Every weeknight, my Sisters and I eat dinner as a community. Depending upon the happenings of the day and the energy levels of those present, dinner talk can range from the outrageously hilarious to an unparalleled banality.
One evening this week, the dinner talk resulted in a serendipitous, albeit sad insight for me. Somewhere between the peas and carrots and the sugar cookies, one of my animal-loving Sisters noted that on the prior day she had seen a small deer on our grounds. Her eyes lit up as she spoke fondly of the wonder of its beauty. Another Sister postulated that the deer come out of their wooded surroundings when they are hungry due to nature’s barrenness at this time of year. Then the acceptability of deer-hunting was raised. One Sister authoritatively responded that this was a positive activity because the population had “grown too large” and it “needed thinning out.” To my surprise, the animal lover chimed in, “yeah, they have no predators anymore. There are too many of them now.” Then I heard, “Soon there will be more of them than us,” as if that would be an unthinkable predicament.
The dinner talk droned on like white noise as I contemplated if it were ever acceptable to insert predatory behavior where there is none. Is it okay to thin out a growing population merely to ensure that there are more of us than they? Why couldn’t we make room for something so beautiful?
It occurred to me that Mary, when nine months pregnant, traveled with Joseph to Bethlehem because of a Roman requirement that all people register in their own towns. En route, Mary went into labor. Perceiving there would be less for them, those in the comfortable, safe shelter of the inn refused to make room. Consequently, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born in the filth and squalor of a barn because the mighty needed to put a growing nation in its place and the common man would not make room when he felt crowded. Despite an auspicious birth, Jesus was initially adored and met with awe. Yet, when He and His followers grew, they would kill them too.
My mind drifted toward Alabama, which for a few years was my home. Alabama has no immigration courts or DHS presence for detaining or deporting unauthorized immigrants. Until recently, the immigrants accepted the jobs that citizens will not work, lived harmoniously and became good neighbors. They were welcome, beautiful gifts and their population grew because they had few predators. Then the national economic crisis, punctuated by the BP Oil Spill, quickly increased the number of needy people and depleted resources. Suddenly, as with the deer, it became acceptable to thin out those who were different than the majority. Once again, men in comfort and power would perceive a lack of room.
In response, they enacted Alabama Law HB56. As written, the law requires that farmers verify citizenship of their fruit pickers; schools ensure the citizenship of a child’s parent in order to register the child for school; and religious organization risk criminal penalties for charitable acts toward undocumented poor persons. The law kills noble dreams and righteous outcomes. Again, I wondered, when did it become acceptable to insert predatory behavior where there is none? Is there a shortage of room or is it a shortage of compassion?
Whether it is deer, unauthorized immigrants or even God, man has invariably responded to threats to his comfort level by insertion of predatory behavior and destruction of the perceived competition in order to remain among the most powerful.
However, the only thing man is called to kill is violence and oppression. As Rabbi Heschel once said, “We teach children how to measure and how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe.” If we learn to sense the awe in our neighbors, we will see God in each other. And then we will conform our behavior to meet that reality.