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The Bright Brilliance of Middle Schoolers

by David Weasley


September 29, 2014

The Bright Brilliance of Middle Schoolers

David Weasley

This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of the BPFNA to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.

We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next several weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph before the end of 2014. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website.

Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!

It was snowy on the way to the hospital. We were bringing a group of about 25 middle schoolers to Christ Hospital, on the far south side of Chicago, to hear from staff at Ceasefire, the local chapter of Cure Violence. Ceasefire is a great organization that places trained “Interrupters” in neighborhoods and emergency rooms, making sure that one incident of violence does not lead to others. The youth we were bringing to meet with them weren’t inner-city young people. I work for a suburban Lutheran congregation, and the other non-profits we visited that day were our standard places: the local animal shelter, the local food pantry.

The youth were members of our confirmation program, and we were visiting for our Youth Grant program. Every year at Zion Lutheran Church, through pie sales and spaghetti dinners, middle school students raise about $3000 and then give it away. My colleagues and I helped lead the students through a discernment process, put them in touch with organizations that connected to their passions and callings, and arranged for visits and presentations. 

I thought Ceasefire was a long shot. It’s not active in their community, it’s a bit hard to process for middle school students, and it wasn’t one of our typical places. But the youth voted overwhelmingly to give some of the money to Ceasefire, and it was very powerful when one of their interrupters stood alongside the students on the day of their special Confirmation Service. 

Look: I love the Youth Grant program. It’s one of the things that led me to take my job here at the church, and it might be our best program. Lots of congregations have mission boards, or social action committees that raise money and give it away to local non-profits. But I don’t know anywhere else where this work is in the hands of middle school students. (I think they should actually be in charge of the whole budget of the congregation, but that might have to wait a while…) I love sitting with the students as they struggle to hear how God is calling them, as they work to identify what issues, causes and organizations stir their hearts, invoke their spirits, and move their hands and feet to action. In the process, we invite them to pay attention to what makes them sad, what makes them angry, what brings them joy.  We invite them to pay attention to how the Spirit is moving in their bodies, in their creativity, and in their hearts. Then we try to follow after them, sometimes having to look away from the bright brilliance of their love and passion. 

It has been my experience that the people in my congregation have plenty of love. They have plenty of love, and they have plenty of concern about the terrible things happening in our world, in our nation, and in our communities. But too often, folks have become convinced that there isn’t anything they can do about it. In my vocation as a peacemaker, I am doing everything I can to teach folks about that lie, that lie that serves the Powers of oppression: “I can’t do anything about it.” Whether it’s political corruption or hunger in the neighborhood, whether it’s domestic violence or gun violence in Chicago, I want my people to know that what they do matters. It matters to me, it matters to the people involved, and it certainly matters to the Risen Lord. I hope they all learn it. I know some middle school students who are sure about it.

Rev. David Weasley is the board chair of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. He lives in Chicago and has been known to associate with Lutherans.

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