Immigration and How We Talk About It

 

I don’t have the answer. Then again, you probably do not have the answer either. The discussion about immigration, especially about the Mexican border, is heating up. Unfortunately, as in the words of Benjamin Franklin, this particular discussion is “bringing more heat than light”. I would like to think that it really is a discussion, but it has become, like many topics these days, a twitter and sound bite war. The intent often is to inflame emotions, and to generate political talking points. The immigration topic deserves a more thorough and thoughtful discussion.

Many years ago, immigration from Mexico was essentially circular- that is workers came over the U.S. border to work seasonally, then returned home to Mexico. New laws in 1986 changed that landscape, making it very difficult to come to the U.S. and then return to Mexico.

The topic of immigration from Mexico has been a political tool for many years. However, the rise of Central American chaos and drug violence has escalated this problem to new and previously unimagined heights. Drug cartels and violent gangs in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and civil unrest in Nicaragua have made those countries dangerous places to be. Children especially are targeted by the evil of gangs, and parents face terrible choices in trying to protect their children. So what do they do? Like any good parent, we do whatever we can to protect our children. It is the most human of behaviors.

As I began this piece, I have no answers to this problem, but I do suggest that we look beyond the border of the United States to solve it. At our borders, we are receiving people literally at the end of their rope. They typically have no better solution than to flee to a safer place.

Can we work with the Mexican government to make Mexico a safer place for refugees in their desperate flight for a haven? Can we find a way to help stem the tide of drug violence in Central America? We will never know if we do not start engaging the discussion in a reasonable way. If we intend to spend millions (or billions) of dollars to erect walls, holding facilities, border guards, and all the infrastructure needed to deal with illegal immigration, why not divert our efforts and monies into more positive plans, dealing with the root of the problem?

Difficult problems like this require collaborative solutions. Those solutions do not occur unless people sit together and engage one another in a genuine spirit of cooperation to solve a serious problem. I do know that the Trump administration’s stance toward Mexico is NOT facilitating such discussions, nor is it setting the groundwork for collaboration.

In order for any of this to actually happen, we must first engage one another in rational and moral discourse about it. Our political leaders, Democrats and Republicans, MUST stop engaging the immigration problem as a campaign issue, and deal with it as a moral, and perhaps even a financial issue. Yes, national security must be considered, but a human crisis must also be considered, and it should be discussed with more than hot rhetoric.

The desire to solve the problem must transcend the desire to be “right”. Certainly, it must transcend the desire to be elected.

Mistakes Versus Sins

In 1973, the eminent psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? The book discussed the moral decline of America which had taken place over the preceding decades before the publishing of the book. As a psychiatrist, Menninger was keenly aware of the moral dimensions of human failures and the price that people pay emotionally for such failures. He took to task the society which had excused moral excesses in the name of freedom. He asked the simple question, “Is anything considered to be wrong anymore?”

That was a good question then, and it still is today. It brings to mind to me the important distinction between mistakes and moral failures. I will share with you that a pet peeve of mine is the juxtaposition of the term “mistake” for what are obvious moral failures.

One does not have to look too far to see this subtle refuge for those who have crossed a moral boundary, and who cover it by claiming the innocence of a “mistake”. After all, everyone makes mistakes, right? Allow me to expound.

Let’s say you file your income tax and you have made a math error on the return. As a result, you are due a refund of an extra $100. That was a mistake.

Your friend also files his tax return, but he deliberately fudges a number which results in his receiving an extra $100 on his tax refund. That was cheating, a moral failure. The results were the same, but the intent was different. That is the difference between a mistake, and a moral failure, or, if you will, sin.

How many times have we heard athletes or actors, or politicians, caught in a transgression, plead that they have “made a mistake” and ask to be forgiven. The politician is caught in an affair, becomes contrite and accepts that he “made a mistake.” The athlete takes steroids, gets caught, and then pleads that he “made a mistake” and asks the public to embrace him again.

Let’s be clear that the above examples are NOT examples of mistakes. They are wrong behaviors watered down to “mistake” so that the behavior can be mitigated and the crime minimized. My mere suggestion is that we be clear about what is a mistake and what is a sin.  I believe in forgiveness, no matter if it is a simple mistake, or if it is a moral failure. However, for the sake of the individual who needs the forgiveness, it is crucial to understand that “sin” is of deliberate intent, and it needs to be acknowledged as such.

As a counselor, I try to help people get moral clarity. I do not judge people, but I do help them to take a moral self inventory (the 4th step of 12 Step programs) so that they can move ahead from past failures.  Acknowledging our failures, as well as differentiating them from honest mistakes, is important in the healing process. We all indeed make mistakes, and we all make wrong moral choices at times. I believe that if we can understand the difference, and own what we do, we are then able to heal and move ahead.

Everyday Miracles

There is a story in the Bible about the prophet Elijah and a penniless widow he encountered. The short version is this- Elijah persuaded the widow to use her last resources to prepare a meal, and after she did this, Elijah became the conductor of a miraculous bounty of flour and oil which provided for the widow and her son.

We see miracles in that passage of the Bible- incredible workings of God through Elijah. Elijah extended the flour and oil in the widow’s home in a miraculous fashion. Elijah himself had recently been the recipient of a miracle when he had been sustained by God day-to-day when he was in the wilderness. He had been supplied with food by ravens in the wilderness, and now by a poor widow.

God, through Elijah, had provided for the widow and her son miraculously, yet the woman seemed to become accustomed to it, and maybe even took it for granted. Then, when her son became ill, (then later dying) she questioned whether God was really there, whether Elijah really cared, or was even on her side. It was only after her son was raised back to life that the widow again saw God’s provision- another miracle! Isn’t it interesting that we can so easily lose sight of the miracles that God has shown us all around? The widow was not alone in this. We see the same thing in others frequently, and, if we are honest, we see it in ourselves every day!

Can you name a miracle – an everyday miracle in your life – that you may take for granted? Or perhaps an event that happened in your life that was God’s great gift, but over time has lost its power and awe?

I see God’s miracles even as I write this. My immune system right this moment is probably fighting off some invasive little microbes or viruses as part of a wonderful self-sustaining life system built into us. I have sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – the gifts of the senses.  I have an incredible wife, children, and grandchildren, blessed beyond measure. I see the amazing scientific laws of the universe which did not just invent themselves, but rather show the Designer in His glory. Yet, I take these miracles for granted.

For the widow, it was only when her son was raised from the dead that she agreed that Elijah was the “real deal”. What does it take for us?

Lessons from Rehab

I am now 9 days post knee replacement surgery, and the healing progress is real, but, in my thinking, interminably slow. Such thinking is undoubtedly formed by excess hubris on the part of the patient, painful but true. However, there have been many lessons already in this process, even though that process is quite new. Time indeed is relative, even though in a different sense than Albert Einstein explained it.

I am struck first by the fact that the struggles of rehabilitation from a surgery are much more mental than physical. It goes without saying that there are significant physical struggles, but the will to do the hard work of rehab, to force oneself time and again to engage pain because you know it is good for you, takes a certain amount of faith. I trust that the principle of “no pain, no gain” is true, however, that does not make me want to engage it. That is a moment by moment battle to “just do a little more”.

There is also an immutable law of nature which is paradoxical. In order for new life to happen, there must be a death somewhere. The renewal of our bodies, and indeed that of all nature, only takes place by the old cells which have died being replaced by new cells. Muscles which have been damaged by surgery must be rebuilt and strengthened. In the words of the Bible, (John 12:24) “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (New Living Translation)

Another lesson from rehab is that “use it or lose it” is proven once again as another universal truth. Lay off using muscles for a few days and they believe that their owner has died, or decided to die, so they might as well retire. They start to atrophy right after we stop using them for a while. The point here is that the sooner we use every muscle we can, the sooner we heal.

Finally, one must decide to be well. I know that just because we decide to be well that such decision alone does not make us well. However, if we do not choose to be well, we cannot be well. There is a certain despair that hits everyone at various times- that self-defeating part of all of us, which tells us that this healing is never going to happen.  “Just give up and stay in bed” it tells us. I suggest that this happens to everyone, regardless of surgery or anything else. There are times we just want to give up and go to bed. I think it is reasonable to visit this place in our head, and even entertain it for a very short while. However, we can only visit this place, we cannot live there.

I write this as self-healing, so thank you for indulging that. However, the much higher purpose is to engage the reader to think about some laws of nature and how we deal with them. Healing is a great gift, but it comes with cost. We need to allow others to help us in this process, and we need to push ourselves to do the work of healing. I am learning on that journey, and it is good for me. We learn from pain and we better understand the wonderful plan of how healing really works.

Gratitude

I have a great deal to be thankful for. “Blessed beyond what I deserve” is a phrase many people use, and it is certainly true for me. However that phrase, as apt as it may be, better describes “grace”, which is a subject of another blog down the road.

I am sitting on the veranda of a condo in Maui as I write. My wife and I are here due to the generosity of dear friends, whose condo we have for this week. I am most grateful for that! While Hawai’i is a gorgeous paradise and we are loving the visit, it is not what I am most grateful for. The greatest gifts- my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my siblings, my friends, my health are all gifts beyond measure- and I am so grateful for them all.

I have a home, a car, meaningful work. I live in a country that is, while imperfect, the most generous, freedom loving nation on earth (I believe). All this to say- I understand what I have and I cannot adequately explain why I have it. However, that is not necessary. My job is to be thankful for all that I have and to live in a posture of gratitude, not entitlement.

It is easy to fall into a mindset whereby we compare our gifts to what others possess.  This focus nearly always leads to a negative place- unless we are correctly seeing that we have so much more than so many others. I sometimes tell my clients that about 90% of the world would literally risk their life to have what we have in America. It is not an indictment of those clients, but merely a way of  positing a different way to look at where we are in our life.

Many people are suffering in many ways as I write this. We can and should, to the extent that we are able, help alleviate that suffering. Sometimes we can be of help, and sometimes we cannot. However, I believe that we are responsible to have gratitude for what we have, and to never take it for granted. Such a mindset helps us to see how blessed we are, and that makes us better able to respond to those who could benefit from what we are able to share.

Courtesy

I went to Speedway to grab a hot chocolate as I was out for church this morning. I noted that the hot chocolate machine produced plenty of hot water, but essentially zero hot chocolate mix. I poured out the mixture and opted for a coffee instead. When I spoke to the clerk, I mentioned to her that the dispensing machine must be out of chocolate mix since I got a cup of hot water.

She looked up at me with a little surprise and said, “Most people are pretty mean when that happens.” I told her that I thought that she should be aware of the fact, but that I was not upset with her or the machine for that malfunction. She thanked me with a smile and I went on to church.

I later thought about this little interaction, and I was dismayed that courtesy seemed to be in somewhat rare supply these days. I share this not to say that I am such a thoughtful person. What I did was, in my opinion, a normal response to the situation. What concerned me was that this poor clerk had to put up with a number of customers who take out their frustrations upon her. My simple (and expected) courtesy was an exception to this clerk and, evidently, far from the rule from her perception.

Is courtesy a value that has become outdated? Have the simple virtues we once cherished been overtaken by a mean spirited age? I think that social media has produced a large amount of intolerance; or maybe it has just given voice to long held resentments by providing a platform for people to shout their anger to the world.

I am not unaware of the irony that this blog is a social media platform, and that I too am voicing my concerns. My hope is that by ringing a bell for a return to some long held virtues such as courtesy and kindness, the norm may once again be caring about our neighbors- the ones with whom we share the planet.

“Presidential”

I have been around for a while. I was born during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. My first recollection of an inaugural address was January 20, 1957 which I watched on TV when I happened to be home from school sick with pneumonia. I listened to Dwight D. Eisenhower as he was sworn in for a second term. Perhaps that made an impression on me because I was lying on the couch at home, sick. Or perhaps it registered on me because my parents revered Dwight Eisenhower who was a war hero, president, and “presidential” in his demeanor. He was the leader, revered by the nation and my parents as the leader of the free world. He was like George Washington to me, and the only president I would know in my early, formative years.

Later, I would be enthralled by the charismatic, young Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Again, my parents adored this president because he was Catholic, a democrat, and because he was NOT Richard Nixon. Of course, I loved this president too, and I grieved deeply when he was cut down by an assassin in his prime.

We moved on to Lyndon B. Johnson, JFK’s forlorn successor and the torch bearer for the slain Kennedy. His unfortunate legacy was a destructive Vietnam war which overshadowed his domestic achievements.

Then, Richard M. Nixon, for whom I am proud to say I never voted!

Then Gerald S. Ford, for whom I DID vote- the undervalued man of courage who ultimately lost his only election to Jimmy Carter, largely because he had the courage to do the unpopular but healing act of pardoning Nixon.

Jimmy Carter was (is) a good man, but he was generally a failure as president because he could not appeal to a public who wanted hope. Carter was a dignified man who also embodied the word “presidential”.

We then go to Ronald Reagan, a giant of leadership because he was able to galvanize Americans to embrace that bright future that we had somehow lost sight of. He could appeal to people in both parties, and he demonstrated a humanity to which people could easily relate . He was “presidential”.

George H. W. Bush followed. George H. W. Bush was another (and the last) of those World War II heroes whom we elected to our highest office. He was an honorable man, a “presidential” man. He was underappreciated in his influence and performance, perhaps because he ultimately got tired and could not hold off the energetic and charismatic William Jefferson Clinton in a bid for a second term.

After Clinton, we elected another Bush, George W. Bush, “W”, whose legacy was an entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan for which we continue to pay a price. However, he was, and is, and honorable man. Flawed, (as we all are), he did not besmirch the dignity of the office of President of the United States.

Barack H. Obama, our first African-American President, had his flaws as well. However, he conducted himself uprightly and with dignity. Perhaps he did not use his “bully pulpit” as well as he could have to smooth racial relations, however, we could count on him to be dignified, and proud that he respected the office he served.

Being President is not the only role that a President must fulfill. He or she must be “presidential”- that is, the President must respect the office, and to use its vast power to heal and not to separate or demean. The above named Presidents, some more successful than others, some more popular than others, mostly fulfilled the role of “presidential”.

Then, unfortunately, we come to Donald J. Trump…