Essay: Why Do Squatters Have Rights?

by Kevin Kwilinski

We have all heard the term “squatter’s rights” thrown out when someone is trying to justify their possession of some place.   Perhaps it was their favorite chair in the family room. Or maybe they were calling “shotgun” for the ride into town.  But the term “squatter’s rights” has siginificant meaning and a real historical purpose.  The legal name for “squatter’s rights” is adverse possession.  It allows a legal claim to someone who has occupied a property that was not initially theirs.  Think of it!  You own a piece of land and somehow it gets handed over to someone else.  How could this ever be right or just?  It sounds positively un-American!  Yet it is a principle of law in America and most other countries in the world.  Why?

The justification for squatter’s rights is two-fold.  One is to recognize the influence of time and the other is to recognize the influence of improvement.  The influence of time refers to that fact that proving ownership becomes more difficult over time.  Think of purchasing a house and the bank requiring the title search to go back to the founding of our country.  That would be a very expensive and useless exercise.  The influence of improvement refers to the idea that it is in society’s best interest for economic value to be created with the land.  In simple terms preference is given to someone who is willing to farm the land versus someone who allows it to fall to weed.  So squatter’s rights exist and they exist for the common good.

But this seems dangerous ground. If people risk losing their property they will be hesitant to invest.  Surely that isn’t in the public interest?  True.  That is why there are very steep hurdles that must be met on the part of the squatter.  The squatter must demonstrate possession, normally for 5-20 years based on various state laws.  The possession must also be shown to be adverse which means that the possession is both exclusive, not shared with the owner, and hostile, an invasion of the right of the legal title holder.  Without getting into all the specific criteria, the general idea is that the presence of the squatter is in full public view, over a period of time, and the squatter is making the place better, improving it.

If asked, I suspect that 99% of people would say that land should never be taken away from a land owner and given to someone else.  They would say that such action would be illegal.  Ownership is black and white.  Yet squatter’s do have rights.  Here we have a generally accepted legal concept that can upend legal ownership for the purpose of a greater good.  A good greater than the harm to the land owner losing title.  Not so black and white.

So now let me substitute the term “squatter” with the term “illegal immigrant”.  Certainly protecting our borders and having immigration law is in the public interest just as is perfecting title to property and property law.  But let’s consider a nation who for an extended period of time, like the neglectful landowner, fails to enforce these laws and protect its borders.  We now have multiple generations of people who entered the country illegally but who then lived for many years in full public view, being issued drivers licenses and other documents and paying taxes.  The vast majority of these people have helped improve the economy of the country through their labor or through building and owning businesses.  They have also helped improve our country by building families and raising children.

When do these people have a claim to being part of America?  When are they seen as part of what makes us strong?  When do we weigh the wrong we would do to these people by not creating a path to amnesty?  If the squatter has rights, why not the illegal immigrant we have allowed to live among us?  There is room to debate the hurdles to amnesty.  There is room to debate immigration policy and border security.  But if a person is hiding behind a simple “they broke the law” as reason to remove all illegal immigrants, they need to reconsider their position.  On this day that DACA is being rescinded, I call on each of us to let Congress know that we want these people, our neighbors, protected; not just the DREAMERS, but all of them.

For further reading:

Open and Notorious: Adverse Possession and Immigration Reform

Following in the Squatter’s Footsteps: An Illegal Immigrant’s Path to Citizenship

 

Essay: After the Election

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by Kevin Kwilinski

In her essay “Of Heroes, Villains, and Valets”( published in On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society), American historian Gertude Himmelfarb begins with the quote, “No man is a hero to his valet.”  This quote was attributed to the Duke of Condé during the reign of Louis XIV.  Himmelfarb then quotes the philosopher George Hegel who expounds upon the quote, “No man is a hero to his valet, not because the former is no hero, but because the latter is a valet.”

In our current age these quotes evoke images from the television show Downton Abbey as the valet Bates brushes lint off the shoulder of the Earl of Grantham. If we have learned anything from Downton Abbey it is that being in service was not to be looked down upon. It was a respectable position. So we see these quotations not as a critique of the valet in a negative sense but instead as recognizing one of the virtues of a valet. That virtue is temperance. The valet pledges to have a high degree of self control. In spite of the intimate access to the person being served, the valet doesn’t allow himself to become too familiar. The valet performs his duties without judgement on the character of his employer. The valet is objectively aware of the good and the bad acts of his actor but, by choice, subjectively oblivious. Through self control the valet prevents, or at least seriously limits, his drawing of any conclusion on the subject. This self induced compartmentalization allows the valet to perform his duties over the long-term.

Although the posture of the valet is acceptable for the ambitions of the valet, Himmelfarb recognizes it as a poor posture for historical analysis. She writes, “The problem with a valet-like conception of history is not only its denigration of greatness and heroism but also its denigration of individuality and freedom.” Himmelfarb was wary of that which she points out had been a concern of Tocqueville. That concern reflected a tendency in democratic periods for historians to attribute the events of history to other causes as opposed to the volitional acts of men. She quotes Tocqueville from his work Democracy in America,

“A cause so vast that it acts at the same time on millions of men, and so strong that it bends them all together in the same direction, may easily seem irresistible. Seeing that one does yield to it, one is very near believing that one cannot stand up to it.

Thus historians who live in democratic times do not only refuse to admit that some citizens may influence the destiny of a people, but also take away from the people themselves the faculty of modifying their own lot and make them depend either on an inflexible providence or on a kind of blind fatality.”

Tocqueville and Himmelfarb saw a contrast to periods of aristocracy where the free will of an aristocrat was rightly blamed or praised by the historians of that time for an outcome. Himmelfarb goes on to explain why this concerned her,

“Indeed, without will and freedom, there can be no virtue and vice. And without virtue and vice, there can be no heroes and villains. There can only be valets—valets who recognize no heroes whether of good or of evil, who recognize no greatness of any kind: no momentous events in history, no superior works of art, literature, or philosophy, no essential distinction between the trivial and the important. If such a valet mentality prevailed, we would all, the most humble and the most eminent of us, be diminished by it.”

In our present age, we also should be concerned, not just for a proper telling of history by the professional historians of our day but for our own perception of events and actions. We see today a willingness by many to view the world as valets, choosing to not make judgements about the actions of the objects of their political affections. However unlike the valet for whom this act is a virtue, for us it is a dereliction of duty. By compartmentalizing the actions of our politicians we deny their free will and we revise the story of who they are in society. We further deny that character, being formed for good or bad by the repetition of good or bad acts over time, has a high probability of predicting a person’s future behavior. And as we give such license to others we risk the tendency to also give such license to ourselves.

Regardless of the outcome of our current election, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard demanding more from our leaders. Not seeking more perfection but seeking more goodness. Not seeking more celebrity, but seeking more humanity. Not seeking an image of success but seeking an image that reflects the ideals for which we each strive.

Essay: Looking back at the day of the Boston Marathon bombing 2013

by Kevin Kwilinski

It’s Tuesday morning and I am sitting in my hotel room next to my wife.  Just a few hours ago I was afraid I might never see her again.  My memory of the day is a strange contrast of joy and sorrow.  But most of all it was a day in which I felt the hand of God in a very real way.

Amy and I woke at five in the morning to get dressed and have our breakfast.  At six we made our way to the subway station next to our hotel for the short trip down to Boston Commons where the buses would be collecting us for our drive to the starting line.  Amy and I shared a kiss as she headed to get on the bus.  I went to the predetermined corner where I would meet up with Slawek the visually impaired runner that I would be guiding during the race.  Unfortunately, he never arrived so I made my way onto the bus and went to the starting area to search for him.

Once I saw the chaos of the starting area, imagine 27,000 people in an encampment, I headed down to the start corrals hoping that he would find a way to make it to our corral.  I explained the situation to the corral officials.  They let me stand at the entrance with them while we all looked for Slawek to appear.  I stood there as the announcements were made; “45 minutes until the start of wave 1”, “30 minutes until the start of wave 1”, “15 minutes until the start of wave 1”.  I was feeling awful.  I thought about what I must look like standing there.  I was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt provided by the Achilles Foundation the group that brought Slawek and I together in the first place.  It said “GUIDE” in big letters on both the front and back.  My bib was pinned to the shirt and it read “GUIDE BLIND RUNNER”.  However I was standing there alone without my runner.  I went over my apology in my mind.  If he didn’t show up would I run anyway?  I had qualified for the race and I had my own number.  Would I run the race with the “GUIDE” shirt on going full speed like I had successfully dropped my runner somewhere earlier in the race?

The announcement came for ten minutes remaining.  I said a short prayer.  “God please let Slawek find me here.  He has had enough disappointment in his life.”  And then, there he was.  Wearing his sunglasses and white and red racing singlet in the colors of his country Poland.  I called out to him and he said “Kevin?” as a smile started to cross his face.  He gave my a giant hug and I silently thanked God for this gift.

I met Slawek the night before.  Amy and I went to a dinner hosted for all the Achilles Foundation runners and their guides.  While we were sitting in the meeting room waiting for dinner, a young man walked in on artificial limbs.  He was strong and handsome.  A reporter and camera man walked up to him and addressed him as “Captain”.  We learned later that many of the mobility impaired runners were part of the “Wounded Warrior Project”.  They were soldiers who had lost limbs from explosions in foreign lands.  These individuals were not giving up on life.  They were choosing to pursue their dreams.  I never dreamed that in a few short hours the same type of tragedy would occur on home soil.

Over the course of the evening we found Slawek to be a very happy person.  Telling jokes which were translated for us in broken english by his friend.  But you could also tell that he was a very tough person and proud.  His face had scars and dark gray areas where he had forever been marked by an industrial explosion when he was a young man.  He had been born with very limited sight in one eye and the explosion took out the vision in his other.  I asked the translator to find out if he still wanted to run a 3:10 marathon.  The 52 year old man responded emphatically yes.  I then asked how his training had been going.  He shook his head and the reply came back that it hadn’t been good due to all the snow in Poland.  That told me a lot about Slawek.  I knew that he had a strong will and was willing to hurt to achieve his goal.

Standing in the start corral I learned just how strong willed he could be.  He was gesturing toward the front of the race to the corrals closer to the start line.  He wanted to move up to the front.  I knew that not only was this against the rules, race officials actually check for this by comparing your chip start time to the rest of your assigned corral.  People had been disqualified for this very thing.  I shook my head no and tried to explain.  He understood nothing that I said.  He more emphatically gestured to the front and again I shook my head and tried to explain.  He started to move and I was about to physically stop him.

A man next to us said, “Maybe I can help?”  I replied, “Not unless you speak Polish.”  “I do.” he said.  The youth leader at our local parish calls these type of moments a “God Sighting”.   27,000 runners broken into three waves with each wave containing at least 10 corrals with each corral holding a couple hundred runners and standing right next to me is a man who spoke both Polish and English.  His name was Toyvek and he was originally from Poland but had been living in the US for the last 20 years.  Toyvek explained the situation to Slawek and he finally understood.  Toyvek asked me if there was anything else that I would like to communicate to Slawek.  I explained the difficulty in finding Slawek.  I explained how I couldn’t explain to Slawek my concern that he would be disqualified.  I said please tell Slawek that God wants us to run together today and that he wants us to know it.  Toyvek spoke for a long time and then a smile crossed Slawek’s face and he hugged me.

The race began.  It was bright and sunny and everyone was happy.  We ran on pace for about the first five miles but I could hear Slawek’s labored breath.  He pointed at the pace band that I had printed for us and that I was wearing on my wrist.  He made a “no” sign with his hand and I knew he needed to slow down.  We slowed our pace by about 15 seconds a mile and settled into the run.  I could tell by his breathing that Slawek was working.  I was afraid that when we hit the hills of Newton they would do him in and he would bonk.  I grabbed him drinks of Powerade and water whenever he would accept them.

We hit the hills and slowed a little but he was holding on.  I knew he was hurting as I had been there two years before.  I had started too fast for my ability then and by the time I hit those hills I was done.  I walked most of the second half of the course.  But Slawek ran on.  He never walked.  We crossed the crest of Heartbreak Hill and I looked back and smiled at him.  He began to push harder.  Slawek finished strong with a time of 3:25:20.  This was about 15 minutes slower than his goal but still good enough for third place overall in the visually impaired category of the race.  We crossed the finish line holding hands raised in the air.  We hugged and I knew that Slawek was very happy with his performance.  He made a gesture like a roller coaster and I knew that he was paying homage to the difficulty of the legendary Boston course.

The representative of Achilles met us and handed me instructions on how to get Slawek back to his family.  We slowly made our way through the crowd, gathered our medals and Slawek’s drop bag, and made our way to the subway station.  We pushed onto the crowded train with standing room only.  We arrived at the North Station on the green line and found his family.   Pictures were taken and I told them that we would celebrate that night at the planned dinner party being sponsored by Achilles.  I got back on the train to head back to my hotel.

Right outside of Arlington station next to the finish area the train stopped.  We sat for a long time.  At first there were announcements that we were waiting due to “heavy traffic caused by the marathon”.  As people began to think about this they started to realize that it didn’t make sense.  I heard a little boy ask his father, “Why would the marathon slow down the subway?”  The look on his father’s face said that this was a good question.  After we heard this message several times a new message came over the loudspeaker. “This train is being taken out of service at the next station due to a police action in the city of Boston.”  There was absolute silence.  What did this mean?  We pulled into Arlington and were told to exit the train and station as fast as possible.  Police officers urged us out of the station at every turn.  There was panic on the faces of the train employees.

We came out of the underground station in bright sunlight and I waited for my eyes to adjust.  Police vehicles were everywhere.  Sirens were blazing and emergency vehicles were racing by.  There were plenty of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances but there were other vehicles.  Sinister looking machines that looked like military vehicles except that they were painted black.  They were filled with men in full military gear.  I had entered that tunnel a few minutes earlier that day from a scene of joy and when I had come back out of that tunnel I was in a war zone.

I like to run light and I sweat a lot so I never carry my cell phone in a race.  I don’t like to deal with drop bags either so I was just standing there in my race clothes and shivered.  I asked the closest person what was going on.  He was a teenager around 16 years old.  He had that tight curly red hair that almost doesn’t seem real.  He also had those perpetually rosy red cheeks and he wore wire rim glasses.  He told me that two bombs had gone off at the finish line.  That the subway had been shut down and that the police were blocking off the area.  I asked him how long ago the bombs had gone off.  He said, “Twenty minutes.”  I quickly did the math.  If Amy had run on pace she would have been clear of the finish before the bombs exploded but if she was struggling…  I didn’t want to think about it but I knew that either way I needed to get back to the hotel as fast as possible.  She would either be back there and worried about me or I needed to get my phone to try and find her.

I got my bearings and began to run toward our hotel out by Fenway.  I knew it was about two miles west.  I found that bright shining sun in the sky and knew which direction to head.  As I ran west, the police were pushing the blockade further north.  I picked up my pace to stay just ahead of the roads I was running on being blocked off by the police.  I crossed the point on Commonwealth where the race had been stopped.  It was chaos.  Runners didn’t know where to go.  Families were rushing into the area to try and find their loved one to make sure they were safe.  You could hear people screaming “There she is!” or “I think I see him.”  Others were lifting up there loved one in embrace and crying together.  Still others were just crying.

I arrived at my hotel out of breath.  The elevator was so slow.  I ran down the long corridor on our floor and put the key in the door.  I rounded the corner for the moment of truth and I saw her.  Amy was sitting in the window looking down at the scene below.  We hugged and cried together for the longest time.  Moments like this make everything in your life crystal clear.  There is no doubt about what is truly important.  We began to respond to family and friends that were already looking for us.

I don’t understand many things about what happened yesterday.  I don’t know why God allows evil to happen and certain people to be hurt while others are safe.  I know the intellectual arguments for these things but I don’t really understand it.  I don’t know why God would be interested in a blind man running a marathon or what lesson he wanted me to learn from the experience.  But I do know that God was actively involved in my life yesterday.  I know that He wanted me to know it.  And I know that things will never be quite the same.

Essay: How Steve Jobs Influenced My Life

by Kevin Kwilinski

In mid the 1970s when I was 6 or 7 years old, Steve Jobs sold his VW van and set to work building the Apple I with Wozniak.  It was a home computer kit that you put together yourself.  By 1978, the more advanced and already assembled Apple II was available.  By 1980 the Commodore VIC-20 was released and many others would soon follow.

In 1981 when I was 12 years old, my 13 year old cousin Brian and I pooled our money and purchased a Sinclair ZX81 kit.  We couldn’t afford the fancy pre-assembled machines and although the Apple 1 sold for $666.66 the Sinclair ZX81 kit was only $99.95!  I remember carefully building all of the components onto the circuit board and the first time we “booted” it up and saw words on the TV screen.  We were cautioned by our parents to not break the TV!

 

The following year my parents purchased a TI-99/4A home computer for Christmas.  This machine was a cross between a computer and a video game console since it also accepted game cartridges.  My brothers quickly dominated the gaming side but I was much more interested in learning how to program the thing to do something “useful”.  During the phase of teaching myself to program in “TI BASIC” I wrote many lines of code and spent hours debugging simple scripts.  But the worst part was that the machine had no storage of any kind so when the machine was shut off (to do something like install a game cartridge) the entire program was wiped permanently from memory!  I learned from a science magazine that a cable could be built to connect the computer to a tape recorder and you could then save the program as a series of beeps onto the cassette tape.  This was a major improvement and allowed more “advanced” experimentation.  My “Mona Lisa” was programming the computer to show a fireplace complete with a moving flickering flame and the sound of crackles… sort of an early screen saver.  I remember the pride I felt as my whole family stood around the TV watching that silly moving flame and asked me how I did it.

These experiences significantly altered the course of my life and helped make me the geek I am today.  Thank you for your contribution Steve Jobs.

Essay: Thoughts on “The coming evangelical collapse” or Why I became Catholic

by Kevin Kwilinski

This is a response to the article, “The coming evangelical collapse” (capitalization as in the published work) written by Michael Spencer and published in the Christian Science Monitor on March 10, 2009.

First, a small disclaimer… If you are Evangelical, Episcopal, Anglican, or other Protestant; please do not be offended by my thoughts. I am making a statement about why I made certain decisions and I in no way believe these are the only acceptable decisions that could be made. I believe I am still in full communion with you and I hope you believe the same about me.

In order to understand my comments in context it is important to understand a little bit about my personal religious history. I have a personal spiritual history too. Although no less important, my spiritual history is not the subject of this writing.

I was raised an evangelical. We were Free Methodists and I regularly attended services and was very active in youth programs. During the most formative years of my youth I literally grew up in the shadow of the Billy Sunday Tabernacle in Winona Lake, IN. For those that don’t know, Billy Sunday was a major league baseball player who became an evangelical christian minister. During the 20th century he “became the nation’s most famous evangelist with his colloquial sermons and frenetic delivery.” (Wikipedia)

As a teenager I was involved in competitive Bible quizzing. We would travel all over the conference each month competing in quiz meets which were competitions between rival churches. During the summer we would travel to the national meet and compete against all the conferences in our denomination, the Free Methodist Church. Each year we would be assigned part of the Bible to learn and by learn I mean memorize inside and out so that you could literally quote every verse of the whole book or books for that year. Not everyone learned it this well but if you wanted to be a national champion (which my team was in 1984) you did it.

Studying for Bible quizzing really taught me how to study. I learned to sit down with a chapter of a book of the Bible and memorize it word for word within 30-45 minutes. It would take me about 3-4 times doing this over the next few weeks to master the text to the point of not forgetting it. This type of skill certainly helped my school work which eventually led to me being offered a scholarship to attend a Free Methodist college, Greenville College in Greenville, IL. At Greenville I went to chapel twice a week and church (almost) every Sunday. I took a minor in Philosophy & Religion and I majored in Physics and Mathematics. At Greenville, I married my wife who I had met a few years earlier in Bible quizzing. She was a Free Methodist evangelical too. Her father and grandfather both attended Greenville College and were Free Methodist. Her sister and aunt are ordained ministers in the Free Methodist church.

I give this history because it shows the amount of inertia that my wife and I had to be anything but Free Methodist, or at least evangelical, or at the very least protestant. However as I sit here writing this I am a converted Roman Catholic and I am going to Sunday evening mass in about one hour. We didn’t jump straight from being Free Methodist to being Roman Catholic. We took the usual route: evangelical to some form of protestant church with a liturgical focus and then on to being Catholic. In our case we became Episcopal and then moved to a small Anglican communion when we felt the Episcopal church had become far to liberal on social issues. After a work relocation, we found ourselves without a local conservative Anglican church so we did an inventory of what was important to us: liturgical focus, steeped in history and tradition, conservative on social issues. We came to the conclusion that we were most similar to Catholics.

So what is my beef with evangelical churches? First, they have become much different then when I was growing up. The worship service has become much more focused on entertaining and creating an emotional experience. Not that it was all good prior to this as the evangelical churches I have attend were all very focused on the minister and in worship services on the sermon. In a typical evangelical service the climax of the service is the sermon as opposed to the eucharist. It became common for communion to only be held a couple of times a year. What could be espoused from the pulpit and the quality of the content was highly variable. The content of the worship was highly affected by the individual minister as opposed to a long-standing liturgy. It becomes easy when an individual plays such a critical role for a type of “cult of the individual” to develop. The liturgy, on the other hand, is designed to focus on what is sacramental and to ensure a consistency through the ages.

John Wesley was an Anglican cleric and a Christian theologian who founded the Methodist movement. The roots of many evangelical churches can be traced back to John Wesley. However, John Wesley never left the Anglican church. He always insisted that his movement was within the bounds of the Anglican Church. One area of thought that Wesley developed is now called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It is called a quadrilateral because it is based on four equally important pillars.

* Scripture – the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments)
* Tradition – the two millennia history of the Christian Church
* Reason – rational thinking and sensible interpretation
* Experience – a Christian’s personal and communal journey in Christ (Wikipedia)

These four pillars, or legs of the quadrilateral, describe the lens through which theological truth can best be discerned.

When I think about the important reasons why we moved away from evangelicalism it is because of the disproportionate focus on “experience” at the expense of “tradition” and “reason. We found a much more meaningful balance in the liturgical churches. If it were not for social liberalism in the Episcopal church that is likely where we would be today.  I have found no true teachings (as opposed to misconceptions) in Catholicism that I can not accept in the context of it being in conflict with the essential teachings of Christianity. In other words, if the Roman Catholic Church was teaching something that prevented me from being a Christian, I would leave. Enough of that. This is not a writing on why I am now Catholic but rather why I am no longer an evangelical.

I may add to this later. However, I am out of time as I am about to go celebrate mass. Although I don’t know what the homily will be and what songs we will sing, I can quote the liturgy we will use and I will take great delight in the celebration of the eucharist.