Buongiorno dal mio piccolo caffè mattutino ad Ascoli Piceno,
I am back for my morning cappuccino, shot of water, and croissant. It must have rained during the night or earlier this morning, as there were puddles all around and the stones were beyond a little slippery for this aging person. However, as I walked down the main thoroughfare from my little place and through the Piazza del Popolo, there was a clothing market set up. I can imagine a few people having a heyday browsing through this morning. In fact, I sent a picture and a note to let them know they were thought of.
It is about a day or so later and I am on the bus to the airport in Roma. I have been stunned by the beautiful as we travel laterally across this peninsula known as Italy. The number of tunnels as we make our way through the central mountains is staggering. The civil engineering needed to complete the passageway/highway had to be extraordinary. I am taking pictures as I ride the bus, but there are some relatively low clouds so it is impossible to see these mountains in all their grandeur at the moment. Currently I am in a tunnel that is over 10km in length or about 7.5 miles. While I can make much more sense of what I read, perhaps not as much of what I hear, I still work to use my manners and my greetings spoken in Italian. My Air BnB person told me I was both polite and kind. That means more to me than money. It is what a grandmother taught me as a pre-schooler. Manners and appropriate behavior were not demanded, but they were expected. That eventually became a self-expectation. The older I become the more it is ingrained in the fabric of my being. Those of you who know me know I have a smart-ass side to me, but if you know that, either you have had me as a professor or you know me quite well. As I write this, I am in the aeroporto in Roma. It will be a very long day by the time of get to Murcia, but I am excited to see Elena and meet there in her hometown.
I believe that Rome might have the cleanest, most accommodating airport I have ever been in. From the bathrooms, which were spotless and smelled pleasant (yes, truly did), to resting couches to free charging areas everywhere, it was the most enjoyable time I have spent in an airport, perhaps ever. I had an incredible meal, the most attentive service and an astonishing price for what I had. I think there are a number of airports who should take some lessons. As I traveled through the airport, I think, once again, I saw the most diversity in one place I have ever experienced. From Africa to the Middle East, from Northern Europeans to those from maybe Serbia or Montenegro, from Americans to Russians, I think there was a bit of it all . . . and the airport was efficient from baggage, through security, to boarding. Again, impressive beyond words. The thing I found most mind-boggling was the politeness of every person I met.
It is that diversity and politeness that is worth considering. As an American, we have long prided ourselves on being that beacon of diversity, of welcome, of opportunity. I grew up as someone proud of claim citizenship in one of the most beautiful, significant, and incredible democracies the world has ever known. Certainly, there was more of a veneer to what I saw than a child of the 60s realized, but nonetheless, the American dream with hard work and persistence was achievable. My parents certainly epitomized the example of wanting their children to succeed beyond what they had, and as blue collar people, they were successful. They bought a house and a bigger house in time. They were not ones to spend foolishly, but they did save for the rainy day, and, as I have noted, while I did not have everything I wanted growing up, I always had what I needed. My father worked overtime, sometimes from a distance, but always had a work ethic that I have grown to admire and now one I hopefully emulate. It is interesting for me to ponder what he might think of our present political situation. I know he would be incensed with the shutdown and hardworking people being thrown out of work. As staunch of a Democrat as he was, I am sure he would have some choice words for our current administration and even more so for our President. He would tell all in Washington to get their proverbial “caca” together. I know this, he would have no use for the arrogance, the bullying, and the lack of truthfulness that is currently rampant from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Over the past few weeks I have found myself also more incensed with the shutdown and the politics of Washington (that is a bipartisan statement). While I have honestly tried to give the President some benefit of the doubt, it becomes harder to do so daily. He had an agreement in both houses of Congress before the shutdown and he pulled the plug, backing out at the 11th hour. In a meeting with then Minority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader Pelosi, and yes, now Speaker, he arrogantly said he would take the mantle of the shutdown (I should note every time I have written this word, the first two or three times it typed out as “shitdown” – hmmmmmmm). Now he says it could be weeks months, or years, and walks out of a meeting in the last 24 hours because he is told no. There is money for extended and additional personnel and electronics. Even people in Texas, the longest-length border state, are not completely, supportive of this wall. The Republican Representative from Texas who had chaired Homeland Security is not supportive of the President’s actions. In the meanwhile, a person for whom I have the deepest respect (and his remarkable family whom I love) is unpaid because he is in the United States Coast Guard, which falls under Homeland Security rather than the DoD. Not fair. We are a country of immigrants, and yes, primarily legal ones. Studies, and there are numerous, but I am flying so I cannot access them, that illustrate that illegal immigration is actually down. Certainly the more robust work of ICE (which is another issue for another time) and border control has made a difference. Again, studies show that more illegal drugs come through actually ports of entry or tunnels, which a wall would not stop, so that argument the other night rings empty. Simply, we have a bully in the bully pulpit. We have a tantrum-throwing 72 year old toddler occupying the most powerful office on the globe.
What if we opened the entire government, with the exception of Homeland Security (sorry Nathan) as a first step. Then fund the Homeland Security Department for 90 days. There is a reprieve for all of TSA, the Coast Guard and whomever else the department affects (FBI, CIA). What if the Congress (both parties) work on an immigration compromise until they actually get it done, with the following caveat. They cannot pass any other legislation until that is accomplished. In other words, get it down, immigration, DACA, border control. All of it. If they do not come up with something in 90 days, I think that explains just how out of touch they all are. I actually feel badly for all the new members of Congress; they must feel like what the hell is this?
It is again another morning and I am in another country. My former student from over two decades ago, and now friend, Elena, was kind enough “to fetch” me from the airport at 11:30 at night and take me to my hotel in Murcia. I fell asleep relatively and got in reasonable time. Murcia is a metro area of a little more than 400,000 and we spent some time walking around the city center. One of the more fascinating parts of the day was visiting an archeological site discovered when they began to clear an area for a new parking ramp. In the process, they discovered a centuries, in fact almost a millennium old Muslim village, including a boarding house, two more aristocratic “mansions,” more simple dwellings, a cemetery, and a mosque. It is an active dig, so we were able to watch both experts from a company hired to manage the site along with archeological faculty and students from the Universidad de Murcia. They explained how they were determining issue of age of the remains by DNA testing, isotope testing and a number of other incredible things. I thought of Dr. David Fazzino back at Bloomsburg over and over and imagined him working here. We walked this tour with a group of professional tour guides so it was interesting all the things they heard to be able to lead others. Elena translated for me, but I was able to understand more than I expected.
The connection to immigrants here is the Moors or Arabic people occupied this area for a long time before the Christians had come southward, but the conquistadors and eventually Ferdinand and Isabella we’re determined to wipe the Muslim influence from the area. The significance of the Mosque they are unearthing is that it is probably the only mosque not destroyed and then to have a church built in its place. The significance of this Arabic culture is found throughout Murcia and it is astounding and beautiful. It reminds me of the beginning of movies like Robin Hood. Please do not judge me on that, but I am reminded of how little we know about the Arabic culture in American and what a terrible lack that is. Second, there have been terrible consequences for our lack of knowledge. We stereotype and believe things that are actually completely contrary to what Islam is all about. It brings up, however, another important concern.
The belief that Christianity could be the only true faith has a long history of atrocity, all implemented under the guise of faithfulness, using an incredibly arrogant interpretation of the great commission. Often immigrants themselves, they used the money and power of the church to socially or militarily conscript people into accepting the faith. Ironically, the means used were not all that in line with the greatest of all of the commandments. Perhaps a greater, and even more problematic “sin,” if I am be so blood, is the seeming evangelical take of the Christian Right today is much of the same: preach what serves your needs and ignore things that are glaring contradictions to a gospel that is supposedly good news. The Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, the university chaplain and assistant professor of religious studies at Pacific University, claims this “blind support is theological malpractice.” I found a myriad of article that claim the inconsistency between belief and the President’s glaring moral turpitude is beyond stunning, and I agree. More importantly the idea of loving your neighbor is nowhere to be found. At some point, even within our own borders, we are immigrants. If I were to pick up and move lock, stock, and barrel to Montana, I would feel like a foreigner. If I were to move to Texas, even though I was born there, I would feel alien. If I begin a new job in a new place, simply because I wish for a better life, I would be the “newb” trying to fit in. I would be an immigrant. As I have noted before, and at the beginning of this blog, I am not against legal immigration. Let’s do the humane thing, let’s try to actually love the other. Let’s open ourselves to making democracy truly democratic and not merely for the rich. As I was reminded so poignantly a few years ago, I am privileged, but I do not own that privilege. As I have traveled and tried to speak, listen, and learn, I am reminded of how much of the world is more accepting and open than a country that was initially created as we conquered those there before us. We were a nation of immigrants hoping for something better. Our idealistic idea of pilgrims and Quakers is not as benign as we want to believe. Our present administration’s practice of implementing and creating a systematic hate or fear mongering of those (a great majority who are simple people) hoping to find safe haven in a country that has long been the beacon of opportunity and fairness is wrong and it is against my reading of the gospel. Kryie Eleison!! I remember when I first heard this song and Dr. Donald Harrisville Juel and I spoke about it so many times and listened to it together. I still miss you Dr. Juel.
Thank you as always for reading my thoughts, written as an American citizen, a professor, a traveler and former Lutheran pastor.