Commentary

Putting our shame to bed

On one of those beautiful fall days in November I finally did my part of putting the back yard to bed for the year. By the time I was finished, it was dark, and the garage light was casting long shadows. Dirt was packed under my only-slightly-chewed nails. And, my clothes were damp because I wasn’t too attentive while rolling up the garden hose for the last time this year.

Bob Hulteen

Immediately after I was done, I went in the house and called my parents in Thief River Falls. My favorite day of the year growing up was the day my folks and I would put the garden to bed for the winter. I admit, I helped very little with the maintenance of our exquisite yard and flower gardens. But, taking in the fruits of the harvest and preparing the ground for next year were the most reassuring activities of my life.

And, I think I learned more on harvest day about life and death in the lessons my folks taught me about the natural cycles of life than at any other time. While it was melancholy, it was truly thanksgiving.

Harvesters and the Kingdom

Now, older and, well, just older, I still cling to those memories. But I am also so aware of people whose life condition doesn’t allow for the feelings of assurance and security I felt even in the midst of preparation for winter.

This Thanksgiving marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Harvest of Shame, the Edward R. Murrow documentary about the tragic situation faced by migrant laborers in this country. And, even as we debate the current status of vulnerable workers, I fear we will not remember well the Harvest of Shame.

The line in that episode that jarred me out of my complacency was delivered by a farmer looking for day labor: “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.”

We have our own harvest of shame. Fifty years from now we will acknowledge it. The question is, will we do anything about it now, while we can?

It’s not an easy topic of discussion. But, for a religious tradition that begins its story with exodus, and asks questions about how we treat aliens in our midst, the difficulty of the discussion cannot end it.

For some, the dirt under their fingernails is permanent. That is nothing to be ashamed of. But, the complacency of people who have the capacity to welcome the stranger, but choose not to, is.

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