I happened upon Jacob on the way to a conversation with him mom, my friend Frances, a.k.a. Poppy.
He answered the phone, with the slightly squeaky voice of a 14 year old boy turning into manhood and with the same softness that I always hear when he talks to me. Even over the phone I could "see" his head of thick red curly hair and the handsome face below it.
Jacob is growing up, finding his way in the world of high school. In earlier years he was the brunt of bullies, but at 14 he has found popularity for his wit and cleverness. He is learning that these twin gifts have their time and place though and that a class in uproarious laughter at him is not always appreciated by teachers struggling to maintain control.
Last week he was upset when his French teacher said he couldn't wear a beloved necklace, a silver nail, hung on a black leather cord, symbolizing the nails that Jesus took for us.
Frances wrote in a comment on this blog last week that she thinks, "He may have even tried to use the "religious emblem" plea in the same vein as ceremonial swords and turbans," but the teacher was adamant that it could be viewed as a weapon. Jacob smuggled it into the school the next day and got into trouble for that.
My first response was incredulity. I really struggled. Was this a battle that needed to be fought? I wanted to--and not in the nicest of ways!
But Frances gave wise counsel to her son. After talking to the teacher, who called her to report all of this, she wrote:
I explained what it symbolized to him(us) but she was firm that it could be viewed as a weapon.I pointed out that a sharp pencil or pen could be used in that manner and in fact used better because the nail is around his neck and would have to be removed first before being brandished. I spoke gently and tried not to be argumentative,just factual. She didn't budge and in the end I agreed that school policy must be adhered to but I did comment on how sad that a young Christian boy's witness had to be attacked like this. I then thought about what Jesus would do.The next morning I talked to my son.I asked him what he had said to the teacher and what he thought about the whole thing. He was angry and thought it was stupid. I told him what I thought: that when Jesus went to that cross and was pinned with the real nails 2000 years ago, he went wordlessly. That if an unbeliever wore that necklace or a cross or any other Christian symbol, that it would have no meaning whatsoever, because it's not the symbol it's the relationship it symbolizes that is important. And that Jesus wants us to submit to authority-that's God's way-His will is best carried out His way. And that I would like Jacob to apologize to his teacher for lying to her and being willful. And tell her the reason he is sorry is because the One he wears the necklace to remind him of would want him to do all these things. Jacob agreed. He's going to talk to her on Monday. Even out of sight, that necklace is going to be used for the Lord's purposes.And the reason why is simple-the God of Jacob;)gave us a model to emulate.His word shows us His ways and how to walk in them.And when we do the Lord's will will be done.I'm so thankful to God for illuminating the wisdom of His ways to my son.As for my son, I'm so proud of him!
But then another friend, a reader of the blog and a formidable advocate on disability issues, Dave Hingsburger, wrestled with the issue and wrote:
I think there is a time to teach children to stand firm with what they believe and not capitulate easily. It seems here, to me at least, that this is overt discrimination against the Christian faith. The 'weapon' issue is a red herring and the teacher knows it, I will bet on that. Just like I'm careful not to teach people with disabilities to be over-compliant, I wouldn't want to teach any child to simply give up something he loves and believes in. I'm afraid that in the giving up of the nail, in what he may see as lack of support for his wishes and desires, he may end up losing something more important. I know, I know, I'm not a parent ... but even still, it might have been better to stand beside him as he stood for himself, than ask him to apologize and give in.
And then in a later comment:
... an apology for the lying is probably in order. But the rest of it smacks of outright prejudice to me. You know I'm what's considered a 'liberal' Christian but even so I hold dearly to my right to my faith, my right to my symbols and my right to be public. I see nothing wrong with wearing the nail. It is no more dangerous than a pen - I still think the 'weapon' angle is a red herring. But, ultimately, the decision about going forward really belongs to the young man. I think he needs to know that he will have support if he choses to fight this battle and that if he choses not to he will still have the respect of those who care.Me, I have trouble with ... 'it's your decision' ... when I know the decision I'd make. But ultimately it was his nail, it's his faith and therefore it's his decision.
So when Jacob answered the phone, I asked him about his decision. I told him that no matter what it was, he had my support and I would stand with him and help him if needed. He said he'd decided to apologize for arguing with the teacher.
"Besides," he said, "I can still wear my other necklace, with the cross, that you gave me."
I respected his decision and today I heard he did apologize to the teacher. He may not have preached a sermon on his reasons, but he showed grace and maturity and I'm so proud of him--and the man he is growing up to be.
1 Timothy 4:12 (New International Version)
12Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.