Every time I think of the new Arizona immigration Law 1070 I’m reminded of the song “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.
Woody Guthrie wrote, “This Land is Your Land” in 1940, he wrote it in direct response to the song “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin. Woody thought the song Irving Berlin wrote was “unrealistic and complacent”. He recorded the song in 1944 in New York and all the lyrics you usually hear today from this song were just the verses he put in the original recording. He didn’t include the bolder verses about private property or our responsibility to the poor. You can read these verses, and more about the song here. These additional verses really drive home the point, that “truth, justice and the American way” are comprised of all of our combined personal commitments to these ideals. The way we act, the laws we pass, the markets we create all express our values.
I have child who’s very interested in what’s fair. This is usually about how sharing is not fair. I tell him that “sharing is about giving something up, and sometimes that’s what fair means”.
In the Bible there’s an absolutely wonderful verse in Micah that really hits me as my major complaint with Arizona’s Immigration Law.
But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don't take yourself too seriously take God seriously.
In its brevity, says a lot about Justice. Looking up from the bible to the world I live in, I realize I don’t get much guidance and precious few examples of Justice being done in our modern society.
There’s a scene at the end of the Bonfire of the Vanities that kind of rants on the theme that Micah is teaching us.
I'll tell you what justice is not. Justice is not the will of the few and it's not the will of the many. Justice is not politics. Justice is the law. And the law is man's feeble attempt to set down the principles of decency. Decency! And decency is not a deal. Or an angle, or a contract, or a hustle or a campaign or a trick or a bid for sympathy. Decency is not the beast that bays for money, power, dominion, position, votes and blood! Decency is what your mother taught you! Decency is in your bones! Do I make myself clear! Now go home. Go home now. Be decent people. Be decent.
Recently the Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, declared April Confederate History Month.Governor McDonnell didn’t include any mention of Slavery in the proclamation. Governor McDonnell said he didn’t think that slavery was:
As significant for Virignia as the other aspects of the war. (I’m paraphrasing his exact quote is in this artlce.)
My family lives in Virginia and I grew up there. This was a little embarrassing for me on a personal level (but it’s nothing compared what Arizona has going on). I’ve grown accustomed to Virginia’s missteps here. In Virginia’s efforts to honor the hundreds of thousands of ghosts, many within her borders, I have learned to forgive her for occasionally listening too closely to the values of the unjust that did not prevail.
To his, and Virginia’s credit, Governer McDonnel later apologized for his statement.
Arizona as I mentioned has gone a bit further. We recently passed a very aggressive law concerning Immigration, and as I’m not a civics expert or someone that diligently studies immigration policy, I’m not going to tell you all right thinking people should agree with President’s Obama’s characterization that it’s a misguided law. That would be inappropriate. Besides I’m not here to talk about my political position or address pundit based talking points or any of that.
I bring up this new law because it’s an excellent example of how the Christian values of justice and charity can get forgotten in our very practical and very emotional day-to-day decisions. This is such a good example because it’s a very complex policy issue, yet it’s based on the fundamentally human activity of how we treat strangers. When I look at the law we, as Arizonans, just passed, I can’t think of a better example of how justice and charity matters to each of us at a very real level. Just to be clear on this, we passed this law.
Unlike Confederate History Month, which was looking backwards, we are looking forward and we’re not listening to our dead, we’re speaking to the living and those that will inherit our values.
When I step outside of myself and ask what we’re about, I often think of what Woody Guthrie was saying when he sang about what “this land is”.
Woody is very specific that this land isn’t just My Land and it’s certainly not Their Land or even Our Land. This land is Your Land and My Land. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from this Land “belongs to you and me”. To Woody, and me, it’s about sharing because that’s what we’re put here to do: “This land was meant for you and me.” Christ certainly tells us the same thing about the whole world.
Whether you agree with Woody’s politics, or more accurately how pundits like to characterize him as political man, I have to agree that this aspect of America being for all of us is a fundamental part of our country’s values. I think Woody captured that pretty well, and certainly the song is well loved enough to infer it speaks to a great deal of Americans. (I think of Woody more as Cause oriented man than a political man, his causes certainly brought him into a political context, but he was more interested in justice than politics.)
As I said earlier, to a six year old, sharing is about giving something up. To adults, to Christians, to me, sharing is about much more than that. It’s about what our values are and how we live our lives as a reflection of those values.
Christ teaches us that living our lives in fear and separation from others is wrong. He shows us that there is enough; if we take care of each other, if we share what God has provided, there is and there will always be enough.
I think about these values all the time especially when I’m asked to give of myself, or give of my family. I don’t always say “yes”. I am human and kind of selfish. One of the things I like about the Church I go to is that, as a group, we can say “yes” where individually I might have to say “no”.
Naturally, and rightly, I see more charity from our church than I do from our government. But I also see more justice done as a result of this institution’s commitment to Christ’s teachings.
Yet I worry about christianity’s commitment to justice. When we fret needlessly about political affiliations, we endanger ourselves in our relationship with God. I for one can’t see why I would bring policy concerns and political necessity to God’s word and say “Yeah I get that thing about taking care of the least among us, but it’s really hard, so it’s okay if we don’t right? I mean, who’s going to pay for it? What if they work harder than we do? Why can’t they just stay away from us?”
God shows us, and as a country our own history shows us, when we carry messages of bounty and sharing, rather than messages of doom and fear, we don’t just individually benefit, we all enjoy a richer, fuller and more rewarding life. What we give up we don’t really need anyway. It’s the same thing the ghosts of Virginia taught us to give up. God only asks us to share what has been given to us.
Though life may not be fair all the time and we must, as Christ taught us, live our lives to create a more fair future.