The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

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Archive for September, 2015

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 26: What’s the Ethical Answer Here?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Nancy and I are currently on vacation in Boston and we’re staying in a nice hotel. When we arrived there was a tag on our door, much like the “do not disturb” sign we’re used to seeing. But this one told us that if we are willing to forego housekeeping service the next day we’d get a gift card for $5.00 in the hotel gift store.

The catch is this: we have to hang it on the doorknob by 2AM. Clearly the early time gave the hotel management the opportunity to call off part of the housekeeping staff and not pay them. In a sense it makes the entire housekeeping staff per diem.

But it also makes good environmental sense. They won’t use water to wash sheets and towels or electricity to vacuum the room.

So as someone who cares about the earth and also cares about economic justice, I’m in a bit of a dilemna. The $5.00 doesn’t affect my decision but I am chewing on deciding between the earth and the housekeepers.

Of course I’m aware that the hotel chain has created this dilemna.

I’m open to feedback on what you think of this.

The Election Chronicles Volume 9: We Should All Be Alarmed by Dr. Ben Carson’s Words

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Last weekend presidential candidate Ben Carson appeared on the NBC program Meet the Press. This show has been a staple of Sunday morning news since 1947 and deserves all the respect it receives.

In 1975 President Ford appeared as the first current President to appear but long before that we’ve recognized the importance of the show in our choice of the next President.

This past weekend Ben Carson made news when he told Chuck Todd that No Muslim should be President. He explained that a Muslim can’t be trusted as his (or her) primary loyalty would be to his (or her) faith over his (or her) patriotism.

This alarms me as a Catholic. It’s hard to believe but there was a time when a majority of Americans felt the same way about Catholics.

Al Smith ran for President in 1928 and lost, in part because he was Catholic. In 1960 John F. Kennedy ran for President even though 25% of Americans believed they couldn’t vote for a Catholic because they felt that his first loyalty was in Rome and the Pope would tell him how to lead.

We Catholics knew how silly this was. We knew the Pope had no desire to rule the United States and we liked the idea that “one of us” could lead our country. We were right.

And as for Muslims? C’mon! Islam calls its followers to 5 pillars: to believe, to pray, to donate, to fast, and to travel to Mecca. It explicitly forbids violence against anyone.

In the nine Presidential elections I’ve voted every time. I’ve voted my values each time. If a Muslim runs in my lifetime who professes a concern for the poor, a belief that our best days are ahead of us, and we can create a nation where our children are better off than we are, I’ll vote for him (or her).

I call everyone who reads this to do the same.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 25: An Interesting Theological Questions

Friday, September 18th, 2015

My friend James wrote a fascinating question to Facebook and tagged me. I’ve been thinking about it since I read it but I feel my answer is too long to post to Facebook. I decided to answer James here.

James is an incredibly kind and generous person and late last year he entered the world of fatherhood. Here is his post:

Theological quandary I’ve had recently:

I believe that God is all-loving. We sing “God is love” in church. And the Gospel of John says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That is a lot of love for God’s creation.

But think about this from Jesus’ point of view: Was God showing love to him by sending him here to live, spread the word, die and be resurrected? Seems like a bit of a crappy thing to do: hey, I’m going to send you to some people who will put you to death, but it’s ok you’ll get better because as part of the Trinity, you’re eternal.

There is a parallel to this in the story of Abraham being tested by God in the near-sacrifice of Isaac. In the end, God is satisfied with Abraham’s faith, and spares Isaac (who probably never wanted to go in the wilderness alone with his dad ever again), but with Jesus, where is God’s mercy? or justice? Is this the act of an all-loving God, a single dad to his son?

Or is this a semantic thing? God the Father giving His Son is the same thing as Jesus the Son choosing to go because Trinity.

EDIT: the main point I’m getting at here is whether God truly is all-loving or not, using the act of God giving Jesus to death from Jesus’ POV: Was God all loving to him?

You ask several wonderful, puzzling, frustrating, and eventually faithful questions. Let me see if I can parse this out.

I’m going to start with the Abraham/Isaac question. Nearly everyone who reads this passage from Genesis has the same reaction: horror. How can anyone, especially God, make this demand on a father? And what father would agree to this? I think we all agree that we would’ve had more respect for Abraham if he had told God to go bother someone else.

Fair enough, but in that time the idea of human sacrifice was not unknown. Those who followed pagan gods often saw human sacrifice as something that was demanded of them. The best description I’ve found on this came in the first few pages of James Michener’s book Hawai’i.

I’m not certain that I’m right about this, but I think God was telling Abraham that human sacrifice will no longer be a requirement of his faith. “The pagans do human sacrifice but those who follow me will not. Unlike the pagan gods I find human life to be sacred and will never demand that you kill as a sacrifice.”

That said, I’m troubled by the idea that God let Abraham get that close to sacrificing his own son. Every time I read this passage I wonder if Isaac lived the rest of his life with PTSD.

But I’m also heartened by the reality that the God of Genesis, the Old Testament, and the New Testament does not demand sacrifice. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ ultimate throw down centered on his cleansing of the Temple in Matthew 21:12.

The phrase “throw down” is a modern term and it means this: someone “throws down” when he or she wants to make a point so badly that he (or she) makes a statement with no regard to the consequences. Jesus’ throw down is the last straw that leads to his arrest and execution.

But James, your point is well taken. What do we say about an all loving God who allowed his Son to be killed (and killed in such a horrible way)? We all understand that Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected unless he died, and had he died of natural causes his resurrection would have meant little more than Lazarus’.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us nothing about Jesus before his conception and if we had only those Gospels we could easily make the argument he didn’t exist before then. Only in John’s Gospel is Jesus described as being “in the beginning with God.” Perhaps Jesus “volunteered,” knowing what he was getting into. This doesn’t make his death any more horrible or painful, but it at least gives Jesus the advantage of knowing that it will turn out well in the end.

The Election 2016 Chronciles Volume 8: Rick Perry Drops Out

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Yesterday we learned that Rick Perry has “suspended” his campaign for president. This allows him to continue to raise money even though nobody really believes he’ll be president: any money he collects is donated by wealthy people who feel badly for him and don’t want him to be responsible for debts collected during his delusional belief that anyone would vote to make him president.

He’s the first of the GOP crowd to drop out and it doesn’t really surprise anyone. Rick did poorly four years ago in the last presidential race and many residents of Texas expressed embarrassment. When he declared his candidacy for 2016 most people hoped they could ignore him.

Enough did. His poll numbers never really made him a serious candidate and his decision to wear eyeglasses didn’t make him look smarter.

On August 10th his campaign admitted that they could no longer pay his campaign staffers. Some stayed, some left, but nobody could claim his campaign was viable.

The Election 2016 Chronicles, Volume 7: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Constitution, Part 2

Friday, September 11th, 2015

In my last post I spoke of citizenship issues from a historical perspective. We really can’t have a full discussion about citizenship without speaking about the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

This amendment was passed on July 28, 1868 and it granted automatic citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Clearly this amendment was intended to grant citizenship to all the newly freed African slaves but its reach has proven much greater.

For the rest of the 19th Century and much of the 20th Century our nation found itself to be a land that others dreamed of. Immigrants from virtually every other nation on earth found their way here in the hopes that through hard work and dedication they could provide a better life for their children, grandchildren, etc. The 14th Amendment guaranteed that no matter how they got here, anyone born here could stay and enjoy the full privileges of citizenship. My father was one of those people (my grandparents came from Canada around 1915).

There have been challenges to this. Wong King Ark was born in San Francisco in 1873 to parents who lived here (but were not citizens). In 1894 he traveled to China for a visit but on his return to the US in 1895 was told he was not a citizen because of the Chinese Exclusion Act that I spoke about in the previous post.

The case of The United States vs. Wong Kim Ark went to the Supreme Court and on March 28, 1898 they decided on a 6-2 vote that Mr. Ark was indeed a U.S. citizen. The majority argued that someone born on U.S. soil could be denied citizenship for only 3 reasons:

  • If the person was born of parents who were rulers or diplomats of a foreign country
  • If the person was born on foreign public ships (I’m guessing they are talking about a child born on a ship in a U.S. port)
  • If a person born to enemy forces who are here to to defeat the United States in war

And while Mr. Ark’s parents were here legally, that fact did not enter into the decision.

That’s right: nowhere does it base Mr. Ark’s citizenship on whether or not his parents were documented or undocumented.

But that appears to be the crux of Mr. Trump’s argument. You can read an article about an exchange between Mr. Trump and Bill O’Reilly.

With absolutely no analysis Mr. Trump insists that children born here of undocumented residents are not citizens. To be fair, he is a real estate developer with no legal training at all. He speaks of lawyers who insist that claims of these children “will not hold up in court.”

I disagree. If you were born here, you’re as much a US citizen as I am and I welcome you. I encourage you to stay in school, find your passion, and contribute as much to this blessed country as my father has.

Oh, and for my mother? Well, her father was born here in 1902 to Irish immigrants. Her mother was born in Massachusetts to a father who was born in Canada and a mother who (as far as we can tell) was born in Michigan. Her parents were born in Canada. In other words if you go back to 1850 nobody in my family was born in the US.

As for me, I love being an American and want that feeling to be passed on to anyone who is as fortunate as I was to be born here.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 6: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Constitution, Part 1

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

As I write this we are 14 months away from the 2016 presidential election and at this point immigration appears the be the primary issue. I hope the national discussion moves on, but for now this is what we have.

I’ve always been fascinated by this because as Americans we recognize that we are a “nation of immigrants” (apologies to our Native Americans) but at the same time we’ve shown a shocking lack of tolerance for our latest immigrants.

In the 1800s (when our nation was about 100 years old) there was a push to limit immigration. In the 1850s we saw the birth of the Know Nothing Party. They got their name because they were instructed to say “I know nothing” whenever anyone asked them to explain their position. It didn’t work: nearly everyone knew that they believed that immigrants (particularly Catholic ones) were going to destroy the United States.

The “No Nothing Party” didn’t last long but the fear of immigrants did. Large cities on the East Coast were replete with anti-immigrant feelings. Nearly everyone who sought a job saw signs on factory windows that said: “NINA.” It was code for “No Irish Need Apply” or “No Italians Need Apply.”

This ran against the reality that these immigrants made us who we are today. Speaking of the Irish, many of us look fondly on President John F. Kennedy. His great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy (1823-1858) immigrated to Boston in 1849. Interestingly enough he came from Ireland to Boston 39 years before my great grandfather made the same trip.

Not impressed with John Kennedy? Fair enough. How about President Ronald Reagan? His grandfather, John Michael Reagan (1854-1889) left England and came to New York in 1871.

Still not impressed? Fair enough. The grandfather of Donald Trump, Frederick Christ Trump (1869-1918) came to the United States in 1885.

Now Donald and all his “Know Nothing” followers will claim that they all came here legally and that makes a difference.

Fair enough, as far as it goes. But here’s the problem: Until 1921 nearly anyone who came here could stay. In 1882 President Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886) signed the Chinese Exclusion Act which made it difficult, even impossible at times, for Chinese immigrants to stay and become citizens. But that applied only to the Chinese.

If you came from nearly anywhere else it was different. My father’s parents were both born in Canada. They loved the land where they were born but knew it was too hard to make a living and they made their way to Massachusetts. And they did it much the same way John Kennedy’s great grandfather, Ronald Reagan’s grandfather, and Donald Trump’s grandfather did the same thing.

They all had the good fortune to arrive before 1921. In that year Congress passed the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 which limited immigration from all countries. It’s been amended countless times since then but the reality remains: no matter where you were born, no matter what you face in your country, no matter what you can offer in terms of your skills, no matter what you dream about for your children, it’s much harder to come here legally.

If you were born in Mexico, have a high school education, and don’t have a relative to sponsor you, it’s a hard climb. Thousands of undocumented workers currently in the United States came here under the radar and mow your lawn, wash the dishes when you eat at a restaurant, and clean your house.

Donald and his ilk claim that they have no problem with them, they just want them to “wait their turn” and get here legally. Fair enough. So here’s my question: how long do you think it will take for someone with a high school education and no family here to get a green card? Do you think it’s a year? Maybe 5 years? Maybe a little more?

Guess again. I’ve done some research and it appears that it will take you about 25 years to come here legally. So if you first applied in 1990, your phone should ring soon. If you apply today, be by your phone in 2040. Of course if you were 20 years old at the time (and could work hard in difficult situations) you’re now 45. Mexico got your best years.

My grandfather came here in 1915 when he was 23. By 1940 (25 years later) he was married with 7 children. Those years were much better spent here than they would have been in Canada.

Enough for now. My next blog post will discuss how Trump’s position requires amending the Constitution.