Monday, December 15, 2014

Suffer Unto Us

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."

The majesty and eloquence of the King James Bible does this passage well.

Laws and statutes, lawyers and judges, each of these have granted leniency for minors. This is thought to give childhood offenders the chance to redeem themselves before they reach adulthood. It is my opinion that we ought to consider extending the same fair consideration to those of legal age. While I believe in the rule of law and do not consider my own judgment necessarily superior to those of the professionals, I think that many harsh policies which sound good upon proposal often ultimately backfire. Such was the fate of three-strikes-and-you're-out.

In many states, paradoxically those who have declined additional federal funding, Medicaid requirements extend coverage to children, but not to childless adults. I'm sure it gives some politician or bureaucrat great pleasure to trim newly turned 18-year-olds from the rolls, saving money in the process.  By implication, rules and regulations value young lives more than older ones. Television commercials beg us to think of the children, showing poverty-stricken, fly-infested, and emaciated children from the Third World.

The novelty of some foreign land on a different continent can't open checkbooks soon enough. The poverty of African-Americans across town, however, are not treated with the same way. We don't need interpreters or television commentators to explain to us what we see on the wrong side of the tracks, on the other side of town.  ­­­­­­

Why do we value the lives of children in ways that we do not adults? It is true that children are generally impressionable, vulnerable, and easy to deceive. Criminals are supposedly the most evil and corrupted among us, but many of them retain a soft spot for kids.

As I've noted a time or two before, the reason that Medicaid in the District of Columbia, where I call home, offers full dental coverage is due to the tragic death of a child whose severely abscessed tooth led to his death. His parents let the abscess progress to a fatal state because they lacked the money to pay for the procedure. If this had happened to an adult instead, I wonder if the status quo would still be in place.

The 1931 German movie M tells a story of a child serial killer. When the police prove clueless and ineffective, organized crime takes over. A serial killer who preys on children is simply bad for business. In one memorable scene, the actor, a young Peter Lorre, is tried before a jury of his peers, that being his fellow criminals. One hopes that our society does not degenerate enough that the police are ineffective and incompetent. Justice in America, not the Weimar Republic, is, in some ways, the very opposite. It is too aggressive and too punitive.

We ought to treat everyone as though they could quite possibly possess the trusting innocence and purity of a child. Jesus told us that we won't attain the Kingdom of God unless we enter his spiritual kingdom on those terms. His implication was not that we be childish, but that we instead be childlike, pushing our skepticism and doubting aside. A strictly logical and cynical person might find this concept threatening and not especially empowering, but letting go has its place.

Many Quakers have felt led to prison ministry, which is hard work. It is true that prisons hold remorseless sociopaths, but they also hold those who are victims of circumstance. Our national discourse has talked about the vast numbers of black men who are currently incarcerated. It's easy to throw up walls, literally and figuratively. If our very salvation depends upon trust and cooperation, we have sadly gone astray. I'm not inclined to froth at the mouth, nor to use forceful, coarse language to illustrate my points, instead to angle for truths even a child could understand.

The initial outrage is over. Everyone must now work together. Having now identified the problem, we must enter into solemn, sacred covenant with each other. The American people need to sign a peace treaty, a legally binding document that will allow us greater comprehension and communication with each other. It should not be a half-measure, a compromise, or a document written out of barely restrained resentment. It should be genuine and crafted with genuine thought and consideration.

Pity is a human emotion that has its place, but what needs changing has no need to tug at heartstrings. Melodrama, too, should consign itself to plays and films, not wholesale manipulation. We are saved by Grace. There is nothing we can do to win treasure in Heaven. It is instead a free gift, freely given by someone who sees us as his children.

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