Bullying and the Sixth Commandment


As an educator, I spend quite a bit of time discussing the issue of bullying. We form task forces, attend conferences, write books, produce documentaries and movies, inform parents, spear head movements… all in an attempt to teach students to be kind to one another.

Bullying has become the topic du jour as more and more tragic incidences of teen suicides are traced back to constant harassment from classmates. Bullying was a term rarely discussed when I was in middle and high school. When it was, we were generally told that there would always be mean people in our lives so we better learn now how to deal with it. Why the constant attention now to bullying? Are kids today meaner than they were 15-20 years ago?

I don’t believe kids are meaner. I remember some of the things done to classmates when I was in school, and it doesn’t get much meaner than some of those things. What I believe has changed is the fact that, due to social media, kids today never escape the harassment. Once upon a time, bullies found you on the bus or the playground or in the hallway by your locker, and if you could just get home or to your next class, you’d be safe for a while. Now, kids carry their bullies around with them in their pockets. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a host of other social media sites allow teens to fashion lynch mobs to psychologically hang one another without ever leaving their bedrooms. While I may have had the possibility of one mean girl calling me and maybe being subjected to a secret third party in a 3-way call, teens today can experience virtual mob attacks on their Facebook walls and Tumblr comments.

One movement in particular has caught attention in Christian circles because it focuses on the bullying of one particular segment of the population. Tomorrow is the Day of Silence, “a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools.” On the Think Christian site, Neil de Koning writes a passionate post explaining why he believes Christians should participate in the Day of Silence.

Regardless of who bullying is targeting, we all know it is wrong. While there is no verse in the Bible that explicitly states, “Thou shalt not bully,” God has plenty to say about how we treat other people. And the crazy thing is that, unlike people, God really doesn’t discriminate. He commands that all people be treated the same; friends or enemies, believers or not, male or female, “Jew or Greek.” All people bear the Imago Dei (image of God), and all are to be treated with the same sacrificial love and respect that we all crave for ourselves. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),” he didn’t place any stipulations on the instructions.

I particularly appreciated the following observation by Neil in the above mentioned article:
It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse. In my reading of Scripture and leaning on Christian tradition, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism, the “No” does not turn to “Yes” when certain subgroups of our community are named.

What does the Heidelberg Catechism contribute to the conversation on bullying? Some interesting and challenging instructions.

Question: What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

Answer: I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture and certainly not by actual deeds –and I am not to be party to this in others.

Question: Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?

Answer: No. By condemning envy, hatred and anger, God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can and to do good even to our enemies.

I’ll leave you with this final excerpt from Neil’s post and hope that you will read the entire post and spend some time reflecting on what it means to love with grace and truth, showing the kindness of God that leads us to repentance to a world that is desperately tired of bullying.

Our neighbor is not just the people like us whom we like. She or he is the one we come across in the course of our daily activities. This certainly includes the ones we pass in the hallways of our schools and pass on the sidewalks and buses on the way to school. And the behaviors that the catechism finds offensive include the daily schoolyard practice of belittling, the common practice of offense gestures, the ordinary practice of demeaning texting that creates a culture threatening for gay and lesbian teens.

It even includes thoughts. If there is any way our thoughts say “you are not my neighbor” or say “you are not worth my kindness or my time,” the catechism would say you are guilty of breaking the law of God.
“It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse.”

I find it interesting that it adds, “I am not to be party to this in others.” Being a silent bystander is unacceptable. This is good news from our tradition and church to those who are often victims of bullying and abuse. Every church, school and parent can powerfully encourage teens to become a vocal neighbor when they see a person being bullied. It is simply a matter of being a good neighbor.

So, ask yourself, who have you failed to see as your neighbor, and how can you begin praying and moving towards a Christlike approach to all people?

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The Sins of Our Youth


Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O God! Psalm 25:7

This was the daily verse that appeared in my Twitter feed this morning. Thinking on some things I knew were coming up today, I was reflecting on the past a bit, and I was in a regretful frame of mind. My knee-jerk reaction to reading it was, “‘Remember not the sins of my youth.’ That must be nice. I can’t seem to get away from them.” Not exactly a heart of thankfulness to a loving and forgiving God, but I’ll blame it on the fact that I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and being awake definitely helps my spiritual well-being.

There are times in which it would be nice to be able to forget the sins of our youth. Some choices we make really do stay with us for a lifetime, even when we want to shake them off, be free from them and literally move on. But what we must remember is that Christ, by remembering not our sins, does allow us to move on. Those choices cannot be changed, and the consequences remain, but there is freedom from the condemnation of those sins. The word remember here isn’t the opposite of “forget” but means “don’t hold it against me”. The psalmist is saying, “I’m not that person anymore, please don’t hold my past over my head anymore.” And he makes a case to God for why God should not hold his sin against him.

First, the psalmist says that God’s love is everlasting. A loving God forgives sins, never to bring them up again. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Isaiah says that in God’s love he took our sins upon His back, delivering us from a pit of destriction (Is. 38:17). Love doesn’t throw us back in the pit.

Second, the psalmist tells God that no longer holding our sin against us is for the sake of His goodness. How is forgiving our sin good for God? One way is that it enables us to join Him in His work. Now, does God really need us to do His work? No, but in His plan, He asks us to join Him in His Kingdom work. Makes sense to me; work is always easier when you’re doing it with people you love. But what the psalmist is saying is that, when our sins are forgiven and we are able to stand up from underneath their oppressive load, we can then take upon ourselves His easy load of service for the Kingdom. We can’t carry our sin and His Kingdom simultaneously. When we allow Him to take the sin, and the accompanying secrecy, shame, guilt, condemnation, it frees us up to serve Him like He has called us to serve Him.

A prime example of this is found in the life of Peter. I relate more to Peter than to any other person in Scripture, and he is a great testimony of being set free from the sins of his youth for the ultimate goodness of God. In Luke 22, Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,  but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus knows that Peter is about to fail Him miserably. He says, “I’m praying that you won’t. But when you do…” Have you ever had a conversation with someone like that? Has anyone had that conversation with you? “I’m warning you. I know where this is headed, and it’s going to be bad. I don’t want you to, but I know you’re going to anyway.” That’s pretty much what Jesus tells Peter.

But He adds something to the end of the statement. He adds hope and purpose to the failure. He tells Peter, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

So why does God forget our sins but not allow us to? One reason is because we can’t use past failure to connect with and strengthen others if we act as if it never happened. God trades in our beauty for ashes, He restores the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25), and He works all things together for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). And for Him to be able to make the worst decisions of our life beneficial, they must be exposed to the light and applied to the lives of others.

My ashes couldn’t have been traded for beauty if there hadn’t been people who had previously been sifted by Satan like wheat and then obediently strengthened this sister. Same goes for me. When I want to forget my times of sifting and “move on” with life, I remember that those times are a waste if they are not used to strengthen those behind me who are still spinning from their own sifting.

So I am thankful that God remembers not the sins of my youth. But today I am equally thankful that He makes sure I never forget them.

Fuel for a Growing Fire


Some have asked me why I am considering the pursuit of a PhD. Others ask why I have such a passion for teaching youth, particularly middle schoolers. I think the results in this report can shed some light on that.

Youth today view religion as a very small and mainly irrelevant section of their lives. They usually view it as the part that is forced upon them by their parents, a part that they fully intend to shrug off as soon as they are old enough to do so.

I have a passion for teaching youth that their faith must be their own, not that of their parents, and that their faith is the lens through which they must view the entirety of their lives. When our youth’s worldview is shaped by MTV, perezhilton.com, and ESPN, we as a church must count the cost of how we have handled cultural issues in the past and determine if the future of our youth is a price we are willing to pay to be able to remain in our comfortable silence.