As I write this article, bombs are falling in Ukraine. I saw a picture of a newborn Ukrainian baby—innocent and looking hopefully into the face of his young father. The stubbled face strained with not the natural sleepless labor of birth, but the weight of his wife giving birth in a basement-turned-bomb-shelter, and the looming question of whether or not the paint-chipped walls and ceiling would be the only world his child would ever know. Another picture showed a young doctor or nurse snuggling a newborn into their neck, simultaneously protecting the small body and attempting to breathe in the hope of innocence from the fibrous hair atop its small head.
In the United States, legislatures are debating which version of history should be shared in the classroom: the standard yarn of American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy, or the whole truth of slavery, genocide, racism, exclusion, BIPOC Excellence, Resilience, Power, and Leadership. In my state of birth, not only are Texas legislatures attempting to dominate the narrative of the classroom, but their efforts have extended to public libraries, public universities, teacher certification requirements, and even the homes of families with transgender and/of gender questioning students.
I have started apologizing to my own children for the world they are inheriting. Despite my best efforts to confront the implicit bias that is imprinted into the fabric of my own white skin, to listen before speaking, to respond rather than to react, to model peace with the understanding that there must be justice in order to have peace, to read widely, to speak truth to power, to grieve with the grieving, to celebrate by partaking in the simple wonder of God’s good Creation—it has not been enough to turn the tide. Injustice falls like bombs on schools and hospitals and people fleeing for their lives. Aggression, violence, and cultural genocide are committed by the stroke of a pen, or a law, or a letter, or a suggestion. And no matter how hard I try to stop it, it feels like the world has decided to burn.
A world on fire does not feel like the kind of world that one should hand to their children. A world polluted with injustice and ravaged by war, one half starving for meaning, while the other half are just starving. This world feels so very, very far from the very good world that God created in the Beginning.
In a short time, though, it will be up to our children to lead whatever world we have handed them with whatever skills we have taught them. And I wonder what those skills should be.
As a geriatric millennial, I somehow think that the skills that our children carry into the new world will be very different than the ones my generation carried. Many of us were taught that we needed a college education, a car, a house, a spouse, and maybe a career. One definitely needed a career if they were male. Women were told that we needed to train for a career, but in the end, it turned out that we could just keep house and raise children.
But something happened just as we came of age and started trying to fulfill the expectations of our parents: the façade caught fire. Or maybe we lit it on fire when we started to realize that the whole package had been a ruse. Like Neo in the Matrix, some of us realized that the society we had been plugged into could not simultaneously support a life of ignorant privilege and a life of authentic meaning.
Maybe fire is the inevitable consequence of confronting generations of injustice, but I don’t want my children to inherit the fire, ashes, and rubble of my generation’s deconstruction. I long for water, for “…justice (to) roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream[i]” that restores all of our burned out souls and overflows our cups with goodness and mercy[ii].
If there must be ashes, then let our ashes enrich a garden of shalom. If my generation must fight through fire and rebuild cities from rubble, then I pray that our children will take our swords and beat them into plowshares[iii] and build a better world.
As I write this article, my husband tells me to take my time, the baby is already sleeping.
By Naphtali Renshaw
[i] Amos 5:24
[ii] Psalm 23
[iii] Isaiah 2:4