Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Flashback 8/7/2002:: Compassion, Giving, and Mom and Dad

Here is another blast from the past. In it I contrast some acts of compassion I witnessed as a child to some of the more materialistic activities and seeming indifference to the poor and suffering I see in much religion today and among the non-religious. Back then, I wrote it both as a tribute to some great people I knew and a criticism of what I was seeing.

If I were to rewrite it today, the praise would remain the same. However, the criticism was overly generalized and did not make clear enough that while such materialism is widespread, no particular group is guilty of all offenses and all of us could do better and make our compassion relieve more suffering.

I can't remind myself enough that people are individually complex and it is easy to get lazy and generalize about groups without fully recognizing the differences between people in these groups.

One more note, I kept repeating the word "Afghani" below. I believe the proper term for these folks is "Afghan." Before going nuts on me, remember that my views of the US presence in Afghanistan has evolved over the last four years. However, my disappointment with the current administration has only grown.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002, 11:00 pm

Compassion, Giving, and Mom and Dad

Back in the misty days of the 70s, when Zeppelin was rocking hard, the Cosmac Elf was a personal computer, and Julius Erving had big hair, there was a huge influx of immigrants from Southeast Asia into this country. They were known as "The Boat People." People and families from Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, and elsewhere were desperate for a safe harbor.

Some of these folks found their way to Milwaukie, Oregon. They were met by people such as Frank Milton, the Days, Dorothy Adams, and my mom. These were Presbyterians who, when it came time, heeded the spirit of giving taught by Jesus. They helped families find their way into homes and get jobs. They taught English to children, adults, and the elderly alike. You never saw hearts open wider or gratitude so humbly exchanged unless you've been part of something similar.

I know these things because I was there. Twice a week my Dad drove my Mom and myself to our church. I taught English to immigrant adults when I just a little kid. Imagine a little 10 year old boy teaching a full grown adult how to pronounce "girl" or "horse." I remember spending several minutes repeating pronunciations back and forth with the occasional pause for laughter to break the tension and frustration of learning a new language in a new land. I can't imagine a 10 year Laotian trying to teach me their language if I were to live there. There was a tenderness and patience that were exchanged based on the strangeness of the situation.

My mom was a spark plug in Oregon Literacy. We used the original teaching methods developed by Frank C. Laubach. She was able to do phenomenal things with people. In addition to Asian immigrants, Mom taught Latino immigrants, a Portland TrailBlazer, and other adults who couldn't read. Dad provided the means, dedication, and transportation to make it all happen (he was a volunteer with the Boy Scouts to boot). They, along with many others in the Milwaukie area (both students and teachers), provided the best role models I think a person could hope for.

There is one more thing I should mention. Most of the people we taught were, as far as most Americans were concerned, indistinguishable from our enemy for the previous decade. Yet we see what great things were done by so many and what great people our country is now strengthened by.

Flash forward to today. The Frank Miltons are being shouted down by the Jerry Falwells. The love is replaced by bellicosity. The humble church that once housed shabby, frightened refugees is now adding a shiny copper roof and a new wing. Tithes are spent on raiment, television stations, swimming pools; selfish things. The message to the flock is that Jesus is on our team and Allah is "of the devil." Judgment and self-righteousness and its resultant hatred replace the personal risk of reaching out without strings attached and to give love and comfort without assessing worthiness first.

Some of us then walk away. It is so easy for noise to drown out tenderness that we walk away from the noise without regard to the costs. Some continue to go to church but hide out in clean, happy, risk-free neighborhoods. Give a few bucks for a mission somewhere and then its back to barbecues and swimming pools. Others see nothing but hypocrisy and decide that it is all crap. They hide out in a world of personal entertainment, and maybe give a few bucks to the Salvation Army at Christmas. Finally, there are the guilty among us who have seen compassion work and yet do little themselves to spread it. I am in this group.

Whether or not God is your co-pilot, there is a justification for bringing your heart and compassion to bear in the most difficult circumstances. We find it easy to think of the firefighters and police who knowingly gave their lives to save people in the World Trade Center, but we harden our hearts to the suffering and death of thousands of Afghanis because these starving peasants allowed an oppressive regime to take over their country. Our Christian president wants it that way. There is something terribly wrong with that man.

There are, at this moment, refugee camps in Australia full of sad and starving people. There appears to be no Frank Milton or Joyce Limbaugh in Australia to help them. Imagine that. A country full of Christians hiding from the very acts of kindness that Christ commands of them.

There are billions of opportunities for goodness and redemption in the world today. However, we divide ourselves into the so-called left and right and let the problems fester. The right is busy waving flags and the left is too busy marching in solidarity. We leave the job of feeding and care, of love and compassion, to others. The UN, NGOs, and Europe with their supposedly cold, Godless, socialist viewpoint shame Christianity the world over with the comfort and food they have provided.

How can an Israeli settler take a swim in his pool knowing that a Palestinian baby may be dying of dysentery from lack of water less than a mile away? What good is religion then? The Jews I know would not let that happen in their neighborhood. It is always the strong that must help the weak.

If we accepted 100,000 Afghani immigrants into America and taught them to read English, found them jobs, and do what we did 25 years ago with folks from Southeast Asia, you might find what we find today in Southeast Asia. Countries are slowly on the mend thanks to US dollars flowing to family businesses etc from our Asian American neighbors.

Yet here I am collecting my money from my job and writing instead of acting. Maybe it is time I got off my fortunate American ass to see what can be done. If I start now, maybe I can accomplish a fraction of the good that I witnessed from Mom, Dad, Frank Milton, and everyone else who followed the good teachings of a guy named Jesus.

I am going to keep the religion at arm's length though. If it is Allah's will, I am sure God will understand. If not, at least big hair is back (but probably not for Doctor J).

Oh yeah, one more thing. Thanks Mom and Dad. I love you.

This one is dedicated to Viet, Phu, Tam, De, Thi, Le Khuyen, and everyone else from whom I learned the Buddhist qualities of my Judeo-Christian value system.


The Moody Minstrel said...

Nowadays it seems a lot of these "Christian revival" types are saying we shouldn't help the poor and unfortunate because God wants us all to pull our own weight.

Hmm...what was it that Christ said to the rich man who asked how he could be saved?

ladybug said...

Well, I like to think community service is alive (not so much well); at least I'm doing my part - I'm volunteering at 3 different organizations, and have at many more in the past. But many folks my age do not volunteer at all, or if they do, it's in very limited way for their kid's soccer team or church.

Direct service to the public, whether in the arts, education or housing is hard to find these days.

The problem is not just the self-interest, it's time. The most difficult time to do volunteer work is when you have small children, before they can go to school.

Jobs seems to demand more than 9-5 commitments anymore, and women are staying in the workforce as well. The "Salary man" type attitude most corporate place have, (i.e. you are on salary, we can work you overtime, weekends, until whenever) doesn't help either.

Swinebread said...

If there is no love what's the point?

Seymour said...

For my money, Love is the only true evidence of a "Higher Power".

Oh, and flowers, too.

Anonymous said...

There is a term running about bandied by GWB called compassionate conservatism. To me, the term has given conservatism a bad name because Goerge Bush is not as compasionate as he thinks he is.

The American tax payer is forced into compassion via large taxes levied which is then divided amongst the poor, the poor rich bastards. A good deal of it goes over seas to countries which are also impoverished, or use weapons and drug smuggling to extort money from us.

It would be far better if the choice of helping one's fellow man was left to the individual, a church, or local club. Certainly, many of us who are compassionate simply don't have the means because so much of our income is taken away before we see it.

Never the less, I have had to rely on the compassion of others over the last year, and I certainly don't begrudge anyone who is truly needy, but by keeping good relations with my close family, I had all the support I needed. Now I am back on my feet. I am actually happy about that.

But there are many who are indeed lazy, or see ways to take advantage of the system, and never pull their own weight.

I don't think that has anything to do with race or creed.

However, a burgeoning ethnic population from the south has put a great strain on our society in terms of resources, and I am not just talking about money here. It is the willful intent of poor countries to take advantage of our generosity and faust upon us those who they don't want, via cultural divides within those countries.

America may be a melting pot, but its boiling over.

The Moody Minstrel said...

However, a burgeoning ethnic population from the south has put a great strain on our society in terms of resources...It is the willful intent of poor countries to take advantage of our generosity and faust upon us those who they don't want...America may be a melting pot, but its boiling over.

That was quite a topic switch, Pa've. I was reading your comment with great interest and even a lot of agreement until that last bit suddenly came popping out of left field. One might wonder what provoked it.

One could also easily interpret that as an argument in favor of barring or deporting people based on their ethnic background. I certainly hope I'm misreading you here.

How did you feel when, for example, Robert Mugabe, the first black president of Zimbabwe declared that whites were to blame for all his country's ills and ruled that they (whites) would gradually have their property confiscated followed soon after by their citizenship? Did you say, "Way to go, Muggie baby!"? Or did you rather say, "How dare you, you ignorant savage!"?

(Or was it more like, "It's not America and doesn't involve Muslim militants, so it's not my problem.")

Speaking as a member of a minority where I live, I would appreciate your clarifying this issue. Thank you.

Dean Wormer said...

That was really wonderful Snabby.

Your parents are someone I look up to as well.

But the thing I most admire in your dad is his ability to make a really killer blackberry wine and only then his involvement in the community and smarts.

A toast to W & J.


Anonymous said...

OK,I'll clarify. There are two classes of people in Mexico. There is the wealthy class who are mostly of Spanish disent, IE from the country of Spain, not merely Spanish speaking, and there is the Mexican Indian class. The rich Spanish class in Mexico would like it very much if the underprivleaged class of Indian Mexicans left the country.

And so the Mexican border policy is to provide fresh water and maps to allow illegal immegrants the quickest passage to the United States of America, who loves everyone, no matter what, and will gladly take them, IE george Bush's immegration policy, on the verge of granting amnisty to over eleven million immegrants.

That is what I mean by fausting off unwanted populations. Its a sort of ethinc cleansing.

Rather than do things in Mexico which would improve their own economy, IE provide better education, so Mexicans can get foreign companies to invest in their workers, they end up in the US, put a great strain on the welfare system, have babies (anchor babies) to make it harder for the US to repatriot them.

Now, this may sound cold and apethetic, but that is not my total point of view.

Not only does Mexico export its lower class, they also export crime and drugs.

But it doesn't end there. Not only are the Mexicans coming over the border, but terrorists are learning the spanish language, so they can pass as Mexicans, and sneak across the border.

US policy on the border verges on insanity. We deployed the National Guard, unamred, to lend a supporting role to the Border Patrol.

When a Mexican drug smuggler was shot in the rear for running from two border patrol agents, they were prosecuted, and the drug smuggler was granted immunity and amnisty if he promised to return to the US and testify against them.

But the US policy doesn't end there. We are currently preparing to form a North American Union, with Canada and Mexico, just like the European Union, and the soon to be Asian Union.

For details go here.

Don Snabulus said...

MM - We need a Christian Revival Revival. ;)

Ladybug - Thanks for your vounteering. I still haven't gotten very involved since I wrote that original post.

Swiney - I love to point...

Seymour - Dang straight about the flowers. PandaB has some great posts on spring blossoms right now.

Pa've - No matter how you slice it, being out of work sucks. I am glad you are finding some good employment now. I think it is pretty clear now that Rove/Bush were using their constituents with no real intention of being either conservative or Republican (or much of anything useful for that matter). Compassion is in the heart and not the political party.

I agree about the lack of good that our taxes seem to fund. What most don't realize is that our defense budget is larger than the next 20 largest countries combined. All the money we pay out in a year to the needy and so-called "lazy welfare leeches" combined are blown off in a weeks worth of munitions in Iraq.

Ladybug and I have seen a couple of recent instances where leeches bamboozle churches into undeserved help instead of a little tough love, so government has no monopoly on this.

As far as immigration of ethnic types (can I assume we mean Mexicans here?), I solidly disagree with you. Keeping immigration quotas is a good idea, but you have the negative fallout from NAFTA that drives Mexican workers (not slackers, but workers) up here for jobs. Also, lack of wage protections for Americans and failure in punishing businesses who hire illegals are why they come.

Making and enforcing a nation-wide minimum wage for farm workers and construction workers regardless of citizenship would stop the flow really quick and allow for livable jobs for Americans.

Those are tough pills for conservatives to swallow, but having immigration quotas are tough for liberals to swallow. Everybody start swallowing.

2nd Moody: As a minority in Japan, you should enjoy a short stay in an internment camp I like to call Camp O (as in Mr. O).

Dean: Yeah, we got us some good parents I think, and their kids aren't half bad either.

Anonymous said...

And I better add, be careful about the snowball they created in their myths versus facts section. Read the "Report to Leaders" yourself.

Don Snabulus said...

Send me a link my man and I shall check it out.

Don Snabulus said...

oops, I didn't realize you posted about a minute before me...I will check it out.

Don Snabulus said...

I checked out The Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America.

It looks at first glance like the standard globalization theorist claptrap that generally results in reducing individual freedoms while allowing corporate interests to engage in water piracy and other resource theft in the poorer countries. I would agree that this is probably not good for America, but making the Mexican indigenous underclass the villain doesn't parse for me.

Why not just agree that all of us, Mexicans, Canadians, and Americans alike are going to get the shaft while the uber class (who you called the poor rich bastards) pick us clean?

Anonymous said...

You got that right!