I joined Greenpeace as a twelve year old. Now, don’t ask me what “joining” looked like back in mid-nineteen-ninety-something, but it probably involved writing an actual paper letter to an actual physical address and receiving actual self-addressed envelopes back in the mail asking for VERY REAL AND ACTUAL dollars to support their earth-saving efforts. But this was all huge to me because, you see, twelve year old Catherine had SOME KIND OF PASSION about saving the earth. Actually, just saving the primates of the earth. Like, mostly just mountain gorillas. Because 12 year olds with big passion and big ideas totally have the right to choose which very specific piece of the earth they care about saving, you know.
This white-hot kind of passion and orientation toward justice has been a running theme in my life. When I wasn’t saving mountain gorillas (through no helpful action at all, as it turns out), I was writing entrance essays for middle school about religious liberty. I was ten. And then, because apparently all of my bottled up passion comes out in essay form, my 17 year old self of 2000 typed up a college entrance essay just dripping with big feelings and ideas about the Sunni/Shiite conflict, only to be met with some good-intentioned feedback from well-meaning adults: “Uh, RANDOM. NO ONE is going to care about this Sunni/Shiite thing in America today. Try again.” And because I was convinced they were wrong, I was all, “Thank you ma’ams and sirs ANDDD SUBMIT.” I got into college, p.s. And actually, people in America would TOTALLY start caring about this REAL SOON. So. There’s that.
I’ve written administrators, presidents, newspapers, and I literally do not know how to keep my lips closed when I see injustice rising. It’s just one of the truest truths about me. But where did all of this come from? My Enneagram One-ness? Yeah probably. God? For sure. Being a middle child? I like to attribute all things good and bad in my life to that, so YEP.
But also? I blame my parents. In the best way possible. My parents who dragged us to rallies and held up signs and taught us that we had a voice. My parents who made bold, countercultural decisions for us, some of which I still wildly disagree with. (Like not allowing us sit with our class while they read Roald Dahl books because of somethingorother that they disagreed with IN CLASSIC BEAUTIFUL HILARIOUS ROALD DAHL BOOKS ohmygosh.) (They also opted me out of sex ed which, I mean, sorry Matt.) BUT these same parents have also left space over the years for open pushback and dialogue and declarations that, “Dearest mom and dad, you should probably know that I wildly disagree with you.” Because our voices- they mattered.
When I wanted to take up an issue with a president, they handed me a pen. When I needed to know how to save the mountain gorillas of the world, we boarded a 5am Amtrak to DC to talk with the people who knew such things. We kids were lectured big and were lectured often on the privilege and gravity of our right to vote. And all of this was rooted in our call to love God and others ridiculously well.
All that to say, DEAR PARENTS:
Like it or not, we hold a lot of power in these hands of ours. Honestly? My parents and I clash on a whole HOST of issues. (Heeeey mom and dad.) We tune into different news sources and would march for different issues and, when we get into those heated ideological discussions, I want to say, “Dude! You handed me the pens and took me to DC and YOU DID THIS TO ME. It’s not my bad, it’s YOURS.”
Parents, we’re going to reap in this next generation what we sow today. And if we want a whole generation of justice fighters, we have to teach them that they have a voice right now. If we want them to get after God’s will being done in Raleigh/Minneapolis/Lilongwe as it is in Heaven, we have to teach them what God’s will- what justice, mercy, and compassion- actually looks like by getting them in God’s word today.
If we want their hearts to break for the oppressed, we have to put them in proximity to pain. We have to talk about the hard things and sometimes go to the hard places and do it all in the spirit of, “This is not how things should be. Let’s do better.”
But fair warning– once armed with a burning desire to see peace on earth and justice for all and for amazing grace to be known on the whole of the earth, all bets are off with these kids of ours.
Family dinners might become more… animated.
Their lives might not look safe.
They may actually up and “go into all the world” like, you know, the Bible talks about.
Or live in “that neighborhood.”
Or hang out with “those people.”
Or *gasp* vote differently.
Want to teach your kids to use their voices? Be prepared for what might come out.
Want to show them God’s heart for the outsider? Don’t go expecting them to be comfy cozy on the inside.
School them in the reckless love of God? Don’t be surprised when they take you at your word- take GOD at HIS WORD- and start mimicking just that. A passionate, extravagant love for God and others that might look crazy, act crazy, MAKE NO SENSE AT ALL. That is, apart from the Gospel you keep talking to them about.
Parents, we live in hard times, and our kids are taking it all in. Let’s leverage the hard so that when cities burn, their hearts will too. And when they hear cries of injustice, they’ll join right on in with echoes of their own. Let’s take these broken moments in history, hold them up to our kids’ faces, and say with words clear and true, “This is hate. This is racism. This is injustice. THIS IS NOT OKAY. And this family of ours? We will not be silent.”
Give them voices, and they’ll learn to use them. Open their eyes to the world around them, and passion will grow. And that’s precisely when things start getting fun. That’s when things start getting dangerous. Let’s raise these kids of ours dangerous, parents.
Let’s say “nah, no thanks” to the “follow your heart” culture out there and, rather, teach them to think and be Bible literate. Because you want to know the path of white supremacists when they follow their precious little hearts? Burning crosses, that’s where. “Follow your heart” might look cute on a t-shirt, but it’s the Bible that actually leads us to truth. And truth to Jesus. And Jesus to that hope and redemption this weary world is grasping for so desperately these days.
Let’s raise them dangerous.
Once we’ve taught our kids to read, love, OWN God’s Word for themselves, let’s help them find their God-given lane and run in it hard. Do you think my mom gave any cares at all to mountain gorillas when I was twelve and she was in the weeds of parenting three offspring? Hard no. But when we see that fire in our kids’ eyes, it would behove the whole wide world if we could just help to fan that flame. Maybe that flame will die off eventually. Fine. But you know what won’t? The muscle memory that comes from learning to run hard after something you believe in.
Let’s raise them dangerous.
Let’s teach them to use their voices. Not just as retweetable soundbytes to add to the noise but as hate-condemning, truth-promoting agents of change. Let’s teach our kids that words have power far, far beyond any likes or followers they can garner for themselves. Let’s teach them to speak up loudly, confidently, with holy conviction, yes. But may they- MAY WE ALL- grow in the humility to know when it’s time to get low, get quiet, and simply listen. Oh may we all have ears to hear.
Let’s raise them dangerous.
Let’s teach them to dialogue well and disagree respectfully and be willing to pivot when pivoting is warranted. Let’s teach them to pray. To pray big, bold, gutsy prayers for this world AND ALSO to get busy with big, bold, gutsy actions in this world. Let’s teach them that they are not the center of the universe, and they certainly are not the main character of this grand Gospel narrative. Let’s teach them that they are right here on this earth at this time with all of these other image bearers to point back to the One who it IS all about. Together. In unity.
Let’s grab them by the hands and run to the margins so that they know early and often that we’re all a big, messy family and that when one of us hurts, we all hurt. Don’t shy away from that hurt. Because that, my friends, is the good soil where compassion grows. And sweet goodness, could this world use a little more compassion these days.
It’s a dangerous world out there for sure, and we’ve got these kids for eighteen short years (and long days) before we pull back the bow and launch them. So, let’s not spend those years sharpening them up and directing them out toward the margins and the oppressed and toward darkness and pain unless we’re ready for them to land smack in the middle of it all. Because they just might. Passionate and Bible literate and fueled and filled with the love of Christ. Poised and ready to shake things up a bit. Maybe shake US up a bit. All bets are off. And that’s precisely where it gets exciting. That’s where change can begin.