Thank God for Educators and Schools!

Summer schedules are changing for a lot of people this coming week. It’s already begun for educators who are already back at school having team meetings, professional development days and school or district wide pep rallies of sorts. On top of that I am sure that many educators are sorting through the previous year’s supplies and spending more than a little extra money to get new materials so that their classrooms will be in tiptop shape.

Children, youth, young adults, and others are also feeling the change from summertime schedules. Cindy is in her 28th year of education, and comes from a family of educators. She has been easing back into getting up early and switching gears. This week she’s up at 5 a.m. and next week it will be 4 a.m. It takes a herculean effort for teachers, parents and students to make the adjustment. I especially think of those first-time college students whose parental alarm clocks will be replaced by digital ones, and I pray for those parents who are first-time empty-nesters as they send their children off to college. They’re probably the only parents who aren’t rejoicing that school is about to begin.

At church we have the Blessing of Backpacks this Sunday and will give out very nice identification tags that include a space for the owner’s name and also has the name and logo of the church. It’s an even better idea to let others know your identity as a Christian. Of course, that means that there are certain standards and expectations, but, best of all, I hope these tags remind students and teachers alike that there is a God who is always present and hears every prayer before a test.

In my mind, a new school year provides a literal clean slate, a fresh start: new teachers, new friends, new opportunities, and new challenges. Frankly, I am now convinced there is no such a thing as a clean slate. Every one of us brings knowledge and experiences forward from either our families of origin or previous classroom experiences. Our educational system is built upon those previous encounters, interactions, and building blocks of learning. We might have new surroundings, classmates or students, but we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Our whole society rests on the bedrock of our civilization’s foundations when we promote education.

British historian Arnold Toynbee said that over the last 5,500 years there have been at least 30 different civilizations across the world, and 25 of them have collapsed. He said that the fallen civilizations weren’t destroyed by invading armies but by self-implosion. He put it this way, “Civilizations are not murdered. They commit suicide.” Toynbee summed up the stressors that cause such self-immolation in this way: “The number one cause of the fall of civilization is a loss of purpose. When a civilization’s leaders and their institutions lose their sense of purpose, they lose the energy to grapple with all the challenges to the commonweal. If leaders and institutions have no guiding North Star, no sense of cultural mission, they are reduced to currying favor with power or to satisfying the impulses of the masses. If the choice is to exist merely at the pleasure of power on the one hand, or of people’s whims on the other, then leaders and institutions begin to embrace a fatal nihilism.”

If our educational system doesn’t promote purpose then our whole culture is fated for destruction. Of course, it takes compliant students and supportive parents and communities to get it done. Teachers aren’t doling out facts as much as they are instructing students about life and how to be good people who make wise decisions.

Toynbee’s words are so true and frighteningly accurate: “We are only one generation from barbarism.” If teachers, parents, clergy, and the rest of society’s leaders fail to adequately communicate and transmit decent values then our culture is doomed and nihilism’s depressing grip creates an insurmountable death throe: living without purpose. If we want better lives, then our daily choices matter. We can try to turn the ship of state around through legislation and mandated educational benchmarks, but none of this takes the place of good old fashioned responsibility. Parents can’t pawn their children off to educators and expect them to undo parental mistakes or make up for a lack of adequate preparation.

Each of us must begin with our own personal responsibility and investment in community. New school years and weekly worship are two of the most effective ways to get our lives in order. When we go to church and start a new school year we are building on society’s best role models, heroes, pioneers, and paragons of moral virtue. Our society is only as good as our institutions.

We live in an anti-institutional age and that may very well be our culture’s downfall, but the start of every school year gives me hope for the future. So, I want to say thank you to all educators for their personal sacrifices that preserve our culture, and I pledge to pray for you because the stakes are so high. If this country or any culture desires to survive we must value those who carry the most responsibility. Too many in helping professions are underpaid, and you certainly are. None of us would know a thing if it weren’t for a teacher! God bless you! Thank you!

 Book Bag Tag

Teaching Honesty and Back to School

This week our Children’s Director, Stephanie Lord, and I were thinking about when to have our “Backpack Blessing Sunday,” and it knocked me for a loop to realize that we are that close to school starting back. Although I have been enjoying the countdown to college football, I really feel for the school teachers whose summer break is about to end. With all they deal with, it’s been too short!

Colleges and universities will crank up and have their convocations soon, too. Students and faculty will gather to officially start their academic year. For 12 years I attended the summer convocation at Emory University where I taught two courses: “Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit” and “United Methodist Discipline and Polity.” Teaching those courses was always a welcome rejuvenation of theological discourse and critical thinking about God.

Attending convocation always gave me a chance to think about an important word: Honesty. Needless to say, plagiarism is a rampant form of lying in academia. The internet and Wikipedia make it too easy to copy/steal someone else’s work. Honesty, therefore, is a good word for us to ponder before school starts, especially with the added political jockeying going on between Donald Trump and John McCain; i.e., “Who’s telling the truth?”

There’s a connection between honesty and academic convocations and it’s all in the hoods. The convocations that I have attended have exhibited a rainbow of different academic hoods. The various colors represented a person’s field of expertise via the outer velvet’s color, and the person’s alma mater was visually represented in the hood’s interior. My doctoral hood, for instance, has red velvet on the outside signifying theology and blue and gold inner trim denoting Emory’s school colors.

This practice goes back centuries. Hundreds of years ago people didn’t wear hats. They wore hoods, and they wore many different colored hoods. The color of a person’s hood signified their occupation. If you were a minister, you wore one color of hood. If you were a medical doctor, you wore another color of hood. You could tell, therefore, a person’s occupation by the color of hood they wore.

The problem with that, of course, was that some people tried to pass themselves off as somebody they weren’t. So, they wore a false hood. This is where we get the word “falsehood.” Today we think of a falsehood as something that isn’t true. It is any kind of dishonesty. A person’s honesty is of utmost importance. Lying erodes everything. Teachers promote intellectual honesty by requiring students to do their own work, or, when using information not new with them, to offer appropriate citation. If a pastor or anyone in any profession doesn’t do his or her own work, falsehood will undermine the whole of that person’s efforts. Without honesty, there isn’t much of a foundation for anything in a person’s life.

People can say wedding vows, but without honesty they don’t mean much, do they? Children can say that they love their parents, but love without honesty has little or no respect. People can say that they have done their best to put in quality time and effort at work, but the proof of their shoddy work ethic is quickly apparent if the end-product has problems. Falsehoods are found out! From the beginning of Christianity, the church stood for honesty even if it meant martyrdom. Early Christians could not say they believed in Jesus as Lord and kneel to Caesar as god, too. Honesty often means either-or rather than both-and! That’s a hard pill for our anything-goes society.

Honesty, therefore, requires a choice, a putting off of falsehood, a false hood. We get to choose every day which hood we’ll wear. Will we be honest, have integrity, or live a lie? A heart patient visited his cardiologist for his two-week follow-up appointment. He informed the doctor that he was having trouble with one of his medications. “Which one?” asked the doctor? “The patch,” the man replied, “The nurse told me to put on a new one every six hours, and I’ve run out of places to put it!” The doctor was flabbergasted. He had the patient quickly undress. The man had over fifty patches on his body! The patient didn’t understand that each time he put on a new patch, he was supposed to remove the old one.

Our new life in Christ requires taking off the old, and putting on the new. That takes honesty! Whether you’re headed back to school as a teacher, student, or administrator, or simply going about your daily life keeping score on the golf course or paying your bills, please take off your falsehoods and allow Christ to dress you in new clothing, in the truth! A life of honesty may be difficult, but it’s even more difficult to live a lie!

Academic Hood