Using God to Bully

Did you know that in the State of Tennessee there is a law against bullying in schools?  It allows local school districts to develop policies to ensure that students are protected from physical harm, threats of physical harm, and actions that would create a hostile educational environment.

Current attempts to change this law are concerned about the rights of students to express religious opinions.  In other words, some people want to change this law so that it will be permissible for students to express their religious opinions even if expressing those religious opinions creates a hostile educational environment for the student to whom they are being expressed.  For example, Muslim students, who pray five times daily, would be free to criticize Christian students about their lack of devotion to God because they do not pray with as much frequency.  Unitarian students could constantly pester Trinitarian students about their inability to adequately explain the Trinity.  Mormon students could demean Protestant students for their unwillingness to be baptized for their dead ancestors. In short, as long as what a student says to or about another student would be permitted as long as it was based on the speaker’s religious beliefs.

Of course, those seeking to amend the law are not primarily, if at all, concerned about the rights of Muslim, Unitarian or Mormon students.  What they are really concerned about is that no law would prohibit a good Christian student from telling and informing a student that is homosexual or perceived to be homosexual of his or her eternal destination or how God really feels about him or her.

The fact that the effort to change this law to allow students to use their religious beliefs to bully others is being led by a group, the Family Action Council of Tennessee that purports to hold up biblical values, makes the endeavor even more ironic.  If a group of Christians were going to get something from the Bible written into the laws of a state, why not something like, “…do unto others as you would have them do unto you…” or “…love one another as I have loved you?”  Why not something that reflects the core of Jesus’ teachings?

This effort to use religion to justify bullying is an example of a group trying to use their religion to maintain their perceived notion of society rather than allowing their religion to inform and shape how they impact their culture.  There is quite enough hatred and intolerance in our world.  Seeing adults trying to pass that hatred on to our children is a sad sight, no matter how sophisticated and sanitized their effort might be.

I am reminded of the Anne Lamont quote, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  The God of the New Testament is not one of hate, not one that desires to be used to bully students into feeling left out, isolated, and alone.  The God of the New Testament is one who took on flesh and came to dwell among us so that we would know that we are loved. That same God promised to never leave us alone, but to always be with us.  That God calls us into the world to love with the same radical love with which we ourselves have been loved.

When we find ourselves loving someone we never thought we could, then we may find ourselves approaching the love that Christ has for us.  When we discover ourselves loving someone we never had any reasons to notice, then we may be getting close to the love Christ has for us.  Christ’s love for us is unconditional, unwarranted, unearned, yet freely given.  We are called not just to receive it, but to share it.

Seriously, Toyota recall the Commercial

Now it is personal. When I first saw the Toyota Highlander commercial I was concern about children and parents in general. Now my concerns are a little closer to home. Even as I was making a list of the reasons that I do not appreciate the new Toyota Highlander commercial, my niece was calling my sister lame.

Obviously my niece did not learn the word from a Toyota commercial. Nonetheless, she does not need to have her vocabulary choices reinforced by the advertising department of a multinational corporation.

Toyota should apologize and encourage all of us to use nicer words when we talk to each other.  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” provided the last line of defense in childhood arguments. Today, we know better. Words matter. They have meaning and they can be hurtful. Toyota, you can do better

Toyota, Recall This Commercial

The first time I saw the commercial I laughed a little.  Well, I did not laugh out loud, but I did chuckle on the inside.  At first glance, the commercial appeared cute.  Frankly, it would be difficult for a commercial featuring an elementary school-aged boy with shaggy blond hair not to be cute.  Where Toyota messed up was in airing the commercial of their Highlander too many times in one ballgame.  Before Monday Night Football was over, I had seen it four times.  By the fourth time, I was no longer chuckling on the inside.

Four times I had heard the cute little elementary school-aged boy explain that in spite of his low tolerance for “dorkiness” his parents insist on transporting him in a vehicle that screams “geek.”  Four times I watched him climb into the neighbor’s Toyota Highlander, after which he pointed out to his audience that just because you are a parent, does not mean that you have to be lame.  You get the picture.  If your parents will or can not buy a Toyota Highlander, then they are lame, dorky, geeks.

I have seen an untold number of commercials in my lifetime.  Why did this hit me the wrong way?  Maybe it was because our church had just completed our Family Promise host week.  This is a ministry that networks local congregations together to provide shelter for homeless families.  We hosted three families, each with their own stories of how difficult it can be to keep a family together.  When I looked at the parents in those three families, I did not see dorky, lame, geeks, but parents who were working and hoping as hard as they knew how that they would be able to take care of their children.  I saw parents who were facing challenges head on and in need of assistance, not a manipulative commercial designed to make them feel worse than they already did.

In fact, when I see parents doing what they have to do to keep their families together, I don’t see lame, dorky, geeks.  I see heroes.  What the cute little boy in the commercial may not be aware of is that not all parents provide for their children.  For the almost half a million children in the United States who live in foster homes, whatever vehicle their parents could provide for the family would be inconsequential compared to the immense satisfaction of  being able to be with parents who are doing their best to be good parents.

What is glaringly absent from this commercial is civility and gratitude.  The elementary school-aged boy walks out of a house, past a minivan, and at least one of his parents, without a hint of gratitude.  He may not have a Toyota Highlander, but neither does he have any appreciation for what he does have.  While we might be surprised to hear words like lame, dorky, and geek from an elementary school-age boy, their use in this commercial takes on a sinister hue when we realize that they were put in his mouth and directed at his parents by the advertising department of a multinational corporation that usually tries to portray itself as responsible.   Responsible adults should not have to resort to such childish language to sell their products.

The bottom line is that cars don’t make families; time spent together does. Lots of time spent together on special days, and on ordinary days, make families.  In cars and out of them, at home and at parks, families become stronger and richer when parents invest themselves in their children.  That may sound lame, geeky or dorky, but that is what it takes to build strong families.

What I don’t understand is why does Toyota need this sort of manipulative and demeaning advertising?  They make great vehicles that last forever and have great resale value. Why isn’t that enough to sell their product?

A Prayer for Hailey Rose

My niece, Hailey Rose Rowland, has started school.  She is in Kindergarten at Karns Elementary.  I want to say a prayer for her. Of course, I am praying for her safety and well-being as well as for my sister and brother-in-law as they continue to come to grips with their little girl going off to school. I know that she is going to do well in school because she shares her middle name with her Great-Aunt Connie, who is a very smart woman.

I am praying. . .

. . .that she gains an understanding of the world in which she lives, the good and the bad, which will serve her well through the course of her life.

. . .that she develops a sensitivity to the needs and experiences of other children, those with whom she shares a classroom and those from different parts of the world.

. . .that she learns to analyze problems in a way that leads to solutions that benefit everyone involved.

. . .that she is able to see that perception is not always reality, if it ever is.

. . .that she finds the ability to compromise when negotiation is needed and that she holds convictions about which she will not compromise.

. . .that she comes to understand what it means to seek the common good.

. . .that she learns what it is to be civil and how to have a conversation that reflects her appreciation for truth and integrity.

. . .that she discovers the importance of listening.

. . .that she looks at school not as something that she has to do, but as a gift that presents her with the opportunity to learn, grow and develop each day.

What I pray for my niece Hailey I pray for each of our students. I pray that wherever they go to school, whatever their learning environment that they learn everything that they can about the subjects they are studying and the world in which they will apply that knowledge. In seventeen short years, our kindergarteners will be out of college and finding their way in the life. May the journey they have just begun take them to a full and happy life.

Praying for the Village of Hope

This  is a new video that includes clips from recent news reports as well as images from the Village of Hope.  Jack Wald, pastor of Rabat International Church in Rabat, Morocco and VOH board member, shares his heart and the ways that God has been speaking to him in recent days in this blog post.

Village of Hope Updates

Time magazine has an article on the recent expulsion of parents from the Village of Hope in Ain Leuh, Morocco. The BBC has a radio interview with one of the Village of Hope parents. This interview is insightful and informative. If you have not seen it yet, here is a video from the Village of Hope just after the children were told that they would be separated from the adults who had cared for some of them for as long as ten years.

Have you seen the one who denies religion?  It is he who turns away the orphan and does not urge others to feed the poor….

(Surah  107:  Ayah  1-3)

Village of Hope in the News

Yesterday’s Associated Press article is in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times today.  There is newer piece up at the Right Side News. If you read Dutch, you can follow the Boonstra family at  Acties Boonstra.  If you are a Twitter person, you can follow VOH news at SaveVOH. The VOH parents have schedule a news conference for Monday and will be posting updates at the Village of Hope website.  If you have not done so yet, you can join the face book group at Save Village of Hope.

Birthday Surprise!

A long time ago I celebrated my eighth birthday.  I remember nothing about it.  My only real certainty about whether or not I even had an eighth birthday lies in the simple chronological truth that one cannot arrive at forty-six without having, at one time, been eight.  What happened the day I turned eight?  I have no clue.  Did I get presents?  Most likely I did.  What might they have been?  I have no idea.

What I am fairly certain that did not happen on the occasion of my eighth birthday was that those celebrating with me were asked to bring canned food and non-perishables to help replenish our church’s food pantry.  In fact, I am pretty sure that the church that my family attended during that time did not have a food pantry.

So this week a mother of a boy who just turned eight sticks her head into my study and requests my presence in the fellowship hall.  In the fellowship hall, there is a round table loaded with canned goods and non-perishable food items.  The children who celebrated Breton Stanley’s eighth birthday brought these items to his birthday party in lieu of gifts. As I looked at the food on the table and realized how it came to be collected, I was both impressed and grateful.  I was impressed that Breton’s friends had contributed so much food, and grateful that it would be available to hungry families who come to our church seeking help.  When I heard Breton talk about the food that had been collected, and heard in his young voice a sense of understanding about what the food would mean to those families in need,  I realized that the food collected was more than just an idea that Mom and Dad had suggested.  He understood that thinking of others and acting on their behalf was a way to give expression to what he had learned of Jesus and His teachings.

Breton's birthday gift

In talking to his mother, I learned that Breton was not alone in putting his faith into action. Other children had done likewise at their birthday parties. Hayley Lovingood had collected items for Family Promise, and Leo Jaramillo had collected food for Second Harvest at their parties. Who knows what others have done?  What children!  What parents!

It is of little consequence, all these years later, that I cannot recall a long-ago birthday present. Yet, what might it mean years and years from now that these children have been shown how to give mercy and to show kindness?  What might it mean that they understand that to have regard for the least of these is to have regard for Christ?  What might it mean that they have learned early to put hands and feet to their faith?  How many lives will they touch as they show compassion to those in need and invite others to join them in living for Christ?

This is happening right before our eyes.  The Bible is being taught and learned.  Step by step, and day by day, boys and girls are living lives shaped by the teachings of Jesus.  It is cause for great hope.  It is more than that; it is also a testimony to the reality of God at work in our church.

Every day there are events taking place in our city and in our world that cause us to question, to have doubts, and perhaps even to feel fear.  When we see our children putting their faith into practice in such a meaningful way, it should be a significant reminder that we are not alone.  With their faithful acts of kindness, they are not only reminding us that the light of Christ is still shining, but they are also becoming part of the reason that darkness cannot overcome it.

Happy Birthday Sister

This has been an interesting week. My sister celebrated here 37th birthday. Believing that I am 45 years old is somehow much easier for me than believing that my sister is 37. She has always been eight years younger than me and so it remains. Still, I think she should not be so grown up. She should be younger.

Saying that she celebrated her 37th birthday is not really accurate. The day arrived and she became another year older. I don’t think celebrate was the word she was feeling. She became another year older and uncertain as to whether or not she was could handle being 37. I assured her that 37 would be a walk in the park compared to 45. She did not seem encouraged.

She has a tough job. Her work brings her into daily contact with children and youth who come from homes and families that are unable to care for them. Sometimes these young people are not just lacking care and concern, sometimes they are abused and hurt by the very people who are supposed to care for and love them. Sister helps find foster homes for children in these kinds of situations.

Finding foster homes and training foster parents are not easy tasks in and of themselves. But of course the job is more than that. Taking care of children and providing for them almost always involves more, more of everything. The children that come into Sister’s care are often lacking a sense of security. They are missing the discipline and structure of a stable home. Their lives are unsettled to say the least. Many of them feel out of control. The only way some of them know to express their frustration and anger is to lash out with their own hurtful words or actions. When they do, Sister and others like her are there to listen, to talk, to reassure and to try and restore some sense of order and calm.

The world we live in today is a place where many children are vulnerable to some degree. Children who live in homes marked by violence, neglect or worse are especially so. Sister works face to face everyday with some of the most vulnerable children in our county. In doing so she comes face to face with the one who said when you have done it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it unto me. She works each day to provide safe and nurturing homes to children who need warmth and stability of a caring family even if it is not their family of origin. Beyond that she tries to create an environment where these children are not only safe for the short term, but where they might also find the space in their lives to dream their own dreams of better tomorrows.

Sister thinks of her older brother as a minister, a preacher of Good News. Yet I see in her life a commitment to doing the gospel each day, doing the things that Jesus would be doing. What better news could you give to a hurting and frightened child than to tell him or her that you have a safe place where he or she can stay? Is that not exactly what God has done for each of us through his Son, Jesus Christ? Yet, with all the words I know I still cannot adequately explain what God has done for us in Christ. Sister does not use words so much to explain it. She, perhaps without even realizing it, lets her actions provide her explanation. She finds homes for children who need them. It is Christ-like behavior. It is Gospel to those who have need of it.