Wednesday, at juvenile detention, we had Bible study with the boys. I've been leading a study on Godly character traits.* We have focused on things like self-control, teachable spirit, and integrity. Our trait for this week is compassion.
We talked about compassion being concern that is motivated to act. Empathy or sympathy that is connected to acting on behalf of another. Pretty easy.
But one young man, when we asked the question, "In what ways does Jesus show compassion?" could only answer the question with, "Jesus died for us and saved us."
Well, yes. That would be compassionate. But his theological lens was so tightly focused on death as the saving act that it was hard to create a bigger conversation around Jesus as the exemplar for Christians. I didn't say it to him, but I have to others, "Anybody can die. It is something special to be resurrected." And so, I have more of a resurrection theology than an atonement theology.
This young man was focused on death as the saving act, unable to see the compassionate acts of Jesus in feeding others, healing others, or even turning the other cheek. Hold this idea in your head for a minute. An unshakable belief that the reason behind Jesus was to die.
Now, couple this with gang culture. He is a gang banger. He is in detention for shooting someone and is afraid that he will be shot. In fact, in the shooting, someone shot at him and it grazed his forehead. Now add an unshakable belief that God is protecting him. In fact, this protection belief is so strong that he feels there is nothing he can do that will lift God's hand of protection from him. Nothing. He will continue to carry a gun because he will shoot first rather than risk his own life.
There was a lot of wisdom in the room. Even older homies telling this young man that it isn't worth it. He should get out of the life. And that God would not continue to protect him** if he doesn't change.
I left detention thinking, "This kid is going to kill people." This is only about the third time in my nine years that I have felt this down to my bones.
I think the fault of his attitude lies at the feet of bad theology. The theology that has taught him that there is more value in Jesus' death than in his life or resurrection. The theology that has taught him that God will always protect him, even from flying bullets. The theology that makes faith about your personal relationship rather than communal responsibility.
Take these theological frameworks and put them onto a young life that is truly at risk of gang-violence, a young life that is truly under threat (there is a gang war happening). Most of us don't know what it is like to live with your name on a hit-list. This teenager does. The church, instead of calling him in and helping him build a community that can stand in opposition to such violence has thrust him into the world and said, "You have a personal relationship with Jesus, that is enough. Jesus died for you, that is enough. God will protect you, that is enough."
What are we going to say when this teen is found dead on the sidewalk? Or when he kills someone? Where will the church be?
Where will you, as church, be today?
*I can almost hear James, our skeptic, screaming that according to the evidence, God's character is pretty violent and self-serving. Truth be told, there is a lot of evidence that paints God as pretty mean. The ever lauded New Testament certainly has violence in Revelation to John of Patmos. So it really comes down to what you believe about God and what you believe about the Bible. That is a discussion for another day.
**Also, we need to have a conversation about what it means to be protected by God.
Let my heart rise up to meet mercy, my voice to meet compassion, my hands to meet action.
BIBOLOVE: Breath In, Breath Out--sigh
Jewish Daily Reading: Daily Study from Chabad
Christian Daily Reading: Revised Common Lectionary Daily Reading
Muslim Daily Reading: Daily Verse from The Only Quran
Buddhist Daily Reading: Daily Zen
Please bring your own sacred readings to the daily pattern. If there is something else you'd like to see, please share!
“The gangs filled a void in society, and the void was the absence of family life. The gang became a family. For some of those guys in the gang that was the only family they knew, because when their mothers had them they were too busy having children for other men. Some of them never knew their daddies. Their daddies never look back after they got their mothers pregnant, and those guys just grew up and they couldn’t relate to nobody.
When they had their problems, who could they have talked to? Nobody would listen, so they gravitated together and form a gang."
--George Mackey, the former representative for the historic Fox Hill community in The Bahamas.
Quoted by Drexel Deal in
Weekly prayer focus comes from the World Council of Churches prayer cycle. We know the world needs to be surrounded with prayer and positive thought. This allows us to work through the world country by country. We focus on one set of countries per week with the same prayer, lifting them up. I encourage you to fill this in however you see it.
Let us pray.
We know that we fail to live up to being makers of peace. Let us bring in rather than push out, be invitational rather than confrontational--seeing signs of life while decrying the desecration of hope.
This week we pray for
For signs of hope and peace, we pray for ________________________
For the oppressed and weary, we pray for ________________________
For those we love, those we hate and those we are indifferent to, we pray.
For the transformation from ME to WE, we pray.
Let peace prevail on earth.
So may it be.
Translation by Neil Douglas Klotz, Sufi
O Birther! Creator of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us— make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now-
Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.
Truly— power to these statements—
may they be the ground from which all
my actions grow: Amen.