Messing up the Message

Social networking has hit our culture in remarkable and pervasive ways. Millions of people across the globe are active members of one site or another. From Facebook to Twitter people are using the sites for a huge and varied number of applications. This blog post, when I publish it, will be posted immediately to my facebook and twitter feeds allowing people to read my entire blog at the click of a button. No doubt social networking has done a number of interesting things to society. My motivation for this entry however is how Christians aren’t quite getting it.

For evangelical Christians such as myself it has always been pretty hip to show how hardcore you are for Jesus. Jesus freaks if you will. Whatever this may have meant in the past, for most Christians today this entails how loudly you can blare online how down you are with Jesus. We advertise how much we have been praying, or how great the latest Christian conference we have been to was. We post Bible verses by themselves. We post “Halleujah, Jesus reigns!!!!!!!!” We state how great our prayer and devotion time this morning was. None of these posts are bad in themselves. But lacking relational context with the people viewing them they only serve to widen the divide between people who know Jesus and those who don’t. Put more simply, regardless of their intention, posts like this do little more than reaffirm an “us vs. them” mentality that pushes non-Christians away from faith in Jesus, not towards. We tell ourselves (and are taught growing up) that its totally cool if people think you are weird and crazy and perhaps even bad because you are living for Jesus, not for people.  The problem with all this is not the acts themselves but the way people perceive them.

I’m a Christian. I love God and Jesus and going to Church. I really do think knowing Jesus is the best way to live. However I do not think expressing this with exclamation points in phrase form will result in ANYONE from America coming to these realizations. However that is what Christians do EVERYDAY!

50 years ago a well-placed Bible verse might really convict the random passer-by of a church. Today in a post-Christian, post-modern culture most people, especially young ones, will see something related to God online and simply say, “I’m glad I’m not one of the crazies.”  This has also been my experience. Most of my young adult life I have spent trying to figure how that yes “I’m crazy for Jesus but I’m not crazy.” It is HARD. And most people will stereotype you regardless, unless of course you get to know them well. Most Christians know that to effectively evangelize you generally need to build a relationship with a person. But how often do we actually practice it in America?

Christianity and church is not a social club. The point of going to church is not to thank God that you’re not a sinner like the Pharisees. It is to be overwhelmingly grateful that you are saved by the God of the universe and that you have the privilege and purpose to tell others about Jesus when you have the opportunity. Out of context Facebook posts declaring how much you love tithing isn’t going to cut it. We need to not just be radical in the fervency of our Facebook postings but in living them out with love toward and for his creation and humanity. We need to invest in relationships so that when people do find out we are Christians they are not put off but that they desire to know more.

I freely admit I have generalized a bit in this post. I welcome thoughts and comments covering any blind spots I may have missed. But my overall point is to start a conversation we need to be having about how we relate to the rest of our culture as opposed to merely demonizing it. This isn’t about pandering to sin but about effectively portraying Christ in our world for HIS glory, not our own.


First Hurdle Cleared

I have been in grad school since January. So far it has been fairly straight forward. A few papers, small presentations and of course a bit of angst related to lesson planning.  That’s the best thing about graduate school. You’re way past the need to take tests (except of course when it comes to proving to your state that you’re competent. For them a Masters degree is unimpressive. They need you to take a standardized test. How utterly opposite everything I’m learning about…).

Today however was a bit trickier. The past few weeks I have been drafting and finalizing my first fancy, official, graduate school of education, higher level thinking skills lesson plan. Today was my assigned day to present a 30 minute chunk of my lesson for one of my classes.

Let me be clear. I taught all last year in the Czech Republic. I planned lessons, wrote tests and gave homework. I started subbing here in America in December. I’m pretty comfortable in the classroom. Despite this, the build up to today was awkwardly stressful.

On one hand I knew I had a solid lesson plan about a topic I enjoyed (South Africa). On the other hand I just never feel sure with lesson planning if it is truly measuring up to all the theories and standards I learn about. Are my goals and objectives clear? Am I making them use higher level thinking skills? Will this tie in well and connect with my other lessons? Will they actually be interested? You can never be truly done with this stuff, it can always be improved.

This is one reason why academia annoys me. It makes you over-think and paranoid about things that don’t matter, namely grades.  However if today is any indication, I have pretty much nothing to worry about.

Today went great. Pretty much everyone told me I did a good job. My professor, who saw my lesson plan before class noted it looked comprehensive and solid. I got some really helpful constructive criticism about it as well. I was pleasantly surprised with how well a couple things went over but also what I need to do to drive a few points home better and really engage my students in disscussion. Perhaps most helpfully I got insight into what students will assume about my topic and therefore where to focus my attentions most pointedly.

In the end (and at the risk of sounding painfully arrogant) am I surprised? Of course not. I decided on this path last year. I enjoy being in the classroom and discussing topics. I strive hard to make everything interesting and relevant. I love seeing the big picture and connecting strands of thought together into something coherent. The logistics of planning will always be tricky and at times difficult. But today I cleared my first hurdle successfully and it’s a pretty good feeling. I’m going to be a teacher and I plan to be a darn good one.


An Epiphany While Subbing…

I had an epiphany while subbing today.

But first, some background.

Subbing is generally treated like glorified babysitting by the school that calls you in. You aren’t expected to do much. Often you are just sitting there while you watch kids take a test or do preassigned work. For the effort that is expected of you the pay is almost criminally high but I’m not about to bite the hand that feeds me via blog.

It took a few classes to get used to the situation. Kids often assume you know nothing and make feeble attempts to trick you. I felt imprisoned by the pathetically short “lesson plans” teachers gave me. I would watch students do 10-20 minutes of book work and then legitimately ask, “Can we go?” I didn’t think there was anything reasonable I could do to keep them, I have to follow the plan.

Except I don’t.

If a teacher is not going to bother to write more than a sentence explaining what she wants her students to do than they are effectively giving me the right to lead the class as I see fit. And I did that today.

I had to cover for a teacher’s four Spanish classes today. My experience teaching English overseas last year has given me a lot of insight into activities that help students learn language. In one class I was asked to have the kids make flashcards of vocabulary. That would not of gone over well. I had them make a role play with the vocab words then present them to the class. It was a bit above their level but they seemed to enjoy it and I got them practicing for 40 minutes instead of complaining of boredom for 20.  Did I mention I haven’t taken Spanish since 2004?

I’m not subbing for my health. I’m subbing because it is a solid part-time job that gives me fantastic experience with the career I plan to be in. I’ll be darned if I don’t try and make the most of it.