Our trespasses

Today's paper has a good piece from reporters Hiran Ratnayake and Ginger Gibson — "Immigrants on fringes in debate's foreground" — on the desperate situation faced by illegal immigrants in need of health care here in America.

The article starts with one story:

When Miriam was 15, her parents trespassed into the United States from Mexico.

Now in her mid 20s, the Wilmington resident still doesn't have citizenship but has become familiar with the health care system.

In the spring, she and her husband — who both work as custodians — were admitted to St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington for two days with pneumonia.

When they were released, they faced bills amounting to more than $4,000 and were put on a payment plan that eats up about one-fourth of their combined paychecks.

"I'd rarely go to a hospital because I can't afford to pay for it again," said Miriam, who is not being identified due to her immigration status, through an interpreter. "If I get sick again, I won't go to the hospital unless it's really serious."

What I want to draw your attention to here is the legally accurate verb in that first sentence: "trespassed."

That's not Lou Dobbs' preferred word for illegal immigration, since we don't tend to think of trespassing as a particularly menacing form of crime and people like Dobbs — the CNN anchor fearfully obsessed with illegal immigration from Mexico — want to portray these aliens as more of a threat than the word "trespasser" seems to convey.

But there's another reason you won't hear that word from Dobbs or from his role models on Fox News or the other members of the frantically xenophobic anti-immigrant mob, like the birthers, deathers and tea-baggers or the demagogues who stoke their cowardly anger, like drop-out Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or South Carolina's Rep. Addison Graves Hansen Huntington Wegener Ricketts Parkinson "Joe" Wilson* — the congressman who said he was overwhelmed by his emotions when he heard the president excluding illegal immigrants with what he regarded as insufficient viciousness. ("You lie!" Wilson shouted, after Obama said illegal immigrants would not receive federally funded health insurance under his health care reform plan. Obama's statement was true, but Wilson fears such immigrants might not also be aggressively prohibited from purchasing private health insurance, and the idea of them doing so keeps him tossing and turning all night.)

The main reason that none of these Very Angry, Very Scared people wants to use the word "trespass" is that it reminds them of church.

There's this prayer we Christians say in church, at every service, whenever we get together. We recite it in unison, usually, and we've all got it memorized. We call it "The Lord's Prayer," because Jesus himself taught it to us and told us to pray it. Sometimes we call it the "Our Father," since that's how it starts.

Most of this prayer is comforting and reassuring, like the 23rd Psalm. "Give us this day our daily bread," we pray. "And deliver us from evil." Daily bread and deliverance, that's nice.

But then there's this other phrase which, when we listen to ourselves saying it, is the scariest part of any given Sunday. "Forgive us our trespasses," we pray, "as we forgive those who trespass against us."**

That's disturbingly conditional. It's almost contractual. The conditions laid out there are crystal clear and explicit, but we tend to recoil from them. We pray this one prayer more than any other, but every other prayer omits this quid pro quo. "Forgive us according to thy infinite mercy," we pray, or "according to your boundless grace," or "for Jesus' sake," or "in Jesus' name." Straight-up, unconditional, one-way forgiveness is what we ask for in every other prayer. Apart from our recitation of that one prayer, you'll rarely ever hear us ask that this be conditional — "Forgive us as we forgive others."

Rep. Wilson attends the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and every time he goes there with his family he has to recite those words: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." How can he possibly reconcile that with his rabid anti-immigrant views? Having those views, how does he even manage to speak the very first word of this prayer?

Think of Wilson and the rest of the "take back America" crowd praying this prayer in tens of thousands of nominally Christian churches across the country. Think of them praying this prayer on behalf of "their" country: "Forgive America its trespasses as America forgives those who trespass against it."

If those are the conditions — and they are — then we're screwed. Our own words, our own prayers, condemn us.

Wilson and the tea-baggers have to realize this. They have to hear this every week, to listen to themselves saying it, listen to their own voices inviting and invoking their own damnation. Praying this prayer must be for them like those monks in Monty Python's Holy Grail who carry wooden planks and smack themselves in the face after every phrase of every chanted prayer.

Maybe that explains why these people are so miserably unhappy, why they're so disproportionately angry, so wrong-headedly certain that they deserve to be jealous of those luck-ducky illegal immigrants like Miriam in the story above. Those desperately poor immigrants may have no access to care they can hope to afford, but at least they can hope to be forgiven. Wilson and the tea-baggers know that they, due to their own prayers, never can be.

The heroes in all of this, to me, are those health care providers like the ones in the story above who insist on being exactly that — providers of care, regardless of a patient's ability to pay or to produce identification papers for the ICE or the polizei:

If law enforcement is alerted by a health care worker that a patient is undocumented, more patients with the same status would shy away from seeking care when they need it, added Rosa Rivera, executive director of Henrietta Johnson Medical Center.

"All you're doing then is a disservice to the community," she said. "Our goal is to treat as many people who come here that need our services and take care of them and make them well. It's not to determine who is a citizen and who isn't."

That obligation to care for those in need, without regard for their trespasses, clearly applies to anyone with the temerity to pray the Lord's Prayer. But I don't think it's an exclusively sectarian obligation.

In a country like America, where the democratic conversation is often dominated by the voices of demagogues and the shrieking of Very Angry Cowards like Dobbs, Wilson, Palin and the tea-baggers, it's tempting to focus on the politically expedient — tempting to agree even in the long-term to exclude those whom this vehement faction lives to exclude. But lead us not into temptation.

And deliver us from evil.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Julia noted in comments to the previous post that Rep. Addison Graves Wilson "is named after three diseases." And that's just too good to leave it at that. This deserves to be a runner, much like the endlessly fun "Nicky Appalachians" game.

** There's a bit of awkwardness when ad hoc groups of Christians find themselves praying this prayer outside of their usual congregations — do we say "trespasses" or do we say
"forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors"? On th
is contentious question, I tend to prefer the debtor side, for economic reasons. Jesus' disciples, like most Christians throughout the history of the church, were more likely to be wage-earning debtors than to be propertied creditors. And while I personally am in the process of converting debt into property, its a 30-year mortgage and at this point I'm still almost entirely on the "debtor" side. Either way, though, please note that neither trespasses nor debts is quite the same as sins.

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  • alsafi

    You’ve said before you live in the south and don’t notice what hapax (and others before her) describes, Jason, but I don’t agree that she’s making the kind of broad generalization that you’re accusing her of. She didn’t say all sotherners were x, she said that the culture in place in the south has these unpleasant traits. The culture of New York City is fastpaced, indifferent, and often pushy. I doubt New Yorkers would disagree, even if they personally aren’t like that.
    And for another point of anecdata, I also live in the south (Memphis, Tennessee, in case you want to argue my Dixie credentials), and I agree with her 100%. Culturally speaking, there is an easy acceptance of not just ignorance and shocking poverty (actually, a shocking disparity of income–mansions in this city are separated by less than a block from shacks without glazed windows or running water. It’s disgusting.), but also of corruption in this particular part of the US that appalls me. I have lived here for 20 years–the vast majority of my life–and I still can’t accept or understand the way that these thigs are just shrugged off or treated as so normal as to be invisible here.

  • Lori

    actually, a shocking disparity of income–mansions in this city are separated by less than a block from shacks without glazed windows or running water. It’s disgusting.

    I don’t know if this makes you feel better or worse, but this isn’t a southern thing, it’s everywhere. The problem of mansions next to hovels was made worse by the housing bubble. There are so many places where people bought “affordable” houses and then either tore down the existing structure and built a McMansion or simply renovated the heck out of the place.
    I lived in Alexandria, Va for a while when I first moved here. Down the street from where I lived there were $800k+ townhouses whose view out the front window was literally the projects. There was a big push at the time to move the poor people farther south to free up the prime real estate they were sitting on (Alexandria is an easy commute to key places and there isn’t much space like that left in the area). I think the bursting of the bubble has killed that idea, at least for the time being.
    @Jason: One of the things you may want to consider is that hapax and alsafi have lived in other places. If I remember correctly you’ve been in SC all your life. That’s not to say that you’re ignorant of other parts of the country relative to your home, but I have found that there’s a certain amount of perspective that you only get by living in multiple places. It’s hard to fully see something when you’re so close to it (like the idea that fish have no real clue about water).
    I know that each new place I’ve lived has made me very aware of things that I took for granted in previous locations.

  • lonespark

    So true, Lori. My husband was fairly miserable in New England while he was there. But ever since we’ve left he says he misses the way things are done more efficiently there, and businesspeople are more businesslike. Given the horribleness of the roads, the drivers are even pretty good. But the biggest difference is the way worker protections are just taken for granted.

  • Lori

    @lonespark: I’m the same way about LA. There are things that I hated when I lived there and don’t miss at all, but there are other things that I took for granted and miss constantly. Mostly low-cost produce and the availability of cheap, high-quality Asian food. (If you know where to go LA is pretty much paradise for broke chowhounds.)

  • penny

    lonespark: “But the biggest difference is the way worker protections are just taken for granted.”
    This! I’ve lived in Pennsylvania most of my life, with a brief stint in California, but now I live and work in Virginia and I was not expecting some of these things to be so different — PA is a fairly southern Northern state, and VA is a fairly northern South state. Yet I was amazed by total lack of worker protections down here, in jobs that are associated with strong unions. I’m a teacher who grew up in a strong union state working in a “right to workbe fired” state. I often tell my friends up north about the newest lame thing our school board is doing only to get the response of “They’re allowed to do that!?!”
    I’ve noticed a lot of other small differences, some which wouldn’t be different if I weren’t from near Philly– things like a lack of variety in religion, different common bad driving mistakes, different ideas of what courtesy is, etc. (I grew up with Jews, Hindus, Muslims, many varieties of Christian and a few open atheists — I teach mostly Protestants. There are maybe 10 Jewish kids in the whole school. No Quakers or UUs!)

  • Lee Ratner

    I realize that there are wingnuts in every part of the United States but the South seems to have the greatest concentration of them and seem to be the main blockers of useful and necessary laws, policies, and programs. There are other very right-wing parts of the United States, like Idaho and Alaska and Bachmann’s district in Minnesota but the South is where they exist in heavy concentration and in their most dangerous and toxic form.
    Look at the entire healthcare debate. It is clear that the American method of providing healthcare to people is the worst in the First World and that semi-socialized or completely socialized healthcare systems work much better. I’d personally love to see the U.S. adopt a NHS type system where the hospitals and clinics are government owned and run and doctors mainly work for the government. Single-payer would be fine to. Even the Bismarckian system would be better. Yet there are many people in the United States who oppose any socialization of health insurance despite the evidence. Many of these people desperately need socialized medicine. Yet these idiots are blocking useful reform with their angry and stupid rhetoric. They are evil.
    Look at the so-called Values Voters Summit. in America where many people go hungry or lack health insurance and are dying or need better housing or education, these evil people focus on values like the “new masculinity” and thing that getting rid of the homosexual agenda in our schools is true tolerance. What about the values like not putting a stumbling block before the blind or loving your neighbor as yourself.
    We need to reduce the power of these stupid and evil people so we can pass necessary reform.

  • Lila

    Hobbes: left out of your economic analysis is an important figure: only 19% of every food dollar actually goes to the food producer (farmer). The rest goes to marketing, processing and transport. (Cite: USDA)

  • Tonio

    I do consider certain aspects of Southern culture delightful. I live here for a reason. But I also consider many aspects to be, yes, “toxic”, especially to children.
    As someone who has lived in both the North and South, I would add that one side calling the other ignorant or uneducated misses the point. The South was a slave economy for centuries, and I include Jim Crow which was slavery in everything but name. Slavery corrupts everything it touches, creating cultures based on fear. The slaveholding oligarchs become fearful of slave rebellion, and non-slaveholding people become fearful that they will be sold into slavery. Fred has written before about how slavery poisoned Christianity in the South.

  • Lori

    Hobbes: left out of your economic analysis is an important figure: only 19% of every food dollar actually goes to the food producer (farmer). The rest goes to marketing, processing and transport.

    Which is one of the main reasons who have so many overweight, unhealthy people in the US. Our modern food system started out with the positive intention of creating a more consistent food supply and freeing people from being forced to work the land (farming is hard work and most people aren’t cut out for it). Unfortunately it metastasized into an industrial process that’s basically poisoning us.

  • MadGastronomer

    Which is one of the main reasons who have so many overweight, unhealthy people in the US.

    a) Overweight does not actually mean unhealthy.
    b) Most of the “rise in obesity” we keep hearing about has nothing to do with people’s weights changing, and everything to do with the fact that they changed the BMI (which is, itself, a dreadful system that classes most professional athletes as “obese” or “morbidly obese”) so that the threshold for obesity is now lower. Same with the “rise” in diabetes — the numbers required for a Type 2 diagnosis are now much lower.

  • Lori

    @Madgastronomer: I wasn’t saying that overweight means unhealthy. I was treating them as separate things that exist simultaneously. Most of us eat plenty of food, but it’s not nutritious. That contributes to poor health and to being overweight. When you look at things like heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure our outcomes aren’t good and that has nothing to do with changing standards.
    BMI is a totally ridiculous measurement, but that doesn’t meant that there aren’t large numbers of people in this country who weigh a great deal more than their optimal weight. I have no desire to have a repeat of the whole conversation about what constitutes a best weight for any given person, but my statement about weight isn’t a judgment—I’m one of the people that weighs quite a bit more than is best. That has nothing to do with BMI and everything to do with how I feel and what I’m able to do comfortably.

  • YetAnotherKevin

    Then again, I really don’t understand the illegal immigrant fear at all. Maybe I’m just ignorant.

    IMO (and someone has probably already said this better than I can) it’s a shell game. The problem is that companies want to pay as little as possible for labor. One of the ways some companies do this is by illegally hiring people who have no social security number, work visa, green card, or anything like that. As a bonus to the company, working conditions can be dismal, because hey, who are the workers going to complain to? Meanwhile, there are fewer decent jobs paying a living wage. The easy strategy politically is to blame the workers themselves. I mean really, if you piss off a million folks who can’t vote, who cares? OTOH, if you piss off the president of Major Contributor X by doubling his labor costs, you’ve got trouble.
    I have often wondered why the government can’t set up a service that would allow a corporation to submit a Name, Number pair, and get back “Valid” or “Not”. I suppose part of the problem is that without some effort it would be hard to prevent folks from getting your social security number. But that’s part of a much larger systemic problem, in that an identifier should never be used as a key.

  • YetAnotherKevin

    And now I see that yes, Lori said it better. :)

  • Lila

    MadGastronomer, I work in health care, and there is pretty solid evidence that the percentage of overweight, obese, and morbidly obese people is increasing by any definition (cite); that diabetes is becoming more common, not just more commonly detected; and that obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are becoming common at younger and younger ages. Moreover, this is not just an American problem but is affecting many other nations as well (for example: Australia, Korea, the UK).
    If you mistrust the JAMA, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association et al., take a look at the increase in sales in bariatric equipment for hospitals. A 250-350 lb. weight limit used to be standard for lifts, hi/lo tables, CT scanners etc. Not any more.

  • Lori

    On the subject of why a lot of people currently have a particularly bad opinion of the South, Steve Benen has an article at the Washington Monthly that I think explains part of it.
    The GOP is a regional party
    The South is the only area of the country with significant approval of the GOP. In the South 50% of the people polled have a favorable impression of the GOP. On the surface that doesn’t seem like a big deal because the American electorate is generally split about 50-50 between the two parties. The problem becomes clear when you look at the other regions and see that none of them as a GOP approval rating above 15%.
    That’s a huge difference. As with all polls there’s a margin for error, but the polling company has a good reputation and it’s highly unlikely that the reality is so different from the polling data as to change the conclusions drawn from it.
    In a very real way the South is completely out of step with the rest of the country. Many people look at where we are today and how we got here and simply can not understand how anyone can approve of the GOP. It’s also not hard to see that without that solid Southern support the GOP would be unable to mount any significant challenge to Obama’s agenda and we would already have heath care reform. Given their minority status in both houses of Congress, if the GOP had the same approval rating in the South that it has in the West & Midwest we might even have single payer.
    In much of the rest of the country that triggers a reaction that boils down to, “What is wrong with you people?” And while I don’t approve of demonizing any part of the country I also don’t think the problem can simply be blamed on unfair prejudice toward the South. When one region of the country is able to impose itself on the rest of the country this way I don’t think it’s a surprise that people become angry and resentful. And so the vicious cycle keeps spinning, because of course many of the Southerners who have a favorable opinion of the GOP feel that way because they harbor anger and resentments of their own.
    If we don’t soon find a way to break the Southern Strategy once and for all we many find that it damages our country in ways that we can’t fix.

  • ako

    In much of the rest of the country that triggers a reaction that boils down to, “What is wrong with you people?” And while I don’t approve of demonizing any part of the country I also don’t think the problem can simply be blamed on unfair prejudice toward the South. When one region of the country is able to impose itself on the rest of the country this way I don’t think it’s a surprise that people become angry and resentful. And so the vicious cycle keeps spinning, because of course many of the Southerners who have a favorable opinion of the GOP feel that way because they harbor anger and resentments of their own.
    Yes, this. It’s not fair to treat the South like one big homogeneous lump, or the one thing keeping liberals from getting everything we want politically (Prop 8 happened in California, after all). But there’s definitely a serious regional skew in terms of what policies are supported where, and it’s easy for discussions of this to go awry as people move from the serious and legitimate point (“What’s going on in the South to lead to such disproportionate support for bad things, and is there a reasonable way to change that?”) to the kind of unhelpful public “What the hell is wrong with them?” venting, or even to genuine prejudice. Especially if the elected will of the majority of voters in the South is a big part of why your wife isn’t legally your wife, your brother can’t get health care, or your friend’s just been shipped off to Iraq.
    Part of keeping prejudice in check is recognizing and addressing the actual damage done, while getting away from overly-broad and inaccurate ways of targeting the blame.

  • GrossAdmiral Herzog Hawker von Hurricane, ruler of the Queen’s Navy and all that.

    Zell Miller (former Democrat) wrote a book back in 2004 (or so) titled “A National Party No More”, claiming that the Democrats had become a “regional party” that couldn’t win a national election. I read the blurbs, and thought the opposite: the Democrats were the national party, and the GOP was the regional one. More and more, it seems I was right, and Congressman Miller was wrong.

  • Lee Ratner

    I agree that we can talk about the problem of the South in a rational manner but as I see it, the problem of the South existed since the Declaration of Independence. Before the abolition of slavery, the Southerners did all they could do to force at least enforcement of their particular institution on much of the rest of the United States, i.e. the Fugitive Slave Act. After the Civil War, the South as done all it can do to force their peculiar notions of morality on the rest of the nation, i.e. Social Security originally not covering domestics and farm laborers because those were jobs mainly done by African-Americans.* So the problem of the South seems to be as old as the United States itself and I really can’t think of any fast or non-draconian solution to it that does not violate the Constitution.

  • Tonio

    To catch up on the illegal immigration discussion, accusing opponents of favoring open borders not only misses the point, it’s not even in the same galaxy as the point. Many posters here have offered good dissections of the economic and social problems involved. The real political issue is the demonization of the illegals themselves, with the Limbaugh demagogues engaging in barely disguised race-baiting. I know many people who truly believe that the illegals are here simply to get goverment assistance and free health care. It’s an updated version of “welfare queen.” Obviously there are many fervent opponents of illegal immigration whose attitudes are far removed from the Brown Menace from the South demagoguery. I find it frustating that so little attention seems to be focused on the people who hire the illegals.

  • Jeff

    [[One of the things that the anti-immigrant crowd doesn’t want to face it that America does need to import workers and we’ll need more in the future than we do now.]]
    Funny how the subject of H1Bs (profeesional and office workers) never comes up in the immigration debates, isn’t it? Each H1B **does** take a job that an American can and would do, but the American couldn’t be fired without cause (just as a for instance). And each H1B makes far more than day laborers.
    I wonder why this never is talked about?
    [[If you mistrust the JAMA, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association ]]
    I do. They’ve been in the pocket of the diet industry for quite some time, pushing the “Obesity Scare” long after the links between weight and disease were disproved.
    And a possible reason for any namtional weight gain could be the diet industry — it’s long been known that diets almost always cause weight gain in the long run.

  • Another Chris

    Beautiful, Fred. Forgiving those who trespass against us is a lesson we must all learn, many of us (myself included) over and over again.
    But I wish someone would force this Wilson fella to read everything the Bible says about having been strangers in Egypt.

  • Dav

    Yeah, I often find that what makes it into press releases (and even abstracts) of scientific papers on obesity does not match the data. And we *still* don’t really know how to make people thin long term. The dieting return to as-fat-or-fatter after 5 years is remarkably high, and nothing’s really been found to work long term. Even bariatric surgery is demonstrating a surprisingly high weight regain percentage.

  • Caravelle

    Dav :

    And we *still* don’t really know how to make people thin long term.

    Not that we would necessarily want to, according to that study a few years ago that showed that people who were a bit overweight were healthiest.
    Not that I even know what “thin” or “overweight” mean anymore.

  • Lori wrote: the insurance industry is spending roughly $700,000 per day lobbying to block health care reform. That’s up from the $400,000/month they spent on lobbying in the last 2 years. For that kind of money we could provide a lot of health coverage with no increased cost to the consumer. Note that this lobbying effort doesn’t include things like having one of their own executives right the Baucus bill. That didn’t cost them any money because she quit her industry job to become a member of Baucus’ staff. Our tax dollars paid for her to work on that big gift to her “former” industry.

  • Oops – crap. Forgot to add my own comment.
    Lori: do you have sources for these figures? Because armed with those sources, I’d love to start a Facebook meme-worm.
    This is Jay H, by the way… haven’t been here for a while, and I couldn’t comment without signing in somehow (Typepad seemed to claim that I could, but then it wouldn’t accept what I wrote and didn’t explain why.)