“2 arrests made in death of bullied Florida girl” blared the headline on MSN when I opened my browser this morning. I clicked through and read the story. It’s an all-too-familiar one: a 12-year-old girl, Rebecca Sedwick, was harassed, threatened and tormented for over a year by as many as a dozen other girls because of a spat over a boy. On September 9th of this year, she climbed a tower at a concrete plant and jumped to her death. Yesterday a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl were arrested in connection with the case, apparently because of law enforcement concern that they were continuing to harass other kids online. The 14-year-old allegedly posted a message on Facebook on Saturday saying that she had harassed Rebecca and “didn’t care” about what had happened. Horrific stuff to be reading with one’s morning coffee.
I was struck, as I often am in cases like this, by the photo of Rebecca that accompanied the story. It showed a pretty girl smiling at the camera. Nothing in the photograph indicates that this is a child considering killing herself because her world has become too horrific to bear. The story didn’t include any images of the two girls who were arrested (thankfully, the Associated Press makes it a policy to not identify juveniles charged with crimes), but if it had, I would have been surprised if there had been anything in their photos to indicate that they were capable of telling a classmate that she should “drink bleach and die”. Part of what makes bullying so insidious is that there are no easy formulas for spotting either the victims or the perpetrators.
In the course of my ministry, I’ve known both victims and perpetrators of adolescent bullying. In every case, I’ve been stunned. Stunned by the bright, vivacious, outgoing varsity cheerleader who attempted suicide because of the harassment no one seemed to know about. Stunned by the quiet, polite, well-mannered 8th grader who was in church every Sunday and eager to participate in confirmation class and who was also a ringleader in harassing and tormenting a fellow student to the point that the victim had to change schools. Stunned by the caring, engaged parents who had no idea that these things were being done to or done by their kids. Stunned by the adults who say, after the fact, “Well, I saw (fill in the blank) but I thought it was just kids being kids.”
If this were an episode of Glee, this would be the point where I would provide a simple, easy answer to the problem of bullying, one that would make us think and maybe convict us a little bit but would hopefully not inconvenience us too much. I don’t know what the answer is, though. If there were a simple solution to what seems to be a growing epidemic of bullying and harassment between adolescents, I’m sure someone a lot smarter than I am would have found it by now. But as I think about Rebecca Sedwick, about her grieving family, and about the girls who allegedly bullied her, I am reminded of something else I read this morning. Today is the commemoration of St. Teresa of Avila, and one of my morning devotionals included this poem attributed to her:
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.
I am convinced that Christians, as the body of Christ in the world, are called to be the body of Christ for all of them. We are called to be the body of Christ for all of the Rebeccas, called to stand in solidarity with and to embody God’s unending love for all of the young people who are victims of torment and abuse. We are called to be the body of Christ for all of the grieving families, speaking words of grief, of comfort and of hope for all those who are tormented by the question of what they could have done to prevent a tragedies like this. And we are called to be the body of Christ for all the bullies, speaking words of rebuke when necessary, standing between them and their victims when necessary, and holding out to them the promise of hope and healing and reconciliation for the soul-sickness which drives their abusive behavior.
We are the body of Christ, and as Christ stood against the oppressors of his day on behalf of the oppressed, we too are called to stand with the abused, to comfort the brokenhearted, and to confront the abusers with the challenging and life-changing love of Christ. Just as Christ entered into the horrific brokenness of our human existence to embody the cosmos-transforming love of God, we are called to enter into the horrific brokenness of the world and to be his body, bearing that same love to those we meet. We’re called to bear that love to the heartbroken and the heartbreakers, to the abused and to the abusers, to the shattered and to the shattering, to every victim and to every perpetrator we meet.