Writing in the sand for our young people

At the end of the school day my children reel off to me what has been going on and what lessons they have had etc. But recently I have heard a reoccurring report that friends in their forms have been experiencing panic attacks either in break times, lesson times, or at home. This is worrying to hear because we all know that school can be stressful but are we fully realising the amount of pressure and stress this Covid situation is putting on our children and young people?

Recent news reports have highlighted the apparent irresponsibility of young people. However more and more Drs are pointing to the long term affects that the lockdown and further restrictions will have on young people. Recent writings concerning the well-being of young people have concluded that the long term impact of loneliness on their mental health will be felt several years from now.[1]

Our denial of the huge trauma on our young people that the disruption and removal of education, socialising, and physically being together has, has untold consequences. Van der Kolk who authored a must read book on the topic of trauma, The body keeps the score, states that the “denial of the consequences of trauma can wreak havoc with the social fabric of society.”[2]

How we react to members of our society equates to consequences further down the line, are we continually reinforcing a message that ignoring stress and trauma is the way we do things, especially if you are deemed to be of blame.

Out attitudes towards young people are also part of the problem. We have a tendency as a country and culture to want to point the finger at a certain focal point to establish blame. It tends to make us feel better, especially if the group in trouble is not us, and it gives us something to unite and focus our energy on to overcome, or beat the problem.

I was reading the Gospel of John the other day, I’d just come to John 8, where the scribes and Pharisees decide to drag in a women to test and prove a point to Jesus. Jesus in this situation did something fantastic, the accusers say to him, “now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such woman. Now what do you say?” (John 8:5) Jesus bends down and writes in the sand and by doing so changes the way things are done, by not engaging in their process, he breaks the momentum of blame and punishment, and turns the old system back onto the accusers, “let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 NRSV) 

Beautifully also in all of this, where the scene is taking place is in the temple, a focal point of unity[3]. Jesus had already shown his disciples how he is the new temple in John 4, where he gives living water to all who thirst, waters that bring life and healing. (John 4:13-14, Ezek 47:1-12) In this scene faced with a frightened woman and the accusers safe in the knowledge of their teaching, Jesus disrupts the process of blame and punishment by giving life and healing. Exactly what the function of the temple should do. He now becomes the focal point of unity, by showing how His people should be treasured and loved, healed and fed.

I had a thought whilst thinking about all this. Is this what we are doing to our young people, are we dragging them into our temple – the media pages, our social media, – and saying, “Ha I caught them standing in a group, talking, there were more then six of them, they were not doing what they were told, now, see, I told you, you cannot believe that our views are wrong!”

Jesus stands next to our young people and breaks the process of blame and punishment. He challenges us to dare to throw the first stone, who has not washed their hands, wore a mask, desperately hugged a friend?

We have a duty to stand up for our young people to ensure they are treated with compassion and concern.

And there is a duty here for us to stand up for our young people by breaking the process of blame and punishment. To also accept and acknowledge that there is untold unseen damage to our young people being done through unfortunate necessary restrictions to try and combat the virus.

I pray that I hear fewer reports of my children’s friends suffering such anxiety to the point of a panic attacks, and I pray for all young people during this awful time.

[1] Dr Maria Loades, “Lockdown loneliness in children and young people may continue to impact on mental health for years to come” in reachwell.org, July 22 2020. https://reachwell.org/2020/07/22/dr-maria-loades-lockdown-loneliness-in-children-and-young-people-may-continue-to-impact-on-mental-health-for-years-to-come/

[2] Bessel Van Der Kolk, The body keeps the score, (London, Penguin Books, 2015) 186.

[3] Mary L Cole, God dwells with us, (Minnesota, The Liturgical press collegeville, 2001); 122.

A new people built and fed on the body of Christ

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I bought some new bird feeders for my garden the other week. I adore birds so I filled them up with sunflower hearts and waited to see what birds came. Surely enough some blackbirds came and enjoyed the produce. Then a couple of days later I went to refill them and the squirrels had not only been at the seed but chewed around the hole where the birds could peck at the seed. The holes that they had made where now so big I couldn’t put anymore seed in and I couldn’t hang them up anymore – the squirrels had decided somewhere along the line they would take and protect what they thought what was their own and at whatever cost!

Today’s Gospel is rich in metaphor and imagery, of a landowner devastated by the breakdown of trust from the tenants, of tenants who believe they are owed more than what they think they are receiving.

They are blinded by keeping the produce, clinging onto the things they can see and protecting it at whatever cost. And what happens, they manage to kill the landowner’s son as they refuse to believe that there is anything more precious that what they can accumulate for themselves.

If we are honest we can see ourselves as the tenants in this parable. How tightly we hold onto things, onto possessions, positions, power, control, we love to have things our own way, why should anyone else take a produce that we have looked after ourselves, we deserve it, these are our rules and we reject any who tell us otherwise.

Paul in the letter to the Philippians speaks of the need for humanity to have status, to be confident in our own doings, in our own rules, and he says after the loss of all things, he regards all of that as rubbish, yes rubbish, because he has gained Christ and gained the knowledge that Jesus is in control.

The landowner who provides for the tenants who have faith in him, who trust that their reward for growing have a place in the kingdom.

After all in the vineyard, growing is the work, and we are called to work, growing a new people built on the cornerstone, a new people made from and built on the body of Christ.

We are being called to be a new people, made on the foundations of Christ, built on his body, sustained by his body, to be the body of Christ in the world.

This means stepping out of our human boundaries, to not seek the things we feel when we are most pressed, to step away from the need to feed ourselves on ourselves and our own produce. We need the bread that is the body of Christ, that bread which transforms and challenges our human desire for self satisfaction.

Paul says beloved I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul shows the urgency of keeping moving forward walking with Jesus, feeding on him, so we can leave our sin and mistakes behind us, we cannot grow or build if we keep looking behind us, we must press on, working, growing, being re-focused on the will, the mission of God, realising that our ignorance because of self satisfaction is distorting our life and those around us.

The sorrow of the Gospel today cries out to us to reevaluate what we are doing, are we living only to satisfy ourselves, to stand and admire our produce in the vineyard?

Like the squirrels who admired their bounty, and not thought further than themselves, they have destroyed the thing that was actually feeding them.

We are being called to be a new people, made on the foundations of Christ, built on his body, sustained by his body, to be the body of Christ in the world.

As we take Jesus into us today, during this Holy communion, this indwelling of him in us and us in him, let us ask for the Holy Spirit to remind us of our love for Christ and of our trust in Him.