Part 1 of our trip to East Saint Louis “Bullets on the Tennis Court”
It is a lesson I have taught dozens of times. I guess you could say it is one of my “go-to lessons.” In my estimation, it is a pretty important lesson to teach. You were made in the image of God. It is a foundational lesson in the Bible, and the repercussions of understanding it are far-reaching.
On the first day with kids at the Mary Brown Center, we started by getting in a circle. Sitting at halfcourt of the gym, there were about 12 kids from the center, and 9 of the youth we brought from Moline. We played an ice-breaker game before I told them a story.
“In the beginning was darkness and chaos. There was no order, no light, no substance. Then God spoke, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light. And God saw that it was good. Then God separated the sky and the world, giving shape to the Earth. And God saw that it was good,” I was encouraged by the attention I had.
“Then God made the oceans and the dry land. And God saw that it was good. Then God set the stars, the moon, and the sun in the sky, and everything was ready for life to begin, and God saw that it was good. Then God filled the sky with birds, and the seas with fish, and filled the earth with animals of every kind. And all of it was what?”
“Good,” they said.
“Yet God wasn’t done. It was all there, everything was ready, but something was still missing. So now I’ll read directly from the Bible: ‘God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the animals of the earth.” So God created humankind in God’s image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.'”
As I read these words, I was able to look at the children sitting around me. I repeated, “In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.” I was a little surprised at just how rapt they were at this point. I didn’t need to call their attention to me. I didn’t have to tell anyone to sit still. So I went on.
“All of God’s creating work culminated in this act. God created humanity as the ultimate expression of God’s love and creative work. God made man and woman, and what did God call them?”
“Good,” they replied in unison.
“Indeed, the Bible says that God called them ‘very good.’ God is still creating. God created every man and woman in God’s image. That means that you were created in the image of God. I was created in the image of God. You, and you, and you…” I looked directly into the eyes of the children and youth as I said this, “You were created in the image of God.”
“So what does that mean?” I asked. “It means that you should be treated as God’s special creation, who God called ‘good.’ God called you good, so don’t let anyone ever tell you anything different. And it means more,” I said. “It means that everyone you meet was also created in the image of God. Your friends, your Mom, strangers, even people you don’t like. They were created in the image of God too, and God called them good. So it is important to treat others for who they are.”
It is a story I have told so many times. It is always a powerful story to tell, but this time I felt like it was something more. It is easy to tell a group people that they were created in the image of God when everyone in the group looks alike. But we sat in this circle and our differences were obvious. Different races. Different ages. Different social classes. Different home towns. Everything about us was different. Yet at the same time there was nothing different.
As we went about the week, we learned more and more just how true this was. We discovered undeniable truths about the people that God has created. We love to create. We love to dance. We love to play. We want to feel safe. We enjoy making friends and connecting to others.
The mission of the trip was simple. We wanted to share something that we love with new people. We wanted to share the music, art, and learning that we love with children. In accomplishing our mission, we did so much more. We created friendships. We built connections across all the obvious divides, and called upon something even more obvious, but somehow less well-known.
In so doing, we learned perhaps the most important lesson of the creation stories. We were made, above all, for relationship. We were built to be in relationship with God, and with each other. We were created so that we could create. We can create art, music, laughter, friendship. We can create light in the midst of darkness. We can create order in the midst of chaos.
We were created in the image of God who is a Creator, and who is still Creating. My prayer is that the relationships we built were built to last, and that none of the kids we met ever forget who and whose they are.
Part 3 – Not goodbye, see you later
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