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What we can learn from what Kim Davis and the Pope did this week

Here are the do's and don'ts of faith, ripped from the headlines.

This week was a pretty big week for God in the news.

Well, OK. Maybe God wasn't the hot topic. But religion certainly was. There were two very big stories that seemed to have little in common, but both can teach us some important lessons about religion if we look closely enough.

The first was the saga of Kim Davis. The Kentucky clerk refused to do her job and sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples in the name of "conscience" and in doing so, she became a national symbol for anyone who opposes marriage equality on religious grounds.




Kim Davis at her church service, er, I mean, rally. Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images.

According to Davis — who spent five days in jail and was greeted at her release by presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and hundreds of cheering, cross-waving supporters — it was her faith and her religious conviction that made her do it.

Contrast that with the second time that religion took center stage this week: Pope Francis encouraged every single Catholic parish in Europe to "take in one migrant family." The call to the region's approximately 120,000 parishes was made in response to the continent's ongoing refugee crisis, which has hit record levels and finally shocked the world into paying attention.



Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images.

“In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be 'neighbors' of the smallest and most abandoned." — Pope Francis

Why should we look at those two stories together? For sure, there are plenty of legal, political, and theological debates that can be had about both Kim Davis and Pope Francis.

But to me, the most interesting part of these two stories — and what connects them — is what they both can teach us about faith.

Strong faith can be a tremendous force for good in the world. It has helped provide education and basic needs for millions of people and has been a foundational component of civil and human rights efforts all around the world, the most famous of which is the 1960s American civil rights movement.

Photo via the Abernathy family/Wikimedia Commons.

But we also know that faith can be very dangerous. It has been used to justify things like slavery, the oppression of women, and most recently, the killing of gays all over the world.

How can something so good do such bad? Or, if you're not a person of faith, maybe you're wondering how something so bad can do such good.

Here's my theory.

I think of faith as the ideas and beliefs that people have about God. But religion is the tricky part — the rules and practices that humans created to figure out how to actually connect with their god.

In all the major world religions, the practices and rules were created in a very specific cultural context (like, for example, 2,000 years ago in "Bible times"). But when cultures change, which they're guaranteed to do, things get tough for religion.

The subtle signs of anti-gay protesters. Photo by Jenny Mealing/Wikimedia Commons.

The kind of faith that relies most heavily on religious rules often focuses on what I call the don'ts:

Don't legalize alcohol. Don't teach sex education. Don't legalize abortions. Don't be gay. Don't legalize marijuana. Don't let people get married. Don't [fill-in-the-blank].

When people of faith make their primary agenda item a don't in order to maintain the cultural status quo, it can:

  • Oppress people and violate rights.
  • Cause very real pain and harm in people's lives.
  • Repel millions of people away from the idea of faith and God altogether.

Faith used in this way ultimately always loses. (See again slavery, prohibition, oppression of women, legalizing abortion, gay marriage, etc.)

That is the kind of faith we saw on display in Kentucky this week.

But when faith focuses on the do's — working to solve problems, meet needs, and serve others — it ultimately wins.

Yes, that is Mother Teresa. Because ... of course. Photo by Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images.

The do's are actions and principles like these:

Do love your neighbor. Do feed the hungry. Do heal the sick. (Free health care anyone?) Do seek justice. Do practice humility. Do give more than you receive. Do take in thousands of refugee families.

Faith used in this way can:

  • Remind us of the simple truths hiding beneath complex issues.
  • Empower us to take concrete action in response to pain and injustice.
  • Connect and draw people together across all divides.

The do's are where the magic happens. The do's are what we saw from the Pope this week. It's the do's that are currently behind the Moral Mondays movement for economic justice and the religious leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement, not to mention the thousands of organizations working to take care of the earth, provide for the homeless, and support women and families.

Kim Davis didn't save a life this week. The Pope just may have helped save thousands.

This tale of two acts of faith teaches an important lesson, not just for those of us who identify as Christian or religious, but for anyone looking for ways to use what they believe to make a difference. The world becomes measurably, tangibly, and practically better with the do's of faith. That, to me, sounds like a major win that all people — religious and not — can get behind.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.