Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Christianity Today

Christianity Today

The new controversy in the Christian church seems to be whether or not the grave and actual bones of Jesus and His family have been found in a tomb in Israel.
No doubt this will spawn a huge industry, at least for a while, and a lot of people will make a lot of money. Perhaps they are envious (or imitative) of Dan Brown’s success with The DaVinci Code (which, by the way, we could get in paperback in Europe in English long before it became available in paper in the United States. Greed, gotta love it).
As a Christian, I don’t understand the folderol, although I am sure if anyone reads this blog (which is doubtful at this point) I will receive hate mail for my point of view. Too many people, it seems to me, take the Bible too literally. I think it is beautiful poetry, full of Truth, but not necessarily true.
Does it matter whether Jesus ascended bodily into heaven? Not to me. My faith tells me He is in heaven.
Do I believe heaven is a specific place that looks much like the cartoons in the New Yorker? No. Hell, it seems to me, is the absence of the Love and Grace of God. Conversely, heaven is the presence of the Love and Grace of God.
The Golden Rule is one of the Great Truths, and perhaps the most important teaching of the Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments – as well as in the major world religions. Jesus Himself reiterated this in Luke: “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” It seems to me that if we all followed this dictum, the world would be a far better place.
I see God’s Love and Grace in myriad ways in the world. And while it is trite to suggest that a sunset or sunrise or the mountains or the oceans or a rainbow show the love of God, they are still beautiful and powerful, and awful (in the literal sense) and show the presence of God to me. When I can’t be at the dunes to watch the waves on Lake Michigan, or happen to waken early enough to see a sunrise, or remember to look up from the evening news to check out the sunset, or find a mountain in the vast flat that surrounds Chicago on most sides, I still find God’s grace and Christ’s love.
Mostly I find Grace and Love in the people I meet every day: The lady at the dog park this morning who greeted me cheerfully and said she was glad to see me. The nurse who goes out of her way when I visit the doctor (Thanks, Hazel!) Neighbors down the street who always wave as they drive by. People who stop to tell me how beautiful my dogs are. I don’t know these people very well – or at all. My family provides even better examples. My wife forgives me most of my foibles and years ago stopped being embarrassed by the things I say and do. The man who gave us his two sons to grandparent after our son died when he was away college. Our grandsons David and Jonathan. Derek and Shannon, who chose me their dad. Sandra, our son’s former girlfriend, who still keeps in touch almost fifteen years later. All these people are living, walking Love and Grace, embodiments of Christ.
I have perhaps strayed far from my point about Jesus’ bones. But perhaps not. His bones (or the absence of them) don’t prove Jesus’ existence or divinity to me. My faith does. And my faith is reinforced every day by the Grace and Love people show to me.
We had a clergyperson once, who urged us constantly to find Christ in other people, a laudable goal. But I don’t think it’s hard to do. The hard part is finding and showing Christ in ourselves – a topic for another blog.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Education in America

Every once in a while my well-meaning, conservative cousin in Florida sends me a posting about the terrible educational system in America. Why, in 1890, teachers were paragons of virtue (and provided their own firewood or coal), and students knew how many rods were in a mile, how many pecks in a bushel, and how many acres in a hectare -- or vice versa. I'm sure students did know these things, and in many ways they learned more while they were in school. Of course, well over 50 per cent of them dropped out before they finished high school. As a teacher (who spent a good portion of my salary on school supplies for students in lieu of wood or coal for the furnace), I was more than a little irritated to receive these postings because what kids needed to know in 1890 just isn't relevant today.

On the other hand, she made a point, albeit unknowingly.

Students enrolled in school then may well have had more practical knowledge then than they have now. In 1890 teachers had control of their classrooms. The legislature and the president didn't impose curricula on teachers, they didn't send out scripts for every day in the classroom that imposed the same design on students who range from much challenged and bored to exceptionally gifted and bored. And they didn't require class time for days of standardized tests and days of preparation for the tests, days that eat up weeks of instuctional time. Nor did the legislatures interrupt the school year with specious holidays so that very few five-day weeks are available for continuity of instruction.

As teachers, we like sheep have gone astray by not standing up for ourselves and saying, "I am a professional educator, not a tall child." Good teachers (and we should not hire and keep ones who are not!) can design clear curricula and teach their students what they need to know in ways that are meaningful to them. And reading is the key. Teachers do not need to have more administrators per teacher than teachers per child. Nor do they need constant interruptions in the school year. Teachers need the support of the community, especially parents.

Parents have an obligation to their children. They must read to them and read in front of them. They must teach them how to behave alone and in groups, and how get along with other people. They must back their children's teachers and perhaps occasionally bite their tongues. They and their children must learn to expect no preferential treatment because they are rich or because they are poor, because they are black or because they are white, because they are smart or because they are not.

But most of all, teachers must be allowed to teach, to find the great joy in their profession and experience the love of their charges. Without the micromanagement of their "superiors."