Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Charting a Course for the Next Generation

What kind of values and wisdom do we hope to pass on to the next generation? It's an age old question, but I'm hard pressed to say what it is that our culture and often our churches have to say in response to that question. With three young adult sons of my own who've challenged me to find some answers to what I hope the world will become with their involvement, I keep looking for answers myself.

Marian Wright Edelman's new book The Sea is so Wide and my Boat is so Small offers up another marvelous book of "Letters" to a wide audience of leaders, citizens, and groups who bear responsibility for the shaping of the next generations. Marian Wright Edelman is a national treasure for her advocacy and leadership of the Children's Defense Fund, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that speaks for the poorest of our nation's children. She's also a parent who has tried to pass on wisdom and faith to her own children through books like "The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours", a book I highly recommend.

Here's the issue, as Marian Wright Edelman describes it:
"While thirteen million privileged children in the richest nation on earth are growing up in indefensible poverty without the most basic necessities of life and a fair chance to envisage a better future, millions of overprivileged children are growing up infected with the affluenza virus- the spiritual poverty of having too much that is worth too little.
Given every material thing they desire- cell phones, iPods, fancy cars, and the latest trendy fashions-while living in big houses in well-to-do neighborhoods, many lack sufficient parental and community attention, limit-setting, spiritual guidance, and moral example...These lost, out of control children are desperately crying out for attention, direction, and protection from parents and other responsible adults."

Marian Wright Edelman wrights letters the old-fashioned way. They are meant to be read and re-read and savored for the long term. They aren't digitized emails that are quickly read and moved to the deleted file. Her letters bear up to the challenges of real life and authentic moral struggle. Here are a few distilled principles for living a rich and rewarding life that Edelman wrote for her grandchildren. Edelman writes, "I wish you..."

  1. An optimistic and determined spirit. Edelman quotes Helen Keller, who became blind and deaf shortly after her birth, and wrote, "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."
  2. A courageous and just spirit willing to speak up for right and against wrong. Being courageous is not being unafraid. It is being able to do what you have to do even when you are afraid.
  3. A forgiving spirit. "Hate is a very heavy burden to carry," is an understanding that Edelman gained from the great singer Marian Anderson during the Civil Rights struggle.
  4. A passionate and persevering spirit. Find and pursue your passions. .. Don't let closed doors deter you. Keep knocking on them.
  5. A can-do spirit devoted to making a positive difference in the lives of others.
  6. A generous spirit. How difficult that can be in our society, when we are told that our value is measured by what we get and not by what we give.
  7. A resilient spirit. Don't dwell on your failures, Edelman writes to her grandchildren. Learn from them and move on. Don't dwell on your weaknesses or on what you wish you could do but can't. Do what you can do. Build on your strengths.
  8. A calm spirit. Try to take time to be silent and to listen to your inner self, where God lives. Be able to be alone without being lonely.
These are just a few of the nuggets of wisdom that Marian Wright Edelman seeks to pass on to future generations. I'm wondering, what do we as parents and as people of faith and as members of the larger human family plan to do in "charting a course for the next generations." What do you plan to offer? Each of us can do something.


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