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Essay

The Guardians

By December 22, 2012 No Comments
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Two weeks ago I took my kids to see Rise of the Guardians – a story about Jack Frost, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman who are all deputized by the Man in the Moon to watch over the children of the world.  They stand on guard against the “boogeyman”and the forces of unbelief – protecting the world from the darkness that comes from a loss of hope, faith, and love.  The religious connection is not too difficult to make – but that’s not what interests me.  Like everyone else I was mortified by the events that unfolded last Friday.  So much so I couldn’t listen or watch – I stayed far away from the TV and NPR.  I couldn’t face it…still can’t.  I have a five year old daughter, and the thought of sending her to school …to think of her not coming home? – it’s just too much for me.  I’m not strong enough…  Just as unbearable is the thought that my own child might be capable of unleashing hell on earth.  I’ll admit it – I’ve thought much more about the shooter and his family.  It’s too easy to characterize him as evil or disturbed – it’s way too easy to start blaming guns and a culture of violence.  I blame the “boogeyman”… the forces of unbelief… the darkness that strips our children of hope, faith, and love. Sure our gun culture is nuts… but just as crazy are the expectations young people are burdened with.  They are forced to live up to our standards… our desire that they be “successful” or that they “fit in.”  They are expected to produce… to perform… and they’ve gotten good at playing the game.  Only some of them buckle beneath it all – some of them reach a point where they just don’t want to play our games any more.  Some of them decide that regardless of what they do or how much they try they just can’t compete… so they check out.  Don’t get me wrong – I realize that most misfits never even think about violently lashing out. I don’t know anything about the young man who committed this unimaginable act of violence – I’m sure there are multiple factors known and unknown as to why he did what he did. Yet I can’t help thinking about his father and his brother… I see his picture and I wonder about the demons he was fighting… I think about my own kids and the darkness that lurks.

Even in our Christian circles where the language of grace is used and abused we tend to set up our own forms of works righteousness.  We want our kids to measure up – morally, doctrinally, economically, socially.  We want them to meet our expectations… to believe like we believe… to live like we live, and if they don’t we assume there is some problem or crisis.  You don’t have to look too far to see that all of the worry and concern about young people “leaving the church” has just as much to do with adults freaking out that their kid’s faith doesn’t look like their faith.  So there is a “crisis” with our youth… they become a problem to be solved. This Christmas I suggest that we simply take the time to love em’ up. To love on our kids, tell them we’re proud of them – not because they perform, not because they meet our expectations, just because they are our kids and they need our love and acceptance. I know there is a time to correct, to teach, to discipline – but all of this has to be tempered with a love, grace, and generosity that is not dependent upon their performance. I realize that I might come off as the “perfect” parent with all of the answers – believe me, I’m far from it.  Which is why I need to be reminded to love on my kids… to love my students… unconditionally. We are the Guardians and it’s our unconditional love that fends off of the “boogeyman” – it’s our acceptance and generosity that holds back the darkness.  This is, after all, the message of Christmas – the incarnation as God’s embrace of our humanity, not because we deserve it or because we meet divine expectations, it’s an unconditional love shown to us in Jesus Christ. This Christmas our God invites us to do the same…

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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