Monday, November 12, 2012

In the stinking middle

Listen to this post:

The honeymoon must be over at Artsy Fartsy, the monthly arts-exploration I hold for at-risk kids in my neighborhood. I'm not saying I'm not deeply engaged with these kids; I still am – maybe more so now than ever. I'm just saying some are comfortable enough to not be on their best, at-attention, behavior.

What is really happening, I believe, is their relationship patterns from where they live are showing up here, on neutral turf. We've always been clear there's no bullying here. I did not anticipate reverse bullying, which is, still, bullying.

One of the girls came to the party a session late for whatever reason. We were warned at last summer's on-site registration to stay away from that family; "they're trouble." But we couldn't because this young girl was eager to join and her mother, whom we awoke after a late night in jail, was just as eager to sign her up. It appears they wish to break the cycle.

I never gave it another thought until just before the first session when I visited to hand out van-permission slips. I came across a boy I tried hard to recruit. When he looked at my list of kids, he said "I can't if she's there. I'm not allowed within 100 feet of her."

Oh, a restraining order, I thought. This work will not be a breeze. I had to tell the boy that the other child had signed up first and he would have to do what he would have to do. I could not kick her out. Boy, did my heart ache over this.

Two sisters, who were my first recruits, slunk back when they, too, saw this girl was a participant. "Were not allowed to play with her," they said. So I paid their dad a visit and said this group would be highly supervised by adults. He felt it would not be an issue; that is only was one when the kids were unsupervised and playing at home.

Since she was a no-show the first time, everyone settled in comfortably. The second time, she arrived and was an absolute angel ... no issues of any kind.

I didn't think anything of it as I set the "Thanksgiving" table with wooden discs for plates, chalk, markers and scissors for utensils. I made the seating arrangements, marking each with an envelope containing a personal note of gratitude and their name fancily printed on the outside. We were having two new boys, so I sat them with our faithful volunteer and lone boy. I put the new girl from outside of this community with a more mature girl and a playful one. I paired two older girls that seem to be friends, two younger ones the same way and placed the girl in question with an quiet, older girl. They got along fine. And everything went swimmingly, through the introduction and constructing of the finger labyrinths. Though I notice this child seeks much one-on-one attention. Fortunately, a very experienced teacher-volunteer worked with her.

Everything was on track until the kids, three at a time, had turns experiencing the Christmas-light labyrinth in the empty room across the hall. My older daughter was chaperoning and making sure kids stuck to the guidelines. Of course, they're kids, so I did not expect stillness and quiet.

After everyone had completed their projects, we let them all experience the labyrinth, which had become a game of who could slide into the pillows in the center and actually get a pillow. A sort of musical chairs. Not what I had anticipated, but is it ever? Naturally, someone got left out and came to tell me. She was called a snitch, which I heard, and told because she bullys at home, she couldn't here ... this from some other girls. Interestingly, there was a video clip of the incident and the so-called bully was not bullying, but neither, was the person who slid onto the pillow first. It was more of a miscommunication. However, because one tattled, the others felt they had to retaliate.

It was quiet, not overt, and others, I think, may have missed it. I had naively hoped that these girls might establish a new pattern here they could take home. I still hold that prayer, but I was unsettled that girls I thought I could count on turned somewhat vicious on this younger girl. I understand, but am clear there isn't room for that at Artsy Fartsy. Especially, in the MIDDLE of the labyrinth! They knew it was a sacred place for centering and were even writing their own gratitude notes there. I guess temptation was too great as it often is for most of us.

The session was still really wonderful overall, but this really stuck in my heart. Perhaps because, when the younger girl found a stray bead in the labyrinth materials, she brought it to me and said, "I know way this means: What would Jesus do?" I was taken aback because it seemed like she really did. This was before the labyrinth incident. While reading the notes of gratitude afterward, two spoke explicitly of Jesus and I wondered if these had been her notes, not that the source mattered.

I slept poorly that night, stewing about what to do.

Sunday in worship, our minister spoke about the true meaning of Jesus' command that we love our enemies and turn they other cheek. He encouraged radical resistance, so radical that it displayed the idiocy of oppression and, often, he did so with humor. HUMOR, I thought. That IS the answer to what's happening with these girls. Kids always respond well to humor.

I don't know more than that now, but it sure feels right. I plan to prayerfully discern what role I am to take, if any, between now and next time. I'd appreciate your holding all of this, especially the three girls, in prayer as well. They have good hearts, just old patterns. Wow, doesn't that hit home?

• When has behavior between others upset me?
• How have I responded?
• If I invoked prayer, what was my prayer?
• What response did I receive?
• How do I model Jesus' radical teachings?

projector wouldn't work
thermos full of
hot chocolate imploded, 
we'd arrived late,
the kids came even later
one who pledged to be there,
rode his bike off somewhere else

it was an inauspicious

but we muddled

and once the group
was creatively
we all settled

for good, I'd hoped

even the three-at-a-time
through the labyrinth seemed
on target

enough so, we let them
all walk

and, in an instant,
something turned

words were exchanged,
feelings were hurt

including mine
because it happened,
for God's sake, in the
stinking middle of
the labyrinth

the sacred circle

and then I realized
the awfulness occurred
in the palm of God's
hands, in the middle,
nestled up close

and it will be


  1. Whether I am praying about the need for Congress to resolve an issue or preparing to teach a Sunday School class of 2nd-graders, I've found it helps to acknowledge that the Christ is always speaking directly to the consciousness of every individual and that everyone can hear and respond to this Christ message. I just posted a blog entry about this idea: http://www.thechristheals.blogspot.com/2012/11/acknowledging-christ-in-consciousness.html

  2. So interesting and so true ... as a Quaker, we believe similarly that there is that of God in everyone. Thank you so much for sharing here and on your blog.