Would You Step on Jesus?

My friend and fellow Minnesotan, Jay Bakker, is known to throw his Bible to the ground during his talks, in order to break his audiences of their bibliolatry. At first blush, it seems like an act of sacrilege, but his point is that the Bible is ink on a page, whereas the Word of God is something more than that.

The always insightful Stanley Fish draws our attention to a class at Florida Atlantic University, in which students were asked to write the name “Jesus” on a peace of paper and then step on it. The governor of Florida was horrified, as were many others. But, as Fish reports, they got the story wrong. The professor is a Christian, and the exercise had a point:

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Obituary for the Residential Seminary

There’s lots of talk around the Twin Cities about what’s going on at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. The largest seminary of the ELCA, Luther’s president and CFO resigned late last year after disclosing a $6 million shortfall in 2012 (our of a $27 million annual budget). More recently, the interim president announced big cutbacks:

  • 18 of 125 staff were laid off immediately
  • 8 of 44 faculty members will retire this year and not be replaced
  • 5 more faculty will retire next year
  • The Masters of Sacred Music degree was terminated
  • No new PhD students will be admitted for at least 3 years

What exactly went wrong at Luther has not been disclosed, but the trends can no longer be ignored. Inside Higher Ed reports,

The changes at Luther have been unusually swift and dramatic. But the trends driving them are the same ones that seminaries are facing across the board. Enrollments are falling. Costs have increased, while student debt has become a bigger concern. Many Christian denominations, seeing their own ranks shrink, are providing less financial support than in the past. And as Americans as a whole become less religious — almost one-fifth of adults now have no religious affiliation — seminaries face an uncertain future.

The ELCA is indeed shrinking. As The Lutheran magazine reported in January,

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Death to Homeschooling!

I originally wrote this post in 2005, but it somehow didn’t make the migration from Blogspot to Beliefnet to WordPress to Patheos.

Like many people who have their first child approaching kindergarten age, I have been thinking about all of our options for next year: neighborhood public school, public French immersion, charter school, private school, homeschool.

But it seems to me that if I am truly committed to living a missional life, then I must enroll my kids in the public school. That is, I am committed to living a life fully invested in what I might call the “Jesus Ethic” or the “Kingdom of God Ethic,” and also fully invested in the society — in fact, you might say that I live according to the Kingdom of God for the sake of society.

In his seminal work on education, Democracy and Education (1916), John Dewey made this point. In an increasingly industrial/technological society, Dewey argued, we learn in order that we may be able to learn. In earlier times, one could learn what it means to be a blacksmith, for instance, by apprenticing under a blacksmith; by the end of the apprenticeship, one had learned pretty much all there is to know about making the metal glow red hot, pounding it into a horseshoe, and sticking it into the water (remember seeing that on an elementary school field trip?).

But things change too fast now for that kind of result-oriented education. Now we must learn how to learn so that we can adapt to our ever-changing environment (ever tried to teach your parent or grandparent to use a computer or an iPod?).

Similarly, formal education was formerly for the societal elite. But in a democracy, education is for all, with the understanding that the more educated we all become, the more humane we will be toward one another (this, of course, is open to debate).

So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society — like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes. We give our children all those vaccinations when they’re young not necessarily to protect themfrom polio (since the chances of any one of my children getting it is exceedingly small) but because we live in a society, and part of the contract within the society is that we will never again let polio gain a foothold.

So I can’t think, “I’ll just pull my kids out of the public schools — what difference will one less follower of Jesus make in a school full of hundreds of kids?” I don’t, as a Christian, have the option to “opt out” of the societal contract. Instead, I live under a mandate to be the most involved, missional societal participant that I can be.

And one more thing. Dewey argues strongly that it is in the social environment that a child learns to learn. Here are the brilliant words of one of Dewey’s successors, George Albert Coe,

What education does is, in a word, to bring the child and society together. It increases one’s participation in the common life. It puts the child into possession of the tools of social intercourse, such as language and numbers; opens his eyes to treasures of literature, art, and science that society has gradually accumulated through generations; causes him to appreciate such social organizations as the state, and develops habits appropriate thereto; prepares him to be a producer in some socially valuable field of labor, and evokes an inner control whereby he may judge and guide himself in the interest of social well being.”


You can find all of Tony’s books HERE, and you can sign up to be the first to know about his next book, Did God Kill Jesus? HERE.

I Don’t Mourn When a Private School Closes

A host of Catholic schools in Philadelphia are closes. Big deal.

‘This is tantamount to a death’

By Martha Woodall, Inquirer Staff Writer

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s announcement Friday that it was closing 45 elementary schools and four high schools set off shock waves of anger and grief that are reverberating across the region.

“This is tantamount to a death,” said Michael Wetzel, a veteran English teacher at Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast in Drexel Hill, which will close in June. “We’re taking it so hard because it was so unexpected and so unnecessary.”

Joan Weeney, who has taught at Our Lady of Mount Carmel elementary in South Philadelphia for 35 years, said teachers at her school had feared the worst.

“We kind of knew,” the fourth-grade teacher said. “We all dressed in black. It was a total day of mourning.”

via ‘This is tantamount to a death’ – Philly.com.

As I’ve written before, I’m a big proponent of public education.  Homeschooling is bad for society.  So are private schools.

Public education is in trouble, especially in a place like Philadelphia. I know that. But as long as people pull their kids out of public schools — and, let’s be honest, that’s usually the kids with the highest aptitude and the most resources — then our schools will continue to be in trouble.

When we, as a society, gird up our loins and give the public schools the resources they needs — and that means the finances and the children — then they will thrive.  And nothing will benefit our society more than strong public schools (except maybe campaign finance reform).

And, just to preempt my friend Patrick’s inevitable comment, while I don’t think that the teachers’ unions necessarily need to be broken up, I do favor a system of merit-based pay and the discontinuation of tenure.