One of my greatest joys is serving students, families, schools, and communities as a school psychologist. Although direct contact with children is the best part of my day, I also have the pleasure of working alongside some of the most dedicated and outstanding teachers anywhere. Having spent considerable time in classrooms, regardless of the level—elementary, middle, or high school—or subject matter, good teaching is palpable. Coupled with developing meaningful relationships with their students, effective teachers have a knack for explaining complex concepts in ways that children understand. Said another way, after knowing their students, good teachers modify (e.g., differentiate) their instructional practices so that information is accessible to everyone. A master teacher, Christ also did these things. By spending time with people, getting to know them, and most importantly loving them, he explained spiritual things in ways that were comprehensible and helped them to grow.
PERSPECTIVE FROM PARABLES
Stories can be a very effective teaching tool. For Jesus specifically, parables—short, simple allegories that revealed a profound lesson or spiritual truth—were a regular part of his ministerial methodology. Recorded in Luke 15, Jesus told a group of people who were not religious (vv. 1-2) three parables: the lost sheep (vv. 3-7), the lost coin (vv. 8-10), and the lost (prodigal) son (vv. 11-31). And although there are many elements that can be expounded upon in these stories, let’s focus on God’s commitment to loving us, especially when we are most in need of love.
The parable of the lost sheep contains these words in verse 4: If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? In the parable of the lost coin, this is written in verse 8: Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? In the parable of the lost son, verse 20 says this: …And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. Whether a lost animal, a lost coin, or a lost child, God’s love always gives particular attention to who or what is most in need.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Established in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, the Black Lives Matter movement raises awareness about longstanding systemic racism and injustice that disproportionately affects Black people in America. While there are numerous examples (e.g., access to affordable housing, healthcare, and quality education through adequately funded public schools), the data below are nonetheless alarming and help illustrate the need for the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Of the 598 individuals who have been killed by police in 2020, Black individuals are 28 percent of those victims, despite being 13 percent of the population.
- Compared to White individuals, Black people are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed, but 3 times more likely to be killed by police.
Although we may not agree with the political platform of the Black Lives Matter organization in its entirety, the fundamental premise of the movement should be without controversy: Black people deserve the rights, benefits, safety, access, and opportunities that are afforded to other lives. But since its existence, there has been resistance to the idea that Black lives matter. One of the most common counterarguments is All Lives Matter.
Returning to Luke 15, after the prodigal son came home, his father had a party to celebrate the fact that he who was once lost was now safe (vv. 20-22). The older brother, however, was neither excited about nor supportive of the joyous occasion. Verses 28, 29, and 30: The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” Among other issues, these verses highlight the difference between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. The party for the lost son did not mean that he was more important than his brother. The party for the lost son did not mean that the father loved him more than his brother. The party for the lost son did not mean that the older brother didn’t matter. But because he was lost, it was fitting to celebrate his return to safety.
All Lives Matter shifts the focus from the issue at hand: Black lives are in danger, and perhaps endangered. And because of this, we should work for comprehensive policy changes that ensure their protection. All Lives Matter centers self and ignores the societal ills that disproportionately affect Black children, Black adults, Black families, and Black communities. Although the older brother was upset with his father, rather than condemning him, let’s try to understand his frustration. According to cultural norms, his birth order meant that he was centered. In other words, he was the most respected and the one who received the most attention. But when he was no longer the focus, he became angry. Based on the social hierarchy that has been created in America as a function of race, Black Lives Matter can be unsettling for some White people because it decenters their positionality. But like the father’s actions in the parable, Black Lives Matter does not mean that all lives don’t matter.
EQUALITY VS. EQUITY
The current climate surrounding race relations in America has led many PK-12 schools, colleges, universities, and other organizations to embark upon anti-racism initiatives. Often including professional development, sessions likely discuss the differences between equality and equity. In fact, some of us may be familiar with the myriad internet images used to contrast these constructs. Delineating the distinctions is beyond the scope of this message; but one point is key: whereas equality is treating everyone the same, equity is giving everyone what they need based on their unique circumstances. In other words, although God loves all of us with the same intensity, passion, and commitment, God also knows our respective histories, personalities, and idiosyncrasies to purposefully love us in ways that are individually meaningful. And while such love requires God to do different things for different people at different times in their lives, it never means that God loves one person more than anyone else. For those who are the parent or guardian of more than one child, because you love your children in ways that are aligned to their individual needs, does this mean that you love either of them more than the others?
Some of us have been the lone lost sheep and God left the 99 to pursue us until we were safe. Others have been the lost coin that God did not stop searching for until we were found. In both instances, it wasn’t that the others did not matter or were less valued by God; but the one that was unprotected deserved particular attention. And because of who God is, when you’re the one in danger, God will focus on you.