Aerternum: A Novel.


Our only health is the disease

If we obey the dying nurse

Whose constant care  is not to please

But to remind of our and Adams curse, 

And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Sarah sat alone staring at the casket, her eyes fixed forward, her cold hands face down under her thighs. She felt nothing except the pony tail on the back of her neck, an odd comfort as if someone was behind her consoling her. It’s just my hair she told herself. There is no one. Occasionally the feeling of nothing and no one was interrupted by the cold sweat of her hands, an irritant of life she thought when the only thing she wanted to think about was death.

Sarah hated the plastic chairs in this church. She liked pews better but those had been gone for years, sold on web sites, refashioned as antiques or bid on for high dollars at Global Union or “GU” Auctions. This church was as dead as the man who lay in front of her. Plastic chairs replaced pews for town hall meetings. Paint worn walls behind the coffin bore water marks from a dilapidated roof that was old and in need of repair. Tears, Sarah said to herself, the walls are crying. She smelled dust, and longed for animation. Few if any restorations on churches were attempted anymore. The building was cold, a shell or casing that held her captive like the coffin held this man who lay dead in front of her. The only sound was the furnace’s random, labored attempts at its own resuscitation.

Sarah was alone with a dead man and the dead man was alone. There were no church bulletins, eulogies, Pastors, Priests, Elders, no lingering testimonies, anecdotes, vignettes of a life. There was no church secretary to greet mourners in the narthex. No music, no tears, no mourners. There was only Sarah, the dead man, the furnace, the sweat of her palms, and her thoughts waging war inside her head about how and why this man chose to die when people today live longer than Methuselah. Death and churches were relics of the past. Now people lived forever, and Berger, Sagan, The Economist and many others were right.  There was less and less for God to do. After a long career, God had passed into history.

Death and any sign of death was gone. Moses warned of it in Genesis, but no one anticipated it or took it seriously. Eat of the fruit and you will become like God and live forever.  Today, with the breakthrough development of a pharmaceutical drug called Aerternum people lived forever. Colloquially, Aerternum was known as the “God Drug.” Sarah learned about it in school in English class when she studied Swift’s struldbrugs in Luggnagg. Her teacher told the class when Aerternum was discovered it was larger than the invention of the wheel. A small biotech firm, billions of dollars and a couple of young bioengineers. The human genome sequence, three billion individual base pairs, gene codes and proteins mapped and illness, disease, suffering and death were no more. Human beings were freed from the curse. Sarah, envying the dead man in front of her, thought to herself, Oscar Wilde was right. Now the curse was immortality.

The vaccine had been on the market for years and solved the world’s one eternal quest to conquer death. Some countries mandated the vaccine for its citizens at birth because science proved people who lived forever are far more productive, generous, kind, and wealthy. Eternity offered the chance for self-reinvention, multiple careers, advanced degrees. Beneath the same skin, a person could become a new creation. Not everyone though chose eternity. The United States did not mandate the vaccine. Congress concluded, for now, that choice afforded a nation population control, necessary for the advancement of its people and global presence. People who chose to not be vaccinated chose what came to be known as The Alternative or death. The dead man in front of Sarah chose the alternative. Sarah was vaccinated.

The furnace screamed as it grasped another chance at life. Now jolted from the terror of her thoughts Sarah thought she heard someone outside. Staring down the dead man one last time she realized she learned nothing about death. With the feeling of nothing boring her, she decided to leave. As she stood up, her eyes caught the worn inscription on the book that lay wrinkled and lifeless on the floor beneath her feet. It read:

To Ryan. Remember The Captain.  


She picked up the book, blew off the dust and left.

Chapter 1.

“I tempered the storm
Though your faith was small
I prayed while you slept
And the night waged war
We stood in the fire
And we walked on sea
And we drank of the wine
That was made of Me”
 – H.U.
“I need to go to work.” She slowly lifted her worn eyelids, looked up at her husband,  and said nothing. She lay still on her back in their bed, her arms across her chest, her body swaddled in blankets like a newborn. He looked down at her and said,”We don’t need to talk about this,” and left.
She closed her eyes and returned to the universe that was her body. In the vastness of her mind, she saw waves begin to rise and fall within her and with each mount and descent she counted first her eyes and then her shoulders and arms and she realized she couldn’t move. She was sore. She started to cry. One by one, tears fell down the side of her face as if in a race to get to her neck and wet the bed and be the first to announce she still had skin and bones. “What happened?,” she asked herself. She opened her eyes and looked around the room for an answer but as soon as she did she closed them. She didn’t want one.
She couldn’t think. In fact the only thing she could do was to utter simple directions to herself like Get up. Take a shower. Get the mail.  and obey each one as if she was at someone else’s command. With each obsequious act she moved as if she was in a trance held by someone else now tethered to her and with a voice that spoke to her and changed her. In the shower, the voice said, “My water” and she was made clean. At the mailbox, the voice said, “My wind” and she was healed. She was no longer sore. And when she sat down later that morning to write, she titled the top of her page “Miracles” and then she heard the voice say, “My word” and she erased it and gave it a new title, “My Wind, My Water and My Word” and started to write about how miracles are not extraordinary but only extraordinary to human beings because human beings don’t see what is true. She wrote at least a page of Truth and when she finished writing, she threw it out.
The last time she had been at her desk was the morning after she’d suffered a miscarriage. They’d been at a friend’s house for dinner and before dinner was even served, she’d ran to the bathroom only to bleed a sea of red, flush the toilet and announce abruptly to her husband, “We need to go home.” She was 14 weeks pregnant when she arrived for dinner and one hour later left barren. She lay in bed that night thinking about her dead baby in her neighbor’s toilet and one thought raged inside her over and over again, “Why was I allowed to breathe?” She was angry she couldn’t save the child in her, and even angrier she was alive and it was dead instead of the other way around. The next morning she sat at her desk as if in a spell and wrote Why was I allowed to breathe. Why was I allowed to breathe. Why was I allowed to breathe.
She called her friend to tell him what happened. He told her she’d seen Paradise. She told him maybe, but Paradise answered her question “Why was I allowed to breathe” and all he said was “because.”



At Times, Reality Is Unbearable. Especially When We are Eyeball to Eyeball with Waves.


Sermon Delivered to Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church January 2, 2005

This weekend people all over the world celebrated a new year. Ancient Babylonians were the first to make New Year’s celebrations. Early Christians believed they should reflect on mistakes and resolve to improve themselves in the new year. The idea of making a lot of noise exactly at midnight dates back to early pagan rituals. People believed that deafening noise would drive away evil spirits who flocked to the living at the start of the new year.

In the church today is Epiphany Sunday, the day we celebrate Light. Today the divine hits the earth’s pavement. God took on human flesh and now we pause lest we forget to make meaning of not only the babe in the manger but God whose light makes all things new.

Epiphany means to “shine upon,” to “reveal.” Today we remember the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. God’s light shone in the pattern of a star over the heads of the wise men to guide them out of desert darkness and to the light of all people, the Son of God. What was once hidden in darkness is now revealed in light.

Light is a salient biblical theme. In Genesis, light is the first act of Creation. God creates light for the earth and then the heavens; the sun for the day and the stars to be lights when all other lights go out.

It’s not easy to celebrate light when South Asia is covered in darkness. How do we make meaning of one birth when the whole world grieves over mass death? Mass graves cover 12 nations. Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Thailand, East Africa, Burma, Maldives, Malaysia and Bangladesh didn’t celebrate light or a new year this year. Instead, there were tears and prayer vigils.

In many ways Matthew’s text sheds light on the situation in South Asia because the story of the Magi is more than a romantic story about Kings who bear gifts. It’s about the reality of life and death, human frailty and tragedy and a God whose light rescues us despite what we see with our naked eyes.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Reality looked at steadily is unbearable.” The reality in South Asia is unbearable. In Matthew’s first century Palestine did not experience a tsunami but Palestine and South Asia share what we do not in our affluence: poverty, homelessness and mass death. Both worlds knew no hope. Matthew wrote in his text in about 80 AD after Roman legions seized the Jew’s Holy City. Mass deaths were the norm. Thousands died from hunger and disease; thousands more fled the city to be killed as they ran, to be crucified for Roman soldiers’ entertainment or to become helpless prisoners of war. (Horsely and Silberman 212) Roman general Titus ordered the entire city of Jerusalem to be leveled. There were no satellite pictures of Jerusalem for Matthew and others to compare, but if there were Jerusalem  – like Sumatra today –  was nothing but barren. Jews longed to know: Who will save us?

Enter the Magi who arrive at Herod’s court to announce the birth of the King of the Jews. The ones who pay homage are not Herod’s bible experts but wise men ignorant of messianic hopes and dreams. These wise men see nature change, not scriptures fulfilled and journey in the dark. One light lights the way.

Matthew is the only Gospel writer to mention the Magi and the star. In Matthew, the Magi are unnumbered, unnamed, and from the unspecific East. The Magi are star gazers, maybe pagans, set in contrast to all others in the infancy narrative: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, shepherds, Temple prophets, Simeon and Anna – all are Jewish. Matthew is a Jewish Christian who preserves the Magi as both vague and specific, about no one and every one to represent all nations and peoples who one day will pay homage to the one who will be King over all.

How did the Magi become Kings? This past Advent I taught a class on the origins of Christmas and the Magi’s origins. The early Christian converts who were non-Jews turned to the Old Testament to learn more and found a verse from Isaiah: “Nations shall come to your light and Kings to the brightness of your dawn.” From Psalm 72: “May the Kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the Kings of Sheba and Seba bring him gifts.” By the 3rd Century the theologian Tertullian wrote that the Magi were “kings from Arabia.” In the 4th, another scholar Origen said there were three Magi after he compared a passage from Genesis with Matthew’s in an homily. By the Middle Ages it was simply taken for granted: Matthew’s wise men were legendary three Kings from the Orient.

What was the power that drew the Magi to Bethlehem? Many believe that in about 7-6 BC there was a possible rare triple conjunction of three planets: Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. Others claim a supernova, a celestial explosion, but there is no evidence. Still others Halley’s comet, an actual historical event that happened in 12 or 11 BC well before the birth of Christ. Matthew doesn’t say what it is and we are left to plot planetary trajectories and scour extra-canonical histories.

I believe the Magi saw the exact same star they’d seen every night of their lives but this time – on this night – the exact same star looked different. 

Last Sunday, thousands swam to the water’s surface. Light burst through the dark ash-colored sea. Some made it, some didn’t. One  man named Dayalan owned a Maryland townhouse and sold it to start an orphanage in Sri Lanka for children who’d lost parents in the civil war. Early Sunday, his wife ran into the kitchen screaming, “The sea is coming.” He told his wife, “Be calm. God is with us. Nothing will ever harm us without God’s permission.” He piled 28 half-dressed kids and his wife into his small boat and pulled away in the knick of time only to watch water destroy his home. (Washington Post Foreign Service “Outracing the Sea, Orphans in His Care,” December 30, 2004)

With the sea tossing his boat he paused and recalled Isaiah: “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord shall raise up a standard against it.” Dayalan raised his hand in the direction of the flood and shouted, “I command you in the name of Jesus – STOP!”

He said the water “stalled, momentarily. I thought I was imagining things.” When it was all over he sobbed. “Twenty years of my life put in here and it disappeared in 20 seconds. If there was anyone who should’ve got swept away it should’ve been us. We were eyeball to eyeball with the wave.”

Dayalan’s story and thousands like his stretch thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean. His story isn’t a story about darkness but light  –  if we look again with steady eyes. If there wasn’t light there would be no will to go on, to continue in the face of devastation. Light is what helps us to our feet when we’re on our knees. Light gives us the will to begin again when there is no sound reason. Light is the sun that comes after the storm. Light is the power that changes stars  – and stops waves.

Most of us look with our bare eyes and see pain in the world. We look at each other and we see people, situations and events that disappoint us. We see tsunamis devastate 12 nations. We mourn; we watch television and see others mourn. Babies get sick. Friends are diagnosed with cancer. Look steadily at life and life is unbearable. However, the Magi in Matthew’s story and people like Dayalan who come face to face and eyeball to eyeball with the grimness of human life mandate we look again.  Look at the exact same situation in your life and see the exact same situation look different. God’s Light changes what we see. God makes all things new. This is the power that drew the Magi to Bethlehem and the power that stood Dayalan on his feet with 28 half-dressed kids on a boat in a drowning sea and commanded the waves to stop – in Jesus’ name.

In John 16:33 in His final farewell discourse to his Disciples before his arrest, crucifixion and death Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” If there is a wave in front of you today look again and make a joyful noise. Ann Weems writes in “Godburst,” because of Christ’s birth, life and death, “There is a rain of stars, a rushing of angels, a blaze of candles. God burst into our lives. Love is running through the streets.”

Love is here running through the streets – and stopping waves. Jesus has overcome the world. Now – that’s a reason to celebrate. Amen.


Wheat Potential


Jesus Looks at the Weed and Sees Wheat-Potential.

Sermon Delivered to Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church July 17, 2005

The reading for today is from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 13 verses 24-30 and verses 36-43.  It is known as the parable of the wheat and weeds, or commonly known as wheat and tares. There are 7 parables Matthew sets right in the middle of the Gospel, parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Look on the screen and you’ll see a series of slides of the “Sower’s Cove” or the “Cove of the Parables.” This is the traditional site where Jesus delivered the parables of the Kingdom of God from a small boat floating in water, God’s natural amphitheater. Today it is acoustically tested and proven that 5-7 thousand people can gather on the shore and  hear a person speak. This is the shore of the Sea of Galilee and at the foot of the site of the Sermon on the Mount. In today’s story, Jesus has healed a demon-possessed man. Pharisees accuse him of collusion with Satan. Jesus leads the crowd and his disciples to this cove, and the parable we read today is the only parable of the 7 that the disciples ask Jesus to explain after the crowds disperse.

The Parable of the Weeds
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

The Parable of the Weeds Explained
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Jesus now accused of collusion with Satan leads the crowds to a cove to make clear the difference between this world and the Kingdom of God. Instead of a direct approach, he speaks in parables and to the ones whose ears no longer hear.

Parables confront and confound us and often we are left with more questions than answers. Questions though are more real than answers because people are riddles and people are the most real things in our lives. Every day people encourage and wound us, tell truths and lies, exalt and disparage. Turn on the days news and notice: Our lives are filled with people figuring out how to get along with people.

Jesus chose agronomy to teach us about people – and about God. In eastern countries of the Mediterranean, wheat is grown to make foods for human survival, such as flour and bread. Among the wheat, a weed grows known as tares. The tares look exactly like wheat to the human eye early in growth. It was commonly known that the roots of the two are so intertwined it’s impossible to separate them. In fact, to pull the tares out of the ground too early is to risk uprooting the wheat. At harvest, both the wheat and the weeds grow ears with seeds. The seed of the tare is similar in shape and size to the wheat but is slate-grey and is poisonous. In Jesus’ day, women and children sat and picked out the seeds of the tares by hand. The popular belief was that tares were wheat gone bad. “Let them grow together,” Jesus says, “until the harvest.”

Jesus tells the disciples that wheat are sown from above and are children of the Kingdom. We are wheat. We are the baptized children of God and “if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Weeds are the enemy. We all know what a weed looks like. How many of us here can think of someone who is a bad weed?  Weeds are people who send us on wrong paths, rob us of life and our identities, weeds are bad mothers and fathers, people who weren’t there for us or who aren’t now, spouses who left us for someone else. Weeds are the people who criticize us and interfere with our plans. Weeds are a nuisance. Weeds are irritants that need to be rooted out, rounded up, weed-whacked. In the parable, the servants ask, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” When you think about the weeds in your life, do you wonder the same thing? Do you wonder if God is Good why are there bad people? Does this age-old wheat and tare refrain sound familiar to you? Every day this question haunts us. It is our perennial human cry.

How many thousands of years and we aren’t any closer to a clear answer. The only answer given here and in all of scripture is this: “An enemy has done this.” An enemy came and scattered seed in the night and left. The enemy didn’t need to do anything more than scatter the seed because the enemy knew wheat would care only about weeds and forget about God. The enemy knew we’d focus on the bad people in our lives, the ones we need to root out, and put God on trial. Evil knew we’d get insecure, nervous, question God and even stop thinking about God. Evil knew we’d ask if God is Good, why are there bad people in the world? Evil knew we’d become our own gods and try to separate the good and the bad. Evil knew weeds would continue to be weeds, and wheat would forget how to be wheat.

The sad drama of this parable rests here in the tangled web of human life. No one here can tell the difference between a good person and a bad one. No human being knows our totalities and who we really are. Who can look at another and recall the childhood memories, the days we skinned our knees, or woke to horror from bad dreams? Who saw our mistakes, heard when we swore we’d never love again when we lost our first girl friend or boy friend? Who here sees the heart of another, its intentions, motives and desires? Who sees right through us, past the poison and sees the food – the wheat – intended for good? God is the only one who knows it all and knows why and how we make choices. Only God knows who are wheat and who are weeds and what can be done about it. If left to human beings, we’d start to uproot the weeds with the wheat and not know when and how to stop. Eventually we’d destroy each other and all of human life. Look around: Isn’t that what we are doing now?

Consider the 2005 terror attacks in London. The London bombers were someone’s neighbors. They lived in a community. They were “sons of the country,” local boys from respected families and prosperous parents. People had nothing bad to say about them. They were kind, bright and popular. Mohammed Kahn was a teaching assistant who took kids on trips. He was erudite, educated with a degree in education. Kahn volunteered his time in local cultural centers and sports leagues that catered to young people. In a 2002 interview with the Times of London, Kahn told a reporter he “enjoyed helping less-privileged children.”  No one thought this man was a weed. A close friend stunned after the incident said, “It must have been forces behind him.” Kahn and the other three killers were tares, or tare-or-ists. Terrorists who left home on Thursday, told family members and friends they were going to a religious conference in London and toted rucksacks filled with explosives.

Karl Barth once said, “Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do.  He Himself is the Way.” God didn’t abandon the world to evil. God abandoned heaven and risked His Son Jesus Christ, the only way to life and truth and the only one who can separate the wheat from the tares. Jesus is the one who sees the alcoholic, abused, prostitute, murderer, poor, sad, isolated, alone as new and unstained. Jesus looks at the weed and sees wheat-potential. One illustration of this is the story of Saul. Today he’d be known as a jihadist, a terrorist who sought to rid the world of Christians. Acts says that he was the one “ravaging the church by entering house after house, dragging off both men and women, someone who was breathing threats and murder against the disciples.” Luke goes on, “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” Saul became Paul, the weed became wheat and the weed began to teach the wheat and the weeds how to become wheat.

In six short verses a man who was a parabolic act himself, a man who walked on water, turned water into wine, healed the sick, raised the dead and died for our sins, teaches us that evil is a part of the world because of an enemy. We learn that wheat and weeds, the good and the bad, are indistinguishable to the human eye but not to God’s. Parables invoke more questions but this parable uproots questions even as it sows more. For our question now is not “If God is Good why are there bad people?” because this parable teaches us that God is Good. The question now is not “Why are there bad people?” because Jesus says bad people are sown from the enemy. The only question left after reading the Parable of the Weeds is a question we need to ask ourselves  – and daily: “Whose side am I on: The enemy’s or God’s?” And if God’s side, we need to ask ourselves another: “When I look at bad people in my life do I look with the eyes of the enemy and see weeds, or do I believe in the power and name of Jesus Christ and see wheat potential?”

He who has ears, let him hear. Amen.








The Ideal Kingdom Player: Living As God’s Image Bearers

More than half a century ago, the National Union of Christian Schools (now Christian Schools International) sponsored the publication of Francis D. Breisch Jr’s. “The Kingdom of God: A Guide for Old Testament Study.” His book became one of the most popular books used by Bible teachers. Breisch centers his text around the kingdom of God theme as a portal to understanding who God is.  “To trace the growth of the Kingdom of God,” Breisch explains, “is to keep one’s finger on the pulse of God’s redemptive program.” God longs to renew creation and be “God with us” (Rev 21:3). To hold a finger on the redemptive program of God is to hold a finger on the beating pulse of God’s very own heart.

As educators, most of us don’t do this and we know it, if we are honest. It isn’t easy to keep a daily finger on God’s pulse and heart when we are immersed in lesson preps, grades, and faculty meetings. We plan, but the job demands that we also react. Pulled in different directions, we talk nominal Christian talk to ourselves and each other and we sign our emails with happy platitudes such as “In His Service,” or as I do, “Joyfully in Him.” Our platitudes are our foothold and because we are Christian we move into the next moment confident in Christ. Swept up and into the micro, as teachers we exist in silos. We teach in classrooms walled off to each other, and the metanarrative of God’s unified story – His Grand Redemptive Program. Information is ours to dispense like a deposit to a faceless bank account. We seek relationships with our students and colleagues, but feel disjointed. Assured in ourselves and our mission, we wear security badges around our necks that become necklaces of pride. (Ps. 73) We fight our own battles, whether they be competing attentions, demanding schedules, daily frustrations or employee schisms that rise and fall like winter wheat. We gather strength from our refuge that our students will one day remember us.  Everyday we close the day with the same epic refrain, an echo of the opening narration from the movie Troy:

“Will our actions echo across the centuries?

Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were,

how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?”

This isn’t unique to our own Christian communities. The same thing happened to Israel. Israel’s community was broken.  Pointing fingers at each other, they ended up pointing one at God and cried out for a king  – and God granted them one. As Christian teachers, we have much to learn from the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and the broken lives of men like Samuel, Saul and David.  In these books, God has something to say about how we are to be the ideal Kingdom player. God, not our Administrations, speaks best on how to live and work as image bearers because it is God whose image we bear. When we look here in the Bible (or anywhere in the Bible for that matter), we encounter not only the tragic lives of others but we discover an essential question for ourselves as teachers: Do I go to work everyday and practice living like someone in training for God’s kingdom? Because that’s who we are and what we are doing, isn’t it? If we are truly living in God’s story, our own “inner ring,” (C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring) then aren’t we called to work every day in the “already but not yet” waiting for Christ to usher in His kingdom and sweep us into Glory? Should our orthopraxy look different than secular schools? “It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

As teachers, are we choosing to please God? Are we (are you) ready for God’s examination?

Years ago, I used to think I was. Before I was a teacher, I worked as a political appointee in the White House and later as a member of a small band of young underdog campaign staffers who slayed the opposition party for the first time in 50 years. The other political party was our enemy champion, our Goliath, and we teamed together with a single mission to regain the House of Representatives. No one expected us to win, except us. Our young fearless female leader trimmed the budget, and fired an inflated staff. Our inner ring was a dwindled down staff of less than 30 from a staff of 90. Bonded together in like mind and purpose, we needed only one thing: courage. We muscled together our own sticks of wit, smarts, and strengths and became a team that beat the odds. With synced departments, clear lines of communication, a stealth field and research staff who hit the campaign trail in David-like leaps with slingshots ready, we were small but mighty. We were a team. By Patrick Lencioni’s descriptions of the ideal team player in his fable “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues,” every single one of us was ideal. Each one possessed all three virtues: We were humble, hungry and smart, and we were about to control history. If we had a lyre, we would have played it.

Last week, I may have been hungry and smart, but I wasn’t humble. I got tired. Confident in myself and my background, I saw problems in our Administration. I’d forgotten the things of this earth stand next to God like a candle to the sun. (Hillsong, Behold Then Sings My Soul) Comfortable in my silo, hidden from the world, I went to work as if I am unknown to God, out of sight, and I cried out for a king. Like Israel, I wanted a king like “all the nations” instead of God. The question of what I wanted compelled me then and now to confront the weight of my own sin as a Christian educator: Do I want a leader to fix what’s broken in my organization, or do I work with others to build change from the bottom-up? Do I long for the day people in my department or on my team get along and come to see what I see, or do I recognize the harder truth, the part I play in team dynamics and how I may be part of the issue? Do I think if I only was given a new title or role I could fill gaps and solve problems singlehandedly? Do I want a leader to lift the weight of my burdens or do I keep one finger on the pulse of God’s redemptive program and remember I am not the King, but God is, and find the pulse of God’s own heart?    

When Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God he said, “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right, then you can see God in the outside world.” (Beatitudes, The Message) What I’ve come to learn is that the Ideal Kingdom Player is someone who seeks to please God, first, and works everyday like someone who is training for the Kingdom Draft to be picked up to play on a Kingdom Team. “To please God… to be a real ingredient in the Divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son— it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory) Is it impossible to please God? Can I be a teacher and be a real ingredient in the divine happiness? Does God delight in my work as an artist who delights in his work or a son?

On the last day of the school year last year I watched Jonathan King, our Choral Music Program Director, along with a group of faculty members, led us in opening worship. King is highly trained, an impressive background with national distinction. The staff gathered for a final day of professional development. As I watched him, he held his gaze on the other musicians, all with less expertise and notoriety, and looked to them for their lead. Because he did, the worship team made more than music; together they made a song. It was a moment of pause where I held my finger on God’s redemptive pulse and found His heart. When I did, I thought to myself, “I want to be a teacher on a team like this worship team: Musicians who know when and how to let others lead to make a seraphim-like hymn of praise before the throne of our King.”

Joyce Baldwin said, “It is in the stubbornness of human individuality that each man and woman encounters God or ignores Him, responds to or resists Him.” (Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel) It must be hard to be a leader of sinners and fools. You can’t step in and fix things, because then there is no learning and owning.  This is how Jesus led. He led us to see ourselves, despite ourselves and to teach us how to play on a Kingdom team, when to move in and lead and when not to, and when to listen, wait and watch for a King. “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight,” he said, “That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Beatitudes, The Message) This is our call to repent as teachers: To be the Ideal Kingdom Player means that our necklaces of pride be removed to make room for crowns of Glory.

Will our actions echo across the centuries? Yes, but only if we live and work like an Ideal Kingdom Player who traces the growth of the kingdom of God not only in our students, but in ourselves.






Enter My Story

“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

One night I woke & the Lord spoke to me
His back it was turned, though His face I did see.
I was terrified, weak, I stood hardly a chance.
Grace it did save me, Love I did glance.

The Lord God was angry,
I’ll tell you, it’s true
His child deceived Him, worked to defeat Him.
There was no reason for me to live.

But, I did. Because –
God spoke to me, Jesus saved me, and the Holy Spirit taught me.
This is what God said:

“I gave you a heart with its own eyes to see
My Love, my Compassion, my Joy and Mercy.
But your heart it turned cold,
it turned hard,
it turned blind.
You see with your own eyes, you see with your mind.

It’s true my sweet child I drew eyes on your face
So you could see Glory all over the place
The trees and the ocean and fish in the sea
The clouds and the rainbows, a promise from me.

And I made you a heart, a place just for me
To rest in your body, to dwell peacefully
My breath sits here steadfast, unwavering, true
Waiting for you…to make a choice.

In this world I created now there’s good and there’s bad
Faith and doubt are married;
So are happy and sad

You have Free Will
You can choose right or wrong
You can look with your mind
Or see with a song

The tune that I sing
Is a song filled with Love
When this world hurts you
Look to my World above.

You’ll see Purpose, a Plan, my Will and my Hand
You’ll see people who need me, and maybe you can…give them hope.

Or you can choose when you’re hurt to turn inward, see
Many do this (you did) and never find me
They look to themselves to fix all their woes
These people, they’re sad.

Trust me, I know.
Don’t fret my dear child it’s the world you are in
It is Good, it is Good, yes!
But – it’s a world ruled by sin

Like many, you fell-
You blamed me
You cursed me,
You doubted, it’s true

But I let you because of my deep Love for you.
My Son He will save you
Restore you, grant life
My Spirit will teach you
To do what is Right.

My Son guards the door, the Sheep, and is Light
His vine, it is True,  
His Way is to Life.

I need your help,” the Lord said to me,“I’ll guard you, protect you, I’ll help you be free.
But first you will help me to help others to see.

Up, get your Bible and read unto me
My Word it will heal you
My Word sets hearts free

Enter my Story,
And you’ll see the lost saved
Lazarus raised
from four days in the grave.

Enter my Story
where the blind come to see,
where water’s made wine
And a boy is set free.

There’s multiplied bread,
Water traversed
People forgiven
Who were under the curse
Like them, now you’re pulled in.

I’ll cleanse you with Water
I’ll fill you with Wine
My Wind is my Spirit
You’ll heal in my Time

I’ll mold you and shape you
My Will will be yours
I’ll open a place to my house –
The front door.

Seek me and find me
I’ll give you the keys
When people are hurting and broken and need

You’ll show them my Way, my Will and my Plan
You’ll teach in my absence I am holding their hand

You’ll open the door to their hearts as I did
On this night when you almost died but now live
Your faith it did save you
My Grace saved your soul
You have scars now, you’re wounded, but I’ll make you whole.

As you open one door to another you’ll see
Christ’s Love, Compassion, Joy and Mercy
Your eyes will return to your heart bit by bit
Then one day with my people in a New Heaven you’ll sit

It will not be easy
And you won’t want to go
Down this path that I’ll show you
A path that’s narrow

You’ll hurt more and you’ll grieve
For a life left behind
This path is not easy
This path that is mine

But you have tools that I gave you
Now don’t you forget:

My Word is a Lamp unto your feet
My church is a place that my people will meet
Hold their hands and their hearts like I did to you
Befriend them and help them, their faith will heal you
My people are special, they hold all my Gifts
I’ll even show some that it’s you who uplifts
Pray and remember that even in flight
I am holding you tightly with all of my Might
I sent you away from my nest, yes, “Good Bye”
But I trust you and know you will live by my Guide
Music will be a place to restore
Your soul will have flight and will sing ever more
When you worship the Lord with your heart, soul and mind
Peace you will know, my Love you will find

Be still, and know that you’re mine.
(Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”)

Lewis, C. S. 1898-1963. Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, With a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. 1st HarperCollins ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Lewis writes,

“If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market.” He goes on, “I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God.”

“Mr. B”

Eulogy delivered at Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Annapolis July 9, 2005

There are many of us here who talk about providence or proof of evidence of God. On Monday, July 4 however most of us felt nothing more than a void or a lack of evidence of anything close to holy. In less than 24 hours a man dearly loved who devoted himself to naval service, combat and the advancement of human freedom around the globe dropped on the floor after church from an aneurysm and died on the same day in our country’s history the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Most of us who sat on the lawn across from the Naval Academy yard watching the evening fireworks weren’t thinking about freedom. At the moment it was an odd coincidence and an interruption to our grief. We wanted the world to stop and grieve with us and instead it celebrated. We told ourselves it was heaven’s light and angels not fireworks who tore open the evening darkness over our heads – a blast through the barrier between here and there to take our man Captain John C. Bajus home.

John Paul Sartre once said, “Nothingness haunts our being.” Nothingness is the void in our lives experienced in absence, loss, shame, guilt, hatred and loneliness. To be human is to know the void. People fail us, we fail ourselves. In the midst of our voids our primal longing for meaning takes over and we search for something to hold onto, anything to be assured there’s to more to our lives than what meets the human eye.

The first time I met Mr. Bajus I was 12. My eyes caught the smile and the rosy pink cheeks. His daughter Lynn and I went to school together. I remember the triplets and like Lynn and all our Severn classmates I remember the man who hugged me and acted as if his world stopped for mine. Twenty-six years later my young family and I moved in around the corner from his house the one I played in with Lynn as a child. Now his adult neighbor I learned his world did stop for mine. In fact it stopped for anyone who knocked on the door, rang the phone or sat down next to him at church or a park bench. Immediately he’d ask, “How are you?” and reach out a hand. Most of the time what mattered was his simple human touch, hand gesture or smile. Stranger or foe, friend or family, it didn’t matter. You mattered.

One night when we left the Bajus home, we passed the mailbox. It read, “J.C. Bajus.” My husband stopped me and said, “Look –  J.C.” “J.C.” were the same initials of the man John Bajus tried to be most like and the one he prayed to as he drove submarines and needed a power outside of himself to direct him away from enemy mines in the sea.

An 18th century Enlightenment scholar once said with brilliance that the places of the void become the very face of God. John Bajus was a man with quiet dignity who moved with a quiet grace into the voids that filled our lives. I bet nearly every one in this room can think of one moment when John Bajus filled a void for you. A time when you didn’t have someone to take you to a movie, go fishing or the time you needed an advisor, confidante or mentor. Wherever John Bajus went and whomever he talked to, he filled a void. He became a grandfather to our children, a father to my husband. He served hot dogs to 12 little girls at my daughter’s 5-year-old birthday party; he’d simply walked by and stopped during his afternoon walk. Sometimes he sat on my front step and told me stories. He knew how to fix things, cars he’d tell me. Mostly, I often thought, he knew how to fix people.

It’s not easy to capture an entire human life like John Bajus’ in one speech. The task is made all the more difficult when a person like him is of a seed different than the rest of us. These are the ones who fill the voids in our lives without noise or fanfare. The ones who simply pull up a chair next to us and ask, “How are you?” and mean it.

If Mr. Bajus had one wish my guess is he’d wish more people came to church. The church we are in today he helped to found. There are many people who never go to church because it’s “church.” But to Mr. B, as we called him, Jesus Christ is not about a building or a mere person who walked the earth 2000 years ago. Jesus Christ is about human freedom, a person who came to die so that all of humanity despite ourselves can be made free and learn how to live and how to be different than who we are now. Jesus Christ is the person who sees the alcoholic, abused, prostitute, swindler, murderer, poor, impoverished, and oppressed not as they are but new and unstained and who they will be. John Bajus looked at each one of us the same way.

It’s said some people come to church and are converted to traditional Christianity, others to honesty, but the most committed Christians are ones converted to a deep love of God and man. John Bajus was a Christian converted to the deep love of God and man. For his brief time here, he showed the world the face of God. There was no odd coincidence that he died on July 4th. Without John Bajus many of us here would never be able to say we saw what it looks like to be a human being who is truly free.

On July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams signed the Declaration of Independence John Adams retired to his farm in Quincy. Here he penned and whispered his last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Little did he know Thomas Jefferson died at Monticello the same day – July 4th – a few hours earlier.

Odd coincidence or proof of evidence? Three men who committed themselves to preserve freedom and who believed that all men are created equal went home on a day that means something. It wasn’t any ordinary day with no meaning. It was Independence Day. After all, Mr. B., you’d never die on a day that would leave a void but a day that assured us of more –  a day filled with fireworks and song and remembrances of bombs bursting in air. This is the fanfare God’s humble servant deserves – and a day for us that gives us proof through the night that John is still here.

John Bajus survives.

Happy Habits: The Legacy of Leaping

Speech Delivered to the National Pastor’s Conference,

Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, October 2005


Former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite writers. After George Bush was first elected she wrote a column titled, “Happy Leader, Happy Nation.” Her main premise was that despite what may come to define Bush’s Presidency, if a President is happy, the nation is happy. Reagan and Clinton both exuded a “pride of place” and were men who despite unpopular policies and personal behaviors, won over the nation because they were “wild about the job.” For a quotidian illustration, she writes about a street juggler named Serge. He smiles and juggles and juggles and smiles while all the while he’s about the pointless act of throwing tennis rackets in the air. Why does she include a street juggler in her article about presidents? Because she says no matter who you are and what you do, “There is nothing so grand in all the world as watching a person who loves what he does, do it.”

King David’s political memoirs in the Old Testament are the words of someone who loves to be King. He tells of the drama of what it means to be human and King, its pains and losses, glories and breached confidences. When we read about a man who can say, “By you I can crush a troop and by you I can leap over a wall,” we read about a man who is, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “in the arena,” cast in the nation’s center where leadership bears not the mark of glory but also darkness and isolation. This is our human condition, and what we choose to do about it as leaders in elected office, the church, our nation’s classrooms or streets makes all the difference in and to the world.

As a Seminarian, I walk side by side as a Student Pastor with its leader. I think about leadership all the time, whether I am engaged in Calvin’s Institutes or Shultz’s Peanuts. Traits and situations count I tell myself, but after my own political career in Washington, D.C.,  I’ve learned it’s not the overriding factor. What matters is if we know about ourselves what Quindlen knows to be true about Serge: how to smile and juggle and juggle and smile, despite what befalls us.

My pastor Dr. W. Terry Schoener asked me to speak before you today about Seminary. Seminary is holy ground, at least for me. It’s where God trains God’s leaders. Here ancient texts come to life and we are called out of the world and into a sacred vacuum only to re-enter the world when we earn our last credit, as if a set of divine parentheses surround our matriculation. Here inside the parentheses we live out pieces of King David’s drama wherein notions of truth, justice, compassion and mercy are hyper-exaggerated for our inspection. The profane and pious, temporal and eternal converge in textbooks and in our daily student experience. We watch David’s dance with pride and providence as we live out our own, and we learn how and when to rely on our own traits and how and when to draw near to God and rely on His. Mostly, we learn what it’s like to delight in God.

If we are honest most of us identify more with the David who didn’t leap over a wall but the David who fell before it. We find ourselves not after God’s own heart but after the hearts of the ones we need to please, whether it be our Presbytery committee or Church Elders. Sit down to lunch at a Seminary round table and you’ll not hear about delight in God but about hurdles to get the leadership position to talk about God. Speak little and carry a pen and you can take notes on how to study for Ordination exams, where to find old tests, what groups to join to dissect faith statements and how to sit properly poised before examination of your Presbytery lest you fail. Because of this, most of us don’t think about how to leap over walls but how to straddle them. As we are asked to secure our pride and position in the face of scrutiny, we find we forget the only thing we ought to secure is our own humility.

When David fell, he learned how to balance piety and position, duck spears, crush troops and leap over walls – not by his own doing but by God’s. Girded with nothing more than linen, he performed his most glorious act as a leader: he danced madly for the Lord. David learned how to smile and juggle and juggle and smile while all the while the brokenness of the world turned inside and around him and he turned upside down for God.

There is much to learn from David’s life and the infallibility of eyes that look backwards over a career as I and other Seminarians look forward to ours. Last week I asked Pastor Schoener if it will be hard to retire. He told me the hardest part will be to end what he called his “happy habit,” those mornings he poured coffee and wrote sermons. Over the last two years as his assistant, I’ve watched a man move in and out of meetings, visit the sick, heal the broken hearted, and teach his intern: me. What did I learn? All the while the brokenness of the world turns and he handles it with a Serge-like grace. With each new obstacle, he smiles and juggles and juggles and smiles.

An ancient text is brought to life for me because of it and because of Terry I now know how to leap over walls despite what befalls me. My success will rest not on my traits nor situation nor even my Seminary degree, but whether or not I pass on the legacy of leaping, as David did for all of us and Terry for me. My success as a leader will be determined by whether or not there is someone in my midst who watches me lead and says to themselves as he or she watches, “There is nothing so grand in all the world as watching a person who loves what she does, do it.”







Worthy of Gold


Without Our Knowing, The Gospel Dropped From Our Hearts

to Our Laps and Onto Our Shoelaces.

Originally published in The Anchorage Magazine Fall 2013


On the first day of practice in hot August, we looked at a team of nearly 30 who needed to learn how to run 2 miles with only a little over 2 weeks before the first meet. We wanted each and every one to cross the finish line with dignity.  We rallied the parents for popsicles & water, ice & wet rags, & quickly defined a new benchmark of success. Day 2 we said, “No one runs alone.” We told the children “If you come in first, run to the last runner and run them in.” Our idea was that if the first ran to the last, then the last would feel encouraged to run harder & stronger. Equally we told the fastest runners that by doing so the first only gets stronger. “What good is it to come in first and sit on the ground?,” we asked, as each ran in and dropped at our feet.  Over time the lines began to blur over who was first, or last, as the first was last and the last first. Coaches began to lead without leading, as children taught each other to run.  In an individual sport like Cross Country, we found this team philosophy to be paramount to building individual strength, but more it built and coalesced a team. Without our knowing, the Gospel had dropped from our hearts to our laps and onto our shoelaces.

The moment we realized the idea crystallized was at practice. A middle schooler, on their own volition, ran back to a surprised parent who decided to run with the team that day (we had several parents join us, and often), and said, “I’m going to run with you, because no one runs alone.” But it was at our first meet at Rockbridge Academy that the MS XC team proved themselves. This first meet was a trail run on a tough course. Most of our runners crossed the finish line with white forlorn faces, many gasping without breath, one needed to be carried to the tent as she had sprinted the whole race. Spent, our team disbanded to the Eagles tent for water, and in some cases, under shaded trees for first aid. But within minutes, one by one and on their own, our team began to run back to the course to find the last runner and run him in to the finish. As adults, we held our faces as tears streamed and as other teams stared, took pictures, and in some cases looked curious and confused.

Week by week, meet by meet, the runners became stronger, inside and out. At our Host meet at AACS Upper School we expanded our team philosophy to encourage runners from other teams. We believed as Hosts it was our biblical duty to show the community what it looks like to embody Jesus Christ. Several stood at the finish and encouraged runners from other teams, while others confused runners by jumping in the race and running side by side with them at the end shouting, “You can do it.” After this meet, we committed ourselves to not only run in our own, but to encourage all runners, on our team or not.

We placed 6th, then 5th, then tied for 4th, and finally ended the season in 3rd place. One team member exclaimed at our end-of-season team party, “If only we had a few more weeks! We’d get first!” Our biggest victory however came not only at that first meet at Rockbridge or even at the last at Indian Creek when our team came in 3rd place and shepherded in our final runner in a spade of gold at the finish, but when a stranger from another team called us to say “Thank you.” He was a father of a runner from a competitor school. He called to say “Thank you” to the team because our team ran in his daughter. He shared many personal details of her difficulties and struggles in sports and in life, and explained how his daughter often finished in last place and in tears. This time though she finished not with tears but with a smile. He asked her why and she told him what the AACS team did for her was “awesome.” Other children she never met ran her into the finish line because “no one runs alone.”

Our Middle School Cross Country Team showed each other, this young girl, and the wider community what Grace looks like, and in doing so, became stronger athletes.  The children at the end of our season picked bible verses that embodied the Spirit of their team. Here are a few: “So I run with purpose in every step.” 1 COR 9:26; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” 1 COR 10:31; “They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31; “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” 2 Timothy 2:5, “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24.

Congratulations to a team worthy to wear gold, and to God be all the Glory!

“Empires of Grace”


Some Things Can’t Be Explained, Only Witnessed.

Originally published in The Anchorage Magazine Fall 2015


This week the 8th grade gathered at Camp Wabanna in Edgewater for a retreat on leadership, to discover what it means to lead and how to influence the world for Jesus Christ. The students studied world leaders, from Mao Zedong to Ghandi, Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr, and biblical ones like David, flawed, but after God’s own heart. Guest speakers Eric Hansen and Doug Scheidt rallied them to think about big things like identity and legacy; Daniel Giddings asked them to look at the small, themselves, because leadership is about who we are more than what we do. It was heady, sometimes droll, and by nightfall it was dulled by antsy middle schoolers who shifted in chairs, looking not at us but outside, anxious for things that are real, like Capture the Flag, s’mores, and dorm room pranks.

We’d been together for the whole day in one room, but we weren’t one. The students were annoyed with one another today and over the past several years, irritated by differences, irked over being forced to play nice and be nice to people they didn’t like, and didn’t want to. They were distracted, disinterested and divided. In time, we were distressed: we learned that while adults spent the day intent on teaching students how to lead, a group of students spent the day intent on schemes to bully another student. They had succeeded once, and planned more for later. Now, with the day coming to a close, we knew we had a decision to make: Do we continue to teach them what it means to be a leader, or do we show them? With our minds spinning like the fan blades over our tired heads, our most pressing question became this one: If we choose to show them, what do we do?

We decided to answer our question not with an answer, but with this realization: We are all the same before God, whether we are the teacher or the student. Every day, we are annoyed with one another, irritated by differences, irked over being forced to play nice and be nice to people we don’t like and don’t want to like. We are distracted, disinterested, and divided. We are no different than our students. We’re just older. We know how to hide it.

With this realization, we dropped our fig leaves and threw off our conceit. What happened next is one of those things in life that can’t be explained, only witnessed. For reasons we may never know, the people in that room were there to witness the bending of skies. Four teachers, five parents and 70 plus students became still as the Holy Spirit swept in and defined leadership for all of us. Eighth grade boys sobbed like babies and the girls wept and held each other, as one by one students stood and praised the very student they once bullied; the human target not just at this Retreat, but all last year. The adults said nothing and watched as students took over, and for over one hour admitted failures and weaknesses, poor decisions, bad judgments, wrong thoughts, mistakes. One student said he was ashamed to think of what God thought of him. Another, with tears streaming down his face, his chest swelled and his hand placed on the back of the bullied student now bent over and sobbing, looked out at his class and barely uttered, “How do you call yourselves Christian?,” before He cut himself off to cover his face to tell His Lord, “We all are sorry.” By night’s end, everyone wanted to be the one to close in prayer and thank God for the weakest among them, whom God chose to humble every single one of us.

There is a song by Hillsong called “Empires” that says “We are worlds, we are bodies, empires of dirt and grace.” At the end of the Retreat, a few boys walked over to a father at pick­up. They knew him from last year. One by one they shook his hand and told him from now on they’d protect his son, that they’d “have his back.” The rest of that song goes like this: “The night is done, our chains are broken. The time has come. The wait is over. The King is here and his name is Jesus. Singing Hallelujah. Breathing in a brand new world.” If that night we all were empires of dirt, the next day the 8th graders were empires of grace, new creations, 8th graders “called to lead” helping to breath in a brand new world into a broken one for Jesus Christ.

Circles of Learning

Originally published on the CLC Network Website CLC Network Official

After Jackie arrived at our school, it became clear to us at Annapolis Area Christian Middle School  (Annapolis, MD) that differentiation is first-century pedagogy. Jesus, the Master Teacher, believed his “students” were more than passive recipients. He taught them to reveal and image God’s character to a people made in the image of God. Jesus taught us to include others around us not for inclusion’s sake alone but to reveal the character traits of God: The first is last and the last is first. Leaders aren’t served by others, but others are served by leaders. Knowledge is not to be lorded over others, but used to bring glory to God. God is a God of relationships.

As Christians, we are intended to live as God’s “created analogies.” Our calling is to teach like Jesus, but sometimes we feel more like Sisyphus than the Master teacher, condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. We discuss and plan ways to best accommodate low and high-flyers, mitigate exclusion and build relationships. But if we are honest, it’s hard to build relationships in a classroom where there are wide gaps in each student’s ability and aptitude.  C.S. Lewis once said,

“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.”

Students working on computers
Jackie working on Quizlet Live with her eighth grade team.

Jackie meets with her “Circle of Friends” each week, but how do we accommodate a student with Down syndrome in the classroom and build relationships? How do students who don’t share equal abilities and aptitudes share truth?

In the first semester, the eighth graders studied the history of God’s salvation story from Creation to Restoration. We divided the Bible into fifteen topics ranging from Creation to the Fall, the Flood, the Tower of Babel and continued to the “Already but Not Yet” of the Gospels and the “Final Restoration.” Students memorized the books of the Bible and as a final semester project were tasked with this question: How can you tell the story of God’s history of salvation in a creative way and include the fifteen major topics?

Jackie leading the class in sign language
The eighth grade Bible class followed Jackie’s lead as she signed the major themes in God’s history of salvation.

Students responded with colorful floor puzzles, radio scripts, music raps, and poetry. Jackie told the story of Creation to Restoration in hand and body motion. She acted out each topic, raising her hands in a circle over her head for the world to represent “Creation,” and then dropped to touch her toes for “Fall.” She performed fifteen hand and body signs using both fine and gross motor skills, echoing a choral response from the class for each topic. Students made props to aid Jackie’s memory, such as stars for the “Call of Abraham” and a crown for “Kings.” Students handed her a prop and shouted the topic in order, and she repeated it back in circle-like fashion.

One day the class screamed with delight when Jackie remembered half of the topics on her own, both verbally and in signs. To our amazement, however, this wasn’t the only “aha” moment. What we’d stumbled upon was a “Circle of Learning.” Jackie taught the class the fifteen topics and God’s salvation story, even as she learned them.  By signing the story together with the students, Jackie showed us a more vivid picture of the character of God:

Learners teach, and teachers learn. Inclusion isn’t including someone for inclusion’s sake, but for God’s. This is first-century pedagogy, and now our twenty-first century practice.