Solutions, but not Good Ones.

For nearly half of my life, I have worked with kids that are locked up.  I noticed right away that they did lots of destructive things: Self-mutiliation, sexual acting out, physical assault, profound aggression.  There are something like twenty teachers and sixty aides that I work with.  Not a single day goes by when we are not literally assaulted on, spat on, head butted, sworn at in the most loathsome of ways.

It didn’t take all that long to see that the reason that many of these behaviors have gone as because they worked for the kids in the past, at least in some limited sense.  A twelve year old who makes sexual advances on men might not feel like she can be raped; in some sense she has taken the power that was lost when sexually abused.  A ten year old who ends up sending somebody else to the hospital in a fit of rage has protected himself from being bullied.  A fourteen year old who manages to infuriate both his parents has managed to unite them after weeks of watching them be at each other’s throats.

Of course they are not aware of this.  Of course these attempts are hopelessly misguided and create more problems than they solved.  But the thing is: these behaviors are a sort-of solution.

It took me a little bit longer to see how we perpetuate these behaviors everywhere, including my place of work.  If I am looking at two kids and one is more prone to violence, it is very difficult for me to treat them equally.   And it took me even longer than that to realize that a good part of what seems to be going on in the class is actually going on in my mind.  I work with some incredibly gifted people.  To me, the interesting thing is that there are very few kids who none of us can reach.  And there are very few kids who all of us can reach.  There are lots of reasons for this.  The thing I am still learning is that a huge part of this is really about the ways that we are all messed up and broken.

So often, it is not really about the kid, it is about the ways they trigger my own brokeness, my own weaknesses, my own insecurity.  Thank you God that I am messed up in different ways than my co-workers, between the bunch of us, we can take care of most anybody.

I am reading The Divine Magician by Peter Rollins right now.  One of the things it opens my eyes to is the way that all this plays out on a sociological level.  This is not just an individual thing.  It is a group thing.

Just as I as the brokeness within me can tolerate certain types of kids, and work with these kids to make them better, while proximity to other kids just create this destructive feedback with my own brokeness, so it is with societies.  There are certain groups and ideas that a certain society can make healthier, and other types that just feed back and forth, in this destructive domino effect.

Put a little differently: nearly everything that happens within a society is a reaction, even a solution, to a problem within that society.  It might not seem and feel like a solution.  It might not be a good solution.  But it is a solution.

When we, as a society, grow hateful in response to a terroritst attack, it is a solution to the uncertainty and fear.  When we elect a destructive or ignorant leader, it is a solution to political questions we can’t find answers for.    When we grow consumeristic and materialistic, it is a solution to our attempts to fufill ourselves…

Solutions, not good solutions.  And not different than the sexually acting out, or agressive, or argumentative child…

There is a theological side to this.

Because these bad solutions create scapegoats: victims we want to pin the blame on.  The acting out children have scape goats including myself and my coworkers.  I have scapegoats: the kids I want to blame, when really the troubles begin with me.  The groups that society thinks are the problem.

First off,  Jesus aligned himself with the oppressed, with the powerless, with the alien, the widow, and jailed, the orphan.

Maybe his sympathy was because he had something in common with these groups.  Jesus was a scapegoat, too.  Problems that weren’t his were put on him.  Punishment that wasn’t deserved was inflicted on him.

My students have this idea that just one thing needs to get better, and then everything will be fixed.  I have this idea that I just need one kid out of my class, and then it will be easy to teach.  Society thinks that they just need to banish the “illegals”  or they just need to oust the Republicans/Democrat or they just need to buy the latest computer/car/house/outfit and then everything will be better.

I am confusing the metaphor a bit, and perhaps that is partially my point.  We are all Rome, and we are all Jesus.  We are all crucified, and we are all crucifier.  We are all in the process of discovering that this problem or that problem is not really what the problem was at all, because we were too busy looking outside of ourselves; and we are all busy discovering that when those enpower unleash their power on us, all that they can take from us is our life.  But when society has had it’s way with us, there will be something of us left.  When the worlds power has come down, we too will die, but we too can rise again, victorious.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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