View from the pew

December 10, 2001|By Jerry Godsen, Special to this newspaper

I killed 46 teen-agers last Friday.

Now before you fire off a letter to the editor, let me explain.

Last Friday my staff and I put "death" makeup and tombstones on 46 students at Calexico High School. The tombstones tell how each student died, stating, "I was killed when I went to a party and somebody put drugs in my drink," "I was beaten to death by a drunken parent," "I was killed by a drunk driver," and so on.

The students represent the 5 percent of each school that will die as a result of drug or alcohol related illnesses or accidents before their 25th birthday. I was shocked by that statistic. Five percent is a lot of kids.

Once the kids were made up, they went to class like normal, only they were "dead." They were in school, around their friends, everything was the same, except they were dead. Their friends could still see them, they could try to talk to them, but the students didn't respond. They couldn't. They were dead.


It was eerie seeing students with their pale skin and sunken eyes walking quietly through the school and sitting in class with the other students. There is something strange about seeing the dead with the living.

One of the founders of the University of London, Jeremy Bentham, put in his will that his "auto-icon" was to be part of every college council meeting. The auto-icon is a cabinet that contains Bentham's preserved skeleton, dressed in his own clothes and surmounted by a wax head. Somebody would wheel his auto-icon into the chamber, and there it would sit along with all the other members of the council. The minutes of each meeting would dutifully report, "Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting."

At the end of the school day in Calexico, the students met in the cafeteria for pictures, eat pizza, and take off their makeup. With a few swipes of "baby wipes" and some scrubbing, they brought themselves back into the land of the living. One of the students joked, "Look at me, I'm born again."

After I heard that statement I realized that student had hit the nail on the head. They were dead, and now they were being reborn.

The term "born again" has been pretty abused over the last few years. It used to mean that your life had been changed by the power of God, and that you were now going to live as a Christian. You know, all that "love your fellow man, turn the other cheek, do good, be forgiving," all that "Christian stuff."

Unfortunately, over the years it gradually came to mean anybody who had had any kind of religious experience. Now you can see people on MTV singing about stuff that definitely doesn't fit the Christian lifestyle and see crosses hanging around their necks as they do. Then, when they are given an award or interviewed, they will thank God for their success.

We may have changed our definition of born again, but God never changed His.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, "It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ."

I like the way Eugene Petersen rewords 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, "Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. … Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you."

What a great explanation of salvation. Things change, your old life goes away and a new one replaces it.

It was fun "killing" those kids. It was even better watching them come back to life. It is even cooler to see it happen to people spiritually. It can happen for you, too. Come to church Sunday and we'll explain it all.

Having fun raising the dead (spiritual and otherwise) … Jerry

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