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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Convocation 2014-15 Charge: Light of the World


Welcome to another school year, an historic school year.  And seniors, it seems like just yesterday, you were new freshmen entering our building.  And by Convocation three days later, we were already wondering what we were going to do with you!  But your class has grown, and matured, and developed in ways that to be honest, one could see glimpses of, even then.  But as I look at you now, I am so proud of what you have become and what you are becoming!  We are excited and poised for an incredible year at CHCA.  And you will lead us. 
As many of you know, I spent a couple of weeks this summer in Israel and Jordan, on an incredible trip that I will tell you more about at another time.  But one evening, sitting at an open air restaurant in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, I made reference to this passage.  Because as you looked out across the Sea of Galilee, across the black darkness, singular lights shone up on the Golan Heights and on the edges of the sea.  On the hills of the Galilee, the lights of a kibbutz could be seen.  “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.”  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to his followers as salt and light.  And we are light because He is the Light.  No need for bushels or baskets.  We are called to shine. 
If you would indulge me, I’d like to tell you a story.  It’s a story you’re a part of.  It’s the story of CHCA.  A school which from the very beginning, wanted to be a light to the world.  And I want to tell you the story not for simple historical value, but because you, seniors, underclassmen, faculty, staff—we become the custodians of this story. 
In 1987 a group of seven families began to think about an educational alternative in Cincinnati, a school that was thoroughly Christ-Centered yet as academically excellent as any other independent school.  They began praying regularly and in November of 1988, they broke ground on what is the current Middle School.  And on September 6, 1989, one hundred and sixty-five students, PreK through 7th grade, walked through the doors.  In 1995 that first graduating class of 29 matriculated outside on the grounds of the Middle School.  Their pennant hangs in the Miracle Commons and you can see each of their pictures on the composite photo in the alumni cafĂ©.  And the first graduate, Jon Adams, has children in our school, the oldest in the 7th grade. 
In twelve of the first thirteen years of the school, the Head of School was Dr. Bill Balzano.  Dr. Balzano had come from Lee College where he’d served as a professor, the head of the Psychology department, and then the Vice President of the college.  Many Christian schools say they aspire to academic excellence but in the end fall short of that goal for all kinds of reasons.  But with Dr. Balzano, that outcome would be assured.  As a scholar, he encouraged us to raise the bar high and to be willing to ask hard questions, to seek out truth wherever the journey might lead.  Hiring Christian faculty with strong academic pedigree and teaching excellence was of paramount importance.  A good number of our high school faculty remain from that era. 
Another key moment in our becoming was when Dr. Balzano asked the head of the English department to become our Academic Dean.  Most of you as students do not know Mrs. Karen Smeltzer.  She works in the high school office area and doesn’t have interaction with students anymore but taught in the English department for many years.  But Mrs. Smeltzer, behind the scenes, has been pushing our school toward academic excellence from the start.  She oversaw our accreditation process, our National Blue Ribbon status, our AP program, our curriculum from preK to 12, our professional development for faculty.  Our faculty still feel her pushing.  But when you are in college next year, and it seems easy, because you feel so well prepared, that is the end result of her work and the work of the teachers sitting here beside you.  They are a part of a powerful, unique legacy.  And if you talk to Christian schools around the country, we are a light, a city on a hill.
Another key moment in our history, was in 1996 when we moved into the current high school building.  The building was smaller then, lacking everything currently from Dr. Everson’s room on, and the hallway with Dr. Lipovsky’s room and the science lab.  And the principal in this new building was Dr. Joan Miracle.  Dr. Miracle did much for this school, and you will still see her around the building from time to time.  A great academic leader, motivator, administrator.  But the most powerful mark she made on this institution is loving, caring spirit that fostered a high school community that felt like a family.  Dr. Miracle stood out every morning and afternoon and most bell changes greeting by name every student that passed by.  And those that got close enough, she hugged.  Dr. Miracle hugs were famous.  I’ll never forget one year when I took students to Israel as part of a larger delegation of American students for a five week immersion.  Toward the end of the time, we were all talking about what we missed from home and what we were looking forward to when we got back.  The typical things came up—favorite foods, friends, one’s own bed, etc.  Then a CHCA student said, a Dr. Miracle hug!  Other CHCA kids chimed in.  A charming young lady from New York said, What the *!@#$% is a Dr. Miracle Hug?  When the students explained about how much they loved being hugged by their beloved principal, she said if my principal touched me, I’d call the cops.  The typical outsider could not understand the essence of this community, the love of an administrator or a teacher for their students, the atmosphere we all still experience around CHCA when we are at our best.  A city on a hill.
Athletics was an important part of our school from the very beginning.  We didn’t have many sports but Mr. McCollum and soccer go back to the very beginning.  Our first baseball coach was Mr. Bob Gardiner, who also became our first Athletic Director and many do not know that our baseball field is named after him.  Lynn Nabors-McNally put our tennis program on the map and in many ways our athletic program as well, building a juggernaut tennis program.  Many of you don’t know much about that ominous looking hall monitor who hangs out around the cafeteria in the middle of the day, named Mr. Cliff Hern.  He was the one who started the CHCA football program and was our longest tenured Athletic Director before retiring five years ago.  Many people around the city and state now know of CHCA because of its athletic prowess, and winning twice makes our teams more significant than mere win-loss records.  Every season most of you are on some kind of field or arena representing your school, a city on a hill.
From the beginning, CHCA had music.  It was like most high school music that I remember.  It was.  And if your kid was in it, you went to the concerts.  A CHCA parent and an important patron of the arts at CHCA, Mr. Bill Blessing wanted private lessons for his trumpet playing daughter, Wren.  So he brought in a graduate student from CCM to give her lessons.  Mr. Grantham coming to teach lessons at CHCA began a new era, not just for the instrumental program but for all fine arts at our school.  EJO tours the world.  Pep band makes every game it’s at a better experience.  Encore regularly dazzles audiences, whether an impromptu concert in the Miracle Commons or at the Great American Christmas party in Music Hall.  Every theatrical performance is stunning and last year’s Cappies are concrete proof.  What school has an electric strings orchestra like Cintered or holds art shows at a gallery like Drawn?  The power and beauty expressed through the arts shines forth from CHCA like nowhere else.   A city on a hill. 
In 1996-7 school year CHCA wanted to flesh out more fully it’s motto to Learn and Serve.  So they hired Mrs. Karen Hordinski to play a role in coordinating service for our school.  That is not a unique position necessarily for a Christian school, but what Mrs. Hordinski did changed the ethos of CHCA.  While most schools create opportunities for children to serve, Mrs. Hordinski created Student Organized Service.  SOS not only creates opportunities for students to serve, but it creates opportunities for students to lead.  We don’t tell students how to serve.  Students learn to engage people, see needs, and then create opportunities to serve those in need, leading classmates in the venture.  I’m not telling you anything you don’t experience every day as a CHCA student.  Our 120 service hour requirement is obliterated every year by student averages of 200/ 300+ hours per graduate.  Our students continue to serve.  And they lead in profound ways.  They see needs and they move our community forward to meet the needs, reflecting the love of Christ as they do.  Schools from around the city and country come to see what we do here, a city on a hill.
Our school continues to grow and innovate and take on new ways to shine in our community and world.  Since 2001 we have been sending students around the city and world in JTerms and now we will be heading this year into our second May Term.    Every year I get emails after intersession from agencies and tour guides and travel companies, telling me how you all surpassed any expectations they had for high school students.  Building on the academic foundation set before, Dr. Schaefer, Mrs. Petersen, and Dr. Savage are creating opportunities for students to understand independent research and then take on their own projects with professionals and experts in their related fields.  Building on the sense of community set before, Mrs. Parcell created the Peer Mentor program, building not only leadership in juniors and seniors but a helpful link and touch point for freshmen entering a new environment.  Building on the experiential hands on learning of Intersession, teachers have been creating new opportunities.  Mr. Ciarniello and Mr. Cool have created a Robotics Team that has not only stretched students to learn and grown and built a powerful sense of community, but they have had amazing success with a very new team.  Mr. Oden has led students and parents in an exciting business venture, the Leaning Eagle which has spawned an Entrepreneurship class.   Our school has grown and developed in ways those first seven families could never have imagined.  As one final point to that end, when those first 165 students showed up for class that first day 25 years ago, could they have imagined us sitting here today, with students not just from the Cincinnati suburbs but with 36 students from six different countries?  The city on a hill.  And through us, His light is shining around the world.  And this year, one of our students will be representing us as she studies in Shanghai.
Why do I tell you all of this?  For a number of reasons.  First, I want us to know our history.  You are part of a great tradition, a great story.  What you might take for granted is something many people worked and prayed and struggled to bring to fruition.  Some of those people are sitting in this very room.   I also tell you this story because you all—seniors and underclassmen—are the ones who write it forward.  What our school will be depends on you.  Carrying on its excellence academically, spiritually, athletically, artistically, in service, depends on us.  How the light of Christ will shine in the world through this place depends on not only what you do in our building but what you do when you are outside of it.  Not only when you are a student here but for all the years you continue on in the world as an alumni.  As God’s people, we do God’s kingdom work.  And no matter what we study or what vocation you will one day do, it is an opportunity to shine forth His light.  There is a great Martin Luther quote.  “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”  And what we do here at CHCA is training you to engage the world in a way that you can see and proclaim that Gospel story written and encoded everywhere.  As we theologically integrate our curriculum, we come to see how Christ is in all, through all, and holding all things together.  If you remember our reading that Mr. Gansle shared from Job, that Ode to Wisdom, the writer says, We know how to mine iron, and silver and gold, but who can find wisdom?  Where is it found?  I would humbly suggest that as you all gain knowledge and insight in a Christ-centered place and process, wisdom can be the end result.  As you take on the mind of Christ, we grapple with mysteries and God willing, we learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  And then as beacons of light, you shine the way forward for those in our world who are still asking that same question as the ancient writer of Job.
We celebrate 25 years this year.  And we have a lot to celebrate.  But even more importantly, Wednesday began our next 25 years.  And today officially commemorates it.  And it will be those who are sitting in this sanctuary who will begin to write the story of what comes next.  What will they be remembering in an Opening Convocation that celebrates our fiftieth year?  Literally, God only knows the answer to that question.  But what I feel quite confident in, is that some of you will be part of the story.  May this year be a blessing as a remembrance, but more importantly as a beginning of what comes next. 
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 
AMEN
           

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Our trip throughout the Holy Land had may high points and special memories.  But the day that sticks out the most for me was our day fourth day of the trip.  Having driven down from the Galilee after our 3rd full day, we spent the night in Beit Jala on the western edge of Bethlehem.  Typically we drive into Bethlehem for a few hours, see the highlights, and head back to Jerusalem.  But this year we spent two nights in Beit Jala and a full day in the Bethlehem area.  For many in our group, this was the day they were still talking about at the end of the trip.

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day.  After our first non-kosher breakfast in awhile, we scanned our surroundings from the roof top terrace of the hotel.

Bethlehem and the surrounding region sits in the West Bank, territory occupied by Israel since 1967.  Bethlehem is an "A-area" which means it is totally under Palestinian authority rather than the Israeli military.  At the turn of the last century, Bethlehem was vastly a Christian town, with some figures as high as 90% Christian.  Today the Christian population makes up only 15% of the total.  Christians in the Holy Land often say that people come to this ancient land to see dead stones and forget about the living stones.  Today we were spending time with the living.

We began our day riding just outside of Beit Jala to a family farm known as Tent of Nations.  The first thing that you strikes you as strange is the road into the farm.  The road was blocked by large boulders that forced us to walk a 1/4 mile to get the property.  This would be just one of the many hurdles that the Nassar family has had to overcome.
 
Tent of Nations is the Nassar family farm that was purchased by their grandfather in 1916.  The family lived in a cave on the property.  Despite having official papers of ownership throughout the Ottoman, British, Jordanian, and Israeli periods, in 1991 the Israeli government declared the farm state lands and which began a legal battle between the Nassar family and the government.  Five unresolved cases remain at the level of the Israeli Supreme Court.  Since that time, five Israeli settlements were built around the farm and the attempt to drive the Nassar's off their land began.  The Israeli government and the settlers have been determined: blocking their road, cutting their electricity, shooting holes in their water tanks, attempting to bulldoze a road through their land, sending demolition orders to destroy every building on the property, refusing to give building permits, and just this past May, bulldozing terraces and destroying one thousand eight hundred fruit trees ready to be harvested.  When I think through the experience of the Nassar family, I become angry and frustrated.  But then I see my friend Daoud Nassar.  And his kind, friendly, peaceful disposition puts me at ease.  As we walk on the property, we see a boulder that tells his motto:
 
As a Christ follower, Daoud takes literally Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount.  And as he often says, Jesus never said, "Blessed are the peace talkers," but "Blessed are the peace makers."  So Daoud and his brother Daher tell us of their peaceful resistance, refusing to be enemies.  They will not use violence.  They will not be victims.  They will not give up and leave for America or Europe.  Instead they talk about another way, a fourth alternative.  So in the face of all hatred and conflict, they have found new solutions.  They have found new paths into the farm, used solar power, dug cisterns like the ancients to collect their water, set up tents instead of buildings and moved back into the cave of their forefather.  And when asked what they would do after the 1,800 trees were destroyed, Daoud calmly responded, "We will plant more trees."  The Nassars have turned the working farm into a place of learning: teaching local people and especially children about the land, sustainability, and building bridges for peace.  The Nassars are reaching out by befriending their neighbors in the nearby settlements and teaching women in the local Arab villages computer skills. 
 
This past October Daoud Nassar spoke to us in our high school chapel and in a few classes, so it was extremely special for some of our students and parents to hear him again in a cave on the farm.  He inspired us as he spoke about suffering and overcoming hardship. And while the path is difficult, we have hope in Christ to do hard things.  Daoud asked that we tell his story and invited us to pray for their work and to join him in Bethlehem, to harvest crops and work at the farm or to serve youngsters in their summer camps.  CHCA will be back at the Tent of Nations!




We ended our time at the Tent of Nations in a big circle with the Nassar family, praying for their encouragement, strength, and success, as they lived out a persistent faith in difficult circumstances.  We left with new friends and took a quiet, somber walk back to our bus on the other side of the road block.
 
After a bit of shopping, we went to Bethlehem Bible College who generously hosted us for lunch.  We then listened to Mr. Bishara Awad, the founder and former president of the College.  He shared the vision of the evangelical church leaders that started the school and how their graduates serve the ever shrinking church throughout the West Bank and Gaza.  An extreme step of faith made the school a reality and Awad told the powerful story of how the Lord has continued to provide, evidenced by the newest building on the campus where we met. 


Bishara Awad then shared the story of the Palestinian people in general and the Palestinian church and its current struggle.  His narrative caused cognitive dissonance for many.  We rarely hear the story of the Palestinian church, and for most Americans, Palestinians are incorrectly considered to be all Muslims.  And for many in the West, Muslims are all thought to be terrorists.  But here was a Christian brother telling us about training young men and women to preach the Gospel of Christ.  And he argued why he deserved a place in this land.  He told how his ancestors had been here for centuries as followers of Jesus in the town where Jesus was born.  He asked us to consider what it meant to be "chosen," and if Jesus brought a new covenant that expanded the first, bringing in Gentiles, why should the land be exclusive to the old covenant?  These questions led to great discussion and debrief later that night.
 
 
Having spent the first part of the day wrestling with the modern issues of life in Bethlehem, we stepped back to the beginning of it all, where the story of our faith began.  First we visited what has come to be known as the Shepherds' Field to the east of central Bethlehem.  In the area were natural caves where shepherds would have spent evenings and sheltered their sheep. Early Christians began to worship at this site and today pilgrims can enter these ancient natural caves.

Shepherds can still be seen watching their flocks in the surrounding fields.  Then we traveled like the shepherds to the place where the Church of the Nativity now stands.  This is the oldest continuously active church building in the world, going back to the 5th century.  Beneath its altar sits a grotto where tradition says Jesus was born (the picture of the star below) and laid in a manger (the five candles). 

 
So we ended this emotionally charged and draining day at the church where Christians have celebrated the birth of our Lord for the past 1600 years. 
 
Fear not!  For I bring to you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord!
 
Like the shepherds who heard that first Christmas message, we too rejoice at the Savior's coming and we leave with a story to tell.  Yet two thousand years later in the little town of Bethlehem, "peace and goodwill toward men" are quite often in short supply.  But meeting with Daoud Nassar and Bishara Awad gives me hope that God's Kingdom moves forward quietly but powerfully, until His will is done on earth, even in Bethlehem, as it is in heaven. 





Monday, June 23, 2014

Looking for Jesus

We never ease into our Israel trips.  Fighting through jetlag, we spent our first day on and around the Sea of Galilee.  Beginning the first morning with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, we oriented ourselves to the geography around the Sea, read Scripture, and prayed.  We visited the museum at Nof Ginnosar to see the "Jesus Boat" which is the remains of a first century water craft.  Then we spent time at a number of holy sites commemorating events in the life of Jesus: the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha (the traditional site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes), the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter (the traditional site of the post-resurrection breakfast on the beach mentioned in John 21), the church in Capernaum (the traditional site of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law), and the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus heals the demoniac in Mark 1.  Then we ate a unique lunch at Kibbutz Ein Gev where we dined on St. Peter's fish.

After lunch we visited the Valley of the Doves, drank at the natural spring and heard a bit of history on Mt. Arbel.  Next we headed to the baptismal site in the Jordan river just south of the Sea of Galilee.  While the traditional site of Jesus' baptism is well south of here, this place has been used by tourists and pilgrims for baptisms. 

At the end of the second day, we went to the top of Mt. Arbel to get a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee.  It was a stunning view and I am always amazed when I see it in perspective. 

From this overlook, one sees easily the entire northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The buildings on the lake closest to the base of the mountain are ancient Magdala, the town associated with Mary Magdalene.  As one continues on a northern and eastern path around the sea, one finds all the churches we visited the first day, the major city of Capernaum, and the small fishing village of Bethsaida.  In a territory that our bus could cover in fifteen minutes, Jesus spent 90% of his ministry.  Think about that.  In this small, limited area, Jesus taught, healed, and delivered those in need.  In this out of the way, tiny corner of the globe, God in flesh appeared.  And everything changed.  Jesus and his disciples were perceived as primitive and uncultured, being Galileans.  But God can use the small, overlooked, out of the way things to confound the world.  And the world will never be the same.

I leave the first day of our trip wondering how my life can contribute small things that God can multiply for his Kingdom.   

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Israel: My Home Away From Home

It is 6:50 pm on our first full day in Israel.  I'm drinking Turkish coffee in my room so as not to fall asleep before our 7 pm dinner.  Waking up at 2:30 am is not great preparation for a full day of touring around the Sea of Galilee.  I've been asked many times today by members of the group how many times I've been to Israel.  I suppose that is something I should know off the top of my head.  But I don't.  If you count the types of Holy Land tours that I am on right now, I think the answer is eight and I think the total number of trips here is 11.  But what began my deep appreciation and love for this land was an exchange I participated in my senior year of high school.

In November of 1986, I was one of three students from the Milwaukee Public Schools who joined a 56 student delegation from all over the US that participated in the Young Ambassador Student Exchange sponsored by the America-Israel Friendship League and the Greater Council of City Schools.  Because of that incredible program, I spent November of my senior year in Israel, living with host families in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.  What I learned about the history, geography, culture, religions, and politics of Israel in that month surpassed anything I could do in classroom in two year's time.  The relationships I formed with Israelis and Americans from across the country changed the way I understood the world and my place in it.  It caused me to study Hebrew in college which led me to focus on the Hebrew Bible.  My work in Hebrew and Old Testament gave me the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for Hassell Bullock, my teacher and mentor at Wheaton, who encouraged me to apply to graduate school at his alma mater, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.  That led to my eventual teaching at CHCA and my desire to give my students the experience of travel as part of their education.  In 1999 I was able to take 17 CHCA students on the same month long exchange to Israel that I experienced.  And soon JTerm gave students the opportunity to travel around the world each year.  And most summers, I bring a group of students and their families to this special place.

So why do I keep coming back?  One reason would be that as a Hebrew Bible scholar, the subjects and topics that I love the most are rooted deeply in this place.  Another reason is that over the years, I have become passionate about the modern day conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, both in what it means for the people living here and the broader geopolitical effects it has on the world (and I'll talk more about that in another post).  But finally, and maybe most importantly, every time I come to this place, I am not only reminded of my own journey that shifted in this land, but I am filled with excitement to share it with students, families, and friends year after year.  The awe of the place is hard to describe.  But watching others experience it for the first time gives me that indescribable feeling every teacher knows, when a student catches the passion you have for a subject and you know something is being created inside of them because of it.  As a teacher, all I can do is bring my students to a place or a topic or an issue.  I can share it with them, prod them, hopefully inspire them to dig deeper into the matter.  And then it happens.  They are hooked.  They make new connections, constructing new ways of thinking and understanding.  And then we engage.  I share what I have come to understand.  And then I learn more by hearing what they now see and what strikes them as unusual or unique.  And my love and appreciation for this land grow.  And when the trip is over, I can't wait to share it again the next year. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Re-introduction to the Blog

Over the past few years, my blog has been dormant.  I've begun using Facebook and Twitter as a way to keep in touch with my students, alumni, and parents past and present.  But having touched down at Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv yesterday, I thought about the possibility of reflecting and sharing thoughts on this trip that go beyond 140 characters.  I am beginning a tour today with 32 people, connected in some way with CHCA.  I have high school and middle school students, alumni, parents, their family members and friends.  We will have an incredible 11 days in Israel and some will continue on for 3 days in Jordan.  I will be using this site to share our experiences.  I hope it gives you a sense of being with us.  Until you come for yourself in the future!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reflections from Teaching After 9/11

We are now a week removed from the ten year anniversary of 9/11.  Like most people, I also have a memory of where I was when I heard the news.  It was already a sad day at CHCA because many of us were leaving late morning to attend the funeral of a beloved parent.  The juxtaposition of mourning at a funeral mixed with  pockets of discussion and concern over the day's events created a surreal mood.  The weeks after were somber and anxious at the high school, as they were most places around the country. 

The week before the anniversary, I was talking to a class of seniors about what I perceived as a level of cynicism higher than I would expect in a group of high school students.  When I asked them where their youthful idealism was, they answered rather matter-of-factly that they had been raised in the shadow of 9/11 and they did not perceive the world as a place where idealism matched their reality.  I don't know if that attitude was a reflection on the psyche of their generation or was the outcome of the media build-up to the anniversary.  But without a doubt, we all have anecdotal, every day evidences of how our world has changed since that day.

One of the most concrete changes that I have seen has been the shift to a new Other. Let me explain.  Sociologists describe how cultures/groups define themselves to some degree by who they are not, or who is the "other" or outsider.  As someone who grew up in the 70's and 80's, the other was the U.S.S.R.  They became the foil to what it meant to be a freedom- and God-loving American.  They were the enemy.  They were evil.  But with the fall of the "Evil Empire," beginning with the wall in Berlin and the crumbling of the former Soviet empire, we went nearly a decade without a clearly defined, one-size-fits-all enemy.  All that changed on September 11, 2001.

I heard Jonathon Z. Smith, the great religionist and scholar of education at the University of Chicago say that it is the job of the educator to take the thing that is close to the student and move it far away and take what is far removed and bring it close.  Only then do we begin to see our topics of study (and our world for that matter) in clearer focus.  In a popular culture that easily propagandizes our views of Arabs generally and Muslims specifically, our educating students in history, politics, religion, and theology becomes all the more important.  In the teaching that I've done here, I haven't seen a greater shift in students' thinking on a topic than when I've taught  a four week unit on Islam. Our students' cultural influences have so strongly shaped them in their understanding of who is "not us" and why, that they struggle to understand what Islam actually stands for and how all religions have complex histories and diverse cultural manifestations (even our own).  So who is the other and what should my attitude and response be to them?  That is an extremely relevant question in post-9/11 America, both as a citizen in a democratic country that is founded on freedom of religion and as a Christian who follows a Master who calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who curse us.  In fact one could argue that Jesus calls us to reject the entire reality of keeping an outsider as other.  The religious authorities of his day were troubled by the fact that He had no such boundaries.

I will never forget in September 2001 when a colleague who was teaching the World Religions class at the time, still took the class to the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati off of Tylersville Road.  Our Muslim neighbors were shocked.  With the continual threats they received via phone and mail and the constant harrassment of many Muslims and Arabs across the country, they expected us to cancel the visit like all of the other pre-arranged tours.  But when our group arrived with flowers and a letter of support, they were moved beyond words.  And our students learned something very important that day that transcended media images and cultural rhetoric.  I'm happy to say our Western World Religions class still visits the Islamic Center.  And sometimes our hosts still make mention of that visit in 2001.  And I hope as our students learn about cultures, religions and differences, they also learn about how God calls us to be in the world.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Electronic Recommendation

The social media phenomenon has changed the way we communicate and connect with people.  Blogs such as this one is a case in point.  Facebook, Twitter, Linkdin all connect us with people around the world.  I find myself reading the thoughts, insights, and quips of all kinds of people from celebrities to former classmates and local friends, to friends of friends who comment on wall posts of people I know.  So with that said, I pass on to you a blog of the Asbury Seminary president, Timothy Tennent, passed on to me from the email of a colleague and friend.  I've been ruminating on his words for the past week.  And rather than rehash it via my own thoughts and perspectives, I pass it on as is.  Enjoy!