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They will die basically from neglect. Tonight. As I'm writing. As you're reading.

It's Sunday. I'm not a pastor. My father was. Ralph was and maybe, just maybe, he still is. If anyone could salvage something from the runaway train called Christianity, something of its allegedly benevolent nature, Ralph could do it.

Undoubtedly, if not in my city, in some other city that somehow is mine also, some stranger who should be known to me will perish from the cold. Or the heat. Or insufficient food or less than adequate medical care. They will die basically from neglect. Tonight. As I'm writing. As you're reading.

Our armies travel halfway round the world to randomly bring death and destruction to other people I feel I should know. It’s all so eminently preventable.

As an aspiring wordsmith I envy the directness, the simplicity. Ralph was a Unitarian minister. Now, he works with the poor and dispossessed, Iraqi refugees and Hispanic immigrants, in one of the poorest cities in America: Lawrence, MA.

If this post gets some attention here, maybe he'll consider contributing to this forum - perhaps in the way Pastordan (Dan Schulz) once did. Call him Ralph: once a Unitarian, then a Buddhist... last I heard, he was identifying himself as a "secular humanist"

No matter. Whatever Ralph calls himself I consider him to be an exemplar of what, growing up, I learned Jesus was supposed to be about - active compassion for others.

Maybe Ralph lost his church, or it lost him, because of his concern for human suffering. Maybe my late father lost his church, or it lost him, because of preoccupation with the Civil Rights Movement, then with the bombs and Napalm dropping on innocent civilians in Vietnam and Cambodia, halfway around the world.

Compassion, real compassion, doesn't lead to hand wringing. It leads to action. What about that homeless guy pushing the cart along your street. Where does he sleep? What about those Central American children, caught between the traffic and the snowbanks by Lawrence's triple-deckers, wrapped up against the New England cold--why are they here?

They're here, in part, because our tax dollars have subsidized right wing governments that have waged war on their own peoples, and because our tax dollars also subsidize American agriculture, grinding out impossibly cheap produce that drives Mexican and Central American farmers out of business.

They come to Lawrence in order not to starve. For a better life. As in their time did the Irish, the Germans, the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Russian Jews...

Lawrence was close to the epicenter of the American industrial revolution. As you can well guess, the factory mills along the Merrimac River that pulled in the wealth which built the magnificently-faced two and three story granite and brick buildings along Main Street are long gone. Now, Lawrence is one of the busiest centers of Hispanic immigration in the United States.

While the poverty rate in the US is (officially, at least) around 12 percent, in Lawrence it's double that.

Ralph lives in Lawrence and teaches English to the immigrants. He does what he can.

Me, I can't say as much. South of the border the first questions you'll likely get as an American are these - where are you from? Where were you born?

I grew up in the town next to Lawrence--Andover, MA. A rich town with a rich preparatory school. George W. Bush went there, and his father did too - 2 US presidents. And I did as well. On a scholarship. My alma mater dutifully sends me glossy heavyweight paper brochures, thick as books, asking for money, from its well-oiled clockwork fund raising machine.

The school doesn't need my help. It's mightily endowed. But my wider childhood community, not Andover but its impoverished neighbor city, Lawrence, does. I'm not helping. Ralph is. Here, let me step aside so he can speak some more. His words are good, and strong:

Dear Friends,

I hope this finds you well, and warm, and happy.

My fingers have finally thawed so that I can type. I was out in the bitter cold for less than 5 minutes, without gloves. I was tired but the dog had to go out and I didn't want to spend a lot of time looking for them. They'll be fine thrust in my pockets, I reasoned.

It's a gorgeous night. The stars are frozen as hard as diamonds. Plumes of vapor make it seem that I'm smoking. It's so cold that even the dog - who earlier in the afternoon was rolling the snow - hurried her business along. Fine with me.

I should have soaked my hands in warm water as soon as I came in but I let nature and steam heat take their course. I can only wonder about anyone who has to be out in this weather. Will the police be cruising the usual locations the homeless try to find shelter in? A friend once got me to be part of the homeless count in the city of Lawrence. We didn't find anyone but I got to see the underbelly of the city of immigrants.

Undoubtedly, if not in my city, in some other city that somehow is mine also, some stranger who should be known to me will perish from the cold. Or the heat. Or insufficient food or less than adequate medical care. They will die basically from neglect. Tonight. As I'm writing. As you're reading.

Our armies travel halfway round the world to randomly bring death and destruction to other people I feel I should know. It’s all so eminently preventable.

What am I supposed to do?

Another way of saying this might be, what is a church-temple-mosque for? True, we’re all going to die anyway and that’s exactly the point. How are we going to spend our lives in the meantime?

I just remembered the brouhaha in Pelham, Mass. last week, where the citizens were outraged that the police chief had let a stand off with a potentially suicidal and wellarmed man, go on for 33 hours. Don’t just do something; stand there. It cost the town $50,000. In turn it reminded me of Jimmy Carter and how every hostage in Iran came back alive. How much were these people worth?  

I’ll be going to bed now. I hope tomorrow I wake up, really wake up. It’s not that I don’t know the answers.

With love and warmth,

Ralph

Originally posted to Troutfishing on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 07:24 AM PST.

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