It is closing in on our Easter celebratory time and I find myself looking forward to the singing of the Litany of the Saints...that wonderful song where we sing the names of Saints who have gone before us and then the refrain is, "All you holy men and women hear our prayer". It gives this wonderful sense of us being in an historic and world-wide context, i.e. whatever our situation, we are not alone. So, the portrait today is of a very elderly Rabbi (he walked up to the Presbyterian pulpit to speak, slowly, with a walker) who has been working with people of all faiths (and no faith) for 30 years. For 30 years he has partnered with an ecumenical task force to provide humanitarian aid and advocacy for refugees. He read from the book of Jeremiah 31: 31-34. He said that historically, "It was a book written by a Jew, to Jews...but it was for everyone." The assembled, mostly non-Jews, laughed but we got it. Good stuff is FOR EVERYONE...not just a chosen few! P.S. Watch for more "Saints Among Us...they are everywhere!
Her name is Michelle. She is seven years old. She has a purse with hearts all over it. It is really cold in the high desert at night so she is bundled up in a hot-pink hoodie sweatshirt with a long brown wool jacket buttoned up over it. Her mother has put her hair up in a neat ponytail. But here is the big thing...despite the fact that she and her mother have been deported from the United States, despite the fact that she and her mother are living in a women's shelter, despite the fact that she gets two meals a day in a cold, cement floored dining room with 130 adults squished in at long tables...she exuded 'security in the face of insecurity'. I am haunted by her trusting, calm demeanor.
Yesterday I went to "Operation Streamline" again. It was a model of American efficiency. In one short hour, 53 people were duly processed and entered into the American Criminal justice system. (Remember to picture them in shackles, chained at the hands, feet, and waist.) The judge quickly rattles off their "rights". Every time he does it, I try to picture speaking up for myself if I were in chains, a foreign intimidating environment, and I didn't understand the legal lingo or possibly even the language that is being spoken. He asks each group of 7-8 appearing in front of him if they have been in any way "forced, threatened, obligated, or intimidated...or are not appearing voluntarily before him". (...Um, yes, they were forced, threatened and intimidated off their land in their home country...decided to try the Land of Opportunity.) He tells them that their fingerprints have been taken and that they are now in the American criminal justice system. He asks them if they "have knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily entered a plea of guilty?" They all say, "Si, culpable." Remember that the crime that they have committed, is walking for days in a forbidding desert to find menial work, to feed their families. Its "The Hunger Games" being played out everyday...only FOR REAL, not a Hollywood blockbuster fantasy. And make no mistake...the real-life situation is equally dramatic and high tech. It pits small, poor, hungry, de-hydrated people, on foot... against tall, fit, and heavily armed well-fed and fully-hydrated people. The hungry poor actually manage to elude the guns, dogs, helicopters, drones (no I am not kidding), trucks and ATVs... sometimes. Their "prize" is that they get to live in fear of being discovered and do work that no native-born American would deign to do.
Yesterday I was slowly picking my way through the book of John 5:1-16. It is a story about a pool in Jerusalem, named Bethesda, where a "multitude of invalids" 'occupy' and wait...hoping that an angel will come by and agitate the waters. (I guess a modern day equivalent would be that someone would come by and turn the jacuzzi on!) The belief surrounding the pool, is that when the waters are stirred they will possess healing power for the one who manages to dip into them first. So Jesus comes upon this scene, and he picks out a guy who has been laying by the pool for 38 years, and asks him a question. He asks, "Do you want to be healed?" And the invalid replies that he doesn't have anyone to help him, so he is never able to get into the water first. I can only assume that Jesus, being Jesus, is a good, compassionate listener. But Jesus replies (with what is sort of a non-sequitur) and says, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." The next thing that happens in the story is not what I expect. I expected rejoicing that the man is healed. I expected rejoicing that the man was 'empowered' to participate in his own healing. I expected rejoicing that someone is able to contribute to the society rather than ask for hand-outs. Nope. The authorities asked the man what the heck was going on. They wanted to find the guy who broke the law. It was "unlawful to work on the Sabbath". But FIVE TIMES in this short passage it says to "take up your bed and walk". Is it suggesting that we 'participate' in our own healing. The immigrant pictured above, is attempting to do just that!
On Saturday I walked the tiny migrant trails that criss-cross the desert near the border of Mexico. I was with a retired 78 year old geology professor who is trying to find and map the trails used by migrants. We walked from morning until late afternoon in dry, spiny, high-elevation desert, trying to determine what was a human trail and what was an animal trail. We found discarded clothing and hygiene articles. We found lots of tuna cans and various hydration products. We looked for, and checked places where humane organizations had left dated gallon jugs of water. We wanted to know if the water stores were used up, needed replenishing, or had been slashed or shot and destroyed. The desert has 7% humidity. A lot of water is needed to keep a human hydrated and alive here. When we found slashed water jugs (that people had carefully placed at strategic points throughout the desert), the sweet, old geologist sighed and said, "Some people are just mean". At the end of the day, I was hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. And for me it was just one day.
Okay, I am starting a new series of immigrant paintings. They will all be oil on stretched canvas, 11"x14". I am calling it "America's Most Wanted" as a sort of double entendre...i.e. we want work done in our country AND we want to find and deport workers. We legally permit big American corporations and banks to plunder Central and South America (see NAFTA and The Profits of Extermination by Francisco Ramirez Cuellar), thus shoving people off their land where they have made a living for generations AND we want to do a squeeze play at our borders as these displaced people try to make a run to second base (yes, I just used a baseball analogy). People are forced to migrate northward to find work; People are then arrested and criminalized for trying to feed their families. People are arrested and criminalized for trying to do work that Native born Americans will NEVER do. People are arrested and criminalized for being modern day "Les Miserables".