Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wendell Berry: Poet, Prophet, and Sage

It was 30 years ago that a colleague gave me a little book of poems, A Part, by Wendell Berry. I was teaching English at Hong Kong Baptist College at the time. Reading Berry’s poems that were nestled so beautifully in the rural Kentucky woods and hillsides reminded me of my own experiences in rural Alabama. It was a most refreshing experience for me, being far from home and in the center of a crowded and noisy urban setting.  That book was also my introduction to Wendell Berry.  For all I knew, he was a Kentucky farmer who wrote some poetry, and I thought that was a wonderful thing.

Of course, I came to learn that Wendell Berry was also known for his advocacy for the family farm, for care of the environment, and for speaking out against the inhuman machine of modern technology. I learned that he was a prolific writer, writing novels, short stories and essays that call for a return to community, and a care for the land. His advocacy was not just sentimental tripe, it was an honest, carefully thought out, sensible call for sensible living. I learned that this rural Kentucky farmer had gone off to a successful career as a university professor and then returned to his farming roots when he bought farmland near his parents’ birthplace.  

He was an early activist speaking out against the war in Viet Nam and protested the building of a nuclear power plant in Indiana.  He is an observer of life who speaks out on issues that are destroying the fabric of society – issues such as pollution, destruction of topsoil, corporate mechanized farming, the breaking up of the rural community in service to technology and industry. Little wonder that he has been called a modern day prophet.

Naturally, when I heard that Wendell Berry was coming to my town, speaking at my alma mater, I made it a point to be there. Many others made it a point to be there. I entered the large performance hall at Samford University as Wayne Flynt was delivering the introduction. There were all kinds of people present: young and old, physicians and professors, community residents and college students, activists and law students, writers and farmers.  As Wendell Berry walked on to the stage following the introduction, there was not just applause, there were shouts and cheers.

The man looked and spoke exactly like the old men I grew up with. His plain spoken Kentucky drawl belied the fact that he has spoken to eager and receptive audiences all over the country, from Lindisfarne Association in Long Island, New York to the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm, and all points in between.

Mr. Berry read a recent story, “Sold!” set in the fictional town of Port William where much of his fiction takes place (That Distant Land is a wonderful collection of short stories set in rural Kentucky in and around Port William). The reading demonstrated Berry’s masterful storytelling. By way of the reminiscences of and elderly lady, we heard about that character’s life of farming with her late husband, Grover.  We got a picture of what rural life was like from the 1920s, how WWII changed the dynamic of the family and community, and how the young folks began to leave home for places far and wide. We saw a clear dramatic picture, told in the homespun matter-of-fact style of a simple farm woman who in her old age must sell her farm, of how in a couple of generations the family farm has been obliterated to make way for the corporate farming conglomerate.

After reading the story, Mr. Berry took questions from the audience. The questions presented showed the variety of the audience and the vast expanse of Wendell Berry’s influence. The first question was from a man who wanted to know the author’s thoughts on how we will feed a world population which will reach 9 billion by the year 2050. A young woman then stepped forward to ask Berry how he developed his characters for his stories; did he have a certain method for crafting his stories? Another fellow wanted to know his thoughts on theology and eternity.  Someone else wanted to know how Mr. Berry got interested in writing and what writers were important for him. The final question came from a man who wanted to know Berry’s take on Alabama’s Immigration law.

If you are interested in Wendell Berry’s answers, I did take some notes. Here are some inklings from his responses:

Concerning feeding 9 billon people, Berry said that we were more capable of that 50 years ago than we are today. He decried the ramping up of technology in the food industry, the toxins were are putting into the environment, the loss of topsoil from the environment, and the amount of food on our plates that is already being wasted.

As to developing the characters in his fiction, he likes to wait for the muse, he does not have formulaic method. “I may have a story in mind, I may have it for 50 years, but then the time comes when I know it is ready to take form – I call it the muse.”

His thought on theology – Berry said that what he did understand of the Bible became much clearer when he took the Bible out of church and went to the woods. He said he understands the grandeur and beauty of something greater, and has a better sense of the eternal when he is in the woods rather than in a building. Mr. Berry then made reference to a poem, “Primary Wonder,” by Denise Levertov which he thought captured that concept. (You can read Levertov’s poem here)

How did he get interested in writing, and who were the authors who were important to him? Berry said the way to get interested in writing is to get interested in reading, and he credited his mother for instilling a love for reading.  He added that “there are many writers and many who are not writers who are necessary to me. Most of my life I have found the friend or the book that I needed just when I needed it.”

Concerning Alabama’s immigration law, Berry started out saying that he has heard more talk of religion in politics than he can ever remember hearing before. He said that if you are going to have religion, then there come the question of how will you practice it, and that all boils down to how you treat others. He said he would like to see all those folks so sure of their religion show a little more anxiety regarding society’s problems. He said that we ought to assess how much we really owe to the immigrant workers, because “without then we would starve.” Berry added that immigration is a complex matter that requires responsible conversation rather than slogans.

Samford University photo
Afterwards, Wendell Berry stayed to sign books for any who wanted so desired. I stopped by the book table and saw, of course, a wide range of topics in the books he has authored. There were essays on community and environment, fiction and social commentary as well as several books of poetry. I decided to get a collection of poems. For me, after all is said and done, poetry is the thing I always come back to. Also, poetry was my first introduction to the man himself. I found a recent book of poetry, Leavings (Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2010) and then took my place in line for the author’s signature. It took me an hour to get to the table where Mr. Berry was autographing. Even though the hour was getting late, Wendell Berry was kind and gracious – taking time to talk and listen to each person in line. I think he is genuine.

As I left the event and drove off of the university campus, I was behind an aging Subaru Outback that had a specialty tag reading, "Farming Feeds." I knew that the driver of that car must represent one of the many reasons people came out to hear an old man from Kentucky. I’ll end with one of Wendell Berry’s poems that I read just this morning:


I leave behind even
my walking stick. My knife
is in my pocket, but that
I have forgot. I bring
no car, no cell phone,
no computer, no camera,
no CD player, no fax, no
TV, not even a book. I go
into the woods. I sit on
a log provided at no cost.
It is the earth I've come to,
the earth itself, sadly
abused by the stupidity
only humans are capable of
but, as ever, itself. Free.
A bargain! Get it while it lasts.

By Wendell Berry from Leavings, Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2010

Monday, February 27, 2012

G92 Immigration Conference: Seeking a Just and Ethical Solution to the Immigration Dilemma

This is my fourth blog post on immigration. My first post on the subject was to tell what I thought about Alabama’s harsh anti-immigration law. Later I told about what one Episcopal parish is doing in response to that law. Shortly after that, I related what one Catholic writer was saying about the topic.  Last Thursday I attended the G92 Immigration Conference at Samford University and was able to hear what Evangelicals are saying about our country’s immigration problem.

Looking to Biblical Texts

The G92 in the conference title refers to the number of times the Old Testament scriptures make reference to how we should treat the alien in our midst (ger, the Hebrew word for alien, or stranger, is used 92 times in scripture). Indeed, there was no indication that the Bible calls for anything other than welcome, respect and mercy, in ones dealings with alien sojourners.

The conference had two concurrent tracks, a Student Track and a Pastor Track. The opening session was a combined gathering at Reid Chapel for a student convocation led by Matthew Sorens and Jenny Yang. Sorens and Yang have co-authored a book, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate, which outlines a biblical basis for how immigrants should be treated. Their presentation demonstrated that in biblical times as in our own day, 1) immigration was often necessitated by famine and hardship, and 2) immigrants were of benefit to their host country.  Calls for hospitality toward the stranger in our midst are a recurrent them in scripture.  The presenters made the point that helpful immigration reform would make illegal immigration more difficult while making legal immigration easier.  The point being that immigrants come to this country because they have a need to provide for their families, and we need the labor those immigrants can provide.

The Constitution and Society

The next session I attended was led by Constitutional law expert, David Smolin, of Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. He began by pointing out that there have been test cases across the country in which laws were written to push the legal envelope regarding immigration. Alabama’s anti-immigration law pushes the envelope farther than other state laws have done so far.  It was designed to make life unlivable for undocumented immigrants.  Smolin mentioned two constitutional problems with the Alabama law: the matter of whose job it is to enforce the law, and the problem of interfering with how local law enforcement prioritizes its duties.

Immigration is a federal policy. It is the Federal government’s job to enforce immigration law – immigration is not within the state or local government’s authority.  Furthermore, the Alabama law interferes with local law enforcement by making the processing of undocumented immigrants take priority over all other aspects of law enforcement.

Smolin added that the worst provisions of the Alabama law have not been put into effect. One provision of the law enlists private citizens to notify authorities of undocumented aliens. Courts, however, have already determined that you cannot prevent an undocumented person from attending school. Moreover, written law prohibits profiling.  Another provision yet to be implemented is the Harbor provision. The law as written goes far beyond the notion of hiding someone out from the authorities.   As currently written, the law makes all citizens responsible for determining immigrants’ status.

While some parts are not in effect, and others have not been enforced yet, Smolin pointed out that the Alabama anti-immigration law is designed to instill fear. 

Before beginning his presentation, David Smolin, to get a feel for his audience, asked how many of us were not sure whether Alabama’s anti-immigration law is good or bad. A few people raised their hands. When asked how many thought it was a terrible piece of legislation, most in the room raised their hands. When asked how many thought it was a good law, no one raised a hand. In counterpoint to the audience’s sense of the legislation, toward the end of his presentation, Smolin said that now is the time to contact our state representatives, because they are still under the impression that most citizens support of the new law.

A Panel Discussion

In the afternoon there was a panel discussion moderated by Noel Castellanos, CEO of Christian Community Development Association.  The panel was made up of local pastors. Included on the panel were Dr. John Killian, of Maytown Baptist Church (and Vice President of the Alabama Baptist Convention); Dr. Michael Wesley, of the Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Carlos Gomez of First Baptist Church in Center Point, and Rev Ron Higey, of Birmingham International Church.

The opening statements from each pastor set the stage for discussion. Dr. Wesley, who pastors an African American church, stated that as an African American, he understood the disparity and disenfranchisement felt by the immigrant community. Dr. Killian said he did not think the county could economically sustain the current level of immigration and that the current law does not affect ministry to people. Rev. Higey asked the question, how can Christians defend an oppressive law?  Rev. Gomez stated that many have left our state out of fear because of the way the Alabama law criminalizes people. Those same people are able to live in Mississippi or Florida, so they leave Alabama.

Moderator Noel Castellanos pointed out that in Alabama, the Catholic, Episcopalian, and Methodist Bishops have come together to speak out against Alabama’s Immigration Law. He added that sometimes the sense is that Evangelicals are not out weighing in on the issue and asked what pastors can do.  Killian stated simply that we just needed to reassure people that churches will not arrest people and there is no reason to fear since all the Alabama law does is to reinforce the federal law.  Higey countered that immigrants do indeed have reason to fear when they cannot even pick their children up from school for fear of getting pulled over by the police.

Wesley stated that what is needed on the part of Christian leaders is vision, courage, discipline and endurance. He emphasized that discipline and endurance are needed because we must make difficult choices and changes now so that things can be better in the future, and that that is the only way for things to get better. He framed it as “scheduling the pain first so you can enjoy the benefits later.” He stated that the African American community supports immigration reform, adding that “there is no chance that we [African Americans] will go back to those hard labor jobs. It is in the country’s best interest to allow immigrant labor.”

I posed a question to the panel by framing Alabama’s immigration law as a continuation of the old attitude that was seen in the Jim Crow laws, and that since evangelical churches did virtually nothing to reverse Jim Crow, did we have any hope that churches today will be any different? Dr. Killian’s response was first to admit how terrible Alabama’s segregation laws were and how we have, thankfully, moved past that awful period.  He then begged to differ that the anti-immigration law was anything like the Jim Crow laws since “those were laws that oppressed our own people, and the current law has to do with illegal aliens.”

One person in the audience named Antonio identified himself as a pastor who grew up in Nicaragua under the Samoza regime and lived during the conflict between the Contras and the Sandinistas. He had made his way to the U.S. where he has now lived for several years.  His comment was simple and profound: “Mercy and opportunity is something that everyone should have at least once in his life.”

 [Later in the evening I had opportunity to talk with Antonio in between sessions. He told me that he is a minister to the Hispanic community at Victory Baptist Church in Jemison, Alabama. I asked him about the fear element among Hispanics, and he confirmed that there has been a great deal of fear in the wake of Alabama’s new law. He added that living here as an Hispanic is now much like it was living under Samoza or the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. “I see people who get stopped by the police, and they end up having to pay a $3,000 or a $5,000 dollar fine. If they pay it then they are okay. That is a lot of money for someone who is a laborer. It reminds me of in Nicaragua, everyone knew that if you pay money to the police, they will leave you alone. Whenever you give too much power to the police, then you have trouble.”]  

Throughout the discussion, Dr. Killian was the only one who reinforced the stereotype of a white conservative out-of-touch Christian. I am assuming that since he is a Baptist he calls himself a Bible-believing Christian.  Apparently he did not bother to take note of biblical injunctions on hospitality to the alien in our midst. In fact, he never quoted scripture to back his claims, nor did he even refer to scripture. The only thing he quoted was state and federal budgets and budget deficits as reasons why we should proceed not only with the status quo, but also that our harsh immigration law is just what we need. I am glad he was there to give that extra dynamic to the discussion, and to highlight that there are those in our state who continue to think that everything is just fine (for white citizens). He was very instructive in demonstrating the wrong side of the debate, in my opinion.

A Word from Georgia

After dinner, Paul Bridges, Mayor of Uvalda Georgia, told the group about his experience in Georgia with that states anti-immigration law.  Mayor Bridges was a delightful man who related to us how important agriculture is to his rural town. He emphasized how important immigrant labor is to them. The Vidalia onion is a major multi-million dollar product grown in his area, as are numerous other vegetable crops. There is a very short window of opportunity in which to harvest the crops to get them to the market. Bridges shared with us how efficient and skilled the immigrant workers are in their harvesting, how hard-working they are, and how family-oriented they are.

When he and other farming colleagues saw Georgia’s new immigration law, they were appalled by the implications and what it would do to the farm industry. He identified himself as a Republican, but was very displeased by what “some hot-shot Republicans in the State House” had done in passing the law. His closing words were, “I went back and read the Bible – I just read the red-letter parts of what Jesus said. I have read Georgia’s law and let me tell you there is nothing Christ-like about it. I have also read Alabama’s law, and there is nothing Christ-like about it, either!”

A Southern Baptist Resolution

During the closing session, Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, led the “Public Forum on Immigration and Evangelicals.” He presented a resolution that was passed by the Southern Baptist Convention which met in Arizona in 2011 (you’ll remember that Arizona was among the first to pass anti-immigration legislation). The resolution cites numerous references from scripture which advocate hospitality toward the alien and other passages which denounce exploitation of workers and mistreatment of the poor. It also recognizes the rule of law and the increasing diversity of the U.S. along with the acknowledgement that many come to this country desiring a better future for themselves. The resolution does not support any kind of amnesty, but decries any form of bigotry, harassment, mistreatment, or exploitation as inconsistent with the message of Christ. There is also a call for the government to do more to secure borders and to hold businesses accountable for hiring practices “as they relate to immigration status.” (You can read the entire resolution here)

Dr. Land, in his concluding remarks suggested that one way for our government to deal with the immigration problem would be to implement something akin to the Marshall Plan for Mexico. By assisting Mexico to creating a better life for its citizens, fewer people will be forced to cross the border in search of jobs and income.

[Side note: I had never met Richard Land until this conference, but knew of him. I had always had a negative, visceral reaction in mind and body whenever I saw him as a guest on some cable news talk show. The reason for that reaction is that Dr. Land came into his position after the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. I left that denomination in 1983, and Dr. Land always brought to mind those days of conflict with the far right.  Listening to his presentation, however, at least on the subject of immigration, I was able to find points of agreement. Afterwards, I went up to Dr. Land, shook his hand and told him I liked him a lot better in person than on those news/talk shows.]

Dispelling a few myths

Among the discussions throughout the day, there was an attempt to clarify some misunderstandings regarding undocumented immigrants. One is the notion that they are a drain on the economy. In fact, undocumented immigrants do pay taxes which support local schools and other services. Every time they pay rent or buy groceries, they are paying taxes. One participant noted that immigrants pay more taxes than necessary because they want to avoid any possibility of being audited or noticed by the government. Richard Land pointed out that economically, we need immigrant labor and we need immigrant taxes. He added that the government “makes out like a bandit” by collecting Social Security taxes from immigrants who will not collect social security benefits, and that the same is true with state taxes.

The take away points for me from the G92 Immigration Conference were: 

  • We are more dependent upon immigrant labor than most of us realize.
  • We are in dire need of immigration reform which will make it easier for immigrants to work legally in our country. 
  • We must do some self-inventory and correction regarding our mistreatment, exploitation, and bigotry toward immigrants.
  • It was beneficial for me to meet with people more conservative than I am to realize that there are indeed areas of common ground.
  • Most beneficial was my personal interaction with Antonio, who has lived the struggle to come to our country in order to find a better life. I was fortunate to be able to get his perspective on things and to hear his words, “Mercy and opportunity is something everyone should have at least once in his life.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Pete Seeger Taught Me about Forgiveness

I clearly remember the catalyst that moved me to grant forgiveness in my heart. That catalyst came in a single day through two separate NPR broadcasts back in April of 1995. It was on a Good Friday. At noontime I was listening to a portion of a Good Friday service being broadcast on the radio while I was in my car while running some errands. Two of the people reading scripture and offering commentary were Martin Luther King, Jr.’s son (Martin Luther King III) and the Methodist minister from Piedmont, Alabama (Kelly Clem) whose young daughter had been killed in church the year before when a tornado struck. I don’t remember who said what, but I remember the message that came across that there are times when we suffer losses and times when we must forgive those who have wronged us. At the forefront of my thoughts was my own need to forgive that person who had betrayed me some four years earlier.

Later that day, I was driving home, again listening to NPR – this time it was the “All Things Considered” news broadcast. Burl Ives had died and they were interviewing folk singer Pete Seeger, talking about Burl Ives’ life. Pete Seeger made the comment that when he thought of Burl Ives, he thought of that clear, strong, beautiful voice of his. The interviewer wanted to probe more deeply into Seeger’s thoughts. What about that time during the McCarthy Red Scare, when there were hearings in Washington, D.C. before the House Committee on Un-American Activities? Burl Ives had testified before the committee, exonerating himself and implicating Pete Seeger, resulting in Seeger being blacklisted along with other folk singers of the day. Seeger’s career was severely affected by that awful reactionary time. Seeger’s response to the interviewer was, “Sometimes you just have to forgive and move on with your life.” He spoke with such conviction and serenity. I was moved by that interview. I said to myself, “If Pete Seeger can forgive Burl Ives, then I can forgive ______.”

It didn’t happen in an instant, but I made that my discipline for the Easter season that year. I know that my own health and well being were positively affected by my move to forgive and get on with my life. I should hasten to add that this lesson is not a one time thing. Since that day, there have been other occasions where I have struggled to forgive and move on. 

I should also add that I have at times been the one who needed to be forgiven. Furthermore, I have no doubt that because of the nature of human interaction, there have been people who have had to forgive me for things I was not even aware of doing. Living with others always leads to hurt and offense. If we are aware, we sometimes realize the hurt we have inflicted and can ask forgiveness. Other times, we are not aware until it is brought to our attention. There are still other times when, just as we must forgive and move on, someone else finds the grace to forgive us and move on – even when we are too blind to realize the hurt that we caused. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Julia Child Smiled in My Kitchen on Valentine’s Day

Actually, Julia smiles in my kitchen every day. There is a picture of her that my wife found years before we met. She hung it up as a “kitchen icon” for culinary inspiration. The Julia Child icon remains in our kitchen to this day.

Since both my wife and I had to work late on Valentine’s Day, and we were both off on the Sunday prior, we decided to celebrate the day on Sunday instead. For our Valentine dinner,  I went online and found Julia Child’s recipe for beef bourguignon. I had never seen the dish served and had certainly never tried to prepare it.  

Well, it was quite an adventure, but well worth it.  The recipe allows for one hour preparation time and six hours cooking time, so you can see that it is an all day affair. You can do a few other things around the house while the recipe is cooking, just don’t plan to be away from the house at all on the day you set out to make beef bourguignon! There are many steps to the process, but Julia lays them all out in an orderly way, easy to follow. You’ll have lots of pots to wash (some of them twice!) during the process. 

I was exposed to new things during my culinary experiment. I learned about lardons, made from thick sliced bacon, simmered in water prior to sautéing in the frying pan. So much of the day was out of my ordinary custom of cooking. I have cooked with wine before, but this recipe called for 3 cups (that’s almost a whole bottle!) of red wine. There was the process of sautéing the stew meat prior to slow-cooking in the oven. There was the careful sautéing of vegetables, the preparation of the mushrooms, the meticulous caramelizing of pearl onions in beef stock – each done separately prior to combining into one magnificent dish! Of course, I used extra virgin olive oil and real butter – there is one thing I heartily agree with Julia on. I heard her in a TV interview in which she was asked about the use of butter. Her response was “I always use butter, and I never mention the other spread.” 

While I was cooking that day, I recalled images of Julia in the kitchen on Public Television so many years ago. I remembered the scene in the movie,  Julie and Julia, when Julie fell asleep while the bourguignon was in the oven, leading to great disappointment (I had a cup of coffee halfway through the process – I wanted no disappointments).

In the end, we had a wonderful French stew that was exquisite in flavor! I served it over basmati white rice, accompanied by steamed French-style whole green beans. My wife gave it 5 stars and an A-plus! In fact, it was my wife who said, “I think Julia is smiling today!” It was a most satisfying day and it was certainly worth the endeavor. I was reminded of my own statement that cooking, like poetry, is a wonderful kind of alchemy – you take ordinary ingredients and create something quite extraordinary.  I heartily recommend Julia Child’s beef bourguignon to anyone who finds joy in cooking.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Political Candidates Foolishly Push for Increasing Use of Fossil Fuels

What Has Posterity Ever Done For Us?

The Native American wisdom was that any decisions made by leaders of the community must take into account the next seven generations. In other words, consider the well-being of posterity when planning your actions for today. From the sound of the Republican candidates, they might as well be saying, “Oh yeah? What has posterity ever done for us?”

This week Newt Gingrich criticized President Obama for canceling the Keystone Pipeline “that would have created countless new jobs and helped America on the way to energy independence because he wanted to appease the far left of his party.” He stated that the President’s agenda is for the left to control what kind of energy we use.

Also this week, Rick Santorum said that the fossil fuel industry holds a tremendous opportunity for jobs in this country which we should take advantage of. He criticized the President, of course, for not proceeding full speed ahead in tapping our fossil fuels. Indeed, both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are strong advocates for the use of fossil fuels.

No one in the Republican political arena is facing up to the fact that fossil fuels are a limited resource.  There can be no denying that our current use of fossil fuels will come to a crashing halt in the future is we do not find alternative sources of energy. With China and India ramping up fuel consumption, that day will come even sooner. Even if you think there is plenty of oil (which there is not) it is still by definition a limited resource. We cannot expect it to last indefinitely.

Not only do we seem blind to the dangers toward our grandchildren, we are even bringing harm to our present day environment. Companies are fracking to extract previously unobtainable natural gas. They claim the process is safe, but there are questions of chemicals getting into the ground water and places where tap water can literally be ignited due to gas that has leeched into the drinking water. For too many people in our society, to question the actions of corporations is almost unpatriotic. We are told, “But don’t you want jobs? We’re trying to give you jobs.”

Jobs are important and they need not come at the expense of a healthy society. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we are in danger of hitting a wall if we don’t start some thoughtful planning – planning as though people mattered; planning as though the earth were a sacred source, not just a usable resource; and planning for the next seven generations.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Smart Cookie Award

I was recently surprised and honored to receive the Smart Cookie Award from Rick Watson who has a popular blog, Life 101. Thanks, Rick!

I understand that there are some rules that go along with this award. Here are the rules:

           1. Thank the award giver and link back to them in your post. 
           2. Share 4 little known facts on anything.  
           3. Pass this on to other "smart cookies" you may know. 

Here goes:
1. Thank the award giver and link back to them in your post.  (See above)  
2. Share 4 little known facts on anything. 
  • The commonly used idiom, “spitting image,” was originally “spit and image.” I, like most, had heard the phrase as “spittin’ image” and just assumed that it was that habit of dropping the ‘g’ that is so often done in the South. When I learned of the “correct” phrase, it just made life more frustrating. That’s the problem with being a grammar geek – you are frustrated by all the incorrect grammar going on all about you. 
  • Cholesterol actually performs a vital function in your body. Any student of anatomy knows that cholesterol forms a protective sheath around every nerve fiber in your body. Without that protective sheath, your nerves become damaged – leading to muscle pain and atrophy as well as declining mental function. That’s the problem with being an anatomy geek – you are frustrated by the pharmaceutical companies that make millions of dollars by foisting drugs on the public to reduce cholesterol which in turn can damage important neural pathways. It’s unnerving, really. 
  • Groundhog Day is an American substitution for Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation, which was traditionally the time to announce the dates for Good Friday and Easter. This was important in the olden days, because those dates marked the coming of spring and the days of planting. Of course, the date for Easter is lunar based and varies. It can be as early as March 22 or as late as April 25 (hence the question of early spring or 6 more weeks of winter posed to the groundhog). That’s the problem with being a history geek – you get frustrated by people not knowing why they do the things they do. 
  • Light roast coffee actually has more caffeine than dark roast due to the roasting process.  Once I was in Starbucks at three o'clock in the afternoon and requested their light roast blend of the day. The person behind the counter countered, “We don’t brew that one in the afternoon, it has too much caffeine for this late in the day.” That’s the problem with being a coffee geek – you get frustrated by other coffee geeks telling you what kind of coffee you need to drink when.
3. Pass this on to other "smart cookies" you may know.
Here are three from my blog reading list that I always enjoy visiting:
  • David Brazzeal at http://davidbrazzeal.wordpress.com/. David is an artist/writer living in Paris, France. I'm always interested to see what he is posting.
  • Tim Lennox.com at http://timlennoxonline.blogspot.com/. Tim is a journalist who blogs from the state capitol of Montgomery, AL. I like the way he provides a daily concise presentation of interesting items in the news. 
  • Language or Parole?, at  http://langueorparole.blogspot.com/, by Jeremy Patterson is a fascinating read. Sometimes he writes in French of Japanese, so I have to skip over those, but the ones in English are always interesting.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

More on the Plight of Undocumented Immigrants

The first time I posted on the issue of Alabama's harsh immigration law (back in June, 2011) I stated:

if it did not benefit our society to have undocumented immigrants working here, they would not be here. Increasingly over the past 2 or 3 decades, we have willingly paid these immigrant people to mow our lawns, do our housework, clean our hotels, dig our ditches, work on our construction crews, and do any number of dangerous jobs in the meat-packing industry and other types of unskilled labor. We have used them for our advantage (or I should say, our society has). Now we are getting a little uneasy and anxious, so we are using drastic legal tactics. It is as though we are shocked and outraged that all of these aliens whom we have employed at low wages (and without reporting said payments) are somehow in our midst.

There are scriptures that advocate that we respect the alien in our midst; that we not mistreat or take advantage of them. Instead, we first took advantage of them, and now we aim to mistreat them, and our governor who likes to make a big deal about his faith just smiles and signs the bill. Leviticus admonished the Hebrew people to “remember that you were once aliens.” All of us white Americans in the U.S. should likewise remember that we were once immigrants.

Last week I posted an account of actions by an Episcopal congregation to advocate for the immigrants in our midst. For a view from the Catholic community, please read the article on Commonweal Magazine’s web page, “Easy Targets: the Plight of Immigrant Women,” by Kristin Heyer:

Roughly 4.5 million American children have at least one undocumented parent residing in the United States, and in the first six months of 2011, 46,000 parents of these kids were deported. Many immigrant families are like Lupe’s: some members are documented, some not; they are firmly embedded in communities; they contribute to American culture, including paying taxes. For many, crossing the border to seek a living wage, and living with the threat of deportation once here, means prolonged separation from their families. Yet that kind of immigrant experience fails to register at presidential debates.

You can read the entire article here.

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