We're all in this together

(Irina Blok, via Unsplash.com and used under Creative Commons zero)

My town is considering a small increase to the income tax to continue revitalizing our downtown, build and repair sidewalks, and improve alleys.

This is not about that tax. But it is about some things the controversy over the proposed tax hike has made me think about.

Government in this country is not some "other." It is not a dark entity that is our enemy or something to be tolerated. It is us. It's our neighbors and friends. More importantly, it is us working together to accomplish things we cannot do by ourselves. And the real magic of it is that we get so much more out of it than we put in, even if we don't always recognize it.

That highway in Los Angeles I helped pay for through taxes? It moves massive amounts of freight that come in through the port, giving me access to more things at lower prices, not to mention a better economy. The list could go on forever. Whether it is schools or scientific research or clean water — all of them provide much more benefit than just the thing itself.

What does this have to do with anything?

I've been working on a story for several months that you'll get to read in a few weeks, and while I can't tell you the details, I can tell you it is about how some people are unable to use the church anymore to nourish their faith.

And it occurs to me that humans run both government and the church, which means they are far from perfect. As a journalist who covered municipal government for two decades, I used to joke that as long as government involved human beings, there would be a need for reporters to expose its mistakes.

But both government and the church, when they are at their best, are truly examples of how the whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts. My contributions can literally change a life on the other side of the world, and that change benefits us all in so many ways, we will never even know them all. Even being part of a parish can change our community in countless ways.

In short, we are all in this together, whether we realize it or not.

'No one leaves home unless home chases you'

It pains me deeply as a journalist to say this, but there are times when fiction can be more powerful than nonfiction.

Scholars could spend forever debating and explaining it, but suffice to say much of it has to do with art and the connection we make with each other through art, and that connection brings a power a story may not be able to carry when it is confined by the truth. (I know, truth isn't confining, but let's not go down the rabbit hole of picking it all apart. Leave it for the academics.)

Which is where poet Warsan Shire comes in. We Welcome Refugees, an organization working to make the global church a key agent in alleviating the Middle East refugee crisis, features Shire's poem, "No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark," and it is powerful.

Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents, and she grew up — and still lives — in London. The New Yorker said in 2015 that her poetry "evokes longing for home, a place to call home, and is often nostalgic for memories not her own, but for those of her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, people who forged her idea of her ancestral homeland through their own stories."

Shire's words are raw, and while they may be technically "safe for work," they are not safe. They are unsettling, and they are painful to read:

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it's not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.

Yes, the poem is upsetting. But clearly, when — as Shire puts it — "the water is safer than the land" and "home is the barrel of a gun" for millions of people, and those people are turned away seemingly everywhere they flee, not nearly enough people are upset.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

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