Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Christians, Jesus, and Reality

I'm not big on public displays about religion.  To me, religion is a private matter, best handled between each individual and their own belief system.  I have no problem with someone saying Grace before eating at a restaurant, nor, for that matter, much of anything else.  I don't expect you to "check your religion at the door" when you're out in public.

However, there are times when I think something needs to be said.  This is one of those times.

To make this entry understandable, I need to ask you to wander off for a moment and read the story that prompted it.  It's not too long, and although I readily admit I didn't witness the presentation first-hand, the basics of what happened seem pretty clear.  So...please take a minute to go read this, and then please return to see a slightly different take on the same subject:

An open letter to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis:


I recently read a newspaper story about a presentation that your representatives made to the senior class of DeLaSalle regarding marriage.  I was not in attendance at that presentation, so I cannot speak first hand about what was said nor accurately gauge the tenor of the conversation.  I do not pretend to know specific words spoken, nor all the issues that were raised.

However, I will accept at face value the tone and nature of the discussion as presented by those who were present and who spoke, on the record, to the reporter who filed the story, which I first noticed in the Star Tribune.  My thoughts are based upon that account.

Matt Bliss, a student who attended the event, is quoted as follows:

Then is started going downhill when they started talking about single parents and adopted kids.  They didn't directly say it, but they implied that kids who are adopted or live with single parents are less than kids with two parents of the opposite sex.

As I said, those are his words, and apparently that is the message he received.  In that vein, I would like to introduce you to a few of "those kids" and perhaps help you understand that your stereotype is incorrect...and, more importantly, why it is incorrect.  Since I have not spoken with their parents, I am changing their names.

Caleb is a bright, energetic 10 year old, full of life and always ready for the next adventure.  He's been active in the Cub Scouts, and is looking forward to new adventures next year when he can join the Boy Scouts and go camping.  His younger sister, Ashley, is just four.  She's pretty bright too, and is probably more than ready for the kindergarten experience.  In fact, she reads a little, knows her alphabet, and loves things Green.  For unknown reasons, she really doesn't much care for pink.

Their mother, Julie, is a single parent, and like every single parent she's struggling to make everything work.  She works two jobs, and somehow manages.  The grandparents help a lot, as do many others in the community.  Caleb plays baseball, soccer, and basketball, although (candidly) I don't think he's got much of a future as an athlete.  The important thing is he has fun doing it.

He's a good student, and if you talk with his teacher you'll discover she wishes she had more like him.  About two years ago he went through some hard times, and it showed.  However, everyone...teachers, his mother and grandparents, and his friends gathered around to support him.  He's doing better, although he's not completely healed yet.

Denise is another child of a single parent.  She's just seven, and she's struggling.  Sometimes she has really hard days, and her mother, Angela, is doing all she can.  Angela's parents are helping, and, in fact, Denise and Angela live with them.  Angela is socially awkward, and although she getting a lot of help, that issue is not going to go away quickly.  In time...perhaps.  In the meantime she's managing.  She's keeping up in school, now and then joining in some social activities, and considering joining a Girl Scout group.  She's slowly learning that she has some friend she can trust...but it's a hard road, and she's been burned a few too many times, usually by the hurtful things other children unknowingly say.

Thomas is a real handful.  He always has been.  He was born with a bunch of medical issues, some of which aren't every going to be "cured."  Thomas was adopted, but only after he'd been through a series of foster homes and discovered that he really wasn't welcome anywhere.  He now has a wonderful pair of loving parents who have done everything possible to see that his needs are met.

With a long-term set of parents, he's gotten a lot of help with his medical needs, and that's made a huge difference in his life.  For the first time he's caught up with his classmates in reading and math, and he's beginning to become an acceptable friend to many.  His behavior is stabilized, and his outbursts are few and far between now.  His new parents are there for him in every possible way, and they've done wonders.  This is a child that just a few years ago would have been written off...and, in fact, he basically was.  When he was considered "available" for adoption, not a single prospective family wanted anything to do with him.  They were more interested in "perfect kids."  Thankfully his new parents weren't so picky.

Now, each of these children meet your criteria for being less.  They come from single-parent homes or were adopted, and, perhaps with the exception of Ashley, they all have scars and baggage that burden them.  It is truly easy to dismiss them as products of their environment, and blame their non-standard family as the reason why.  There is some truth in that, however, I think it unfair to categorize the children for that.  They are unknowing, and certainly unwitting, victims.

Let me end this by making two observations:  I was raised in the Methodist Church.  My parents were active in the church, and both were lay pastors.  I learned a lot about Christianity, and although I don't attend church regularly now, I still place value on  things I learned growing up.  Two statements from Jesus stand out above all others in my mind.  He said:

Judge not!
Love one another!

Now, let's assume those are important tenants of the Catholic Church, since it was supposedly founded upon Christian Ideals.

The second observation is this:  let me tell you a little more about these children who are less.

Caleb and Ashley are being raised in a single parent household because two years ago, their father, deployed for the fourth time to Iraq and Afghanistan, was mortally wounded.  He placed himself between a large group of civilians and remained engaged until his 7 wounds killed him.  Not a single civilian died in that ambush.  Caleb struggles because he misses his father.

Denise is 7.  Her mother Angela is just 21.  When she was 13, Angela was raped.  When she discovered she was pregnant, her priest (as she relates it) told her that she would burn in hell forever if she aborted the child.  So...fearful, she didn't.  Denise can't really understand why she doesn't have a father, and, in her case, the man died in a confrontation with police.  Being mixed race doesn't help Denise's cause either, and people who meet them quickly do the math, compare their skin colors, and make judgments.

Thomas has never known either of his biological parents.  His mother is in prison, serving time for a variety of drug-related crimes.  His father is also in prison, sentenced to two life sentences.  He was "orphaned" immediately after his birth, and suffers from some drug-related issues that his mother had during the pregnancy.  The parents who were willing to adopt this child were more in tune with his situation, and willing to take on a "problem child."  His parents are not married.  They're both male.

Now, the question for you is simple.  Are you judging, or are you living that other statement of Jesus:  Love one another?  Given what I've read about your presentation, I think the answer is obvious...and personally, I think you need to really consider just what you stand for.

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