The Students Are Hungry

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This is a cardboard coffee cup. From Starbucks. It’s the new holiday cup for 2015, and there are people who have chosen to get all up into a lather over it. Because it doesn’t have reindeer or snowflakes or angels on it, and somehow these folks are interpreting this lack of winter-themed designs on a cardboard coffee cup as a War On Christmas. This is not a War On Christmas. It is a red cardboard coffee cup. However, there are wars raging. And if we really want to consider everything that Jesus stood for – everything that Christmas represents, we could consider that there is a real War On Christmas. And it has nothing to do with decorations, or how people wish each other well during the holidays. In fact, the War On Christmas is being perpetrated in part by those who are distracting us from the real issues by making a big fuss about red coffee cups.

Two weeks ago, Ben Fields, a problem cop in Columbia, S.C. who had been assigned as resource officer to a public school brutally body-slammed an African-American girl in a classroom because she wouldn’t get up out of her chair. It seems he was called to the classroom because the girl refused to comply with the teacher’s request and an administrator’s request to leave the classroom. She was requested to leave, it seems, because she wouldn’t put down her cell phone.

Eventually we learned that this student’s mother and grandmother had recently died and that she’s living now in foster care. But even if she didn’t have these extenuating circumstances – even if she were just an obnoxious kid – since when has it been illegal — ILLEGAL — to be obnoxious in school?

When 22-Year-Old was 11 and just starting middle school, it was only months after our son Sean had died. She was having a rough time, and early in the school year, she hit another student. In many schools, because of zero-tolerance policies, she would have been suspended. But we were fortunate. The principal (the African-American principal, as it happens) of her school was a wonderful and understanding man. While there were consequences, she wasn’t suspended. And the faculty and staff took special care to look out for her. The school cared for her and nurtured her. As they should.

In Columbia, S.C. the student was shown that she wasn’t important. She was treated like a unit of product in the school-to-prison pipeline. The resource officer wasn’t being used as a resource – to help the children get to know and trust the police, but rather as a weapon to keep the children down. And if the children in that school are learning anything at all, they are learning that they don’t count. And all the while they are starving.

Last week Jonathan Butler, an African-American graduate student at the University of Missouri in Columbia (seriously – is it something about places named Columbia?) went on a hunger strike to call for the resignation of university President Tim Wolfe over Wolfe’s lack of action over several racist incidents at the university. It wasn’t until the football team got behind Butler (and then the coach and faculty got behind the football team) by saying that they would refuse to play, that the President and the Chancellor stepped down today.

Butler was hungry before he went on his hunger strike. And he wasn’t the only one. The students are hungry. They’re starving. The students are hungry for respect and safety in their schools. They’re hungry to be taught – to be really taught.

When the Syro-Phoenecian woman came to Jesus, (Mark 7:24-30) he told her that the children had to be fed before the dogs. But the woman schooled Jesus and reminded him that even the dogs got the crumbs that fall from the table, and Jesus was humbled a bit and healed the woman’s daughter. The Syro-Phoenicians weren’t oppressed. As it happens, they might be more rightly seen as the oppressors. But if Jesus could put aside what he knew of the Syro-Phoenicians, if he could manage to stop himself and see this woman as a woman, an individual, can we not follow his example, especially when dealing with the most vulnerable among us?

If we really want to end the War On Christmas, perhaps we ought to stop distracting ourselves with nonsense about cardboard coffee cups and start feeding the people who are hungry as Jesus fed them. Perhaps we ought to follow the example of Christmas – of the one who came from lowly birth to announce hope for the hopeless.

The students are hungry. It’s time to feed them. It’s time to remember that #BlackLivesMatter. Want to talk about it some more? Sure. Let’s go have a coffee. I don’t care what color the cup is.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

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