Unity in the Body of Christ
One of my former students commented at the end of his time at high school that one of the strengths of his experience of Christian education was meeting teachers and students from a wide variety of denominations. I found his observation insightful. Being able to understand a wide continuum of interpretations of Scripture is paramount because the Christian community is called to unity and shalom. Having healthy conversations about the understanding of Scripture is important in building this unity.
Last week, I had the privilege to speak with the new cohort of Christian teachers that will be graduating from Redeemer University College. The question that was posed to me was, “What do you think Christian educators have to keep in mind for their career?” It was then that I thought about this former student and his observations. As Christian schools continue to grow and become more diverse in their expressions of the Christian faith, I wondered with the education students whether being more open and hospitable, being life-long learners and excellent listeners, would hold them in good stead. It sometimes seems to me that graciousness, gracefulness, and a true posture of humility are receding in our society. Learning how to communicate, to deal with difference, and to celebrate one another even when we don’t agree is not only important but necessary.
I think a community in conflict may be the most damaging when all parties claim that God is on their side. All parties claim to be followers of Christ but have different ideas about how Scripture ought to be read or interpreted. In diverse Christian denominational circles, it can be helpful to remember that we can weigh such conflicts according to whether they are “salvation issues.” Educators are uniquely placed to help students understand that there are a variety of opinions and beliefs on certain subjects. What educators cannot do is advocate for their position or idea. In order to honour the goal of unity and shalom, we must work sensitively with families, faith communities, and a wider society in order to equip our students with ways to listen, to ask questions, and to weigh ideas and beliefs. In this way we foster knowledge, understanding, and deepening wisdom.
Differences, diversity, even disagreements, ought not to break the communion to which the apostle Paul asks us to aspire. Helping our students to hold their beliefs strongly—but also humbly—ought to be built into our learning to think critically.
Have a great March break!
Throughout my career, I have been struck by paradoxes. Mathematics and science certainly have their fair share. How is it possible to have an infinite number of points between any two points on a line? Is light a particle or a wave?
In life, paradoxes also exist, and I have always been struck that the life of a follower of Christ bumps up against paradoxes at every turn. In the Lenten season, we reflect on the paradox of Christ’s life and consider how our lives are, by extension, lived in a realized tension. In order to fully celebrate Easter, we need to follow the path of the cross; we need to embrace the Lenten season of suffering.
The paradox of living with this understanding is that our lives become fuller when we embrace suffering. Suffering and strength are two sides of a full life. In order to be strong, we need to acknowledge our weaknesses and surrender them to Christ. In order to be strong, we need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and suffering. Suffering just is. And it can’t be rationalized away. It can’t be ignored (though we might try), nor can it be simply attributed to fate.
The struggle with suffering makes us human. We see we are finite, and yet we are called to live lives of love. We need to know who we are and whose we are. Facing our lives with courage and refusing to back away from suffering builds character.
Sometimes we are in such a rush to gloss over suffering—to name it once and then move on—that we don’t give ourselves the time to truly grieve, be angry, or lament the losses or suffering. Asking ourselves to reflect on our own journeys in and through suffering will give us pause to allow others (particularly our students) to move through their griefs, hurts, and pains in their own way. Becoming a person who isn’t afraid of difficulty or suffering was one of the gems that I learned through my students many years ago. I once had a student remark that he wished adults wouldn’t “freak out” when students were being honest about the issues that they faced, the choices they needed to make, or the experiences that they had had. How can we be strong for our students and at the same time recognize that their sufferings (and ours) are hard?
Sometimes we get stuck and then need others, whether pastors, close friends, or professionals, to help us on our journey to health and acceptance. Sometimes we just need time. Being teachers and leaders requires us to be both strong and weak and to live lives that reflect our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who stepped into suffering and helped others work through theirs.
In this most holy of times in the church calendar, let us celebrate the paradox of a Saviour who comes to power through his suffering. May we, by His example, exert our power in ways that creates power for others, and may we embrace suffering in order to create flourishing for our communities.
Life is difficult. In our society we are set up to expect that life should be anything but difficult. One of my mother’s favourite songs to sing is “Count Your Blessings.” She comes from a large, singing family who liked to get together around the piano on Sunday evenings and belt out songs. I remember that song as one of her particular favourites because she pointed out to my siblings and I how grateful she was to God for her life, her family, her church and her faith. Throughout all kinds of difficulties, she has not wavered in her belief that God is good. Today in my own family, we often repeat the saying “We don’t know how good we have it” as a reminder to see things graciously and with humility.
In Christian education, we have the task along with the family and the church to teach our students how to be gracious and filled with gratitude. It is one of the habits of the heart that can be cultivated into our daily classroom/staffroom practices. Reflecting on what we can give thanks for becomes part of the daily rhythm of the school day. I wonder if too often we wait for “Thanksgiving” or other special occasions to talk about God’s blessings when in fact we can see his grace each and every day, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
This does not mean that we are always happy, nor does it mean that sickness, death and disappointment aren’t present in our lives. Life is difficult. And in the difficulties, can we live in hope, and can we seek to be gracious and filled with gratitude? We have the ability to make a choice to be grateful because that is who we are and how we have been taught. The parent of a dear friend, when difficulty came, once said, “Why not me?” I know that seems easy to say when you aren’t dealing with crises, but trying to find meaning and be grateful in the midst of hurt and pain is certainly a place to grow into.
Each of you as leaders in your classrooms, in your schools and communities, may bear the wounds of your students, colleagues, families and stakeholders. We all need to work towards understanding that living on this side of Jesus’ return means that difficulties are normal. We need to work towards being able to see God’s grace. Singing “Count Your Blessings, Count them one by one” may be one really positive place to start!