When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” – Matthew 11:2-5
Jesus tells us to say it like we see it, and like we hear it.
Speaking the truth is not as easy as one would think. One of the greatest challenges of telling the truth is that people aren’t always interested in it. It seems to me that it’s quite trendy to avoid pain and suffering. Many times my stories of ministry and my proclamations of passions have been responded to with cries of “It’s so depressing to hear about all that, Julia. Can’t you talk about something else?” Yet, paradoxically, crowds gather around TV sets watching reality shows, sitcoms and the news only to hear dramatic stories about people hurting one another. With laughter and groans, people of all types allow the painful stories to flow through their lives.
What about the goodness? When it comes to saying the good stuff—to giving each other reasons to hope—I think it can be radical to speak out. Sharing the goodness is an act of resistance to the oppression. I teach urban African-American teenage boys at a high school in Chicago, and it’s amazing. In attempts to respond to Jesus’ command to tell the good news, I could easily just babble on and on and tell you stories about how incredible my students are.
First though, I think it is important to acknowledge the influence of judgments when we hear who the stories are about. When I decided to take my job, some very good people that I knew became reactionary. I actually heard really nice Christians gasp and say “aren’t you terrified?!” When I asked them what their question was about—whether it was about race, or boys, or urban students—the conversation would usually boil down to awkwardness from fears of people different than themselves.
Jesus set us all free enough to speak the good news, however. When I hear people say they are impressed with my ministry (because of who my students are), I am tempted to get defensive and angry. Then I remember that we are all afraid of what we don’t know.
My students have admitted that they are afraid of the woods. I used to be afraid of the city (I grew up in the woods on a goat farm in Iowa). To do this gospel work, we all must allow grace to guide us and set us free from our fears. The truth is that my students are the same as all other teenagers I have worked with. They’re diverse, passionate, caring, faithful, prayerful, complex, hungry, hopeful, hard-working and curious. They’re incredible.
So, the good news! Teens are awesome because once they learn the truth they are driven to act. They understand, with ease, that social change comes through awareness and meaningful non-violent action.
Last week, my students were so into discussing the Gospel challenge of serving the poor that they begged me to stay in class. (And I am pretty sure that they weren’t completely trying to skip their next classes, really.) They spoke of being inspired by the story of Dorothy Day and how they could relate to her because she went through a conversion and changed her life. Another group of my students were so full of ideas for service projects that they had trouble picking one and getting started. And, this past weekend, I sat in a circle with another group of teens and heard their dreams for a better world and what they were already working on as peace projects.
We all are called to do projects of peace. We all are asked to feed each other with hope and faith. I get “godbumps” anytime I see the boundaries of difference broken, diverse people gathered in prayer and working for social change. I am so grateful for the light that shines when a young person steps forward and works for change. One teen I know is working with the pro-life club at her school to begin a suicide awareness and prevention movement. Another is bridging a gap between the suburbs and inner-city youth and bringing her suburban friends with her to tutor at a junior high within Chicago. I also know a young man who is uniting his passion for sports and caring for people on the margins to organize a basketball tournament for people with disabilities.
I suppose that one might say that it is my job to support these teens. The reality is that they support me. They keep me going and keep me hopeful. I am honored to listen to their good news, to bless and share. I don’t have to look too far to see and believe that Jesus and the Spirit are working to transform us and our communities.
The power of the Spirit and the miracles of the Christian church certainly extend beyond what happens in the lives of teens. Recently, I have also been blessed to meet some amazing leaders in the emerging Church movement. Throughout our world young adults of various denominations are living intentional community, praying and radically serving the poor, and non-violently advocating for systemic change right now. They soak up the great traditions of Christian history, such as praying the liturgy of the hours and monastic life, and allow the Spirit to guide them to new ways of doing the work. For example, some young adults just wrote and published a new book that combines the traditional prayers with radical responses to injustice. It’s called Common Prayer, naturally.
God is so good and God is up to some amazing stuff. Deaf people are really gaining their hearing, blind folks can now see, the lame are picking up their mats and dancing around, and the dead are rising to new life. It’s beautiful to witness. Hope is a light that shines brightly over the new city of God being built here and now. We’re getting ready because we don’t only know another world is possible, we see another world emerging.
Rejoice and be glad, and help us get ready. Help us spread the good news, Jesus lives!