Thursday, September 17, 2009

Benefits, compassion, and the Egyptian princess who saved Moses

If spontaneous reactions have a place in politics, let's set the groundwork for outbursts of compassion

"Compassion is not a new or sudden concept for her, awakened in this big moment."

The outburst during last week's health care address to Congress was about how and whether the unvisaed will get access to health care and health care benefits.

I said at the time that I am upset by the hotheadedness in any discussion about people who don't have a visa. As Baptist Minister Drew Smith recently said on Ethics Daily and Diana Butler Bass recently said on BeliefNet, respectively:
I am troubled that many folks are not concerned about developing a compassionate response to the immigration issue
I wish the American family's compassion could embrace undocumented immigrants.
In 2006, as part of the launch of the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative, I made the point that Americans are generally compassionate in one-on-one interactions, but that in politics we tend to switch that channel off:
Most businesses and organizations and individuals treat people with decency and self-respect on a one-to-one basis. But at least in the public dialogue we haven't heard a whole lot of these values.
If we bring compassion into our political discourse, we might stand shoulder to shoulder with politicians like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said that the unvisaed shouldn't be scapegoated.

We might find that our voices echo these words of former President George W. Bush:
[W]e must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives. They are a part of American life...

America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue, and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain.
If spontaneous reactions have a place in politics, let's set the groundwork for outbursts of compassion. I'm reminded of this powerful sermon on the Egyptian princess' spur-of-the-moment decision to save Moses from the Nile:
The writer of Exodus tells us absolutely nothing about the life of the Pharaoh's daughter up to this point. We do not know how old she was or whether she had children of her own. We don't know what she has been doing with her freedom and privilege up to the day that she saw the little basket on the river bank. We are not told her opinion of her father's social policies. We don't know whether she has been arguing with her father, wringing her hands over the newspaper, joining protest marches, or just going on as usual, eating, drinking, and shopping at the mall. We don’t even know her name. All we know about her is what she did at that moment: she saw the basket, had it fetched, opened it, and seeing the crying baby she had pity. Whether her compassion was already deeply rooted in long-considered conviction, or whether it was awakened all at once by the baby's cries, we do not know. But I have a hunch.
[M]y hunch is that the Pharaoh's daughter has already been thinking about what is going on in Egypt. And she has already been practicing compassion in other ways. Compassion is not a new or sudden concept for her, awakened in this big moment.
Read or listen to the entire sermon here. (I think it's a must-read, with a fresh angle for just about any reader, whether you rarely - or frequently - think about immigrants and immigration.)

Going forward, as the American discussions continue about access to visas and benefits - and about the people to whom those lifelines are currently or will be out of reach - let's build up our political muscles of compassion to the point that the outbursts are in love.

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