Forgive me for, perhaps, taking up a little more space in this paper than I should, but I need to point out what I think is a horribly irresponsible decision recently made by one our community parishes.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, those of us who in some way, deal with the children of our neighborhood understand the difficulty and importance of helping kids maintain a sense of hope and a positive, productive attitude through all that is happening. I must admit, in my personal experience, it has been a drain on all my resources over the past few weeks.
I am grateful to all the businesses, churches, synagogues, and mosques that have posted encouraging messages on their buildings and lawns since Sept. 11. Whether I agree or not with the view that prayer is what will save us, I believe that the fundamental components of most religions, faith and hope, are critical to all of us at this moment.
Recently, as I drove up a main road in Syosset, I noticed that a certain parish had decided that it was their duty to post, in large letters, a quote from someone's version of the bible that reads "In the last days, there will be perilous times." At first, I dismissed the message as just another symptom of someone's hysteria. Then, as I thought about it some more, I became more and more angered.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of people pass this sign every day. Many of them are young people, who are highly sensitized and extremely impressionable at this particular time. It has been said that when people are hungry for leadership, they will follow the words of anyone who has the guts to step up to a microphone. In this case, those words are laid out in fragile plastic letters by leaders of a congregation who no doubt believe they are doing the right thing by warning the old and the young of Syosset that these are our final days. Sounds an awful lot like the Middle Eastern zealots we are now about to go to war with.
Within hours, my minor annoyance with the words on the sign turned to a gnawing anger, and on Sunday morning, just before the parish was about to begin services, I stepped into the building to speak to the pastor. I thought, perhaps, the words that greeted his congregants on the sidewalk that morning were an oversight, that maybe he didn't realize the damage such negativity could do to the people of the community he serves. Within seconds, I realized I was fighting a losing battle; that it is the belief of this particular fragment of the Christian religion that America has become a land of sinners, that the destruction of our country is well-deserved, and that the only way to survive now is to find the Lord. And, of course, the Lord can only be found in this particular church.
"So your message to the people of this community is that all hope is gone?" I questioned. "Not if we all find Jesus." he responded. I thought this brand of judgmental religion was wiped off the face of our nation weeks ago. Apparently, anyone who doesn't belong to this particular church isn't worthy of salvation and doesn't stand a chance in the face of the evil about to engulf us. Give me a break.
Having dabbled in non-professional psychology over the years, I understand the many forms that fear can take in human beings. Many times, when people are frightened by a seemingly undefeatable enemy, they find solace in aligning themselves with that enemy and taking an "I told you so" attitude. Subconsciously, they believe this will protect them from the enemy's wrath. This may be what is going on at this particular parish. I would not feel compelled to judge such a common reaction to the fear we are all experiencing. However, it is my opinion that any organization that takes on the responsibility of posting eight-inch letters on their front lawn for all the community to see has a responsibility to that community not to use words to induce any additional fear or uneasiness, especially in the face of such an unparalleled tragedy.
Today, I ask all businesses and places of worship to help neutralize the dreadfully negative message bombarding our young people along Jackson Avenue with messages of reassurance that, perhaps, we will find a way out of this mess, whether through religion, politics, or whatever it takes. Let our children know that there is a reason to continue pursuing their education, their friendships, and their dreams, and that this is not a time to give up hope. I also ask parents to be selective about the opinions you quote and the so-called "prophecies" you believe. No one has ever come close to accurately translating the predictions of Nostradamus. Do not take claims that "this is how Nostradamus said the world would end" as fact.
Mostly, stay close with your kids. While they may seem distracted by the pursuit of a better SAT score or a team victory on homecoming weekend, they, like us, are very fragile right now. Unfortunately, we, as adults don't have the luxury to throw our arms up in the air and declare that life is over. And we shouldn't have the right to post it on Jackson Avenue, either.