What Shall We Tell Our Children?


Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

PRAYER OF THE DAY: God of the covenant, in our baptism you call us to proclaim the coming of your kingdom. Give us the courage you gave the apostles, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” Ezekiel 2:5

“If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Mark 6:11

Prophets have to reckon with the possibility that they will not be heard. God warns Ezekiel that his admonitions to the people of Judah might well be rejected. Jesus meets rejection head on in his own home town of Nazareth and, as he sends out his disciples to proclaim the reign of God, he warns them that they can expect the same fate. It’s hard to keep talking when nobody is listening. Harder still when your audience is shouting you down. When your opposition is bound and determined to silence you, the truthful speech we call prophecy is not merely hard. It is dangerous.

So why prophesy? Why keep telling the truth? Why put your reputation, your friendships, your job or even your very life on the line? It won’t make any difference. People hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. You can’t make anything better for the world by speaking out. You only make things worse for yourself. So, mind your own business. Tend to your own garden. Go along to get along.

For disciples of Jesus, silence is not an option. We believe that the Word of God is God’s very self. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we cannot hold that word in once it penetrates our hearts. We must speak the truth-even when the truth is unpopular, even when the truth is ugly and painful, even when the truth evokes violent opposition. God’s word will accomplish God’s purpose, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us. But it falls to each of us to speak that word.

We may not see in our lifetimes God’s purpose accomplished in our words. Few prophets do. Jeremiah endured a lifetime of neglect, abuse and persecution without ever witnessing the change of heart he sought from his people. Judah rejected Isaiah’s bold call to put her trust in the Lord rather than political alliances. Ezekiel’s message of judgment and hope likewise fell on deaf ears throughout his lifetime. Yet when Judah found herself defeated, landless and in exile, she did not turn to the comforting patriotic, nationalistic jingoism of the prophet Hannaniah, but to the difficult, painful yet truthful words of Jeremiah. These words that had proven their worth now helped the people make sense of the terrible things that had happened to them. So, too, the rejected words of the prophet Isaiah in the eight century became the prism through which the people of Judah were able to recognize a new saving act of God in the sixth century. The hard words spoken by the prophet Ezekiel and gathered together by faithful scribes more than a generation hence brought healing and hope to a wounded and grieving people. Prophets do not speak only for their own generation. They speak to keep alive the stories of God’s judgment and faithfulness for the children of the next and their children’s children.

The older I get, the more urgently I ask myself the question forming the refrain of Margaret Burroughs’ poem featured this week: “What shall we tell our children?” How will we explain to our daughters why we elected a man who thinks it his sovereign right to feel their genitals whenever he wishes-and the church remained largely silent? How will we explain to our children of African American descent how their president called their ancestoral lands a crude word for dung while praising as “fine people” those who would see them lynched-and the congress continued to support him, thirty percent of the populace continued to praise him, but the church remained largely silent? How will we explain to our LGBTQ children how we allowed their hard fought rights to dignity and equality to be eroded by an increasingly hostile and violent mob of haters pulling the puppet strings on one of America’s two major political parties, while the church remained largely silent? What will we say to the children whose earliest memories are of being torn from the arms of their families for the crime of fleeing to the nation which boldly (and, as it turns out, hypocritically) declares: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free? And all of this while the church remains largely silent. Perhaps most pressing of all, what will we say to those children who have known no other Jesus than vicious and mean spirited moralist proclaimed in the pornographic religion propagated by the likes of Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, James Dobson and Tony Perkins? If we remain silent today, we will have nothing left to say to our children tomorrow.

Here is the poem by Margaret Burroughs referred to above.

What shall we tell our Children? An addenda, 1973.

What shall we tell our children who are black?
What shall we tell our children who are white?
What shall we tell children of every race and hue?
For all children are the children of all of us
And all of us bear responsibility for all children
What shall we tell them?
How can we show them the conditions of their lives
So they will see how they can change them?
Those who are poverty stricken in the midst of plenty
Who must live in rat-infested slums
While decent homes stand empty
Who go to bed hungry
While grocery shelves are heavy
Who huddle in tattered rags
While racks in stores are sagging
Who yearn for a good education
But languish in programmed illiteracy
Whose intellectual growth is stunted
And whose ignorance is compounded
While the Academies produce more drones for the labor colony
What shall we tell them?
How can we show them the conditions of their lives
So they will see how they can change them?
What shall we tell our children
The men and women of the future?
We shall tell them the truth
It is our bounden duty to tell them the truth
It may be painful. We must tell them the truth
We may be criticized. We must tell them the truth
We may be castigated. We must tell them the truth
The truth it shall be, shall show them the conditions of their lives
Of a glorified way of life, the greatest in the world

Which is not concerned with people, but with profits
Not with the well-being of many, but with the interests of a few
Not with the welfare and future of the people
But only with the profit-making present
We shall tell them the truth about a way of life
The greatest in the world
Where freedom and equality is granted to every man, woman, and child
Where everyone, providing he is willing to do what is necessary
Can become rich and wealthy by doing others before they do you
Where everyone, including you
Can acquire life’s most important goodies
Like split-level houses, with wall-to-wall carpeting completely furnished
And two cars and two color T.V.’s
And the latest style clothes and minks
And schminks and everything!
We shall tell them the truth
About a way of life
The greatest in the world
Which rejects the wisdom of its seers and sages
And whose culture is dictated and delineated by
Violent, vicious, destructive
Murderous, unfeeling, crude
And quick on the draw supermen
Who deem the men and women of the future
As expendable and shunt them off to
Purposeless death in the name of patria and patriotism
Who slaughter the innocents who protest or speak for Peace
We shall tell them the truth
​We shall tell them the truth
About a way of life, the greatest in the world
Whose primal motivation is material acquisition
Wherein the majority of the people derive happiness
From having things which others do not have
Whose all high, omnipotent
All powerful Jehovah, Jesus, Lord
God, Allah and all Supreme
Is the adulated, sought after, live for,
Steal for, murder for, Almighty D-O-L-L-A-R dollar!
​We shall tell them the truth
About a way of life, the greatest in the world
Which manipulates and expends young lives
So that parasites may live and survive
Whose aim is but to acquire and kill
And kill and acquire again and again
At home and abroad and everywhere
​We shall tell them the truth
We shall urge them to examine their way of life,
The greatest in the world
Which deliberately depresses the conditions of life
Which offers no bright future
But instead keeps people in fear
Insecurity and in constant turmoil
Which decimates their ranks
With endless predatory wars
​We shall tell them the truth
About what life could be made to be
And how they themselves can help to make it
Bright, happy and secure.
We shall show them that life
Is ever in motion, constantly going through
Processes of change, shall strengthen them in the belief
That it is possible for men and women,
For they themselves, for all of us
To live in harmony with our environment
And the Universe
Shall teach them that our knowledge increases
The more we gain control over our envirnment
And exploit it not for private gain but for our own happiness
We shall tell them the truth
We shall encourage them to expand their knowledge
Of the known and the unknown
To destroy the cobwebs of superstition
To find that there are no mysteries
Either in life or in nature
And that above all there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
​We shall tell them the truth
Shall suggest this way of life
Can truly be made to be among the
Greatest in the world
That through their own efforts
They can forge a new way
A superior way, a good way of life
Which is in harmony with the true purpose of life
Wherein the people themselves control the conditions of their labor
Wherein the people have the total benefits of their labor
And where men, women, and children
Live lives free from exploitation.
We shall tell them that a way of life is possible
Wherein the people may own the means and tools of production
And use them solely for the abundance of the whole people
And not for the aggrandizement of a few
As in the old way.
​We shall tell them the truth
We shall arm them with the knowledge of how to survive
In an atmosphere fraught with danger and hostility
We shall urge them to heed
​The wisdom bequeathed to us by the elders
And to have faith. To have faith.
In people, in themselves and their fellow human beings
And to have respect and love for all of humankind.
​We shall tell them
​To keep the belief that the purpose of life
Is to continue to grow and create
And to contribute to growth and create
And to contribute to growth and
Creativity toward a better life
For people now and for generations to come
What shall we tell our children?
​We shall tell them the truth
We shall imbue them with the vision of the new tomorrow
Seemingly far, but yet so near
We shall tell them that they hold the power in their own hands
To make this new way
A reality in our own life time

Source: What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?  (c. 1968, 1992 by Margaret Burroughs, pub. by M.A.A.H. Press). Margaret Burroughs (1905-2010) was an American visual artist, writer, poet, educator, and arts organizer. She co-founded the Ebony Museum of Chicago, now the DuSable Museum of African American History. She also helped to establish the South Side Community Art Center, whose opening on May 1, 1941, was dedicated by the First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt. Burroughs was a prolific author of children’s books and poetry. As in her visual art, Burroughs’ prose and poetry explore the themes of family, community and the fraught relations between the races. This particular poem is a 1973 revision to an earlier 1968 work entitled What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?” In explaining her expansion of this poem, Burroughs remarked that “The liberation of black people in the United States is tightly linked with the liberation of black people in the far flung diaspora. Further, and more important, the liberation of black and oppressed people all over the world, is linked with the struggles of the workers of the world of every nationality and color against the common oppressors, overlords, and exploiters of their labor” You can read more of Margaret Burroughs’ poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

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