Why Don’t He Just Shut Up?!?

19365_717013806513_9223634_39963040_868241_nI believe
That if you’re bristling
While you hear this song
I could be wrong
Or have I hit a nerve?

– Tears for Fears

I know, I know…

I’ve been making a right nuisance of myself over the past few days. I’ve been harsh; I’ve been critical; I’ve been–dare I say it–a bit judgmental. Perhaps I’ve stepped on toes; perhaps I’ve gotten on a few last nerves.

Good.
That’s the idea.

On the other hand, perhaps I’ve come off as a tad superior, mayhap even condescending. That’s not good; also not my intention. Here’s the thing: I’m disappointed, more so than I remember being in anything in a long, long time. And when I’m this far down the rabbit hole, I get angry. And when I get angry, I get a little sharp.

I’m disappointed in my former faith: I see the likes of Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, spewing hatred disguised as theology from the pulpit of a major Southern Baptist church, televised, watched, listened to, thoughtlessly adored by who knows how many so-called Christians.

I’m disappointed in those who can’t understand the fact that Jeffress and his ilk, while louder than most and therefore more visible, do not represent the soul of Christianity, any more than the Paris terrorists represent the whole of Islam.

I’m disappointed in my country. Some of you may know I grew up in Argentina, and I have seen us through the eyes of others. Consequently, the grand rhetoric has always sounded somewhat hollow in my ears. But the events of this last week have fairly yanked whatever patriotic myopia I might have had left right out of my head.

I have seen comments by self-assured ‘Muricans, praising the magnanimity and generosity of spirit “for which we are known around the world.”

Here’s an example:

I wonder if situations were reversed and it was “the greatest nation on earth” who required help for millions of our people, I would be most curious to see the rush of compassion and outpouring of help, that we are known for. It’s classic though. You can rise to the occasion every time, but the ONE time you may have to withhold or proceed with caution, you are resented and all past acts of kindness are totally forgotten. Typical.

That would be such a good point, if it weren’t complete crap. There is a list of UN treaties and resolutions that we have “signed but not ratified” that is longer than the list of excuses we’ve come up with for ignoring the Syrian refugees. This includes, among others, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which we helped to draft) and the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (which we signed knowing that, due to previously adopted domestic legislation, we lacked the ability to ratify). In other words, we want to police international law without committing to abide by it ourselves. We hold the purse strings to the IMF and World Bank, and have, time and again, forced other countries into near-bankruptcy through coercive, lop-sided loan agreements. Our domestic subsidies throw international markets out of balance, leaving farmers and small manufacturers without affordable sales partners. We force our multinational corporations on other nations, while refusing those nations access to our own markets. These things are not hearsay. They are well-documented facts…if we’re willing to listen. And they are not exceptions; they’re just another day at the office.

This time, though, in my opinion we have sunk to a new low. I’m not sure how much lower we can go, at this point. We have turned tail and run for this hills because of something that didn’t even happen in our country. We have abdicated whatever moral high ground we still occupied, and left thousands of our fellow human beings (human beings; not rabid dogs, or bad apples, or fans of falafel; not even potential terrorists) cold and alone and afraid, with nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.

A word of reminder: an isolationist stance did little to keep us out of World War II, and may have even contributed to the attack on Pearl Harbor. So, isolationism is no protection. Why not go down swinging? That’s the rhetoric, right? John Wayne, the OK Corral, High freakin’ Noon? Are our historical/fictional characters really the only brave souls among us?

At long last, I’m disappointed in myself. For writing this damn post while Rome is burning. For assuming that by taking time out of my day to do this, that I’m actually making a difference. For not getting off my ass and finding ways to actually address this situation with actions rather than words. For being one of the shrinking violets I’ve been criticizing so loudly for the last few days.

We–I–need less social media, and more social action.

But above all, we need to be the people we pretend to be when we’re trying to distract the world (and ourselves) from who we really are.

If we want to be the greatest nation on earth, we need to act like the greatest nation on earth.

Spread the word:
Open the doors!

Open the Doors

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Everyone must understand: you can’t ask for solidarity when there’s a problem and then exempt yourself from doing your duty when there is a solution.

– Francois Hollande

Where do we stand, O Greatest Nation in the World?

In one week (minus change), our citizens will be crowded up against closed doors, gazing wistfully upon what lies beyond, fully prepared to beat the living shit out of one another for the chance to be free…to buy a 60-inch TV at a low, low price. And we (meaning our stuffed-shirt, pansy-ass politicians) will defend that freedom to the bitter end. We will go so far as to redefine “Friday,” which now apparently begins at 6:00 PM on Thursday. Because America stands for nothing if not greed (sorry, “free enterprise”).

Black Friday is always the brunt of hypocritical and futile rants. Not unlike Valentine’s Day at my Southern Baptist alma mater. But, like the angry students at my school, who stopped protesting as soon as they got dates, Black Friday editorializing tends to last about as long as it takes Wal-Mart or Target to open their doors, at which point the editorialists let slip the dogs of war and plunge once more into the breach.

This year ought to be different. This Black Friday has potential, in that it might stand out as more than usually black. While we press our noses against sliding glass doors, begging for a bargain, numberless refugees press their whole lives against our national borders, begging for our help. And unlike the doors at Best Buy, our hearts show little sign of opening. As we ransack the shelves at whichever den of capitalism we frequent, little thought will likely be given to those whose entire worlds have been ransacked around them.

Where do we stand, O Greatest Nation in the World? What price our souls? Have we, at long last, no sense of decency?

Spread the word:
Open the doors!

Being Here

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If there is a light you can’t always see
And there is a world we can’t always be
If there is a dark within and without
And there is a light, don’t let it go out

– U2

In 1985, two displaced Romanian families came to Marshfield, Missouri, having defected from the Soviet bloc. At the time, my dad (the guy in the back row with the stripey tie) was minister of music and youth at First Baptist Marshfield. All the teenagers you see crammed into the picture were members of his youth group. Scattered throughout are the Borza family–mother Maria in the back center, son Audie in the second row, and daughter Diana beside me and my Smurf.

That Christmas (which is when this photo was taken), First Baptist decided to pull together gifts and supplies for the newly arrived families, to help them feel more connected to our community. And I had an idea: I raided my toy box. There was this Transformers car (or Go-Bots–I don’t remember which), a little blue convertible number, that I absolutely loved, and I seized on that as the perfect gift. I don’t remember if Mom wrapped it or not; I just remember the feeling of happiness that came with handing it over to my new friend. Strong enough that today, almost thirty years after the fact, it’s still clear as a bell in my mind.

The world is full of so many lonely souls. That moment of connection with the Borza boy was an eight-year-old’s first inkling of the truth of that statement. At the time, I didn’t know from communism or dictatorship or political repression. It would be years before I could formulate a decent definition of the Soviet Union, and by the time I could it didn’t even exist anymore. But here was this kid, not so different from me, a kid who enjoyed Christmas presents and little toy cars every bit as much as I did. A kid who, given other circumstances, might have been me, and I him. And for the briefest of spaces, our lives intertwined, became one. And I learned, albeit unconsciously. As I told my friend upon relating the story, I couldn’t even remember the family’s name, not until I read it off the back of the photo. Couldn’t remember the year. Just the faces. And the feeling. Of connection. Of camaraderie. Of compassion.

Perhaps this explains the fervor with which I approach the ongoing confrontation between fear and human decency that is the Syrian refugee crisis. I have been there and done that. And I would gladly do it again. In a heartbeat. My friendship with the Borza kids (there was even some teasing about a young crush I might or might not have had on Diana) is a foundational memory, one of the basic building blocks of who I am today.

Lest I be misunderstood, this is not about religion or spirituality. The part played in this story by my dad’s church is purely incidental, the conduit whereby I was connected with the Other, who turned out to be not quite as Other as we sometimes expect. Really, this is about recognition: staring into the face of a stranger only to discover it’s your own face in disguise. A refugee by any other name…is Me.

The events of the last few days have yanked this memory back into the forefront of my brain. I’m glad for that: it keeps my humanity alive, in the face of overwhelming odds. It reminds me of the blood that runs, and the hearts that beat alike, in their chests and mine. We are brothers, sisters, prójimos. We are One.

I understand the fear; I understand the hatred, the instinct that begs for the immediate release of violent and fiery retaliation. These voices whisper to me as much as to anyone else. Which is why this is so important: freedom is meaningless until we willingly set it aside for the sake of others. Courage is just a word until we face a threat, and act anyway.

The Borzas call to me from the past, and the Syrians call to me in the present. What is my answer? I am here.

I can’t just urge my governor to reverse his stance on this issue unless I’m willing to step up and reach out. I am here.

These people need friends, shelter, guidance, hands extended in welcome. I am here.

Governor Abbott: Need a sponsor?

I am Here.

Sealed with a Kick

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“I — and millions of Americans — implore you to halt your plans to accept more Syrian refugees in the United States. A Syrian ‘refugee’ appears to have been part of the Paris terror attack. American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger. The reasons for such concerns are plentiful.”

– Gov. Greg Abbott

Welcome to another day in the Uninspired States of America. These colors may not run, but they sure do a bang-up job of hiding.

27 of 50 states (including–God help me–my “home” state of Texas) have informed the “people” that they will not accept any new Syrian refugees within their borders. Why? Because “at least one” of the men involved in the Paris attacks of Nov. 13 might have entered the country posing as a refugee.

So screw ’em all!

CNN has, in its infinite lack of introspection, summed up the effect of the Paris attacks on the refugee crisis as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Meaning, of course, that the nations of the world are now in the unenviable position of either risking accidentally granting entry to terrorists, or coming off as uncaring by closing the borders to all.

Because that’s the unenviable position that matters here. Not the rock and hard place between which the refugees themselves are caught: the choice to either give up their homes or be either casualties of war or outright murder victims.

Do we honestly think that the people who pulled off the Paris attacks didn’t factor the plight of the refugees into their plans? Has it never occurred to anyone that this might be exactly the reaction toward the refugees that the terrorists were after? Can’t kill ’em at home, so we’ll at least keep ’em from finding a haven anywhere else? If writers on NCIS can come up with plot lines like that, surely ISIS can, too.

Mind you, I’m not saying that’s what happened here. I am saying that, if we let this be our reaction to the huddled masses we’re supposed to be looking out for, as beacons of freedom and democracy in the world, then it doesn’t matter whether that’s how it went down or not. We. Already. Lost. Every time we react out of fear, or turn on each other as human beings, terror wins. And the truth comes out:

American “humanitarian compassion” is, for all intents and purposes, theoretical. I once read that most folks with literary ambitions, while they would love to have written a book, don’t really want to take the time to actually write the thing. Similarly, while Americans like the idea of compassion, for the most part we don’t seem interested in the hard work of actually being compassionate. We will “raise awareness” until the cows come home, as long as no one asks us to put that awareness to any practical use.

Here’s a list of the states who have so blatantly exposed the denuded state of our country’s moral philosophy–which boils down to “do as we say, not as we do…’cause we’ll do whatever the hell we want, and bomb you into oblivion if you don’t agree”:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

If you, as I am, are a citizen of one of these great states who disagrees with the consensus (assuming it really is a consensus, and not just politicking), then speak up and make yourself heard.

As for myself, speaking as an American who is just a bit ashamed, today, of being one, and who will be damned if he lets himself be included in the faceless “millions” whose opinions Gov. Abbott has so confidently co-opted, I implore my government–local, state, and federal–and my fellow citizens NOT to halt plans to accept Syrian refugees, but to recognize the fact that those refugees are running from the same people we’re trying to defeat. To damn the lot because “at least one” of them “might” be a threat? So much for the home of the brave…

My fellow Americans:
Moral authority is as moral authority does.

 

Refugee

SYRIA-CONFLICT

(Photo from BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Rationalize me; patronize me;
pat me on the head–here’s a cookie go to bed–
proffer a tent from someone’s garage. I
am not a mirage: this tide never ebbs,
infinite spider, intricate web.

Security councils peddling dreams
become nightmares, garnering blank stares,
raising the hairs on the back of God’s neck.
I am the dreck, the flotsam and jetsam of
a race overrun.

Are you quite done?
Have you even begun?

Stateless, displaced, limbic, replaced–
not a trace of a life vetoed by men
and women of peace after a piece of mine.
Peel the onion; perhaps you will find that
your peace of mind is sight that’s gone blind
to itself. United you stand, dividing us all
into those who may live and those who must crawl:

I am the tired; I am the poor; I
am the huddled mass cast up on your shore.
Before dimming the light and bolting the door,
take just one more moment–an arduous chore–
to look in my face and witness a war
that rages time without end:
the war between neighbors, family, and friends

this globe is never
quite what it pretends