Monday, May 27, 2013

Immigration Laws: Legal is not always Moral

We are a nation of law.  Our leaders do not rule by personal fiat.  We have no king, conqueror, or self-imposed dictator giving order by means of arbitrary commands based on personal whims and fancies.  In our land the rule of law reigns.

But not all laws are created equal.  There are good laws and there are bad laws.  Like the will of a King, laws can be fair and equitable or they can be unjust and oppressive.  Thus, just because one obeys the letter of the law, one is not necessarily being moral and just or even good for so doing.

Remember how Mark Twain’s fictional character, young Huckleberry Finn, struggled with a guilt ridden conscience for helping out Jim, Miss Watson’s runaway slave?  He was breaking the law.  He knew it.  And he didn’t feel right about it, at first.  But as we see it now, the law of slavery that once reigned in the South was a bad, cruel, unjust, and inhumane law to begin with—including supportive laws, such as those requiring everyone to notify authorities when a runaway was spotted, so as to have the slave recaptured and brought back to the rightful owner.  Thus, from our vantage point, it was right that young Huck Finn should disobey the law of his day and help Jim out.  It was an inhumane law to begin with.

Sometimes it takes a while for us to realize that a law is bad, but hopefully when we do, we make it right.

Thus, when we are faced with what appears to be a legal, ethical dilemma, it is not enough to simply ask ourselves: “Is it lawful?”  We must also ask: “Is this right, moral, just, or humanely fitting?”  Pressing it further, we should ask, “Is this right in the eyes of a good, holy, compassionate, loving and redemptive God.”

For example, I remember being very disappointed by the way our previous president, George W. Bush, approached the question of whether or not waterboarding should be used for interrogating captured enemy combatants.  He seemed to only focus on the question of its legality.  Was it within legal bounds to allow it?  Really!  To decide that an action is allowable because it is within legal bounds is a terrible way to decide the ethics of an action.  The real question was whether or not the interrogating method was immoral and inhumane, because it is actual torture, not whether it was simply within legal bounds.

So for example, in today’s hotly debated topic about the status of our present undocumented immigrants, there is much talk about their “illegal” status and their “law-breaking” methods of having arrived here.  We criminalize them.  This makes it easier for us to also trash them.  That is, to speak bad about them, to put them down, to treat them as undeserving and unworthy of our compassion and care, believing that we need not concern ourselves for the wellbeing of criminals.  That’s our excuse to be harsh with them and to treat them with little respect.  Arizona’s severe immigration-law is a case in point.

Obviously there is no easy solution, no easy economic, social, or political answer to the challenge of this nation’s capacity to continue to absorb an unlimited number of ongoing undocumented and underground immigrants into our land—even if it IS a direct consequence of our own badly shaped social and economic policies with Central and Latin American countries during the 20th century.

Nevertheless, our attitude and our depiction of these undocumented immigrants make a whole lot of difference.  Those who banter about the terms “Illegal” and “unlawful” or “criminal” when speaking of these immigrants are blindly refusing to look at the bigger picture and failing to consider the deeper humane questions: what is moral, good, right, merciful, and just?  Especially considering what has driven many of these immigrants to commit a desperate act in crossing our borders to enter this nation in the first place, given that they are received by an uninviting and unwelcoming people who resent their very presence.  There is much, much more to their story than meets the naked eye of the average American citizen on the street.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Graduation Day is Here, Now What?

So, you’re graduating.  You’re done with college.  Congratulations!!

And now?

Well, chances are, you are now feeling the pressure: What next? 

Here’s the typical list: Get a job.  Pay off your student loans.  Start your career track.  Go on to grad school.  Get married and start a family.

“Whoa!  Slow down,” you say, “Let’s not move too fast here.  I’m still young.  I’ve got time.”  This is true.  You are still quite young yet.

What you’d really like to do is make your grand entrance into society and let the world know that you’ve arrived: “Look people.  I’m here.  I’m smart.  I’m talented.  And I’m well educated.  Need I mention that I am also young, imaginative and creative, and full of energy?  Discover me now!”  The sad truth is that, despite all that you have going for you, the world just doesn’t seem to care very much, does it.

What to do?

Well, if I were your Commencement Speaker, I’d remind you of the following considerations:

1.    Time favors no one.  You are still young.  You may think that that’s in your favor.  In physique, energy, looks, maybe so.  But young also means naïve, inexperienced, wet behind the ears.  You need experience, growth in wisdom and maturity.  And that takes time.  Alas, when you finally do get recognized for your wisdom, maturity, and experience, by then you’ve also gained a few pounds, lost your youthful physique, and will have that leathery weathered look as evidence of your hard earned experience.  Yes, aging happens even to the best of us.

2.    You will die.  And, you can’t take it with you.  Whether you only live to be 29 years of age or 92, you, me, them, us, this generation as well as the next generation, we’re all going to die.  Then what?  I suppose the answer to that depends much on your belief system: Life after death?  Total annihilation?  Nothingness?  Reincarnation?  I suggest to you that “God IS.”  And because God IS, there is accountability and judgment.  We will answer for our lives to a Just, Righteous, and Holy God.  This is why embracing Christ’s message of hope, salvation, grace, and love, is so critical in this life.

3.    Thus, the future is now.  What you do now has a direct effect on your future.  Granted, though you are still growing and in the process of “becoming,” you are not going to BE somebody, you ARE somebody already.  You are already in motion.  You are already an actor on the stage of life.  Thus, the question is not, what will you do, but what are you doing, here and now.  The future will take care of itself so long as you are mindful of the present.  Nevertheless, never forget, the significant question you really need to answer, when all is said and done, is not “What did I accomplish,” but rather, “Who have I become.”

Well, thank you for letting me be your personal commencement speaker.  I pray you have a rich and blessed present/future life.   God’s grace be with you.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ariel Castro: Is he just the tip of the iceberg of men who abuse women?

Ariel Castro is now being held for 8 million dollars bond.  Accused of kidnapping three women (one, a girl of only fourteen at the actual time of kidnapping), prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  There is a huge sigh of relief that the women have been recovered and that Ariel is now in custody, and rightly so.

Perhaps this is a good time for us men to really reflect on our attitude towards women in general and come to terms with women’s plight in our society overall.  If truth be told, it seems that we men, more often than not, tend to turn a blind eye to their mistreatment or give it a wink—be they spouses at home, women on the streets and in public, or women at the office and in the workplace.

For years women have been demanding better treatment, more respect, and real justice.  What do we men have to say about it?  Popular speaker, Rush Limbaugh, has popularized the term “Feminazi” as a way of describing women who dare to stand up to men and demand their right for respect, justice, and an equal place at the table of opportunity, power, and influence.  And what do we men do?  We laugh and agree with Rush Limbaugh, rather than admit that these women make a good point.

And what is the point?  Women are daily being accosted, ill-treated, misused, and abused—and the perpetrators are adult men who will cry, kill, and die for their own sweet mothers but then turn right around and treat other women like dirt, for their own good pleasure, objects to be used at will, and thrown away when done.

It’s time for men to speak up as men, to men, about men’s mistreatment of women.  And I do not say this as one who is innocent of blame in this area.  Though I have never laid a hand on my wife, doing physical harm, I have accosted her and intimated her with my anger, with raised voice—emotional abuse.  Yes, I too am guilty.  I confess.  And it is not good.  Nor is it right.

We men need to hold each other accountable.  Women cannot do it for us.  There are many corridors of power and influence in our society: the military, politics, education, the work place, in Wall-Street, and in our churches, mosques, and temples, to name a few.  And, women have been and are being abused and mistreated in every one of these places of power.  If we are going to be real men, we need to begin to change ourselves and the system that allows men to so easily take advantage of women.

The arrest of Ariel Castro should be a wake-up call to all men.  We men must no longer accept the status quo and act as if it is okay to treat women as objects for our pleasure and ill-use.  Perhaps, it’s a simple matter of just speaking up with disapproval the next time you are in a bar, and you’re having a drink with your buddies after work, and one of them says something derisive and insulting about women in general or to a woman in particular.  Major change begins with simple small steps in the right direction.  Or are we men too weak and insecure to actually give women the respect and consideration that they deserve?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Our Returning Vets, Are We Prepared to Receive Them?

PTSD, anger, depression, alienation, distancing, silence, and yes even suicide; the fact is that our vets do not come back home and simply pick up where they left off.

For returning vets, it’s not just a simple matter of reintegrating back into civilian life, whether it’s reconnecting with one’s spouse and children or finding a job and pursuing a career, or going back to school.  Their lives have changed.  They have changed.  They are not the same and they never will be who they were, before their war experience.

The sad thing is, most of us who remained at home, anxiously waiting for their safe return—family, friends, relatives, and co-workers—are not ready and don’t understand what has happened to them.  We just don’t get it.  And they know we don’t.  So, they may clam up and refuse to talk about it.  We may feel as if there’s a wall, thirty feet high and ten feet thick, that we just can’t penetrate.  We’re exasperated.  And they… well, they’re exasperated too, only more so.

What are the real effects of war upon a person?  No one knows better, than those who have been through it.  How does one even begin to deal with the wounding effects of war upon one’s soul?  It’s both deeply personal and hauntingly private.  For example, war can pulverize one’s sense of trust, wellbeing, security, and safety in this world.  And worse it can destroy one’s internal moral compass, cauterizing the soul.   It’s ugly.  And only fellow comrades-in-arms understand the real nature of war’s impact upon a soul—mind, heart, spirit, and emotions—even if they do come back physically unscathed (and those are considered the lucky ones).

How many will be returning?  How many will be thus affected?  Are we talking about hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands?  We’ve deployed about 2.5 million in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan!  So, exactly how have we prepared for their return?

Here are some things that we might consider doing:

  • We can get informed.   We can learn as much as we can about the effects of war on veterans.  We can seek to understand and realize as much as possible what they will be facing as they return home.
  • We can encourage our churches our places of worship to also become informed so as to know best how to receive and welcome veterans with as much ease and support as possible.
  • We can seek political, administrative, social, and economic structural and institutional support for our returning veterans.  They will need ongoing assistance to reintegrate back into civilian life.
  • We can learn to become listeners and learners rather than presume to teach and direct our returning veterans.  They must teach us.  We must be willing to hear and learn.  Not too long ago, I heard one young veteran tell his story of having had to shoot and kill a ten year old boy while on duty in Afghanistan.  There were reasons he did this, good reasons; still, he was not proud of what he had to do.  It did something to him.  The point is this: They need to tell their stories, as heart rending and painful as they may be for us to hear them.  And we need to receive and hear their stories without judgment, condemnation, or with expressions of horror and disgust.  For their souls have been wounded by war.
There is no doubt that our returning vets will need time, place, and space to recover from the severe effects of war.  They did their duty.  Now it is time for us to do ours.

Many of us did not agree with the idea of pursuing these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that does not exclude us from the necessity of taking ownership and responsibility for the wellbeing of our veterans.  And such ownership and responsibility means a whole lot more than simply displaying a yellow-ribbon bumper-sticker on our cars saying, “We support our troops!”