Black children are our most valuable possession and our greatest potential resource. Any meaningful discussion of the survival or the future of Black people must be predicated upon Black people’s plan for the maximal development of all Black children. Children are the only future of any people. If the children’s lives are squandered, and if the children of a people are not fully developed at whatever cost and sacrifice, the people will have consigned themselves to certain death.
When a wounded child climbs into its mother’s lap, it draws so much strength from the mother’s presence that its own wound becomes insignificant. So too with us when we climb into the lap of our great Mother God. Our crisis soon domesticates and comes into a peaceful perspective, not because it goes away, but because the presence of God so overshadows us.
When I read this in Forgotten Among the Lilies, I thought of Eliot, next to Bryce, slipping at the table one Sunday, nearly falling to the floor but stopping as his ear clipped the chair. Hard enough to sting. Hard enough to crack the little eruption that is a child’s pain magnified by surprise and other people’s company.
I had one of his arms to lift him. Maggie came over to pick him up because he was crying by then. He complained about the pain and Maggie took him in her arms, his head to her shoulder, and convinced him by her hug that he would live through it.
He calmed as long as she held him. Then he cried again, trading his mom for his dad. David, master of redirection with the boys that he is, turned Eliot’s attention with a high-pitched question.
The image of a child in pain. The image of a mother, then a father, and a few onlookers. It seemed like these words were easily seen, like wounds were becoming something else.
Teach your daughter how to cook kale.
Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.
Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.
Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.
Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.
Read Sarah Koppelkam’s full article here.
I asked a friend, David Swanson, to respond to the “current moment,” particularly speaking as a pastor to our children, our church’s children, stating what things we might say. I’m grateful for his careful reiteration of a basic truth.
To Our Church’s Children,
In my sermons to your mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and the other adults in our church, I often tell them that, though there are many, many important things about them, there is one thing that matters the most: each of them is loved deeply by God. You are generally not in the room when I say this, but I know you hear it from the adults who love you and from the teachers who tell you the story of how God is rescuing this world through Jesus. Even so, I want to say it to you too. Of all the interesting, beautiful, and challenging things that make you who you are, the most important of all is that God loves you.
I know this might not sound so important. Most of you have people who love you and they tell you this. But if you could see what I see when I tell the adults that they are loved so completely and profoundly, you might begin to suspect that there is more to this simple statement. And there is, mostly because it is God and God’s love we’re talking about and whenever we talk about God we have to be humble about all we don’t know. We have to, in other words, admit that we will always be discovering new ways that God loves us. And we’ll be discovering for the rest of our lives how this love changes us and everything around us.
But there is another reason it is a life-long struggle to accept all of God’s love for us and this one is harder. We live in a country where it is normal to make people feel less worthy of love. There are many reasons given for this lie: girls can hear that they are less worthy than boys; children with darker skin can hear that they are less worthy than their friends with lighter skin. Does this make sense to you? I hope it doesn’t, but I need to tell you that for too many of the adults in this country it does make sense. I don’t want you to imagine that the adults you love actually think these lies are true, but this country finds so many tricky ways to tell us these lies that they begin to wiggle their way into our thoughts and our hearts.
These lies are the hard reason that we have to hear over and over again that God loves us. Because when we live in a place that lies to us all the time, trying to convince us that some people are more loveable than others, we have to hear loudly and clearly that we are loved. We need to know that the One who made everything, including us, loves us. He loves us exactly as we are, as boys and girls with hair that is just the right texture and color, with eyes and noses that are perfectly shaped, and with skin that can’t be improved upon. Look at yourself in the mirror and know that God loves you.
I hope you will spend the rest of your lives exploring God’s love for you. And as you do, as you experience God’s love as the particular person you are, I pray that you will make sure that everyone around you knows that God loves them too. Because the lies are strong and constant and most people you meet will believe them at least some of the time. But, as you will find out, the lies have nothing on the truth. And the truest thing in the universe is that God loves. God loves you.
It was the final evening of a lovely week at Grammie’s in Charlotte. Grammie makes sure we have the best time possible in her city, a city that has southern hospitality to spare. With such an inviting combination, how can anyone on vacation lose?
Grammie thought it’d be nice if we went to Maggiano’s on our last day before returning to our routines in Chicago. Somewhere between the discovery of the best artichoke dip I had ever had and bites of fried zucchini, my then 4 year old says aloud, “I hate white people.”
Mind you, our server was white as were the dinner guests at the table next to us, and the majority of the dining area. As I recall, my toddler son did not yell the shocking declaration. There was no anger in his voice. Instead, he made his announcement with a sad resolve and perhaps resignation.
The three adults at the table, myself, his father, and his grandmother were stunned to absolute silence. “Where did this come from,” I panicked internally. “Have I given him a reason to hate white people?” “Has he heard hate come from my mouth or seen it from any of my private actions?” I was literally stupefied.
My first external reaction was to vehemently dismiss his words and to protest, to chastise him for making such an “obscene” statement. “No, Bryce!,” my face grimacing. “No! You do not hate white people!” Bryce, a wonderfully expressive child, who heard my reprimand and took in the perplexed faces around him, immediately began to cry.
I then knew that chastising him was the wrong response and frankly not at all consistent with the way I had been parenting him. I’ve always encouraged Bryce to speak the truth, that there is nothing at all wrong with telling the truth about how he feels. Sometimes, I even go so far as to reward Bryce for telling the truth. This time around, because I was embarrassed by Bryce’s truth-telling, I reacted in fear.
The wisest of the bunch, our dear Grammie, naturally found the words to ask the reasonable question, “Why, Bryce? Why do you hate white people?” Bryce responded matter-of-factly, “Because they killed Martin Luther King.” It was interesting to me that he said that “they,” white people, killed Martin Luther King. He saw fit to tie the actions of one white man to all white people…a generalization that causes me to question the role we all play in our complicity when an unjust crime occurs. Grammie’s non-verbal response was priceless. She nodded and said nothing at all.
What was great about the moment was that there was nothing to be said after Bryce’s answer. Bryce had been learning in school about the work of Martin Luther King and about the Civil Rights Movement. He goes to a private school that is intentional about African American history as well as Christian principles. So Bryce learned that an innocent man, who used his life to challenge, oppose, and resist hateful violence, oppression, injustice, and savagery was murdered because of his race, because of his life’s work. Why wouldn’t that cause anyone to feel deeply and to have strong feelings against the perpetrator and his actions?
As Michael said in his post, we knew that Bryce didn’t hate white people. He calls his godparents, Aunt and Uncle, not because we make him, but because it’s a natural term for him…they are family. When Mommy and Daddy cannot pick him up from school, and Uncle David or Auntie Maggie shows up, he runs to them and greets them with a hug. He eats food from their hands, he shares a bed with their son, he is comforted and consoled by their hugs, and their words of love. The same is true for Aunt Sheila and Uncle Alan, and “Bonsai” and Ms. Wendy…Bryce has love for people in our lives who are white.
But the truth of that moment and what made me so proud of Bryce for saying what he said, is the courage it took for him to say how he felt. He knew it could be problematic for him to say aloud how he was feeling, hence his preface, “I don’t want God to be mad at me.” But he pressed through the baseless facade, something that I couldn’t do as an adult of 36 years, and he spoke his truth, which gave us an opportunity to clarify his feelings.
He doesn’t hate white people, he hates whatever it is that causes people to treat other people so dishonorably. I marveled at how he could make such an honest connection at his young age. It reminded me that one of the gifts of a child is to remind us what the truth really is, to face it, and to uncomfortably sit with it…something that frankly seems like the honest thing to do concerning race in this country.
Last December we were at dinner with Grammie, which means we were in Charlotte. Memory says that we were dishing fried zucchini and salad, dipping bread in olive oil. The boy went into a spiral that surprised us all, even him.
He started crying about how he knew that God didn’t love him and how God was going to be mad at him because he hated white people. “I hate white people,” cried my then four-year old son. I think we were all stumped for a moment, stumped the way people who talk to other people all the time get stumped when something even you didn’t see coming comes.
It was only so appropriate that two pastors were at the table. Given my boy’s confession, we were immediately put on the interior spot. “I don’t want God to mad,” he said in quick fashion as if to convince us so that we’d prevent trouble from coming. Perhaps it was God’s goodness that we were there together to hear Bryce’s comment and plea and intention.
Grammie took up the theological matter about God loving Bryce. She did it the way a pro would. Grammie’s been communicating about God’s love for more decades than I’ve been alive. She was a star even with a kid. Her explanation was simple and brief.
I looked at Dawn as if to ask without asking whether it was her or me who would pick up the rest. One of us had to deal with the part about hating white people. Now, me and Dawn have a way of teaching the boy. We share. We move toward our strengths. I was telling her the other day that she’s a better teacher to him than I am. She has more patience. But oddly, I’m better at explaining things. Where her explanations get complex for her attempts to tell him the whole story, mine are swift and simple.
She tends to answer the question, “How can I explain it all to Bryce?” I tend to think about how I can explain it to satisfy his specific question. So my wheels were turning as he made his claims about hatred. I called him over to me, telling him he wasn’t in trouble, something Dawn had already been saying. He doesn’t get in trouble for telling the truth. Of course, this is immediately tricky during moments where his truth-telling leads to a consequence for unacceptable behavior.
At dinner, he wasn’t in trouble at all. So he came to me. I told him that he didn’t hate white people. “You love Auntie Maggie and Uncle David, don’t you?” He seemed relieved but a little confused. He said he did. “Aren’t they white?” He knew they were, and he knew that they loved him too. And this simple love, this relationship between my son and a white couple became the bridge between Bryce and whatever moral crisis he was experiencing.
I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to relieve him of his internal pain. It had to be enough to say that he didn’t, in fact, hate white people. He even loved a few of them. We were able to name several white people he loved. And it was an easy move from there to say something less major about how hating white people and saying that he hated them was okay. “Telling the truth about your feelings is good,” we said. And of course, my son doesn’t know any white people that he hates. That was great. He’s not experienced the mass of faceless sphere called “white people.” He knows particular people with specific stories and clear ties to him. And thankfully, he enjoys those relationships.
I thought about that dinner conversation last Sunday when Alan came up to me after church with tears in his eyes. Alan’s one of those people Bryce loves. He and Sheila were among the cloud of witnesses we named to remind Bryce of white people he cared for. And when me and Alan chatted about how hard it must be to talk through junk like Charleston, we were both glad that Bryce hadn’t seen the news or asked a question. Depending on his question, I may not have had a good answer, an easy or quick answer about his feelings.
I’ve noticed these three things over the last two weeks with the boy’s transition from daycare to preschool:
- It wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. It wasn’t as bad as we thought it’d be. Bryce certainly cried that first day. When we returned to pick him up, the principal and office manager greeted us loudly, saying how glad Bryce would be to see us. The office manager was asking the principal, “Who’s their child? Not Bryce.” I told Dawn that the boy already had a reputation. Even then, when we went to the classroom, Bryce was playing with the science teacher’s toys, sufficiently entertained, and hardly ready to go.
- The rhythm structures life. Just like when Bryce was in daycare, school has a way of giving us all structure. There are expectations for him and for us. Dawn makes his lunch each night. I feed him breakfast daily. He has to be at school by a certain time, and unlike before when he accompanied his mother to work for his work, I now take him to school in the morning. This means, regardless of my body’s favorite rhythm, I am up and out consistently, even if I’m largely unconscious.
- Bryce really likes the uniform. Dawn says his style follows my own. I don’t know about that. He’s particular, the boy. He even told Dawn one day when they were playing, while he was still wearing his school pants and shirt, “You’re going to wrinkle me.” We nearly fell out. We don’t have to argue about removing his clothes before he plays after we come home. Plus, he looks really good in a blazer.
Though I’m posting this up on my blog for fathers, I think it fits themes I work with here as well:
Be patient with little setbacks and remember that they’re not permanent.
Be patient with little setbacks and remember that they’re not permanent.
My son watches me. He does. In fact, it’s become one of the most haunting and motivating parts of being a father.
I didn’t grow up with my father at home. And I still struggle getting to know my dad. His distance, with him living in Arkansas now, makes it harder. Our shared temperament for quietness at best and disinterest at worse makes it nearly impossible. So we’ve been building what we can with occasional visits and regular phone calls. I don’t see him, but I do see my son up close.
I’ve noticed how he, simply, pays attention to me. He does this less and less, but his interest is still there. He’s interested in other people, picking up details on life and living from a dozen places and people a day.
I remember how when he was really small, when we clicked him in the infant carrier, before he was too long to fit, I would turn around to check that he was breathing. I was nervous. I was afraid that I’d drive too fast for his lungs to catch up. So I drove slowly, and I turned around to ensure that his head was moving, his eyes open.
One day I turned around and saw him doing what he’s doing in this picture. I snapped it at a red light. I had turned to look and he was staring. I jerked, thrown off. I said something aloud like “He’s looking at me.” We were in the car alone, probably going to get his grandmother from home to bring her back to our place. When I turned around at the light, he was still steadily seeing my shoulders. He watched my head, the arm from my glasses, the profile of his father.
It launched me into a spiritual experience, and not the kind I enjoy. That stare made me conscious, technically self-conscious. Those almond eyes had a love in them that left me with a thousand questions. The questions have motivated me. Together, his watching me, the questions I’ve “heard” in his stare, make me want to grow.
It’s funny because I’m a pastor. I’m pretty sensitive to growth, especially in others. I’m not completely unaware of the topic. But I had to admit then–and, often, still–that I’m less aware of the reasons to grow until moments like the one behind this picture. Even as a Christian. Even as a preacher. The fact is I care less about God. I mean that literally. I care more about this kid. I care more about screwing up so daily that he conceives of life is a twisted way. I care more about doing something well so that he can see accomplishment and fruit and benefits.
Somewhere in my head I tell myself that God will get along well if I mess things up, that God might even show mercy to me. Of course, that is a motivating message in my ears. But it also makes me less vigilant. With my son, with my family, and with the people I love, they might not be so merciful with their glances. They just might expect me to live up to things. Indeed, they do, and just like my son’s stare, like his current habit of repeating exactly what I say, they make me want to live well. Or, at least, better. …I really have to watch what I say to cab drivers in the loop.