This morning I had the blessed opportunity to preside at my first Baptism – actually, my first 4 Baptisms! The newest members of the family of God are the great-granddaughters of one of our parishioners and included a set of two-year old twins, an 8 month old and a 4 month old. Needless to say, we experienced a bit of very holy chaos! Praying the words of the Baptismal rite and reaffirming my own covenant, I was, perhaps, more acutely aware of the promises we make – especially as I looked at the sweet faces of these little ones filled with all the hopes and dreams of who they will be and how they, too, might live into the covenant made on their behalf this morning. What amazing potential and promise!!
For me, the “belief” part of the covenant is easy; it’s the “Will you…?” promises that seem to be where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Lately, I’ve seen many posts on social media addressing bullying, a problem in our society which we all agree needs attention. If we are “seeking and serving Christ in all persons,” there is no room for bullying. If we are “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” there is no room for bullying. If we are striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being,” there is no room for bullying. It seems to me that almost any of the “isms” that are plaguing our society are, at their root, a form of bullying. We hear it in the words of our government leaders and in their desire to deny access to affordable health care, in travel bans and restrictions on immigration, in legislation that prevents people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity, in suggestions of harsh treatment to those arrested for alleged crimes before these individuals are proven innocent. By nature of our Baptism, we must not be silent.
Covenant 5, our diocesan community whose work is to keep us abreast of justice and dignity issues, has worked hard to address bullying. They have many resources on their website for getting informed and involved. Covenant 5 has also just sent out the 2017 Abolish Bullying letter and resource package to our Household. Since not all of you might have the chance to read the letter, here’s the text:
Bullying is the most common form of violence children, youth and young people experience. Various experts have concluded that aggressive tendencies leading to the start of bullying start as early as age two. The Diocese’s Alliance to Abolish Bullying (AAB) (descriptive brochure enclosed) is sending excellent information to you focusing on early age development to help you develop strategies that prevent bullying.
“Great Beginnings with Your Terrific Toddler” – whoever said that two-year-olds were terrible?-, the final item in this envelope was written by a psychologist who specializes in child development research. The last two pages of the booklet list numerous resources for parents and 13 outstanding organizations with appropriate phone numbers and web sites.
AAB has also included several informative papers that directly pertain to bullying. The first, “How Children Can Discourage Bullying,” is from the University of Michigan Health System’s website. The second, a fact sheet about OK2SAY, is “OK2SAY allows anyone to confidentially report tips on criminal activities or potential harm directed at Michigan students, school employees, or schools.”
The third and fourth papers discuss “No Bullying Live Empowered (NoBLE)”, a Beaumont Children’s Hospital (Royal Oak) initiative. It provides integrated education, guidance and support for bullied children and their families. Call the 24/7 hotline number (855-876-6253) for immediate help with a bullying situation.
We’ve also included five informative pamphlets, “What Every Parent Should Know,” “Helping Your Child Grow” (from birth to adolescence), “Communicating Well with Your Child”, “Building Good Character” (teaching your child positive values) and “Parenting a Challenging Child.”. We are also sending you information on how to keep your child safer online, a “Friends do not bully” booklet, a coloring and activities booklet for young children on bullying and a child’s story about self-esteem.
Other materials enclosed include 10 Tips to Stop Bullying, a bullying mini-magazine, a STOP BULLYING Pledge Card and a “Bullying is Wrong!” silicone wristband. Please ask if you have any questions or would like assistance with your thoughts and/or program about bullying. Contact The Rev. Chuck Swinehart at 517-337-9314.
Covenant 5 also suggests that congregations:
1. Educate themselves on how they might be supportive to victims of bullying.
2. Take the lead in conversations about the impact of bullying and create safe spaces for honest and open exchange of stories.
3. Commit to taking action when bullying is observed. Statistics show that bullying stops when an adult intervenes most of the time.
4. Create an environment in which victims of bullying feel safe to reach out for help knowing that someone will be there.
Perhaps when we are speaking out for justice and demonstrating our love for all our neighbors – even modeling appropriate speech and behavior to our government leaders – we will see a decline in this damaging conduct. This might even mean that we need to consider the words we use on social media. When we engage in name-calling, are we not participating in the same kind of activity we teach our children is wrong? I know I love a good story but do I sit quietly and not speak out when that story is at someone else’s expense? Isn’t that also akin to bullying? Seems to me that putting an end to bullying might just have to begin with an honest assessment of my own behavior. It’s a good place to start.
Let us pray…
Ever-loving God, we see the pain and suffering caused by those who bully others and we know that this is not your desire for your children. Help us to have the courage to speak out for the victims. Grant us grace to recognize that often the bullies are victims, too. Give us strength and conviction to evaluate our own words and actions that our lives would model your love for all people. Enable us to walk alongside those hurting so that they might come to know your love and acceptance of them. We ask these things in the name of your Son, Jesus, himself a victim of bullying and yet was able to say “Father, forgive them.” Amen.
The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council