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raised fistMy kids attended a small “school of choice” for middle school. One of the main focuses of their middle school was teaching the kids leadership, including learning the difference between acting in a proactive versus reactive manner. Their school operated without services (which could be provided though the other more traditional schools in the district, if necessary). They got a percentage of a principal, if you will, meaning the teachers pretty much ran the school. Like any institution, the school was subject to the personalities of those in charge and to how those people applied the policies.

The school’s kids had access to large practice fields for their recess time—or whatever you call recess for middle schoolers. The teachers often stood at the top of the hill while the kids milled around below them.

One day, during spring of 8th grade for my son, he was being harassed by one particular kid. There were two groups made up of girls and boys around those two boys. The kid pushed down my son. My son got up. The kid pushed him down again. He got up again. After the third time the kid pushed him down, my son got up and swacked the guy with his baseball hat. Ah ha—the teachers spied that move and called out both boys.

Despite all the eye witness accounts, each boy received an equal suspension from school. The “percentage” principal was called over to talk with both boys. When he met with my son, this man who barely knew him said, “Your hair is greasy and you smell bad. Don’t you ever wash?” I have no idea what he said to the other boy—the one, who by every student’s account, even those from the other group, was the aggressor.

My husband and I were called in to talk with the teachers. And we asked them, “So if our son is walking down the hall and someone reaches out and hits him—and he responds in any physical way—he will be suspended? And they said, “Yes. We have zero tolerance for violence.” Well, I guess that’s zero tolerance for the violence they personally see. I mean, they seemed to imply they just couldn’t believe our son responded in a reactive manner to how he was being treated. And no praise for the times he resisted the urge to respond.

As if most 13-year-old boys have the maturity to walk away, especially if they tried to do so and it didn’t make a difference.

So, the teachers didn’t appear to have the responsibility to de-escalate a situation, weigh any circumstances, or recognize that they pretty much had tolerated violence—until our son responded to violence committed against him. As we heard it, they couldn’t help it—their hands were tied. A rule is a rule. Until it’s applied differently for different people.

And, yes, we had previously experienced this sort of uneven treatment when our daughter was pushed down and injured in grade school. One sore arm and $200 x-ray for her . . . led to the school talking with the boy and his parents. That was it.

So much for zero tolerance.

For my kids, those were a few of the memorable times in their lives when the people in charge did not treat them justly. Turns out that life is not a game. However, even as really little kids, all of us know enough to feel outraged when people use different rules in order to win. Cries of “that’s not fair” are common from our youngest days.

Imagine a society where day in and day out, some people are reminded just how much the rules work better for people who aren’t like them—and that many people are just fine with that—if they’re the people getting the better part of that deal.

As long as we as a society accept the validity of treating certain people one way while treating others another, we shouldn’t be surprised when rage builds, especially when systemic inequities exist in the application of justice and opportunity.

But for those of us willing to admit that applying rules unfairly is not okay—now what? If we want to avoid being at the end of reactive responses to aggression and suppression, first we have to see and point out such oppression. And then we need to be proactive, both in leading and in choosing leaders who will unshackle this nation from its lopsided history of establishing justice for only some.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Thank goodness for Pope Francis or I might just stop reading the news at all.

How weary I have grown of all the negative news. Can’t anyone get along? Or at least try to make the world a better place for more than just this team or that side?

We live in such divisive times that it seems we’re somehow supposed to enjoy all the gridlock around us—I’ve seen enough of newscasters smirking as they read bad news, as if it’s great for us all to go down the tubes because they’d rather prove the sky is falling than see any resolution or hope. “They” want this so of course “we” will do everything in our power to stop whatever “they” are doing, even if it might be in everyone’s best interest to move forward.

Sure, the Pope is in a unique position where he really does have the power to do things his way in his organization—you know, as in “it’s good to be king” and all that? And yet I really believe he is doing things His way—that is in God’s way.

The Pope is selected by men through a mysterious process, but I believe God is behind that process. He knew what He was doing when He selected a man who broke with tradition right from the start. When Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose his papal name to emulate not a previous pope, but a revered saint who was also a bit of an oddball, he gave us a big hint about how he felt called to lead the Catholic Church—away from the trappings and back to the people.

Though I’m not Catholic, I do know of and admire the way St. Francis of Assisi fulfilled God’s work on this earth. Each time I read a new article about Pope Francis, I see how very much he emulates the ways of Francis. Yet because he is not just one of the leaders of the church but the Head of the (Catholic) Church as Pope, he has the authority to make incredible reforms from within, starting right from the top.

By the very numbers of people on this globe who are Catholic, every pope is in a very unique position to speak for Christians—even for Christians whose beliefs and practices may differ very strongly from those of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, through his statements and actions, is doing a really good job of reminding all Christians that we really are on the same team.

Even if he and I still differ on some very major principles, I am in awe that he keeps bringing his faith statements back to love and how we treat those in need. While his proposed reforms and statements have angered many of the more rule-oriented people within his church, he moves forward with the changes because—I am convinced—he feels they come from God. Since he didn’t expect to become the Pope and yet did, he acts with the conviction that God called him at this time because of what the church needs.

But even if he were solely a world leader, not a faith leader, he’d still make me smile. He isn’t some removed decision-maker making choices for his group in some far off hallowed place—whatever pronouncements he declares or negotiations he presides over in formal group, he seems to be doing for real people with real needs. No, much to his guards’ dismay, he is full-body throwing himself out amongst the people and loving them in those moments. He seems to like people, really he does, and shows so, whether he is shaking their hands or visiting them in times of need or through using the power of his position to care for them.

In these times when so few positive leaders make the news, I am so glad for the example provided by Pope Francis. Thank you for lifting my faith, Pope Francis. Keep smiling and leading in love.

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