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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

God Help America, Land That I Love ...

The holidays are over, the decorations put away. The camper is still in the shop, and we're working our way through closets, downsizing and donating. No cute pictures of kittens this week, no Christmas bling, no how-tos about the camper.

But this has been quite a week ... and I feel compelled to say something about it. I did state in my first blog post that I intended not to address politics in this blog, and I have stuck by that. But the events of this week transcend politics. They are about decency and respect of humankind. They are about second chances. This nation was founded and built by people seeking second chances (yes, we stole and cheated to take the land from the First Nations, whom we still treat as third-class citizens, but that's a whole other rant). People from around the world came here--and continue to come here--in search of a better life, the opportunity to succeed, a second chance. Diversity is our hallmark and our strength.

Unless you live in a vacuum, you know about the repulsive term the president reportedly used a few days ago to refer to places like Haiti, El Salvador and African countries. In a remarkable coincidence, the Gospel reading for the following Sunday included this passage from the Gospel of John:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

BBC Photo Library, from Esquire article, The Real Face of Jesus

Now, let's be honest: Jesus probably could not get a visa to come here today. He was on the Romans' watchlist as a rebel and troublemaker. And what so many white people who hold themselves up as Christians while practicing and supporting bigotry seem to forget is that he was a man of color. Unlike the handsome, romanticized, Europeanized images with flowing brown--even blond--hair and blue eyes portrayed in centuries of art, this forensic reconstruction, based on first century skulls from the area where Jesus lived and preached and on scripture, shows what he probably looked like, a small, brown, nappy-haired man with a large nose who today would draw careful scrutiny at airport security.

The Nazareth of Jesus' time was a tiny, poor village, a s***hole (or house, it doesn't really matter) of a place, as is clear from the tone of that question in John's gospel. How could anything of value come from such a place? Or from Haiti? Or El Salvador? Or Nigeria? Or Ghana? Or any of those places where brown people live?

In response to the president's words--a new low in a long pattern of ugly behavior--a friend who is an Episcopal priest posted a challenge on Facebook:

For preachers on Sunday: “Can anything good come out of that s******e Nazareth?” - John 1:46

That is what I expected to hear last Sunday. That is what I wanted to hear, needed to hear. But it was not at all what I heard. I don't even recall what the sermon was about. What it was NOT about was that passage and how it speaks to current events. It was not about respect and decency. It was not a challenge to live out our faith, to do what Jesus would do, to be outraged, to stand up for the poor and disenfranchised and those from "s***hole" nations who make up about a quarter of our congregation. I have to wonder what they thought. When I said something later, my rector replied that he has a diverse congregation. He did not want confrontation, and I understand how hard that must be. But by not taking advantage of the timely gift of that passage, by not addressing the elephant in the room, by choosing not to offend those who support racism rather than to uphold its victims, he upheld racism.

The Rev. Dr. Maurice Watson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, Maryland, was not so reticent. According to an article in The Hill, Watson said, "Whoever made such a statement, whoever used such a visceral, disrespectful, dehumanizing adjective to characterize the nations of Africa, whoever said it, is wrong. And they ought to be held accountable.” I daresay Vice President Pence, who was there, was not among those who "reportedly jumped up and applauded" in response. He was described as "red-faced." And well he should have been.

Yesterday, Jorge Garcia (above in a photo by Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press), was deported, tearing his family apart. Brought here undocumented 30 years ago at the age of 10, he has been an upstanding, tax-paying, productive member of his community with not so much as a traffic ticket, and has been trying for years to gain legal status (he is too old for DACA). His American wife says he may be barred from returning for a decade. He is only one of many, and the outlook right now is grim. A new bipartisan Dreamers deal is being used as a pawn by the president. People who came here decades ago to escape unsafe conditions, who subsequently built successful lives and families here, are now being told they must leave, with nothing to go back to.

This is America? Whatever happened to: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Emma Lazarus)

We are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. The First Nations migrated here tens of thousands of years ago. If anyone has a claim to this country, it is they. Yet it is some of the descendants of white Europeans who seem to think it should all belong to them.


We are all in this together, regardless of how long our families have been here or how recently they came. Immigrants are more likely to work hard and stay out of trouble than those born here--especially the undocumented. Immigrants are some of our most successful citizens. They are among our greatest strenghts as a nation, and we need to recognize, celebrate and protect that. We also need to resist the evil among us.

Standing up for what is right is hard. It is so much easier to be silent, to grumble quietly, to hunker down, to sigh with resignation; in some cases, even to lie to protect oneself. But morality--whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bahá'í, whatever--requires us to DO something. Simple decency requires us to resist. Not to do so strengthens and encourages the evil in our midst. Each time we could do something but choose to do nothing, it is a sin of omission, and while it may seem a small thing, small things add up and the result can be catastrophic. Look at Europe in the 1930s and '40s. Too many turned away and allowed that to happen. And that evil is burgeoning again. Here.

One person CAN make a difference--maybe not a huge one, but a difference nonetheless. And one by one, we add up. One woman, Teresa Shook, started the Women's March on Washington--and sister marches around the world--with a post on Facebook (we were there and will be there again next Saturday):

Bryan Woolston / Reuters

Even children can make a difference, like the 5th grade class from the Poconos that took it upon themselves to make sure a civil rights activist and his wife had the wonderful honeymoon they'd been denied decades before simply because they were black.

Change happens when enough individuals take action instead of shaking their heads helplessly and turning away. There are opportunities all around us. March. Join. Run. Say something. Do something. Speak up. Stand up. Do what is right, not what is easy. Resist.

I will get off my soapbox now.

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