One shoe off

November 26, 2007

Immigration, redux.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Liz @ 9:59 pm

“You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land.” Deuteronomy 24:14

“Build your home in such a way that a stranger may feel happy in your midst.” Theodor Herzl, August 6, 1896

I haven’t kept my promise of writing more about Oklahoma’s immigration law, which went in to effect on the 1st. To be honest, there hasn’t been much to write. The Latinos haven’t completely disappeared — I still see some of the families I first met when I worked at the health department — but their presence is significantly muted. It’s having a quiet effect on the economy, I hear — homebuilders have lost 10 percent of their crews, an Oklahoma City grocery store in a Latino area reports a $50k-$75k weekly drop in sales … but the stories of undocumented families, those don’t make headlines.

The other night my mom was musing on WHEN the immigration issue became such a hot button.  Any ideas? She said she didn’t remember it really being the major issue that it is now. “I just don’t remember people caring this much about it before,” she said. Granted, we spent close to 20 years out of the country, so we missed a lot.

I realize that the U.S. has a long and troubled history with immigration.

Here’s a great quote from essayist Bonnie Honig’s piece “A Legacy of Xenophobia“:
“Americans are so used to thinking about foreigners as either a poison or a cure for the diseased national body that they are poorly prepared to think about them simply as persons. This poor preparation is captured by the dehumanizing American term for foreigners—’alien.'”

That gets to the heart of the issue for me: the way in which immigrants are continually dehumanized in order to make them more effective scapegoats. Around here it’s not just “alien.” It’s that ugly-sounding phrase, “The Illegals.” There are many things about Red staters that leave a bad taste in my mouth. But the way many of them can invoke Jesus and the Bible in one breath, and then in the next start railing about “The Illegals” takes the cake. You would think, wouldn’t you, that anyone who takes the Bible seriously — even those who take the Bible LITERALLY — would realize the importance of hospitality, of welcoming the foreigner. I would think so, anyway.

Perhaps there are signs of hope, however. The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, the state Southern Baptist body, this month passed a resolution that, while they recognize the importance of obeying laws and honoring the government, the law would not cause them to change the way they do ministry or determine who they will and will not serve.

November 5, 2007

Family tree (Warning: LONG and sappy).

Filed under: family values — Liz @ 11:44 pm

So, tell me about your family? How close does your family match up to the “real” family that gets printed in the illustrations in Sunday School curriculum, or on the cover of Focus on the Family magazine, or by the Republican party?

(As a side note: ever do a genogram? Want a good way to kill a few hours and learn more about yourself and your family than you ever thought possible … or even desirable? Find someone who knows what they’re doing to tell you how to do it and to look at it with you. Trust me. And bring tissues).

My family: two still married, straight [white] {Protestant} parents. Two children. Sound pretty o.k.?
Both parents have always worked. (uh-oh) For a significant period of time, my mom made more than my dad did, worked more hours than he did, and he was my primary caretaker. (slippery slope … must … stop … sliding). But still, two parents, two kids. Well, except for when Leonardo moved in. Leonardo was a seminarian who was one of my dad’s students after we moved overseas. Leonardo started coming over for lunch every day to tutor my dad in Spanish and help him plan his lessons, grade papers, etc. Eventually, Leonardo moved into the spare bedroom. He lived with us, off and on, for about 10 years. Leonardo made cookies with me when I was young, he read “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” to me in Spanish before I ever read it in English. He was my baby sister’s favorite person, the only adult she let pick her up besides my parents (She was a fussy kid and didn’t really like anyone besides my mom. She tolerated my dad. But when Leonardo came … she ADORED him) So. Two parents, two kids, and the man who lives in the spare room who’s there for the teeth-losing and the escaped hamster-chasing and the first bikes and the birthday cakes. Still, an o.k. family, right?

Of course, then there’s the matter of the aunts and uncles. When my family moved overseas in 1983 we left behind a host of aunts, uncles and cousins who would never be much more than strangers to my sister and me. But, we moved into a host of missionaries who insisted we call them “Aunt ___ and Uncle ___”. We had Thanksgiving all together every year, a huge extended “family” of about 100 people. “Aunts” “Uncles” and “Cousins” who knew more about us than our own relatives did. They watched each others’ kids when parents got sick or went out of town or took a weekend off to celebrate their anniversary. We gathered with smaller groups of Aunts and Uncles for Christmas dinner. Aunts or Uncles who were in the country with no spouses or children of their own might come over and spend the night Christmas Eve and open presents with us around the tree on Christmas morning. Aunts and Uncles took turns teaching each others’ kids to drive. Aunts and Uncles still, years down the road, years past retirement, years after living overseas, drive across the U.S. to attend each others’ kids’ weddings. Or each others’ funerals.

O.k. O.k. Two parents. Two children. Man in the spare room. A substitute extended family. We’re still close enough, right?

Well, except for cousin K. (withholding the name here for privacy purposes). She was a blood relative — an actual child of my mom’s actual sister. K. fell into some trouble in her Southern California hometown. She was about 15, having a terrible time, and so her parents in a final attempt to “straighten her out” sent her to live overseas with us. My parents, parents of two young children (I was 9, my sister was 5), suddenly also became parents of an unhappy rebellious teenage girl. And I, the oldest, suddenly became the middle child. I was none too pleased. She stayed with us for several months. She made friends, but she missed California. My parents parented her the best they knew how — with lots of love and encouragement, but also firmness and an insistence that she start respecting herself. A tall order, and one it would take her several years to fill. When she left, even though I’d despised the intrusion, I missed her and used to write her letters every so often. She was family, after all.

So … two parents, two children, man-in-spare-room, surrogate aunts and uncles, wayward cousin.

Oh, I forgot to mention Jeremy. Jeremy was one of the “cousins.” He lived with us for the last part of his sophomore year in high school. His parents — my “aunt” and “uncle,” of course — had to go back to the U.S. before the end of the school year. So I had an older brother for about five months. And then there was Mark. Mark was a med student from the U.S. who came overseas to spend a semester working at the Baptist Hospital. He lived with us, in our other spare room (it was a house with lots of spare rooms, rooms that never seemed to stay “spare” very long). Oh, and Joel. Joel was another one of the “cousins,” but he was more like a little brother. He and his family lived way out in the country. A couple times a year we’d invite Joel to come stay with us in the Big City, show him the sites, teach him how to talk to girls, that kind of thing. And a couple of times a year we’d go out to his place. He’d show us the sites, take us to see the cows, teach us to crank the generator. That kind of thing. Oh, and then there’s Malena, the national female kickboxing champion. After I left and came back to the U.S. for college, Malena moved in for a little while. She played with the dog, helped plan my sister’s 14th birthday and broke my parents’ hearts when she ran off with a U.S. mission volunteer who’d come down for an evangelistic crusade. A U.S. mission volunteer who happened to be married with several children.

O.K. I guess allowances must be made for overseas living, after all. Surely we straightened up once we got back to the States. And we did. Two parents. Two kids, one in college, one in high school. Then, two parents, two kids, one working who comes to dinner every Sunday, one in high school and dating. Dating, of course, boys who seemed to be attracted almost as much to the family as they were to her. Boys who became fixtures at every meal, who always came over Thanksgiving and Christmas as soon as they could get away from their families. Boys who became, in spite of ourselves, part of our family.

Then there was Brandon. The foundling child. The 17 year-old ball of muscle and glee and Jesus-joy who couldn’t stay at his house anymore, so my parents — already having sent two children off to college and the world — brought him home to theirs and taught him how to live in a family, how to do his laundry, when to do his laundry (midnight is never a good time), and how to be responsible, and then sent him off to college too. He still comes home for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Then my sister came back for awhile, took a break from college, moved back in with my parents, got herself together and moved out and on.

Then came grandma. Too lonely and too sick and, at last, too blind to stay by herself anymore. They brought her from California to Oklahoma along with a load of her most prized possessions.

Then came me. The Chicago daughter. Broke, effectively homeless and bruised after too many knocks by the big city. The daughter who’d induced more than a few angry tears. Come home to stay awhile, to get her feet back under her. Because she’s family, after all.

Perhaps when Jesus said that his disciples should hate their fathers and mothers, that they should leave their family of origin to follow him, what he meant to do was to open up our families a little bit more. Because when you follow Jesus, Jesus shows you what it means to be a child of God. And when you see what it means to be a child of God, you see that everyone else is also a child of God. And you can open your arms and home and life to them, all of them.

Because they’re family, after all.

That’s “traditional” marriage alright …

Filed under: family values,marriage,politics,poverty,rights,theology — Liz @ 10:53 pm

So the state of Oklahoma, faced with one of the highest divorce rates in the country, decided to pour money into a marriage initiative designed to encourage engaged couples to undergo premarital counseling, provide marriage enrichment courses and disseminate educational material about families and relationships. Prevent divorce, encourage marriage, support families. All that jazz.

O.K. Here’s the thing. Take your blinders off for a minute, especially if you’re married. I’m sure that YOUR marriage is absolutely wonderful, spiritually and emotionally and intellectually fulfilling, the best thing you ever did, etc. etc. etc. Of course it is. But the historical fact is, marriage was created NOT as some sort of fuzzy, warm, “companionate” (to borrow a term from my Psych 101 class in college) thing. Nope. Marriage was created as an economic and political instrument to ensure wealth, security and protection for family groups or clans. Family Group A and Family Group B decide to pair their children to offer protection from rival clans, economic stability, merging of assets, assure the birth of heirs, transfer wealth, assure that there would be plenty of offspring to work the fields … pick one of a myriad of economic and political reasons. And at its heart, of course, regardless of the power, protection or property transferred by the families, marriage involved the transfer of female property from one male — her father — to another — her husband. Unless you’re in extreme denial about the history of civilization, or just completely ignorant about it, you need to accept that this is the history of marriage.

Fast forward. I’m reading the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative page and all their “fact sheets” they have. And they have all these stats from research that Oklahoma State University has done. Any why should you get married, according to their research? Take a gander at the “Is marriage for me?” tip sheet. Why get married? So that you don’t have to do all the housework alone, it says. You can share the labor. Someone will be there to take care of you if you get sick or have problems. You’ll have more money because it’s cheaper to live as a couple than it is to live alone. How different is this, really, from the economic marriages of days of yore? (I know, I said “days of yore.”) Why are we so hung up — why are CHURCHES so hung up — on something that still works out to a matter of economics? And does it strike anyone else as kind of selfish? Save money.Don’t work as hard. Be taken care of. Oh, and there’s the better sex thing on their, too. Hmmm…

The fact is, the state of Oklahoma is getting a whole lot of churches in on their campaign. So, let me get this straight? Loving, committed same-gender couples DON’T fit in with the Christian view of marriage. The Christian view of marriage, DOES, however, gibe with the idea that people should get married (or people should be convinced to marry) because of what’s in it for them. Straight people who want to “save more money” or “have better sex” can get married. Lesbians who want to live out the rest of their days loving and giving of themselves to their soul mate, nope. Straight people who want someone to bring them soup when they’re sick can get married. Gay men who want to care for one another in sickness and in health, nope.

Yes I’m oversimplifying. Yes, it’s true that research bears out that people who are married and who stay married tend to be happier, do better economically, and maybe even have better sex. But it’s my contention that you can’t hold on to the so-called “sacredness” card AND the utilitarian card.

Much (possibly too much?) has already been written in the marriage debate. But I can’t help but insert that yes, the church should have something to say about relationships. Christianity requires that relationships be based on selflessness, love, generosity, concern for the other over the self. And lots of time churches spout that kind of rhetoric in premarital counseling sessions or marriage enrichment classes. The fact is, though, is that those are the rules that are to govern ALL of our relationships. For the Christian, marriage, if and when it happens, should really not be all that indistinguishable from any other relationship we have. And if that’s the case, if we approach all our relationships with the same self-sacrifice, generosity, kindness, love and deep sharing of our self, does the gender of the person we’re “married” to matter anyway?

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