My sister Marie was reading the weekly e-mail update from
her daughter's kindergarten teacher. Amid reminders about library day and an
upcoming popsicle party, Mrs. R. noted that the class had visited a
presentation by the fifth graders about 9/11 and the bin Laden compound. In an
attached photo, my niece's kindergarten class stands smiling for the camera in
front of a painted mural of the twin towers engulfed in flames.

In a second photo, the class is watching a scene on the
elementary school stage. Fifth graders dressed in fatigues stand beneath an
American flag, with their play guns all pointed at the same target: a child
dressed as Osama bin Laden. He is slumped on the ground, his forehead streaked
with fake blood.

My sister feels sick. She's been answering questions,
questions that she wasn't prepared to answer for a daughter who wasn't prepared
to know--not yet, and not this way. "She can't unlearn this," my sister
lamented. "She can't unsee this."

I read my sister's e-mail and saw the photos just before
leaving for church on Sunday. It was the day before Memorial Day, and themes of
remembrance and honor were woven into the liturgy. We sang "This is my
," that remarkable patriotic poem that remembers that skies are
blue in other countries too. During the children's sermon, our seminary intern
invited the veterans present to stand so that the children could lead the
congregation in thanking them for their service. We prayed for peace in every

As I closed my eyes to pray, I thought of the heartbreaking images of my niece
juxtaposed against painted and playacted violence. She is fine, of course. My
sister and her husband are finding the words to comfort her, and the fact that
she is too young to understand serves as a shield against the enormity of the
events depicted.

But my sister has lost trust in the school--a critical
institution in her daughter's life, and one that can't be easily avoided. I
can't imagine the grief I would experience if my church--the institution most
central to my daughter's life--trespassed against inviolable boundaries. 

I included in my prayer
intercessions a class of kindergarteners in a small town in Pennsylvania and
their fifth-grade friends. Then I gave thanks to God for the safety of the

Katherine Willis Pershey

Katherine Willis Pershey is copastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Appleton, Wisconsin, and author of Very Married.

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