Last week, I drove to my community's local high school to pick up one of my students for lunch. I turned into the parking lot. Class had not yet been dismissed, so I sat in my car just outside of the main entrance to the building. About 30 seconds later, the bell rang, and immediately, a flood of students poured onto the school grounds. It was like a dam of teenagers burst through the doors of the high school.
Off in the distance, I noticed my student standing on the other side of the school grounds. I slowly began to drive forward through the main artery of the parking lot. Hundreds of students crossed the road from the main entrance to their cars. I inched my way — strategically navigating through the crowds who hardly, if at all, noticed me. It seemed like a scene from an Indian market.
Near the end, a girl darted in front of me. Though I was only traveling about 1mph, I slammed on my brakes. She saw me out of the corner of her eye, and without the slightest hesitation, she squared her shoulders with my car, looked at me completely in the eye, flipped me off, and then murmured the words, "F*** You!"
I looked at her with the most bewildered look on my face. How could this innocent looking 15 year old girl do such a thing? She's someone's daughter. She looked like she stepped out of a J. Crew ad. She looked like an average, All-American girl, not a hoodlum. She looked at me — a total stranger, looking out for her best interest — with the guile of a hardened criminal. I even gave her a wave and a nod, and she returned my peace offering with hate.
I am understating my emotion by suggesting that I was disturbed by this. In fact, I have been processing through it nearly everyday since the incident. It's both bewildering and saddening for me. The image of this girl's response feels like it has been unfortunately burned into my mind. Yet, I am a Pastor. I am a theologian. I serve teenagers for a living. And though this event disturbs me, there is something incredibly profound happening underneath the surface. I want to offer 2 observations about the nature of her response.
First, I violated her world. Let's face it, as much as parents, youth pastors, teachers, and even, the government claim that schools belong to us, they in fact belong to our students. It's their world. The majority of a teenager's life will take place in a school. Everything social, political, educational, developmental, and dare I say, spiritual, will happen there. It's not an overstatement. Our society and culture have made the educational system the magnum opus of our student's lives. Their world both revolves and takes place there. And I violated her airspace. It's the equivalent of your barking dog. And youth pastors, parents, and teachers can fight it, but we will lose. This is the product of our making. We need to own it and accept it. And rather than deciphering how to resolve this issue, for it is a deeply rooted and systemic one, we ought to allow her response to call each one of us all the more to meet students in their airspace. We need to go into their world. We need to enter into the schools if we are to truly connect teenagers to the cause of Christ!
Second, her response is our response. The greatest reflection of ourselves does not come from a mirror, but from our children. A mirror simply reflects a one dimensional, frontal view, of our physical selves. Our children, however, reflect who we are as a society. Last Sunday, I overheard a couple of my parents discuss the current trends within our post-modern culture. One spoke rather eloquently stating that our children merely consume, expect, and internalize the riches of their parents. In other words, our children believe they are entitled to the fortune of our generation without their time, work, and energy. They are individualistic, believing their actions are without consequences. And they take without gratitude. I agree with all of the above, especially within my Northern Bay Area context. Yet, all of this beckons the question: how did our children learn such behavior?
Whether I want to believe it or acknowledge it, I made this girl who she is. All of us over the age of 30 have. Her terse, unwarranted reaction stems from the values that our society and culture hold dear: individualism, consumption, attainment, possession. Therefore, the question is not, how do I punish this girl from her actions. But, it is: how do I alter the trajectory of my own life and participation within these cultural and societal overtones? We need to wrestle with this. If not for our sake, then for the sake of our kids.
Question: Where else do you notice the actions of our kids as a reflection of our societal and cultural values? How do we begin to change the course of this big ship?