After five days in the hospital, filled with overwhelming joy, paralyzing fear, and complete exhaustion in the wake of the birth of our twins, I finally found a moment to walk outside the florescent lights and sit under the bright moon. Sitting on a small patch of grass outside the hospital doors, the reality of being a father to four kids finally hit me. I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed by the gift and responsibility of raising four kids in a world so desperately in need of mustard seeds of hope that one day blossom into healing and beauty.
So as I sit in relative comfort and begin to dream big dreams for my kids, I am struck by the reality that most fathers around the globe are forced to welcome their kids into a world where there is no "ladder" to climb because it has been knocked out from under them by broken systems that are breaking people. A world where many kids are born into families fleeing violent persecution and being nursed on the trauma of war in battered refugee camps — places where the thought of hope is a distant second to simply fighting to survive. A world where one’s value is more closely associated with gender (male) than with the beautiful uniqueness inherent in every new life.
But this is also a world pregnant with possibilities. A world where former enemies move beyond their past, share tables, and begin to imagine a future together. A world where the blossoms of new life begin to sprout in the shadowy corners of forgotten neighborhoods. A world where the diversity of God’s kingdom begins to awaken our eyes and hearts to the new world God is making.
It is in this world — a world both beautiful and broken — that I offer this prayer over my four kids.
There’s a photo he carries for long journeys
like this one, for trips on loaded market lorries
where the passengers take their seat, perching
on top of cargo, or sitting on crude benches
inside the buses coming from Sudan with names
like “Best of Luck” or “Mr. Good Looking.”
The faces of children show us just how foreign to human nature violence actually is. Children shrink from violence. They withdraw inside of themselves, and the face they turn outward to the world is one stripped of their personalities. They lose their affect, are unable to smile or respond to overtures from others. I suppose if you think that joyless, lifeless, blank stares are “normal,” then violence can be thought of as essential to normal human functioning. But if you think that children like this are abnormal — in other words, if you think that violence has prevented them from developing normally — then it’s fair to conclude that violence is anathema to human life and therefore cannot be part of our DNA. Violent behavior must be contingent, just one possibility among others in the vast repertoire of human behaviors. One we can opt for or opt out of as we choose. A choice that a careful study of mimetic theory forces us to face.
Unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom heaven. (Matt. 18:3)
Jesus spoke these words as a response to a question from his disciples. Which of us, they demanded to know, was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus must have been struck by the contrast between his rivalrous disciples, so-called friends bickering and vying for attention, and the children who were playing nearby. He could have said, “I am, you silly gooses! Don’t compete with me – follow me!” But he had tried words before to no avail. So he summoned the children to show that greatness in the kingdom means playing joyfully in the moment with a humility that is heedless of rank or position. Only such as these, he explained, are able to know me and follow me.
The entirely preventable California measles outbreak has now sickened more than 70 people. With perhaps hundreds more exposed, the outbreak will likely continue.
As the disease spreads, experts will debate how we respond and what to do about the anti-vaccine movement that’s partly to blame for this mess. Likely, all we’ll agree on is better outreach to parents.
That’s not enough. Parents who do not vaccinate their children should go to jail.
In the year 2015, it is amazing that anyone in the United States contracts measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the U.S. eliminated all native cases of measles in the year 2000. New cases generally occurred only among unvaccinated foreigners. Today, however, because of ignorant “anti-vaxxers,” the disease is staging a comeback.
Anti-vaxxers often claim the right not to put “poison” in their children’s bodies. That is ludicrous. A mountain of data has demonstrated that vaccines are safe and effective. Insisting otherwise is akin to believing that the moon landing was faked.
A more serious objection is that, like birth control, those with religious objections should be exempted. But, let’s remember that civil rights go both ways.
In a few days, Americans will gather across the country to watch the Super Bowl.
But what many of them don’t know is what happens outside of the stadium—a seedy underworld that profits off the sale of American children.
Every year, approximately 100,000 children are forced into prostitution in the United States—and many are illegally “bused in” to locations hosting major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Once the game is over, victims are relocated to the next profitable event.
The trafficking of our kids is not a game.
I can tell you firsthand that homeless children—desperate for food, shelter, and comfort—are the biggest victims of this horrific industry. At Covenant House, we’ve seen too many of these innocent children come through our doors.
I can also tell you that no homeless kid sells his or her body by choice. In a survey we conducted with Fordham University, almost 25 percent of homeless kids were either victims of trafficking or felt they needed to trade sex in order to survive.
ALL of them greatly regretted having to trade their bodies—a trauma that can haunt them for the rest of their lives.
We are doing everything we can to help these victims, as well as ensure that homeless kids who are at risk of becoming victims never fall prey to this vile industry.
Everyone who desires to follow Jesus’ command to love can pour that love into their own communities, where thousands of children languish in foster care, are legally tangled in the juvenile system, and are raising themselves with no strong adults to guide them forward.
These children in our communities are vulnerable to human trafficking unless each of us does something about it. Right here at home.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. We should love even the unlovable, especially the downtrodden, the forgotten. Don’t be afraid to love those that the world says aren’t worth it, the throwaways, the ones we too often pretend don’t exist.
Love big, love strong, love deep with compassion and bravery. Love those who spit in your face and curse you, the ones who break your heart over and over again. Your love may be the catalyst that keeps that one person from becoming a statistic.
Who will end slavery? You will. How will we end slavery? By God’s grace, through love and fortitude. Not in a faraway place but right here, at home.
A Hymn for This Sunday
This hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette asks the question what does it mean to be a Christian, a church? Whom do we serve? How shall we respond to those in need? It is based on the lectionary passage Matthew 21:23-32 (September 28, 2014). The United Methodist Worship Office has formatted the hymn with the music as a free download.
Once a Father Told His Children
NETTLETON 22.214.171.124 D (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)
Once a father told his children,
“Go and do your daily chores.
Go and work out in my vineyard;
All that’s mine will soon be yours.”
One responded, “I won’t do it!”
Then he changed his mind and went.
One said, “Yes! Just send me to it!”
But he went back home again.
This new hymn is inspired by the crisis in Central America that has caused over 70,000 children to take the dangerous journey to the United States in recent months. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has led many mission trips to Honduras for the past sixteen years. The brother of a child that Carolyn sponsored in Honduras was recently killed there.
The hymn’s reference to “On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather” is from a news report ("Boy's Death Draws Attention Immigration Perils") of a body of a dead child found with his brother’s phone number on his belt.
“As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!” comes from the news reports of Americans yelling at the detained children on buses in Murrieta, California. Jim Wallis of Sojourners reflects on this incident in his powerful online essay “The Moral Failure of Immigration Reform: Are We Really Afraid Of Children?" Biblical references in the hymn are Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 19:14-16.
Religious leaders urged President Obama and Congress to provide funding for legal assistance to unaccompanied migrant children who are in U.S. custody after fleeing violence, murder, and extortion abroad.
Multiple speakers, including United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano and the Rev. David Vasquez, spokesman for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, took part in a national teleconference Thursday. They then sent a petition signed by more than 3,800 people to Congress.
“We will not only win victory for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Four years ago I was working a corporate job for a national AFL team. It was well paid. I had great opportunities. Life was good. If you had told me that I was going to become a Christian, I would have laughed in your face. If you had gone on to say I would leave my well-paid job to spend my days running a Welcome Centre for refugees while working side jobs to make ends meet, I would have questioned your mental health. If you had added that I would be arrested with church leaders and a rabbi while continuing Martin Luther King’s work, it would have certified to me that you were crazy.
On Monday I walked into Austrailian MP Jamie Briggs' office to be arrested with seven Christian leaders and a rabbi. It sounds like the start of a joke. (My life is teaching me God has a great sense of humor.)
Why were we arrested? There are 983 children and their families currently in Australia’s detention centers.
These children are kids just like our own, with their made-up games, whispered jokes, and giggles. Their families dream of a future of safety. Our incoming Governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, arrived by boat in Darwin seeking refuge 36 years ago, with “nothing but a suitcase filled with invisible dreams. A dream to live in a peaceful, safe and free country and to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.” In the past, Australia has been the kind of nation that grants dreams like this – why not for the 983 future Hieu Van Le’s and their families in detention?
A world away and so many years later, how is Martin Luther King’s freedom movement related to the current plight of asylum seekers in Australia? Well, the links are stronger than you think.
My sister has one of those plastic playhouses in her backyard for her two boys. When she hosted a garage sale a few years ago, children accompanying their shopping parents would see the playhouse and join in.
I remember looking over at one point and seeing five children playing together. Different ages, different sexes, different races. All strangers. All playing together.
When they looked at each other, they saw a playmate.
In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela noted that children have an innate openness that tends to get closed off as they spend more time in the world.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
It’s easy for the faith of children to go unnoticed. But here are four spiritual things kids do better than adults:
They Ask Questions:
Nobody asks more — or better — questions than children. “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” and “Why?” are expressions patented by kids everywhere. They’re obnoxiously curious and want to know everything about everything.
They aren’t afraid to ask the most difficult and messy questions. Too often we mistake spiritual maturity for certainty, and lose our thirst for discovery. Kids remind us how to approach God — truthfully, stubbornly, inquisitively, and tirelessly.
Good and Gracious God,
our nation grieves.
the life of a child
has been cut
we all rally to our
to cry out
for our guns,
for our rights,
for our safety,
for rational thought...
Author's Note: This hymn is written with gratitude for foster parents, social workers, and others who do seek to do their best for abused and neglected children and youth. It is written as a prayer for the many children and youth who are failed by a broken system that too often ignores their cries and rights. Parts of this hymn, especially, are written as a prayer for one small boy who was our foster son for nineteenth months and is no longer in our care, but who will always be in our hearts. Sojourners' January 2014 issue had several helpful articles on foster parenting.
Lord, Hear the Cries of Children
PASSION CHORALE 126.96.36.199 D (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)
Lord, hear the cries of children who struggle every day,
Caught up in failing systems that steal their hope away.
Some find they’re lost to violence, then lost in foster care.
They long for life’s abundance! Lord, hear their pleading prayer.