In the Torah it is written, “We see things not as they are, but as as we are.” What follows reveals more about me, my life experience, and my worldview than anything else. No one will agree with everything, but I hope something resonates with someone.
This will be a sporadic series and this post is all prelude.
• My family wasn’t particularly religious, but my mom often took us to church and it was important to her that my sibs and I get confirmed. In the Lutheran church, confirmation involves a middle school religious education program that culminates in adult church membership.
• In SoCal, in high school, I got involved with a very dynamic church youth group. We spent time in Tijuana orphanages, we took turns leading high school bible studies, and our choir toured every summer. A few of my best friends from this time period are pastors in SoCal and one heads up the largest homeless organization in L.A.
• I am a Christian, but as I age, I’m increasingly comfortable with questions and ambiguity. I’m more interested in spiritual vitality than religious orthodoxy.
• My education and international travel experiences have led me to conclude that Western Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on religious truth.
• I identify more with Christians who emphasize social justice than ones who stress evangelism and one set of religious truths.
• Sometimes I feel alienated within the church as a result of literal interpretations of the bible, Republican politics, materialism, patriarchal language, and cultural sameness.
• Solitude, moving in nature (lake swimming, trail running, cycling), the arts, and close interpersonal relations are integral to my spiritual vitality.
CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY’S INFLUENCE
In 2003, I was living in Southwestern China for a few months. My family and I met some missionaries or “English teachers” including a Nigerian citizen. He was the most exuberant and zealous Christian I had ever met. I was intrigued by his story including his facility with the language. He explained to me that his Nigerian mother tongue was tonal and so Mandarin was a snap. Nigeria, like a lot of Central and Northern African countries, is divided by Muslims in the North and Christians in the South.
All I could think about was what would his life have been like if he had been born a few hundred kilometers farther north. My guess is he would have become an exuberant and zealous Muslim iman. That lead me to wonder how different my spiritual journey would have been if I had been born in a predominantly Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, or secular region of the world.
A FEW LIMITATIONS
My wide-angle lens view of teaching excellence informs the limits of my observations/thinking on religious life and leadership. If most people were asked where does excellent teaching take place, they’d said “the classroom, of course.” But I think of excellent teaching as consisting of at least five things most of which are not classroom-based: 1) creative and conscientious planning; 2) the classroom activities that most people focus on exclusively which we could flesh out but don’t need to for my purposes here; 3) thoughtful assessment of student work; 4) purposeful reflection and revision of the original plan; 5) caring and constructive outside of class interactions with students.
In my faith tradition, leaders are most commonly referred to as pastors. When it comes to my pastors, I typically only see the equivalent of number two, the Sunday morning activities. I suspect the best pastors work especially effectively out of view building leadership teams, visiting people in hospitals, counseling people, conducting weddings and funerals, and doing service in the community among others things of which I’m ignorant.
If my pastor friends were to come watch me teach, they’d only get a feel for a portion of my professional life. Similarly, on Sunday mornings, I’m only seeing a portion of pastoral life.
Also, I don’t know how religious leaders evaluate themselves. I’m sure there’s wide ranging differences from the easily measurable (e.g., increasing attendance figures, giving, etc.) to the more intangible (e.g., deepening faith and spiritual maturity, positive impact on the community, world, etc.)
RELEVANT EDUCATIONAL BELIEFS
• I believe the educative effect is greatest when students do something rather than when something is done to them. Sounds awfully basic, but is far more radical a notion than you might imagine. Far too often in K-12 schooling, things are done to students. Put differently, the best teachers promote active learning. I believe religious leaders should promote active learning/growth too.
• Teaching excellence takes many forms. Similarly, I suspect religious leadership excellence takes many forms.
To be continued.