Owned one once. Thought they were nice. Roomy, great for long trips. Hard to believe they’ve become a dirty word.
Now, one’s headed our way. A caravan. Filled with rag-tag people wearing flip-flops, bent on ravaging our lawns with weed eaters, tearing into our floors with mops and brooms, and yanking our tomatoes from their vines on their hands and knees while conversing in the first European language spoken on our shores.
In Wisconsin, dairy farmers are worried there won’t be enough of them, seeing as how they’ve established a reputation for hard work mucking barns at low pay to supply us with milk.
Let me assure you, Jesus travels with them — as does Mohammed, Abraham, Buddha, Ganesha, Amaterasu and other enlightened people of faith who are wondering what’s gone wrong with our soul.
They’re walking, from Hell to their contextual perception of Heaven. We’re waiting, with troops at the border. If they throw rocks across the Rio Grande, we’re going to shoot bullets into another country. How Christian-Muslim-Jewish-Buddhist-Hindu-Shinto-and-other-faiths is that? Makes you proud to be an American, right?
The great founders of our faiths walked with the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, the outcast, the ignored. There were more of them then. There are fewer now — especially in the United States of America.
We know that, and so do the people we have decided to define as the “other” — those described using synonyms such as animals, criminals and invaders, none of which apply.
We know that, and so do the people in the caravan.
We know they’re being used as political fodder, and so do the people in the caravan.
We’re supposed to be religious people who follow a moral and ethical code. So are the people in the caravan.
So do our troops — the ones being called to the border, many of whom have already seen the Hell of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That was me, more than 50 years ago.
First, I marched from Selma to Montgomery. It was March 1965. We slept in muddy fields in Lowndes County, where it rained, along the way. Because I was white, people yelled expletives in my direction.
Sometimes they threw things in my direction, including feces. A year later I was camping northwest of Hue, a Navy man in the company of Marines. Sometimes people threw things at us there, too, including grenades.
This past Sept. 11, I walked Highway 80 again. I was in the area to help a neurosurgeon from Pakistan become a U.S. citizen. I found the campsite where we slept — it wasn’t hard; there’s a big sign marking the place, calling it historic. I’ve never gone back to that place northwest of Hue. Don’t know if I could deal with pain on both sides. Hope here aren’t any signs.
The 54-mile walk in Alabama was about letting everybody vote. So was the walking tour in Vietnam.
This time, nobody yelled at me. Nobody threw anything. People at a historical center even asked to pose with me for a picture. Still, it was harder than I’d thought it would be.
We hadn’t been trying to be a part of history, in Alabama or Vietnam. We were trying to do what we thought was right for the people of our country.
As a veteran of the march and the military service, both combat, it all comes together now.
We keep transferring our hate. Sometimes out of fear. Mostly to get what we want. And we keep declaring ourselves righteous.
This past Tuesday, most people voted their conscience. Some people voted out of hate. Against people they didn’t know, places they didn’t understand, coming to America in caravans.
Because there are places I don’t want to go back to, I understand that more than I’d like to admit. That does not erase my human responsibilities — particularly as a person of faith.
Those responsibilities including doing my part to make sure everybody gets a fair shake, is heard, gets a chance to experience freedom and gets to vote. Fairly, openly, morally, ethically and honestly.
We voted that way as a people in Florida on Tuesday. Sixty-four percent of us said felons could regain their right to vote without a government official standing in the way. Even as we split our votes for other offices.
Somehow that gives me hope, even if we’ve still got a long way to go. Somehow that tells me most people’s faith informs them in good and decent ways. Somehow that says enough of us recognize the Hell being experienced by people from other places. That enough of us know we came from other places, too.
Maybe those marches in Alabama and Vietnam were worth the scars. Maybe we’re truly not afraid to open our eyes in order to see whose walking with us.
Those are my personal, rambling thoughts of faith on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice we now call Veterans Day.
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Sichta is the Pastor Emeritus of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Bradenton, an open and affirming body in pursuit of a 21st Century Progressive Theology. They meet at 10 a.m. each Sunday at 241 Whitfield Ave. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.