problems at work often leave me in a place of theological reflection.

as i think about how to “deal with” troublesome students in my classes, pedro noguera’s essay on the endless similarities between schools and prisons immediately comes to mind. in schools, as in prisons, delinquent behavior is dealt with through sacrificial systems that involve proportional punishment, social exclusion, and shame. even though dishing out punishments for bad behavior is done in the name of reforming the delinquent, true character transformation is rarely the result. what does result is what richard rohr calls scapegoating. we export our evil over there, project it over there, fear it over there, attack it over there, hate it over there, and ultimately destroy it over there.

so when we think about how god deals with evil, we usually think about how god is so perfect that he cannot have any sin or imperfection near him. it must be cast away, supposedly because god is just and righteous. and indeed, imperfection can only be reunited with god after it’s been cleansed by jesus’ blood.

rohr make the argument that jesus defines god’s perfection in a different way. god’s perfection does not require the removal of imperfection, like we might think. instead, god’s perfection “is the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection.” rather than exporting away evil and sin, god overwhelms it with his goodness. he doesn’t expel; he absorbs and transforms — just as he did on the cross.

i’m still trying to unpack all the implications of this. in the back of my mind is the question of “hell” and whether that idea even fits into this schema at all (it doesn’t seem like it would). but more pressing to me right now is what it might mean for how i work with my most challenging students — what might it look like to move from exclusion to embrace for my toughest kids?


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