Known By Its Fruit

Luke 6:43-44: No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  

Here we are, on the cusp of the new millennium’s third decade, and all around us play out the consequences of policies and ideologies that have evolved over decades. Even centuries. The poison fruit. It is no fluke that people from Central America are desperate for protection, fleeing lives that have become unbearable, showing up at our borders asking for asylum (which is not a crime—nothing “illegal” about it, despite the affection for the word). Bearing bad fruit in the lives of these asylum-seekers are decades of economic and political policies: dirty wars, bought-off leadership, “neoliberal economics,” industrial exploitation, ideological backlashes, the drug hunger of the affluent, and the long festering wounds of conquest. Not out of nowhere do mothers show up at a border with their children having left home in hopes of escaping the corrosive effects of daily fear, in hopes of saving their children from threats of murder. They come from somewhere and it is called history.

And what are we doing with them, we being American society as represented by our elected government? We are taking their children out of their arms and sending kids to places miles away and out of parents’ reach or communication. This has to be a “bad fruit,” a breakdown in humanity and compassion, not entirely unlike evils done by the drug gangs who terrorize these mothers and children in their home countries, telling them “do what we demand, or else.” We tell them: do not come here, or else. We call this “or else”—this threat to take their children to be housed in defunct Walmart stores among other sites—a “deterrent.” Such a disinfected word for something evil. It reminds me of the nomenclature of past historical actions, of euphemisms like “boarding schools” for Native children, “relocation centers” for the Japanese, or the “special treatment” that Nazis reserved for Jews. Today we witness the ripening of bitter fruit born of seeds planted over generations of white supremacy and privilege, and try to disguise the bad fruit with words like “deterrent.”

It is time to nurture other seeds that have been planted, seeds that promise good fruit.

It does not make it right that a portion of these children eventually end up with family members while their parents are incarcerated. Taking a parent away from a child is cruel, traumatizing, and life-altering. To make excuses for such actions corrodes the soul. To point the finger at the last administration’s actions toward unaccompanied minors corrodes the soul—no matter how disappointing their actions. The fact is, the US has received barely a trickle of the world’s refugees and asylums seekers in past months, whereas our friends in other countries have put our so-called Christian nation to shame with hospitality and compassion, albeit imperfectly. Some call what we’re doing “America first.” And I remind them, in the words of the wisdom teacher Jesus: “the first will be last.”

How tempting it is to look away from what is happening in our name. After all, we can manage only so much cognitive dissonance and regret each day. In our stewing sense of futility, many are becoming flavorless—bland as automatons. I feel it happening to myself at times. But looking away or growing numb is a privileged position. It means we are not directly touched by the circumstances and threats we so regret, and thus can look away and go on with our lives undeterred. While parents and children being separated at the border desperately need us to not look away.

Knowing how to help is challenging, but it starts with one small action: raising our voices, talking about the issue, giving to organizations like K.I.N.D. (Kids in Need of Defense) and others offering hands-on help, communicating with lawmakers, educating ourselves about US immigration policy, supporting the truth-tellers, voting. I find myself angry, and because I don’t want anger to fester into seeds of hate, I pray.

In the 1970s, a man named E. F. Schumacher wrote: “[Humanity] is far too clever to be able to survive without wisdom” (in his book Small is Beautiful). He was writing of economics and spelling out the consequences of the track we were on economically and politically—putting industry, technology, and ideology before humanity. He knew the seeds we were nurturing would bear bad fruits. We had become “too clever” in creating things that would dominate us and enervate our morality. And this prognosis, years ahead of the internet or the development of sophisticated mood-altering prescription drugs, was prophetic. In his philosophy and recommendation of “enoughness,” he was as astute as Saint Francis, or the communities of wise women throughout history—restorers, nourishers—who have known inherently that “small is beautiful.”

I believe, too, that Schumacher was right in his prescription of wisdom: that only wisdom can get us out of the trap of our cleverness. It has always been and will always be. It is the one thing that might get us out of the crises of border tensions, global warming, and crises in our neighborhoods and homes.

So if you want to do something about this latest manifestation of bad fruit, start with wisdom. Seek it in the overflowing gardens of the “wisdom traditions,” wherever you find them. And where they lead, follow diligently. Every small, wise action collectively moves us toward freedom. What that means for each one of us will be different—the shape of the action, the specific good seed we must plant and nourish and harvest in our individual worlds. It may mean calling your senator today—maybe every day, and it may mean something entirely different. But cultivating wisdom is the place to start.

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