Monday, November 30, 2009

Are we blind?

Today I was made aware of the blog of a preacher at a local mega-church and I was slightly saddened to read some of the things this preacher had written.

In his most recent post he asks for money to help a group of 300 children in Haiti. This is an admirable goal and I see nothing wrong with wanting to help these kids. What I do find a bit disturbing is that I saw nothing in his blog asking for money to help the 2200 kids who are homeless right here in the Nashville area. How come he is so anxious to help children so far away and yet right here in front of us are thousands of children who need help. Not only can we help the kids we can provide a community of support and caring for their parents, we can make sure that their lives are better not just today but in the future as well. We have this chance to make a huge difference in the lives of people that share our cities and neighborhoods and yet we would rather send our money half way around the world to help individuals we will never meet.

Maybe all of this can be explained by another posting in this blog. A few days earlier this same preacher posted a list of 10 things he is thankful for on Thanksgiving. Number 9 is "The privileges and freedoms of living in the USA!" Yes, the USA, where we have the privilege of paying for health insurance that can be taken away from us at any time and for any reason. We have the freedom to go bankrupt and lose our homes because we can't afford to pay our medical bills, we get the privilege of dying at an earlier age on average than people living in any other industrialized nation, we have the freedom to have the worst infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation. We have the freedom and privilege to live in a nation where the incomes of a few wealthy individuals are considered more important by our government than the lives of thousands of US citizens who will die each year simply because they don't have the money to afford the health care that could save their lives.

Yes, we live in a great country where we treasure family values and yet it is the British who give their new mother 6 months paid leave when they have their baby and the option to take an additional 6 months unpaid leave. In France new mothers get a year of paid leave. In both countries high quality, low cost, day care is available to all mothers, in most European countries families are valued enough that they get to spend time together because they have at least 4 weeks of paid vacation each year. In most European nations they treasure family values enough to make sure that parents don't have to worry for years about how they will pay for their child's college education. In these countries they do more than just listen to their preachers and politicians pay lip service to family values, in these countries they actually help their families.

Why doesn't this preacher ask for funds to help pay for healthcare for those who need it in his own church? Why does this preacher not try to help the homeless in his own community? Why does this preacher not put his efforts into making sure the poor that can be found within a 20 minute drive from his church are fed, clothed, housed, and cared for until the can start supporting themselves and helping to take care of others? Why? Because kids in Haiti are easier, they are less problematic long term, and possibly because he, like so many others in our country, has chose to ignore the very real problems that we have here in the US, maybe he ignores these problems because he knows that he, again like so many of us, is part of the cause of these problems and he hates the guilt he feels when he allows himself to think about it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thoughts about a homecoming story.

Listening to the radio on my way home from work tonight I heard a reporter tell the stories of a few military families as they waited for their loved ones to return home from Iraq. They talked about their excitement and joy at getting to see their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, boyfriends and girlfriends again for the first time in many months. They talked about the pride they feel knowing that their loved one is sacrificing so much for their country. They talked about the sacrifices they themselves make, waiting at home, anticipating that next letter or call or email. Making sure that they take advantage of every chance to tell their sailor or marine how much they love them and how proud they are of them.

A few minutes into the story the magic moment arrived. In the background you could hear the sound of buses pulling up and a growing wave of cheers, shouts, and cries of joy. The reporter related in great detail the scene of uniformed men and women rushing from the buses and being swept up in a wall of hugs and tears and  kisses. I could easily visualize the scene the reporter talked about and could feel how powerful and joyful of a moment this had to be for everyone involved.

Well almost everyone. The reporter then turned to a family who could only stand and watch as the other families greeted their returning heroes. The father in the family explained that it had been their plan all along to be there that day, to greet his son as he stepped off the bus, to give him the kind of hug that only seems to be possible after a long separation. Sadly this wouldn't be possible as their son had been killed in Iraq, still, they wanted to share a little bit of the joy the other families were feeling. It made my heart hurt a little less for them knowing that the other families were doing everything they could to help them through this, that they were willing to take a break from their celebrations to help this family who could only celebrate their memories, to acknowledge that they were all part of a bigger family, a military family, and that like any good family they would be there for each other to lean on.

I was still sad for one other group though, this group was never mentioned in the story, and it is possible that that particular day they weren't even there. I know that this forgotten group of American heroes is often present on days like this though and it saddens me greatly.

Imagine stepping off the bus having just returned from a long deployment, risking your life every day for the country you love. Imagine looking out into that sea of people waiting for the return of you and your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines. Imagine looking out into that crowd and not seeing the person that you love the most. Worse, imagine stepping off that bus and seeing the person that you love so much but not being able to run to him or her and throw your arms around them and kiss them with the passion you feel for them deep in your heart, a passion intensified by the months you have spent apart. Imagine the distance that separated you all those months seemed even greater because you had to temper all of your letters, your emails, your phone calls so as to keep your love for each other a secret. Imagine all of this. Imagine the loneliness, imagine the empty feeling you would have knowing that you have to wait to get that welcome home kiss, that "thank God you are back" embrace, and the reason that you have to wait is because of the government of the very country you have been risking your life for.

Thanksgiving is upon us and I think we owe it to the fine men and women who serve our country and who also just happen to be gay or lesbian to be able to get that kiss, that embrace upon seeing the person they love for the first time in months. They deserve to be able to serve their country as who they are, Americans. Americans who just happen to love someone of the same gender. We should let them be as thankful for living in this great country as we are, and that means never making them question why they are giving up so much to fight for a nation that is forcing them to live a lie.