Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Interlude 2: Over-boiling The Melting Pot

I'm not sure if many of you are aware of this, but I volunteer to help an Iraqi refugee family acclimate to life inside the United States. The family is large: the family consists of a father, a mother, and several children. They arrived in February of 2009. Upon arrival, the father spoke little English, the mother none at all, and the two older children could say simple words like "yes," "no," and "hello."

Why'd they come? The father is an engineer, and he helped the United States armed forces throughout their liberation of Iraq. He was such an asset to their plans that they awarded him a medal and granted him legal status in the United States. Moving to the United States would also lessen the chance of he and his family being murdered, as they now were targets.

Since their arrival the family has done what they can to get on the fast track for citizenship. Our group got them a place to live, modestly furnished their apartment, helped them get their government heath care, get them their food subsidies, get them their required health inspections and vaccinations, get their children into school, get the mother English lessons, get them a bank account, and transport them around the city for errands and shopping.

The father has been studying the rules of the road and the time had come for him to get his driver's license. He already knew how to drive; he drove in his home country. However, he had to go through our process which involved getting a driver's permit and taking the written and road tests.

I have spent many, many hours with this family. Our family has had them over for lunch. We've taken them to the park for fun. We've been treated to the finest home-cooked Iraqi dishes at their apartment. During my many hours helping them outside the home in the real world I've seen many rolled eyes, shaking heads, stares, and clutched purses. You know, I expected that.

For example, when he starts talking on the phone, in Arabic, to his family, in the milk section of Kroger, people scatter. It would be almost humorous if it wasn't completely sad. You'd think they thought a bomb was about to go off or something. Useful, maybe, in an elevator or a line to see a movie, but sad nonetheless.

I sat in a chair along the wall while the Iraqi father spoke to people at the counters of the DMV in town. He was bounced from clerk to clerk, either because they were having problems with his documents (which is highly unlikely, as all his documents are in order) or they couldn't understand him. Granted he has an accent, but honestly his accent is more understandable than most east-Tennessean accents. He has a problem with acronyms and obscure words. That's about it. He continued to be tossed around like a hot potato. No one else was being tossed around, I noticed. They went to one counter, got what they needed, and took their tests. I think he was tossed around because of his accent paired with no one really knowing what to do. Supervisors, or at least people I assume were supervisors, were called several times.

He finally ended up at one counter with a gentleman who, after the father spoke (in understandable English, to me), sighed, glared at the Iraqi gentleman, and said "Sir, if you can't speak English I can't help you."

By this point I was near fuming. Whatever business he needed at that counter was finally completed, and he moved to yet another counter. At this counter the woman began to ask him, and I heard it clearly, "Do you want the split test or do you want a permit test? For the split test you have to pay and you walk away with nothing."

You'll walk away with nothing.

He told her to explain, that he didn't understand, and she gave her explanation: a verbatim repeat of her previous statement.

Again he asked for an explanation, and again she gave her customary explanation, although this time she said it louder. I used to always think those jokes about saying things loudly would help someone who didn't speak the language to understand were sort of humorous, but now that I've seen it used in a serious context, i see it for what it truly is.

Finally he looked up to me and waved me over. He told the woman that I would help him. By this time, I must admit, I was quite angry.

She looked at me and asked something along the lines of "Are you going to translate for him? Do you speak his language?"

To which I replied, "Yes, I speak English." She gave me a puzzled look - I feared that we would see sparks fly from her ears and watch her head explode.

She explained to me what she was asking, and I, using English, explained to him what she was asking. The problem was not that he couldn't understand her words, it was because he couldn't understand what she was saying. And who wouldn't? You'll walk away with nothing. And to be honest, I don't know who else would. I surely didn't. I just don't understand why she didn't even give one ounce of effort toward explaining the choices to him as she did to me. Well, no, that's not right. I do understand.

We all know why. It reminds me of my previous post where I discussed a story similar to this. People just assume. And you know what the old adage says about making assumptions.

This man sacrificed everything. His family was in danger. They had to leave everything behind: their life, their livelihood, the belongings they'd worked a lifetime to achieve. Their kids left their toys, their clothing, their friends. They left their memories (what good ones they had). They left other family members.

I will not deny that soldiers in combat sacrifice. However, I feel that the families left behind make a greater sacrifice. Soldiers who live and return were doing their job. I respect their job, but I don't see it as a sacrifice. That is the job they wanted. I see it no more a sacrifice as police officer taking down a suspect, a fire fighter dousing a fire, or nurse wiping poop off a wall. The soldiers who live and die are said to pay the ultimate price, but I disagree. They sacrifice, yes, but they are dead. They don't have to go on living like their families back in the states. The families that have to find new ways to survive. They are paying the ultimate price.

Why do I say this? Because I'm tired of hearing people say that this Iraqi family didn't sacrifice anything by coming to the United States. They left a war-torn unsafe country for the safety of the US and a better life.

Yes. A better life. They were heros for the United States while in Iraq. While in the United States, most view them as common dogs.

They were hunted at home, and are hated by the civil majority of their new land. A better life...

One step up the ladder, but still in the septic tank.

Interlude 1: Things That Make You Go ... WTF?

According to a recent report from the Pentagon, detainees released from Guantanamo Bay are either returning to their terrorist roots or are becoming terrorists.


Gee whiz. I wonder why. Surely they could follow the behavioral example our own convicts have shown after being released from our maximum security facilities. Oh, wait. Do we even do that? Oh. Well it does happen. People get released from lesser secure facilities. They could follow that example, for sure. All those ex-cons who are released are so full of love with law enforcement and government. I am never surprised when I see another article on the net or in the newspaper where ex-cons have held bake sales in order to supplement the funding of their local enforcement. My wall is literally littered with clippings of ex-cons bringing pies and cupcakes they made to the local precinct or town hall. Rehabilitation through isolation, shower-rape, and joining a prison-run gang where you get to lift weights all day works miracles.

And that doesn't even begin to address the rehabilitation power of torture, starvation, and humiliation. Wow, I'm surprised these guys didn't just head out and build houses for Habitat For Humanity. What are they thinking?

And we all know taking up arms against the United States in your homeland automatically makes you a terrorist. Even if you're only terrorizing the troops with roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

Surely, they may strap bombs to themselves in the future and charge into K-mart, but until they do, lets refrain from using the melodrama, OK?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Religion And Paulitics, Part 2: WWJD?

What would Jeff Do?

I once thought, if I were the great creator, and I created humanity, and humanity sinned, how would I reconcile the transgression?

Well, I am a creator. I am now. I wasn't before, but now I am.

I used to believe in the death penalty. I used to believe in war. I used to believe a soldier's death was acceptable. I used to believe that civilian casualties were just part of war. It just happens. They're just numbers, after all.

I used to believe that if people acted out of turn, badly enough, their life was forfeit.

As I got older, I started changing. Beliefs shifted. Values evolved.

And then I had a son.

And overnight everyone became someone's baby.

That soldier in the trenches is someone's baby. That child in the school where the terrorists are hiding is someone's baby. And most importantly, that man tied to the injection table is someone's baby.

This is not something I expect anyone to understand unless they've experienced it themselves.

When you've created life, that life is sacred.

I have created life. God has created life. My son doesn't do what I say. My son continues to do things that will get him killed. My son is very defiant. My son despises me at times.

Yet not once would I ever want to see him suffer. He is my son, in whom I am well pleased. He makes mistakes. He deviates from the path I would ask him to follow.

Yet not once would I ever want to see that smile disappear, or hear that laughter fade. There may be bad times, but there are also good times. And yes, even the bad times hold a special place in my heart. He and I both learn and grow together.

And I am no better than God.

I do not know better than God.

Yet I feel so strongly for my creation that I would die to see it live.

Is that the point?

Is that why God sacrificed his Son (or Himself) so our souls can be saved?

No. Because God was there, is there, and will always be there. As is his Son. A Sacrifice? No.

I don't feel this is necessary. God knows what I know. I was created in God's image. I am a creator. To me, my son is god.

I am no better than God. I'm sure God feels the same way for his creation. He loves us. He understands us. And we are Saved. Q.E.D.

Religion And Paulitics, Part 1

I am presenting the first installment of a short series of posts entitled "Religion And Paulitics." These aren't rants per se. They are, for the most part, simple discussions concerning perceived contradictions and/or situations of faith that either make little sense or demand further discussion.

Since the first of these discussions will focus on the Christian faith, I feel it important to present to the reader that I am neither denying the divinity of Jesus Christ nor expressing any blasphemous intent. What I propose in these discussions will be presented in a mature manner intended to provoke serious discussion, if any discussion follows.

I am unaware of anyone using the term "Paulitics," and as such I trademark the term. :)

Paulitics will be discussed in a future post. For now, I want to discuss more of a core faith issue.

According to St. Paul in his letters in the New Testament, a person's soul is saved by faith alone. The faith necessary is faith in the fact that Jesus was sent to Earth to die for the sins of humankind in order to make the believer's soul spiritually clean and fit for entrance into heaven.

Jesus is considered by followers of the Christian faith to be the literal son of God.

God is believed to be an omnipotent, omnipresent, all-powerful, just, and forgiving god.

Yet, for an omnipotent, omnipresent, all-powerful, just, and forgiving god, God chooses to sacrifice the life of his own son to save the souls of the many.

My first question is:

Why would an all-powerful deity use such a solution? I understand the symbolism of sacrifice. It was important to the faith since the days of Cain and Abel. Abraham was asked the impossible to show his faith -- to sacrifice not just the best of his herd, but sacrifice the son God had given him. Job's family and livelihood were sacrificed, again as a testament to faith.

But why? Surely there are other ways. First of all, why is there a need for a sacrifice at all? If God is a forgiving god, why not simply forgive the transgressions of humanity as they are? Humans are not divine creatures, and as such have fault. They are a faulty creation. Why not just forgive that from the beginning?

Some will say this is where "just" comes in. God is a just god. He deals justice in a firm, fair manner. Therefore, if one asks for forgiveness, one will receive it.

But why? Humans were created by God. Humans were given free-will at creation. Free-will is a dangerous trait. Surely God would have known, especially since He knows the past, present, and future, that the creation of humanity was faulty before it was created. Wouldn't He simply forgive the creation from the get-go and not demand the creation ask for forgiveness for being as it was created? I am not saying humanity was created to sin. I'm saying humanity was created with the ability to sin. But why create something destined to fail and punish it for failing if you are loving and forgiving? Does it sound very loving to give your child dangerous weaponry, then execute your child for taking that weaponry and using it to destroy? No. I think if God is forgiving, God understands that humanity will sin. God knew humanity would sin against Him before it was created. I feel that there was no need for blood sacrifice. Anything else would be extortion.

Why create humanity to have free-will, then punish humanity for using it? Why punish the ones who do not believe? Would that be very forgiving?

Yet humanity is sinful. Humanity is imperfect. Humanity is destined for Hell unless it repents, and is Saved. Humanity is Saved through the death of Jesus Christ.

Even if one believed a sacrifice was necessary, how does the sacrifice of God's Son prove that God has tremendous love for me?

As a child this is what I was told. Because God loved me so much, he sacrificed his own child. Does this sound loving to you?

How many would be appalled by their lover, suitor, or friend who, in an act of love murdered their child for you, to show you how far he'd go to prove the fact to you?

Further, there are many who believe the holy trinity to be aspects of one being. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the God the Spirit.

How many would be appalled by their lover, suitor, or friend who, in an act of love chopped off parts of their body, blinded themselves, or even went so far as to commit suicide for you, to show you how far he'd go to prove the fact to you?

The entire situation seems wicked to me.

I am not denying the divinity of Jesus Christ. All I want is for people to think:

Maybe we got it wrong?

What if Paul wasn't right? What if Paul actually contradicted the teachings of Jesus? What if Paul simply hijacked the faith of those he persecuted and twisted it into something blasphemous and obscene? Some say he did. We'll read about that soon enough.

Why would God allow someone like Paul to infiltrate His faith and spread lies throughout his holy work?

What would you expect of someone who demands you kill your beloved son as a testament of faith?

Something stinks, and it isn't my underwear.