learning for life.

Monday, July 28, 2014

I just arrived home after finishing my internship with the Free Methodist Church of Southern CA, and the following is a reflection of what I've learned through my work, and what I've read. Enjoy!

Throughout my years in student life, I was constantly encouraged to embrace the idea of “learning for life.” Those of you who know Stu Cleek, Westmont’s Dean of Residence Life, have probably heard this as well. Whether it was regarding an RA class topic, or a general education class, I was encouraged to take anything educational and see it as learning for life. Applicable beyond a textbook, assignment, and classroom. In Bruce Lockerbie’s collection of essays, A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness, I’ve found the same. These essays are various reflections on the marks of Christian paideia. He uses this term from the Greco-Roman world which translated to “an education…that was founded on principles of civic responsibility and character development.” In a Christian context, “Paul of Tarus…knew that mere paideia was not sufficient to overcome the ignoble fetters of sin…so St. Paul urges the parents in Ephesus to ‘bring up your children in the paideia…of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4)” (4).

We’ve all experienced some sort of Christian education, whether that was K-12 and in college, or the startling reality check that a christian college can be after 12 years of public schooling. This book is full of energizing new ideas, both for future employees (or Presidents…) and students alike. As the essays reflect on different characteristics of the Christian paideia, I found the concepts aligning with the constant encouragement to learn for life. The book has three major reoccurring concepts, which I find both applicable to my experience working in college advancement at Westmont, and life after: integration, service, and leadership.

“A biblically integrated life.” Lockerbie comes back to this concept over and over in this book, encouraging his main audience (teachers, administrators, etc.) to work towards this goal.
“Those of us who are called Christians find the call to integration spelled out clearly in Holy Scripture. We are summoned to wholeness, first, by knowing who God is and loving Him as Lord. We are commanded to love with our whole being: heart, soul, strength, and mind. In doing so, we learn both how to appreciate our own gift of life and also what it means to love others as ourselves. The same principle holds for the education principle called integration. It must begin within. Thus integration must first be personal, then vocational, and only afterward institutional” (25). 
I saw this tri-fold transformation among the staff in Advancement. Mature christians, who have integrated their Christian calling with their specific career, are transforming the mission of Advancement beyond simply raising funds for the college to activity participating with God in the bringing of his Kingdom to earth, through the catalyst of Westmont College. I was especially encouraged by Lockerbie’s call for “thinking Christians.” He writes,
“We need more such Christians who think: mature persons who see reality through the lens of biblical reason; reasoning persons who think in Christian categories about their art or science, about their marketing strategy or human resources decisions, about current events and history, about entertainment and creature comforts, about personal and interpersonal relations. Such thinking is the core of what it means to achieve harmony in faith and action, to live an integrated life: one that beings from within and extends outward, one that encompasses our whole being — heart, soul, mind and strength — as individuals believers and inspires the whole being of those with whom we have to do” (28). 
Integration in Christian education is not necessarily incorporating prayer into classrooms, or a scripture reading in a lecture. It is a transformation that begins with individuals, and works it’s way into the classroom through thoughts and actions. As I move forward into my leadership position in the SCRD at APU this year, I hope to integrate through this transformation that comes from within and spreads outward.

Service is a major component of Christian education. If we take integration seriously, than service should be part of the package deal. Doesn’t Christ call us to serve in the first place? Lockerbie writes of service as “preparing the soil,” where eventually seeds of Christ will be planted among students.
“Christian school administrator, teacher, or staff member, be sure you know your stuff! …It’s my conviction that, no matter how earnestly an algebra teacher wishes to service Jesus Christ by conducting student Bible studies, his primary mission—his ‘reasonable service’— is to be the best teacher of algebra he can be” (102). 
Seems like a pretty simply idea — if you are a junior high algebra teacher, your service should be to teach algebra well. But this is where I put down my book and got slightly confused. Shouldn’t the service to Christ and my teaching of algebra be embedded within each other, aren’t they on the same playing field? Why should I consider teaching the primary service? As I struggled through that, I came back to the metaphor of preparing the soil. That is part of service to Christ, like in the process of reconciliation, we cannot force the other to turn around and face us, we can only create the proper context and environment for them to feel safe enough to come back. When ministering in education, we can only prepare the classroom environment, encourage the students, but eventually the Spirit will prompt them individually, not of our own individual effort. When I interact with students during graduate school and beyond (inevitably, considering half of my master’s degree is in “student development”), I am preparing the soil — what a high calling that is! When the Advancement staff works to raise funds, and secure gifts for student scholarships, they are preparing soil as well, honoring the faithfulness of God with their respective gifts and talents. It was refreshing to see service explained in way, and definitely energized my ideas about the years ahead!

To be honest, I struggled with the leadership concept. I still struggle with it. All my life, people have told me I am a good leader, and to use the talents I have to lead others. I love being in a position of leadership, but constantly have to adjust my motivation and pride and selfishness around the humbleness that should come with being a leader, especially a Christian leader. Lockerbie’s descriptions of leadership in Christian education were enlightening, after all this is a collection of academic essays for those leading academic institutions. Leadership is rooted in HOPE — a concept I hadn’t familiarized myself with. He writes, “If we are men and women of The Book, we are summoned to be the people of hope. It is hope that anchors us in life’s storms…that secures a calming vision for the future because our hope is in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord” (194). What a revolutionary concept! Instead of the preoccupation with humbleness and the tiny technical details, we instead should lead with hope, a package deal. I might actually print this quote out and put it in my future Presidential Office:
“If Christian schools are to be a force for redemption in the twenty-first century, it will be because they are led by those who understand the purpose of Christian schooling. To this end, may Christian schooling continue to thrive, and may leaders come forth form the ranks to fulfill the hope that inspires children and their parents” (195).
Whether you loved your time in Christian education, or hated it, I would encourage you to dive deep into this book. The concepts, although written for an audience of staff and administration, provides insight for those of us on the receiving end. I will say, I had a hard time grappling with the context of some of these concepts, because it seems like Lockerbie’s worldview is very conservative, and does not leave much room for discussion on recently debated topics in Christianity (homosexuality, interpretation of scripture, etc.). I found myself more than once a little uncomfortable, but part of that made the book interesting to read, and applicable to life.

We’re all going to reach moments where we are forced into the uncomfortable side of things, but learning to walk through them with hope, understand the context, and be able to see purpose in it will provide us with the courage to continue through!

Respectfully submitted,