(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
Please click here to listen to the message. Please see below to read it.
With all of the young people doing this service – including Klarysa – I guess it’s time for an old guy to speak! Even so, I’m very proud, on all of our behalf, in our youth and in our Music Director Michael Tacy – for today’s holiday music event!
As we all know, Michael and GNH’s kids are this congregation’s future. They are our legacy – and it’s their dreams and their beliefs that will help change this congregation – and change the world.
In our kids, it’s easy to see a future where differences between people won’t be important. Whether someone is black, brown, white, other-abled, gay, straight, male or female – such differences are not only welcomed by today’s youth – but I also think most kids don’t even think about them. People are people and friends are friends – what is the big deal – many of them think. Old white dudes like myself are fading into the past – and that’s a good thing. Our kids, and millions more like them, will usher in a profoundly new and much better era.
And so, thank you to Michael…..and thank you to all of our kids for what they bring to this congregation and to our future. You’re all awesome and everybody here loves you a lot.
In keeping with my theme this month to consider well known holiday songs – and how they can inspire us – I want us to also remember that many kids around the world don’t have the opportunities and advantages we have.
In 1945, a five year old hispanic boy came to New York from Puerto Rico with his eleven siblings and two parents. They were desperately poor but were able to move in with relatives. The five year old was blind and did not know English. In school, he learned to read Braille and speak English – but music was the language he truly loved. At a young age, like our talented kids here, he created beautiful music using almost anything – rubber bands, spoons, or just tapping his feet.
At age 17 he quit school and began singing in small New York nightclubs. His fame rose and, even though he was blind, he became a 1950’s version of Ricky Martin with thousands of adoring teenage fans.
In December 1970, this musician returned to Puerto Rico and was immediately reminded of that island’s culture, food, music and joy at Christmas. A friend encouraged him to write a holiday song that would sing to both Hispanics and Anglos. This musician grabbed a Puerto Rican guitar – a cuatro – and begin strumming some chords. A few Spanish words came into his head and he soon had the beginning of a soon-to-be famous holiday song. “Play on, Jose!” his friends told him. Later, in a recording studio, he added more latin flavor to the song. It was soon released and became an instant holiday hit.
Today, “Feliz Navidad”, the song this blind musician composed, is ranked eighth on the best selling holiday singles list. Worldwide, it is in the top 25 of most played holiday songs. Its singer and composer, as you know, is Jose Feliciano. As he said about his youth, “Where else could a guy like me come from absolute poverty and be successful? You know, it only happens in America.”
Feliciano’s youth as a poor immigrant boy is similar to another young boy some 2000 years ago. Born in present day Israel, the Bible tells us that boy’s birth was such a threat to the tyrant dictator of the time, Herod, that the infant boy, his mother and father had to flee to Egypt to escape being killed. Herod had ordered all young boys in Israel be killed – all to insure that the child born to be King of the Jews would not survive. Jesus, like Jose Feliciano, was a poor child of color born into a hate filled world.
Sadly, Jose and Jesus remind us of the plight of thousands of other refugee children who today are separated from their parents and imprisoned simply for not being American. Last Thursday, a seven year old migrant girl in detention died. And even though children supposed to no longer be detained, recent reports from immigration services are that there remain over 15,000 children held in detention in the US.
This past June, the New York Times told the story of another migrant boy named Jose who was recently separated from his father after crossing the border. Jose was sent to Michigan to live in detention. He arrived there one rainy night clutching a small plastic bag of clothing – unwashed since he’d left Honduras over a month before. In his hands he also tightly held two pictures he’d drawn – one of his arrested father, and one of his entire family…….which is now displayed for you to see.
Jose was so traumatized by being separated from his father and being held in detention that he cried himself to sleep for over a week. Later, he began having nightmares while uttering moans in his sleep. He ate little and refused to shower or change his clothes. He was afraid his few possessions would be taken from him. The only thing that brought a smile to his face was when he talked about his drawings – “Mi familia!” Jose proudly exclaimed. One day, fire trucks with their sirens blarring pulled up to where he was living in Michigan. “La violencia, la violencia!” he cried out. Jose could not be consoled for a long time. The sirens reminded him of the many dangers in Honduras where murders and forced recruitment of children into criminal gangs is common.
Over a month after Jose’s detention, he was able to speak by phone with his mother, still in Honduras. His father was still in jail in the US for crossing the border without documents. After the call, Jose became even more withdrawn. He realized from the call that he would not soon see his family. He was, and for all I know still is, a child held in detention by the United States. He’s a modern day a modern day innocent child – oppressed by hate and cruel indifference.
Jose Feliciano’s song “Feliz Navidad” is a tribute to the vitality of Hispanic culture and all that it has added to America. It’s also a reminder that there is no “Feliz Navidad or Prospero ano y felicidad” for thousands of migrant children. Our nation, which has always been a beacon to immigrants, is now imprisoning young migrant children and slamming the door shut on desperate people who seek only to work hard and build a new life.
I have no answers to the immigration issue. The US cannot throw open its borders, but neither can it close its heart to Hispanic migrants who suffer – people who live in poverty and fear for their lives due to conditions the US has historically helped cause.
To all of the youth here this morning, to all of us adults, may we be thankful for the opportunity to enjoy a Feliz Navidad. The joys of this season are real and we should celebrate them as true blessings. But in the midst of our celebrations, let us also remember our duty as members of the one human family to care for and serve the refugee, the hungry, homeless, poor and helpless children of the world. As the Bible tells us Jesus poignantly once said, when we serve and love hurting children, we exemplify the heart of all that is true, right and good in the universe.
Thank you to our kids, their parents, and to Michael Tacy for a wonderful morning service. I wish you all much peace and joy.
(Introduce youth choir) as they sing “Africa” – a song to also help remind us of the purpose of the season.