Archives For Character

10687178_10152668205238879_7484344374239755611_nAt Hospitals?

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.

I blinked.

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.

For their wonder, joy and curiosity. rp_augustine.jpg

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 priest teacher 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.







photoThis is from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Minister.

This past weekend I drove my son to college to begin his fall classes as a freshman.  As I gave my son a hug from his dorm room and said good bye until Thanksgiving, I noticed as small leather book on his desk.

Curious as to what it was, I asked him.  He said it was a Bible given to him, with a warm encouraging note on the inside cover, from his Catechism teacher.  I was surprised.

He’d only been on campus a few hours, yet this was unpacked even before any family photos.

I thought of our and the programs we offer our youth and children; how important is it to teach basic Christian principles and the stories in which we learn to our young ones, and then develop their faith as they mature.

My son left home for college with a character and a foundation learned in no small part from his participation in the life of the church.

Beginning at 3 years old until high school, we provide opportunities for kids to understand and love Jesus through Sunday school classes, worship, youth groups, and mission work.

Kick-off Sunday is this Sunday, September 8th

Bring your kids, and encourage them to participate in one of our programs.

With your help, what they learn and experience will not be forgotten.


Stanley Hauerwas, one of the most significant theological influences in my life, is a self-professed militant pacifist. He’s someone who believes passionately that nonviolent love is at the heart of the gospel and what it means to follow Jesus.
That said, Hauerwas expresses admiration for the military and for the skills the military possesses that the Church has lost. Namely, the military understands that virtues are learned and acquired through habit, practice and the mentoring of master to apprentice. The military understands that concepts such as honor, sacrifice, and commitment to others over commitment to self are not easily or automatically learned. They can’t simply be agreed to or believed rationally. They must be habituated through practices passed down from one with wisdom and authority. They must be habituated so that they become embodied, reflexive and at the core one’s identity.

In other words, the military, Hauerwas says, are often better at making disciples than the Church. Most churches act as though one can be a Christian without training, conversion, or apprenticeship. Just by believing in Jesus and leaving it at that. No one in the military has ever believed you can be a soldier just by wanting to be one, without the purgative and formative experience of basic training etc.

So on Veterans Day maybe that’s the appreciative nod the Church can offer our armed forces: they know how to form character and we in the Church could learn from their wisdom.

How Children Succeed

Jason Micheli —  August 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

Most parents- make that most people- in and out of the Church assume that a child’s success in life stems from the acquisition of particular intellectual skills, the sort of skills that tests can measure. We assume the veracity of what NY Times writer Paul Tough calls ‘the cognitive hypothesis.’ It’s this assumption that guides parents (like me, admittedly) to teach their children letter, number and pattern recognition at earlier and earlier ages. We think these skills lead to success; therefore, we want our children to have an advantage by having them master them as early as possible.

But what if these intellectual skills were not a predictor (or producer) of future success?

According to Tough in his new book, How Children Succeed, new studies show they are not good indicators of a child’s future. Instead attributes like persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence are more important to a child’s future success. In other words, new studies show what St Thomas Aquinas long ago taught the Church, that character is more important to a one’s future than brain power.

And maybe that sounds obvious to you but just compare the intensity with which parents focus on inculcating children with cognitive skills versus the usual lukewarm zeal those same parents give to immersing their children in the stories and traditions of the faith. Most of us are helicopter parents when it comes to our children’s education but we treat Sunday School as babysitting.

How do children acquire character?

Tough summarizes: ‘Character is created by encountering and overcoming failure.’

This is the point at which his argument becomes not only interesting but indicting.

Tough finds that there are two groups of children whose success suffers because character requires the experience of and triumph over failure: rich kids and poor kids.

Children of the affluent, by enjoying sheltered lives, tend to be protected from situations in which they experience failure. Wanting to nurture self-esteem, affluent parents inadvertently sacrifice their children’s character.

Meanwhile, children in poverty experience the inverse situation. Failure is omnipresent in their lives. No helicopter parent can shield them from it. Instead poor children too often do not have a reasonable chance at overcoming failure. It’s the overcoming not just the experiencing of failure that yields character.

So then Tough’s book points out a little mentioned by product of our ever-widening income inequality- that both rich and poor suffer from it.

We tend to think of economics in political or neutral terms only, but Tough’s book about children’s success points out what the Church has always taught about wealth, that it involves our character too. And by refusing to acknowledge that, perhaps because its too politically uncomfortable, its our children, on both sides of the gap, that suffer.