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The negativity.
It’s everywhere.
It threatens to flatten me, or pull me under, or drag me along with it.
And I’m exhausted by it.
If I’m honest with myself, this feeling of unrest started shortly after the kidnapping of 230 school girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Global outrage led to the creation of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter. People joined together – albeit in a virtual fashion – to say that they were standing united against the efforts of organizations that preyed upon innocent school children. The hashtag and subsequent news stories brought attention to issues of violence, brutality, and human trafficking, and many people learned of these global issues for the first time because of the awareness the hashtag brought.
Even though I knew about human trafficking, global terrorist networks, and the increasing violence in Nigeria, I had never truly understood what Boko Haram was about nor the kinds of violence they perpetrated.
It woke me up to something new.
Only a few days later, I noticed articles floating around the internet talking about the damaging effects of #BringBackOurGirls. I saw people calling it “slacktivism,” and belittling the people who were participating.
Rather than acknowledge the good the hashtag accomplished, or starting up a new movement, it seemed like everyone was hoping to crush the movement that had been started.
Rather than take the passion for bringing awareness and doing something positive with it, we decided it was better to throw stones at people who were desperately trying to make a difference – in their own imperfect ways.
And I do it, too. In this age of way too much information at our fingertips, we enjoy being the fact-checkers. We want to bring reality down with a crushing blow. We want to throw stones at everyone else’s glass houses.
And ever since #BringBackOurGirls, it seems like for every positive movement I see, there are hundreds of angry responses. Demeaning responses. Critical responses. But no other actions being taken.
We see something wrong and we lob a rock at it instead of entering into the mess and doing the hard work of bringing about change.
This week after another series of difficult news stories and responses to those stories, I was feeling particularly burdened by all of it. After my weekly pep talk to myself about how the Internet isn’t all bad, I sat down with my Bible to read the Scripture passage for Sunday’s sermon. Usually my husband and I preach from the Revised Common Lectionary, but for the summer, we’ve been focusing more topically on Scripture passages that talk about children and what we can learn from them.
For this particular Sunday, we had selected two passages (Matthew 21:12-17 and Psalm 8). In particular, we had planned to focus on Matthew 21:16, which says, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself”?'” When we had selected these passages for our summer sermon series, I had thought I would preach on the simplicity of what children say, and about how kids seem to understand things far more than we give them credit for. But, as I was reflecting on yet another negative backlash against a movement’s attempt to do something positive, the Holy Spirit stirred inside my heart.
In Matthew 21, Jesus is in the Temple. He sees the tables of the money changers, and he loses it. He overturns tables, and he tells the people that they have completely missed the point of what the Temple is to be about. And into this mix, Jesus begins to heal people, and children are crying out to him, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Hosanna – save us.
Save us, Jesus.
The chief priests and the scribes are infuriated. They see what Jesus has done, and they hear what the children are calling out, and they ask Jesus if he even hears what the kids are saying. Jesus responds that he hears them, and that they were showing the truth of Scripture that says praise will come from the mouths of children and tiny babies.
For the longest time I thought God had prepared praise from the mouths of children because society thought children were unimportant. It was yet another grand role reversal of the Gospel; those counted among the least would be made the greatest. And, I think it is that too. But, as I’ve reflected on the negativity, the criticism, the holier-than-thou attitude that has become so easy to have, I wonder if it is more than a grand role reversal.
I wonder if the truth comes from the lips of children because they haven’t yet been conditioned to see everything that’s wrong with the world.
I wonder if praise and joy come from the mouths of our babies because their statements of truth aren’t laden with judgment. They say it because they see it. It’s an observation. It is reality.
I have been wondering if the reason children were the ones calling out to Jesus in the Temple was because they hadn’t yet learned to scrutinize every religious movement of every single person. They could look at Jesus, see how he healed people, hear how he talked, and see who he was. It was obvious.
When we start with what’s wrong – from a place of judgment – we’re going to miss the beauty of what’s in front of us.
When we start with what’s wrong we miss out on what’s right.
When we start with what’s wrong we can sit back in our easy chairs and think we’ve done our part, when the only thing we’ve truly done is kept any good from being done at all.
I say this to myself as much as to anyone else. And I fully recognize the irony of talking about what’s wrong about starting with what’s wrong. We can’t leave it here. We can’t leave it at talking negatively about something. We’ve got to be the change we want to see in the world, to paraphrase something profoundly true that Gandhi once said. If we see something and we say something, we need to be prepared to do something.
Because when we join our voices with the little children, we will do so as people who tell the truth for the sake of the truth. We will add our voices to the chorus because we love the song. We will cry out in our homes, our streets, our schools, our workplaces, “Hosanna – save us!” because we know how deeply we need to be saved.
We will speak because we love, and not because we want to judge.
And, though it may seem a small thing, speaking out of love will lead us to action. And that will make all the difference.