Over the last couple of decades, we Christians have become known for taking offense at any number of things — often just that people have dissed our faith.
Recently, during my lunch time walks around the neighborhood where I work, I found myself pondering a number of offenses I have encountered here that some people take quite seriously. Others find them entirely without merit. So I ask you to consider these possible offenses:
Should we take offense at a 13-year-old getting shot on her own street? If this were El Salvador, we’d be burying entire neighborhoods — headless — instead of just mourning one or two unfortunates. Why should we care more when it happens a few streets from our own homes, to a little girl playing with her birthday present in her front yard?
Should we take offense at a family of seven living in one room? A hundred years ago, most American families lived in only two. The dream suburb of Levittown offered new Cape Cods of four rooms and 900 square feet to returning GIs and their families after WWII. Why do we find it offensive that today, children are entertaining themselves on the shadowy streets in the evening while the adults take their “privacy” above? Could it be that we don’t want to see, in our own American communities, what is a normal way of life in most of the world? That we want to believe we’re privileged and blessed, but we don’t want to recognize how extremely privileged we are — and how much responsibility even “middle income” families have before God as a result?
Should we take offense at kids living in the woods or under a bridge or in a boarded up house? The middle school nearest our office wears uniforms now — simple white shirts and khaki slacks — to make it easier for staff to clothe the homeless students appropriately and unobtrusively. That means that kids I know in the Boys & Girls Club — themselves mostly eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches — go to school with kids whose families live under tarps. But in many places, kids live on landfills, the better to be near their day jobs as collectors of scrap rag and paper and metal. So what’s the offense here?
Should we take offense at people living nearby who make less than we do? The city where I live has been, until recently, zoned such that almost no one who earned less than $80,000 a year could afford to live here. A few townhomes, a few Habitat houses, that’s it. Lately, in a nod to the need to house municipal employees, landscapers, and housecleaners, the city has cautiously opened the doors to apartment complexes. “My property value will be destroyed!” howled the owners of half-million dollar golf course homes. [Of course, their bubble of 10% per year appreciation had already burst, leaving many of them underwater for the home equity lines that had paid for media rooms, Tuscan kitchens, and the last few years of vacations …] What is so fearful about sharing your community with the people who work with and for you? Doesn’t a great city have a place for all of its people?
Should we take offense when people are straightforward about the issues and challenges we face? Racial discrimination against African-Americans in our schools remains an unfortunately obvious reality. Students fail to graduate in disproportionate numbers; students are suspended in disproportionate numbers. I visited a nearby school recently where a third of the kindergarten was on suspension that day. The most compliant teen boy I know has been branded with the label “Oppositional Defiant Disorder“; a preteen girl who wants nothing more than to please and assist adults was recently suspended.
I know teachers are challenged by children from difficult homes: my sister, a professional teacher, was ultimately unable to raise her adopted son, a (Caucasian) fetal alcohol baby who, at the age of 8, required three adults to restrain his 65 pounds of tantrum. Still, I have to wonder: how can a kindergarten break out into the kind of riot that requires a third of the children to be sent home? How can teens who like to help adults be getting labeled as “oppositional” and getting suspended?
Why do we take offense when people think seriously about what ails us as a country? Are we that afraid of the medicine? Don’t we trust the Great Physician?