“White Christmas” and the Looter’s Heart

More reflections from Ferguson, Missouri

In the midst of more rioting in and around Ferguson, Missouri, these students left the dangerous streets to enjoy a pre-Thanksgiving meal (author Brycen Marner is at back-center). Courtesy Salem EFC

Christmas carols stir many memories. For many, that means warm family traditions, reflections on the birth of Christ or the craziness of holiday shopping. For me, the jazzy version of “White Christmas” popularized by the movie Home Alone will no longer remind me of Macaulay Culkin shaving and singing, but of the moment when God allowed me to see the hearts of young people who have been characterized as heartless.

Our ministry, the Kulture, reaches out to unreached youth in North St. Louis County, particularly those whom others have given up on. As events continue to unfold in Ferguson and St. Louis, many of our youth are affected. Several are drawn directly into the chaos because they live on the street, where the criminal response of looting and burning took place at the greatest level.

When I first heard that my students were participating, I was sad and mad. I have poured hours and days, sometimes years, into their lives, and it is hard to not take it personally or want to chew them out, or to simply devalue them.

Last night that changed, after the verdict came down to not indict a white police officer in the death of an African-American youth. We drove around the maze of National Guard barricades and picked up these students. We went to the Kulture, where they were served an awesome Thanksgiving dinner (many won’t have this type of experience on the actual holiday), then heard the gospel clearly and talked through their feelings about the events in our community. We then drove them home.

In an effort to have some fun, I played some random Christmas songs in the van. To my surprise, these self-conscious teens, full of bravado, began unselfconsciously belting out all the parts to “White Christmas.”

In that very moment we drove past Michael Brown’s memorial, and I realized again that these young people were individual creations of God, made in His image. They were not some generic group called “criminals” or “looters,” but individuals with real hearts, pains, sins and beauty. I was drawn back to the perspective of my Savior.

Jesus didn’t label the people He interacted with as “adulterer,” “thief” or “rebel.” Rather, he saw them as “a woman from whom I can ask a drink of water,” “Zacchaeus, whom I will have lunch with” and “James and John, whom I can invite to be My disciples and change the world.”

He addressed their brokenness, yes, but saw each as a human with a heart He had made and valued.

The challenge for all of us as we continue to witness events like Ferguson is to see past the hashtags, media labels and darkness in our own hearts, and to see humans made in God’s image.

I will always remember that the people I want to categorize and dehumanize are actually people who might just need a safe place to be goofy, sing falsetto Christmas songs and be loved by a person who has been loved by Christ.

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