May We Raise Children with a Fire for Justice, Peace, and Love

Years ago, when my husband and I were dating and in college, and through our early years of marriage, we read and were heavily influenced by the works of authors such as Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Kozol. Early on, he and I began intentionally designing our lifestyles to address injustice and live as peacemakers. We’d read books together, we’d discuss Bible passages that called out for justice, and we worked with people in the margins of society.

Well, life happened. In 2008, we had our first child, and my husband lost his job due to a crumbling economy. Our situation changed drastically in a matter of months, and our life of serving and fighting for justice became something we barely remembered in our struggle to scrape out a living ourselves. We forgot what it was to live recklessly and passionately as our focus turned inward, especially as we tried to provide for ourselves and eventually two children.  

The World Didn’t Stop Turning

The world didn’t stop turning though. The world continued to be, well, the world. I admit to my privilege and the fact that I would read about injustices and pray a little about them, but would I do much more? No, not really.

And now, as suddenly we are confronted with Nazis parading through our streets – Nazis! – many of us think, “This is 2017! I can’t believe this is happening in 2017!”

Oh, and then many of us are awakened to the fact that it never stopped happening, it’s just now slapping us in the face, because so many of us did what we did and exercised our privilege to look away.

No More

We can’t look away anymore.  

And parents: we certainly cannot look away. We cannot raise children who look away. Because this is how things like Nazis in the streets happen. My God, this is how Auschwitz happens; this is how Manzanar happens.    

When racism and xenophobia began to become an everyday thing in the news over the last couple of years – at least when I awoke to their presence in the news, I began to remember the words of the books I’d read so many years before. I remembered the books that had put a fire in my belly and compelled me to action. Words like those of Jonathan Kozol, who said we we must disown and disavow our privilege, and that if we cannot we are not ethical men and women. Harsh? Yes. True? I believe so.

Taking a Step

Last year, a man at our church named Joel Vestal launched a ministry for refugees right here in Indianapolis, called Migros Aid. For weeks in church I’d hear stories and see pictures of folks from our congregation teaching English to refugee men, women, and children from places like Iraq and Syria – men, women, and children that were facing poverty, racism and xenophobia every day, struggling to get by in a world they didn’t understand – yet living lives of bravery and resilience. I started to feel an urge to go to “English club” myself, but I kept thinking, no, I’d have to get a babysitter, I don’t have time, I…

No!

So, we finally talked to Joel, and found out that we could bring our kids with us! The next week, we took the step and went. Our first night at English club was an experience like none other. Suddenly I was meeting people that had fled war-torn areas, people who had experienced persecution at the hands of terrorists, people who were still facing prejudice here.

Ellie with her friends at English Club

Coming Back

The fire in my belly was back – dear God, I prayed for forgiveness that it had ever gone away – and I remembered how I had worked with immigrant children years before, how I had heard stories from those children of deportation and their families being torn apart – and how for years I had let my own life get in the way of standing up for people in the trenches.

Parenting for Justice  

But now, the way I live truly does need to be different, and I am working on my heart and mind that this fire for justice will never go away. Because I am a parent. I know I must teach my children about people like Dr. King, Ruby Bridges, and Levi and Catherine Coffin, about the brave people at Standing Rock, and the brave people at Charlottesville. And now my children serve alongside me, and through study and service, their eyes and hearts are opening, and I pray we never allow our eyes to close again.

Just the other day, my eight-year-old daughter asked me a question that caught me off guard. “Mommy, do people still march?”

I blinked, thinking of the people with linked arms at Charlottesville.

“Yes, they do.”

She nodded and looked right back at me, her gaze steady. “Mommy, then I want to march.”

My heart swelled with surprise, a little bit of fear, but mostly, gratitude. My daughter’s eyes are opening, her heart is opening, and I pray her hands continue to open in service and love and peacemaking.

And this is why I said in our Indianapolis Moms Blog video:

“May we raise children to interrupt hate, and wage peace and love instead.”

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