If you haven’t seen the #EatTheSkittles post that went viral on Facebook, never fear…The Dallas Morning News even published (a cleaned up version) of the story on their Opinions page. The post was a pointed response to Jr. Trump’s tasteless metaphor comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles. If 3 of those Skittles were poisoned, the meme asks, would you eat one? Eli Bosnik’s reply was, basically, yes.
There are plenty reasons to reject the metaphor, (even from our own history) but the primary reason he gave to #EatTheSkittles is that the Skittles in this (tragic, xenophobic, statistically inaccurate, reality-free) metaphor represent people who have suffered greatly…and “eating” them represents caring for and potentially saving their lives.
A couple days ago I came across the following comments in response to the post:
“But would you give the Skittles to your children?”
“…But children are not ready for battle yet and should be protected.”
The argument is a simplistic …[cough]… trump card, typically used to shut down the conversation – similar in mindset to the original meme. It suggests that we’re being selfish and reckless if we chance saving men, women, and children because in doing so we would threaten the lives of our own children.
I’ve thought about those statements a lot, and though they weren’t directed at me, I’m going to respond anyway.
“Would you let your children #EatThe Skittles?”
Even in the context of the metaphor and #EatTheSkittles response, I hope (and believe) that my boys would choose to #EatTheSkittles. Because here’s the thing, even if there are poisoned Skittles “out there” (an assumption that is so riddled with logical fallacies and false information that it is almost as ridiculous as the idea to compare people to Skittles in the first place), THAT poison is considerably less dangerous and toxic than NOT eating the Skittles.
To rephrase without the metaphor: The risk posed to our children by extending compassion to people in the midst of incredible crisis does not come close to the risks posed to our children by turning those people away.
Though it is wholly misguided, I certainly understand that people are afraid. Even more so, I can appreciate the deep desire to protect my children (even if I bristle at the disingenuous way that “our children” can be used as a scapegoat for inaction.) But these concerns, along with all the reasons shared in Bosnick’s post, are precisely why we cannot stand idly by.
These “Skittles” are not poisoned candy. They are people. And the impact (for the refugee, for you and I, and most certainly for the kids that are watching us) of standing off to the side in fear while people suffer and die is a much more immediate, widespread, and appreciable threat to our health.
As for the other comment, “Children are not ready for battle yet and should be protected,” …well, they better get ready, because unfortunately they entered this battle the moment they were born.
At the same time that this meme was circulating, the Governor of Texas stated his intention to withdraw our state from participation in the Refugee Resettlement Program and important Early Childhood Intervention services were once again about to be denied to those of “our children” who need them the most. I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony that apparently we can’t help others because it will endanger our children …but WE can endanger our children because helping them is too expensive.
Meanwhile, protests and clashes with law enforcement were mounting in Charlotte, NC after the deaths of Terrance Crutcher in Tulsa, and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte (names that have now been added to the list alongside Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and so many others.)
…But my children were still coming home from school with tales about students and at least one teacher complaining about Colin Kaepernick’s disrespect and lack of patriotism.
I am the middle-class white father of three middle-class white boys, in an absurdly wealthy nation. I’ve never been forced to seek asylum in a foreign country because of the terrors in my own. I’ve also never had to sit my children down and talk with them about how to safely navigate the experience of being profiled and harassed, or how to avoid being shot in the street because of their skin color.
And I won’t lie: I’m grateful for that… just as I am ashamed and saddened that the story is so very different in many households across this country.
But that doesn’t mean my boys and I don’t face a very real threat as we leave the house. Every time we go through that door, we enter a world that constantly tries to poison us with complacency and apathy; to slowly dissolve our humanity through the nearly odorless and invisible toxins of privilege derived from countless subconscious affirmations of inherent superiority…and when it isn’t about being “better than,” it’s about assuming that our experience is “normal.”
If I have something to truly fear, it is how quickly our souls can atrophy when lulled into a false sense of normalcy. …How easily we can become tacit supporters of oppression by distancing ourselves from the experiences of others.
Even if I tried to shelter my boys from the world, the world never agreed to that ceasefire. We don’t get to avoid these issues, we only get to choose whether we confront them or become conformed to them. My boys and I live with a subliminal narration, in addition to overt vocal ones that say, “Look around you. Things are fine here. The people who keep complaining must either be trying to take advantage of you, or they’re the ones causing their own problems. Its disrespectful. You don’t deserve this. You’re the victim here.”
The more I succumb to the fear-based obsession with my own safety and security, the more I guarantee my own destruction and that of my children. You’re damn right I want to protect my boys. I will fight for them with everything I have, and I will sacrifice everything, up to and including my own life, if that’s what it takes. But a large part of that actual day-to-day fight involves helping them recognize and reject the forces that tempt them into apathy, complacency, and the false senses of security and normalcy.
Because those forces would destroy my children long before they ever reached some magical age of “being ready to battle.” (…we do live in the same town that introduced the world to “affluenza” and Ethan Couch, after all.)
That is precisely why we begin every day by reminding one another of Four Things:
Today, I will be Jesus.
Today, I will see Jesus.
Today, I will mess up.
It’s also why we often issue one another specific challenges to put the Four Things into practice, and why we have had so many conversations about how these Four Things played out in reality during the day.
..Because we don’t need platitudes, and we don’t need a mantra.
We need reminders, and we need a call to action.
My boys have never had any reason to question if their lives matter. I will do everything I can to make sure that they recognize that blessing as a calling to care for others; to stand against those who suggest others’ lives do not matter, and stand with those who fear that their lives do not.
Because, yes, All Lives Matter. …But only if that “all” includes black lives. And refugee lives. And poor lives. Otherwise, in our context, “All Lives” is functionally defined as “White, Middle-Class American Lives.”
And that definition represents an actual, toxic, and immediate risk to my children.
Want a common sense meme? Try this: What if I told you that the “poisoned Skittles” scenario isn’t just a terrible and inaccurate metaphor, but is something much worse? What if every time we refuse the Skittles out of fear, we’re actually refusing to take a portion of the antidote to the real poison we’re breathing in the air every day?
Would you take a handful? Would you let your kids?
Welcoming refugees is not only about potentially saving their lives…it is also about saving our own.
It was something one of my mentors used to say every congregation should do and something every single healthy congregation actually does regularly. It was taught to me – by living instructors and long dead sages – as an essential spiritual discipline. It was stressed as a vital role in my own coach training and something I continue to emphasize regularly as a trainer of coaches.
No matter how many victories and accomplishments fill our resume, no matter how many defeats and failures litter our consciences, if we are to continue pressing forward with any semblance of health, hope and sanity, we must take time to celebrate.
Christian communities should be known worldwide for their parties. We’re ambassadors of good news for crying out loud! When the day draws to a close, it should be common practice to reflect upon the preceding events – giving thanks to God and rejoicing together in those areas where we were fully present; where we lived as Christ and saw Christ in others. And we should rejoice in our failures – if for no other reason than they give us the opportunity to reflect, learn from our mistakes, and possibly gain wisdom which will shape our future endeavors.
That doesn’t mean we should plaster on a smile when tears seem more natural – by all means, healthy disciples should mourn as well as they celebrate. I’ll venture a guess that our ability to do one of these truly well will increase our ability to do the other.
This past Friday after saying our Four Things and the Lord’s Prayer on the way to school, I issued Conner and Micah a challenge. This isn’t uncommon. Some days I just encourage them to focus specifically on one of the four things, or one aspect of the Lord’s Prayer. I even recently invited them to say the Prayer silently throughout the day. Conner is 9. Micah will be 7 in a month. They are exceptional dudes. But they are 9 and 7 years old. I didn’t expect them to come home chanting like the desert monastics. I didn’t really expect anything – I just offered a challenge.
Friday, rather than a more mental exercise, with no tangible markers of progress, I decided to invite them into something concrete.
“Today, your challenge is to see how many acts of kindness you can perform. Big things, small things, totally random things. How many times today can you go out of your way, even a little, to do something for someone else? And keep score, because the winner gets a prize.”
They’ve been talking about going to a restaurant to eat Mexican food – we don’t eat out much, so that’s kind of a big deal. So, in anticipation of something to celebrate, I decided we’d go to Miranda’s for dinner (then I forgot to tell Rachel, which goes in my own “today, I will mess up” column). I figured whoever won would get the be the hero and tell his brothers what we were doing. It isn’t always a hard task, but an important discipline for myself is actively looking for reasons to encourage these guys and celebrate with them – this was a great chance to do so as a family.
When Conner came in from school the first thing he said was, “I won the contest Dad! I did seven acts of kindness.” Some were pretty significant. One thing he said was, “I was talking to my friend Ryan, and I figured out that he doesn’t have Zook and we have two…so I want to give him one.”
Now, this is a BIG deal. Zook is a Skylanders figure. Some marketing genius created this game for the Wii – you not only buy the game, but you also buy little character figurines which are placed on a sensor attached to the Wii – there’s something like 70 of them altogether. The Wellsbrothers are obsessed with this game. They’ve collected dozens of these characters – and they love having duplicates because they can be upgraded differently.
A few minutes later I called Micah in and asked how his day went. As usual he didn’t have a lot to say. So when I asked about the competition I was prepared for his reluctance to answer…but not for the stated reason. He said, “I did five acts, but I don’t need to tell you what they were because Conner did more and that’s what I wanted to happen.”
Conner lost his ipod a while back. After weeks – maybe months – of it being awol, Rachel found it…in the van…right under Conner’s seat. So we told him that he wouldn’t get it back until we witnessed him doing something especially responsible.
Micah looked me square in the eye and said, “Conner really misses his ipod. I figured if Conner could do more than 5 acts of kindness that would be pretty responsible and he could get it back.”
That kind of selflessness…I still can’t really describe how amazingly proud I was – am – of that boy.
“Oh yeah, the one good thing I want to say: I told Aiden I would give him one of our Chop-Chops [another Skylander] – we have two of them.”
Both boys came to that kindness separately.
But then Rachel brought up an important and potentially problematic issue. All three of our boys love Skylanders. Josiah no less so than the others. So, we told Conner and Micah that their little brother would need to sign off on the decision to give these characters away.
And then I held my breath as they presented their idea to the four-year-old, King Josiah.
Conner: “Joey, we have two Zooks and Ryan doesn’t have any. I think we should give one to him…it would be a nice thing to do.”
Josiah: “Hmm. Yeah, okay. That’s a good thing.”
Micah: “And Aiden doesn’t have Chop-Chop, but we have two. We should give him one.”
Josiah: “Yeah, sure. Let’s do it!”
We have a lot to celebrate as a family.
…and I’ve never had more delicious enchiladas.