Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hope of a Teddy Bear

This week, I have wept. Before this, I'd held back tears about the children in cages in detention centers. Maybe that's why it's been so long since I've written, actually, unwilling to open the flood gates. The dumpster fire is raging after all. 

But many times over the last two days, I have wept. 

On Saturday, an agency reuniting families sent a request for donations of items. While families have been held, there was little to collect in the way that churches do. The list was not long and many of the things you would expect: water and Gatorade, backpacks, pads, and snacks. I cried over one item, though: small stuffed animals. It wasn't the stuffed animals, but the descriptor given: "comfort items for the children." 

My heart broke, the flood gates opened, and they haven't stopped. 

It's a clinical descriptor, one I've heard before in education about child development. However, the deep place that I know it from is The Giver. If you haven't read the children's book, go get it and read it. I guarantee your local library has it. Like many of my favorite books, it's set in a dystopian time--future or past, I don't know. It is a world of sameness, though, and familial bonds have intentionally been destroyed. Children are born in one place, birthed by women of sturdy stock, but placed with families deemed more functional. Among many things, love is not a concept or a practice. Read the book; I promise that it's really good. 

In that world, children are given specific clothes to mark transitions. Items come and go at specific times in development, as they do for all children in the community. One of those items is a comfort object. The main character's sister, Lily, is near to losing hers because of her age. It is, indeed, called a comfort object. She doesn't realize in other places, it would be called an elephant. She has had it since infancy and sleeps with it at night. After all, that's what comfort objects are for. 

There's some horrible reality when this phrase from dystopian fiction comes barreling into requests from churches. Last night, I went to Target and bought ten small teddy bears as my family's contribution to the drive. Comfort objects. 

My own childhood comfort object is stashed away at home. I've had it for more than thirty years now, a gift from family friends for my third birthday. At least that's what my family tells me. I don't remember getting Flop, but I do remember him always being with me. He's a pink rabbit, now faded to nearly gray. His eye and head were reattached by my grandmother, her stitches still visible. Like Flop's origins, my family remembers nighttime searches for him so that I could sleep. There were trips back to grandparents' houses to retrieve him and flashlights taken to the playhouse. He was necessary and loved. My mom still rolls her eyes when I mention him, remembering the many times she moved hell and high water to find him; she'd do it, again. He's still in my home for a reason. 

Maybe I would not cry so much for these children if I didn't have such an attachment for Flop. He represents a stability that every child deserves, from the bunny himself to the people who searched for him throughout my childhood. My parents still attend church with the people who bought him for me. There is so much stability wrapped up in that raggedy stuffed animal. 

I am glad for these tears because we should mourn for these children who will never have that sort of stability in their lives. We should mourn for our complicity in their reality. 

Strikingly, the best secular descriptor I have for the Reign of God also comes from The Giver. When the main character, Jonas, is realizing the gift he possesses, he catches a glimpse of red as he and his best friend are tossing an apple back and forth. In this world of sameness, most people do not see color. He only sees it occasionally and is never quite certain it was there and no one else sees it. When he does catch a glimpse, he wants to know more; it piques his curiosity. "Red" he learns later. "Red" describes this amazing thing. 

I often think of that image. It's Matthew's "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" and all of the already and not yet of the Gospels. It's the upside down of Luke that God would choose the poor over the rich, the child over the leader, and the simple over the complex. It's beautiful and hopeful, even in the midst of threat.

As I write, people are dropping off the items needed. I have prayed over them many times today and will pray over them some more before handing them off. I hope they are at least a glimpse of something else. I don't care at all if the people receiving would call it the reign of God. I hope they see a glimpse of a world where hungry people are fed, thirsty people are handed water, and children are comforted. I hope they see a glimpse of the fact that many of us would not choose their reality for any one. I hope it is a beautiful, wonderful glimpse of something, anything else. 

Here's hoping this little teddy bear does exceeds expectations in the Reign of God.  

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