Monday, December 30, 2013

A Gracious Response to the VA

So the boys' school made headlines both here and in the national media. Here's the scoop:  Students arrived at our local VA hospital to sing Christmas carols and were handed a list of twelve, VA approved, secular songs, and were informed that those were the only songs allowed. The principal chose to take our students back to school.

There's been some outrage.

And then some outrage in response to the outrage.

They should have stayed! They were right to leave! And my favorite: What would Pope Francis have done?

I know the principal -- he's a friend, my former boss, a co-worker for many years. When I've done some small service for our school, I've received a thoughtful thank you note. Any time in the hurly burly of teacher-principal relationships things became tense, I'd expect and get a kind word in short order. So this I know: Dan is a gracious man. He arrived at the VA intent on bringing a little joy and levity to our veterans, not planning to ignite controversy. And I'm sure he handled it all with tact and decency.

I remember Christmas caroling as a child. We lived in a family-friendly neighborhood with a slew of small houses. My sister and I would team up with our two best friends, Adrienne and Susan, and spend hours copying out song sheets by hand. Those were the days when copy, cut, and paste was the real deal -- loose leaf paper, scissors, and tape. Sheaves of paper in hand, we would wend our way around the block singing Christmas tunes.We did it for the love of singing . . . and because indulgent neighbors usually handed us cookies or, better still, a handful of change.

I recall the night we stood in someone's foyer, began to sing, and then noticed Happy Hanukkah strung across the window in blue crepe paper and a Menorah sitting on a nearby table.

For a moment I thought of six-year-old John's response when he sees two people kissing: Awkward!

But it wasn't awkward.

Because the women listened and smiled and handed us I don't remember what, quarters or brownies, and thanked us for coming.

She was gracious.

We weren't there to insult or to convert. We were a bunch of kids spreading a little Christmas cheer. We were not there to offend, and she didn't take offense.

What is so sorely lacking in this world of ours is this sort of graciousness, a simple, humble tendency to think the best of others and to resist reaching for a memorandum or a pitchfork and a torch every time things don't go exactly our way.

We've attempted to teach our kids that being passionate about your faith does not require disdain for the faith of another person. It helps that they've grown up in an ecumenical community and have been raised along side Jewish cousins. That doesn't mean it's been a slam dunk in any respect. Children are black and white thinkers. If what I do is good, and you do something different, then, logically, that different thing must be bad, right? And then there's boys being boys. They have this innate need to pick, poke, and prod at every single thing -- braces, weight, glasses, zits, whether you say You Guys or Y'all, and, yes, the lengthy list includes religion.

We were heading for the dairy case at Food Lion one December night a few years back when I heard my older boys chuckling and then spotted my visiting nephew furiously texting. We had just passed the meat section and wouldn't you know my guys just couldn't resist making pork jokes to their Jewish cousin. Where oh where can you pick up a thumb screw when you need it? I hissed ominous threats while trying to reach my sister whose husband had already talked to his son and basically told him this: Lighten up and learn to take a pork joke or two.

It was a lesson in being gracious.

A lesson for all. of. us.

We can arms ourselves with lists and legislation. We can rattle virtual sabers all over Facebook and Twitter. We can continue to attempt to draw a hard line between church and state, between the secular and the sacred, between what happens on private and public property, between Christian high school students and aging VA patients.

And the society we produce will be more sterile and less engaged, comprised of cold, compartmentalized, homogeneous entities who can neither share nor celebrate with one another -- in short, a society that has forgotten how to be gracious.

1 comment:

Kris said...

Rachel posted about the VA also - and it made the AJC this past week. I sent her the link. So sad, especially in such a military oriented town. My husband, who is in the Reserves AND a veteran, was outraged.