Well, I finally did it. I finally watched the YouTube video of the middle-schoolers in Greece, New York tormenting Karen Klein, the 68 year old legally blind grandmother who serves as their bus monitor. It makes for disturbing viewing. The kids are foul-mouthed and terribly abusive to someone to whom they should be showing respect. It’s an ugly scene: a demonstration of the worst of human nature, a glimpse into where mob mentality leads. The video gives clear evidence that more and more young people on the bus joined in heaping abuse on Mrs. Klein.
The whole episode is more than a little reminiscent of another ugly scene, one that stands at the heart of Christian faith. A child of God—indeed, the very embodiment of God—is mocked, tortured, (and then killed) by a group of insecure, threatened folks who call him everything but a child of God in the process. As Jesus hangs there on the cross, the life leaking from him, he says, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
It is that story—of the embodiment of God refusing to return evil for evil, setting aside the natural human desire for retribution, meeting violence with non-violence, countering hatred with love—that offers the best hope for a world where scenes like the one on the bus too often occur. At the center of the story of Jesus is an affirmation that human inhumanity, our bent towards that which is destructive, and the very power of Death, do not get the last word. Life and love do.
In addition to the worst of human nature, we have seen some of the best of human nature come out of the bullying incident. Amidst the calls for retribution and the death threats that the boys’ families have received, we’ve heard voices, including Karen Klein’s, that are concerned that the consequences to the perpetrators not be overly harsh (no charges filed): that punishment be meted out with mercy. More than $450,000 has been contributed by those who’ve seen the video to try to compensate Mrs. Klein for what she endured; what started out as an effort to send her on a nice vacation has become a nest egg on which she can retire. Some, if not all, of the boys appear to have offered heartfelt apologies, at least in print. And our consciousness of the human capacity to be vile and inhumane has been raised yet again.
This is not the first time scenes like the one in Greece, NY have unfolded, and it sadly won’t be the last. The history of genocide across the centuries, the way hatred and antipathy get fomented in our political speech about our opponents (and let’s not kid ourselves, it happens on both ends of the political spectrum), the mistreatment and mischaracterization of people and groups who are not “like us,” these are all signs of the worst in us. The sin in us, to use traditional language…
And for my money, they are also the reason why we need a scarred God. Not a “scared” God. Not a God who needs to be protected or defended at any cost, not a God who whips up mobs through fear and intimidation, but a God who shows us the power that comes in vulnerability, the freedom that comes in extending and receiving forgiveness, and the joy of a life turned towards and lived in love.
What do you think? Let the conversation continue…