Children

A Struggle for the Nation’s Moral Center

Court gavel with play letters, zimmytws / Shutterstock.com

Court gavel with play letters, zimmytws / Shutterstock.com

Sharletta Evans of Denver says it was her faith that motivated her to forgive the teens who killed her 3-year-old son, Casson, during a drive-by shooting. When she did, Evans says, she could feel the hate evaporate from her body. She has since developed a relationship with one of the young men, whom she hopes to see released from prison.

Minnesota’s Mary Johnson drew on her faith for the strength to meet with and forgive Oshea Israel, who was 16 when he killed Johnson’s 20-year-old son, Laramiun Byrd. Mary now considers Oshea, who lives next door to her, her spiritual son. The two now frequently speak together about anti-violence and the power of forgiveness.

And Mona Schlautman, whose 15-year-old son, Jeremy Drake, was kidnapped and killed in a park in Omaha, Neb., says her faith — plus her belief that it is good public policy — have led her to support changes in that state’s laws that would ensure young people who go to prison for serious crimes have meaningful opportunities to be considered for release after they have acknowledged what they did, asked for forgiveness and sought to make amends. She testified before the Pardons Board several times on behalf of Jeremy Herman, who at 17 was convicted of kidnapping her son. He was released from prison after 19 years.

Throughout the United States, people of faith are on the front lines of the effort to replace life-without-parole sentences for children with age-appropriate accountability measures that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The Juvenile Justice Week of Faith and Healing is an annual event intended to engage faith leaders and further increase awareness of individual, community and social needs arising from the current juvenile justice system.

Two Children Killed in Afghanistan by NATO Forces

THIS JUST IN — horrific news from our friends in Kabul. Over the weekend two kids, age 7 and 8, were killed by NATO forces while herding cattle in the Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan. 

The Afghan Peace Volunteers, with whom Shane visited a few weeks ago, took to the streets in nonviolent protest.

They were accompanied by a couple of cows, as a reminder of the innocence of these children who were killed alongside their livestock. 

They carried signs that read: “We are those 2 children.”  Here is a video they sent us:

Why You Should Pray Like a Six-Year-Old Boy

Portrait of a boy praying, Emin Ozkan / Shutterstock.com

Portrait of a boy praying, Emin Ozkan / Shutterstock.com

It was a proud moment in the Ericksen household. The five of us sat down for lunch and my six-year-old boy said, Let’s pray.

This is every pastor’s dream. Usually I have to coerce people into prayer. Now my boy is offering to pray. With great pride and a smile on my face I said, Yes, my Son. Will you lead us in prayer?

He took a pensive moment and agreed. We bowed our heads, closed our eyes, and then … this happened,Hi God! I want something really awesome for Christmas next year! Please get me something really great! Okay. That’s all. Amen.

Both of my boys began to laugh. My proud moment was gone and replaced by a bitter sense of disappointment. I instinctively thought to myself, “Christmas! It’s February, Dude. I hope you have a lot of patience, cause you’re not getting anything remotely close to ‘awesome’ for at least another 10 months! That’ll teach you to laugh at prayer. And, by the way, you shoulda’ prayed for freakin’ world peace!!!”

I'm An A-Hole Dad

Mattias: “Dad, I forgive you.”
Me: “But I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Mattias: “That’s okay. I forgive you anyway.”
— Mattias, 5 years, 1 month

I’m a big, gigantic jerk of a dad.

My son, Mattias, is a charmer. As introverted and crowd-averse as I am, he feeds off the energy of a group. His uncle Matt calls him “Slumdog Millionaire” because he’s convinced that, if you dropped him in the middle of Calcutta with nothing but the clothes on his back, he’d be running the joint inside of six months.

This particular day, Mattias was working on a smaller scale, charming his uncle Joe out of five bucks over a family dinner. The problem is that, about half the time, he loses the money before it makes it into his bank. So I offered to carry it for him while we were out running some errands later on.

He asked for it back after a while, and I explained that if he lost it, there were no refunds. I figured, though, that even losing the money was a lesson worth learning.

Sure enough, that evening at dinner, he dug into his pocket for his cash and found nothing.

Forgetting the Children of Sandy Hook: How We’ve Become the Friends of Job

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

A photo of Caroline Previdi, one of the Newtown shooting victims. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

*If you have not read the Book of Job, this pastor recommends it as a must-read during this time of national crisis. There is much to digest; it requires no theological confession (only a sincere concern for humanity); and it reminds us of how little we know, how much we speak.*

The Book of Job provides a helpful but not fully welcome commentary on how we might read and understand the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Because that’s what we want right? Understanding? Things happen and we want to know WHY, so as to file them in our Rolodex of infinite human wisdom. Except … Job could do nothing to prevent the tragedies that befell him, and as he sat in the silence of his grief – having just lost his 10 children, his possessions, and his health – all he had was his three friends who came to sit with him. Except … sitting was not enough for them. They had to talk. They had to explain WHY this happened to Job. And in the process they forgot about Job. 

Tragedies are always the occasion for extraordinary public debate: New Orleans moved from the victims to the state of FEMA in 2005; Columbine rushed us from victims to gun control; and Darfur moved from victims to foreign policy, as does Israeli-Palestinian conversation today push us away from the exiles themselves. Newtown, Conn., is no different, where a major cable news outlet was waiting in the parking lot to talk to children (not care for children, but talk to them about what was going on inside, focusing on their eyes and ears, but not their hearts). As if a 6 year old can wax eloquent on the horror they’ve witnessed. Sensationally irresponsible: some of the worst journalistic ethics I’ve seen in … well … let’s not go there.

Five Children’s Questions About the Sandy Hook Tragedy

© Yuri Arcurs / Shutterstock.com

© Yuri Arcurs / Shutterstock.com

I’ve seen plenty of articles responding to the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Some are angry, some pastoral, still others, prophetic in their call for change in various forms. I have little to add to the conversation at that level, but I have heard questions from many children, some from my own kids. I thought I’d offer some responses I’ve shared.

What happened? 

Something terribly sad. A man hurt some children and adults in a school in Connecticut. Some of them died. The teachers and students were very brave, and the community is working together to take care of those who survived and those who lost someone they loved. Even the President went there to be with them.

What We Parents Must Do

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rachel Pullen (C) kisses her son Landon DeCecco at a memorial for victims near the school. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Our deepest question now is whether what happed on Friday — and what has focused the attention of the entire nation — will touch the nation’s soul or just make headlines for a few days. 

I think that will be up to us as parents — to respond as parents. The brutal shooting of 20 six- and seven-year-old school children in their own classrooms touches all of us, and as the father of two young boys I’m especially struck how it touches parents. From the heartbreak of the parents in Newtown to the tears in the eyes of Barack Obama as he responded — not just as the President, but also as the father of two daughters — to the faces of the first responders and reporters who are parents. I have felt the pain and seen the look on the face of every parent I have talked with since this horrendous event occurred. Virtually every mother and father in America this weekend has turned their grieving gaze on their own children, realizing how easily this could have happened to them. The emotions we’ve seen from the Newtown parents whose children survived, and the feelings of utter grief for those parents whose children didn’t, have reached directly to me. 

Saturday, the day after the Connecticut massacre, Joy and I went to our son Jack’s basketball game. The kids on the court were all the same ages as the children who were killed on Friday. I kept looking at them one by one, feeling how fragile their lives are.

Our first response to what happened in Newtown must be toward our own children. To be so thankful for the gift and grace they are to us. To be ever more conscious of them and what they need from us. To just enjoy them and be reminded to slowly and attentively take the time and the space to just be with them. To honor the grief of those mothers and fathers in Connecticut who have so painfully just lost their children, we must love and attend to ours in an even deeper way.

Kids Say the Profoundest Things

Photo: © noregt / Shutterstock.com

Photo: © noregt / Shutterstock.com

I asked a small group of second-graders what they would like to find inside their mailboxes. That was after we read a story about a goose who opened her mailbox and found a kite. I expected to hear answers of things: video games, toys or basketballs. But the first student who raised her hand looked at me with sincere, big brown eyes and said, "I'd like to find a letter from my dad."

In my classroom, my kids say the profoundest things.

As we entered the holiday season, I thought about the answer that student gave me. I thought about what other of my 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds were saying about the holiday season.

For three years, I lived and worked in a large housing project in Louisville, Ky. I was a middle-class, white graduate student, and my background clouded how I saw the people around me. But I finally began to see clearly.

‘Are You My Mother?’ Sometimes, There’s No Easy Answer

Photo: © vlavetal / Shutterstock.com

Photo: © vlavetal / Shutterstock.com

In a classic 1960 children's book, a baby bird toddles up to one critter after another asking, "Are you my mother?"

For some babies today, there's no simple answer — biologically or legally.

Advances in artificial reproductive technologies mean a baby could have three "mothers" — the genetic mother, the birth mother and the intended parent, who may be a woman or a man.

Statutes on surrogacy, adoption, divorce and inheritance vary state by state, court by court, decision by decision. For nontraditional couples, the patchwork of laws makes it even more complex. New York allows gay marriage but forbids surrogacy, for example, while Utah permits surrogacy but bans gay marriage.

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