There’s nothing like that moment when your child — that entity you created and nurtured — says something to correct or adjust your behavior.
My three offspring, now young adults in their 20s, have earned honorary master’s degrees in this field. And, quite frankly, I was one of their primary professors in this seldom-affirmed art form.
I raised them, after all, to think critically, speak clearly and distinctly, and to always pursue what is upright and correct. So when they rightly turn their skills on me, challenging me to examine more thoroughly the actions I’ve taken, I can’t really be surprised.
Such is the case with the fabulous young people in Florida and across the nation who are challenging authority on the issue of gun control. How wonderful to see them using their gifts to confront empire, firmly urging those with the ability to change laws to do so — right now.
This is the manifestation of years of training them to be free thinkers who are undergirded by an ethic that affirms humanity and justice. These young people know the statistics. According to information provided by The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:
- More than one in five U.S. teenagers (ages 14 to 17) report having witnessed a shooting.
- An average of seven children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.
- American children die by guns 11 times as often as children in other high-income countries.
- Youth (ages 0 to 19) in the most rural U.S. counties are as likely to die from a gunshot as those living in the most urban counties. Rural children die of more gun suicides and unintentional shooting deaths. Urban children die more often of gun homicides.
- Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) for young people ages 1-19 in the U.S.
- In 2007, more preschool-aged children (85) were killed by guns than police officers killed in the line of duty.
They are tired of seeing their peers brutally gunned down, and they are calling into question the behavior of so-called adults who pride themselves on high-functioning systems built around freedom and free will.
The young people in Florida and elsewhere come from a long line of cohort groups who have done much the same work. Let us not forget that it was young people — teenagers and college students — who were pivotal agents of change in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Who can erase from their minds the images of young students being brutally doused by fire hoses while marching in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963? They were put forth by leaders of the movement, but it was their bold and fearless actions that helped change history. America has not been the same since.
And then there was Ferguson, Mo. It was there in the fall of 2014 that young people said enough to the police brutality and systemic injustice that had plagued the predominantly African American community for decades. Fire shot up in their bones and it seemed nothing would stop them.
Their cry was so loud and clear that even church leaders, designated agents of moral authority, had to yield and take direction from this class of Millennials who had long ago stopped trusting organized religion.
So what’s the message for us old heads who are comfortably measuring our words and weighing the consequences of our actions against systems of power and influence? I submit there is a hope-filled response in the love ethic of Jesus.
On numerous occasions during Jesus’ ministry he affirmed the worth and wisdom of children, often devalued along with women and others on the margins of society in his cultural context. Theirs were lives worth reviving and lifting up, and Jesus consistently used opportunities to highlight this fact.
The Son of Man called on society then and, I believe, does so now, to “change and become like children (Matthew 18:3).” Literally, we must humble ourselves enough to put aside what we deem as comforting and correct based on experience and age, power and privilege, and commit to living in a world where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
This is not easy living. I know I take pride in my well-earned gray hair and my ability to say sarcastically at will, “Bless their young hearts.” But the truth is, these young adults have the ability to lead us all to a new place, one that is blessed and affirmed by a triune God.
We seasoned saints must stand down and take direction, as difficult as it might be. And somehow in the process, God’s Beloved Community might just come a little more into view.
Let it be so!