Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Are We Doing?

I woke earlier this week to a discussion on my alarm clock radio about Baby Doe. She has a name now. Bella. Her tiny 2 year old body had been discovered on a beach over the summer. In a trash bag. Intact. Perfect. But dead. Who was she? What had happened to this precious child? Why did no one claim her? Why did no one look desperately for her, report her missing?

Vigils were held. Strangers wept around the world for a precious baby girl who was dead, but not missed. What had gone wrong? Why was she in a bag on a beach instead of scooping sand and playing in the waves?

The mystery was solved. She was one of our own, a little girl from Boston. The daughter of drug addicts. Her mother's boyfriend allegedly beat her to death because he thought she was possessed. 

The conversation on the radio the other morning centered around the failings of Child Protective Services. This organization is an easy target. Too many children have died in their custody over the years. Neglect, violence, and incompetence have been associated with the organization. Why can't this group get their act together? Should we be adding more funds to their operating budget? Or defunding them completely? Why are they so incompetent? What is someone going to do about this?

But I think we're asking the wrong question. The proper question is "What are we going to do about this?"

How do you take a child from an unsafe situation if you don't have a safer place to put them? What are we doing to help? We. You. And me. What are WE doing about this today? Tomorrow? Next week? What are we doing to help children around us who don't have a peaceful and safe bed to sleep in at night? What are we doing to provide a safe refuge when their parents are too sickened with drugs and their own histories of abuse to give them the care and love they desperately need? What are we doing to break the cycles of mental illness, abuse, and dysfunctional relationships? We. You and me. What are we going to do about this?

Because obviously we are not doing enough.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Our Victory on 9/11

It's hard to believe it was 14 years ago already. But I guess that's what our elders said 14 years after the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy. That's what they said 14 years after Pearl Harbor. That's what we said 14 years after the Challenger blew up before our stunned eyes. Horror happens, time passes, and the moments and emotions stay etched in our memory despite the passage of time.

But today I'm declaring victory over 9/11. Terrorists brought their worst. But Americans and our friends brought our best. I love that people still remember and share stories of that horrible day. And the stories they share are what have declared our victory. I have not heard one thing about the terrorists. I don't remember their names. I don't care to. But I've heard endless stories of heros - people who sacrificed their lives to save others. We remember the flight full of people who hastened their own deaths to prevent the deaths of many others. We remember whole career fields of people who rushed into the bedlam while the rest of us ran away. I've heard stories of towns that welcomed thousands of stranded passengers whose flights were waylaid when air space was shut down that day. I've heard of employers who made sure that all of the children of their deceased employees were able to go to college for free. I've heard of friends who met in the horror of that day, only to have love triumph over tragedy, with a decade of marriage and a house full of kids to show for it. Americans became kinder to each other after that day. The international community showed sympathy and love to us. 

We don't celebrate death and fear on September 11th. We celebrate sacrificial love and service. We celebrate recovery. We celebrate compassion. We celebrate what's great about our country and our people. May we never forget. And may we all be able to rise to the occasion if we're called upon to serve.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Paul's Letter to a Bunch of Dead People

Yesterday we visited Ephesus. Ever heard of it? More likely you've heard of the people who lived there, the Ephesians. St Paul wrote a famous letter to them in the New Testament. That book of the Bible is only 6 chapters long. So I re-read it this morning as our tour bus began the 3 hour journey to our next stop in Turkey. I was curious if there were any insights to be gained by re-reading it after visiting the town. 

I should clarify that the term "town" should be taken loosely. Ephesus was once the second most important city in the Roman Empire. It had a large port, and was the end of the Silk Road, and was the big city of Asia Minor. So it was a bustling and wealthy metropolis of about 250,000 people surrounded by fertile agricultural land*. It was a nice place to live at the time. 

But Turkey is prone to earthquakes and mudslides. So the city was eventually destroyed, abandoned, and covered with mud, and it disappeared for centuries. Until some archeologists came along. 

Now Ephesus boasts some long marble-paved streets lined with columns and the painstakingly reassembled facades and walls of buildings. There's a hospital, a library, some temples, shops, houses, and theaters. If you squint hard and use your imagination, you can see the bustling port city coming back to life. You do have to drive 4 miles to find a port. The once deep u-shaped port was silted in over time. The columned commercial road that led there now leads to nowhere. 

There are no more Ephesians. They're all long dead. Their once lavish city adorned with ornately carved marble fell into nothingness. All that surrounded them, their art, their objects of pride, all of the physical aspects of their daily existence were consumed by the earth. Why should a letter to these people matter to us?

Interestingly, Paul's instructions to these dead people sounded oddly contemporary. He spoke of family relationships; he gave advice for marital relationships and child-rearing. He spoke of workplace relationships - how bosses should treat their employees and how employees should work for their employers. He spoke of community relationships. His words on patience, forbearance and gentleness never fail to convict me and highlight my daily failings.  

Despite all of the differences in technology and material wealth that we experience now, our human nature is no more advanced than it was in Ephesus' heyday. That should be a bit humbling. And the glory of Ephesus, once a marvel of civilization, was consumed by dust. Can we not assume that our now-lovely cities will, as well? What will happen to the physical objects that consume our resources and energy? Will they too be claimed by dust?

Touring the ruins of Ephesus is a great reminder to me that all material things of this earth will pass away. And reading the intro to Paul's letter to the Ephesians is a great reminder to me of what will not. 

I pray that, in the grind of daily life, I can keep this in perspective. 

*This info given by our tour guide, and not independently fact checked.