Last week was an interesting one for me in the annals of human behavior. A friend of mine started a program at my church. I wanted to help and provide some financial support. It was turned down by the board of elders, all of whom are white, wealthy men.
Now, before I lose you, understand that I’ve devoted a large part of my teaching career to carrying out what Martin Luther King really meant when he said that he wished his children would be judged not by the ‘color of their skin, but the content of their character.’ If he were alive today, I would venture to say that gender blindness would also be a desired outcome.
I also like men. I have nothing against a white, wealthy man being in charge, as long as he shows some common sense and Christlike character. Still, sometimes things just set my teeth on edge.
My friend has devoted the past two decades of her life to meeting the needs of older singles like me. (Funny, I don’t really see myself as ‘older’ at 48, but it is different, and a lot more fun than in my twenties. ) She started a group whose goal was to provide an environment where singles could meet and mingle that was not a bar, or some other obnoxious meeting venue where chemicals and poor behavior are to be expected.
With a few exceptions, Christian values are upheld, and the group seems to be meeting a need in the greater Denver area.
Here’s the delicate part. Jesus is pretty clear that when Christians get involved in charitable giving, one hand isn’t supposed to know what the other is doing. In other words, if you blow your horn, that’s all the recognition you’re going to get. So give, give generously, but shut up about it.
It came to my attention that the group could benefit from some transitional funding, as the church is quite large, and has a budget cycle that should be respected. The fiscal year for this church begins in January.
I offered to provide the funding, not to the church, but directly to the (currently unpaid) leadership.
(Charitable giving used to be a source of great joy for Chris, my late husband, and me. We did our homework, looked at budgets and business structures, administrative costs, and gave where it would do the most good. I miss that intensely.)
The approving elders set a meeting for last January. Then February. Then March. Last week, they finally had a meeting to decide whether or not to fund the position, which, by the way, was largely with my money.
The conclusion? Outside funds cannot be used to fund church programs, and my friend could wait until the next budget cycle to get a real decision. Thanks but no thanks, Victoria, you can keep your money.
Well, that’s mighty white of you, sirs. I venture to say, that if my friend were a man, and I hard- charging male CEO, the outcome would have been different.
Let me pause before I grind my teeth into a powder. Older singles are very much “The least of these” in the eyes of the church. You can really tell a lot about the character of a person, and a church, by how dismissive they can be to the powerless and poor.
Next, stand up if any of you had child development in college. Did you ever study feral children?
I had a phone call today from a client that I think may have been thrust into raising genuinely feral children.
Wikipedia has a pretty good functional definition of a feral children:
A feral child (also, colloquially, wild child) is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has no (or little) experience of human care, loving or social behavior, and, crucially, of human language. Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); …. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Feral children are sometimes the subjects of folklore and legends.
What do you think of when you imagine a feral child? Most of you probably dial up a Disney-esque Mowgli, a child abandoned by circumstance and left to be raised by animals.
Few of us imagine a child isolated as a toddler, given food laced with sedatives and having very little contact with the outside world. “Mitchell”, we’ll call him, was contacted by the authorities when they discovered his biological triplet sons had been isolated in a room with very little outside contact from the ages of about one to about three.
Mitch’s boys’ mother had multiple psychiatric disorders, and why she had any sort of custody of these kids is a mystery to me. The boys’ physical growth had been stunted and their linguistic development almost nil.
That is to say, their conventional linguistic development. Most of us with healthy parent-child relationships see our children ride a magnificent wave of language acquisition during these crucial years. When the boys were discovered to be living in these horrendous conditions, they had developed a language of their own. They are the size of a typical one year old, and chatter away with each other, clearly understanding what the other has to say.
They bring each other things, have conversations, and play side by side. The problem is, no one else in the world has a clue what they are saying.
Mitch desperately wanted custody of his boys. He received it, but in order to keep it, he has to keep up with an onerous schedule of various therapies all at his expense. Mitch is a blue collar worker, and is pedaling as fast as he can to make sure his boys get to all of their appointments.
So he lands on EA’s doorstep.
“Please. Victoria. No one else has space for all of them. I can’t break them up, and it would kill me to be running to three different facilities. Can you help?”
Can I help.
Three profoundly abused, seriously disabled little boys, and a dad who’s doing everything in his power to keep them at home.
On the one hand, this is the most depressing part of my job. Lock three little children in a room for over a year? The diaper rash alone must have left permanent scars. What kind of person uses their power for such a profoundly negative thing?
A sick one.
On the other hand, what an opportunity for good. Perhaps three isn’t too late. Noam Chomsky postulated on the “Language Acquisition Device” that all children have, and theorized that all children can learn language until about twelve.
Other theorists speculate that the cutoff is closer to six. Much past that, and the hope of being a native language speaker diminishes rapidly.
Still, there might be a chance. So what do I do? Our country is headed for disaster in terms of early childhood education. If President Obama has his way, our country will soon not have a K-12 school system, but a PS-16 state funded system. The reasons to be apprehensive about this are legion.
Back to Mitch. The state has stated to Mitch that if he does not provide an appropriate educational environment for these boys, at his expense, the boys will land in foster care and the state will find preschool placement for them.
This is insane.
Mitch wants his boys. Because the dad assumes responsibility of these profoundly damaged kids, he must pay an enormous fee for them to come to my school, or the state will take them and tax dollars will not only pay their preschool fees, but their foster care and upkeep as well.
This makes no sense.
Why not halve the cost, have the state pay a discounted rate to EA, and Mitch pay to raise his sons, as it should be?
So, I turn this over in my mind, and I bring it to you. Are any of you advocates for the disenfranchised? Advocates for the rights of fathers? Can any of you help me help Mitch?
If we can find the funding for all three of these kids, including the funding for a special aide just for the boys, we at EA could make a profound difference in the language development of these kids.
In the mean time, pray for Mitch. Pray for the feral kids who are isolated, but not discovered yet. Pray that there is still hope for us, as humans, to treat the least among us with some degree of dignity.
It’s what Jesus would have us do.