The father was angry. His son was crying. The boys playing the Wii were oblivious.
My least favorite part of serving in the Youth Drop-In Center is being the mediator and enforcer. I much prefer sitting down with kids to color and talk about life. Yet the youth room kids harangue me every afternoon with the social injustices they suffer.
A coworker and I had been distracted by fixing a jammed pool table (anything can fall down those pockets) when a father found his son crying in the bathroom. He gave us a stern lecture about other boys bullying his son. When I asked the boy about it, he said they were ganging up on him and throwing nasty insults while they played the Wii.
I’m familiar with this lot. Completely sucked into Super Smash Bros, this group of boys spew all kinds of trash talk.
“I’m going to kill you, Kirby!”
“Hey guys, everybody get Link!”
“Take that, Bowser!”
Whether or not the insults were personal, the boys had crossed a line this time. No one had even noticed that the crying boy left the game.
So I watched the gang finish their round and, as soon as the winners screen appeared, pressed the off button. They all complained, of course. I explained what the crying boy had said and asked them what happened. All pled not guilty. But the Wii stayed off. I told them to take a break and find something else to do.
They all walked away except for one. He stood firm, remote gripped tightly in his little fist. This tiny seven-year-old said again and again that he wanted to play the Wii. I said no. I held out my hand for the remote, but he refused to look me in the eye. He looked ready to start the waterworks if necessary. I just sat down and waited. After several moments of impasse, I started to close the cabinet doors that hid the Wii and television. The boy must have realized his manipulations were not working, so he gave up the remote.
For the next hour, he refused to have fun doing anything else. Even at Legos, he played only with bitterness. He told me several times, “I want to play the Wii.” He demanded his own “justice.”
Other children asked me why the Wii was off. I said we needed a break. One kid kept asking me, “How much longer?”
Finally, at 5 o’clock, I said okay. The demanding boy ran to claim a remote.
So did I promote justice that afternoon? One boy cried from verbal abuse and bullying (intentional or not). Another fumed over being unfairly punished (in his mind). When there’s no way of telling who was really at fault, what would have been fair?
Eight months into the one year of service, I’m still wondering: what is social justice? And the more significant question: how do we achieve it?
The Wii may seem like a silly example, but if we cannot resolve even such a small injustice, how will we handle the bigger ones that really matter? How will we respond when God calls us to free the oppressed and serve the powerless?
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”