Last weekend I got flipped off by a two-year-old child.
Elisa and I were picking up Latoya* to go to a Bible study, and I saw the cutest little boy wandering around the yard. His little onesie was unbuttoned and his diapers were peaking out. As we got in the van and drove away, he stuck his tongue out at me and raised his middle finger.
I'm not sure what I did to prompt this gesture of hatred.
In the van, Latoya asked me for some advice. "There's this girl at school who wants to fight me. Should I fight her?"
I remember when I was a kid, my dad had to read lots of books on personality as part of his doctoral work. He gave me a bunch of personality tests, and I would always come out as "The Peacemaker" or whatever funny title someone thought of to describe a person who just wants everyone to get along. This is no surprise; I've always hated conflict. If I were ever presented with the question of to fight or not to fight, the answer would seem obvious to me.
"What do you think you should do, Latoya?"
"I think I should fight her."
Apparently the answer is not so obvious to someone who lives in a neighborhood where you learn to flip someone off before you learn to use the toilet.
This weekend I was playing with some of the same kids on the playground. They were swinging on the monkey bars when Derik hit Jamar. (This isn't an uncommon occurrence with plenty of kids, I suppose...but it happens pretty regularly with this bunch.) Thankfully, I was close enough to make peace before things got out of control. I asked the assailant why he hit his friend.
"Jamar cries all the time, like a baby! I'm just trying to make him stronger. He'll never learn otherwise."
More logic that is foreign to me. I've experienced little violence or aggression in my life, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by its presence in the real world. I wanted these kids to understand that violence is a cycle. The more you hate and hit, the more you get hated and hit. The only way to escape the cycle is to love.
This is a hard thing to tell kids though. I can't promise Latoya that if she is nice to the girl who wants to fight her everything will be okay. Maybe it will. Or maybe the girl will still beat her up. Turning the other cheek doesn't come with a guarantee that that cheek won't get hit too.
Perhaps what makes it hard to explain is that turning the other cheek isn't about self-protection, which I think is (understandably) a primary concern for kids growing up in this environment. And to a degree, it's a natural human instinct to look out for your own interests.
But thankfully, God wasn't too concerned with self-protection when He thought up salvation. And while His call to follow His example may seem harsh and difficult and contrary to the logic of the world, He asks anyway. Maybe because He can see the end from the beginning. And maybe He knows that even when we are the ones bruised and humbled at the end of the day, ultimately love wins.
"You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."
-Matthew 5:43-48 the message
*All names have been changed. Except for Elisa's.