Haunting Thoughts as a Church Collapses

http://www.9wsyr.com/news/local/story/Oswego-Church-collapses-but-memories-remain/JSijb-ftPkCAV8-MVti2dQ.cspx?rss=1543

Street vendors sold hotdogs in the empty building’s shadow and people celebrated with loud music at a local festival on nearby streets.    The church looked so normal.   Yet without warning, St Louis Catholic church in Oswego, NY, partially collapsed to the pavement this past weekend.   Fortunately no lives were lost in the immediate catastrophe. 

The more I have viewed pictures and read about it on the internet, the more I have been haunted by the thought.    On one level, I suppose, it is just the story of another closed and unsold church, neglected for years that simply reached the point of architectural instability.   It sounds so mundane.  

But I see it differently.  From my vantage point, this historical exclamation point is a powerful symbol of a much more crucial and deadly collapse that happened without much notice many years before; a collapse that is being repeated all across America today in churches Catholic and Protestant.   The paper reported tersely that the church closed ten years ago because of a decline in parishioners.   That is the real collapse, the death of a congregation by withering away.   How many souls have missed the way because that light has been darkened?  How does that happen?   Can it happen to our church as it has to St John the Evangelist in Syracuse and many others?

A visible collapse like this one makes us all stop and think about it.   Now I know that church attendance can be a tricky subject.  Demographic, competitive, leadership and location factors certainly play a role.   Something as simple as a building with no parking could doom a congregation to decline during the latter 20th century.

But the factor in potentially losing a church to neglect that troubles me the most is one that we can do the most about, or can we?   I’m afraid that closed and neglected church buildings are a sign that Americans do not value anymore what our forefathers who built these churches valued.    The sign of it is that weekly, we trade in our heritage of faith for Sunday entertainment, leisure, travel, shopping, or sports.   So though we claim to be Christian, we are no-shows repeatedly.  These other things are more fun and satisfy our eyes’ desire to see new things and our insatiable craving for pleasure; but they leave our souls starving.    The predictable result is that our moral values are unfortified with deep reasons from the wells of faith; our children do not learn the didactic stories of Scripture; and we are left without the comfort and support of a family of faith.  

In contrast, our forefathers understood what David meant when he said, “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!” (Ps 68:35 NIV).  That is why they invested, often heavily in making the place of his praises majestic.   If we do not understand their investment of money, labor or time in attending, perhaps we should ask if we are missing something, before the church we look to as home collapses from inside.    Much later someone will raze the external skeleton and no one will be left to mourn.

“The Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.” (Ps 96:5-6)

Welcome immigrants if you like to eat

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100501/ariz-gov-modifies-immigration-law-after-criticism/index.html

I spoke with a local beef and crop farmer the other day.  From what I read, I think he’s pretty typical of many Northeastern farmers– retirement age, runs his farm mostly with a little family help.   He would like to hire some help but whom?   He commented that most of his neighbors– family dairy farmers use immigrant help.   Local trunk farmers do also.  So we like cheap and plentiful food but need workers to produce it.  

It is situations like this throughout the country in various industries plus the large young unemployed population in Caribbean countries and Eastern European countries that drive the situation in Arizona and other border states.   But the long and short of it is that if we like to eat, we had better like welcoming immigrants.   It is hypocritical in the highest way to like the benefits of their work and then discriminate against them as we currently do.

What I really don’t understand is why conservative Christian groups are often among the anti-immigrant crowd.   Yes, crossing into the country illegally is a crime and that issue should be addressed.    But persecuting the workers already here and failing to address the underlying employment situation is not helpful.   Plus, the Bible principle from the OT is crystal clear.  And it could not be simpler:   “‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:33-34 NIV).   So once the worker is here, we are to apply the golden rule and treat him well, even as we treat each other.

It’s easy to be critical of the status quo.  What are some suggestions? 

Certainly we need a much more workable working permit system.  As soon as it is easier to get a legal permit than to risk your life coming in illegally, illegal immigration will dwindle to a trickle.  If a person is caught near a border coming in illegally, deport them and make them ineligible for a legal permit for 3 years.    The way northern cities are losing people, they could use some immigrants just to occupy the houses and keep the teachers employed.   (Otherwise the whole Northeast will be tearing down blocks like Detroit.)  

States such as Arizona are worried about crime.  I suggest that they recognize that when young men go places without wives, crime goes up.   Allow them work permits that allow them to bring families honorably.  Crime will plummet; guaranteed.

However, we also need a way to deal with immigrants who have been here illegally for years.   My own idea is a decreasing fine.   Start with a high fine of say seven thousand dollars for an immigrant discovered to be here illegally who cannot prove they have been here a year.    Then for each year they can prove they have been here, the fine goes down in recognition of the service they have rendered to our economy in that time frame.   If they can prove they have been working here 7 years or more, the fine bottoms out at $500.   If they pay the fine themselves or with the help of friends, they will be granted legal working permits.   If not, they will simply be deported and must wait three years to apply to re-enter.   This assumes there are not entanglements such as marriage to a citizen or children who are citizens. 

Steps like these will help us reform our immigration laws in ways that truly welcome immigrants.

Justice should not be blind

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/17/AR2010041701804.html

I read in the Sunday Post Standard about the jailing of Christopher Wells in Florida for murder.    Nineteen years before, he and his wife had been accused, convicted, and spent less than a year each in prison for aggravated child abuse.   Christopher had shaken their daughter, Christina, and nearly killed her.   Now nineteen years later, Christina, in the care of an adoptive Mom, a “guardian angel sent by God” as Christopher called her, had died.   The medical experts were unanimous that the death resulted from the long term effects of the traumatic injuries.  

According to the paper, the defense brought up issues of double jeopardy.  They pointed out that Christopher and his wife had mended their lives, had several more children, and had not been in trouble since.   The couple had even asked to visit Christina after she was eighteen and had done so.  But raw retributive justice would not be denied and Christopher received 15 years.  

The case brought into bold relief an issue that I have felt strongly about for some time.   What should be the aim of the whole justice system?    Certainly penal retribution is a large part of the answer.  But it is definitely not all of it.  Another widely recognized piece of the answer has to do with the protection of society.  We see this idea coming into play in the treatment of repeat felons, in cases of crimes committed by someone with mental illness, and in the publicizing of info on sex offenders.   That is not at issue in this case.

I submit that there is a third piece that judges and law should have in mind always. It seems to be completely missing in most of our judicial practice.   And it is cases like that of Christopher Wells that bring the lack of the inclusion of this principle to light.  Judges and law guidelines , especially in the sentencing phase, should have as a primary consideration; what is restorative?  What is remedial?  What can bring healing to this situation, this person, this family?  In some cases, that is not possible or doesn’t alter things.  But in others it changes the picture drastically.  Certainly penal incarceration, forced interruption of a destructive life course is frequently part of the answer from the perspective of remediation too.  But the rates of recidivism tell us of the abject failure of incarceration alone as a means of changing lives.    

 In the Wells case, the healing has obviously happened.  Society has nothing to gain by incarcerating him again even though a penalty may be technically due.  We only sow poverty and destruction into a family that has already found rehabilitation.  We likely endanger the remaining children too.  In short, society, Christopher and his family will all lose by enforcing penal retributive justice.  Why cannot the judge be allowed to be truly wise, rather than follow the letter?    Why cannot the judge rule that the higher aims of law have already been served and give a greatly altered and reduced sentence because of it?   That would be true justice!