Commentary by Patrick Scriven
A story reported this morning on NPR gave me a little hope.
According to the Pioneer Press, Jaequan Faulkner, a 13-year-old entrepreneur and person of color, was reported for operating a hot dog stand without a license outside of his home. Instead of fining him or forcing Jaequan to stop, city health inspectors in Minneapolis worked with another organization to help him to improve his business and ponied up the $87 to pay for the needed permit.
It can be too easy sometimes to wield the rules, or laws, as a weapon; this happens disproportionately to minority groups and those with limited economic means. How much better when we can respond with generosity and a little grace! Jaequan is planning to donate some of his earnings this summer to groups assisting people with depression. Generosity generating more generosity – a virtuous circle.
Many are watching today as the Trump Administration rushes to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunify roughly 1,600 eligible families that were separated from their children at the border. Rev. Lyda Pierce shared this public radio update with me this morning which she described as “an excellent discussion of the current situation.” It’s clear that people’s outrage over the practice of family separation has made some difference but it is also evident that harm has been done by this administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” on immigration, some of it which will be difficult to repair.
As my family vacationed over these past couple weeks, the major plans for a way forward (to be considered at the special General Conference in February) got an early release as part of the published docket for October’s Judicial Council. You can find numerous commentaries online already regarding each plan but I must confess how impressed I am with Seattle First UMC pastor Jeremy Smith’s ability to serve a local church, write cogently on four plans (1,2,3,4), and chew bubble gum at the time.
Regardless of where you might stand on our church’s impasse regarding human sexuality, I hope that you might consider how we all could respond more generously to those who see things differently. What virtuous cycles are we missing out on which could deliver unexpected returns? What opportunities to bless one another over the past 40+ years have we forfeited?
When I was in Minnesota last week a friend took me to a relatively new restaurant chain called Portillos. Before it was franchised, Portillo’s started as a small hot dog stand in Chicago which, as fate would have it, specialized in the same hot dog that Jaequan makes, the Chicago Style – though I expect we paid a premium price. My typically hot dog style is pretty boring in comparison yet my openness to this new experience was rewarded; I have a new favorite!
Rules and laws, both personal and communal, absolutely serve a purpose in ordering our lives and creating starting points for how we interact with one another but they can also box us all in. As a (sometimes) good Christian, I remember Jesus’ words about a law rigidly enforced by some in his day: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”
When we allow our affection for the rules, and perhaps the comfort and/or privilege they afford us, to minimize in our hearts their harmful effect upon other children of God, we should tread very carefully. So much better to find a generous response when conflicting values and understandings arise and share in the blessings that will abound for all.
Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.