Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Sign in My Closet

Here we go with another Round Robin Photo Challenge! The topic this time, as provided by Kimberleigh of I Shaved My Legs for This?, is "Signs."

The sign in the photo above doesn't look like anything special, does it? Covered up as it is right now, with a plastic banner advertising the day school, it appears to be nothing but a commercial sign. But if you were to pull off that banner, and peel back layers of paint, you would find something very different. Pastor John R. Smith of St. Michael's calls it the "prophetic sign." The school banner will be down soon, and the prophetic sign will again broadcast its message to passersby.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed that I don't write about politics very much. Doing so properly would require a level of research I really don't have time for. And if I did write about it, someone would inevitably disagree with me. Then there would be arguments and harangues and debates, and I'd have to marshall even more facts for a follow-up entry, and...no. Sorry. It's not worth it to me. So let's just say that I'm a lifelong Democrat, I usually agree with Carly's political entries, and George W. Bush annoys and depresses me. Got it? Good. Now we can move on, to another subject I'm always nervous about covering - religion. And fair warning: politics are going to sneak in here a little bit, too.

About nine years ago, I decided that I was never going to figure out what I believed about God if I mostly ignored the subject outside of my nightly prayers. At the time I was reading non-fiction by Madeleine L'Engle, who for many years was writer-in-residence at an Episcopal cathedral in New York. The Episcopal / Anglican tradition came across in her work as pretty much everything I liked about the Roman Catholic Church, minus everything that had driven me away from Catholicism many years before. Besides, there was an Episcopal church just a couple of miles away from me. So I went there one Sunday. I've been going to St. Michael's ever since.

The reason I had noticed St. Michael and All Angels Church in the first place was that it had a sign out front that I liked. It was a line drawing in black paint of a man, a woman, a baby and a donkey, presumably the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt. Next to the picture were the words, "Jesus was a refugee." That sign made me like St. Michael's even before I drove into its parking lot for the first time.

But that's not the only message "The Church with the Sign," as it's sometimes called, has had on its famous sign. Back in the 1980s, before "Jesus was a refugee," the sign said, "It's a sin to build a nuclear bomb." For the Jubilee Year in 2000, it exhorted us to ask governments and other institutions to "Forgive the debts of the poorest countries." And since 2003 or 2004, possibly a little earlier, the sign has depicted a long line of children of many ethnicities. It says, "Either we are all God's children - or no one is."

The sign in 2004.

Illegal immigration is a big issue in Tucson, which is about 100 kilometers from the Mexico border at Nogales. Every year, roughly a thousand people die in the Arizona desert, trying to get to a better life in the Land of Opportunity. If the heat and dehydration don't kill them, they are often victimized by "coyotes," people who smuggle immigrants in for money. At the first sign of trouble, coyotes tend to abandon their clients in the wilderness, or in the back of an overcrowded, unventilated truck. What do they care if some of the people don't arrive alive? The coyotes already have their money.

This is why a number of churches around Southern Arizona support organizations that try to save the lives of these people, most of whom are here to take jobs that few Norte Americanos would want, especially at day labor wages. Groups like No More Deaths don't encourage people to sneak into the country; but they don't want the border crossers to die, either. So volunteers set up and maintain water stations, clean up trash along migrant routes, and administer first aid. This is all done in uneasy cooperation with the U.S. Border Patrol. The volunteers do not help the border crossers establish illegal residency, but they do render humanitarian aid.

Once in a while, though, humanitarian efforts clash with governmental ones. From the No More Deaths website:

Shanti and Daniel Fight Humanitarian Aid Charges

No More Deaths volunteers, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, both 23, were arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol for medically evacuating 3 people in critical condition from the 105-degree Arizona desert in July 2005.

Shanti and Daniel were following the protocol of NMD training (acknowledged by NMD and US Border Patrol) by consulting medical professionals who advised them to evacuate the critically ill men to a medical facility, and then consulting a NMD attorney who approved the evacuation.

A pro bono attorney for Shanti and Daniel spoke at St. Michael's several months ago about their case. After church, she handed out lawn signs that said, "Humanitarian Aid Is Never A Crime." I certainly agree with those words, so at her urging, I took a sign home, although I explained that I would want to consult with my husband before putting it up. She told me to take one anyway, so I did - and put it in my closet.

As of last night, the sign was still in my closet, although John had raised no objection to having it in our front yard. Unlike the woman who is currently in trouble with her homeowner's association for displaying a Support Our Troops sign, I was worried about ticking off the neighborhood association or individual neighbors. Go ahead. Call me a moral coward. I'll probably agree with you. But we get neighbors anonymously reporting us to the city if the grass gets long, the pool gets dirty, or water leaks from a burst pipe. And people just don't have a lot of signs or banners up around here, unless you count the occasional flag --U.S., P.O.W./M.I.A., or Dale Earnhardt.

But in the past week or two, I've noticed that a few neighbors do have signs on their lawns - not just any signs, but this sign:

So I asked John if he would mind if I put up mine. He said he'd never had any objection in the first place, and to put it up if I want to. "Not that it will accomplish anything," he added, "except to alleviate your guilt."

I don't really believe that, so this afternoon I went home at lunch, and put up the sign. Here it is. And here it stays, for a while at least. The trial of the NMD volunteers, previously set for January and then April, has now been postponed indefinitely.


Now go see what other signs the Round Robins have to show you:

Kimberleigh - I Shaved My Legs For This?

Karen - Outpost Mâvarin POSTED!

Carly - Ellipsis...Suddenly Carly POSTED!

Sara - Animated Seasons POSTED!

Sassy- Sassy's EYE POSTED!

T.J. - Photo Inclusions: Every Picture Tells A Story POSTED!

Kat - prima luce POSTED!

Derek - Derek's Picture of the Day pending
and Through My Eyes POSTED!

Ann Marie - Poetic Justice

Nancy - Nancy Luvs Pix POSTED!

Julie - Julie's Web Journal POSTED!

Dorn - Through the Eyes of the Beholder POSTED!

Betty- My Day My Interests POSTED!

Patrick - Patrick's Portfolio ADDED!

And yes, you're invited to join in with your own sign pictures. Check out the Round Robin Photo Challenge blog for details. And be sure to check the Round Robin blog this Thursday to find out what the next challenge will be.- KFB


Carly said...

I just heard tonight on WNT that there is a push to make it a misdemeanor to be in the country illegally. Now there is jail time involved. Sigh. Adding this to an already overtaxed legal system. We have the highest number of prisioners in the world. Sigh.

I like the sign very much, I don't think I look at it as cynically as John however, you see roots for change, that isn't from guilt it is from love of your country and from the drive to walk the walk. Just my opinion.

julie said...

Great piece, Karen. We have a similar illegal immigration issue in Texas.

Dorn said...

I love that hidden sign. And not just the picture of the sign but the message as well.

Kimberleigh said...

It was a great sign and a wonderful meaning!

Sara said...

As always, Karen, brilliant!! :)

Animated Seasons

tess said...

Well posted!

DEREK said...

these are wonderful, and the post with the pictures as well! I love the one from 2004.

Bea said...

Way to go, Karen! Solidarity is at work in your neighborhood. Bea

Becky said...

Great! Glad to see the sign out front. Looks good.