One of the most poignant images from the recent Boston Marathon bombing was 8 year -old Martin Richard’s sign. The bombing was the largest of several stories of hurt in the month of April. People deeply hurt by gun violence were testifying in front of Congress. A video surfaced at Rutgers University showing a coach hurting players by his physical actions and harmful words directed at his players. It struck me that Martin, by his sign, was not only hoping for an absence of pain by his choice of his first four words, but also a pro-active state of peacefulness by his next. If we seek peace, we must not simply embrace it as an abstract concept, but consider how peace may be attained in our daily lives and at what cost.
Mulling over all these events, I found myself wrestling with the situation of the fired coach and what implications it might have for all those who seek to nurture faith in students. I found myself wondering about how we define the line he crossed. I am a sports fan and regularly see coaches display intensity, passion, and anger – how similar are they to the Rutgers coach and where is the line of unacceptability drawn? As I considered this I began to think of not just coaches, but teachers and other adults who work with kids. Where does “helping and discipline” turn into hurting? Does it just have to do with volume or is quiet sarcasm to control and manipulate kids just as deadly? Is sarcasm ever acceptable in working with kids or is it a lazy way for an adult to maintain control, to be cool with the cool kids, to keep the classroom pecking order intact so that equilibrium and order can be maintained – at whatever cost?
I also wondered how some adults who refrain from using any objectionable methods with youth get stellar results year after year. The ones we should be emulating are the best coaches and teachers who demonstrate by word and deed that they truly see the person in front of them as an image-bearer of the God of heaven and earth and therefore worthy of the same respect they would expect to receive! They do not need to shout at or put down a student in front of the peers of the student or later in front of their own peers. They seek to build up students, and in return, the students are secure in the love of the teacher. Students will take and even seek correction and advice from them. Why do some teachers and coaches get not only results but respect and lifelong admiration from those in their charge? And why do we put up with anything less if we are truly serious about emulating Jesus and living out our school missions?
My belief is that in Christian education we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard – we seek to serve the Prince of Peace who says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Our children’s faith is nurtured or discouraged by the words and actions of adults around them – it will take courage for us to confront each other if we see hurting happening by an adult – but it is what we are called to as children of God working with God’s children.