For the children

I am a follower of the one who is called the Christ. He was someone who love and spent time with the marginalized…the outcast…those who were considered “less than”…and that included children.

One of his strongest statements about children was this (as stated in Luke 17:1-2):

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (NRSV)

“He said to his disciples, “Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear a millstone necklace and take a swim in the deep blue sea than give even one of these dear little ones a hard time!” (The Message)

I’ve been thinking about that the last few days…and have been reminded of a question often asked: “Is it good for the children?”

As we look around ourselves today, are our actions good for the children? Not just the children in our own homes…our own communities…our own nation…but all the children in the world.

What kind of environment are we leaving them? One in which they can breathe? in which they can delight in the diversity of creation? in which they can be safe? Or are we destroying the world around them?

What lessons are we teaching them? To cherish each other and to see each other as brother and sister? or to be afraid of someone who looks, speaks, loves, or worships differently from them?

Are we teaching them the importance of peacemaking and conflict resolution? Or are we teaching them that “might makes right”? that hatred is the strongest force in the world? that their lives are less important than vengeance…or oil?

We’re not going to be perfect. But we have the power to do better…and we must. Otherwise there will be no world for our children to inherit.

…a little child shall lead them.

This is a phrase from the description in the book of Isaiah about the peaceable kingdom…a place where

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

There are other places in the Bible where it talks about our need to have a child-like faith. Not a childish faith, but a child-like one.

As I’ve been watching the news recently, I’ve found myself pondering what it means to have that child-like faith.

Children tend to believe they can do anything. The words we adults use often encourage that belief.

  • If you want to do it badly enough, you can.
  • You can be (or do) anything you want.
  • Whether you think you can’t or think you can, you’re right.

And so for them, nothing is impossible.

We adults are often jaded. We are tired from the struggle. We see that life is not as simple…not as black and white…as we thought when we were younger. And so we often find that some things are impossible.

But we need the energy and “impossible” faith of youth. They are the ones who force us to face our fears…who challenge us to make our world better. They don’t take “no” for an answer…and because they don’t, we discover that the “impossible” things really are possible.

Who are some of these children who have challenged us?

  • Joan of Arc – led an army to free her country during the Hundred Years War. She was just 19 when she was killed.
  • Sophie Scholl fought against the Nazi regime and was killed when she was 22.
  • Anne Frank – kept a diary while in hiding from the Gestapo that has become a haunting memoir of both the evil around but also a faith in the goodness of people. She died in a concentration camp when she was 16.
  • Ruby Bridges – was the first African-American child to enter a segregated elementary school when she was 6.
  • Hector Pieterson – fought against apartheid in South Africa and was killed when he was 13.
  • Iqbal Masih – escaped from forced child labor in Pakistan and fought against child labor and for the right of children to receive an education. He was killed when he was 12.
  • James Chaney (21),  Andrew Goodman (20), and Michael Schwerner (24) – three civil rights workers who were killed as they were helping African-Americans to register to vote
  • Malala Yousafzai – defied the Taliban to campaign for the right for girls to be educated. She was shot in the head when she was 15 but survived and has become an advocate for human rights.
  • Greta Thunberg – has become a global leader for environmental issues, leading protests against global warming at age 16.

We need their passion…their energy…their hope for a better future.

I’m tired…

I am tired…emotionally and spiritually. And it’s not the kind of tiredness that can be resolved by a good night’s sleep.

It’s a tiredness that is deep in my soul.

I’m tired of our refusal to acknowledge our part in creating the hostile and violent environments that many people are fleeing, hoping to find a better future for themselves and their children…only to be met here with violence and separation.

I’m tired of all the gun violence. I’m tired of the news opening up with how many murders have taken place overnight…

I’m tired of wondering when the next mass shooting is going to take place…how many people will die…how many families will be destroyed.

I’m tired of “thoughts and prayers” that aren’t linked to a willingness to have the hard discussions about ways of making weapons less available…of common sense ways of decreasing the violence, even if it doesn’t stop it.

I’m tired of the anti-intellectualism that says that people who have studied areas of science for years somehow really don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m tired of the refusal to make changes that will help our earth heal.

I’m tired of the hatred of “the other”…of anyone who doesn’t look like us…doesn’t speak the same language we do…doesn’t worship the way we do…doesn’t love the way we do.

I’m tired of the ideologies that place one race on a pedestal built on the backs of another race…that says that only one color of people have rights.

I’m tired of women’s health concerns being negated…of others making decisions for them who have no ideas of the struggles they are going through.

I’m tired of the domination of those who call themselves pro-life…but who are comfortable cutting the programs that would help support women during pregnancy…and babies and families after birth.

I’m tired of hearing the God I worship being used to attack others…a God of love who created all of us in God’s image. I’m tired of having my faith misused by those who would claim that “God hates…” (insert any one of a number of groups there).

I’m tired…and sometimes I want to just give up. It seems so difficult to open up any kind of dialogue, because we seem to live in completely contradictory world views that don’t have anything in common.

But I can’t give up. If I give up, then I’m letting the hatred…the division…win. And because I believe in a God who gave us minds to use…a God who wants us to work together to heal the world’s wounds…a God who calls us to be good stewards of what God created…a God who has given me the choice to be a divider or a healer…I have to continue trying to build bridges.

I don’t know if I will succeed. I may never know that. But all I can do is keep trying…because I follow a Carpenter who builds bridges.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

Angry…and disappointed

I’ve been trying to listen to my feelings this last week, trying to understand just how I feel–and why. Some days I’ve been more angry…some more disappointed. So I guess that if you asked me how I’m feeling now, I’d have to say it’s a combination of the two–and which one takes precedence depends on what I am reading and seeing in the news on any given day.

Why? I’m not even sure where to start…there are so many things mixed up together.

But…here’s at least a beginning list (not in any particular order). You may not agree with all my issues–but please don’t tell me I shouldn’t feel this way! Many of these issues will affect my grandkids and great-grandkids…nieces and nephews. I have a right to feel angry and disappointed.

  • After so many shootings we still can’t agree on common-sense ways to deal with gun violence. We can’t even agree that gun violence is a problem! And so our children continue to go to school, worried about whether they will survive another day.
  • We can’t agree on the need for mental health help. There aren’t enough beds for people needing help…and too much stigma about asking for help.
  • The after-effects of slavery are still very active among us–but many of us are not willing to acknowledge the long-term effects that we’re still dealing with. Particularly those of us who have had the privileges that go with being white find it difficult to empathize with people of color.
  • I remember as a child believing that the police were my friends. I still (mostly) believe that–but I am also concerned when I see so many white police being given a pass because “they feared for their lives” and shot a person of color…but persons of color are far too often not given the same pass in similar situations.
  • We have demonized those who are seeking to escape violence by coming to America, a land that used to be seen as a land of promise. Now that promise seems to be more that we will separate families with no plans on how to reunite them…that we will refuse to acknowledge our role in creating those situations that they are fleeing.
  • Our environment is in danger, and yet we seem to blithely ignore the danger signs. Those who speak out for change are ridiculed–and our current administration is determined to roll back all the actions that were previously taken to help deal with the situation.
  • Speaking of our current administration, I am appalled at the gratuitous cruelty that is expressed by so many in it. I am also appalled that many of those who have been named to run parts of our government are individuals who have expressed determination to dismantle those very parts they are supposed to run!
  • I do not understand how individuals who call themselves followers of Jesus can continue to support a leader who believes himself to be above the law…whose morals are appalling…who doesn’t seem to be able to tell the truth if his life depended on it…who mocks and scorns those whom he sees as “less than” or different.
  • While I understand that we will not necessarily agree on the what/why someone is LGTBQ+, I do not understand the refusal to offer that community–a long-persecuted community–protections re: housing, jobs, and medical care.
  • I am appalled at the desire of white men to control women’s bodies…often (and obviously!) without knowing what they are talking about.
  • I hear many saying that they “value the sanctity of all life”–yet they are willing to possibly put women to death for having an abortion. They support the death penalty. They are unwilling to fund the programs that would help support those that they want to see born. It feels like they are pro-birth only, not pro-life.
  • White supremacy terrorist is on the rise in our country–but we are unwilling to call it by that name.

Is that enough? If I took more time, my list would be longer. These are just the constant concerns…the ones at the front of my mind.

I keep trying to find ways to build bridges…but I’m finding it harder.

I have many friends I love but who make statements and stand for things that seem antithetical to what I hear them saying they believe.

I honestly don’t know how much longer I can go on as I have.

I am feeling much more understanding of people like Martin Luther or Dietrich Bonhoeffer who found themselves pushed to a point where they felt they had no choice but to take a stand–regardless of the cost.

 

 

 

What is our future?

I grew up believing that our future was hopeful…that we were on the cusp of solving many of the problems our world faced. Elected officials might (and did!) disagree with each other on how to solve some of those problems, but they were willing to spend time in serious and honest discussion, trying to find ways to work together.

Now I’m not so sure.

  • I see an increase in saber-rattling.
  • I see distrust of science–and an almost fiendish delight in ignoring science to the point that we are in danger of destroying this planet that we live on.
  • I see an unwillingness to even engage in any kind of serious discussion–by any of us. We don’t seem to be willing to try to listen to each other, much less find ways in which we can work together to solve the significant problems that face us.
  • There is an increase in “I want mine and I don’t care what it does to anyone else or to the planet.”
  • White supremacy is on the rise, with its determination that all other races are “less than” and should be destroyed.
  • The rights of women to make decisions concerning their bodies and their health are being eroded by men who have no understanding of women’s health needs or how a woman’s body works.
  • Children–our precious future–are not being given the education they need and deserve to create a future of hope.
  • We denigrate and demean those who are members of faith traditions other than our own, unwilling to even try to understand their traditions while at the same time demanding that they conform to our own.
  • Families are often being torn apart through policies that are gratuitously cruel.
  • Members of minority groups (immigrants, LBGTQ+, people of color, disabled, single parents) are losing the protections that helped provide a positive future for them.
  • While we talk about extremism in other faith traditions, we seem unwilling to recognize it in our own.
  • We are destroying our environment. Multiple species are on the verge of extinction…and we don’t seem to care. CO2 levels are at an all-time high…and we laugh it off.
  • We are afraid of our diversity.

Is there still hope for us?

I think so…and these two quotes give me hope.

First, from Howard Zinn, a historian and playwright:

To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

But perhaps more importantly, this one from Anne Frank:

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

What’s our future? It’s up to us.

 

Our words have consequences

There’s a children’s song that includes these lyrics: “be careful, little eyes, what you see…be careful, little feet, where you go…be careful, little mouth, what you say.”

I thought of that when I heard the news of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand–and the fact that one of those arrested had a social media account linked to an 85-page anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim manifesto.

Our words have consequences!

When we demonize entire groups of people–whether because of their religion, their sexual or gender identity, their politics, or any other way we choose to divide into us versus them–we should not be surprised when someone then finds it acceptable to attack those same groups.

We then hear words of condolence and condemnation–often from the same individuals/organizations/entities that demonized them in the first place.

Such hypocrisy!

We may not always agree with each other. In fact, I’m sure we won’t. But it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

When we are willing to learn about each other–why we worship the way we do…why we have chosen the political path we are on…what it means to have a gender or sexual identity different from what is considered the norm–then we will see that those we call “them” often have the same challenges, concerns, cares, and hopes that we do.

They want better lives for their children–just as we do. They want a place to live and enough to eat–just as we do. They want a world where war isn’t the norm–just as we do.

Finding the solutions to the problems in the world is not going to be easy. But our words can help us find ways toward peace–or create more violence.

Which kind of world do we want? Our words do have consequences.

Talking with–or at?–each other

As I’ve listened to–and read–what passes for conversation today on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering if we’re trying to talk with each other or if we’re simply content to talk at each other.

What do I mean?

We may use the same words with each other–but it’s becoming more and more obvious that we often attach different meanings to them. It’s like a humorous saying I’ve heard about America and Britain–that we are two countries separated by a common language!

Part of the difficulty comes because we often approach our conversations from completely different foundations. Several years ago, the Smithsonian published an article from the relatively new field of political neuroscience suggesting that our political differences may have some biological basis. A key takeaway (at least for me) from the article is this:

Andrea Kuszewski, a researcher who has written about political neuroscience, would rather put a positive spin on what it could mean for politics. She says this kind of knowledge could help open up communication, or at least ease hostility between the country’s two major political parties.

“Each side is going to have to recognize that not everyone thinks like them, processes information like them, or values the same types of things…With the state our country is in right now, I don’t think we have any choice but to cowboy up and do whatever needs to be done in order to reach some common ground.”

A current article from Yahoo! News shows how difficult these conversations are going to be. What do we hear when we listen to each other? Or are we really listening? or just figuring out how we’re going to respond to what we think we hear?

Common ground seems to be really hard to find right now. But unless we are willing to do the hard work to try to find it, we are going to continue to become more and more divided–and instead of conversations that can help us find solutions, we will end up talking at (and past) each other!