Thanksgiving, Part I

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel


Thanksgiving, Part I

This past summer Oracle, Arizona reflected back to us two defining cultural images.

Oracle with a population of about 4,000 is 40 miles north of Tucson and it is slightly more than 100 miles north of Mexico. It was founded in the late 1870s as a mining town. It seems that Albert Weldon from New Brunswick, Canada took a ship, named Oracle, around Cape Horn and made his way to the Santa Catalina mountain area in Arizona. Two other immigrant prospectors joined him: Jimmy Lee from Ireland and Alex McKay from Scotland. They found gold and named their mine Oracle, in thanksgiving for a sturdy ship and for their discovery. By 1880 about 70 mines were staked in the area and a post office named Oracle opened to serve the workers.

The first image from this past summer is of an ad hoc ecumenical group called Heart To Heart that extends assistance to refugee children. This first image also includes donors to Catholic Community Services who have filled storerooms with food and clothing for the children. It includes about 100 people from South Side Presbyterian Church and other groups standing along the road in Oracle with signs greeting the children; signs in Spanish like Friends, don’t be afraid. Finally, this image includes leaders from Pima County Interfaith Council who are circulating a petition. Its provisions stress the need for each refugee child to have a specific attorney for a time, the need for access by pastors to detention centers or shelters and the need for a maximum one-year refugee card to ease a child’s anxiety while waiting out the refugee process.

The second image is of a Tea Party group, perhaps 60 people, standing alongside an Oracle street, shouting insults at refugee children. Adam Kwasman, a 31-year old member of the Arizona House of Representatives, was among the protestors. As Amy Davidson in The New Yorker (7/28/14) explains, Kwasman and company made two mistakes. First, the bus that the protestors harassed was filled with quizzical YMCA children (not refugees) on their way to a camping site. Second and contrary to the protestors’ claim, refugee children are not “illegal,” under the Wilberforce Act. Signed by President George Bush in 2008, the law stipulates that children, except those from Canada or Mexico, must have a judicial hearing before their immigration status is determined. From the time they come to the U.S. until a judge renders a decision, those children are legal.

So, those are two salient images of U.S. culture—the first an image of gratitude and the second an image of resentment.

Gratitude is the recognition that everything, including life itself, is ultimately a gift from someone, somewhere. For most people in our country, that someone is God. In the example at hand it is the recognition that nations must have borders and have clear, enforceable immigration policies. It is also, however, the recognition that no one in this country, except for Native Americans (who are .9% of the population; 4.6% in Arizona) has prior ownership of land or resources. Further, it is the recognition that our beautiful country enjoys freedom and opportunity because its laws and its culture have always attracted and retained immigrants.

Resentment is the opposite of gratitude. It is the feeling that: #1. I have made it, to a degree. And I have made it through my own hard work; and #2. That a group just below me is getting ahead undeservedly. And further that the group below is somehow getting ahead at my expense.

There is an unarticulated side-effect to resentment, explains Fr. Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). It is a murky fear or a dragging suspicion that “you have made yourself totally dependent” on something you cannot name and a feeling of powerlessness over the dependency. Resentment “is a smoldering passion preventing us from asking forgiveness.”

Each November our country pauses for an entire day to bring the first image of thanksgiving to the fore. Perhaps we need to institute a day of forgiveness for our resentment, a national Yom Kippur.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.