Published in The Covington News ~ August 17, 2019.

A couple of weeks ago I posted this cartoon by my friend Man Martin on Facebook and Twitter. What struck me was the utter lack of pushback. There was none.  

I am not expecting the same regarding this column.

In this cartoon, Jesus is telling a familiar story. Just as Jesus of Nazareth did, this cartoon version of Jesus is using words

As a nation, we generally remember words that mark the best of ourselves, words that are laudable and help us remember our ideals.

I’m talking about words that have staying power, words worthy of learning by heart, words suitable to be set to music to be sung by children and high school choruses. Is there a grander kind of music?

I’m talking about the words that become the very catchphrases of our nation. 

Such as…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

“I have a dream…”

Forgettable, of course, are our less noble words. Many of these words became well known during the period of their utterance, but the passage of time has mercifully allowed them to fade from our present memory. 

Many are sickeningly cringeworthy.

Such as…

“The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions —African slavery as it exists among us is the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization.”

  — The Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens, 1861, Vice President of the Confederacy. Later Governor of Georgia, 1882-1883. 

“… the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof.”

    — The Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882

“Italians are just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in their habits, lawless, and treacherous.”

    — John Parker, Governor of Louisiana, 1920 to 1924

“The  [Irish] emigrants  who land at New York… are not merely ignorant and poor… but they are drunken, dirty, indolent, and riotous, so as to be the objects of dislike and fear to all in whose neighbourhood they congregate in large numbers.” 

James Silk Buckingham

And more recently…

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

American Exceptionalism is a phrase uttered by a certain kind of patriot. But the responsibility for America to be exceptional rests on the courage of her citizens to live up to the ideals of The Republic. It is exceptional that our country has risen above and overcome — time and time again— our baser selves, as the poet Robert Frost put it, “when at times the mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far.”   I think our country is exceptional when we display ourselves to be exceptional human beings, those times when we are like The Creator in whose image we are made, those times when we, as those of us in my faith tradition believe, “love our neighbors — even the least of these my brethren  — as we love ourselves.” 

And this brings me to the poetry.  For the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, to blithely suggest a change to the wording of the sonnet on the plaque of The Statue of Liberty alarms me. (Disgusts me, actually.) It should alarm you, too. 

He misquotingly said, “Give me your tired and your poor — who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

This is the very definition of newspeak. Read your Orwell.

Words matter. Words thoughtfully and lovingly spoken or penned can lead us to open our hearts to, as Lincoln wrote, “the better angels of our nature.”

Emma Lazarus wrote:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let’s be kind this week ~ Andy

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