Americans launched a lawsuit to deport all European descendants from the US back to their homelands. Following the recent Supreme Court decision on immigration, leaders representing all the major tribes gathered together at Little Big Horn to announce an impending lawsuit. They are seeking a lawsuit to remove all European Americans whose ancestors emigrated to this country illegally during the past 300 years, claiming that they had illegally squatted on tribal land, brought a plague of drug and alcohol abuse, took jobs that unemployed Native Americans could do, like being CEOs, equipment managers for basketball teams, and investment bankers, and ruined their livelihoods by killing off all the buffalo.
They are asking the court to uphold their legal request that requires all Europeans to carry identification cards and wear moccasins except in extremely cold weather. They also have suggested that Reservation police be able to check identity and arrest Senior Adult Caucasians at Casinos if they have probable cause to think they are here illegally. The Europeans must return all stolen lands and go live on a reservation while their cases are being deliberated. If deported, they will go to the end of the line, which is said to be in Iceland and that they may come back in ten years.
Descendants of Cochise, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Geronimo have hired the Manhattan firm of Dewey, Cheatum and Howe, famous legal counsel for NPR’s “Car Talk,” to lead the dream team. They will be joined by lead attorney and member of the House of Representatives Chief Enormous Bull as they argue their motion.
The motion blames Squanto for helping the Pilgrims, who kidnapped him and took him to England while his tribe was wiped out by Pilgrim diseases. Squanto, they contend, did not have authorization to permit them to land in the first place. The Indians had planned to build an enormous wall around Plymouth Rock but construction had not begun when the immigrants arrived and began squatting on the land.
In a related move, the Geico Cavemen said they would file an injunction blocking the Native American motion as their ancestors likely preceded them and should also be removed. While their numbers are small, they have considerable insurance assets to leverage for a long legal fight.
Neither group has said specifically if the motions would apply to all Caucasian Americans, or would only affect those whose ancestors actually took Indian lands. Both groups said they would be willing to negotiate a settlement, and neither had interest in taking Manhattan back, and said that Arizona could remain as a reservation for whites until arrangements to move in with relatives could be made.
The American Bar Association said it looks forward to the years of billable hours that this action implies. Leaders in China said whoever wound up with ownership of the country would be responsible for its current and future debts. Europeans announced a counter-suit denying the return of the descendants until they could prove that they would be good citizens and not a threat to security. Mexican drug cartels protested the removal of their largest customers citing exorbitant shipping and transportation costs. Meanwhile, Alabama and a dozen other states said they would begin deportations immediately, whether there was a country to take them or not. In the absence of a place to go, white people will be given large flat barges stocked with bottled water, Spam and saltine crackers, cable television and country music CDs while they wait until a country will receive them. The suit has specified that those being placed on the reservation will travel by Greyhound bus along the Trail of Tears.
A spokesman for the Euro-Americans protested the move, citing the damage it would cause to families and especially children, and members of Congress met through the night and said because of the urgency of the matter that Immigration reform could be ready as early as Tuesday. The President said he would rush back from vacation to sign the bill, which would resolve the situation. “This affects millions of voters…er, people. We have to fix this.” Observers say it may be the fastest action of this magnitude that the Congress has ever achieved other than declarations of war, voting on raises for Congress, and motions of appreciation for professional athletes.
The 24-7 news cycle has changed our lives and made even
the most meaningless information a way to waste time on the planet.
A story on the morning news recentlywas about a local election in Arizona. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld a law this week that banned a woman who could not speak English proficiently from running in a local city council race. The
point of those who sued to remove her was that a certain level of sophistication in the English language was essential to being an elected official. Who in the world came up with THAT?
The woman, who spoke in elemental English, was actually given a hearing in which she was examined for her language skills. A clip on the news showed a lawyer asking the following:
Lawyer: “And when did you go to high school?”
Woman: “In the 1980s.”
Lawyer: “And where was that at?”
Excuse me? Buddy, you just dangled a participle. My old-school English teachers would be all over you. If you can be a lawyer without proficiency in grammar, it seems reasonable that you could run for office and let the voters decide.
It is the silliest of seasons, that is, an election year. Actually, “election year” has followed the 24-7 news cycle to become a 24-7 political season. Pols immediately begin re-election campaigns the day after they get elected now. Since there are only about 18 minutes of actual newsworthy occurrences each day and the major news networks only cover about 11 of that, it leaves a lot of time to fill. Fortunately, tomfoolery and goofiness fills the void.
There are now three major forms of commentators that have evolved in this present environment. First, there are the pioneers, the radio partisans and their television counterparts.
The Wingnuts of every kind dominate here. The form is simple: you go on the air/television and talk ceaselessly to an imaginary person for hours. You would never respond to an enraged man walking down the street like this, fuming and talking to an imaginary person.. You would call 911 and report him so the state hospital could come pick him up before he hurts himself or someone else.
The second form is more sophisticated. People sit together and argue about politics in front of everyone watching. There is more value perhaps, but still, not much is left to say after, oh, about four minutes on a particular item.
C. S. Lewis said in his autobiography that his father and their friends would often sit and discuss politics. He and his brother concluded that nothing very interesting ever came of these discussions. Their real passion was the world of imagination and ideas. So at least we have politics to thank for Narnia and The Great Divorce. A great thesis for some Oxford young don: “Boredom’s Contribution to the Imaginative Work of C. S. Lewis.”
The third, of course, is comedy politics. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have cornered the market here. Colbert is the more sophisticated—he pretends to be the very things he ridicules and takes it to hyperbolic excess. He exaggerates, too. One has to observe, this is too easy. Read the rest of this entry
Love and truth belong together. So why is it that they are so often found separated? Moral life arises from the recognition of eternal truth, the acceptance of the reality of others in that same truth, and the sensitivity to feel the connection between them. Puritan preacher Richard Baxter said love for one’s neighbor is akin to hunger and food connecting. It makes possible a new and different conversation.
Truth and love cannot live divorced from one another. Otherwise we are, in the former case, driven to principles rendered only as power, devoid of kindness and the graces and kindnesses of feeling for the other. Read the rest of this entry
I nearly always prefer the hidden, obscure, local and unnoticed to the Big Stuff. Celebrity…zzz…even small pond big fish I find relatively uninteresting. It’s just all so predictable and often pompous. When I opened today’s Birmingham News, the top of the front page, as usual, was about Alabama and Auburn football, which is as always. You just have to understand that in Alabama, I would fully expect to see this on a front page:
TIDE LANDS FOUR FIVE STAR RECRUITS
AUBURN HOPES NEW DEFENSIVE COACH WILL “TURN THE TIDE”
NUCLEAR WAR PROBABLE IN NEXT FEW DAYS (Section B)
GOD SAYS ARMAGEDDON IS AT HAND
MARTIANS LAND ON EARTH
COACH SABAN COMMENTS ON NEW RECRUITS: “Next year looks bright,” Coach says at local Walmart.
CURE FOUND FOR CANCER (see G17)
As Bruce Hornsby says, just the way it is. But one little hidden gem was on page one, nestled among the two stories on football on the masthead and grim news about our latest number one, being the largest county default in American history, was a story about a woman who played the organ in her church for seventy-five years. Ella Jones has played since she was 12 years old, and still going strong at her church in a nearby town called Graysville.
Over the past year, while reading biographies of Elvis Presly, Sam Phillips, Hank Williams, and a host of other Alabamians, it was striking to see how powerful church music was in forming both their artistry and their musical imaginations. It took me back to all the little churches of my childhood, some great and some very, very small, but they all had a couple things in common. First, they were all Baptist churches, the Southern variety. As I heard people
say, “We were often more Southern than Baptist and more Baptist than Christian.” Who else would move to Wisconsin and plant a Southern Baptist Church because they didn’t have one? We did when I was in the sixth grade. Two families, mine and another, with about eight kids between us, launched a little church that is still there today.
Churches, for a long time, offered graded choirs, the only choirs I ever sang in, most of the musical training I received, and gave me most of the opportunities to sing in front of people regularly. Not to mention a vast collective memory of hymns.
If you knew how many of the great singers and performers in American entertainment began in the church and around gospel music, it would stagger the reader. Aretha Franklin? Started in church. I could go on but why? The entire early canon of country music was transmitted—and claimed for credit—by the Carter Family, but their musical teeth and a good bit of that canon came from the churches.
I am grateful for it all—anthems, quartets, homely sings around the piano on Sunday night. A way of life is disappearing. Church looks a lot like karaoke in too many places to me. But old hymns still take me back to a different time when we sang and played a lot. I am glad for it.
The German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred by Hitler for trying to overthrow the Nazis, came to New York and taught at Union Seminary before returning to die at Flossenburg. While here, he attended the Abyssinian Baptist Church where Adam Clayton Powell was pastor. He was mesmerized by the gospel singing and took albums back with him of the spirituals. He said that there, for the first time, religion changed for him from “phraseology to reality.” Don’t tell me the arts don’t matter.
It is a truism that when we need the arts the most we usually defund them, downsize them and de-emphasize them. When do you need songs more than during a Dustbowl, a Depression or a Great Recession? I know we need engineers and mathematicians and psychiatrists. But Lord Help us if none of ‘em can sing. Humorless and tone-deaf people create a lot of the misery in this world. So, a salute to the Ella Jones’ of the world for keeping us alive and giving yourselves to make us all better.
Some of those people who taught me how to sing, “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” and “Jesus loves the little children” are long gone. But somewhere down in us, it is remembered after most of the sermons have turned back into empty space. It matters.
Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar, wrote an opinion piece for CNN in the aftermath of the horrendous mass murder in Norway by suspect Anders Breivik. Breivik set off a bomb and then, disguised as a policeman, infiltrated a youth camp where leadership and politics are taught and opened fire, at this point claiming at least 76 deaths.
Breivik is white, Christian, and released a bizarre 1500 page manifesto in which he advocated a revolution in which the cultural dominance of Christianity might prevail over what he saw as an “Islamic-Marxist” alliance. He wanted to speak on television in his hearing to plead his case, still apparently seeing that his murders were somehow defensible as a desperate call to arms in a culture war.
No one would defend what Breivik did. Glenn Beck, whose irrational rantings have gotten even stranger since being booted from Fox, did offer the most incredibly insensitive (or worse if he believes his own drivel) statement of all when he mulled that the camp itself seemed somehow sinister, like a Nazi Youth camp. Glenn, did you never go to civics? Events and summer leadership training happens in the USA all the time, and many of them quite patriotic. .
The right wing was not alone in its absurd reactions. Lamentations about “fundamentalist Christians” quickly followed. If you ever read the comments under the stories online, of course, you can read more visceral reactions to these things. Religious folk often responded by saying, “No, this is not true Christianity, it is the work of a sick individual.”
Prothro calls all of us who practice religion to task for being inconsistent. He writes: For the last two decades, Christian students have told me that Christianity had nothing to do with the Holocaust. After 9/11, many Muslims said that the men who flew those planes into those buildings had nothing to do with Islam. When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, we were told that the crime had nothing to do with our current climate of political hatred…Yes, he twisted the Christian tradition in directions most Christians would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims, and current efforts to renew that clash. So Christians have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against him, and to look hard at the resources in the Christian tradition that can be used to such murderous ends.”
All of our texts have violent stories in them–Jews and Christians the book of Joshua, Islam has its parallels. Christians have often been fond of talking about “spiritual warfare” and the world hearing us doesn’t understand that we don’t mean “killing people.” The “weapons” of Christianity are faith, hope and love. The way of Jesus is one of non-violence, not killing. Have we not made this clear? Apparently not.
So what does this have to do with “worldviews”? I’ve kept thinking about him writing that 1500 page abomination before doing this. His “worldview”. Having a Christian “Worldview” has become a bit fashionable in recent years among evangelical Christians. We talk of the importance of “examining one’s presuppositions” as though our own are clear and rational and pure and the rest of the world (the “lost”) are corrupt, compromised and sinful.
For more than thirty years I have engaged in many discussions with fellow Christians about “worldviews” and hear many preachers and media personalities talk about the so-called “culture wars” with this language.
“Constructing a Christian worldview” is a large enterprise. I believe in Jesus as the son of God. I am a Christ-follower. I encourage others to follow His way. Why would I react so negatively to all this “worldview” talk? Why WOULDN’T I join in the obsession of so many to construct a “Christian worldview”?
Other than my almost automatic dislike of Christian trendiness itself, I would have to say that it’s the “rationality” of it that worries me. The boundless optimism of naive Christian warriors is astounding. They read a few books about the “Christian worldview,” and pretty quickly move to authoritativeness about “standing up” against this that or the other. It’s not that I don’t take the Christian view of things seriously–it’s that I do.
First, my “view” begins with the Jesus of the New Testament. He engaged not in antiseptic schoolboy debates and parlor arguments based on straw men, but pushed deeper, down into human hearts.
Second, rather than seeking some comprehensive, one size fits all “system” that appeals to some personalities (who almost always benefit from it–strange about that), like the Pharisees and Sadduccees of his day, Jesus invited his followers to a Way of surrender to new perspectives, ruthless self-questioning, and humble obedience to his teachings and love for one another.
Third, the Christian “way” is not merely about rationality. It speaks to the irrational and subrational, too–to things we can’t know and don’t know. The Holy Spirit has to reveal truth to us, little by little, and so we are invited into this incredible humilty of following and living not from some “top down” system but from “bottom up” surrender.
It’s not very surprising that the bin Ladens, Nazis, Holy Warriors, Klansmen, Inquisitionists, and Breiviks of the world manage to create a god in thier own political, cultural and racial image and then demand that everyone else bow to it. But it is not the God of Jesus. We cannot assume that the world knows these distinctions. We ourselves have profaned, ignored and compromised this vision of our Lord too much. We have explained away his call to peacefulness and created our own many systems.
Prothero is right in that sense. So count me as one who says clearly, “This is not Christian, even if it claims to be.” The renunciation of violence as a way to resolve disputations, in a time when killing has become so efficient, seems more important than ever. Be clear–we follow a Savior who laid down His life for the world and refused to take up the sword to save it. Whatever we think of government, armies, war, executions and every other way of violence, let us at least acknowledge that the taking of life is profoundly serious and something that we accept, tolerate and ignore too often.
We have been too comfortable rationalizing our own way of life and downplaying the difficult and serious things our own Founder said to us. I speak out to say, “Mr. Breivik in no way speaks for me as a Christian.” But further, I stand against every effort at a “Christian view of things” that can be snapped together like intellectual Lego bricks, a neat little house of explanation of my own making.
Only a “view of things” that is prayed, agonized and wrestled into being with honest hearing and listening and with surrendered anger and sin, can be taken seriously. A New York Times piece quoted Breivik as having written an entry in June that said, “I prayed for the first time in a very long time today. I explained to God that unless he wanted the Marxist-Islamic alliance and the certain Islamic takeover of Europe to completely annihilate European Christendom within the next hundred years he must ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevail.”
Those of us who have anguished sincerely for decades to learn how to pray shake our heads. One does not “tell” God what needs to be done. This young man knows nothing of the ways of God. But we offer him too many voices that seem to say these very things–voices of anger, frustration, rage and cultural certainty. But no one seems to have taught him how to actually pray.
So Christians, speak. And let’s beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, as the Hebrew scriptures put it. And maybe while we’re at it let’s refashion those worldviews into calloused knees. Maybe if we spent the time we were using to argue our “worldviews” praying for our neighbors and for God to have mercy on us sinners we could find a better way.
I offer this to students from other countries here on visas for college and to politically uninformed citizens to help them understand the current debates going on in our country. GF
Entitlements—a word that once referred to “something earned or deserved, or given out of mutual agreement and covenant and generally accepted and validated by law.” Lately it has devolved to a more primitive association to refer to another as “a deadbeat.” Today in politics it has a very strict meaning, as in, “money given to someone I don’t know and don’t really care about or from whom I can derive no direct benefit. Therefore, it is waste and should be gotten rid of.” In recent years it has become clear that the Entitlement People, whoever they are, do not spend money, buy groceries, pay bills, or eat at restaurants and therefore do not participate in the economic life of the nation. They tend to sit at home, collect their benefits and checks, cash them and either buy cigarettes or send the money directly to China. The Entitled (I will henceforth refer to them as TE) use up valuable resources that could pay off the national debt and other important problems which they themselves created had they simply refused to accept the money the Congress voted to give them. The simplest distinction will help the reader. “Entitlements are what someone else receives as a benefit that they don’t deserve because they are not in my family.”
Term Limits—an imaginary concept that revolutionaries espouse until elected.
Immigration Crisis—see also, “Terrorists, Arabs, Foreigner, Muslim, Job-Gobblers.” Bad people who come to the good country where we live, which the Native Americans gladly handed to us when our ancestors arrived, and negotiated same in solemn treaties which said, in effect, “Maybe you European people can stop the porous border issues we have around here. We gladly give you control of all our land and resources if you will relocate us to barren and worthless areas and fence us in, where we can later develop casinos.” In Alabama, this also refers to the flow of undocumented persons from Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee flowing into the state.
The Government—a word very close in pronunciation to “government,” which simply means the “the complex of political institutions, laws, and customs through which the function of governing is carried out.” For newcomers to America, it is important to NEVER use the definite article. When an American says “The Government,” they are, actually using profanity. It refers specifically to their current group of elected persons and is not to be used except in violent discussions in which more than one person yells simultaneously and no one listens. In this latter sense, it can never refer to anyone with good motives or intentions, only an amorphous and callously selfish group of piggish persons who pilfer through the public treasury to enrich themselves. There is great debate among scholars about whether the nearly universally truth of a stereotype, in fact, makes something no longer a stereotype.
Political facts—an oxymoron referring to the emotions I have about people who feel differently than me, expressed as objective information but usually having more to do with where I live, what I do for a living, how close to retirement I am or other contingencies that shade my perspective. Antonym—“serious dialogue with someone who disagrees with me.”
Common good—a euphemism for “we win, you lose” or, something that makes 50.01% of Americans feel that we are on the right course in an opinion poll.
Blogosphere—the collective wisdom of self-expression on the internet on things political, generally something the founding fathers would approve but also which carries the same dangers of a space suit without an oxygen tank or gluteal ventilation. The current writer is certainly part of the blogosphere but recommends that readers be sure to read a real book at least once a week to counter nosebleeds and intellectual hemorrhoids that can develop in the blogosphere.
PAC or Political Action Committee—see “Let Your Money Work for You: Political Opportunities for the Discerning Investor” and “How to Win Friends and Influence Elections While Slandering People”
Fault—noun: the giant crack in the good earth of America we are about to fall into while our leaders blame each other. Verb—What a President or a Congress does to explain the current mess, similar to tennis, “They faulted their predecessors for their vote on the pay raise for themselves.”
Pork—Benefits to someone else’s congressional district that are the reason we have a massive debt to China. [antonym: “Ice Tea money” An article posted in 1994 (real!) said, “Lawmakers Hope ‘Ice Tea’ Will Quench Their Thirst For Special Projects. January 08, 1994 By Sean Holton Sentinel Washington Bureau. Leave it to Congress to fight highway congestion with a multibillion dollar program that sounds like ”ice tea” but tastes like a pork milkshake. On Friday, scores of lawmakers from Florida and other states lined up for federal ”special projects” money to be doled out this year under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (abbreviated ISTEA, and called ”ice tea”). Ice Tea is what our senator brought in.] Pork is what they do in New Jersey.
Debt Ceiling—An infinitely adjustable mortgage that can only be purchased by the Congress which, unlike homeowners, is actually more payable the higher it goes. Until homeowners can print their own money, this is likely to be a very restrictive real estate instrument. Wall Street financiers are looking into a way to bundle America’s global debt as they did home mortgages and sell them to Pakistan and Venus. This is promising because it is tied to an actual asset, the septic tank at the Capitol Building which, apparently, has an endless methane supply that could run the global needs of earth for two millennia.
In the theater on Saturday to see “Tree of Life,” we watched the obligatory previews and saw with interest that a film version of “The Help” is coming in August. Allison Janney was one of the actresses I recognized, and heard enough to know this would be another butchered movie attempt to capture Southern accents. Anyone NOT from the South cannot hear the hundred subtleties in Southernspeak. We do not all sound like Foghorn Leghorn (“Ah, SAY-uh, ah sey-uh Miss Priss-ay”).
In the case of Mississippi, parts of Alabama and south Georgia you would be pretty close, but a little off is worse than way off, the linguistic equivalent of losing a baseball game on a balk in the ninth. You think, “they don’t know us, don’t know anything about where we live, who we are. What’s the deal? Most of ‘em still think we’re unchanged from the barking dogs and fire hoses and Atticus Finch. It’s as though the South is invisible.
According to Wikipedia: the movie “The Help” is about Aibileen, an African-American maid living in Mississippi in the early 1960s who cleans houses and cares for the young children of various white families.” There is a storyline about a campaign to get the white residents of Jackson to build separate bathrooms in their garage or carport for the use of the “colored” help. Characters with odd Southern names like Hilly and Skeeter are here, as well as Aibileen, another maid who has been through 19 jobs because she speaks out too much. A lot more develops, but pick up the book or see the film.
I started thinking about real life versions of “The Help” many times. As a minister you go and sit in people’s homes a lot, especially when things are going badly. Death, divorce, children run amuck, that sort of thing. You go as a holy man or woman and sit there, listening, trying to lend some presence to some terrifying absence. It can be anywhere: in nursing homes, assisted living or elegant suburban homes. The help, especially down south, some long-time worker for the family, inevitably comes in and brings me a glass of tea or says hello or dusts around us.
When my wife worked in welfare reform she got to know a lot of women who worked as domestics—cooks, maids, caretakers for the elderly, sitters and raisers of babies. Often they worked for more than one family to put food on the table. And if you wanted to know what was REALLY going on, talk to these women. It helps explain reality television, I think. Often I think, “Why on earth would you say that with cameras rolling? How can you be sincere and still know your being taped?” I suppose you just forget after a while and then, out it comes.
My wife Vickie used to say, “People forget and talk in front of their maids like they’re not there, and don’t realize that everything in their house is known.” Another way to put it is that these people become invisible. We stop seeing them, being aware of them, taking account of their presence.
I wondered recently as I thought about a really BAD immigration law passed by the Alabama legislature: “WHAT were they thinking?” At first I focused on the legal, financial and constitutional issues—how will we enforce it, who will pay for it, and so on. My question was, “Am I my brother’s Big Brother?” Absurdities occurred—will we build a wall like the Israelis to keep the Floridians and Mississippians out? But there were also somber thoughts—a lot of law enforcement may ignore it, but some might abuse it on people too scared and vulnerable to speak up. And also frustration that the federal government, whose real job it is, has failed to do their job. This is not a state issue. But let’s not go there.
Mainly I have been thinking about the help. The help are people who clean toilets and wash dishes and dig gardens and mow lawns and help build houses. They mop hospital halls and work long hours without complaining. And when they work their fingers to the bone for subsistence wages, we’re only too glad to let them do it. Then, when the bottom drops out of the Dow and we’re scared, we started passing laws that have a nice, authoritative sound to them. “Let’s stand up and do something.”
I called the governor’s office before this became law and told his staff I strongly opposed this law—unaffordable, unconstitutional, unenforceable. But mostly, if truth be told, I was thinking about the Old Testament and Jesus and all those passages in the Bible about the way we treat strangers and foreigners in our midst. There isn’t one passage in the Bible that says, “When they’re down and out, draw the line and shove ‘em out.” Find it if you can. No, it says, “You were strangers in Egypt. Don’t forget it. Don’t oppress widows and foreigners and orphans.” In other words, “Don’t tread harshly on people who can’t fight back.”
I am embarrassed by this law. We can do better. Nothing in it about the people already here or treating them with respect and hospitality or how to go from where we are to where we could be or even a mere way to authorize those already here to stay as guest workers. We didn’t even offer them a ride home. Just jails, fines, and, worse, the rest of us being tattlers to pull it off. It’s not that hard, it seems to me, to figure out. But that didn’t seem to get in this law.
A lot of our newcomers pretty soon become business owners and contractors themselves. They work hard and pull themselves up. I’ve met people who were doctors or dentists in their former country but work in menial jobs here because they are not “qualified” and they don’t complain. It’s a familiar story—like the 24 million immigrants who came into this country between 1860 and the 1920s—some of whose descendants sit in nice homes griping about immigrants.
Most of all, I feel like we got in the living room and made a decision affecting our maids and yard workers and day laborers and restaurant workers and lots of women and children. Many of them are legal and sometimes their families are not. It’s a mess, I admit. But we got in the living room and came up with a half-baked solution that, like those bathrooms in the garages in The Help will look absurd a few years down the line.
We committed the two great sins for Southern Christians. We were rude to strangers and we talked about things that affected the help’s lives as though they weren’t even there. And now our teachers and law enforcement folks and business owners are asked to fix it by becoming an enforcement bureau, ratting out first graders who don’t know anything about why they are here.
I’m for homeland security—career criminals don’t belong here, terrorists need to be stopped. I hate the ocean of drugs pouring over our borders as much as Mexico hates the avalanche of guns pouring over theirs. But maybe if we stopped talking about our help like they aren’t even there we could make distinctions between people who make us better and those who don’t.
We had the wrong kind of discussion and we ended up with a Rube Goldberg law. We can do better. We should do better. I pray we will.