Last week there was a shooting at the Walgreen’s near the school where I work. I couldn’t find stories about it online and it didn’t make the evening news. It probably will never make the news at all because the victim, a teenage boy, survived.
I found out about the shooting because it happened after school and one of my students went to the store to buy a poster board to make a project I had assigned. “Sister, there was a shooting in the Walgreen’s before I got there. I saw the boy go off on the stretcher. He’s okay, his eyes were open, he just looked scared.”
I listened and was amazed. I was very upset, as I am every time my students tell such stories. Every time I learn the truth about the violence my students live with I am stunned, speechless, scared and angry. I cry with sorrow and pain when I get home from work. I am shot down by the stories; I am disarmed and powerless.
I know most of my students know someone who has been shot. Many of them know someone who has been killed. Several of them know someone who is in jail. When I learn the truth, I want to share it. I really want to survey all the students and uncover the statistics so I could publicize them to the entire world and compel others to care and pray and work for change.
A while ago I asked a group of my students how they felt about my survey idea. I said I wanted to tell the world about what they have to live through. I was surprised with their response. They were very unenthused by the idea, not because it was unimportant to them or insulting, but because they didn’t think that it would change anything.
“Sister,” I heard, “if you really want people to know about the violence we live with, then gather a group of us and let us tell our stories.”
Of course! Duh me! I know that stories are more important than statistics. I know compassion is developed through relationships. I believe that Jesus modeled how to listen and to teach through storytelling. When we serve and love we need to know the people we are concerned about. This is ancient history:
The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.
“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.” – Lv 19:1-2, 17-18
And then of course Jesus inspires us:
““You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” –Mt 5:43-46
We can’t love our enemies unless we really know who they are. Once we really know someone and have heard what they have lived through — no matter what they have done — it is hard not to love. God’s designs are perfect. If we heed the words and the ways, the world will surely be changed. The kingdom of God will come.
In my classroom we discuss the challenge of loving our enemies, like Jesus and the Bible teach us. The students understand the theories of non-violence very well, much better than I did at their age. As they walk through real battlefields between school and home, their youthful ideals are challenged.
Yet, I know storytelling changes things. My senior Peace and Justice students have been examining the influence and the power of non-violence by watching a documentary that tells stories, not statistics. Through media, we are meeting people around the world who have really changed the oppressive systems by loving their enemies. The film is appropriately called A Force More Powerful.
I admire my students very much. Their hearts have been broken, yet they believe in the power of love. I asked the students to tell me why non-violence is called a force more powerful. Here is a sampling of their responses:
“Non-violence makes the people who are hitting them feel bad because they are not being hit back.”
“Non-violence is more powerful than any other method of difference-making because it requires the most discipline, endurance and mental strength.”
“Non-violence is a force more powerful because it is showing ultimate love and resistance towards evil and violence.”
“Non-violence is more powerful because it makes people look at the opposed as if they are wrong when they become violent.”
“Why is non-violence a force more powerful? Because it makes a social revolution in the lives of everyone through reason and dignity. Violence cannot do this.”
I teach non-violence in the middle of a war-zone. Our entire globe is at war too, fighting for rights and freedom. The cries for democracy in the middle-east and protests at state capitols cause us to wonder how peace and justice can truly emerge.
What will it take for our rage to transform into love? Parker Palmer, modern-day prophet, says that it is storytelling. I agree. When the real truth shoots us down, we have to reach to the other to rise up into change.