Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arizona Hotspot

Wow! Drama in the Desert! Shoot-out at the OK Corral! Arizona moves to disrupt illegal immigration, and the Federal Government steps in to block it. Sounds like a lot of high-level politics, but the issues are really much more complex…as they always are. The target in blocking immigration is to control the movement of illegal substances and human trafficking—both issues the state has a stake in. But the way they did it steps on the toes of the Federal government, who retains the right to regularize immigration policy across all our border states. And then there is the complicated situation of illegal immigrants who come over to the US to do honest work for an honest day's wage, because such is not available in Mexico. They are not trafficking in drugs or people, yet they get caught up in the net as well, because the law doesn't distinguish. Obama has concluded, along with his predecessor, that an overhaul of immigration law is in order, and that it can hardly be done piecemeal. Arizona apparently can't wait for the Feds to get their act together.

One can argue that breaking the law is breaking the law. But how about when the law breaks good people? How about when the law is broken in the first place? I think this is precisely the point. How much richer has the US society and economy been over the mere 400 years that Europeans have been in this neck of the woods because we have welcomed immigrants? How much of the economy of the border states with Mexico hinges on precisely the labor of undocumented workers? (Much more than you think.) Or are we deciding that the Lady Liberty's famous invitation to the poor, the homeless and the destitute no longer applies?

Nobody invited the Europeans to this continent, and when we met resistance to our arrival we generally responded with force. It was a unilateral move met with a mixture of welcome and dismay by the locals, whose ancestors moved into a continent uninhabited by humans at least 10,000 years ago, perhaps longer. When this all comes down in the end, I would hope that we can remember our own past and the mercy that was shown us (willingly or unwillingly,) and legislate some compassion, and not be so tight-assed about building fences to keep good people out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sperm Donors Beware!

Well, there is a difference between being a dad and being a father after all! Anyone can become a father in 20 seconds. It takes a lifetime to be a dad. On Good Morning America they ran a story about a young man, son of a sperm donor and his mother, who is joining the ranks of some 30,000 others who are searching for their biological sperm-donor fathers. Poor record keeping in the sperm banks and occasional slanting of the truth has produced some rather surprising and unexpected results. One man is recorded as having around 125 children, 70 of those children are under the age of 7. Can you imagine when all of those become teenagers and the girls start wanting him to tell them their prom dress is pretty? Then you get the specter of unexpected incest should some of these children fall in love and want to marry….

By and large these kids' mothers have married and they have a "dad" who is not related to them biologically. But the curiosity about their biology, the other half of their DNA, spurs them to discover some truth about themselves. That could be important information for medical reasons. Fatherhood is more, it seems, than merely 20 seconds after all. DNA lasts a lifetime as well, with or without the emotional part.

Perhaps we should rethink this sperm-donor thing. Guys, should we really sell what the Bible calls our "seed" so glibly? The law aside, just think of all those kids out there who are part you…and you don't even know it!

Friday, July 23, 2010


I'm swallowed by the silver bird,
And hatched into a silver land,
Of golden hills and humble men
Who never touch the slight of hand.

Hand to hand, ear to ear,
Between us grows a brand new heart,
And soon it is that all I hear's
The crash of distance come apart.

Another me arises then
To face the silver bird again.
I see my face and know my eyes,
But other blood's beneath my skin.

An alien in my mother's land,
The world's heart within my breast,
Will either share the silver here,
Or break in giving it my best.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Honduras, here we come!

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 14) a bunch of us will gather at a local eatery to enjoy some fellowship and an American meal before heading off to Honduras for a week. There we will stay at an agricultural College that serves very nutritious meals that is totally safe for soft American stomachs to eat. But they won't be American meals. They will feature corn tortillas, black refried beans, rice, fried bananas, and baby cheese, all made at the college on their experimental farm. One breakfast will be pancakes, American pancakes—with honey instead of syrup. Whereas I especially love the fried bananas, the grease does tend to make me into difficult company. Now, I grew up overseas, and strange foods bear a funny sort of Zimmeresque attraction to me, day in and day out I want something I know.

On the other hand, if I really didn't want surprises I wouldn't go to Honduras for a week. During this time I'll sleep in a strange bed, talk to people I've never met, try to help in a field I'm not trained in (medical,) solve problems I've never confronted, and talk to people about things I know very little about. And I come back exhilarated and exhausted at the same time, a good kind of tired that leaves you breathless with new vision.

So then, isn't that exactly the point at issue? We all want something we know. Having what we understand, what we expect, what we're used to, makes us feel comfortable, in control and powerful. But isn't it exactly what we don't understand, what we least expect, and what makes us uncomfortable exactly what makes us stretch and grow, sometimes in very rewarding ways? Surprises have the potential of opening the doors of our souls and letting them out for a barefoot walk in the park. The unexpected can (doesn't always, but can) show us not only chinks in our armor, but cracks through which new growth reaches for the sun.

So I'll go for my American meal, and probably eat another when I get home. I'll do so for the fellowship as much as the food. But in between, like the most interesting man in the world, I say, "stay thirsty, my friends," thirsty for whatever will enrich the world.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Coming and Going

Today Joyce Critchlow hangs by a thread. Doctors said she went into renal failure late last week. Most people would have checked out by now, but she's tough, and she's still with us. Her children have come in from all around the country, they hover by her bedside, counting her every breath. Each time the question is very real: Is this the last one? Has that moment come? We know it will, but no one can hurry the body without incurring the wrath of the law and loved ones (rightly so.)

Last night my wife made an insightful comment. Waiting for death is like waiting for birth. Outside of C-sections and executions, these are mysteries that work on a timetable that knows nothing of calendars and clocks. The body's rhythms work in their own way, and when things are ready they happen. All we can do is stand by in expectation and wait. Everyone is reduced to the same level. The king awaits the birth of the heir apparent just the same as the peasant one more mouth to feed. The homeless man on the street is attended by his half-sober friends the same as the head of state by high officials as they approach the end of this mystery we call "life."

It reminds me of three things:

  1. Calendars and clocks are human inventions and conventions to assist us in community, but they describe reality, they do not, and will never prescribe it. There exist many ways to reckon time. Perhaps some of the other ways conceal wisdom that in our day we've learned to forget.
  2. Under the skin we are all the same. We are born, we live, we love, we struggle and we die. There are only a few human stories to be told. They come in an infinite variety of variations, but ultimately any person's story is my story, and my story is every person's story. Every child is my child, every parent is my parent, every struggle is my struggle and every joy is my joy. What an irony it is when a child is born of rape or a man is killed in war. The child is just as alive as if born of the loving union of husband and wife, and the man is just as dead as if laid to rest after a long and fruitful life. Even our violence cannot disrupt these rhythms of life, they become somehow, part of the great story of our species. Grace flows in everything, for everything is connected.
  3. Birth and death are gateways through which we only see through a glass darkly. We're born naked, we die naked. We come with nothing and we leave with nothing. We're told what comes next, but we do not comprehend it. We're told that nothing comes before, but we can never be sure. What we have is now. Our faith tells us that what counts is the quality of the relationships we build, and seminal to all relationships is that primordial relationship with God. Life is a window into an existence for a space in time, eternity is whatever wall or building that window is in. The only vista our dark vision renders is relationships now.

It is truly better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.