(I began this post the week after the shooting in Newtown)

Eighth graders can be very perceptive.  Not  that they always are mind you, but they “can be.”  Or, at least the ones I teach.  We spoke this week rather candidly regarding the tragedy that occurred last week month in Newtown and I was pleasantly surprised by they way some of them are thinking through the matter.

Since we happen to have school in a…. well, school, we spoke about our own vulnerability to acts of violence.  This is a scary subject for anyone but like most fears this one seemed to dissipate somewhat by having an open and honest dialogue.  It is when our fears are brushed under the rug and we attempt to ignore them that they fester and morph into full on paranoia.

The truth is that what happened at Newtown could happen at any given school, or any other location where people gather, any given day.  So what are our options?  This is where a student showed his more perceptive side and replied, “we can choose to trust people rather than being afraid and looking at everyone as a threat.  We can’t live our life being afraid of everyone.”  Well said my young Jedi.

The act of violence that claimed the lives of 27 people in Newtown, like most national tragedies, has brought out the best and the worst in people.  While some of my friends disagree with me on this, I do think that to use this as a means to push a political agenda, whether for or against gun control, is to add abuse to the ones who are already suffering unimaginable grief.  To politicize their pain in order to manipulate the emotions of the electorate is unconscionable .

Of course this applies to the Christian divas of the world who care more that they have a relevant answer of certainty to this act of evil than they do for the people suffering.  After all, we have to have someone to blame.  Right?  If we don’t have someone to blame this tragedy on then we might actually get uncomfortable with the real laments and grief of real people.  God forbid that our hands and hearts should have to feel such weighty things!

We want easy answers.  There aren’t any.  We want security.  There isn’t any.  At least not the kind of answers and security we’re looking for.  One thing that came from our discussions was ‘what can we do now?’  What happened in Newtown could happen in any town.  There is a story about a baby born in a cold, smelly barn and this baby was born to peasants in an unimaginably hostile time.  To reflect on that story and all of its implications for this life is to grasp the only secure hope we have for a more peaceful future.  8th graders get it.  I don’t know why politicians cant.

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The past few weeks I’ve been harping on my students about the importance of seeing the context of the larger Story of God in the Scriptures while looking for his work in their own lives.  There are patterns and themes in the Scriptures that reflect the same ones in our own lives and vice versa.  When one of them gets past the blank stares and glassed-over quietness they open up and share honestly their struggles and questions… this is really the part of the job I love!  Someone steps into the fray long enough to vulnerably share a chapter or two of their own story.

Last year I read a fascinating book titled Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. by Curt Thompson, M.D.  Here is a snippet that I have found very useful:

“…we can be changed by allowing God’s story to intersect with our 0wn.  When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate.  This is why simply reading the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy.  The same can be said for Jesus’ admonitions during the Sermon on the Mount or the apostle Paul’s instructions to the early church communities.  Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically nonintegrating and, at worst, disintegrating.  This is why telling our stories is so vitally important.

But narratives are not the only instruments within Scripture that can help us integrate our minds and lives.  Poetry is a another powerful literary tool.  It has several distinct features:

  • By activating our sense of rhythm, poetry  accesses our right-mode operations and systems.
  • Reading poetry has the effect of catching us off guard.  Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose (that one word will follow obediently behind another on the way to a predictable end) don’t apply.  This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode processing, but to left mode as well, given its use of language.  This makes it a powerful integrative tool.”

It’s no wonder then that poetry, as a literary genre, is so commonplace throughout the Scriptures.  Our lives are being written, our stories are being told, and we make much better sense of our these stories as we know the Grand One of redemption.  Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and said “we are his workmanship,” the “poema” in the Greek… we are the “poema” or poem of God.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light. 

Psalm 36:7-9