What conversations do you have with the children in your life? They may be your kids, your siblings, nephews and nieces or your godchildren. They may be the children you teach at school, coach in a team, serve at a store. They may be the children in your Sunday school or missional community. What conversations do you have with them as they grow and learn to navigate and discover their place in the world?
I was sobered and saddened as I read this article in the New York Times about how Muslim parents are talking to their kids (aged 2 – 18) about anti- Muslim speech and extremism. There was a range of comments and advice; I was struck by those who asserted their profound sense of pride in being American (not just citizens) alongside their faith and sought to instill that same sense of patriotism in their children. But I found these most poignant:
“I tell my children that they must work 100 times harder, be 100 times kinder and always be well groomed, just to gain public acceptance in these trying times.”
“I tell them to be patient when they get bullied every day because of their identity at school, and when their teachers tell them to ‘deal with it’.”
There were echoes and triggers all over the place for me reading those words. Echoes of a time when I was advised that I needed to be a least 2 or 3 times as good as anyone else academically/professionally to be considered a contender due to my skin color. Where someone could clear their throat and spit on me in a busy street and call me the N-word and laugh, and nobody defend me or see if I was OK. Somehow the young black girl is a threat. Where my maiden name Oyeniran seemed to indicate to some that because I’m African that I’m uneducated and backward, that because I’m Nigerian I must be corrupt. Or that pride in my heritage was at odds with my citizenship.
For all my experiences, I can’t even fathom how these parents and children feel right now. These ‘trying times’ are a burden for anyone to carry. Its certainly a huge burden for a child or a teenager to carry. Because our words – our spoken words, our social media soundbites, our news headlines have power, whether we like it or not. The Bible teaches that words have power (Proverbs 18:21, James 3). Words have the power to motivate, inspire and illuminate. To affirm and encourage. They also have the power to sting, and they certainly have the persistence to stain and wound and scar.
I know there are big issues to discuss in our world today. and few simple answers. I know that this LONG U.S presidential season will continue and sadly incendiary statements seems to play a huge role right now.
But can we agree on some basics? Can we choose civil discourse rather than caricaturing entire cultures and people groups? Can we disagree without being disagreeable? Can we stop fear from fueling and justifying hatred?
And for those of us who consider ourselves Christians, can we please remember who our real enemy is and explore how we can love radically at this time?
What could it look like to explore how we love “the least of these” (Matthew 25)
What is our posture in these days?
Again – I’m not offering simplistic answers – but I do believe we need to persistently engage with these questions.