Talk don't impress me much
I assume everyone knows about the situation that exists on our southern border and the humanitarian crisis that it has caused. The numbers of people crossing the border have overwhelmed federal resources and dominated the news. As is the case with virtually everything these days, it seems to me the bomb throwers get more ink and bandwidth than those who are quietly giving their time and their money to reduce the stress on the children, some of whom are unaccompanied. Despite that lead in, this isn’t about immigration but that is a timely example of what this is about, specifically that some people are doing while others talk.
On July 22 Stephen King tweeted (entertainthis.usatoday.com/2014/07/23/stephen-king-mocks-tea-party/):
Revised Tea Party Gospel: "Suffer the little children come unto me. Unless they're undocumented kids from Central America."
Much easier to be a Christian when the little children aren't in your back yard, isn't it?
His timing was bad. South Texas Christian churches had in fact emptied their pantries and their treasuries to provide food, clothing, toys, and basic comfort (like showers) for these children and Mercury One raised over $2 million to fill a convoy of tractor-trailer trucks with supplies. Glenn Beck was at the border with Rep. Louis Gomert, Sen. Ted Cruz, The Rev. Alveda King (niece of Martin Luther Jr), Dana Loesch of the Blaze, and others to unload the trucks and replenish the local pantries. Mercury One’s convoys will continue through October. Those who do genuinely care can help but what will not help is loudly demanding more tax money be unaccountably thrown at the problem or denouncing others who reject the notion that there is a legislative solution. What also will not help is volunteering to show up empty handed with a camera crew to be photographed being benevolent and understanding. The churches have enough volunteers, they need the materials to distribute.
There are several lessons to be taken from King’s foot-in-mouth Tweets and the mega-church Christian leader who volunteered for the photo op. The first lesson is that Stephen King has proven that he knows no actual Christians. In fact, his words prove he’s never known a true Christian. That is because nobody becomes a Christian by saying so or by attending Sunday services and dropping an envelope in the basket. King’s caricature may apply in some measure to the mega-church leader but truly being a Christian is a commitment to core beliefs, values and behaviors of which King plainly shows his ignorance. A second lesson is that demeaning others, especially when we know nothing about them, demonstrates our ignorance and bigotry for all to see and deplore. It also makes us bad citizens.
Most of us are citizens by accident of birth not choice but being an engaged and responsible citizen means accepting and fulfilling obligations. We don’t become engaged citizens by proclaiming others’ faults, or sitting on the sidelines admiring a problem and deploring what government is failing to do or what others are failing to do. Paying taxes and voting once every two years are obligations but those don’t make us good citizens any more than attending services and dropping some cash in the basket makes us a Christian.
Whatever our views of government social services, the fact is government has assumed the role of providing a financial safety net, but those who need help include a great many who need more than money and we all also know the safety net has its faults and failures. Each of us knows of a food pantry, fuel fund, or other charity in our town or our county that helps people who are not served by the tax-funded entitlements. Even when we have our own financial issues we have time or talents that can be contributed to helping a neighbor who can’t put on his own storm windows, shovel his walk, or perhaps just needs a few minutes of your time to retell those stories you’ve already heard. Volunteering is a duty, it’s not difficult and it’s twice rewarding: Once by doing for someone else what they cannot do for themselves and twice by meeting, getting to know, and becoming one of the community’s best citizens.
We cannot and we must not abandon (or delegate) our civic obligations to politicians. Their role is not to legislate a better society or to define and fix what’s wrong with society. Such governments do exist and their citizens are taking enormous risks to cross seas and deserts to escape the squalor, misery, and danger those governments have created. Our government of, by, and for the people is different and fundamental to its success is that citizens be informed and involved. We elect legislators to make laws, not decisions. Decisions are our job and making fair and informed decisions takes firsthand knowledge of our community and its issues.
We can talk about diversity and tolerance, but when we speak abusively about those who have different views, different religions, different values, or different ethnicity, we’re showing our isolation, bigotry, ignorance, and immaturity. Allowing third parties to tell us what others think or what they’ve said isolates us from our neighbors and feeds the ignorance shown in King’s Tweets. It’s sadly the truth that there are among us those with something to gain by perpetuating division and suppressing the exchange of ideas. Everyone has limited time and volunteering is one effective use of time to meet and get to know others, exchange ideas, develop an informed appreciation of our few differences and many commonalities while gaining firsthand knowledge of what our communities’ issues and needs are.