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Well we’ve slid into August now and so we’re just a few blinks away from Labor Day and the semi-official end of all things summer. For those who can enjoy a different cadence of life during summertime months and look forward at some point to an extended vacation period, summer’s demise is always accompanied with a bit of melancholy. Soon enough schoolday routines will take over our households again even as piano lessons and soccer practices and what-all-not will start to hurtle us toward the year’s end and winter’s return.
But in some other ways this summer cannot end too quickly, and no one reading this needs me to detail why (though I will anyway). Lately every time I click on the CNN or New York Times websites, I hold my breath a little to see what grim story will be this hour’s “Breaking News.” This summer has featured stories of children left to suffocate in hot cars, airliners shot out of the sky and raining down people and pieces of people, other planes disappearing over an African desert or in Taiwan, an Ebola outbreak which is properly alarming, refugee children from Honduras coming to the U.S. for help and being met with sneers and epithets, and a war between Israel and Hamas that is every day reducing ordinary civilians–including so very, very many little children–to smears of blood on pavement. And just to keep everything partisan and ugly on the homefront, Congress voted to sue the President before going home for some election year campainging–rallies and speeches that are sure to be more about spewing hatred and fomenting divisiveness than doing anything to help this be a better, more just nation.
In all of this, it is the suffering and the death of the children that all but smother my spirit. Last week in her first blog since returning from a bit of maternity leave, Theresa Latini wrote a lyric piece on the wonder of being a mother and the splendor of a new child. And what Theresa wrote there is very much how life is supposed to be. But in too many parts of this world children are in a very different situation. As Pulitzer-prize winning author Sonia Nazario (author of the newly relevant Enrique’s Journey) has reminded us, the children fleeing to the U.S. from Honduras really are fleeing for their lives as the drug cartels have taken over and are now forcing 12-year-olds to become either junkies or drug dealers or both. And instead of helping these desperate kids, we have turned them into a political football who have a good chance of being shot by Rick Perry’s National Guard troops or ballyhooed as criminals and worse by Tea Party folks whose “America First” attitude puts a big piece of duct tape over Lady Liberty’s “Give me your tired, your poor” plaque.
Meanwhile, why do children have to be blown to bits while hiding out in a school? Why do they have to fall 33,000 feet because someone thought it was a good idea to give idiots one of the world’s most sophisticated missiles?
The scene you most want to forget from The Brothers Karamazov is the report of the cruelty of Turkish soldiers who let innocent babies play with the barrel of a pistol as though it were a toy only to then pull the trigger and blast the baby’s skull to pieces. But such cruelty to innocent children gets repeated all the time as wars rage, injustice reigns, and selfishness coarsens people to the suffering of others, including that of little ones.
The so-called “problem of evil” exists on many levels but the evil of little ones suffering and dying casts this “problem” into the boldest possible relief.
It has been noted that the more comfortable any person’s–or any group’s–life is, the less often that person or group ponders the coming of God’s kingdom or what is often referred to as “heaven” in popular parlance. Where life is nasty and brutish (and sometimes short), longing for heaven is sharpened (think of African-American spirituals that emerged from slavery: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”). Even in the early years of the 20th century sermons and hymns that referred to heaven were much more frequent than in recent years when such a focus has all-but disappeared in some traditions. We are less likely to cry “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus” when things are good and we have any number of upcoming events to which we are looking forward.
But at the end of this sad summer of carnage and injustice, of bickering and cruelty, we do well to cry out for God’s justice, both now and in the long run of Jesus’ return to make all things new. If we don’t pine for this for ourselves, then we pine for it for the world’s children: for the refugee, the orphan, the abused, the terrorized, the injured, the dead. For them, then, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus. Come with healing in your wings.