Year of violence, grief: 27 city students slain. That was one of the startling and sad headlines on the front page of the Chicago Tribune May 16, 2007. The story focused on the violent deaths, to date, of 27 Chicago Public School students.
One of those students was Blair Holt, 16, who was shot to death May 11 while riding a Chicago Transit Authority bus. He was on his way home from Julian Percy High, where he was an honor roll student (see August Banner, p. 10). Blair and four other students who were wounded weren’t the intended targets of the alleged gunman, Michael Pace, 16. With a semiautomatic handgun, allegedly given to him by Kevin Jones, 15, Pace boarded the bus and tried, but failed, to shoot a rival gang member.
Blair was a graduate of Roseland Christian School and was also involved in the youth group activities of Pullman Christian Reformed Church, which I pastor. His friends, youth group counselors, and teachers were deeply saddened by his tragic death. After the worship service on Sunday, May 27, I met with nine of Blair’s friends, along with eight counselors and teachers. I called the meeting to help them continue their grieving process, to pray, and to hear from the youths how their knowledge of Christian doctrine was helping them cope with Blair’s death.
Several doctrines surfaced in our conversation:
- Many of the young people acknowledged that tragedies like this happen because “sin still has its grip on the world” (Rom. 5:12-13).
- They strongly affirmed the sovereignty of God (Rom. 8:28) with statements such as, “Blair was in the right place at the right time” (Blair was hailed as a hero for shielding with his body his friend Tiara Reed, who was wounded in the foot but might have been more seriously hurt had it not been for Blair’s action). They noted, “Things have moved and happened since Blair’s death, like marches against violence and support groups at Julian High” and, “Throughout the Christian walk you get wake up calls, and now you actually want to live what you hear in sermons and songs and to really take a look at ourselves, our environment, and community.”
- They professed faith in the existence of heaven (John 14:1-4): “Blair is in a better place, no more gangs.”
- They voiced forgiveness for the gunman (Luke 6:37-38): “If you don’t forgive, you can’t move on.”
- They spoke of the need for social action (Matt. 5:14-16): “We need to confront those who are doing wrong and try to help them in some way.”
Understandably, the students also expressed deep anger: “I’m angry with gang members for their senseless shootings.” “I’m angry with the gunman.” “I’m angry with God for taking Blair.” Several kids were not hopeful that the uproar over Blair’s death would lead to any lasting positive action: “Usually when things like this happen, people do [good] stuff and then it fizzles out.” “Seems like we do so much, but nothing ever changes. When will it end?”
Yet as I listened to my young people, many of them in tears, I could hear the Christian doctrines they’ve learned at home, in school, and in church take on a deeper, sustaining meaning in their lives. I left that meeting more determined than ever to preach and teach Christian doctrine with passion and clarity. For doctrine does matter!
- Rev. Rick Williams recounts a tragedy that affected many people in his community. How does his story affect you?
- Blair’s friends made statements that were related to their deepest beliefs, which Rev. Williams associates with Christian doctrine. Can you think of events in your life that have made a Christian doctrine really come alive for you?
- How do you feel knowing that Christian doctrine is so deeply embedded in you?
- How does your faith sustain you in our troubled world?
About the Author
Rev. Richard E. Williams is pastor of Pullman Christian Reformed Church, Chicago, Ill.