This week my daughter’s high school had standardized testing. Out in front, meticulously restrained to the sidewalk pavement and therefore not on the grounds of a public school, representatives of The Gideons, handed out to the entering students, pocket sized copies of Christian Scripture. The books are quite small, they are bound in one of the school colors and they were thrust into the hands of the students just as casually as if they were flyers for the sandwich shop down the street. The students took them, too, just as casually. Inside the school, however, these little books were tossed in the garbage, used as projectiles, defaced, defamed and disrespected.
Now I am not one who proclaims the sanctity of the book. Frankly, that smacks of idolatry to me. The Word is sacred, the book paper. My own Bible has writing in the margins and dog eared pages. Isaiah was once soaked in coffee and smells like Kona Blend to this day. This, to my mind, is a good thing. No, it is not the defacement of the icon that concerns me.
Nor do I want to give the impression that every one of the kids who took a book from the Gideons subsequently abused or disrespected it. Most were bemused but respectful and either set them aside or crammed them into the bottomless pit that is a high school locker. Really, the vast majority of kids couldn’t care less either way.
And I am sure that the hearts of the Gideons outside were in the right place. . These good men reached out in accordance with their mission to “promote the Gospel of Christ to all people.” They intended to offer support and consolation on an incredibly stressful day. Perhaps they thought that, going into that Algebra AP, the feel of the recitation of Scripture might make a student more calm. In point of fact, the recitation of the Pythagorean Theorem might make them calmer, but whatever. They might even have imagined that in a moment of crisis or despair someone might open the little book to the Gospels or the Psalms or the Proverbs and have their lives changed by the Scripture in that moment. These are worthy aims, I have no beef with this.
What concerns me is the Christian in the crowd. I am thinking of the teenager who is just at that age where going to Church Camp or Youth Group outings is really fun to do, but a little embarrassing to admit. This is the teen who is right at that moment in their faith life where they wonder if the obvious and pervasive stupidity that they have just begun to notice is a part of every single adult of their acquaintance extends to their pastor and therefore their faith. This is the teen who is deciding how religion will fit on the horizon of their emerging adulthood. What this child sees inside that building is that his faith is a liability. His peers jeer at the Scripture, they read the words with dripping sarcasm and the laugh at the dopey language and tired parables. The Christian student in this scenario is in the horrible position of having to stand up for his faith in the face of the loudest of his peers, or to deny his faith and slink away, resenting the Scripture for having put him in this position in the first place. The Gideons who lovingly handed out those scriptures in the hope of reaching the Christians inside the building have only succeeded in throwing the most vulnerable of their brethren to the Lions.
Scripture could very likely help a person who is anxious and unsure as he or she enters a testing situation or an interview room or an application process, but in order for the Scripture to do that person any good, he has to have read it before hand, to have processed it, incorporated it into his bones and made it his own somehow. That isn’t done on Testing Day, on the sidewalk outside of school by a stranger with a blaze orange book. By all means minister to the youth of our community, evangelize right up until the very last day, but do it with compassion, thoughtfully and intelligently. Possibly, on the day of the SAT’s, hand that sweating sophomore a role of Tums and a card with an inscription that says, “I’m hoping for the best for you.” That seems like, well, what Jesus would do.