“The Earth is not barren, but alive!”
I don’t see it much. There is an enormous, beautiful world that I simply don’t take time to see. I admire those who take nature into their souls, who breathe in the freshness of the wind, who see pictures in the sky, who hear music in birdsong. I imagine that those who know how to do that are emotionally and spiritually healthy. I imagine that life for them is pure joy.
The closest I can get to their experience is to read about it, and then to practice it in the smallest ways. I love the words of Bishop Steven Charleston that describe such a love for the earth.
I looked up, and as if in a dream I saw them, ancient spirits from the mesas, gliding on rain clouds above the desert, flashing lightning as they passed, primal spirits from the forest deep, rising up to dance on the trees, mountain spirits trailing snow white capes in the wind, and the spirits of the sea, moving like a storm toward the land. The Earth is not barren, but alive, filled with the spirits of life, the forces of nature around us, old powers from the time of beginning. God is not constricted to our temple walls, but roams the wild places calling to all who will look up, see the dream, and follow.
When I look back on my years of working with victims of violence, one young boy stands out. His story changed my life. I will never forget the day he said to me, “Why should I tell you anything? My dad would find out and things would be worse for me. You can’t help me.”
He was right. We couldn’t help him, in spite of our tireless efforts. No matter how we approached advocating for him in family court and with the Division of Children and Family Services, we failed. At times, we even made the situation worse. Eventually the corrupt family judge banned our staff from the courtroom.
I have included in this post a picture this child drew. It is heartbreaking to know that a child would be forced to live with an abusive father. But it happens every day in this country. According to one conservative estimate, more than 58,000 children per year are ordered by family courts in the United States into unsupervised contact with a physically or sexually abusive parent.
Do we have the moral and political will to do whatever it takes to protect vulnerable children? Can our communities and our faith communities find way to advocate for abused children? Can we help end this national shame and protect the children? God grant that we never hear the words, “You can’t help me.”
Looking back on various dates leads to nostalgia at best, horrific memories at worst. Almost exactly 53 years ago yesterday – on May 2 in 1963 – the Children’s Crusade began in Birmingham, Ala. as thousands of school aged children marched to protest segregation and were met with hoses, attacked by police dogs, and jailed.
It’s a scene we can hardly imagine today, and yet there are so many ways even in 2016 that we fail to protect our children. There should be no child in America going to bed hungry. No child in this country should have to sleep in alcoves on city streets. Children should not be victims of trafficking. Children should not have access to weapons and drugs. Children should not be used as pawns between warring parents. Children should not be victims of court-ordered abuse. Children should not be continually surrounded by violence. Children should not be incarcerated, rather they should be offered restorative justice. Children should not be physically, emotionally, spiritually, educationally or sexually abused.
Children should live in loving, nurturing families. They should attend clean, safe schools where they can get a quality education. They should have health care and mental health services.
They should be a part of caring, protective communities.
Shame on us if we fail to protect every child.
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. NRSV