Our students (as many of you will no doubt already know) exhibit an impressive range of vision and concern that extends well beyond the events and experiences playing out in their own small corners of the world—in their particular friend groups, schools, and neighborhoods. They are aware of, and burdened by, the injustices suffered in our society and in our world by God’s non-human creatures, by the LGBT community, by women, minorities, and migrants—in short, by “the least of these who are members of [God’s] family” (Matthew 25:40).
I have learned this in sharing meals together with our students, in packing onto the L like defiantly hopeful sardines amid a sea of pink knit hats, in slurping slushies and spilling popcorn at the Century 12 Evanston theater, where we had come to step into the shoes of James Baldwin—LGBT author, and powerful spokesman for African American Civil Rights.
Viewed through another lens, what I have seen is students graced with the decentering presence of the crucified God in their lives. The God we find on the cross is, after all, a peculiar God—one whose power is made perfect in weakness, who wins our salvation, our life, through death. This is the God who calls us to the cross as well, because of the mysterious paradox that in death we find life—that is, in being interrupted, decentered, moved to an existence that is outside of ourselves.
Though we may be loath to admit it, we all build walls.
For the sake of our own self-security, we build walls that divide us from our brothers and sisters. The higher we build the more secure we are—if only more securely ignorant and apathetic. This is “what segregation means,” Baldwin told us that night at the theater: “You don’t know what’s happening on the other side of the wall because you don’t want to know.”
Over the last few months, what I have seen in our young people is movement in another direction. This is what I mean when I say that I have seen the decentering presence of the crucified God at work. Rather than taking the way of self-security, I have seen them opting for what I would call the way of the cross. It is the way of tearing down walls, of moving outside of ourselves to embrace the other. It is the way of our death, and as such it is also the way that leads to life, and to communion with the peculiar God we find on Golgotha.
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).