Friday, March 10, 2017

Biblical Integration

In a math class, when we talk about “Biblical Integration” one might think that it would be difficult to go beyond scale models of Noah’s ark or getting into numerology (which is really not about math.)  Where there are some interesting demonstrations of math in scripture, such as that the bronze sea in Chronicles 4:2 demonstrates the ratio between circumference and diameter of a circle (Pi), simply using biblical examples of things that could be shown just as well elsewhere misses the point.  The fact is that integration is intended to be, well, integrated.  It’s not just content material.  It’s class policy and conduct.  It’s attitudes and interactions with students.  It's interdisciplinary.  It is, quite simply, the Word of God made manifest in all facets of the teaching practice and content.  So, I try to do a variety of things, including sneaking subtle devotional challenges into lessons.  The following picture is of my whiteboard.  I bet you can’t even pick out the Bible part.

Ok, so I’m not known for my subtlety.  The point is that as I spend an hour each day with groups of kids that need to know who they are in Christ (or even to know if they are in Christ,) Sometimes we need to talk about the nature of what they believe and their attitudes toward scripture.  This one has been on my board for a few weeks and I have tried to work through the implications of each question as they consider them in bits and pieces as time has allowed.  The way we all answer these questions defines our faith and will help evaluate whether or not we are really biblical Christians.  So, I thought I’d pose the same considerations here.  This is not exhaustive, of course and the Sunday school answers are a quick yes, yes, yes.  However, it was interesting in my high school class how quickly the emphatic “yes” evaporated as we dug into the questions and they realized that if they are honest with themselves, they are not as biblical as they like to believe.
  • Is the Bible true?  Does it merely “contain” truth or does it determine Truth?
      Is it “true” yes, but is that small “t” truth or big “T” truth?  What is the difference?  Well, what is the difference between a small “g” god and the big “G” God?  Answer, one is not God!  The small gods were deities of the plains or the hills or fertility where God is universal.  The point to make here is that nobody, even critics, can deny that the Bible says some true things: a historical fact, a proper attitude, a moral teaching.  However, what do we do when we read something in the Bible that disagrees with what we already believe to be true or acceptable aside from scripture. Do we seek out the interpretation that makes scripture align with our contemporary view (as in the rapid realignment of the western evangelical church on the issue of gender orientation) or do we crash headlong into the personal crisis of meeting up with our own fallen thinking?  How do you feel about creation and the timetable for the origin of the universe?  Was Mary really an actual virgin?  Is Jesus still coming back?  The challenge to my students was not a laundry list of all the things they should believe, but to get them to think about how they go about discerning Truth.  If you argue from scripture and seek its true meaning, then you argue appropriately.  My wife pointed out to me further:"what about the promises of Scripture?"  Oh yea, we all say the Bible is true, yet do we live like its promises are an imminent reality?  Hmmm.

  •  Is the Bible relevant?   Does it shape your cares?  Does it inform that which informs you?
Sorry to all you sports fans, but does your team really matter?  Is the time, energy and resources invested in athletic competition a demonstration of biblical concern?  Why do you care?  Does our pursuit of comfort and stability conform with Jesus' teaching?  Do we seek to serve the broken or adore the affluent?  Why do you care about what you care about?  Should we not wish to answer “because the Bible tells me so”?  How has the Bible influenced the thoughts of the men and women who have influenced your thoughts?  Where do you go for understanding on controversial issues?  Who and what is the most respectable in your life?  Who do we seek to please?  Make a list, it might be interesting.

  •  Is the Bible enough?   Do you look beyond it for deep meaning?  Without it, would your life and worldview be dismantled?
Do you look to scripture for spiritual things but to your secular financial adviser for money matters?  Do you meditate on the Word of God to gain peace about who you are in Christ?  Does your personality assessment have a bigger impact on your self identity than the person and work of Jesus?  If you landed on a deserted island with only your Bible, would you still live a fulfilled life?  If you failed at everything you did your entire life, struggled with poverty and depression and died penniless, half-starved and alone, yet did it faithfully with your Bible in hand, would your life be a success?  Would your children say so?  Would they claim in your epitaph that “they had nothing in this world but that tattered old Bible, but in the end, it provided for their needs…”  Can there be faith without Scripture?  Can you fulfill your need for “god” without the Bible? Would your day look any different in a practical sense?  No more guilt?  No more restraint?  No more “sin”?  Would you be free or would you be enslaved?  The real question is would you be any different at all?!  What would you do with your money?  What would you do with your time?  How would you treat other people or yourself?  If the answer is that things would pretty much be the same, then the Bible is not currently enough!  Being enough means that it provides sole sufficiency for the core of who we are.  If the Bible alone is sufficient and it is suddenly removed, then how could life not become insignificant and its other elements crumble?)

These are the kinds of things that matter to me.  These are the kinds of things that I want my students to wrestle with, even in a math class.  This is why I do what I do...I hope :)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Samaritan's Cat

Not long ago, my family came home from our routine trip to Borma (think mini-Walmart) with new bikes for the girls and a car full of cheap plastic stuff, to find a tiny kitten running toward us meowing up the drive way.  My first instinct was to shepherd the kids away from it commanding that they not touch it or give it attention lest it become a pest.  Around here, kittens and cats wandering through the neighborhoods are pretty common and the last thing you want is some yowley cat thinking you’re house would be fruitful for a nightly visit.  This one, it looked like, had been mauled and was missing fur and had open festering wounds all over its neck and shoulder.  That only furthered my resolve to keep my children away from it.  As we walked to the door, it followed and cried out to us, trying to get in the house as we entered.  Most of the kids simply took heed and ignored it, marching past with barely a look, as even that might encourage it.  I said “most” of my kids because Tessa simply couldn’t do it.  Although she reluctantly obeyed, she came in and burst into tears.  I sat down as the reasonable father, and explained to her that there are simply too many cats to save all of them, and that this one was hurt and might not live, and that she if she made it, she would grow up and make a life for herself on her own. Tessa could care less about any of that.  She was upset that we could not help and keep a baby kitten.  However, my mind was set: no wounded, festering, abandoned cats at our house!

Then, as I stood in the kitchen eating lunch, looking out the glass wall at this poor little thing hunched outside looking hopefully in at me, I realized what a hardened Pharisee I was: a chief in the Sanhedrin.  I was the teacher of my children but rather than teach them compassion, I had instructed them to follow the status quo and ignore the plight of the hurt and lost.  In Lk 10:30-37.  Jesus speaks to this attitude in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  A man was stripped, beaten and left for dead on the road by robbers.  A priest and a Levite, who one might think should have the most responsibility to help, came along but crossed to the other side so as to avoid him.  After all, they were on their way to Jerusalem and if he happened to die or otherwise defile them, they would be unclean and unable to minister in the temple.  In contrast, a loathsome Samaritan did not hesitate.  And not only did he have immediate compassion on the man, he arranged for care as long as it was needed.  Jesus’ final exhortation was “Go and do likewise.”

This poor little kitten was hurt, hungry and left on the road, reaching out for help as one of us after another walked by and scorned her.  I know, this is getting a little sappy.  I might as well go vegan and join Green Peace.  However, when God uses the weak things to instruct us, we must still listen.  Then, as if being a cold-hearted legalist wasn’t enough, God brought to my mind Peter.  Peter, who, despite making his classic denial of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, was called to repent not just by committing his love to Jesus three times, but who was concurrently commissioned with caring for the “sheep.”

I had made my decision about the cat but did that mean that I must continue to walk the path of hard heartedness?  What if the Samaritan had said "if our leaders do it, it must be right."  What if Peter had said “forget the sheep, I just love Jesus?”  No, I would not remain that priest who refused to be defiled by a wounded man (or cat).  I would be the neighborly Samaritan.  I would be Peter who repented by way of accepting a the sheep.  And so gingerly, I put out a tiny crust of bread and a scrap of ground beef.  Immediately, the kitten began to purr and come to me for affection.  She then lay down and closed her eyes on the hard tile outside the window.  I knew, then, what was right.  Nichole doctored her wounds and we fed her.  I showed the kids where they could scratch her head without touching sores.  We made her a box and she happily fell asleep.  Just like the Man who received care in Jesus’ parable, we would care for this kitten as long as she would have need.  As it turns out, that was only for one day.  The next morning she was gone.  

 I have to admit that I was a little sad.  Then, a couple days later as I was at the street food carts around the corner, I saw her eating scraps from under the tables.  She was back to the life she had before she found us.  And that was the last time I ever saw her.  I guess there was never any promise in caring for her.

Meet “Sammy” the Samaritan’s cat!

                    Dr. Nichole at work           I wish we had a better shot but, well, there wasn't one.

By the way, after this whole episode, I lifted something heavy (an elephant I think, or maybe a tiger), juggled some knives and I cut down a really big tree with a modified chainsaw just to hear it fall!  Oh, and I used gas to make a bond fire, but that doesn't mean I can't still be nice to little kitties ;)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Say What?

Onomatopoeia to the rescue

(For everyone who has entirely blocked out freshmen English)
on·o·mat·o·poe·ia (n-mt-p, -mät-) n.

The formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.

...Recently, I went to my local grocery store looking for cat food.  Being unable to locate it on the shelf myself, I weighed my options: give up and go home or embarrass myself.  (That's a daily dilemma, by the way.)  I frequent this store enough to know that on weekends the cashier does not speak much English but I was determined not to waste a trip.  So, I gathered up my courage and approached the counter to ask for help.  Stringing together as many one syllable words as I could, I asked “do you have cat food?”  She looked at me inquisitively and repeated “cat?” by copying the sound I made.  “Yes, cat food” I repeated and then added “pet food?” just for good measure.  “Pet food?” she repeated.  “Yes, pet food” I said, making a four legged walking motion with my fingers that looked more like a cockroach.  “Dog? Cat?”  She just cocked her head at me and said something in Kmer to her helper who mimicked “pet food?”  Now, another thing that I have observed here is that the longer you try to explain something the more people try to get involved in the interpretation and the less it helps.  (I'm sure there is a statistical correlation in there somewhere.)  Anyway, as a third worker approached I sensed the urgency of needing to conclude this little exchange and took one final stab at it.   

Embracing biblical humility in its highest form I finally said. “you know, cat, like MEOOOW (insert your best cat imitation here).”  At this, she amazingly brightened up and repeated right back to me “MEOOOW?!”  Yes, “MEOW” I said with a glimmer of hope.  She smiled, nodded enthusiastically, pointed and said something to her coworker in Kmer, who led me straight down an isle to the cat food.  I was bewildered and in utter amazement that such a tactic actually worked until I looked at the brand name.  Strangely enough, sometimes what you say is exactly what you mean!