Instead of for Schools?
Stanley Hauerwas often contrasts the loose, a la carte curriculum of most seminaries with the rigorous, defined expectations of medical schools. While seminary students can usually choose whichever courses resonate with them (pastoral care over theology), medical schools afford their students no such luxury.
Why the difference?
Hauerwas attributes it to the fact that in modern America everyone rightly believes that a poorly trained physician could kill them.
But no one in America any longer thinks an inadequately trained priest might jeopardize their salvation.
Americans give lip service to God, but Death is the reality in which we wholly believe.
We believe in Death- fearfully so- and consequently we revere anyone who can extend Life.
We don’t really believe in God- we certainly don’t fear God- and consequently we devalue those people who form our character such that it’s sufficient for salvation.
I mention this because today is my boys’ first day of school.
And now my youngest, who still tries to scootch in between his mother and me every night, is in the 3rd grade. He knows his times tables and how to slide into second. My oldest is already in the 6th grade. This former AAP student can’t even help his current one with his math homework anymore.
Today is my boys’ first day of school and not until this moment has it ever occurred to me that I should pray for them.
For their studies. For their learning.
For their challenges.
Today is their first day of school and not until today has it ever struck me that I should pray for their teachers and administrators whose vocation it is to apprentice them into wonder, joy and curiosity.
Today is the first day of school and it’s never occurred to me to pray for my kids and their teachers.
And I wonder if it’s because what Hauerwas says about the contrast between priests and doctors extends to the other vocations too?
Could we paraphrase Hauerwas and say:
‘in modern America everyone rightly believes that a poorly trained physician could kill them, but no one in America any longer thinks an inadequately trained
priestteacher might jeopardize their children’s salvation?’
Is it the case we really believe in Death but not Salvation and so the formation of character necessary for our salvation, of which teachers play no small role, gets treated as inconsequential?
Or worse, believing in Death more than God, we treat teachers merely as the ones who can inculcate a certain set of skills in our children which will ultimately net them a certain degree or income in this Life.
What does it reveal about us and our fidelities that we pray so often at hospitals but so seldom for classrooms?
As a pastor, as you would well expect, I routinely go to hospital rooms, ER and Pre-Op units to pray with people before they face whatever procedure awaits them.
But no one has ever asked me to pray for their children’s year in school, their children’s teachers or the love of God and God’s creation they hope will be the result of their children’s education.
I’ve never even done it for my kids or their teachers. Until this morning.
A lot of ink and hot air gets spent every year debating the separation of Church and State and, most particularly, how it plays out in schools.
Hardly ever do Christians(!) acknowledge that sheer learning itself is a Christian discipline.
After all, as one of my old teachers at UVA, Robert Louis Wilken, writes:
“The Christian religion is…uncompromisingly moral (‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,’ said Jesus), but also unapologetically intellectual (be ready to give a ‘reason for the hope that is in you,’ in the words of 1 Peter).
Like all the major religions of the world, Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices and a moral code: it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history.”
The Resurrection of Jesus, Wilken says, is not only the central fact of Christian worship but also the ground of all Christian thinking “about God, about human beings, about the world and history.”
It’s the Christian’s calling not just to worship Christ but to think about and interpret the world in light of Christ.
Math, science, literature, music: everything in Creation is bathed in the light of Christ.
Sure, it takes faith to see that light- the Church’s task-but it also takes a well-formed mind to understand and articulate it- our teachers task.
Education in this world is a matter of salvation because salvation is NOT escape from this world for heaven. Just as Jesus said to Zaccheus, salvation is something that starts now. It’s living fully, as fully human as Jesus lived, as creature of God in the creation of God.
Salvation is learning to live with joy and wonder and awe and passion and advocacy in this beautiful but broken world that God has graciously brought into existence and sustains at every moment of existence.
And learning Pi is surely as necessary to that awe and wonder as learning Trinity.
And so today, for the first time, with the same urgency I’d muster in the ER, I’m praying for my boys’ school year and the teachers et al who will make it possible.
Their salvation depends on it.