The Full Catastrophe
As I listened to Andy Crouch at the recent 2015 Edifide convention, I appreciated so many ideas that he raised and in this column I want to focus on just one. Of all the ideas that he talked about…..one of the phrases that he used was a reference to the “full catastrophe” of life. (I looked up whether this phrase is famous and it seems that the 1964 book/film on ‘Zorba the Greek’ uses it as a comment on marriage…so probably not appropriate J). Andy’s use of this phrase was in the context of the essentials of excellence. He shared a song called “Picture in a Frame” by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan that was mysterious in its focus and then he wondered about this phrase. Was the song about happiness or pain? Was it referring to a wedding day or to a funeral? Was it sung with joy or grief? As an audience, we debated its meaning.
The song like life is a paradox. As Andy saw it….it was a song about a wedding day and it was sung by the groom who at this moment realized what he was getting into….he loved his bride fully and knew from that moment….he had opened up his heart to “I’m gonna love you ‘til the wheels come off”. The groom could commit to love that included “the full catastrophe”…..the unknown grief and sorrow that would most surely come.
Much like C. S. Lewis in his book, “A Grief Observed”, this song celebrates the full catastrophe. True love and commitment opens itself up to true, deep grief. When we are engaged fully in life, with family, friends, work, we open ourselves up to loss. To experience deep love, we have the possibility of deep pain/grief. And that is the mystery or the paradox.
The essentials of excellence whether we are talking about family, life, school, church, or relationships include this “full catastrophe”…..drinking deeply from life means that we drink deeply from the experiences of pain, disappointment, grief, and hurt.
And so….when we discuss how Christian education pursues excellence….the learning experiences need to include the full catastrophe. Our formational learning experiences (our projects) should include taking a hard (and compassionate) look at social injustice; poverty; grief; brokenness and pain of our lives and of the world. Learning includes listening to the child who has lost her father; the struggle of a teen as he makes his way through complicated decisions; the shame of making poor choices; the acceptance that not everything is black and white and that life doesn’t stay neatly in the lines. If Christian education only focuses on the good, the positive, how to be happy then we rob our students of fully integrated lives. Life is difficult. Life is hard. It is not easy nor should it be. Sharing with our students a foundation of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control prepares them for a life of excellence no matter what catastrophe they may encounter.
As we begin our advent season, the season of light and joy and a baby in the manger…..may we also know that our God who began his journey on earth as a helpless babe gives all we need to also walk through those valleys of hurt, pain, disappointment, death and grief. Many blessings to you all!
I have wondered about many things in my years at Edifide and I hope to raise a number of these “wonderings” in subsequent editorials. The one thing that I have wondered the most about over my tenure is the intentionality of the Christian community to tell the truth (in love). As Christian educators, we would need to think about the balance of professionalism, boundaries and respect as we move into this space. Over the years, I have been the confidante of many conversations, and have listened to a multitude of concerns in Christian schools. Many of these concerns come out of hurt or pain or misunderstanding. My posture in listening to people is that I considered myself privileged to have been trusted with the information/sharing/concerns and issues. I listen with an ear to bring people together, to bring reconciliation or restoration of relationships wherever possible. It is through this listening that I think I have learned a couple of things. I have come to realize that in many cases, people don’t always have a confidential, trusted space or person where issues can be shared without fear or reprisal. Helping people sort out what is most important and what their message might be as well as naming the things that they hold near and dear certainly has been a big part of the role that Edifide plays. What I wonder about is how we might (even when it is difficult) learn to share our concerns, hurts, disappointments with one another in ways that reflect critique much like: “I like”; “I wonder”; “I suggest”.
To learn how to give critique or name issues in love and respect would go a long way to alleviate concerns about our colleagues or the decisions that are made. To be a professional and follow good process, even when we are sometimes consumed by those very concerns, would be the target. September 14, 2015 Building Culture – Speaking the Truth in Love (cont’d…) Now don’t get me wrong…..I totally understand the difficulty. Sometimes it is fear that the person you need to talk with has the power to make your life harder or bring on unwanted reprisals –perceived or not. Sometimes it is the anger that paralyses an individual and you aren’t really ready to deal with your anger yet. Sometimes the issues go back months or even years. Sometimes it is shame that makes you retreat, ignore or minimize the situation. Sometimes the conversation seems too risky that you don’t dare to right a wrong or stand up for yourself. And unfortunately, sometimes you identify so greatly with the issue that you don’t really want to resolve it. We would rather talk about it (and perhaps identify blame), but in the end you don’t really want to move forward to deal with it. In all cases, the realization also include that those difficulties or places are actually where a person is at ….and that place needs to be honoured, acknowledged and respected. The help that is provided is often encouragement and good process to deal with the issue and in the end, the other person. So what happens if you call the Edifide office and need some support, advice or advocacy?
If a member calls our office, we inform them the conversation is confidential, that it will not be shared with any member of their school community or anyone else. The member will be encouraged to share their concerns without judgment and that our office will not take any steps without their knowledge or permission, in other words, the member will be in charge of what the next steps. One other thing that is also communicated is that we reserve the right to tell the truth to the member. If a person calls and has a concern, our office will tell them if their concern is legitimate. We do that as respectfully as possible, of course, but we too want to live in the space of “telling the truth in love”. Our goal is to help our member sort out their own issues but give them guidance in how they might do this respectfully, honourably and professionally. In difficult circumstances, we may coach teachers to write letters, have a script or encourage them to go to the other person or organization to share their concerns. Our approach is to help the member describe the situation or the “What is happening?” as clearly and truthfully as possible from their perspective. In most cases, issues are resolved. Voices are heard and perspectives change. The process to reconciliation, restoration or mediation is given voice and things open up. I might say even that light is shone on a difficult situation…in other words, either party (or both) becomes enlightened.
However, not all issues are resolved the way that the member may have wished. Each situation is different and for a wide variety of reasons, things do not work out the way that the member desired and that too is hard. There are also times when our office is asked to be the voice of the teacher or member. We always strive to work with the processes established within each school community and will only move to the next step after each step is exhausted in the “Dispute Resolution” schedule of a member’s contract. As educators, we all know school culture is extremely important for learning and how we perform successfully in the work environment and the classroom. One of the things that I have wondered about is how to get the school culture right for our staff, administration and boards. If we want thriving, flourishing Christian schools, we need to address how we will confront issues amongst ourselves. Having open, honest, and respectful conversations, dialogues and discussions would seem to me to be integral to a thriving and flourishing school culture. Fairness issues, justice pieces, concerns, hurts, indignities, difficulties and conflict are parts of every community……Christian communities as well. To ignore or dismiss any of these normal parts of “living together”, will eventually break community rather than build it up. I know that it takes courage, I know that it is risky, I know that it is hard but learning together how to speak the truth in love is the mark of a true authentic community. Our schools strive to be living communities reflecting Christ…..learning how to speak up, speak out and speak for truth seems to me to be essential. As a Christian school movement, we are on a journey…..a journey of transformation, a journey of bringing Christ into all our relationships, our learning, and service to our wider community. I wonder if “Speaking the Truth in Love” in workplaces and our Christian schools might also be a definitive marker or a contribution to the idea of “building culture’ …one that seeks the common good.
Every year on the Wednesday before Labour Day, the Edifide Woodstock District meets for a time of inspiration and reflection and this year was no different. Each school introduces its new teachers, educational assistants, principals and other personnel to the community. I had the privilege of meeting a couple of teachers who were about to start their educational careers and it reminded me of my own beginning 37 years ago.
On this first day of another new school year, let us take the time to pray/encourage and care especially for those new members of our teaching communities. As with our students, may we encourage questions, embrace both failure and success and work wholly ‘with’ each other. To me, there is nothing better than learning things from our younger colleagues and learning together with them to create a culture of respect, honour and professionalism.
As I listened to Ken Van Minnen’s devotion on the good news of the torn curtain of the temple, the God-with-Us and enjoyed the leadership of the praise team from Strathroy as well as meeting new teachers, I thanked God for his faithfulness to Christian education. We do not work in our own strength, every day God reminds us that he is renewing his Church and we are his agents of hope and love and learning. We live in the hope of the resurrection! I hope this first day and all the days that continue are blessed!
1. The mailings have gone out for Membership information and the upcoming Edifide convention. Registration opens September 11, 2015.
2. EDIFIDE REPS/New Edifide Members: The Communications Committee of Edifide has also pulled together a short video and produced a new brochure for Edifide.
i. ”Why Edifide?” : please follow the link to our website.
ii. Edifide Updated Brochure : please follow this link to our website.
3. Names and Contact Info for the Edifide Board of Directors
a. Names of the Board; City; email address