WE all have a stake in finding a solution to the problem of gang violence. What used to be seen as a plague in big cities now threatens smaller towns, as well. But we can help to quell this growing challenge by turning to God in prayer.
One of the factors that appear to draw young people into gangs is the need to belong. When we pray, we begin to see that God already loves and cherishes His creation; His image and likeness, man--our true, spiritual identity--is already wanted and significant. Because God is man's Father-Mother, everyone, regardless of age, economic level, or social class, is cared for by God, divine Love. And because divine Love encompasses all, no one can be left out. I love how the words of Psalm 116 assure us that Go d is always present to help us: ``The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.
And in Christ Jesus' concern for all kinds of people we see so clearly how an understanding of God's love for His creation provided the basis for the Master's heal- ing and regenerating work. Jesus' awareness of God's love enabled him to find goodness in individual hearts.
If we really want to do our part in combating gang violence, we need to do as Jesus urged and go beyond simply loving our neighbors. We need to obey Jesus' command ``Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. This isn't easy, but when we begin in our prayers to love even those who seem to be our enemies, we find that caring about our neighbors and our communities becomes more practical and more effective.
Prayer isn't an excuse to avoid serious problems. After all, no one could have accused Jesus of ignoring society's problems! But prayer does allow us to take an honest look at the challenges our world faces and to consider how we can start to resolve them.
Through prayer we establish that divine Love is the only power that has control. God's law governs all of us, and man is in reality attracted only to God, good. Understanding this helps us to see that not only are we free from the false allure that gangs seem to present, but so is everyone else. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, points out in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``Evil is not supreme; good is not helpless; nor are the so-called laws of matter pri mary, and the law of Spirit secondary.
As a teacher, I have seen how important it is to remind myself that God's law really is primary! I've found over the years that I do my job most effectively when my prayers start with God's love for everyone. In one particular situation, a student had a major change in attitude--and class performance--when I began to see more clearly that all young people truly are the cherished and capable children of God. Because the gang influences that seemed to be affecting this particular student were disrupting th e entire class, I strove to know that in reality each individual responds only to God's direction, not to societal influences. Not only did the student's behavior improve drastically; his grade rose from failing to well above average.
During this experience I learned that thinking about the gang problem from an ``us versus them standpoint doesn't help. Change came only when I realized that there is only one side --God's side--and we're all on it. As we pray then, our common heritage as the children of God will become a more tangible force for good in our communities.