A few weeks ago something terrible happened in my classroom. My student who has some physical disabilities sat in a desk that is not rock solid. When he pushed on the front of the desk to get himself upright so that he could walk to his wheel chair, the desk flipped over on top of him. In front of everyone. (If you have ever been fifteen, you know the implications of that last sentence.) Then, he had to tell me that he was physically unable to right himself. In front of everyone. I was grateful we were watching a movie and the lights were out. I could hear the embarrassment in his voice and was sure it was written, blazed across his face.
A few weeks ago something wonderful happened in my classroom. One of my other fifteen-year-old students quickly and quietly helped his classmate up, and dusted him off. “You okay, man?” With that sentence they were just two fifteen-year-old boys. Dignity restored. Then the student switched the desks so that he was sitting in the rickety and uncomfortable desk. He now checks to make sure the desks don’t accidentally get switched. It isn’t a big deal; it took me a while to notice. He just does it because he cares, because he has chosen to take responsibility for the welfare of his classmate.
February 22 D.L Mayfield wrote a column about bullying that I have been mulling over ever since. Her words have been going round and round in my mind. She ends the column by saying that is does get better, but not because of age or maturity, it gets better because of Jesus.
As these thoughts were slowly circling the interactions I have, every day with my students, they collided with this thought, retweeted from Luke Harms, but originally from Jonalyn Fincher: Parents expectations for youth group graduates: Sober Virgins #aimhigher.
I have written about it once before, about the day the Holy Spirit got a hold of me in the Jr. High cafeteria. About the day giving a kid someone to sit with at lunch gave him a reason to show up the next week. I said much of what I want to say then, but these two things collided in my brain, and there seems to be an aftermath of this explosion.
We, as a church are selling out our teenagers. In most high schools in America you will find a christian organization, in almost all churches you will find an organization for teens. Christian teenagers are everywhere. Yet, where is Jesus in the cafeteria? In the hallways when someone is getting their head bashed in? Maybe you won’t find a Christian teen doing the bashing, but you will likely see one watching silently near by.
It is okay for us, as adults to preach the wild ways of the cross, to even let some crazies (Jen Hatmaker, Shane Claiborne) encourage us in living more like Jesus, but we will not preach that message to our teens. We are afraid. We are afraid our teens will face opposition, will lose friends, will not be invited to prom. We know that the teen years can be fraught with pain, and we want to do everything we can to keep them from hurting. We are afraid that if we challenge our teens with a faith that will cost them, they will reject that faith entirely.
We are afraid of the implications of teens who have agreed to deny themselves and follow Jesus, about the mirror it may hold up to the holey gospel we have been giving and receiving, and so we preach abstinence, of many things, and define Jesus lover in “we don’t do that.”
They are listening, our teens are listening and have learned that following Jesus is what you are doing if you are not doing certain things. If you don’t smoke, and drink, if you don’t get into the backseat of a car at night, then God is happy with you. If you are not the one slamming head into lockers, or writing insults on Facebook pages, then you are following Jesus. Bonus points for wearing a t-shirt with a Bible verse.
Our teens are better than this. They are better than this shell of a gospel and they deserve more. They deserve to be fed the whole gospel. They deserve to be challenged with the sacrifice of Christ and the wild love for people no one else likes. If we fed our teens the whole gospel, their insatiable need for love and acceptance would be filled, even over-filled and out of that abundance they could feed their peers.
Can I tell you our teens are hungry for justice? Can I tell you freshmen are capable of having deep and heart wrenching discussions about privilege and popularity? The teenagers we are sheltering from the gospel are bursting to talk about it. When we give them the chance to do better, so often they do.
So many of our teens are tired of an easy gospel, hungry for a more sustaining word. They long to believe that their life makes a difference, they are hungry to be a part of the “Thy Kingdom Come” everyone keeps reciting before football games.
The answer to school bullying is already in the schools, sitting in the desks with mission trip t-shirts on. The answer to childhood cruelty is unleashing the love of Jesus Christ through the bodies of the peers of the victims and bullies alike. The answer to the hate that we are trying so desperately to shield our teens from, is the promise that the sacrificial love that Jesus requires is worth it. The love of Jesus can turn the teenage popularity kingdom upside down too.
But we don’t tell them it is worth it. We don’t tell them it is worth it, because we are not sure it is.