Suffer the little children

Published 8:33 am Saturday, August 25, 2018

We need a march of ministers, not a national military parade. We need a parade of pure-souled priests and a rally of righteous rabbis. Not a national military parade.

Shock and awe have their place. Our nation’s capital is not it. We need a national cleansing, top to bottom, coast to coast. We seek an elevated level of discourse and spiritual inspiration.

My ancestor’s tombstone sits atop a grassy knoll in a small rural cemetery in Ohio. A hand on the tombstone points upward, the inscription reading, “Gone to a far better place.”

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Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”

Now they suffer. If prayer is speaking to God, we need a national year of prayer, not a single day.

My ancestor with the pointing-hand grave marker was still a boy when his father died, leaving a widow with eight children. An uncle in the north of Ireland sent her encouragement and advice to the children.

To the widow, he wrote, “You have the promise of the Almighty who has said I am a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow. With the strength of divine grace, may you be enabled to bring up your children in the fear and love of God.”

To the children, the uncle wrote, “Dear children, pray to God morning and night that he may preserve you from the dangers to which youth are exposed. The Word of  God will point out wherein you ought to go.”

This uncle’s neighbor—they belonged to the same small church—had left long ago for America. Becoming a successful businessman and politician, he dined with George  Washington and was the director of a large eastern bank. But David Acheson never forgot where he came from.

He wrote home to his aged parents, “When I reflect on the care and attention you bestowed upon me, instructing me in every good and virtuous thing, I wonder how children could ever be ungrateful to their parents.”

When he returned to Ireland in his dotage for a final visit, he “went straight to the graves of his father and mother, and, casting himself down, recalled their tender care over his youth.”

And the advice of the mothers of these two Irish families was nearly identical, the one  warning her son in America to “take care of what company you keep,” the other saying to “shun such company as leads to vice.” Today’s equivalent is to know with whom you’re dealing. Some altar boys didn’t. Some female gymnasts didn’t. We’ve swept too many things under the rug.

If this sounds like a sermon, so be it. The future of a nation is in its children, its soul in their treatment. We know the record. Children being abused, shot, molested, made homeless, left to the mercy of drug dealers and human-traffickers. And worst of all ignored. We can do better. We must.

And who will seize the reins of leadership in such a campaign of moral improvement? I would look to the local level where you’re more likely to know with whom you—and your children—are interacting.

There are many talented, trustworthy, and spiritually-intact teachers, coaches, counselors, clerics, scout leaders, doctors, nurses, and others out there whom you already know or should get to know. Build your “be better, not bitter” program with them and for your children and your community.

We can do better. We should. We must.


James F. Burns is an Ohio native and retired professor at the University of Florida.