A fascinating thing happened this school year when I tried to teach my students to love their neighbors.
Kids can be so mean. I remember this from when I was in school. As a teacher now, I see this reality right in front of me. It’s awful. At a Catholic Christian school it seems even more disturbing, and as a religion teacher I feel a bit of responsibility for it. I try to design curriculum that responds to my observations and helps my students to grow in Christ.
To help my students deal with people who are unkind, I planned a unit that focused on the teachings of Jesus. I wanted them to learn how to be bold, brave, creative, peaceful, compassionate and kind–just like Jesus taught. My students memorized the Beatitudes and the great commandment. They realized that Jesus’ teachings are not fluffy or cozy, but really messy and difficult.
We also mulled a while on what Jesus REALLY meant when he said “love your enemies,” and “turn the other cheek.” Basically, we studied the Third Way of Jesus which is to creatively stand up for oneself and to honor the dignity of oppressors. To help the students understand I made a handout called Jesus’ non-violence explained. Even though it’s really a simple concept, it’s extremely challenging to understand.
As I said, a fascinating thing happened when I tried to teach my students to love their neighbors. I found myself telling my students that practicing Jesus’ methods of peacemaking–in that Third Way style–meant that we have to get downright loving and sassy.
A slogan emerged: Let’s get sassy for Jesus! We laughed about how it sounded like a country song. The former cheerleader in me wanted to make it into a chant: “Sassy for Jesus, yes we are!“ I’m thanking the Holy Spirit for giving me a catchy way to teach the truth, because the students still remember it.
God’s got a great sense of humor, and humor is what true, loving, non-violence takes. We can make light of persecution because, with the freedom that Christ gives, we are just as powerful as everyone else. We see Jesus alive in all people, even those who are mean. We get to love them and remind them of their inherent dignity. It’s so good!
In the teenage world, this love and sass could come out when people make fun of our shirt or our shoes. For example, a creative, non-violent, Third Way practitioner might respond by saying “It shows how I feel about mean people. Isn’t it beautiful!?”
Recently I asked some of my students how the whole “loving your neighbor, loving your classmates” thing is coming along. They groaned. “Sister, it’s so hard!”
Yes, loving our neighbors and being non-violent IS really hard. But wow, it’s so worth it. May God help us. Amen!
Oh, and you might enjoy this interesting take on some of this problem about kids being mean to each other: