Activism, Advocate, Anger, Child protection, Children, Despair, Disconsolate, grief, Gun violence, Mourning, NRA, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Robb Elementary School, Sandy Hook, School shooting, Uvalde, Texas, War, War on Children

War Against Children: America’s Heinous Sin

Digital Art by Kalliope

How would you feel about a phrase like, war against children? Virtually no one would like such a phrase, but isn’t that exactly what happens when someone bursts into a school brandishing an AK-15 assault rifle? When someone uses a weapon to kill children inside a school room, and when a nation refuses to change its culture of weapons and bullets, then we need to own it: America wages and perpetuates war against children!

The total lack of regulation of firearms and ammunition in America is the source of the shooting that held nineteen children and two teachers hostage in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in the hands of a murderer. The ultimate ”perpetrator” could be called the National Rifle Association (NRA), the group who promotes the idolatry of lethal weapons. Protesters at the site of the NRA’S National Convention this weekend were joined by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who listed previous school shootings and called on those attending the convention to make sure that gun violence would no longer harm children in this country.

“The time to have stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook,” O’Rourke said. “The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Santa Fe High School. The time for us to stop the next mass shooting in this country is right now, right here, today with every single one of us.”

Gun violence in schools is not a national scourge in every country. There are examples of gun control our nation could follow if we had the passion and political will to do so. A case in point . . .

About a month after the Parkland school shooting, a letter of condolence addressed to the survivors arrived from survivors and parents who had endured a similar tragedy 22 years before when a local shopkeeper walked into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and opened fire, killing 16 five and six-year-olds and their teacher.

Writing the letter to Parkland survivors was a act of solidarity. Offering hope for change, they told of their successful campaign for gun reform. They wrote, “Laws were changed, handguns were banned and the level of gun violence in Britain is now one of the lowest in the world.” 

Since the 1996 Dunblane massacre, they said, “there have been no more school shootings in the United Kingdom.” Because of a grassroots campaign led by the parents of Dunblane students, leaders in the U.K took decisive legislative action. By the end of 1997, Parliament had banned private ownership of most handguns, enacted a semi-automatic weapons ban, and implemented mandatory registration for shotgun owners.

The signees ended with words of encouragement, “Wherever you march, whenever you protest, however you campaign for a more sensible approach to gun ownership, we will be there with you in spirit.”

Here in “the land of the free,” we have become callous to gun violence. We hear of mass shootings on streets, in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques, and we move on. We are becoming immune to shootings in night clubs, stores, shopping malls, military bases, restaurants, theaters and homes.

Violence inside schools, though, is on a higher, more lethal level. People who grapple with making sense of school shootings strain to come up with “reasons” that such heinous acts of violence could happen. People choose to go into restaurants, clubs and theaters, but children in school classrooms are mandated to be there.

War against children.

Do we dare look at the list of school shootings since 1969? I studied the list today, lamented over it, I guess. There were fourteen school massacres that left 169 dead children.

After every single incident, people cry, “enough is enough.” After every horrific mass murder, lawmakers and power brokers say, “enough is enough.” And then comes the question, “Why?” Why is this violence happening? The following answers for “why”—some good and some preposterous—emerge from the national dialogue.

mental health problems; delinquent youth out of control; inattentive parents leaving guns accessible to children; weapons and ammunition too easy to get; untrained resource officers. It’s because the adults in the schools don’t have guns. They need guns.

Franklin Graham blamed school shootings on “a nation that has turned its back on God,” and on violent video games, the entertainment industry and on “taking God out of our schools.” James Dobson blamed the shooting at Sandy Hook on God’s wrath over abortion and same-sex marriage. 

War against children.

This is a sad season, but it is also a sad time for Christianity. Just days after the tragic slaughter of innocent children and their teachers, the National Rifle Association meets in national conference to celebrate themselves only 300 miles away from Robb Elementary in Uvalde. Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood name it and explain it in a recent article published in A Public Witness.

“Even after Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, and now Robb Elementary — not to mention the numerous other mass shootings at churches, theaters, concerts, restaurants, grocery stores, homes, and basically any other place in our society — some Christian leaders still try to baptize the death cult that will gather in Texas this weekend.”

Shane Claiborne, co-author of Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence, criticizes pastors who “bless this group that is literally contradicting nearly every word of the Sermon on the Mount.” He continues, ”I’m going to go straight to Jesus and say we cannot serve two masters. And we really are at a crossroads where we’ve got to choose: Are we going to follow Jesus or the NRA? And literally, you couldn’t come up with much more contrasting messages. The gospel of Jesus — turn the other cheek, love our enemies — stands in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the NRA — stand your ground. The gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.”

His words are true, as are words written by Dr. Obery Hendricks in his recent book, Christians Against Christianity. He writes a fiery epithet about what he describes as “the unholy alliance between right-wing evangelicals and the NRA. Their annual prayer breakfast,” Hendrick’s writes, ”tries to add a veneer of Christian religiosity to the NRA’s deadly agenda.”

In the article in A Public Witness, Kaylor and Underwood describe ”the NRA’s Hell” in scathing commentary. ”As the blood of more slaughtered children cries out from the ground, preparations continue for this weekend’s NRA convention.”

War against children.

There is no lack of commentary following the terror at Robb Elementary School. Stephen Reeves, executive director of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Southwest, also criticized Christian leaders who bless the NRA, saying, “I don’t know how you pray in the name of the Prince of Peace and ask for God’s blessings on the mission of the NRA. No other country sacrifices their children on the altar of the gun.”

Yet, the prophets and the mourners somehow coalesce this weekend, in solidarity with one another regarding weapons of war and slaughter. While a Texas community mourns grievous loss, righteous prophetic critics stand on their behalf to call out sin, complacency, greed, self-interest and idolatry and those who champion the evil of it. ”As our children are killed at the altar of a semiautomatic idol,” Kaylor and Underwood write, ”high priests like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Jonathan Falwell help the NRA damn us all to this hell.”

Meanwhile surviving parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members and friends are oblivious to the rhetoric, to the NRA, and to anyone or anything else. Theirs is to mourn, to keep vigil over the memories of the children, and I suppose, to continue asking, ”why.” Why did this happen? Why in our school? Why did it have to take my child?

The “why” questions? Could the answer be because America is waging war against children? The ”why questions” are literally unanswerable, no matter how long we sit before them waiting for answers, for reasons. Some cataclysms have no reasons or explanations, at least none that are worth anything. One needn’t ask ”why” to pure evil, but must instead try to ease beyond ”why” to a more answerable question.

Still, getting beyond “why” brings another question that hovers over us like an ominous cloud: “What can I do about it?” 

That is the question that remains. It pierces us. It drives the conversations we have and the prayers we pray. 

“What can I do about it?” I can only answer with possibilities to consider. Here are a few.

  • Make a commitment to stand courageously against violence in the ways you are able.
  • Become an informed activist, aware enough to help influence the passage of legislation that protects children.
  • Communicate constantly with members of Congress, by phone, letter, email, text. Go to their webpages and keep on prodding them to do right.
  • When your activism seems small, know that it helps wage the big war against violence.
  • Be open to acts of tenderness. Hold a mourner in your arms, when they feel nothing and when their crying will not stop.

Many parents of the Texas children are in in shock, in trauma-induced silence. Without voice, without tears, without any emotion at all. It will be a while before they can make any audible expression of grief.

Other parents are crying uncontrollably. They will cry at the funeral home, in the church, in the graveyard, at the store, in their beds in the night. Their bodies will literally shake as grief pours out from their deepest places. It will be a while before they can stop crying.

Most of us, in fact, cannot stop crying when we see and absorb this war against children or begin to grasp the utter senseless evil of it.

In my work as a victim advocate and trauma counselor, I was present with those who were trapped in silence and with those who could not stop crying. That was the thing I could do, and after the crying, being with them in marches and sit-ins or just for a cup of coffee. In a 2021 article for The Trace, Journalist Ann Givens interviewed me about my victim advocacy and my activism to end violence. She asked me about God, about how God responds to us in a crisis to help us move beyond trauma while we are still facing so much suffering. This was my response:

“God is a God of peace. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but God helps us take the deep, excruciating emotions that come with bad things, and do something with them.”

In the very middle of this war against children, can we take our powerful, intense emotions and do something even more powerful? Can we persevere until the war against children is over and we can see the bright hope of children lying down with a lion and a lamb in places of peace and safety?

May God empower us to say, “Yes, we can!” and fill us to overflowing with a living hope that empowers us to say, ”Yes, we will!”

Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
May 26, 2022

Please take a few moments of prayer and meditation to listen to this song, Precious Child.
Precious Child – Words & Music by Karen Taylor Good

Caged children, Child protection, Child trafficking, Children, Prayer, Sheltering children, Taking immigrant children

The World’s Children Need Us

Here’s the bottom line: in every nation of the world, one can see the oppression of children. No matter how one views the wars and the skirmishes, the occupations and the trafficking, the rationed medical care and the failure to administer the Covid vaccine, the stark reality is a picture of child endangerment and physical, sexual and emotional abuses.

The estimated number of children trafficked around the world is 5.5 million. They suffer violence, exploitation and abuse — ending up in forced marriage, prostitution, illegal adoption, labor, drug smuggling, begging and armed recruitment. They are taken from all around the world and sold by human traffickers as slaves. Child trafficking is linked to demand for cheap labor, especially where the working conditions are poor. Children may be forced into many dangerous and/or illegal situations, including slavery, domestic labor, sexual exploitation or prostitution, drug couriering and/or being turned into child soldiers.

And then, we must remember the immigrant children who have been separated from parents or guardians. An NBC News report on June 8, 2021 cites a 22-page progress report submitted to President Joe Biden last week by the task force for reuniting families. The report indicates that 2,127 children are awaiting their reunions. The report also states that 3,913 children separated from their families between July 2017 and January have been identified. The ACLU has said more than 5,400 children were separated at the border. The discrepancy, the DHS official said, is due to thousands of yet-to-be-reviewed files by the task force.

The estimated number of children trafficked around the world is 5.5 million. They suffer violence, exploitation and abuse — ending up in forced marriage, prostitution, illegal adoption, labor, drug smuggling and armed recruitment.

I could give many more statistics, hundreds of them, but we have all learned to hear statistics and simply dismiss them as irrelevant data. And yet, one single number in a spreadsheet of statistical information represents one particular child. A child stolen from her parents. A child exploited and enslaved. A child taken from the arms of protection and forced into danger. There is high lethality in child trafficking. A child loses his or her life forever because it is impossible to return to the life the child once knew.

So I will spare you from any more abysmal statistics. Instead, I want to share with you a portion of passionate, heartbreaking message I read today.

I wish to request that all those receiving this email pray for the children of Palestine living under a brutal Israeli occupation. Hardly a week goes by when 3-4 Palestinian children are summarily shot. Worst yet, Israel has not allowed the COVID vaccines to be administered in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. If this is not a genocidal act, then what is? And to think that a $3.8 billion dollar aid package was only last week sent to Israel . . . Folks, if this generous give-away of your hard earned tax dollars does not peeve you, then I urge you to start reading the papers and informing yourselves about the many genocidal acts of terror against brown people – Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan. As Christians, we are called upon to stand up for the oppressed.

In Deep Sorrow,
Raouf J. Halaby

What does this tragic situation as expressed by Mr. Halaby have to do with us? Maybe nothing. Probably nothing. But wait! I want to talk more about the inconceivable practice of modern day slavery — child trafficking.

Could my child be kidnapped and trafficked? It doesn’t happen here!

A very common misconception about human trafficking is that it does not happen in the United States. The truth is that the United States is ranked as one of the worst countries globally for human trafficking. It is estimated that 199,000 incidents occur within the United States every year.


Here are the 10 states with the highest rates of human trafficking:

        1. Nevada 
        2. Mississippi 
        3. Florida 
        4. Georgia 
        5. Ohio 
        6. Delaware 
        7. California 
        8. Missouri 
        9. Michigan 
        10. Texas 

Victims of trafficking frequently do not seek help due to language barriers, fear of their traffickers, or fear of law enforcement. Because human trafficking is considered a hidden crime, we can be diligent in reporting it when we see it happening. But we have to know what to look for. Several key warning signs can help us recognize potential endangerment and notify law enforcement. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has a list of indicators we can use to help identify victims. These indicators include:

      • Appearing malnourished
      • Appearing injured or having signs of physical abuse
      • Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and law enforcement
      • Responding in manners that seem rehearsed or scripted
      • Lacking personal identification documents
      • Lacking personal possessions

Every day there are things — bad things — that happen. Usually we think they have nothing to do with us, and usually they don’t, not directly at least. But the ministry of the Christ, who walked on this earth and who cared for the most vulnerable and endangered people he encountered, is our example. As Christians, do we follow Christ to the dangerous places? Do we pray for every child in every land, asking God to pay heed their circumstances and protect them from evil?

Prayer is the one thing, perhaps the most important thing, we can do. Mr. Halaby asks this of us: “I wish to request that all those receiving this email pray for the children of Palestine.” Let us start there, with that single request for prayer. And then, may all of us become more aware of the lives of children everywhere and pray that they will be protected from all harm.

Prayer is one thing we can do! Will we?


AWARENESS . . .

If you believe you may have information about a  trafficking situation:

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888:
Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking. 

Text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733. Message and data rates may apply.

Chat with the National Human Trafficking Hotline via www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat

Submit a tip online through the anonymous online reporting form below. However, please note that if the situation is urgent or occurred within the last 24 hours we would encourage you to call, text or chat.

The information you provide will be reviewed by the Trafficking Hotline. All reports are confidential and you may remain anonymous. Interpreters are available via phone call only. Learn more about the Hotline’s approach and policies regarding reporting trafficking situations to law enforcement.

Report missing children or child pornography to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678) or through their Cybertipline.

Another good resource is “Not for Sale” at https://www.notforsalecampaign.org/about-us/

Challenge, Child protection, Children, Covid-19, Delta Variant, Fear, Mask mandate, Parenting, Protection, Sheltering children

Free-Flowing Thoughts on Sheltering the Children

What’s on your mind today? I ask because for me there are days, like today, when my mind is free-flowing without one thought, idea or plan. That can be troubling for a person like me who almost constantly churns out thoughts and creative responses to those thoughts. My blog, for instance, is a preaching platform for this retired and frustrated preacher. And there is almost always a sermon in me just itching to see the light of day!

But not today! You’ll get no sermon today, just words without organization and thoughts floating in the wind. Perhaps my thoughts will be energized by Spirit Wind, or not! It seems to me to be a good time for floating thoughts and random words, because in this pandemic world, there are simply no words.

When I look at pandemic facts and trends in my state, Georgia, I am aghast at this reality released today by WMAZ News: “The number of Covid cases in Georgia children has jumped in a month from 40 to 488. That’s more than 1,100 percent.”* Dr. Edward Clark, an Atrium Health Navicent pediatrician, says parents should be very concerned. “We’ve seen a spike in kids ranging from infants anywhere up to age 18,” he said. On top of that, children ages 12 and older have been approved only for the Pfizer vaccine at this time.

The truth is that some parents are very alarmed — even terrified — about the rising number of delta variant cases in children and teenagers. As well they should be, as they watch with great alarm the highly-contagious Delta variant cases increasing so rapidly in children. Parents are frightened and many of them worry that in-person school is not the best decision in these conditions. Teachers, too, are dealing with difficult issues as in-person school begins.

The number of Covid cases in Georgia children has jumped in a month from 40 to 488. That’s more than 1100%!

WMAZ News

In the midst of my free-flowing thoughts today, I am finding focus enough to ask why we did virtual learning last school year when children were less likely to be infected, yet in this school year when the Delta variant is rapidly infecting children, we are sending them to in-person school, some schools without mask mandate. Someone far less cautious than I am must have made that decision! I would have never sent children into harm’s way, into a place where they could spread the surging Delta variant to each other! Is it time for another season of sheltering-in-place?

Let us be careful about the ways we inadvertently expose children to danger. Let us be mindful of our responsibility to protect all children. Let us be diligent in letting our faith inform our compassion and care for children.

After all, Jesus was clear about drawing children close and sheltering them from harm. We should be just as committed to holding children close in a shelter of protection. May God make it so!

* https://www.13wmaz.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/weve-seen-a-spike-in-kids-highly-contagious-delta-variant-cases-increasing-in-children-2/93-a5fa9fea-2365-48da-b5c5-06a67d6c04f2)

Activism, Advocate, Caged children, Child protection, Children, Compassion, Determination, Dreamers, Heartbreak, Hope, ICE, Immigrant detention, Immigration, Inhumanity, Justice, Liberty, Separation, Tears

Love the Stranger as You Love Yourself

My first mistake for this day — reading an article published in the Huffington Post written by journalist Rowaida Abdelaziz! Here’s the headline.

More than 5,000 people have contracted the coronavirus while in immigration detention centers, including more than 800 in the last week.

On a personal note, I must say that I’m very proud of my church’s ministries, especially our English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The teachers not only teach English, they also provide community for immigrants who often do not have family nearby, as well as many other acts of care and compassion. I could not help but give God thanks for our ESL teachers this morning when I read this headline from the Huffington Post. I can imagine our ESL teachers shifting into advocacy mode to do something about it. Not that any of them have the power to change the abysmal detention centers our government sponsors, but armies of advocates can and have changed circumstances of oppression throughout history

Back to the news article. Abdeaziz went on to further explain the treatment of immigrants:

Immigrants were given face masks only recently, but most of them are forced to reuse single-use masks without being allowed to wash them or receive new ones. Those held were not given soap or sanitizers and some were even exposed to pesticides and other toxic substances. 

And then we have the horrible reality of “caged children!” It’s a term I do not want to hear because it so deeply troubling to imagine. But children draw and thousands of them have drawn images of caged children. My mind tells me unequivocally, “Don’t look at the drawings!” My heart tells me, “You must look!” My soul tells me, “Spirit will be near as my Comforter when I do look!”

At heart, I have always been an advocate for children, a fierce one. For a very long time advocacy was my career. I cannot abide the ill-treatment of any person, but when I envision thousands of children in custody and in sorely negligent circumstances, it digs at me and pierces my heart like a Holy arrow sent from God. Denise Bell, a researcher at Amnesty International USA said this, “COVID-19 has revealed the fatal flaws and the negligent medical care that ICE has historically provided to people who are detained within its facilities.” Ms. Bell goes on to say, “What’s more disturbing is the carelessness, and I’d even say callousness, with which the government is treating people in its care and custody.”

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Despite global lockdown measures, ICE continued to detain, transfer and deport immigrants ― including thousands of children ― all of which has contributed to the spreadof the coronavirus nationally and globally. Foreign governments who accepted deportees said they brought the coronavirus back with them. 
Huffington Post, September 17, 2020


From a CNN article, “Pediatricians share migrant children’s disturbing drawings of their time in US custody.” Slide show above includes drawings shared by those pediatricians and other powerful images. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/03/health/migrant-drawings-cbp-children/index.html


How can you and I become advocates for these children? To me, it feels like a mandate from a caring, compassionate God. It feels like a mission following the footsteps of Christ who said something quite profound in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. 

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18: 5-6 (GNT)


And then there’s this:

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Jeremiah 29:33-34)

Jeremiah 2:33-34 (NRSV)


I need to make sure you understand that I know the drill: I cannot use Holy Scripture to bolster my opinions or take Scripture out of its historical context to prove a point. A learned Professor of Old Testament, James K. Hoffmeier, makes this stringent assertion, “Secularists and liberals, both political and religious, are typically loath to consult the Bible when it comes to matters of public policy. So it is somewhat surprising that in the current debate about the status of illegal immigrants, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is regularly cited in defense of the illegal.”

I get that. I am a liberal. I even graduated from seminary. I am not using Scripture to prove my point. Nor do I intend to exegete these texts in an effort to thoroughly understand the translation in historical context. I am just pondering these Scripture passages as inspiration, meditation and perhaps an aid in discerning a call from God to mission. To use the texts in this manner, all I really need to do is read the words and listen for God’s voice. Never in my life, all seventy years of it, has God whispered back to me, “My child, you did not translate that text correctly, nor did you place it in its historical context.”

So where does this leave me? I think it leaves me asking myself, “What will I do? What must I do? Where do I begin in demanding change? How do I call out to my government, imploring them to end this oppressive inhumanity? How do I demand that all of us, including ICE, respect the humanity and the sacred worth of the immigrants in our midst, especially the children?

I hope that you, too, will ask yourself these questions, listen for the voice of God and become a fierce advocate for justice and humanity. If then you sense a call to do something to change the worlds of caged children held in ICE detention centers, visit this website:

https://endchilddetention.org/

Aging, anxiety, Bewilderment, Bravery, Challenge, Child protection, Children, Conflict, Confusion, Contemplation, Courage, Dangerous and noble things, Discernment, Dreams, Indecision, Internal conflict, Introspection, life, Pandemic of 2020, Questions, Sacred Worth, struggle, Transformation

When Plans Are Dreams

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Plans!
We find it almost impossible to make them in a life ruled by COVID19. Currently, school  plans are foremost in the minds of parents and students.

“Is it safe to send my child back to school? What safety and social distancing measures will schools have in place? Do I choose to keep them at home, opting for virtual learning? How do I manage online school?”

In light of such critical plans and decisions, consider this current news report:

A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized suggests more than a dozen states should revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times.

The document, dated July 14 and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, says 18 states are in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week. [Georgia is in the “red zone.”]

Eleven states are in the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive. [Georgia is in this “red zone” too.] https://publicintegrity.org/health/coronavirus-and-inequality/exclusive-white-house-document-shows-18-states-in-coronavirus-red-zone-covid-19/

Even with troubling reports like this one, Georgia’s governor, Gov. Brian Kemp, signed an order on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 banning localities from requiring masks. On this information, parents have to agonize about what’s best for their children. They simply cannot make firm plans as long as the virus is waxing and waning. Mostly waxing!

Plans are difficult for us for all sorts of reasons and circumstances. Every now and then over the years, my life would take un unexpected pause to contemplate this thought written by the late Mary Oliver:

 So tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Unpacking that brief question has been a periodic constant in my life, popping up for me mostly in my down and disheartened times. I hear the poet describing my life as “wild and precious” and it almost shocks me. Yet, my life really has been consistently wild and mostly precious. Anything that urges me to examine my life is a good thing. I can almost always pull up memories of the times when I was wild and free — insistent upon rising higher, realizing a near-impossible dream, charging with courage into new and uncharted places, planning for a future of fresh and sparkling heights, observing just how wild I could dare to be. Unpacking that question has been exhilarating at times, exhausting at other times.

Musing on a life that could be described as precious

Entertaining the thought that my life was precious happened in my deepest soul place. It happened in my moments of introspection, meditative times that urged me to examine all the ways I saw my life as precious, cherished, valued. Of course, I have experienced many precious life moments — my wedding day, my work in Africa, my ordination, awards and recognitions of my work and career and, most of all, the adoption of my one wild and precious son, JonathanExamining my precious life was most real when I almost lost my life, my full year of serious illness, five years of dialysis and a kidney transplant made possible by the selflessness of a lovely woman I know only through email.

Such thoughts bring me back to plans. What is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? Even a life precious and wild is a life that requires plans, and right now trying to make plans is an exercise fraught with anxiety. I cannot find any words that can minimize this depth of anxiety. There is not one thing you or I can do about plans that have been ravaged by the pandemic we are experiencing, and yet we must make critical plans in this season of uncertainty. 

School plans are most difficult in my state and perhaps in yours. As parents agonize over the safety of their children, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, offered this unhelpful comment this morning in a press conference:

I am a believer that kids need to be in the classroom and we’re working with the schools to do that. We’re going to have cases that break out in schools, either with personnel or perhaps students, just like you do with a stomach bug or a flu or anything else. Our schools know how to handle those situations.

The parents and teachers in my life know that this coronavirus is not just a run-of-the-mill “stomach bug or flu.” This virus is deadly, and parents and teachers faced with difficult school decisions know that all too well. During these pandemic days, it is a constant reality that many of us are having to make potentially hazardous plans, but just for a moment, I wonder if we can redirect our thoughts to plans we make for our “one wild and precious life.”

Can we rise above the plans we must make today, even for a moment, and instead consider the bold and courageous plans we could make? Can we set our hearts to think about plans we can make when we are our brave, adventurous and fearless selves? Can we contemplate the plans we might make when we feel bold, resolute and undaunted?

I can remember the times when I was able to make such adventurous plans, times when my plans were dreams — high and lofty dreams of changing the world. I can also remember the time when I no longer dreamed any dreams at all. It was a time when I no longer saw my life as a wild and precious one. I still entertained plans, but my plans were definitely not dreams. I believed I could no longer change the world. I believed I could no longer live a life that made a difference. I believed that my soul was dry and my spirit barren. I believed that, in my life, dangerous and noble things were no longer possible

Why can’t you and I dream dreams instead of making plans? Why can’t my “one wild and precious life” rise higher, high enough to make dreams of my plans? Sometimes I will go to one of my many favorite passages of Scripture hoping to find God’s word to me. Being true to my theological education, I always look at the words in context before I do anything else. But after that hermeneutical exercise I learned in New Testament 101, I might twist the text a bit and maybe even paraphrase it, inviting the text to speak to me specifically, just me. For this day, one of the texts found in the book of Acts reaches into my soul, and, yes, I did paraphrase it.

“In your season of most need,” God says,
“I will restore your soul and make your spirit rise within you.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your youthful hearts will see visions,
your aging hearts will dream dreams.”

— Acts 2:17 (my paraphrase)

Amen. 

May God lift our hearts and spirits, assure us that our lives are precious and help us transform our plans into dreams.

So tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

 

Acts 42, Advent, Child protection, Community, Covenant, Daybreak, Faith, Friends, Gardner Taylor, Love, Moon, Music, Singing, The Christian Church, Wholeness

Stitched Together

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At the moment, I am literally stitched together after a kidney transplant. I know everyone likes to tell how many stitches they have, but I can’t give you that detail because I can’t see my incision well enough to count them. It’s just as well. Those stitches don’t matter all that much. They certainly don’t matter as much as being stitched together by song lyrics, book quotes, adventures . . . and moonlight. What matters most is that I am pieces of all the places I have been and all the people I have loved.

For my Sabbath yesterday, I played hymns on Pandora. As I listened for hours, I heard music that reminded me of places I have been over the years, from the single traffic light in Reform, Alabama to the rugged beauty of the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda, East Africa. And I heard hymn texts that reminded me of people I have loved, from beloved seminary professors to people I served as pastor. I sang along much of the time, singing hymn texts that ranged from “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” to “I’ll Fly Away,” and everything in between.

The hymns portrayed the story of my faith with Gospel songs that marked my conversion and my early years to the Great Hymns of the Church that expressed my faith in my later years. I could see myself singing in many different choirs, as a pastor leading congregational singing, as a worship leader at national gatherings, as a missionary in a mud hut and even as a teenager sitting on the back row of the church, inappropriately close to my boyfriend.

Each hymn I heard yesterday reminded me of those times and told the story of my faith journey. Indeed, I envisioned myself as one who truly is pieces of the places I’ve been and the people I have loved along the way. For at least a few hours, I was able to lay aside my physical pain, forget about my surgical stitches and give thanks that I am stitched together by hymns and people and adventures and hope on my journey of faith.

Being a part of a community of faith is one of God’s gifts to us, stitched together with sacred threads that remind us continually who we are. Being stitched together as a faith community is beautifully described in this passage from the book of Acts.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

— Acts 2:42-47

Interesting — and one of God’s very special gifts — that when we are stitched together, we discover that we are whole.

Celebration, Child protection, Christian Witness, Freedom, Freedom Songs, Immigration, July 4th, Maren Tirabassi, Patriotism

About Making America Great

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Today I want to share the poetry of my friend, Maren Tirabassi, who writes of her deeply held convictions of what is just and good and right. Most of us have a vision of what it would look like if we managed to “make America great again.” The vision must look like justice, nonviolence, racial and ethnic diversity, and above all, open hands and open hearts that welcome the stranger.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:19

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:34

Take a few minutes to contemplate the meaning of the poem that follows, “The Eve of the Fourth of July.”

 

The Eve of the Fourth of July

I’ve loved the parades of other years
with bicycles decorated,
and children banging coffee-can drums,
with cars decorated with streamers
carrying the oldest citizens,
with the well-rehearsed middle school band
the cub scouts and blue birds
daisy girls and a flatbed trailer
with some church choir holding on tight,

and not a tank in sight.

I have loved parades of other years,
but the only parade I ask this year
is the parade of justice,
the only fireworks I hope to view
is legislation for gun control.

Let us recite not —
“The Declaration of Independence,”
but Frederick Douglass —
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Let us sing “God bless America”
remembering the immigrant
who wrote the words,
and “American the Beautiful”
celebrating the queer woman
whose vision of abundance and history
it captured
from the top of Pike’s Peak.

Let us wave no flag
but a banner saying, “welcome all!”

And reading Emma Lazarus’ poem,
not call those who come “poor and huddled …”
but “rich with gifts”
the ones which,
if we have the wisdom to receive them,
will make America great again.

— Maren Tirabassi, 2019

Read more of Maren’s blog at https://wp.me/p1ThDo-2Jw.

Child protection, Children, Compassion, healing, Holy Spirit, Hope, Immigration, Justice, Maren Tirabassi, Repair the world, Spirit wind

Brooding

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My friend and sister blogger, Maren, never fails to inspire, convict or challenge me. I look forward to her blog posts, knowing that by the end, I will find myself in a gasp, or at least a sigh. She is gifted at helping her readers stay in touch with the current angst of the times, the events and realities of our world. This is her latest post:

My little hand holds (and not the great world)
the small shining of shook foil

and there is no beauty that I see,
only the blankets on children detained —
alone and frightened, cold,

and without care,
without — O you grand and broken God,
toothpaste and soap,

and parents,

without justice, compassion,
but not without hope,
because that alone, hope

is never spent, but lights the western sky
as night falls
on the long walk from the south,
even if dimly, touches
with fingers a rim of east
every morning, every detention center.

Hope brought them here
to the terrible inhospitality
that smears
all this country ever thought to be.

And it is left to us and the Holy Spirit
to brood
over those who are lost,
and bend the world
so that the living children
might someday be found
by bright wings.

And here is where it grabbed my heart . . .

What does it mean for me to join with the Holy Breath of Life “to brood over those who are lost, and bend the world?” What would that look like? How do I do it? Does it mean to “brood” over the lostness of our world and call forth life?

What a need that is! How desperately we need to bend the world toward mercy and justice. To lift up the children who sleep on cold concrete floors. To lift them high above the world’s cruelty to the place of “bright wings!”

May God help us to comprehend the brooding Spirit and her open arms. And may she reach down to grab us and hold us up inside the wind that heals.

 

Maren C. Tirabassi served as local church pastor in the United Church of Christ for thirty-seven years in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  She is the author or editor of twenty books. Visit her blog at:
https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2019/06/26/prayer-for-the-immigration-crisis-an-homage-to-gerard-manley-hopkins-gods-grandeur/

Bondage, Child protection, Courage, healing, Justice, Secrets, Sexual abuse, Silence, Stories, Women

Hidden Away

878930EE-0F89-44EE-B45A-4352E1A8387DShe was like the moon—part of her was always hidden away. 

Dia Reeves, Bleeding Violet

Yesterday, I watched a clip from the 2018 ESPY Awards. I could not help but pause to listen to the athletes tell their stories of years of abuse by U.S Olympic Team doctor, Larry Nassar. I wondered how many years of silence they each endured, holding the horrible secret inside where it had the power to do great harm. That’s the thing about sexual abuse — it’s often a big, bad secret. Victims hold the shame in the place where they pack away their secrets, and the rest of the word hopes never to have to hear about it. So the secret is safe, hidden away, at least for a time.

But not this time! The “sister survivors” of the disgraced sports doctor’s abuse accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2018 ESPYS. Dressed in glittering gowns, holding hands in solidarity, more than 140 women gathered onstage to share the award given to athletes whose bravery “transcends sports,” as the audience rose in a standing ovation.

Sarah Klein, a former gymnast who said she was among Nassar’s earliest victims three decades ago, was the first to address the audience. “Speaking up and speaking out is not easy,” she said. “Telling our stories of abuse, over and over and over again, in graphic detail, is not easy. We’re sacrificing privacy, we’re being judged and scrutinized, and it’s grueling and it’s painful, but it is time. We must start caring about children’s safety more than we care about adults’ reputations.”

Tiffany Thomas Lopez, who in the 1990s played softball at Michigan State University where Nassar practiced, had a message for other victims who might still be silent. “I encourage those suffering to hold tight to your faith, and stand tall when speaking your truth,” she said. “I’m here to tell you, you cannot silence the strong forever.”

Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman was the last to speak. She was unsparing in her criticism of the adults who she said for years failed to protect the victims, instead opting to silence her and others “in favor of money, medals and reputation. But we persisted, and finally, someone listened and believed us.”

In January, more than 150 women and girls gave victim impact statements at one of Nassar’s three trials. In a Lansing, Michigan courtroom, they spoke of abuse under the guise of medical treatment, which for some began when they were elementary school age. Following their testimony, Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years behind bars.

When the years of silence ended and the women released their secrets, justice followed, relief followed, inner peace followed. Therein lies a lesson for us all. How many times have women kept silent to protect others? How many times did we guard a secret because revealing it might hurt other people? Did we realize that by hiding away the secret, we were harming ourselves? The words written by Dia Reeves is true of us:

She was like the moon—part of her was always hidden away. 

And so it is with women. There are always parts of us that are hidden away, often for many years. There are parts of our stories that we hold in our souls, secrets we would rather not speak. It seems important, though, for each of us to develop the wisdom of knowing what we should hold in silence and what we should speak. As for the big, bad secrets — well, saying them out loud breaks their power. The chains of our silence fall to the ground, broken! 

And finally, we have freed ourselves! 

Bondage, Child protection, Children, Fear, Freedom, Hope, Immigration, Liberty, Mexican border, Risk, sunrise, Taking immigrant children, Violence

Moving Towards the Sunrise: An Essay on Immigration

F6C9AEAC-5F90-4F42-B0D9-FF50DDA7D60F.jpegI could decide to stand on this side wondering what life might hold on the other side. I can see the brilliant sunrise, perhaps a symbol for a bright new life for my children. I can see the tiny lights of dwellings or businesses. I’m not sure what they are but perhaps each tiny light is a warm welcome, a place of refuge, a safe haven.

I hold on tightly to the hands of my children, and now I look back and remember the violence, the fear, the drugs, the hopelessness for the future of my children. I consider going back, barricading my family in our tiny hovel and hoping for the best. It’s the life we know. It’s what we’re used to. But do I want my children to grow us “used to” violence and crime? Do I want then to be used to fear and hopelessness?

I decide to take a chance toward the sunrise and the tiny lights that will surely open their doors to a mother and her children. The land of the sunrise is called “the land of the free.” The land of the sunrise offers the wonderful promise of welcome . . .

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free . . . 

Give these, the homeless tempest tossed to me. 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Yes, I resolve. We will go forward. Yes!

I make, in this very moment, the most significant and life-altering decision of our lives. I choose  hope! We will go!

With great fear in the depths of my spirit, I move us toward the sunrise. I hold tightly to my children and begin the hope-filled crossing. Holding them all close on a grueling hike, I can see that we have almost made it to the other side.

Now we are actually standing in the light of the sunrise. We have crossed. Those who are to welcome us are approaching. Finally, I have made the journey to new hope for my beautiful children. Thanks be to God for safe passage! 

The welcoming people come near. But they are loud, boisterous, frightening. I never expected this. Oh my God, they have ripped my children from me. The youngest is crying, pleading for me, struggling to get away. The others are screaming “no” as they try in vain to work themselves loose from the powerful arms of those who restrain them. But the grip on them is too strong. I cry out and plead that they will not harm my children. I fall into the dirt, sobbing as they take my children away. 

Dear God, what have I done?

May God have mercy on us all.