talking government shutdowns and military incursions…with the kids

“Dad, why can we pay to do military stuff when the government can’t pay for regular people to go to work?”

They had seen news of the two raids in Africa.

“Dad, why did they allow there to be army football games when poor people aren’t getting benefits they need?”

My 12 and 10 year old daughters are confused.  I don’t have many answers, because I’m not quite sure either.  “It doesn’t seem fair,” they say.

Watching CNN interviews with Congressman last week, my oldest daughter (a middle schooler) saw analogies to the kind of adolescent drama that goes on in her hallways.  usa-government-shutdown-britain.si

While a generation before me didn’t question so-called “American exceptionalism,” my generation has its doubts.  But my girls are downright cynical.  “This is ridiculous,” Emma says.

Here are a few thoughts I shared with them…

1. Nothing new under the sun – I told them that this isn’t the first time or the last that they’ll scratch their heads in puzzlement over what they’re seeing.  I grew up with nuclear war drills, Wargames, and The Day After, during a time when threats of total annihilation were tossed back and forth by world leaders like a hot potato.  Adolescent, playground bullying and political cock-fighting isn’t new.  The level to which this cock-fighting has come to define our internal debate isn’t even that new.

2.  Don’t be afraid of power, but be wary of mis-handled power  – Fresh off some great reading from @commentmag, I was reminded of what I’ve long believed – that God created this world very good, giving human beings the responsibility of stewardship within many spheres of influence.  Sensing a budding anti-institutional sentiment, I reminded the girls that government isn’t “bad,” no more than church, or their school, or the grocery store.  Yes, it looks quite bad in the hands of middle school bullies, but we (and many others) depend on strong, wise leadership from our elected officials, and we ought to pray to that end, and grieve in its absence.

3.  Kingdom Come on Earth – I reminded them of what we pray each Sunday after the Lord’s Supper – that God’s Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.  Outright cynicism about government is usually accompanied by an eschatology which sees this world going to hell in a hand-basket.  But if we believe that God created a good world, and that our job is to participate in its restoration amidst its groaning, then we (again) pray – May your Kingdom come, on earth, even in the most broken places.  God, I reminded them, likes to fix broken things.

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I was a philosophy major and political theory minor in college, and had read enough of Locke, Hobbes, Smith, and the rest to be dangerous.  But as I fight my own cynicism and disappointment, there are these moments – Dad moments – which require a humble, artful, somewhat pastoral engagement of the fears and frustration of my girls.  They are observing a very reactive world, and I want them to be wise – reflective, not reactive.  

And so, walking out from Emma’s bedroom, I pray again, “Lord give me the grace to be present to my girls, to their conflicted emotions, their feelings of powerlessness.  Give me the grace to reflect with them, with all humility.  And even now, give me the capacity to grieve about things which puzzle my adult mind and heart, trusting that you are Lord and King.”

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