I’ve been in awe at the grace, power, and humility of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students. Following the horrific shooting at their school, they’ve led the nation in a rallying cry for stricter gun control. The students have handled their political challengers with grace, care, and humor. The moral clarity of their righteous anger has led to the first real political discussion of gun control in the US in the last thirty years. They have been pretty amazing.
Meanwhile, left leaning America has turned this high school cohort into an archetype of liberal wish fulfillment. While it would be easy to imagine that these young people return home at the end of the day to supportive communities and families, it is far more likely that they return home to families deeply divided on gun control. Whatever their political leanings, as upper middle class and primarily white, these students are statistically more likely to return to communities populated by gun owners and Trump voters than fellow liberal activists. These students live at the intersection of the liberal vs. conservative divide.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of college students who have needed to leave home. I’ve worked with students who fled literal homes to come to the US in pursuit of asylum. I’ve worked with countless students who fled their families to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or to transition to their authentic selves. And of course, there are the more mundane but equally as significant leavings of those who need to create distance between an older version of themselves and the new to which they are giving birth during their college years.
No matter the reason, leaving home is fueled by a deep need to create a future better than the lived present. Even when the leaving is deeply desired or existentially necessary, it is also very painful.
Jesus tells us that, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Other translations soften the language to “leave home.” But no matter how we choose to phrase it, the devastation doesn’t lessen. To follow Christ can put us at odds with those we love the most, or with those communities which have defined us. To become a Christian means claiming allegiance to Christ’s path even when it hurts or is dangerous.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to cultivate that sort of bravery. Advocating for systemic change is, for me at least, fairly comfortable. Over the last year, I’ve had plenty of time to become skilled at calling my congressional representation in complaint. I’ve attended protests and signed petitions. I’ve gathered with activists to talk about our theories of change and which powerful people to target.
If I am honest, what scares me is the more intimate work of speaking truthfully with those closest to me. This is especially true when I feel that that truth might compromise my relationship. I haven’t quite built up the courage to put the comfort of home at risk.
Moral clarity certainly seems to have helped the Stoneman Douglas teens. Surely youth has a role in that too. I also think it helps knowing that real lives hang in the balance. Standing in the shadow of activists leading the Black Lives Matter protests, I am daily called to remember ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ To foster real courage, it isn’t enough for me to feel compelled to “fix” my family and friends. A deeper truth, the truth that real lives hang in the balance, is the only one that can call me out of my reluctance.
I’ve long believed that you can’t be truly effective in a call until you know you have the power to leave it. If I am consumed by financial insecurity or beholden to fears for my reputation, I am unlikely to be a very good pastor. I think the same might be true in relationship. You cannot be totally authentic unless you know you have the power, and even the reluctant willingness, to leave if needed. When you know you are willing to leave, you can tell the truth and follow where Christ calls.
I have to believe that Christ wants us to bring our families with us. He wants us to speak to our communities and witness to the gospel (as imperfectly as we see it) on the topic of gun control, and black lives matter, and all the deep material needs of those around us. But if they won’t listen, then like high school drama and debate students, we are called to tell the truth anyway.
Elizabeth Hakken Candido is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) Pastor who currently serves as the College Chaplain and Director of Religious & Spiritual Life at Kalamazoo College. Liz lives in Kalamazoo, MI with her husband Bob who is a pilot. They have two daughters, Clara and Abigail. Liz blogs at collegechaplainclergy.com
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