As the BikeE’s rear wheel is damaged beyond repair, we abandoned our plan to bicycle 140 miles from Postville to Grinnell, Iowa. Our new friends Shad Sluiter and Ron Wahls found a Postville gentleman willing to drive us to Grinnell.
Our chauffeur, E, is a hard-working family man who has installed pipelines in Florida and Alaska. From his accent, one might mistake him for Mexican. In fact, when E was a teenager, U.S. immigration authorities did just that. They imprisoned him — no, sorry, the word the feds use is “detained” — for 45 days, intending to deport him to Mexico. When our E’s father finally obtained a copy of E’s U.S. birth certificate, E was released with an apology. At least that!
Our van ride was through Iowa countryside of almost absurd beauty. We reached Grinnell in fine shape, took the BikeE to the local bike shop where the owner is familiar with the machine (he has an old one in the basement), and a new and stronger wheel should be ready in a few days.
Grinnell is four times the size of Postville; it has around nine thousand inhabitants. The presence of world-renowned Grinnell College makes it diverse, if not quite in the same way as Postville, and much more well-to-do. This is one of the town parks.
Here is Rebecca Heller, who is about to graduate from Grinnell College with a degree in history. She has been one of the Ride’s biggest boosters, raising the consciousness of her fellow students. Rebecca is about to begin a year of national service with AmeriCorps. And she happens to be Jeffrey’s daughter.
Not far from Grinnell are the Amana Colonies. They show the sort of things that happen when persecuted people come to America. The people make a life for themselves, enriching our country in the process. The Inspirationists arrived before the days of quotas, restrictions, and mechanisms to determine whether one qualified for asylum. People fleeing persecution just had to show up to find refuge. Those were the good old days.
The Inspirationists trusted in God. Such trust was common among Americans of their day, as it is today. We noticed that many Indiana license plates bear the inscription, “In God We Trust”. So does all American money, by law.
Trust in God is evident throughout modern America. On the Ride, we saw hundreds of churches, and some synagogues and mosques even in remote areas. We met many people who spoke intimately of God. American political gatherings and legislative sessions are begun with prayers. Holy Writ is used to justify views on abortion, sexual preference, war, private property, dietary taboos — all sorts of things.
Much of what people believe the Scriptures say is ambiguous. As with our Constitution, interpretation can be more important than the literal word. For example, 2000 years ago, Jewish sages closely examined the Hebrew wording of the famous “eye for an eye” passage and determined that the phrase refers to monetary compensation, not eye-gouging. Their interpretation prevails in the Western world today. We sue for money damages, not for the right to pluck another’s eye or knock out a retaliatory tooth.
There are lots of similar ambiguities in the Bible. Does the ban on boiling a kid in its mother’s milk outlaw only that specific act, or does it prohibit the eating of cheeseburgers? Does kindling fire on the Sabbath include turning on an LED? Does honoring parents mean obeying their every order? When is killing justified, and when is it murder? People on various sides of even hot-button issues like abortion and homosexuality can find Biblical justification for various interpretations.
But there is nothing ambiguous about God’s word on the treatment of strangers.
“The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.” Exodus 12:49
“There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 24:22
“As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord.” Numbers 15:15
“There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.” Numbers 15:16
And so forth. We won’t get started on the commandments not to oppress strangers and foreigners. And you all know the Golden Rule.
To paraphrase one of the loud slogans of the xenophobes: What part of “same law” don’t you understand? (And don’t throw Anatole France at me: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Mr. France was being sarcastic. We kangaroo puppets are experts at sarcasm.)
Which brings me to these questions:
When will the majority of Americans, who profess religious belief and say they trust in God, trust God enough to follow God’s commands regarding the treatment of the foreigners among us?
Why do Americans who are so quick to condemn our Washington, DC, lawmakers as out-of-touch buffoons, happily follow the cruelest and most inane immigration edicts emanating from Washington rather than the Word of the God in Whom We Trust?
If you visit Prague, you can see a synagogue with a room of overwhelming power. The walls of that room were inscribed with the names of the 80,000 Czech Jews murdered by the German Nazis and their allies. It brings home the fact that these were not statistics, but people. Each murdered person had a name.
Each foreign-born person living among us has a name too. Each is a human being. Each is protected by God’s law.
The people we met in little Postville, Iowa, get it. What about the rest of us?
It’s about time we either put the American majority’s professed faith to work to help good immigrants regardless of their papers, or we stop pretending to be a people of faith.
Please come back tomorrow for the final daily post on the Ride for Human Rights!