Because the sad fact is that nearly half a million children in the United States live in this system — a system where the severity of neglect and abuse rose to such a pitch that the government had to intervene — take the child away from its parent, or parents. In so many cases, to save the child’s life.
These children live in the shadows today. You don’t see them. You don’t really even hear about them.
Those we serve at RFK have been thrown against walls, beaten with bicycle chains, locked in closets.
Recently, I learned about two children in Illinois, brother and sister, 8 and 9 years of age, that were locked in plastic containers every night. In a cargo van — so the mother could earn money as a prostitute. We learned of their story at one of our intervention camps.
Why “new?” — because with COVID-19 reports of child abuse has dropped. Why has it dropped? — because mandated reporters (teachers, pediatricians, coaches) with their eagle-eyes, aren’t able to see the kids. They can’t see the bruises or the dissociation or the trembling.
On average, 5 children die every day from child abuse. Because of COVID-19, that average is on the rise.
Incidents of sexual abuse are also on the rise. For the first time ever, over half of the visitors to the National Sexual Assault Hotline were minors. Of those who called with concerns related to the COVID-19, 79% said they were living with their perpetrator.
I’m writing today to raise awareness. I will write every day this month.
For the children.
They need me. They need you. They need all of us.
Not everyone could adopt a child. But everyone can make a difference.
There are so many things I love about Jesus. And I could write them all down here, but I’m just going to write about this one thing: suffering.
I love that Jesus suffered.
From the very start, we know that his birth was steeped in controversy. Mary was pregnant before she married Joseph. The gossip surrounding that surely plagued Jesus in his early years. He didn’t come from a perfect family. And when kids don’t come from that little perfect family, they suffer. Trust me.
We know he was a refugee. We know Mary and Joseph had to flee for his safety in the same way tens of thousands of families do today from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia. The Syrian crisis is the most massive humanitarian crisis since WWII.
And of course, in our own neighborhood, families from Central America flee to us for the same reason Joseph and Mary did — safety.
I don’t know about you but it’s weird to think of Jesus and being some refugee kid — but it’s a brute fact.
The scriptures fast forward to Jesus’ last three years on earth. And you want to talk about suffering? For starters, he walked around knowing he was going to be martyred. He was certain about it. He talked about it often. Again, I don’t know about you but being certain you are going to be murdered — that is suffering.
In The Idiot, Dostoyevsky talked about the guillotine. He talks about the “spiritual suffering” of knowing you were going to die.
“But the chief and worst pain may not be in the bodily suffering but in knowing for certain that in an hour, and then ten minutes, and then in half a minute, and then now…the soul will leave the body and one will cease to be a man and that that’s bound to happen; the worst part of it is that it’s certain.”
Jesus walked around for a long time, certain he’d be murdered.
The shortest scripture in the entire Bible: Jesus wept.
The prophet Isaiah referred to the Messiah, Jesus, as “a man of many sorrows.”
My friend, Pete Wehner, wrote a piece in The New York Timestoday. He wrote about life as a Christian, given COVID-19, given how there will be no Easter miracle this year with churches packed with people.
Pete is a real writer and one of the best people I know.
He writes, “What those of us who are Christians do believe is not only that God entered a world filled with suffering but also that through the incarnation God sided with those who suffer and suffered himself. Jesus grew weary. He grieved. He wept. And in anguish at the Mount of Olives, just before he was betrayed, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus “prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
I’m not sure I could be a Christian if it wasn’t for the countless passages in scripture about suffering.
I love that Jesus suffered.
I’m not sure I could be a Christian if it wasn’t for the fact that many of my spiritual heroes — Job, David, Solomon, Paul, Saint Augustine, Mother Teresa, and, yes, Jesus — spoke with no candy coating about their suffering. Grave suffering. Depression. Grief. Maybe it’s because of the trauma that I experienced in my life — the trauma I’m not yet prepared to write about. But I wrote about coming out of the closet on the limits of faith.
Sixteenth century St. John of the Cross spoke of the “dark night of the soul” — a deep feeling of being abandoned by God. “Both the sense and the spirit,” he writes, “as though under an immense and dark load, undergo such agony and pain that the soul would consider death a relief.”
We Christians must remember the great paradox of our faith: the greatest event, the crucifixion was the most evil event. In his dialogue between a Philosopher, a Jew, and A Christian 12th century philosopher Peter Abelard writes, “The Lord Jesus Christ’s being handed over into the Jews’ hands is mentioned as being done by Jesus himself, my God the Father, and by the traitor Judas.”
Without God being murdered, there would be no resurrection.
I get concerned when reformed churches basically fast forward through Holy Week to Easter. Not so with the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists.
Nobody, even Christians, likes the notion of lament. But I love that Jesus suffered.
I’m all for Easter. I’m all for the joy and pastel colors and happy songs and all the “victory.” The historicity behind of resurrection is undeniable to any serious student of history. And it gives me great hope,
But if I’m honest, I relate far more closely with the mystery, the pain, the sorrow: Good Friday.
Mom’s bed is right next to a large French window with shutters. I could show-up and get one of the nurses to put her in her wheelchair. We could sit a few feet apart, separated by glass. I’m afraid it would confuse her more. (I decided after I wrote this to drive and look into her window but not let her see me. At least I’d get to see her on her birthday and feel closer to her.)
Every single time — every single time — I visit her she reaches out and touches and caresses my face and laughs and cries, kind of at the same time. It’s a joyous kind of cry with a hint of sadness if that makes sense. I’m told she responds to me unlike anyone else. I’m not boasting or anything. I’m really not. I just think it’s the only son of an Italian immigrant mother kind of thing.
I didn’t know this for most of my life, but I really was the apple of her eye. This photo was from two years ago. You see what I mean?
I remember those throbbing growing pains around my knees when I was 11 or 12. I’d be moaning late at night because it hurt so badly. She’d come into my room and rub Ben Gay on my legs and bring a hot water bottle and then the pain would subside and I would fall back asleep.
One of the hard parts of being a parent is when your child needs you in the middle of the night and you have to get out of bed – even though you’re super tired.
Every single sports game I played — she’d be there. It wasn’t Dad’s thing to come to my games much. He did come to one flag football game when I was in 6th grade. Then one tackle football game when I was a sophomore and we played against the high school he went to (and dropped out of). He had other strengths.
How she’d care for the destitute. It came naturally to her. She didn’t flout it. It wasn’t some “cause.” She didn’t go to any swanky galas or anything like that. Her unconditional love — not only for me but for countless orphans and poor people — propelled me to my new role as an advocate for children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment.
Without her genuine compassion for those in need — like her mother, my Nonna, who also truly felt the pain of others — I’d be in the business of moneymaking today.
My heart hurts today.
But hurt isn’t damage.
We all need to know this in this time of Coronavirus.
Inconvenience. Pain. Damage. They are not the same.
Inconvenience. Too many are whining because they have to stay home and watch Netflix. But nobody here is starving. No bombs are traumatizing our children in the way Nazi bombs traumatized Mom and her family in Umbria in the early 1940s. Trauma as a child, damages the human brain, forever.
This Coronavirus is entirely inconvenient. But for the overwhelming 99.9% of our population, it’s a mere inconvenience. Yes, people are scared. And fear has the capacity to bring pain. That’s legit, but it’s still nothing like living in London during WWII.
Pain. Today this virus causes me pain. Emotional pain. Sadness. I can’t hug and caress and listen to Pavarotti and eat Trader Joe’s fig bars with mom — the one who brought me into this world and loved me, without condition — and it causes me pain.
We don’t like inconvenience. We don’t like pain.
And I’m fairly sure that we are all pretty spoiled here in the richest country in the history of the world — that we can’t even cope with either of them very well.
Some believe pain makes us stronger, which is why we push our bodies and push our minds and meditate and go to 12 step groups.
The Marines say that pain is weakness leaving your body. I’m not sure I disagree. All the good biographies are about people who experienced great pain and adversity and overcame odds, not about those wimpy kinds of folks.
Damage. I work with children who are victims — young children — of patent neglect, abuse, abandonment. Children who are locked in closets and thrown against the wall and whipped with bicycle chains. That causes damage. Trauma causes damage.
Damage sticks with you, forever in most cases. It etches literal lines into the carbon of your brain. Damage is due to a physical state of affairs. Literally you have to think of a car after a collision. Damaged.
Aristotle said that the youth are steered by the rudders of pain and pleasure. We crave pleasure; pain, we resist. We can’t help it.
But we can acknowledge the fact that social isolation (when you are well fed and warm and with your loved ones in the comfort of your home) is not going to kill anyone. It’s not even going to hurt anyone.
Mom understood pain. Those who grow up poor understand pain. Those who immigrate from war-torn countries understand pain. The over five million Syrian refugees freezing in the desert would trade places with you and me in a second, even with our Coronavirus situation. They wouldn’t give a rip about the stock market.
Life expectancy in Afghanistan is just over 50 years of age today.
Approximately 15,000 Americans die each year from gun violence. That doesn’t include suicides, just homicides.
Pol Pot oversaw the deaths of an estimated one to two million people from starvation, overwork or execution.
Just over 100 people in the U.S. have died from COVID_19.
I woke today thinking about Plato — his three appetites of the soul.: pleasure, reputation, and knowledge.
Who can be sure whether the drive for pleasure exceeds that drive for status — reputation?
But knowledge, especially today, comes in last. And society pays a high price.
Postscript. Perhaps there is no greater topic to man than that of appetites. The billions of dollars spent on advertising, to create needs that don’t really exist. The “top university” facade. Substance abuse. Brands. All creating the deepest forms of anxiety and depression due to envy. I’m not claiming to have an answer, other than to say that once upon a time, only the privileged could receive an education. Only those in the minority could be learned. Around 50 years ago, higher education in America became an instrumental value, versus intrinsic. Today learning (the pursuit of knowledge) is a means to an end: money, pleasure, status. Envy hurts society.
On Sunday I went church — a local Greek Orthodox parish called Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox.
I was there to receive a check. I am an advocate for children in foster care and am President of a global organization that works directly with thousands of children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment.
St. Paul’s is a church with a mission. This year, part of their mission is to help children who need help.
I have attended Saint Paul’s before. Maybe 6 times, on days where I wanted the deepest richness of liturgy. Have you ever attended an Orthodox service? Growing up Roman Catholic, I thought I knew everything about what some might deem “boring church.”
Roman Catholics sit and stand and kneel during their roughly one-hour mass – pretty boring. Reformed churches (non-traditional) make standing optional, but lots of people stand during the worship. You sit and watch during the hour and twenty minuteish service. And they have rock bands and cool videos and techy stuff. Way less boring.
In the Orthodox churches, you stand — basically for two straight hours. And there’s all this chanting and incense and robes and you feel like you are Greece or Turkey or places like that.
The Orthodox church was created in the 11th century. There was a split between the western church (Rome) and the eastern church (Constantinople) — the Great Schism. Previously, dating back from the time of Jesus, there was one denomination: the “Catholic” or “Universal” church.
We don’t hear about Orthodox churches here in the west because they are predominately eastern; the Roman Catholics, primarily western.
Today there are thousands of Christian denominations; the largest is Roman Catholic, then Orthodox, then the Anglican.
I am an Anglican (known in the U.S. as the Episcopal church). Sometimes the Anglican church is called The Church of England. They split from the Roman Catholic church, in the 16th century, for a bunch of reasons, including a divorce. You’ve probably heard that story.
Many pastors and theologians, for centuries, have argued about the purpose of church. The traditional churches (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist) think in terms of the power of incarnational worship — in certain mental respects, getting your body involved, as a way to lure in your mind and heart. Lots of symbols, and the involvement of your five senses.
After the Reformation — when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest tired of Roman antics — basically anything that resembled the Roman and Greek churches were ditched. Sola Scriptura became the main idea and it basically means traditions don’t matter – all that matters is the Bible.
I stood and stood and stood and stood with chants and incense and dozens of signs of the cross. My back started to hurt. (My lower back does that when I stand for too long.) But my Roman Catholic roots run deep, and appreciation for the virtue of sacrifice (i.e., pain) kept me on my two feet.
My friend and mentor Wayne stood to my right, and my youngest son Elliot stood to my left, and I wasn’t about to shame myself in front of them.
I didn’t want to run the risk of dishonoring God, either. I’m not even kidding I still feel guilt like that because of my upbringing.
Your mind is bound to wander during any two-hour liturgy when you’re standing basically the whole entire time. If I’m honest, I wanted to shuffle out of there a couple of times. But again, Wayne and Elliot.
But when that happens your mind attaches onto your senses: the sights, the smell, the sounds. That’s what Locke wrote about. The tabula rasa — our blank slate brain that is informed — shaped — by our senses.
The large domed ceiling. That color blue. I didn’t know whether to call it teal or turquoise. I toyed around with chartreuse for a few seconds but concluded that chartreuse was more like a pinkish color. (I’m still not sure, though.)
I’m not very good at naming novel colors.
I felt relieved that the Jesus on the ceiling didn’t have blonde hair.
There were the dark brown wooden pews with no padding.
The lady and two daughters sitting behind us, all dawning black dresses, all looking entirely foreign.
Most of the people in the dark brown wooden pews had darker hair.
The walls upfront seemed painted with gold.
For some reason, I thought about Christmas mornings attending Sunday church (Anglican) at Westminister Abbey.
The Jesus being baptized in the Jordan wall. I decided to take a photo of him.
I wanted to check my iPhone like a hundred times.
Then I thought about all the rubbish I’ve heard over the years — Roman Catholics aren’t, somehow, Christians. Neither are those who practice rituals.
It’s the “You don’t worship like us so you can’t possibly be a Christian” bile.
I was frustrated. I sometimes get frustrated with ignorance.
In my mind I say, “Think about it, for nearly 2,000 years, Christians have worshipped this way. And, today, the vast majority of Christians worship this way.”
I don’t know who I was talking to – I guess those who think their brand is the only brand: the tribalists.
I listened to the name of Jesus proclaimed countless times by the worshippers at Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church. “Jesus” over and over and over.
The service was all about God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
Then the priest read from the words of Jesus, from the Gospel of Luke. A few minutes after that, Holy Communion.
Then the liturgy stopped. Two women came to the stage and invited me to join them.
In front of hundreds of faithful Greek Orthodox worshippers: On behalf of Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, we are honored to bless RFK with a check in the amount of $43,150 to help children in foster care.
I almost fell over.
I don’t remember how I thanked them, but I mentioned Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Inasmuch you have done it for the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
It doesn’t get any more “least” than being a child.
Then being neglected.
Then being abused.
And then abandoned.
Family induced childhood trauma — we must help those children.
Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox helped those children.
Proclaiming and confessing the name of Jesus. Giving to the least of these. Studying scripture. As far as I am concerned, that is about as Christian as it gets.
I will be back in Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine.
I want to go to an Orthodox church in Greece, too. Or, Russia, but I’ve been advised that it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel to Russia because of this.
Please read these words for the Gospel of Luke; they are the most important words on this page.
If only more people knew this Jesus:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”