April 3- Day 34 of Lent

OPENING PRAYER: Loss is Indeed our Gain (Walter Brueggemann)

The Pushing and Shoving in the world is endless.
We are pushed and shoved.
And we do our share of pushing and shoving
in our great anxiety.
And in the middle of that
you have set down your beloved suffering son
who was like a sheep led to slaughter
who opened not his mouth.

We seem not able,
so we ask you to create space in our life
where we may ponder his suffering
and your summons for us to suffer with him,
suspecting that suffering is the only way to newness.

So we pray for your church in these Lenten days,
when we are driven to denial —
not to notice the suffering,
not to engage it,
not to acknowledge it.
So be that way of truth among us
that we should not deceive ourselves
That we shall see that loss is indeed our gain.
We give you thanks for that mystery from which we live.

Amen.

THIS DAY IN HISTORY: APRIL 3, 2010

Alexa Gonzalez Case

On April 3, 2010,  12 year old Alexa Gonzalez notified New York City schools that she and her family would be suing the district. Two months earlier, Gonzalez had been caught doodling on a school desk with a lime green erasable marker, and was subsequently handcuffed in her school hallways, taken to the local police station, left handcuffed to a pole for more than 2 hours, and prohibited from speaking to her mother. She eventually received an out-of-school suspension as well as a juvenile court summons, and was sentenced to eight hours of community service. After these events, the Gonzalez family ended up suing the school district for an excessive use of force and a violation of rights, and New York City officials later acknowledged that the arrest was a mistake and that better judgement could have been used.

While this case may seem extreme, the rise of zero tolerance policies and harshly punitive school discipline measures have caused the widespread criminalization of young people in schools and enacted the “school to prison pipeline.” For example, a Texas study found that students who received exclusionary disciplinary measures in middle or high school had a greatly increased chance of ending up in the juvenile justice system. Within the Texas schools studied, 23% of students who had been suspended at least once ended up within the justice system, while only 2% of students with no suspensions did.  Moreover, the American Bar Association found that students who are expelled from school are much less likely to graduate, and youth who do not finish high school are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested as adults.

Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and a disproportionate rate of punitive measures such as suspensions and expulsions. For example, while black children made up 16 percent of all enrolled children in 2011-12, according to federal data, they accounted for 32 percent of all in-school arrests. Moreover 40% of students who are expelled from school each year are black, and 70% of in-school arrests nationally are of Black or Latino students. Students of color are also disproportionately punished for discretionary reasons such as “willful defiance,” disruption, and “insubordination”  and end up dealing with cops both inside and outside schools at a higher rate. This disproportionate punishment of black and brown students in schools correlates with disproportionate incarceration rates as well.

Though many schools are now paying greater attention to these disparities in school disicpline and the need for restorative justice practices that actually heal harm and restore school community, the Alexa Gonzalez case is a reminder that our schools must focus on educating rather than incarcerating our young people.

SCRIPTURAL REFLECTION: MATTHEW 18:1-7

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

RESPONSE OF LAMENT AND CONFESSION: Please spend some time in personal response, crying out to God with prayers, poems, songs, or art that expresses your lament and confession. If you feel led, please share these responses with others, using #lentenlament #day34

You may close with the following:

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

CLOSING PRAYER:  A Prayer for Justice (Albert Schweitzer, 1949)

Our Father, we are thy children on earth. Rich and  poor, black and white, Jew and Gentile, native and alien,  friend and enemy we are all alike the heirs of thy providence and the recipients of thy love. As thou hast done for  us, so we should do for one another. But we have been selfish and cruel, and unrighteously have sought to serve not thy will but our own.

We confess before thee, O God, the sins of which we have been guilty. We have corrupted government, exploited labor, oppressed women and little children, preyed upon the weak and helpless, ground the faces of the poor, done public injustice for private gain. These are our hands, stained with the evil of our deeds. Behold our hearts, impure with sordid desires for place and profit. The world, which thou hastmade so fair, we have defaced. Our country, which thou hast so richly blessed, we have defamed. Woe be unto us, that wickedness has so prevailed among us.

But thou art patient, O God, and strong to save. Thy righteousness is mighty upon us, and cannot fail. Thou art building thy kingdom in the hearts of [people] as from the beginning of the world, and seeking our aid as fellow-laborers with thee. So would we turn to thee, to plead thy forgiveness as we cleanse the dark places of our lust and pride.

Help us to strive to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thee in the way of righteousness. Throughout the world may we deliver [people] from inequality, indignity, and oppression, that we would end poverty, war, and injustice.

Amen.

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