Monday, December 24, 2007

The Defeat of Cynicism

Pope Leo the Great, Christmas Sermon

Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.
And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation.

"'Christmas! Christmas!' when there is no Christmas."

"'Peace! Peace!' when there is no peace." One of the Jewish prophets cried out against the false prophets who declared peace when there was violence all around. You have to wonder how the false prophets could have gotten away with it -- could have gotten any kind of a hearing that would arouse a response. I mean -- when there is violence all around, isn't it obvious? How could someone declare peace and have anyone take the message seriously? It's a mystery.

On the other hand, one of my favorite little malaprop is: There's a seeker born every minute. In other words, people will hear what they want to hear, believe what they want to believe.

Channel surfing late last night I ran across a travel channel show about tribal life. I didn't catch the name of the island, but it was some island that had been occupied by US forces during WWII. After they left, the natives started up a cult of expectation of their return. The cult is called "John Frum," as in "John from America," and it raises the American flag each day, has Friday worship in which the hope and expectation is expressed that John Frum will return to bless them. No, I'm not making this up. Google it.

People will believe what they want to believe. Perhaps I'm just feeling extra cynical this Christmas. Lets see: this year I've just heard from a friend whose wife left him last week, though he's been trying hard to keep the marriage together. I have other friends whose marriages are on the rocks, or completely gone. Another friend's son has just been diagnosed with cancer. Etc., etc. I talked to the first one mentioned just a bit ago, and he wished me a Merry Christmas. He meant it, too, even though his heart is breaking and mine aches with him. I don't know what to do with that.

So, chalk it up to a bad mood if you want, but when I see our government trying to convince us that we're all about peace, I'm juuuust a tad skeptical. When I see materialistic churches trying to "put the Christ back in Christmas," my skepticism turns black. Can we be that blind?

Ok, sorry -- dumb question.

But what bugs me most is my own ability to affect any of it. "Cosmic Therapy" indeed. The truth is that I can't even fix myself, so certainly I can't expect to be able to fix the world. I know, of course, that only God can fix the world. But I continually despair of our human attempts to have any impact at all.

In a few minutes my family will attend a Christmas Eve service that will proclaim the entry of God into his creation with the hope that creation itself will ultimately be redeemed. Marana tha.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

HB 1804 must die!

Mr. Shane Jett, the Republican Representative from Oklahoma's District 27, has considered proposing legislation that would help to curtail the effects of our recent immigration law, HB 1804, on the Oklahoma economy. You can read about it here.

Though his legislation does not go far enough, it's a start. It doesn't address the moral issues, but only the economic issues. I suspect that's the best that can be done immediately -- address people's wallets. HB 1804 itself was enacted out of fear that "they" (meaning the undocumented immigrants) were taking money out of "our" (meaning those of us whose families got here earlier, whether legally or illegally) pockets. In other words, it was pure selfishness.

But, I support what Mr. Jett is trying to do. Hopefully, this will be only a first step toward getting HB 1804 off of the books. Here is most of the text of a letter I have sent to Mr. Jett. It explains my feelings about HB 1804 as clearly as I know how.

Dear Mr. Jett:

I appreciate very much your effort to compose a bill that will enable a guest worker program, and I want to encourage you to do so as quickly as possible. For a variety of reasons I see HB 1804 as immoral, bigoted and racist. It is an embarrassment to the state of Oklahoma. Thank you for your compassion to our neighbors who are less fortunate than many of us and who are doing their best to make a better life for their families.

Let me tell you about a Hispanic young lady who was in one of my classes this semester. This young lady is very intelligent, and aspires to go to law school. I have no doubt she has the ability to do so. She certainly has the drive, and was an outstanding student. But in mid-October, she didn’t show up in class for 2 weeks. I knew she had been planning on doing a mission trip with her church to Peru, so at first I didn’t think much about it. But absence was very atypical for her, so in the second week I began to be concerned. I emailed her, but she didn’t answer. Finally, at the end of the month, she appeared in my office nearly in tears because she had to drop most of her classes. She told me the whole story: her father had been arrested for having hired undocumented immigrants in his business. Though she and her family are all citizens, they tried to help others move here and establish themselves. The INS had been going door to door in her neighborhood checking for undocumented immigrants. Some of her father’s employees had been arrested; others had been forced into hiding. This young lady had had to take over her father’s business and try to keep it running (her family’s only income) while her father was in jail, and she had to keep it running with a skeleton staff. Quite a task for a 19 year old!

Mr. Jett, this is a Christian family. These are solid citizens. Yet this young lady had to see her father treated like a common criminal because he had extended Christian charity to people less fortunate than himself as they tried to improve their own lives. She also had to drop out of school in order to run her family’s business. So her own career is in jeopardy at this point!

You are right that HB 1804 makes no sense economically. It also makes no sense morally, and I believe we need to have it overturned as quickly as possible. The way it has been implemented, with the INS going door to door in south Oklahoma City, is reminiscent of how the Nazis treated the Jews in the WWII era! It seems to me that those who pushed for it and who support it have forgotten why it was their own families immigrated to this nation. They have also neglected to ask themselves to what length they might go to establish a decent life for their own families. I know that I would be willing to break an immigration law if it would mean a better life for my children and grandchildren. Those who try to argue that these undocumented immigrants are simply criminals because they have broken a law have failed in their moral reasoning to understand the situation. The vast majority of these folks are not people who are simply living as outlaws in order to avoid working for a living! Their “crimes” cannot be understood on the same level as, for instance, drug dealers, murderers or thieves. A more parallel case might be breaking speed laws in order to get your child to a hospital in an emergency!

I don't know that we can get that law thrown out, but I want our legislature to know how I feel about it. And I believe this is an unjust law, and that means it is a good candidate for civil disobedience.