Saturday, November 12, 2016

Family Values: An Open Letter to My Son


I need to tell you something and you’re probably not going to like what I have to say when I finally get it all out. The lucky thing for me is you’re too young to comprehend what happened this week, so even if I tried to do this face to face, we’d end up talking about dinosaurs or trains or Dinosaur Train. To be honest, any of those conversations would be better than some others I have had this week.

Seven days ago, your mother and I set out to plan for our future with you and any potential siblings of yours in mind. As we drove back home from Virginia, we borrowed your dry erase board and laid out our family’s values. We arrived at five: Integrity. People. Generosity. Optimism. Curiosity. By the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ll probably roll your eyes and scoff at the importance we place on knowing our values and living our values every day. You’ll undoubtedly have witnessed us fail at upholding these values – I know you did this afternoon after you got in trouble for kicking your grandfather. Our failures aside, these are our family’s values and we have committed to use them as guides for ourselves, for you, and for the way we encounter others around us.

There must have been a reason we had this conversation when we did, for the day after we talked about values a bunch of adults around us came to the conclusion that the next person to lead our country would be a man who we’ve found to embody the antithesis of our family’s values. I once heard someone remark that if you find yourself praying for strength or mercy or peace you just might be confronted with situations which require you to be strong, merciful, or peaceful. This seems to be one of those times. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

It has not been easy to find words to discuss what has transpired in our country this week. There has been no lack of speculation about why he won and how she lost and what will happen next. There have been questions posed about our electoral system and how someone can earn more votes than someone else and still lose the decision and how can so many people see the world so drastically different from one another.

There is good news. There’s a lot of bad news, but there is some good news. The good news for you is you were born into a family of privilege who’ve succeeded financially, gotten great educations, acquired and sold property, paid down debts, and rarely if ever struggled to find work. The good news for you is you are privileged like we are and are therefore have a greater potential of being insulated from the ramifications of this man’s proposed policies.

Here’s the bad news:

What’s true for you and me and your mother isn’t true for everyone. The system and society in which we live is set up to advantage us from our birth. This is unacceptable. We have friends for whom such privilege does not exist. The playing field isn’t level and it won’t be until babies who look different from one another come into the world with the same chance to succeed. You started out further up the hill simply because of who we are and what we look like. 

Because we value people in our family, we cannot sit idly by and allow this system to prevail any longer. We will work to level the playing field.

This is where the news will get harder for you in the short run.

Because we value integrity and people and generosity, we are committed to leveling the playing field for everyone even if it comes at your expense. Will we strip you of opportunity or fail to provide you what you need to succeed? Never. Will we work to rebuild the world in ways that make it so that your darker skinned friends get the same benefit of the doubt when they are listening to loud music in a parking lot or playing in a park as you do? We must. Will we work to see to it that no matter whom someone loves, they have the opportunity to love them and care for them in all the ways we are able to love and care one another? We must. Will we do whatever it takes to protect our friends whom the powers that be deem unworthy of support or disposable or dangerous because of their heritage or beliefs? We must.

Because we value curiosity, we cannot assume our thoughts and opinions are always right. Just as there are countless people in our midst who are fearful for the future, there are countless people who have spent the week rejoicing. We do not understand where they are coming from, but if we are true to our values, then we must be curious and attempt to understand the source of their joy and the pain which has been relieved. This will result in a lot of hard conversations, hours of listening, and likely a great deal of consternation. To tell you the truth, this will be hard for us and it will be hard on you because we won't always have answers to give you.

Your mother and I can’t live into the values we have agreed upon unless we do these things. If we do these things, it means we will be working to build a world that is less advantageous for you. We can’t be people of integrity if we don’t these things. We can't genuinely value people. We can't be generous or curious if we don't try. You’ll have to learn to live with this fact. It’s my wish that you’ll understand.

We want you to have every opportunity that is available to you. We’ll teach you the value of hard work, discipline, and determination. We’ll teach you these things because in the world we’ve committed to rebuilding, you’ll need them more than we have.

There is, however, more good news for you and for all of us. We value optimism. We are hopeful for a brighter future. We are hopeful that through making the playing field level for everyone, it will actually make everyone's life better even if there's pain in the short term for you. We believe that the arc of the universe bends toward justice, and we’re aware that we might still be ascending that arc and, therefore, are unable to see the final destination.

You also need to understand the source of our hope. Our hope is not bound up in one person. It is not grounded in one another. Our hope is in the truth of the love Jesus teaches. By the time you’ll understand this you’ll probably also tire of having heard me talk about Will Campbell. Deal with it. Brother Will tells us that we often confuse what we wish for with what we hope in. We wish for a better world. We wish for equity. We wish for peace and an end to pain. Our hope, however, is in the Lord.

In these days where understanding is hard to find, we must cling to this sense of hope. We must not put our hope in the wrong place. We must keep striving for things we wish to happen for as another wise man once said, You can hitch your wagon to the stars, but you can't haul corn or hay in it if its wheels aren't on the ground.” 

We must keep ourselves grounded in the reality facing our friends and neighbors. We must keep ourselves in tune with the pain and anguish and genuine fear they have endured. We must find ways to heal the pain, quench the anguish, and eliminate the fear. We must search for common ground so that the joy that covers only some one day covers us all. If our society has any chance to accomplish these tasks, we much do our part. We must start with our family and move to our neighborhood and then to our schools and on to our town, our county, our state, our nation.

We must start and we must not lose sight of our hope.

I love you,

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