The Right to Parent

My daughter (center) with two of her best friends, also adopted from China and also my honorary daughters!

My daughter (center) with two of her best friends, also adopted from China and also my honorary daughters!

Today’s news is filled with a huge policy change in the world’s second most populated country. China has decided to end its one child policy. China is a major player on the global stage. More people speak Mandarin than English as a native language. Its economy directly impacts the global market. Its policies, both militarily and diplomatically, have major implications for numerous other countries. Yet, in my family, this policy hits much closer to home.

I always knew I wanted to be a mom. As a young teenager, I decided I wanted to adopt any children I had. Adopting babies domestically was quite difficult for many years (and is still not easy), and I knew there were countless children around the world who needed homes, so I intentionally chose to adopt internationally. When Angelina Jolie began to adopt children from around the world, I cannot say how much I envied her. She clearly articulated the thoughts I had on parenting and what it means to be a family. I eventually ended up with one birth child, and one child adopted from China. They are now college-aged adults who are the most important people in the world to me.

As people reflect on the one-child policy, there are so many different avenues to explore. We are facing a global population crisis, one which we never (or rarely) discuss in this prosperous nation of ours. China tried to deal with the issue when it instituted the policy so many years ago. However, the implementation of the policy has oftentimes been harsh, cruel, damaging and even inhuman. My daughter’s story (and so many stories of other children adopted internationally) turned out well. When we traveled to China to bring Ava home, everyone kept telling us she was a “lucky baby.” But we knew we were truly the lucky ones to have her in our lives. It has been vitally important over the years for her to understand her heritage and take pride in it. The Greensboro Chinese Association will forever be dear to me for all the myriad of ways they help adopted Chinese girls and boys to know their homeland.

Over the years, I have found myself oftentimes questioned about the situation in China which led to bringing Ava into our home. Many people who ask these questions do so from an elevated place, believing that our country is one of freedom where people can choose how many children they can have and not have the government interfere. Yet, the long-standing eugenics programs in the United States, including in my home state of North Carolina, challenge such assumptions. These forced sterilizations had nothing to do with overpopulation and everything to do with who has a right to parent. People in power believed they could play God and make those decisions for society. People on the fringes, who were seen as less than, were forcibly denied that right without their consent.

As so many people in our country hail the ending of China’s one-child policy, we set ourselves up on a pedestal, believing that our land of the free is above that sort of thing. Our history negates such a belief.

I feel quite fortunate to be a mom. I know not everyone is called to be a parent, but for those who hear that calling, the people in power should not deny it. This being said, we do have a global population issue that needs to be addressed. One of the major reasons I chose to adopt was because there were children who needed homes, and I didn’t feel a great compulsion to create a “mini-me.” Instead, I encourage each person to look into her own heart. Why do I feel called to be a parent? What does that say about a relationship with a child?

Parenting may be a right to some people, but instead I offer that it should be a calling, a privilege, a gift.

Where are you from? and welcoming the Stranger

“Where are you from?” As a native Southerner, that’s a question I’ve heard a great deal throughout my life. We like to know where people grew up, and then there is an excellent chance we will ask a couple more questions and find out we know some of the same people or are distantly related. As a native of the North Carolina mountains, I also get excited to meet someone from the Appalachian Mountains (and please pronounce it App-A-Latch-Un, and not App-A-Lashan). There’s something comforting about making a connection that speaks to the core of who I am.

Yet, that question is not always asked with kindness or respect. A hilarious video by Ken Tanaka highlights the difficulty non-white individuals can encounter in our society when people assume they must be from somewhere other than the United States. A Harvard student was asked this same question by Donald Trump Monday night when the young man attempted to ask a serious question of the Presidential Candidate. The implication is clear – someone of European descent is a “real” American, while someone of non-European descent is not.

Migration is a fact of history. It is a constant, at times having greater urgency than others. We are certainly witnessing that in our world today. How we respond to migration, and thus immigration, says far more about the people we are than about the people who are moving from one place to the next, or even the people we are assume (oftentimes incorrectly) are immigrants.

The Christian faith is based upon the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus spent his early years as an immigrant. Due to persecution and threats of death, his family fled to Egypt where they could live in safety. So many of the migrants of our world today – whether in Europe or North America – are fleeing for reasons of safety or because the poverty is so overwhelming that it is impossible to survive. Jesus’ experience as an immigrant surely impacted his teachings, as did his own faith as a Jew. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with mandates to welcome the stranger, the foreigner – to provide shelter, food and safety. Jesus himself said to that when we help the stranger, the one in need, then we are in fact welcoming him.

So why are we in this country so scared of someone who is different? Why do we want to literally build walls to keep out those who live in extreme poverty or dangerous places? Especially for those who continue to call this place a Christian nation, how can we say that if we ignore one of the basic tenets of the Bible?

Christians need to reclaim this vital part of our teaching and expression of faith. To become insular, to fear one who is different in whatever way we perceive them, is to reject Jesus. I am fortunate to work with a very diverse group of young women as a college chaplain. It pains me to hear some of them share their stories of rejection and fear, either as immigrants, or as citizens who are assumed otherwise because of how they look. Yet, in the midst of the pain so many of them experience, I can see the face of Christ. Each day, these young women teach me more and more about the Christ spirit, and what it is to welcome the stranger. And when we welcome the stranger, we discover more rewards and joy than we would ever know by limiting our circle of friends, or members of our community.

Where are you from? I’d like to say I’m from a place where all our welcome, and much grace is always to be found.

Those Who Live By the Sword

CrossedSwords“Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.” According to the Bible, those are the words of Jesus. Many people have heard this saying, but oftentimes don’t realize it comes from the Bible. I have heard students attribute it to some great writer or another, but these were the words of Jesus when he was arrested the night before he was crucified. Roman soldiers came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest him for treason, and one of the disciples (the hot-headed and impulsive Peter, naturally) grabbed one of the soldier’s swords and fought, slicing off the ear of the soldier. Jesus calmly healed the ear, and then uttered this sentence, before giving himself over to the authorities.

This phrase was one of the first things that popped into my mind when I heard the news story last week about Tennessee’s lieutenant governor suggesting that Christians should arm themselves after the terrible shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. I couldn’t help but wonder what Bible he had read. Christianity, as with any of the major world’s religions, has a great deal of diversity. It is unfortunate that the press wants to focus on one section of Christianity, the right-wing conservative. Of course, this is the same thing the media tends to do with Islam. In both religions, these groups are the minority. Yet, when there is an entire network dedicated to sharing the story of only one segment of Christians, it is understandable that version becomes what society views as the norm for all Christians.

There is no question that we live in a violent society. There is no question that we live in a deeply fragmented and divided society. There is no question that there are people who deal with mental health concerns (yet, do we really want to become the society of Spielburg’s 2002 movie, Minority Report?). However, I am tired of people who say they are Christians speaking for all Christians, when so many of us interpret the Bible differently and choose to follow Jesus along a different path.

Escalating violence in a violent society is not the Christian way. We have not even truly attempted to deal with the issue of guns and mass shootings in a peaceful, proactive manner. The stats are clear – our country far exceeds any other developed country in gun deaths and mass shootings. And the ones who cry the loudest for accessibility to guns are the ones who claim to be Christian and consistently call our country a Christian nation.

So, what would Jesus do? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that living by the sword will only increase the violence and further alienate us from the grace, love, unity, and compassion the Christ Spirit offers. I am by no means against people owning guns. I grew up in a mountain culture where I knew plenty of people who hunted so their families could eat. I don’t know any Christians who want to take guns away from people like this, or people who are truly responsible. But I do know a whole lot of Christians who want to have serious discussion and reform in the open accessibility to guns, especially guns which could not possibly be used for hunting and can only be used for killing numerous people in a few seconds.

The Bible also says that we need to work towards being a society where swords are beaten into plowshares. We need to work towards giving life instead of destruction. No one wants to die by the sword, so let’s take proactive, unifying steps towards a more just, peaceful society.