Archive for the ‘Citizenship’ Category

Slow Moving Train Wreck

May 1, 2019

The Los Angeles Times reported today that for the first time since records have been kept, the county of Los Angeles experienced a growth rate of 0% last year, and California as a whole grew by the smallest amount since we’ve tracked these sorts of things.

The article duly noted a variety of potential causes for this slow in growth rate.

  • Fewer immigrants from Mexico and more from Asia.  Asian immigrants apparently on the whole are better educated than Mexican immigrants, and better-educated people tend to have fewer children.  Tuck this particular detail away in your memory for just a moment – we’ll come back to it.
  • Native-born Americans have been experiencing a decline in birth rates for years.
  • A lack of housing (affordable, of course) is another possible contribution to slower growth rates as people can’t afford to move here.  Or stay here.
  • Economic uncertainties over the past 20 years are also likely to blame as people are less able or inclined to have kids in rugged economic times.
  • Natural disasters such as the devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018 contributed to a rearrangement of population in certain affected areas.
  • California lost roughly a million people between 2007-2016.  Six million people moved out of the state and only five million moved in.

What the article didn’t see fit to note is the popular idea – pushed for the last 50 years – that we are overpopulating the planet.  This idea – pushed in schools particularly – is likely to take psychological root in many people who then decide to have smaller families.  The longer you’re in school (the better educated you are, as per above), the more often you’re going to hear this over-population mantra and will likely feel greater pressure to respond to it by not having lots of (or any) kids.

However the article mentions in passing the completely devastating this false idea is and will continue to have on our society as fewer young people struggle to support a larger population of older people.  Is it any wonder that socialism and a restructuring of our economy is gaining popularity among younger generations?

Also not discussed in the article is the trend for people to wait longer before marrying.  I’d presume that there is a corresponding delay in having children, at least among people inclined to think that those two things are related.  And if you aren’t marrying until your very late 20’s or early 30’s, and need to get your economic ducks in a row before contemplating children, then it’s going to be getting more and more difficult (biologically) to get pregnant and carry to term.

And I wonder about possible links about delaying having children and whether people who have built enjoyable lives without children are having a harder time considering adding children to the equation and spoiling some of the fun.

No conjecture was offered as to why more people are leaving than coming to California, but many Californians will quickly offer some explanations – over-regulation, over-taxation, and a disconnect between the major population centers and the rest of the state.

Lots of factors to consider, both ones that the Times chose to talk about and a few it didn’t think to mention, but which likely have a real impact as well.

 

 

 

Listening Matters

April 10, 2019

My family arrived to Lenten soup dinner tonight with tales of anger.  The weekly home-school park gathering was disrupted by a woman screaming at the kids from the other side of the park.  She was apparently irate that the kids were sitting on a low-hanging tree branch.  She screamed that they should get down, that somebody could get hurt, that their mothers surely must not be paying attention.  The moms were paying attention just a few feet away.  The kids were confused, the moms were a bit shocked, and the woman wandered away when nobody immediately met her demands.

One of the mothers went after the woman to talk with her, and ensure that the woman did in fact realize that the mothers were present and monitoring the situation.  The woman had no interest in listening – outright refused to actually talk.  Apparently she had wanted to scream her demands, not engage in an actual discussion.

Listening is getting harder, and rarer.

I was reminded of this by the above anecdote, and like many people in such a situation I clucked my tongue at the woman’s absurdity and inability to engage in actual dialogue or conversation about an issue.

But the below issue demonstrates that I – and perhaps you as well, dear reader – can be just as guilty of not wanting to listen, particularly when we think we know what we’re going to hear or not hear.

Currently there is a bill with bi-partisan support making its way through Congress.  I know.  Shocking, isn’t it?  The bill would ban the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from developing a free e-filing program for itself.  The ban is heavily opposed by big business.  Specifically, big businesses in the business of tax preparation, like H&R Block and Intuit.  These companies have spent millions of dollars trying to ensure that the IRS doesn’t develop any such program as it could hurt the business of private tax preparation services and software.  These companies argue that they already allow people to use their products for free if they are below a certain income level.  And while 70% of Americans would qualify for their free e-filing services, only 3% of these eligible Americans use them.  Presumably another, higher percentage of these eligible Americans end up purchasing services that the companies upsell.

So far, no big deal.  But then I spy this article about liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez complaining about this very issue, and suggesting that the IRS could – and should – provide auto-completed tax documentation free of charge.  The great majority of Americans have simple enough tax returns that the essential data could be auto-filled by the IRS, verified by citizens and then submitted electronically.  Other countries apparently do this already.

I was tempted to skip the article.  After all, I disagree with most everything I’ve heard this person say so far.   I don’t know the larger context of her comments, but at least in this limited sense, until I see a counterargument, I think it’s good that she’s raising the issue.  Since the IRS isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and since any changes to the tax codes result in more confusion, it would be nice to see the IRS develop a system that could help eliminate the headache for many Americans.

I also, however, don’t believe the IRS is capable of developing this kind of system, and that’s pretty depressing.

But the important thing is to keep listening.  Even to people you disagree with.  Disagree with ideas, not with people.  And by all means, look for  opportunities to be reminded that even people we disagree with (rather than ideas!) can sometimes say things we resonate with.  That’s an important thing to remember as more and more people become more and more comfortable with just screaming their demands or objections from a distance.

 

 

Actual News?

March 6, 2019

Remember that big ruckus about the migrant caravan last year, thousands of people traveling from Central America through Mexico to the American border?  It would be understandable if you don’t remember it – the news certainly hasn’t been saying much about it since.  Or about other caravans.  Or about illegal border crossings in general.  After all, to report on such things would be to acknowledge that there’s a problem with people entering our country illegally in large numbers.  Large enough numbers that we ought to take steps – for the sake of both American citizens as well as those who wish to become citizens or live here legally – to clarify immigration policy and ensure that people enter the country safely and properly.

I remember an article a month or more ago talking about how border patrol along the border with Mexico apprehended 3000 illegal entrants in a single day.  That’s a lot, I thought at the time, yet there wasn’t much talk  about it.  After all, politicians of all stripes were working hard to prevent any substantive progress on border security, least of all a wall.  What a ridiculous idea!  Hahahahaha!

Now, all of a sudden, the media is beginning to talk about the reality.  The New York TimesFox News.  Even Al Jazeera.  That number from a month or so ago may not have been unusual.  Homeland Security is now claiming there is a crisis on our border with Mexico, with 76,000 illegal entries last month, and more likely on the way.  And that’s just the people they caught.  Which means that 90,000 entries per month (3000 per day x 30) is not necessarily an outlandish figure.  And for those who won’t take the time to crunch the numbers for themselves, that adds up to nearly a million possible illegal entries into our country every year.

Does that sound like a problem to you?  Because it sure does to me.  Not a new, problem, by the way.  Ask anyone living in the Southwestern United States and they’ll tell you that this has been an issue for a long, long time.  An issue politicians have repeatedly failed to address properly.

Does a wall sound that outlandish now?  It doesn’t to me.  It didn’t to me from the beginning – because growing up in Arizona I heard all the time about illegal border crossings.  It was a fact of life – a dangerous one both for Americans as well as those seeking to enter our country.  Some of the illegal entries were drug runners who would kill people (American citizens) who accidentally stumbled across their path on state or federal lands.  Some of the illegal entries came with coyotes, people who took money to get people across the border, but would sometimes abandon them in the middle of nowhere.  In the summer.  In the desert.  With no water or food.  People died.

Since other forms of prevention have not worked, it seems as though a wall would be a good idea for everyone.  For Americans, it ensures that we have dramatically less illegal entries into our country, whether from well-intentioned asylum seekers or drug runners.  It means we are safer, as having a handle on who is coming into your country is a pretty universally understood concept.  It also is safer for those who seek entry, who at this point are being told that they can claim asylum and have a better chance of staying in the country, even if they’re caught entering illegally.

I want people to come to our country.  I want our country to continue to be a place of hope and promise.  I want people who seek a better life or who are fleeing from danger to find a safe place here.  But I also understand that this is only possible if things are done in an orderly manner.  That to not address this problem is to continue to make these things unsafe for people on both sides of the border.

I understand the objection that walls are not foolproof.  Obviously.  But they are remarkably effective all the same.  More effective than border patrol agents alone.  More effective than fences and other half-hearted measures we have tried in the past.

I also understand that the issue isn’t just about controlling our borders and access to our country.  The issue should be about being good neighbors to those areas to the south of us that are dealing with human rights issues, with a lack of protection for their citizens.  We should be every bit as committed to protecting those people and helping them with a better life as we are for people on the other side of the world.

It’s a complicated issue.  It always has been and it always will be.  But obviously something needs to be done to change how it is being handled now dramatically and quickly.

Wag the Dog

January 23, 2019

I’ve yet to see this movie yet, despite thinking about it over the years.  I remember thinking at the time it came out that it was a brilliant concept, and a frighteningly realistic one.  Fast forward 20+ years and our technical know-how and digital wizardry is leagues ahead of 1997.

President Trump has taken a lot of flack for his skepticism, let’s say, about the press.  His insistence that the press is not unbiased and sometimes outright untrustworthy has raised the cry of many, not the least of which the press itself.  And yet we repeatedly find out that the press is a) not unbiased and b) often untrustworthy.  How related these two are falls into an area of personal opinion that I’d rather not get into but leave for you to come to grips with.  Not everyone with a press badge is unbiased or trustworthy.  The press badge does not confer these qualities upon them.  Nor does owning a media outlet, nor does being the editor-in-chief or any other title confer these qualities magically.

Add to this mix the ability for people holding a phone to put together footage that looks and sounds a certain way and then farm it out to the media for coverage, and you have a perfect storm.  There may not always  be a need to wholesale fabricate events (though I wouldn’t put it past most people/politicians), but there is a very real possibility that something presented in a certain way is not the whole story at the very least.

So we have the latest outrage over alleged mockery of native Americans by a group of teenagers on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Media – social and otherwise – was apoplectic over the jittery footage displaying a confrontation between an older Native American and a crowd of Anglo high schoolers, allegedly mocking him.  After the traditional screaming matches of the past few days, new footage and testimony apparently contradict the initial reports.  Rather than the teenagers surrounding the man and mocking him, he and his group approached their group, apparently intent on some sort of confrontation, possibly spurred on by the fact that some of the youth were wearing Make America Great Again hats.

These clarified reports of the event are bolstered further by reports that this same man – Nathan Phillips – attempted to disrupt Catholic mass this past Saturday evening at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception also in Washington DC.  What  was – and continues to be – interpreted as another tragic instance of white oppression against minorities, and more importantly as further evidence of the degradation of America under President Trump, may in fact be the exact opposite of this.

An unbiased press might have thought twice before rushing in to condemn the alleged perpetrators.  A more trustworthy press would have sought out possible alternative narratives before passing judgment and leading a firestorm of threats against the youth and their school and families.  That’s the sort of press we need, in a day and age where footage can not only be fabricated, but certainly can be recorded in such a way as to obscure what is actually happening, or to exclude details that might put interpretation into a better perspective.  When every person has a smart phone with a video camera in it, the assumption that any such footage must by definition be fully accurate in what it appears to portray is foolish at best, dishonest at worst.

But since I do believe that much of our press is both biased and untrustworthy, here is a basic tip for y’all at home about how to handle this stuff.

Don’t assume that just because you read it online or see it on a TV news report or read it in your newspaper that it’s true.  Certainly not immediately, and when it relates to alleged footage obtained from unidentified sources.  Journalists should be taking care of this sort of filtering for you but they aren’t.  So do it yourself.  Before you react violently on social media, give things a few days to settle out.  Recognize that media outlets are commercial ventures, not non-profit organizations.   They depend on advertising revenues linked to the number of viewers or subscribers they have.  In which case, the pressure to be the first to report a breaking news event is incredible.  Shortcuts are undoubtedly taken in terms of verifying sources, looking for alternative points of view, and other basic unbiased and trustworthy reporting actions.  Therefore the possibility that breaking news isn’t all that it seems is only going to increase.

And for goodness’ sake, before you start screaming derogatory comments about entire groups of people (which is what this story was all about in the first place, remember?), remember your basic human decency.  Even if it turns out that someone is caught doing something abhorrent on video, it does not mean that:

  • Everyone who wears the same clothing brands as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone who voted for the same candidates that person did supports their actions
  • Everyone of the same race or ethnicity as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone with the same accent supports their actions

Take a few deep breaths people.  We live in complicated times where things aren’t always what they seem.  Don’t be the dog wagged by the tail.

 

 

 

 

Naturalized

December 20, 2018

Today I had the opportunity to do  something I didn’t really know I wanted to do.  It’s not the sort of thing you think about very often.  I had the opportunity to witness the naturalization ceremony for 3,357 new US citizens.  It was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and there were easily three times that number of guests on hand as well.

While advance information on what to expect was scant, we arrived nearly two hours before the ceremony actually started – one hour ahead of when my friend was instructed to be there.  A small group of us made the unpleasant drive down, excited for her but unsure what to expect.

The ceremony began with instructions in English and Spanish, followed by a video montage of various immigrants.  Over 18 million people have become citizens over the last 100 years through immigration.  There weren’t pictures of all of them, thankfully, but it was a nice enough way to begin.

The ceremony itself consisted of a brief district court session provided over by a judge.  The US Government motioned for the judge to approve the citizenship of the 3,357 people present, as they had each successfully completed all but the final necessary step for  citizenship.  The final step, the judge then informed them, was to take the citizenship oath.  All of the applicants repeated, en masse, a brief oath administered by the judge.  The oath led them to renounce their allegiances to other countries or authorities, indicated their acceptance of and willingness to follow the laws of the United States, and called on them to defend their new homeland from enemies foreign or domestic if asked to do so.

The judge gave a few brief personal remarks then, encouraging them to continue their education in learning about America, and to be constructive and productive citizens.  Another government official offered words of welcome also, and introduced three specific applicants who, although not officially citizens, had already served in the American armed forces.  There was a brief video welcome  from President Trump, followed by another patriotic music and video montage.  There was much applause and more than a few tears amidst the many, many smiles.

Of course, being America, the lobby was filled with vendors, as was the patio outside the convention center.  Food vendors selling hot dogs and sausages, fruit wedges and churros.  Inside the vendors sold nice covers for the naturalization certificate, or patriotic teddy bears and small flags to wave.  One sign insisted New US Citizens Need Flowers.  I took pictures for several different family groups celebrating the exciting day.  Over 100 different countries were represented in those 3,357 applicants.  Mexico, the Philippines, China, El Salvadore and South Korea had the highest number of applicants in this particular session.

finally.jpg

It was a beautiful thing to witness.  To read the papers or watch the news or scan the Internet, you’d think our country was nothing but a terrible place full of terrible people, whether you define terrible in conservative or progressive terms.  Nothing but disparaging comments about how we are failing in this regard or that, how we are disintegrating from this ideology or that, how we are mere shadows of our glorious selves – and those selves weren’t that glorious to begin with.

But I was reminded today that while there is some truth in all of that, there is also the truth that does not get promoted nearly so much.  The truth that despite our faults and flaws, we remain a beacon to much of the rest of the world.  That we offer opportunities and possibilities that people in other places can only dream of.  And dream  they do.  It was a reminder that there is much worth appreciating and celebrating here.  And much worth fighting for.  But that the only way to do what needs to be done is by working together, rather than trying to force each other to do what we are so very positive is right.

These people are good reminders that it can be done.  It requires hard work and perseverance, but also listening and caring and a focus on the end result.  I hope these new citizens will help  in the process, and continue to liven this melting pot with their gifts and abilities, their perspectives and experiences.

Welcome to America.  Your new homeland.

 

St. John Wang Yi Zinzendorf the Baptist

December 17, 2018

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.  ~ Nicolaus Zinzendorf

This mantra has been stuck in my head for over a year now.  While there is some doubt as to whether the words were ever written or spoken by Zinzendorf in exactly this format, the spirit of them is definitely attributed to him.  In a world that seeks immortality through works and words and the acclaim of others, the Bible calls us to obedience to the God who created us, redeemed us, and alone can grant us immortality not simply in the memories of others but in flesh and blood and spirit.

Faithful obedience is not often glamorous.  Not often memorable.  Not often noteworthy.  It’s the decision to get up in the morning and do what needs to be done.  Laundry.  Cooking.  Earning a living.  Faithfulness to those around us.  Restraint.  Hardly laudable qualities in a modern culture that calls after fame and glory in 120 (or 280) character tweets or 4-second vines.

This past Sunday we considered Jesus’ words to John the Baptist – blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  John the Baptist is remembered 2000 years after his untimely death.  He remained faithful to the one who created him, the one who would redeem him.  Whether that faithfulness changed the world around him was not to be John’s concern, any more than whether or not he would ever be freed from prison.

Persecution is hardly new, and it isn’t something that I think we should seek out.  But if we attempt to be faithful, persecution is apt to find us in one way or another.  John the Baptist found this out.  Jesus knew this.  Pastor Wang Yi now lives with this reality.  While we don’t have any words known to be written personally by John the Baptist, I like to think that perhaps he might have said something similar to Pastor Wang Yi.

I pray that if I find myself in a similar situation my words will be very similar, seeking not to be remembered – so very, very, very, very few of us are, even for a short time! – but to be faithful.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2018

Below is the address President Woodrow R. Wilson delivered to the United States public on the first Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day), November 11, 1919:

ADDRESS TO FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN 
The White House, November 11, 1919. 

A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half.

With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. 

Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. 

To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations. 

WOODROW WILSON

(Thanks to Wikipedia)

Beautiful words which in hindsight were so very blind to the reality of sin interwoven into the deepest recesses of the hearts and minds of mankind.  I’m grateful for the resolve of men and women who do and have and will serve our country to keep us safe, striving as well to extend the blessings of peace and liberty to other people.  But I don’t trust those good intentions much farther than I can throw them and I trust the lasting results of those intentions even less.  I prefer the words of Psalm 146:

Psalm 146 English Standard Version (ESV)

Put Not Your Trust in Princes

146 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

(Thanks to Biblegateway.com)

Thank you to all who have, do, and will serve.  I’m sorry it’s necessary.  But it is, and will continue to be until the Lord reigns forever and in all places.

 

 

 

Saying What God Says

October 31, 2018

A respected person on Facebook recently posted a link to this video.  It might be helpful to view it or have it available as we go through this.  The video was published in June, but remains more or less applicable to the current tittering over the wave of migrants making their way to the US border from various points in Central America.  Though I assumed I wouldn’t agree with what the video has to say, I watched it all the same in case there was something to be learned.  Unfortunately, the only thing to be learned is how to make an inane video and drag  the Church into a challenging situation while condemning anyone who disagrees with your vacuous statements.

Let me say that I am sympathetic to the plight of those in need, regardless of where they live.  I can easily empathize with those who are willing to risk everything for the chance at a better life rather than remain at risk of certain death or abject poverty.  What I can’t empathize with are those here in our country who think the solution to such situations is to ignore common sense and reasonable laws aimed not only at helping these people, but helping and protecting our own citizens as well.  Nor can I easily empathize with Christians who insist that either you support their position on this issue or you’re essentially denying Christ.

Let’s break this down.

The video starts by attempting  to answer a question – Why do people hate migrants and refugees?  There’s a clear hint that this isn’t going to be a nuanced, intelligent discussion of either politics or the faith.  The implication right out of the chute is that if you disagree with this man’s particular (and unsubstantiated) religious and Biblical opinions (which may or may not be right, but I can’t tell because he doesn’t bother to substantiate them) you are a hater of migrants and refugees.

I am not.  I don’t know these people personally.  I’m also well aware of our nation’s history as a country of migrants and refugees.  I take pride in that as an American and a Christian.  I believe there are valuable precedents that should be maintained in welcoming your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, to quote Emma Lazarus.  We have always done this to one degree or another and we always should.  But in general, we have had laws and rules and regulations for how this should be done.  Not because we hate these people, but because it is part of the responsibility of our nation to our own citizens, and part of the reason we can continue to be a lamp to so  many people throughout the world.

Side question: How many countries do you know that have no rules, laws, processes, or procedures regarding who can come into their country, how they can enter, and the rules that they need to abide by while they’re there?  If you know of one, and that country is serving as the model for ignoring or decrying any sort of immigration law here in the US, I’d really, genuinely love to hear about it because I can’t think of one.

If  I want to go to another country, not only must I follow proper procedures to leave mine, I have to respect the laws and rules of the country I want to enter.  Our family entered and exited seven countries last year.  I fully expected I would be required to follow rules governing my entry and exit and I abided by them.  My desire to visit their country did not entitle me to demand they suspend their rules for doing so.

Ok.  Back to the video.

His first point is to criticize conservative Christians who point out that migrants and refugees are breaking the law.  No.  Migrants and refugees are not breaking the law by wanting to enter our country or enter it by legal means.  Illegal migrants and refugees, however, are breaking the law.  Period.  Otherwise, we would not have a distinction between legal and illegal.

Rev. Martin then makes the emphatic statement that seeking asylum is a human right.  Now, we need to distinguish here.  This man is wearing a collar, has already referenced conservative Christians (which he apparently does not include himself among nor provide definitions for beyond disagreeing about the issue of legal migration and refugee processing), and therefore it  is not unreasonable to assume that he’s asserting that seeking asylum is a human right as defined by God through the Bible.  I’d like to know the verses that he would reference to support his assertion.

Because if it’s  not a Biblically defined human right, then it’s a man-made human right.  And as Rev. Martin is going to move on to next, not all human-defined laws are right.  If seeking asylum is a man-made human right, then there is a place to question how that right is substantiated.  Now, I have no problem with a man-made human right to seek asylum.  But such a human right merely entitles someone to attempt to seek asylum.  It does not insist that they must be automatically received on those grounds.  Also, does asylum apply to those fleeing persecution or  danger, or those leaving their homes and seeking to move elsewhere on any number of other grounds?  We have major terms being hurled around here without definition and I don’t think  they’re being used properly.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted by the United Nations in 1948, asserts that Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.  I don’t have a problem with that definition.  But let’s be clear that barring some Biblical reference (which I can’t think of off hand and Rev. Martin never provides), this human right is a man-made one.  The Bible certainly refers to people from other places and how God’s people the Old Testament Israel should treat them (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 23:22, Leviticus 24:22, Numbers 15:15, Deuteronomy 10:19, etc.).  There are broader requirements to love my neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  But again, definitions are not being pinned down anywhere in this video.  Note also that these verses don’t address how a sojourner enters into their land or community.  It only addresses how that sojourner should be treated once they are there.  I assume this means the sojourner has already been allowed to enter and sojourn with God’s people in God’s land, and in such a case certain rules apply.  I don’t assume this means anyone for any reason could impose upon God’s people and land.

Disclosure: I don’t believe the majority of Old Testament rules apply to the US today, or to any other country or time other than Israel in the Old Testament, which was a theocratic example and experiment, unique in all of human history.  But since people like to try and draw on the Old Testament as binding for Christians, I’m happy to critique such arguments.

He then moves on to claim that those who disagree with his position will try to use the Bible to support their view but that they’re  doing so incorrectly.  First off, he accuses them of being inconsistent – wanting to refer to the Bible to support their stances against abortion and same sex marriage, but apparently while ignoring the Bibles’ clear statements about welcoming migrants and refugees.

The Biblical argument against abortion, briefly stated, is that murder is forbidden (Genesis 4:10-11 , Genesis 9:5-6, Exodus 20:13, etc.), and that the unborn child is every bit as human as an adult (Psalm 22:10, Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5, Job 31:15, etc.).  The Bibles’ stance on abortion seems clear if the unborn child is just that – a human being.  Science comes in pretty handy here to demonstrate that this is clearly the case.

In regards to same-sex marriage and/or homosexual behavior, the Biblical argument rests on some very clear verses:   Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-28, Jude 1:5-8, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, etc.

If Rev. Martin – or someone else – will show me a Biblical verse that does not deal with how we treat people among us, but rather directs us in how to determine who should live among us, that would be helpful in making his case.  Lacking this, I can only come to the conclusion that Christians who argue against abortion and against homosexuality and gay-marriage and also argue against illegal immigration are not being inconsistent.

Next Rev. Martin asserts that Christians are misusing Scripture to support their positions against illegal immigration and for enforcement of  the laws already on the books regarding how to handle people seeking entry to our country.  He uses a rather embarrassing clip of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as she attempts to vaguely use the Bible as a defense for following the law of the land.  What Sanders might have been thinking of were verses in Scripture such as Romans 13, or Hebrews 13, both of which seek to make it clear that our freedom in Christ does not entail freedom from the civil rule of law, assuming said law does not force us to violate our faith in Jesus the Christ.

Then Rev. Martin makes the very strong assertion that God’s Law demands that we welcome migrants and refugees.  Depending on what he means here, I agree with him.  Although since he doesn’t explain what this means, or provide any Scriptural references to support his claim, I can’t be sure we agree.

I agree that we should love and care for people we encounter in our day-to-day lives regardless of whether we think they are here legally or illegally.   I even agree that our government should seek to provide protection for those who are fleeing persecution or even poverty.  But what does this mean?  Does this mean that we let in everyone who shows up at the border?  Do we ignore the entire concept of borders?  What if we let people in but require them to live in humane, temporary shelters while we process their requests and make sure they are who they say they are and that their reasons for seeking entry are legitimate and consistent?  That would seem to be a form of welcoming people, wouldn’t it?  An attempt to show love and care to the outsider without presuming that such love and care must require us to either make them citizens immediately or release them into the general  population without any idea who they are or what their real purposes might be here?

I agree with his next point, that migrants and refugees have become demonized and dehumanized.  That is unfortunate.  But I would also assert that humanitarian assumptions have been extended by other Christians to entire groups of people without any actual thought being given to it.  If I wish to enter another country in order to facilitate illegal activity, I probably won’t say this at the border.  I’ll come up with another reason to enter.  That country then has to determine whether or not my rationale is reasonable to accept.  We do this shorthand through passports and visas.  Passports and visas are national  endorsements of sorts, saying that we are likely to be good visitors to other countries because we are good citizens at home.

I don’t hear any talk about passports or visas in most discussions about migrants and refugees.  I don’t hear much talk about vetting their backgrounds.  Is this unreasonable?  Is this unloving?  Is this the same as demonizing and dehumanizing them?  I guess it depends on who you ask.  If you ask me, it isn’t.  It’s  reasonable.  And it’s necessary in a sinful world where people lie and misrepresent things.  Our investigations will be imperfect – again because we are sinful and broken and very, very finite.  This means some bad people will still come in under false pretenses.  And it also means that some good people who were entirely honest and genuinely in need will be refused entry.  That is lamentable, and we should strive to minimize it as much as possible.  But it will happen unless we simply cease to acknowledge that we have borders with other countries and allow anyone who wants to to come and go as they please.

Then we have the obligatory references to Hitler, the Rwandan massacres, and Japanese-American policies in World War II.  I don’t think President Trump’s use of the word vermin was either Christian or appropriate.  That being said, simple  reviews of arrest records will easily reveal that there are genuinely bad people who enter our country both legally and illegally.  Unfortunate, but true.  And I ask my government, to the best of its ability, to keep out the bad people and let in the good people.

I very much like his suggestion of getting to know the people and stories behind their situation.  I think that those who are obsessively afraid of any outsiders should do this.  And so should people who would blindly attribute only the purest of motivations to everyone and anyone.  But this isn’t just helpful for the issue of immigration.  Perhaps it would stimulate interest among our people to take an interest in the plight of the people and where they come from.  What are the situations of the countries they are fleeing?  Why is there such endemic poverty?  Why is violence rampant?  And do we as a nation have a humanitarian obligation to be of help to these people just as much as we seek to be of help and a defender of the helpless on the other side of the globe, where oftentimes the regions involved are rich in natural resources we are interested in?

Yes, we should remember that these are human beings and seek to treat them as such.  To treat them, in fact like the people we currently live next to and among, people that we assume are following the laws of our states and nation and communities.  I might very well seek to flee my homeland and bring my family to safety.  And I would pray that if that were the case, the country I fled to and its representatives would be sympathetic.  That they would listen to my story and provide an opportunity for a new life.  But I would fully expect that this would be on terms they determined, not me.  I could be free to reject those terms if I didn’t like them, and to seek better terms elsewhere.  But I couldn’t possibly presume that I would be made exempt from their laws.  I presume that in large part, it is those very laws that created a more stable environment, which is what I would be trying to find for myself and my family.

As for his final question, it’s one worth considering.  But it’s a question separate from national policy.  The parable of the Good Samaritan seems instructive here.  But it’s a story aimed at me, personally.  Not at public policy or national security.  If I have a say in those things, then by all means I should take seriously that privilege.  But for me personally, I pray that I will show the love of Christ to everyone that crosses my path every day, whether that’s my wife, my children, or a stranger asking for help.  I will pray to respond in love, rather than with a question about their legal status in my country.

But that question really wasn’t what prompted the video.  I truly hope someone will point out the verses to me that clearly indicate how I as a Christian am supposed to support and articulate public policy as opposed to verses that do clearly dictate how I personally am to respond to these people when they actually cross my path.  That would be a discussion I’d love to have.  I haven’t memorized the entire Bible, and perhaps there are folks, like Rev. Martin, who have passages  in mind I’ve forgotten about or am less familiar with.

If that’s the  case it would be a lot more helpful to cite those passages rather than accusing people  of hating a class of people and then demanding our public policy be crafted on Biblical verses and principles which aren’t bothered to be cited.

 

 

Interpreting the News

October 25, 2018

Perhaps you’ve heard about the group of migrants headed towards the United States from Central America?  No?  Can you tell me how you are able to remain undisturbed by these sorts of tidbits?  I’m willing to invest in whatever technology you’re using!

So the local paper carried a Reuters article about the progress of the migrant caravan so far, and I’ve spent the last 20 minutes trying to interpret it.  It’s easy to just gloss over the specifics, but I decided to actually try and make sense of what the article claimed to tell me.

It tells me that first of all, the caravan numbers  in the thousandsMost of them are from Honduras.  This is the second paragraph of the article.  But in the 4th paragraph, I’m told that the caravan started with hundreds of people in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.  Google maps showed me that location in northwestern Honduras, close to the border with Guatemala.  Now, after passing through all of Guatemala, the caravan numbers thousands of people and yet most of them are Honduran?  I’m not sure how that makes sense, but I suppose it could actually be true.

Mexican officials, I’m told, are trying to navigate between our country’s demands that they stop the migrants, and their commitment to migrants’ rights.  First off, I think our leadership needs to cool their jets.  It’s not our job to tell Mexico (or Guatemala, or Honduras) how to enforce their borders.  Clearly, as this article demonstrates, that control is illusory at best.  If Mexico wants to let thousands of unknown people wander through their country, so be it.  They claim to be carefully processing everyone and I hope that they are – that’s the responsible thing to do.  President Trump or anyone else shouldn’t be telling them what or how to do things.

Of course, the understanding is that the only reason this is being paid attention to is that it fuels the fires for conflicts here at home over immigration.  I was  very impressed that this article characterized the two sides of our domestic debate more fairly than I typically see or hear.  One side supports legal immigration and the enforcement of federal immigration law.  The other side has some people who support abolishing ICE and [establishing] open borders.  I think that’s a reasonable  description of the sides.

Publicity of this caravan only is helpful to the latter side.  By highlighting the humanitarian crisis of these people, pressure will be put to bear on anyone who denies them entry into their country – ours or otherwise.  Those who support immigration control can use this as an example of why we need to protect our borders, but frankly, that’s an obvious assertion anyways.  I don’t know of many countries in the world – all right, any – who don’t control their borders.  I don’t know of any countries who don’t have policies about how to handle people who want to come into their country.

Except maybe Mexico and Guatemala, who seem to have some policies but are fine with disregarding them.  I’m not sure I’d agree to welcome with open arms a mob that tears down fences and demands entry on the basis of wanting a better life.  The want is valid.  The means, not so much.

Our country has policies as well, but there are people who apparently don’t like them and think we should ignore them.  I maintain that if we don’t like our immigration policies, we need to rewrite the laws rather than simply decide if we want to enforce them or not.  Doing so is actually a benefit to potential immigrants – it allows them to know what to expect if and when they reach our borders.  It’s far more humanitarian to actually establish and follow laws and procedures and policies, rather than leave it up to the whims of an official or bureaucrat as to whether they are enforced or not.

All of which misses the main point.  If San Pedro Sula – and by extension all of Honduras – is riddled with crime, why aren’t we pressuring or helping the Hondurans to establish some sort of rule of law?  Why is there absolutely no talk of why people are fleeing Honduras, only what we should do with them if or when they reach our borders?  Isn’t  the main humanitarian crisis in Honduras then, not making it’s way through Mexico?  And if these people come from such a corrupt, crime-infested country, and if they’re willing to disregard international rules of law regarding how to enter a country, then why in the world wouldn’t we carefully screen and scrutinize them before allowing them into our country?

I’m all for being merciful and responding to the plight of others, but unfortunately this article doesn’t do any of that, and neither are either of our political parties.  Similar to the refugee and immigrant crisis Europe has faced over the last few years prompted by the civil war in Syria, the major issue shouldn’t be how to put these people into new countries and cultures, but rather how to make sure that these people don’t have to leave home in the first place.  Humanitarian efforts, or democratic efforts shouldn’t be a political football here at home.

But I digress.

The second issue is (continued from my paragraph four) the issue of migrant rights.  What rights, precisely, does someone have who comes to the border of a country and asks to be let in?  I think most people would agree that the only practical rights are the rights that the country gives them.  If I show up on the border of Canada and want to come in and live there, I should expect that they should ask me some questions.  I should expect that this may take some time.  I may not get in right away.  I may have to stay on this side of their border until they know whether or not they want to let me in.  If I’m requesting humanitarian aid, then likely the wait is better than whatever I’m facing on this side of the border.  Hopefully they’ll offer me some food or something.  Perhaps they’ll have an internment area where I can stay if my safety or health is in danger.  Politically speaking, that would be very kind and generous of them.  I’m not sure it’s a  right of mine as an immigrant that they would be ethically bound to honor, or honor beyond a certain point.

I can say as a Christian that I might be tasked with providing a  migrant with assistance.  Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbor makes pesky business of these issues of geo-political boundaries.  I can’t not love the person standing in front of me because of their immigration status.  If they’re in front of me and I can help, I probably should.

However that does NOT mean I must support open borders or no immigration enforcement.  There is nothing in the Bible that I can see as a clear mandate to ignore the rule of law and ignore national laws and borders.  I can see lots of places in Scripture that call me to respect and honor them as much as I can while maintaining my faith and worship of God.  And it doesn’t mean that if someone is here illegally and suffering that I’m under no obligation to show love to them.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it works just the other way.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to support legislation that provides a legal support framework carte blanche for people who come to this country.  We live in a broken and sinful world and therefore need to be wise in how we do things.  That includes immigration.  Wise, but compassionate.  Firm, but loving.  Those can be hard things to manage.  Just another of those tensions we are called to live in, Biblically.

If a stranger shows up pounding at my door at 3 am and demanding help, what do I do?  First off, it’s not unreasonable to try and ensure the safety of myself and my family before I open the door.  I may choose to yell back and forth through the door with this person until I have a better idea of who they are and if they pose a threat to me.  Let’s say I open the door to talk and find out what’s going on.  What rights does this person have?  What can they demand of me?  Can they demand that I let them sleep on my couch just because it’s raining and they don’t have a place to stay?  Perhaps.  But that’s a contextual decision, not a policy.  We’ve actually opened our home to someone we only just met so they had a place to stay for the night.  It was an unusual situation in which we were pretty sure we were not going to be robbed or killed or otherwise harmed.  But it would be lunacy and irresponsibility to say that we had to make that offer to anyone who demanded it of us.

I may not let the person in my house to dry off or sleep on the couch.  Sorry, but I have responsibilities to my family to consider first.  That doesn’t mean I’m unloving.  Nor does it mean I can just slam the door on them and feel justified.  As a Christian I should still desire to be of help if I can.  Maybe it’s giving them an umbrella or a jacket.  Maybe it’s offering to pay for a hotel room.  Maybe it’s directing them to the local warming center.  Maybe it’s taking them there.  Situations vary.  Responses vary.  I’ll undoubtedly end up making a few mistakes here and there.  I desire to do good but I’m not perfect or omniscient.  Knowing that, I try to err on the side of caution without losing love for this person as a creation of God’s.

Is that not a reasonable analogy?  Explain to me how it isn’t, other than a matter of scale and degrees of separation in terms of me personally having to deal with the situation.

On the national level it gets trickier, but I think the same principles hold true.  We need to deal with people in love as much as we can, but that doesn’t mean that they get to dictate what that love is and how it looks and feels.  It’s complicated, but it’s not rocket science necessarily.  Think about how you would handle the situation in the middle of the night at your own home, and then extend those principles to the national level.  Quit screaming at each other and figure out something that works.  Act like adults instead of petulant children.  Lives are at stake here – we owe it to those truly in need to figure out how best to help them.

Then we can try to help people so that they can stay in their homes safely rather than trekking thousands of miles to a new place and being subjected to all of the dangers and inconveniences that entails.

 

 

 

More Doomsday

October 17, 2018

If death from nuclear war or a massive decline in bug population wasn’t enough to make you jittery, perhaps this little article will.  One in ten people is more than 90 days in default on their student loans.  Student loan debt has grown by 157% in just over a decade.   What does that mean?  Over $1.5 trillion dollars in existing student loan debt.  Interest rates on student loans have topped 5% for undergraduate loans and are nearly 7% for advanced degrees.

Yet one cited expert in the article posits the student loan debt rise isn’t nearly a crisis on the scale of the housing collapse a decade ago.  He claims the difference is that student loan debt isn’t systemic.  I’m not sure what he means by that, considering earlier in the article another expert described the situation as systemic.  Elsewhere the article reported a further increase in the number of people living at home with their parents still by age 35.  Generations of people are unable to do the things their parents did by their late 20’s and 30’s because they’re saddled with massive student loan debt and, surprise surprise, aren’t able to find jobs that enable them to continue paying it off.

Meanwhile, tuition rates are basically at all-time highs and continue  to climb.  Why not?  If people are being groomed to see college education as an absolute necessity for future financial security, of course people are going to keep taking out loans to pursue that education.

Those most likely to default on their loans?  People who attended for-profit schools, minorities, and those who started on their education but didn’t finish.  Also, as a whole it’s the smaller loans that are defaulted on, rather than the big, six-figure loans.  Those who spend a lot of money to get advanced schooling for careers in law and medicine tend to be better able to repay their loans.

Meanwhile, the government just keeps handing out loans.  After all, it’s not  the government’s money.  It’s yours.  And mine.

I don’t know how any financially sensible person could see this situation as anything but a massive bubble waiting to burst, and burst it eventually will.  At which point I’m sure the effects will be very systemic.  And pervasive.  Destruction by nukes, bugs, or financial meltdown.  At least we have options to place our bets on.