One of the little things that frustrates me with our kids at Joshua Station is how they seem incapable of following the rules of a game. If we are playing a game that requires them to cover their eyes, the fingers spread just enough to catch a glimpse of where everyone is. If we are playing a game that requires a bit of cooperation, the young boys mess around just enough to make the game impossible for everyone else. It’s a trait that has driven me crazy for years.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized that these kids’ lack of desire to follow even the simplest of rules could possibly have deeper roots. At the same time, it wasn’t until recently that I realized how true that might also be for my belief that the rules are inherently good and should be followed.
I grew up pretty poor, but it always seemed that we had enough. Whatever our ‘system’ was that was supposed to be keeping us safe, it seems to have worked. The same cannot be said for many of our kids at Joshua Station. The system that was supposed to protect them and make them feel safe has failed them. They are living in a Transformational Housing Community. Many of them have started falling through the cracks at school. Many of them have seen their parents be spoken down to by authority figures (Paramedics, Police Officers, Etc).
The message (mostly non-verbal) that they are getting at such a young age, is that they are on their own. The system–while it seems to work for the privileged–has proven itself untrustworthy so they must do just enough to keep the system off their backs while they do what they need to do.
I believe it’s incredibly important for our kids to un-learn some of this ‘I’m on my own’ mentality so I try to keep Kids Club structured enough that the kids are given the choice to either follow the rules or not. In Kids Club, if the rules are followed then we have a good time. If the rules are ignored, we don’t. It’s pretty simple and I hope it helps them learn that not all rules and systems are working against them.
But that’s not the end of the story. I also have to unlearn some of my ‘The system should be trusted at all times’ mentality. Truthfully, the system can’t always be trusted–especially for many of my friends who find themselves pushed to the margins of society because of Race, Immigration Status, Sexual Orientation, Gender, Criminal History, Lack of Wealth,etc.
As a white man in America, I have enjoyed the fullness of privilege. The system has worked well for me and continues to. Because of this, I am tempted to lay the full responsibility of cooperation with ‘the system’ at the feet of my friends. But when I allow my friendships with folks who the system hasn’t worked for to remove the blinders I see that their concerns are not unwarranted.
I rarely feel like I have the right or the wisdom to speak into issues of systemic injustice. I have a lot of friends who do have the right and wisdom and they have inspired me deeply to trust my voice a little more. I am under no illusion that the systems that have failed many of my friends are easily fixed, but I think that a great first step would be admitting they are broken–which is extremely difficult if they work in my favor.
I will leave you with an appropriate prayer that we sometimes end our Mile High Ministries staff meetings with.
May God bless you with discomfort. A restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with Anger. A holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with Tears. Tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with Foolishness. Enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
– Sister Ruth Fox