Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seeing God in schools

The call is going out, drummed up by public conservative voices, to “Get God back in schools”.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," said Governor Mike Huckbee on Fox News. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"
Fischer said that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn't because "God is not going to go where he is not wanted" and so if school administrators really want to protect students, they will start every school day with prayer.
I reject this understanding of a God who makes or allows bad things to happen to teach us a lesson.  It is a manipulation of scriptural text and understanding used by people in power or seeking it.  

God’s role in tragedy has been authentically expressed in numerous essays and prayers, including ones by Diana Butler Bass and Ian Douglas.  There is my own offering as well...

I do know that there are some who do not see God as causing or orchestrating tragedy who still think the call to “get God back in schools” is a good thing.

This is based on a false premise:  that God was driven out of schools.  This is simply not true.  God is not banned from schools, as this sad and abusive t-shirt suggests.

Mentioning God in a forced pledge each morning says nothing of God’s presence.  Neither does any mandated time of prayer.  Teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design as science is misguided as well.  One dominant group forcing their particular understanding of God actually dishonors our vast understandings of the divine, and suggests how divisive religion is when brandished as a way to control.  Students will see the hollowness of this practice, and reject it as another means by which adults attempt to gain unquestioned authority.

This is not to say that somethings should be done to change the cultures of our schools.

One thing that might be helpful for those in schools is a commitment to the sacred.

This is not achieved by requiring or elevating the use of the word “God”, or that everyone should be Christian, Jew, Muslim or Atheist.   And yet, ironically, banning or avoiding those words and distinctions is unhelpful as well.

Young people experience the sacred when they value themselves and the people around them.  They have the opportunity to learn this in multiple ways:  in the care and concern for others, in the space for exploring honest questions, in the moments where adults take them seriously, and, yes, in the faithful (but not mandated) practice of religion where difference and common values are held in esteem.  They find the sacred in a structure that manages their time without overwhelming them.  They encounter the sacred in athletics when they witness the desire to do one’s best, but not in the win at all costs mentality.  They experience the sacred in communal opportunities like clubs, teams, and ensembles.

Do you really want room for the sacred in our schools?  Stop mandating the focus on standardized tests and school status.  Let go of the power struggles between administrations, school boards, and teacher unions.  Work to create an environment where educators can get back to teaching critical thinking, life skills, exploration of the world through history and literature, an appreciation and experience of art and culture, and valuing respect and dignity for all life.  Allow the truth to be told concerning our American history:  good and bad.  Broaden our sense of wonder for the fragility and the resilience of people and the environment.  

Trust that in the opening of hearts and minds, the vision of God’s dream for the world will indeed be worked out.

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