It was heart-wrenching to see this picture in an e-mail this morning:
Here is the text of the e-mail: “Join us on Sunday, September 4 [6?], at Minnehaha Park [Minneapolis MN] to DEMAND an end to inhumane treatment of refugees, an end to tight border regulations and border walls, an end to police abuse of refugees and immigrants everywhere.
While a little Syrian boy didn’t survive his journey to safety around the world, the image of his body washed up on Turkey’s shore did. Images are not enough. As hundreds of thousands of people undertake the dangerous journey to Europe’s asylum, we must take to the streets to demand the world support them and keep them safe.
MEET AT MINNEHAHA PARK AT 11:45 TO BEGIN THE RALLY. BRING SIGNS AND SMALL DONATIONS FOR MOAS (MIGRANT OFFSHORE AID STATION) WILL BE COLLECTED AS WELL.
REPRESENTATIVE KEITH ELLISON WILL BE HOSTING HIS LABOR DAY PICNIC AND WE HAVE A CHANCE TO REACH A WIDE AUDIENCE.
See our facebook page for more info.”
I’ve watched on every newscast the last couple of days first, the Turkish policeman carrying the lifeless body of this three year old Kurd who, with his mother and brother, drowned attempting to reach freedom. Yesterday and in today’s news we see the anguished young father returning to war-torn Syria to bury his wife and children, saying he does not plan to leave home again: he had left to help save his childrens future; now he has nothing but memories.
The news is full of stories about the tens of thousands seeking refuge from war-torn Syria in other places. We seem to say, “not our problem”….
What troubles me, as an ordinary American, is how insulated I am from these harsh realities. It is so easy to deny our place within the family of man, Watching the news images doesn’t affect me – we see so much of this so often on the tube, but most of us rarely experience anything like it, personally or through people we actually know.
We are isolated from an awful reality of so many. And life goes on: go to the State Fair, the last summer weekend at the lake, etc., etc.
For some reason, the TV image of the Turkish policeman carrying the lifeless Kurdish child reminded me of a long ago photograph from the Fargo Tornado Jun 1957003. The previous day a deadly tornado came through Fargo and West Fargo, killing at least seven people, including this little girl:
Of course, ten years ago came Katrina, devastating, particularly, New Orleans.
Ten years later, all is not back to normal, though everyone tries to put a positive face on our response to that tragedy, short and long-term.
It’s old news. So easy to forget.
Many years ago, perhaps sometime in the 1990s, an African-American minister put things in their proper context for me. I need to revisit his lesson….
By random chance, I happened to be listening to Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith (now called On Being) on Minnesota Public Radio, and her guest was a former evangelical Bishop down south somewhere.
He had built a very large congregation, based largely on expert preaching about the reality of Hell. He filled the hall, so to speak.
One day, at home, he happened to be watching the television news and saw the procession of refugees from the Genocide of Rwanda (1994). In the picture were children.
At that moment, he said, his definition of Hell changed, and the next Sunday, so did his message: Hell was not down there, for bad people; rather it was right here on earth for those poor refugees, particularly those innocent children.
For him, it had dire consequences. His congregants didn’t come to Church to hear messages like “hell on earth” as applied to real persons like themselves – that was too close to home for them, apparently.
His congregation quickly declined, and he literally had to start over.
I don’t remember his name, and thus I can’t find archival record.
For a moment, though, he changed my attitude, and it is good that I can remember it at least the anecdote now, and get more personally engaged.
We are, all of us, part of a much larger world, than just our home, town, state, or nation.
We best not forget that.
NOTE: Follow up post published on Sep 7, here.
from Alberder: This was a powerful post. Thank you.
from John: The hell on Earth part is true. The refugee/migration crisis of today will only get worse. But just imagine how much money is being made by the military industrial complex.
from Annelee who grew up in Nazi Germany, whose father refused to join the Nazi Party, then was drafted into the German Army as a road engineer:
Time moves on, the little Kurdish boy’s drowning, the Turkish policeman holding his lifeless body, the inconsolable father will shake most people up for a while — little will be done and people will move on with their lives glad they are not in the refugees situation.
I am guilty too of moving on with life —but memories of my past will not leave me.
I remember 1945 when 3 million Sudetenland Germans [what is now western Czech Republic] were forced to leave their homeland; when residents of what became East Germany left their homes and lived in refugee camps for a decade or more.
As you know I have a little doll house chair that keeps my memories alive. Today, my aunt Lisbeth is so much on my mind [one of those expelled from Sudetenland]. I still can see her when she handed me the little chair— she took it from her home— even though she had lost everything— she thought of me.
“Papa? may I ask why God leaves us so alone? I am NOT losing my faith, just questioning?????”
I watched 2020 last night when the Holy Father [Pope Francis]—spoke via phone to homeless and refugees.
A young man told his life story: His Mexican father brought his family to Texas where they worked to have a better life. The young man attended school in Texas— when he applied to attend the university, it was found that he and his family were illegal immigrants from Mexico. He and his family were deported to Mexico where they live in a homeless shelter.
Germany has so much to be ashamed of — from 1933-1945 — but I am proud that Germany will take 800,000 refugees to ease the suffering of people who were caught in a web not of their making.
My niece Manuela was here [from Germany]: I always tried to console Mama when she wished we would learn what happened to Papa [Annelee’s father, who refused to join the Nazi party and was drafted into the Germany Army to work on road construction – he was an engineer]. I always said that maybe it was better not to know.
Manuela: “I always wanted to know what happened to my grandpa [Annelee’s Dad] during or near the end of the war. I had it researched, which is costly, but possible now. here is what I have learned so far:
[Annelee’s Dad] was taken prisoner by the Russians during March 1945—-
He ended up in Siberia where he with other German prisoners of war built roads.
After 1945 Poland demanded German Prisoners from Russia —Papa was selected with a great number of other prisoners to be sent to Poland —- Poland sent these prisoners to Auschwitz.
While there they were killed to avenge all the Jews that Germany had killed at Auschwitz.”
NOTE FROM DICK: This is a particularly profound commentary on the reality of war. Annelee has been to Auschwitz four times, and never knew what Manuela, her niece, has revealed. The Jewish population of Poland was virtually obliterated by the Nazis; but a similar number (though fewer as a percentage of the population) of Poles were killed as well. Annelee’s “Papa” did the right thing, refusing to go along with the Nazi line, but was punished by the victors anyway. Those of us who feel we are insulated simply by virtue of thinking righteous thoughts have best think about this again. We are part of whatever system we happen to be in.
from Larry, in Fargo ND: Excellent piece on the refugees, Dick. Your comparison of the photo of the three-year old from Turkey with that photo from long ago is, sadly, appropriate and thought-provoking. As Shakespeare wrote, “what is past is prologue.” Truer words, unfortunately, were never written.
from Jeff: Good piece.
The photo was one of those that ends up changing minds. (starting to see some help for these unfortunates in EU)
As to yr preacher who had a change of view on “Hell”, I do remember that, think there was a magazine piece on him a few years back.
We apostates prefer to point to the continuing occurences of bad things happening to innocent people of course as proof of the absence of a “just” god.
Since the death of this innocent child alone, much less the people found suffocated in locked trucks, or hacked to death in Rwanda, Nigeria, (add your location), defies certainly the logic Of St Augustine and Aquinas, but certainly extinguishes the dim light of faith for many of us as well.