Monday, August 22, 2016

Liturgical Audit Part 1

How often do you take time to reflect on your habits? This morning twenty Grade 8 Bible students and I took a look at some of our regular activities. Students brainstormed the many ways they spend their time from homework to baseball, sleeping to Netflix. We wanted to analyze how these activities shape and affect our lives.

Since having a clean, organized space can (at times) become more important than people for me, we started by looking at my practice of cleaning the house. We wrote down what I actually do when I clean my house such as mop floors, organize papers, put things away, and scrub toilets. Next we looked at what cleaning my house does to me. I shared that cleaning my house clears my mind and declutters my soul. (True story!) We laughed about how the smell of a house can bring peace and calm and joy (or not!). But we also considered how having a clean house can bring out my inner critic: Why can't I keep my house clean? I am too busy and this is too much work. How many times do I have to ask so and so to pick this up or clean that up? I wish I could afford a house cleaner like.... and on the negative messages spiral. And sometimes with those inner thoughts come sharp words or a harsh response to the very people God has gifted to me. We noticed that even as I engage in the regular practice of cleaning my house, cleaning my house does something to me--some of it life-giving, and some of it not so Christ-like.

Next, the students made small groups around a common activity. Each group created a white board with two columns. The left column listed the what, how, and when of the activity. The right column listed what that particular activity does to the students even as they are in the activity.  Students gathered together in five groups around the habits of sleep, watching sports, listening to music, watching Netflix, and doing homework. When the groups finished, we posted the whiteboards and looked for themes and observations. The students insightfully commented:

  • "What we do with our time affects us."
  • "There is a connection between doing and feeling--emotions are involved in what we do"
  • "We tend to choose things in our free time that calm us in some way."
  • "How we spend our time can connect us."
  • "When we talk together about how we spend our time, we discover ways that we are different."
Wow--13-year olds were making sense of some profound truths. We realized together, as we looked through the lens of this year's theme, SPEAK LIFE, that every interaction with another is an opportunity to draw us closer together or push us farther apart. How we respond to another when we find connection or discover our uniqueness matters. Will we let our differences make our life fuller, or will we respond to differences with criticism, selfishness, and superiority?

As we closed the lesson, I gave a brief introduction to Jamie Smith's CSI Worldview Summit message from his book, You Are What You Love. It sounded something like this: "As human beings, we were created with a desire toward something." (Imagine the huge hand motions at this point, making a straight arrow to the imaginary target in the back of the room.) "As Christians, and as a Christian school, we want our desires to focus toward God and relationship with God. We have regular opportunity to choose habits and activities that move us in that direction. For example, this year we will read the Bible together. Even as we choose to read God's Word, God's Word will do something to us. Another choice we have is whether or not to join a church or place to worship God. When I regularly choose to go to church or youth group--even when I don't feel like it, even when I stayed up too late and am tired--it does something to me, even as I am the one choosing to go.

"This year, I would like us to discover something that we can do regularly as a class that will orient our hearts toward God and relationship with Him as we SPEAK LIFE. Start thinking about ideas. Perhaps we can decide together that we will not talk about another person in our class unless that person is in the conversation with us. Or maybe we will begin each class with a few minutes of silence to quiet our hearts and minds for what God has to say to us. Another idea might be to have a weekly time of writing and speaking encouragement to others. Or maybe we will continue what we started this morning and regularly pray Scripture over each other."

God is at work! Oh how exciting it is to join Him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Speak Life

"To be human is to be oriented toward a goal." (James K.A. Smith, Calvin College Philosophy Professor) What is it that I, Jennifer Baham, long for in my inner being? What do my longings, desires, and loves uncover about my idea of flourishing or "the good life"? And when I look at the habits in my life, what love-shaping practices or liturgies do I see? For, as Professor Smith shared at the CSI Worldview Summit (August 2-4, 2016), those practices or habits in my life do something to me even as I live them out.

What would a "liturgical audit" of my teaching or my Christian school reveal?  Professor Smith posed that it is not possible to THINK our way out of an undesirable cultural liturgy. But rather, by consciously and consistently choosing practices or habits aimed first at God and His Kingdom, transformation happens at the heart level. I orient what I love to God's design and will by choosing habits that do something to me even as I live them out. "Practices invite me into God's story in a repetitive motion over time." (James K.A. Smith) This recalibrating of my loves, through repetitive practices, reforms my heart and my habits of desire. Practices change what I live for, or think I want to live for. 

As a Christian school, we have a unique opportunity, indeed a unique calling, to reorient our hearts and those of our students toward the GOOD LIFE as relationship with God and obedience to His call. If a student graduates with a heart posture that sees flourishing as relationship with God and obedience to His call, I believe we are on the path to which God has called us in Christian education. Growing together in practices which move toward redemption and restoration of God's good creation brings God's kingdom here on earth.

This year our SJCS community will consider what it means to SPEAK LIFE. It is our prayer that as we uncover this theme, we will be reorienting the heart of our community toward God and His kingdom. Together we will discover what God's word has to say about the words we choose or don't choose, the heart posture from which our words flow, and the power of our words. What will it mean to SPEAK TRUTH on the playground or in a homework assignment? What will it look like to SPEAK HOPE given the history of our country and world? Can I SPEAK SHALOM in a hurting relationship? What does it mean to SPEAK RECONCILIATION as we uncover the racial tensions that continue to surface? Do I SPEAK WISDOM when I prepare students for an assessment and then unfold the results of that assessment? When I speak to a coworker, student or parent, do I SPEAK LIVING WATER that leaves the dry and thirsty souls in my school community less parched than they came? Will I SPEAK GOD'S PRAISES as an outflow of my heart, even in the hurting places? I believe that prayer, Bible study, confession, welcoming the friend and the stranger, and taming the tongue will be some of the powerful habits that will shape us and orient us.

We have an overwhelming call, yet we move forward humbly knowing that indeed it is GOD'S WORK!! He goes before us. His Spirit speaks and intercedes and teaches and guides. As my principal, Dave Intlekofer, pointed out at the conference, the more we learn the vocabulary of integrating faith into all we do, the more opportunities the Spirit reveals to us, and the more we can move forward in our own particular trust and obey.