A Disheartening Brawl

–verb. To depress the hope, courage or spirits of; discourage
That doesn’t seem like a spectacularly positive choice of words with which to begin, does it? It’s the sunniest selection appropriate to describe how I felt recently upon hearing about the behavior of a large group of teenagers recently engaged in a “brawl” at a shopping mall I used to frequent. Yes, I said “used to”.
As a mother of three sons, ages 10-17, I suppose I feel uniquely qualified to outright reject both the “solutions” and hopelessness offered by local parents and pastors which were shared by Indianapolis area media regarding the handling of teenagers.
To punctuate the sentiment of surrender and discouragement felt by all, one mother was quoted saying to her child, “Y’alls generation is terrible”.
Another group, comprised of pastors from local churches, suggested that the solution lies in helping the young people find something to do—because there just aren’t good choices readily available.
These were themes I continued to hear over the course of days. Well meaning as those people might be, I listened and thought, “What planet are these people living on? We all need to look in the mirror, folks!”
Do you want to know what my teenage sons do on weeknights? They do their homework. If there’s time left over before bedtime, they might catch a game on ESPN, or watch an episode of “The Voice” with their mama, or they might play basketball on the tiny plastic hoop in my 10 year old’s room. He usually has a full NCAA tourney scribbled on a piece of paper. Last night Zach was Michigan and his brother was Butler. I have no idea who made it into the round of 32, I just know that the older boys are forced to play on their knees to make it “fair” and that it sounds like the house is coming down when they play.
On the weekends, when they don’t have practices or games themselves, they go support the high school team. Like many schools, at our place, admission is free to students. Away games, the kids have to come up with $5 or so and they can usually be entertained by two games for that price during hoops season………..hollering for their Golden Eagles for about 3 hours or so. After the games, sometimes they come here and I throw in frozen pizzas for them and a few buddies. Occasionally, they hit BW3 for wings. I know who they are with, and if they have post-game plans at a friend’s house, I check in with the parents to make sure they are home. Often, I get text messages from these parents letting me know that my son is now on his way home, or that he ate a whole bag of Oreos, or that he’s really horrible at Guitar Hero.

On Sunday, you’ll find them in the 3rd row on the left at mass.
Our faith community has expectations and kids rise to the occasion. It’s amazing when you set a bar for them, they often surprise and hurdle right over it. For instance, the kiddos are asked to do service work at their churches and in the community. There are specific requirements we give the kids, depending on their ages of course. Younger kids (like say 5th graders) might be asked to do 5 hours of service work. High schoolers need many more. They are amazing and creative and their work inevitably reveals to them something about themselves and about their Awesome Creator. The boys and their buddies have raked leaves for the elderly with their school friends, they’ve spread mulch at church, they’ve served meals to the homeless, they’ve stocked food at the food pantry, fit shoes on needy kids, written letters to soldiers, played bingo at nursing homes, worked in the concession stand for CYO games, instructed younger kids at sports camps, dusted and cleaned pews, and on and on over the years.
One particular day after playing bingo with some seniors at a nursing home filled with folks of very limited means, my youngest son (who was 8 at the time) said, “I think that one old lady really liked me mom. She said I made her day. Jesus is happy with me I think.”
My oldest son told the tale of raking leaves in Noblesville for a woman who then arrived home one fall day to find her work had been done for her. She was in tears explaining how her husband had been in the hospital after suffering a heart attack and how much the gesture meant to her. Clearly, the kiddos in his group felt they had been Christ to this woman…..and that felt pretty terrific.
Another day, one of the boys made a point to show me a photo of he and his buddies on twitter. The picture had been posted by his baseball coach while the team was cleaning the kitchen at a downtown food kitchen. He was proud of himself and wanted to show his mom about his morning!
I profoundly reject those ideas.
Admittedly, when my middle son asked for a rosary for Christmas I did wonder to myself who he thought he was kidding. A priest friend agreed and jokingly suggested I check the police blotter. My point is, no child is perfect, and they are all going to make mistakes….including my own.  I share about our life because in all humility I think something is going right, not because the boys I live with are without flaws and not because they have perfect parents.  FAR from it.

BUT. Consider the following.
Professor Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School shared a story via social media that I intercepted a month or so ago. It was about a Marxist economist from China coming to the end of a Fulbright Fellowship in Boston. Christensen asked him if he learned anything surprising or unexpected and without hesitation he said, “I had no idea how critical religion is to the function of democracy.” The Fulbright Scholar went on to explain the reason democracy works isn’t because the government was designed to oversee what everybody does, but rather democracy works because most people, most of the time voluntarily choose to obey the law.
Christensen then goes on to share how this Chinese scholar noted that in America’s past, most people attended a church or synagogue every week and were taught there by people they respected. He went on to say Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that they weren’t just accountable to society but they were accountable to God.
Professor Christensen then opines about wondering as religion loses its influence over the lives of Americans, what will happen to our democracy? If you take away religion, you can’t have enough police.
Here’s the link to a clip of Christensen’s short messgage: https://www.youtube.com/embed/YjntXYDPw44

That leads me right back to the brawl at Castleton Mall and the hundreds of young people who seemed to be lost that day, and the thousands more just like them who desperately need Christ.
All you who love Jesus or who want to love Him more, join me in prayer for our young people, our nation, ourselves.
“O, Lord Jesus Christ, open the eyes of my hear that I may hear your word, and understand and do your will, for I am a sojourner upon the Earth.
Hide not your commandments from me, but open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of your Law.
Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of your wisdom.
On you do I set my hope, O my God, that you shall enlighten my mind and understanding with the light or your knowledge; not only to cherish those things which are written but to do them;
That in reading the lives and sayings of the saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting.
For you are the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from you comes every good deed and every gift. Amen.

(Prayer by St. John Chrysendom)
We’ve got to do better. With Jesus, we can.

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