By the time Pastor Mitty arrived at the Main Café last Saturday morning for the weekly men’s fellowship breakfast, a full-scale debate had started.
It all began with Alice as she poured the first round of coffee for them. “Why can’t Alejandro and Javier …”
“You mean the busboy and the dishwasher?” interrupted Eric.
“Yeah, why can’t they talk English like normal people?”
The four men in the big booth in the corner of the restaurant rolled their eyes in unison.
“Can’t you say good morning first before you complain about something?” asked Bernie Rolvaag but more as a statement. “I mean it’s cold and raining outside and we need a little sunshine.”
“I’ll give you some sunshine with your eggs sunny-side up,” replied the irascible waitress. “Besides, I’ll bet you the small tip you cheapskates usually give me that both of them are here illegally.”
“She does have a point,” said Gerhardt Aschenbrenner after taking his first sip of coffee. “I mean my parents never could get rid of their heavy German accent, but they always spoke English at home. When you come to America, my dad would say, you must become an American.”
That’s when Eric Anderson joined the discussion. “But Gerhardt, what do you think about what Sharissa has been saying in church for the last few Sundays about how especially Hispanic immigrants are afraid to take ESL classes or even step foot out of their homes because they’re scared they might be reported and deported.”
Pastor Mitty slid in next to Bernie Rolvaag who was saying, “That’s a real issue, Eric, but coming here illegally is a problem. We have a right to screen who comes into our country, don’t we? Undocumented folks should have gone through the process of getting a visa just like those who have done it the right way.”
Dominique, who had been silently taking it all in, finally spoke. “You all understand that my people didn’t come here illegally. They came in chains, and they would have loved to learn English and pursue the American dream as Gerhardt’s parents — in fact all of your parents — did. But white folks wouldn’t let them.”
No one said anything for a minute. They knew and respected their African American friend who had a corner office on the 52nd floor of the First Chicago Bank Building.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Dominique continued, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The five men sat in silence eating their breakfast and digesting what they had been talking about.
Gerhardt Aschenbrenner broke the silence. “Dominique, everything you said is true. Everything Sharissa has been lecturing us about at church is true, too. But don’t we have to be realistic? Germany, for example. They’ve taken in, what, two million refugees and now they are having problems. We can’t be all things to all people.”
Pastor Mitty decided to jump in. “What would Jesus do?”
Eric Anderson smiled. “That’s what pastors are supposed to ask,” he thought.
“I mean, we are a Christian men’s group, right?” Mitty continued. “So what Jesus would do should inform what we think and do. Would he give visas only to those who can benefit our society and take care of themselves? Would he tell the poor and uneducated that they have no place at our table?”
Dominique put his coffee cup down and replied, “Pastor, I hear you, but we have to be realistic. This side of heaven we can’t be held to that standard. Not as a nation. You all know that privately, as an individual, I go more than halfway to reach out to all races and levels of income, but I agree with Gerhardt. We sinful humans can’t transform earth into heaven.”
The conversation soon shifted to who would come out on top this year in the crosstown rivalry between the Sox and Cubs, and as they bundled up against the inclement weather, all five men commented on how pleased they felt at being able to have a civil discussion on a controversial subject.
While driving home, processing the discussion at the Main made Pastor Mitty think about what his neighbor Michael had told him a couple of weeks ago regarding Passover. “You know,” Michael had said, “the formative event for the People of Israel was fleeing an oppressive regime in Egypt and migrating to a new land. That event has special meaning for Jews because, as far as I know, everyone in our temple is related in some way to a victim of the Holocaust, and all of us are children of immigrants.”
“Tikkun Olam,” Michael had explained, “is a concept found in the Mishnah which means to repair or perfect the world. When we talk about the issue of immigration at temple, someone inevitably brings that concept up, that we who are advantaged have an obligation to care for those who are not.”
Tikkun Olam kept going around in the head of Poplar Park Community Church’s pastor as he sat down to begin writing his sermon about two men on the road to Emmaus who couldn’t recognize that it was the risen Jesus who was walking and talking with them.