Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
I decided last week not to watch the Republican or the Democratic National Conventions and I plan to keep that commitment. But hearing snippets of these events is unavoidable if you’re out in the world. The snippets I’ve been hearing remind me that there are two ways to raise kids.
Yes, I’m being simplistic (there are more than two ways to raise kids) but stay with me here.
Son: Can boys have pierced ears?
Mom: No, boys can’t have pierced ears. That’s just for girls.
My own 8-year-old turned to me and mouthed “Michael Jordan” and I mouthed back, “I know.” We got into our car and our conversation went like this:
FBC: Why did that Mom lie to her son?
Me: She didn’t want him to get his ears pierced, so she told him that boys can’t.
FBC: But one day, he’s going to know that boys can pierce their ears and then he’ll know she lied to him.
Me: You’re right.
I have a friend with young children who gets very nervous when I’m around her kids because they ask questions like “Can boys get their ears pierced?” and she is terrified that I will innocently blurt out “Yes” when she would probably say, “No.” When I told her that my 7 year old nephew’s school was teaching the DARE program in the second grade, she was horrified that any second graders would have to hear about drugs. The reality, though, was that there are kids in the second grade who have already been exposed to drugs in their families or neighborhoods and, at least in my opinion, it’s important to educate those kids that crystal meth and cocaine make people sick. It’s sad but it’s reality and talking about it in healthy ways makes a positive difference. School might be the only place where some kids are told that drugs are bad.
And this brings me to politics. As I unavoidably hear comments from politicians about everything from abortion to health care to unemployment, I long to have healthy conversations with people about what is real in our world versus what we wish reality looked like.
In my own little life as a pastor, I have witnessed multiples of these situations:
- Women making decisions about abortion based on difficult personal circumstances (rape, incest, potential health issues, threats from husband)
- Spouses having to make difficult end-of-life health decisions about their husbands and wives
- Women trying very hard not to get pregnant because of military service, troubled marriages, financial stresses
- Men sharing experiences of electroconvulsive therapy, “curative” ex-gay camps, and being shunned from their churches and families for being homosexual
- People addicted to alcohol, narcotics, food, sex, gambling, and porn – both recovering and not recovering
- Seriously mentally ill people with bipolar disorder, incapacitating depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, anorexia, bulimia, and post-traumatic stress disorder
Churches are not communities filled with shiny happy people with everything going for them. Or at least real churches are not like that – if people are being honest.
All of those examples have political implications, at least as far as this election goes. Maybe it would be nice to imagine that pregnancies only happen when life is manageable and that all husbands respect all wives and that most people die peacefully in their sleep or poor people are lazy or responsible people don’t lose everything in fires or storms. But that would be a lie, and like the little boy whose mother wanted to protect him from something she didn’t want for him, it breeds distrust when we withhold reality.
And while Paul wrote that we peace comes when we think of honorable and pure things, Jesus touched bleeding women and epileptics. I wish he’d said something about homosexuality, but he didn’t. He did say an enormous amount about money and those sayings convict us all. The point of Jesus’ being with us is that God Was With Us in the muck and mess of life and we are supposed to be with those who are poor and sick and alone.
And this is what we are supposed to teach our children: that there are many choices in life and we want them to make the best choices. They will be able to choose everything from whether or not to pierce their ears to whether to vote Republican or Democrat or not at all. We can teach them by flinging open the doors of life and being beside them in that journey, talking about real life. Or we can pretend that such things don’t happen - at least to good people.
I’m not saying we need to share the dirtiest things of life with our youngest children. But when they ask, we need to be ready to share the truth in a way they can understand, reminding them that all of us have a responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s the most pleasing, most commendable way to live, and I believe it brings peace.