Family 7: Margaret and Walter

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  Joseph Walter and his mother, Matilda

As individuals, we live our lives day after ordinary day, but sometimes world events come crashing in to change the course of history—and the course of families—in ways that we could not anticipate and certainly would not choose.

Walter was still drumming with George Masso and blocking hockey pucks when he realized, along with all of his classmates, that they would graduate from high school and go straight into the military to fight in World War II. He and Margaret knew that their courtship could come to a final end when Walter joined the Army Air Corps in 1943. Not only had Margaret’s grandfather in Scotland died in World War I, but they both had friends and family who had already lost their lives in the current war.

Walter’s dad had left the mill some years ago and gone to work for New England Transportation as a mechanic, and the skills that he passed on enabled Walter to serve as an airplane mechanic. Furthermore, his mother, Mathilda, had become quite valuable to the Red Cross, so when she had a medical emergency and asked if her son could come to her side while the rest of his unit shipped out to Europe, someone somewhere granted her request—which may be the reason I am here to write this today. Walter stayed stateside for the remainder of the war.

IMAG0030Margaret was 17 and still a senior in high school when she received a telegram saying, “I have a furlough in December. Will you marry me then?” Her mother panicked and immediately refused, but once again, her cousin Dot came to her rescue. “Don’t worry, Auntie Peggy! I’ll help you to get this wedding together in less than two weeks, you’ll see!”

And so, in military uniform and trailing white gown, Walter and Margaret tied the knot on December 14, 1944. They went to Boston for their honeymoon, which may not seem romantic, but it was close by. Everything was rationed, but they were miraculously able to find a restaurant serving shrimp, although it may have turned out to be more of a curse than a miracle, as Margaret later spent her wedding night with her arms wrapped around a cold toilet rather than her warm groom. The next day, they explored the joys of Boston and found a booth where they could sing into a machine and create their own phonograph record. If he hadn’t known it before, this is where Walter discovered one of his beautiful wife’s tragic flaws: she could not carry a tune. Indeed, although she would sing quite cheerfully and with great gusto, she had a terrible voice. When they turned the record over to make the second side, he said, “Here, let me sing by myself on this side,” and she said, “OK,” and smiled at him adoringly, because she was, after all, seventeen.

In just a few short days, Walter had to return to his military service, and Margaret, now Mrs. Joseph Walter Kelly, went back to high school.

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Dreaming of a Competent Congress

Trump ImmigrationMy father backed the car out of the driveway in the dim light of early morning, while my mother, my sister, and I wept. We were leaving our beloved home in Milledgeville, Georgia. I had only been a few months old when my family moved to this small, historic town, and I could not remember any other home. My father, however, had taken another position in New York City, and he wanted his children to go to Catholic schools. And so, we were New Jersey bound.

I was nine years old when we moved to New Jersey, where I would live until I was halfway through college. We all grew to love it, too, as we made lifelong friends and put down roots. My dad made good decisions for his family, all because of his desire to provide for us and give us a better life. As children, we had no vote in his plans, and I never remember his asking us for our opinions.

According to news reports, there may be as many as 800,000 young people in the United States who were brought here illegally by their parents when they were children. They are popularly called “Dreamers,” as in, dreaming of a better life. Just as I had no say in my parents’ decision to move us from state to state when I was a child, neither did these people have a say in their parents’ decisions. If someone had said to me when I was 20— and then living in South Carolina— that I had to “go back,” where would I have gone? My parents were from Rhode Island, but I had been born in Paterson, New Jersey, where they spent less than a year before moving to Georgia. I have no idea what Paterson looks like, since I have never been there since I was six months old. What would happen to these young people if they had to move to Mexico or Central America, when all of their memories are of the United States?

This problem moves the heart of most of us, even those who agree that crossing the border illegally is a crime. However, Christians recall the many verses of the Bible that speak to God’s compassion for foreigners and “sojourners.”

Leviticus 19:34- “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (NIV)

Exodus 22:21- “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (ESV)

And many more in a similar vein. There is no doubt about how God wants us to treat foreigners in our midst.

President Obama was very concerned about these young people, and he called upon the members of Congress to pass laws to protect them. They did not. Both houses of the U.S. Congress seem to have lost the ability to pass legislation, which is, unfortunately, their entire job. They are so paralyzed at the thought that someone in their district will be offended by their activity and will vote against them in the next election, that they do nothing at all except give self-serving, dishonest speeches in front of a camera. While Congress dithered, President Obama stated publicly that he was not the Emperor of America, and therefore could not make it happen by himself. Apparently, he changed his mind later and signed the executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The recipients of this deferred action are called Dreamers.

Since DACA is an executive order, and not a law, it is expiring, and President Trump has decided not to renew it. A great many of the things that were accomplished during the Obama administration were done by the pen and the cell phone, so we can look forward to crises like this happening regularly. That is both the beauty and the tragedy of executive orders: they are not laws and they cannot last.

While the news media are screaming that people opposed to the renewal of DACA are racists, I will jump out on a limb and tell you: I am cautiously optimistic about this turn of events. The hundreds of thousands of young people who are here because of their parents’ actions deserve better than an executive order. They need for Congress to pass a law to set them on the road to legal status. Sometimes I want to send each legislator a copy of the children’s books that I buy for our library system with titles like, How a Bill Becomes a Law. I could put a note that says, “Read this carefully. This is what you are supposed to be doing. Do it for the children.”

Will Congress muster up the courage to do this? The track record is not good, but I don’t hear anyone on either side against it. If only they could compromise, but I am afraid that our entire society has forsaken the art of listening. Not everything has to be a binary choice. If you care about the Dreamers, it doesn’t mean that you’re for open borders and total amnesty for illegals. It might just mean that you have a heart. If you think it is appropriate to end DACA, it doesn’t mean that you’re a cruel racist. It could mean that you want the government to function constitutionally and to hopefully have an even better resolution for the Dreamers.

Congress has six months to do the right thing. Let’s remind our legislators that we’re expecting them to earn their pay. I plan to write to my Republican congressman and senators to let them know that it’s OK to tackle just this one part of the immigration issue right now, and that I’m not going to take revenge on them for letting 800,000 people stay home.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Image by the Chicago Sun-Times, accessed 9-7-17.

The Benedict Option Wrap Party

Benedict OptionLast week, the few of us who persevered to the end of our meetings to discuss Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option had a little party to sum up what we had gleaned from this important book. We gathered on the porch, and there were calories and perhaps a little wine involved. With candles lit, we shared favorite parts and even a few criticisms.

We all agreed that Dreher forced us to get serious about our personal spiritual lives. We are more diligent to set aside certain times for scripture reading and for prayer, and we desire to pray more deeply, rather than abruptly addressing the Creator of all the universe with a checklist of our requests. On a related note, we have all attempted to ratchet back the amount of time we spend with technology. For some of us, that means being more deliberate about our television viewing, both the content and just the pervasiveness of the noise. For all of us, it means social media use and the brain-fracturing effect of smartphones.

One member pointed out the lack of scripture in the book. We have been aware throughout the study that Christians cannot base their lives on any movement that came about after the book of Acts. We can learn from church history, but all people have had blind spots, even monks in the Dark Ages. On the other hand, Dreher’s history of philosophy and culture encouraged us to rip off our contemporary American glasses and attempt to turn our minds to a time when Christians saw every atom and every moment of their lives as soaked in God’s presence.

Dreher writes from a post-Christian perspective, and here in the American South, we have not quite arrived. Almost, but not quite. Therefore, when he writes about community as taking place only within the church, we are still more in the mind of The Turquoise Table, working hard to bring our neighborhoods and towns into community together. Even over the course of the few months that we have spent on this book, however, we have seen still more movement to silence and isolate people of faith, and so we discern that Dreher writes prophetically.  Perhaps we will soon see a day when we should board those little arks of which he writes in his excellent New York Times article, just as the boats rescued the soldiers at Dunkirk so that they could regroup to fight another day.

Unlike many of the books written within the past couple of decades decrying the collapse of religion in the West, The Benedict Option is refreshingly non-political. Rather, Dreher’s work is spiritual and ecclesiastical, pulling the church back to a deeper understanding of living as the people of God on earth.

Portions of The Benedict Option would be even more valuable for young families, particularly the wide-ranging chapter on education. Furthermore, pastors and church leaders would be in a position to put at least some of these ideas into practice within their congregations. One member of our group plans to suggest this book as a small group study in her church. Whether read alone or discussed with others, this title will awaken American Christians to our current status in our country, while offering thoughtful ideas to strengthen our spiritual lives, our families, our churches, and our communities.