From Stewardship to the Restoration of Creation: A Theology for Student’s Great Love of Animals

Since kindergarten, students in my 3rd and 4th grade classes have zealously studied environmental pollution at a rate that has baffled their teachers. Through whole group research on the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceanic Garbage Patches to guest appearances by 1001 pets on Zoom to Student Inquiry projects on pollution, students’ enchantment with nature knows no bounds.

And why should it? Our neighborhood has environmentalism at it’s core. Founders initially moved to this corner of DC after the Civil War because of the beautiful views over the scenery of what would eventually become Rock Creek Park. At just a 15 minute walk from the National Zoo and 7 minutes to Rock Creek Park trailheads, students are well-situated to develop a deep and abiding love for nature.

There are many things students love about nature, from various kinds of flowers to obscure animals. As students’ love of animals has grown, their capacity to be heartbroken at the brokenness of animals has also increased, along with sensitivity to the realities of life and death that we experience on this side of eternity. Just several weeks ago, one of my students’ quails passed away. His grief over his quail inspired this activity, as the sadness it caused him to lose his appetite for several days.

Undoubtedly, nature has its fair share of cruelty. From animals who cannibalize, drown, consume, or maim one another to the diseases that ravage both flora and fauna, creation is imperfect. Whether by encountering baby birds or shells that tell the story of life too soon ended to quieting an irrationally anxious dog, students encounter evidence of that imperfection all the time.

Is there an antidote to creation’s brokenness? And how should we as human beings react to environmental dysfunction far greater than ourselves?

Environmental Sin

Originally, Adam and Eve were entrusted with the stewardship of all of creation. God created humans and all animals and plants according to his own heavenly blueprints. As co-laborers, humans were responsible for the safe keeping and care of nature. Animals were created to be under humans careful protection, but not in conflict with them. God designed humans to consume grains, seeds, and fruit, and animals were created as herbivores. In this state of being, humans were in right relationship with God and the rest of creation.

However, human’s sin drastically altered creation. As stewards, Adam and Eve’s sins had monumental effects on the life forms under their care. As a general rule, the precepts that God gives to humans have always effects on the animals under their care. For example, in Deuteronomy 28, the regulations related to Sabbath rest were not just for the Israelites, but their livestock. In Exodus 23:12, God also protects the Israelites livestock as an extension of the graces he extends to them as a people traveling through the wilderness, towards a new land.

Sin had the effect of placing a barrier between God and human beings (Ezekiel 1:22, Matthew 27:51). The removal of the blessing of God and manifest presence of God on the earth monumentally changed relationships between humans and creations. Humans, animals, and plants began to die or develop diseases. Humans no longer experienced the intimacy of life in the supernatural realm, and the Earth was no longer like Heaven. Plants began to produce “thorns and thistles” (v20), and there was enmity between humans and animals (v15). This set of consequences brought with it enmity between men and women, and enmity between people groups more broadly.

Hope for Creation

So what can be done to counteract these curses? It is important to recognize that as originators of sin, humans are responsible for the redemption of the Earth. Part of this has to do with the intrinsic connection humans have to the Earth. The Hebrew word for man is “admah”, which translates to dust or earth. Since man was made from dust (Gen 2:7) and is set to steward it, restoring humanity is inseparably connected to the redemption of the Earth. Therefore, Christ’s death and resurrection isn’t just a promise made to humans, but a promise of redemption to all of creation more broadly.

Jesus’ finished work on the cross provides not just salvation to human’s souls, but re-establishes human’s hope of external life, establishes the physical redemption and transfiguration of our bodies, and provides life in the Spirit. At the same time, Christ’s finished work and ultimate return provides eternal redemption for all parts of creation, including animals and plants. It will reverse the enmity between animals. Humans will again be perfect stewards of creation. However, this reality happens in part through human participation. Romans 8 describes how creation is longing for human beings to walk in the fullness of Christ so that it can be free from the consequences of sin.

In spite of the effects of sin on creation, animals still demonstrate the majesty and beauty of God in unique ways. One could argue that God’s grace has preemptively covered plants and animals as evidenced by their many adaptations, to overcome their limited circumstances. A great example of this are troglodytes, cave-dwelling animals who retain non-functional eyes. One can also see the mercy of God in the way that animals can serve as surrogate mothers to animal infants from the same or different species.

Implications for Today

Humans still have a divine responsibility to care for creation. While humans in the 20th and 21st centuries have more often neglected this responsibility with catastrophic results for humans, plants, and animals alike, the intentions of God for human beings have not changed. Working through human beings, Jesus can still show human beings how to intimately care for creation in practical ways. At the same time, As we long for the return of Christ to complete all things, we should expect God through his Holy Spirit to give us innovative solutions to repair the damage we’ve collectively done to our planet and prevent further harm. We should expect to be held accountable for the state of creation, and should not disregard the state of animals, plants, or the climate more broadly to retreat into celestial escapism. More importantly than all, we should live so full of the Holy Spirit that our fullness of life overflows into blessing towards the humans, animals, and plants around us.

Last thoughts: Am I a Creationist?

There are several popular theories among theologians about the exact ways God created the Earth, according to Genesis. While some people believe the Earth was created in 7 calendar days (Young Earth Creationism), there is enough evidence of changes in human lifespan and years as a whole to question the concreteness of humans experience of time prior to the Patriarchs (see Genesis 6:3).

Understanding the exact period of time that it took God to create the earth falls into a category of Holy Mysteries that I believe has to be revealed sovereignly by the Holy Spirit. That being said, I do wonder whether “days” in the biblical sense is much like “ages”. It is important to notice the specific order of creation mirrors many current scientific findings about the formation of the Universe. Genesis 1:1 discusses the earth being “formless and void”, which relates to these scientists theory of protoplanets. Over time, elements combined to create the sun and other solar system oddities, hence, “Let there be light.” The reference in Genesis 1:6 to “separating the waters above and below” relates to the creation of water on earth and atmospheres, as well as Earth and Heaven in the supernatural realm (“the spirit of God was hovering over the waters”). I believe Genesis 1:5, in which God separates light and darkness, should be interpreted both literally and abstractly as a spiritual reality. The reference in Genesis 1:6 to “separating the waters above and below” relates to the creation of water on earth and atmospheres, as well as Earth and Heaven in the supernatural realm (“the spirit of God was hovering over the waters”). Allowing dry ground to appear (Genesis 1:9-10) reminds me of the concept of Pangea. The creation of plants (Genesis 1:11-12) cooled the climate and provided much of the oxygen necessary for the development of animals. Further developments in the solar system, the stars, and the moon allowed for the seasons (the exact timing of this one is still a puzzle to me). Animals first developed in the water then the sky and land (Genesis 1:24-25). Eventually, God created human beings (Genesis 1:27-28). It ends in rest.

In general, I recognize that our current understanding of science has room to change and grow over time. At the same time, because of the nature of these Holy Mysteries, I believe that the most fruitful scientists will actually be people whom God can trust with the revelation of these mysteries, and who are alive in the Spirit.

Many people also believe in Theistic Evolution (which asserts God’s sovereignty in the process of allowing animals to adapt). As an individual, I reject some portions of this theory because it borrows too much from Darwin (as a secular source). While Darwin believed that competition between species and individuals would ultimately lead to more robust life forms, he found very little evidence to prove that creation was becoming better over time. If anything, he discovered more questions than answers and ended his career much more confused than he started (which is probably inevitable if you spend a significant portion of your life studying without a strong connection to your Creator through Christ). Unfortunately, Darwin’s work has been reappropriated to justify eugenics in ways that would have probably caused him great sorrow.

If Darwin were unilaterally correct, I believe that we would see creation acting in not just more sophisticated, but more spiritually redeemed ways over time. Although I love nature, that is not my experience of most animals or plants (with the exception of dogs…just joking). I believe that nature needs saving just as much as humans do. And I’m looking forward to seeing plants, animals, stars, and all manner of created things restored by the one who has conquered it all.

Praying for the Nations Part 2: Individual Prayer and Research

This month, my fourth graders continued to build on our study and the prayers we’ve offered for various nations!

Check out our prayers for Azerbaijan, Colombia, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Moroco, Nepal, and Nigeria here: Part one: A Month of Praying for the Nations

After praying for 12 nations in groups in December-early February, students prayed for a variety of other countries in which Christians are persecuted OR have fewer protections under the law.

For this assignment, students created individual prayers based on the needs of believers in specific nations. They celebrated each country’s culture and special characteristics, and offered prayers for a variety of topics.

Why not just study nations? Why is Prayer necessary?

It is my prayer that God would grow genuine love in my students’ hearts for these nations, and use their lives to serve the well being of the people there. While I’m sure some will become missionaries, their positive influence may be indirect, through business, working with international nonprofits, loving people of that nationality who have transplanted to the U.S., or in a variety of ways only God knows. My students know that I’ve prayed this form them, and while some might be skeptical, I still believe God wants to give them the nations.

In the West, we tend to be culturally short-sighted, dangerously self-absorbed and without self-awareness. We tend to imagine that the world revolves around us, and in international relations, that has cost us dearly. The things that the U.S. has done abroad but not yet repented of include toppling other countries economies, introducing unsustainable privatized models for healthcare and retirement, exporting nutritionally bankrupt dietary tendencies, and failing to equip other nations in a way that would make them our partners, instead of our financial and social dependents. I have wondered if our need for influence as a nation comes from insecurity, and I have seen our limited effort to know and love other nations leaving a negative legacy.

I pray that my students in hearing the names of these countries, whether in the news or as they read, would recall a deep sense of solidarity and love. I pray that my students would genuinely seek their welfare, and serve other countries with the humility of Jesus. I pray that they would see in our own country faces from all nations, and welcome anyone whom God has called to make the United States their home. As students study other countries, their scholarship must start with the heart. For too many years, we’ve started with facts only, and that hardness of heart has allowed us to greatly mistreat others who are created in the same image of God. When my students look to the nation, I want them to be bridge builders who can honor cultures and celebrate the successes of other countries without insecurity as to where they stand. Instead of militant nationalism, I want them to worship a God who has called many nations to himself, and in love, continues to lay himself down to do so.

How did Students pray?

Some (but not all) students prayed for Evangelism. Many prayed for the spiritual and physical needs of the people, including:

  • Healing from War
  • Protection from COVID 19 and Religious Extremism
  • Religious Freedom and Equal Rights under the law
  • For people to know the Transformative Love of Jesus, and the Peace of Christ
  • Celebrating Animals and Landforms
  • Discipleship
  • Protection from False Accusation or Arrest

One student faithful prayed the Lord’s prayer over his nations. Others faithfully focused on nation’s interesting animals, foods, or special attributes. While I was sometimes surprised by the direction of students’ prayers, I felt that the Holy Spirit was guiding their prayers. Once students had researched their nation and composed a prayer, we met together in regional groups to pray together.

Check out the images below to find out how students’ prayed!

Algeria: Protection and Discipleship

Armenia: Healing from War, Protection from snakes and floods

Bangladesh: Protection from Floods, Protection for children and families, Forgiveness and healing

Brunei: Evangelism

Chiapas (state), Mexico: Safety, against Gang violence

Comoros: Religious Freedom and Equal Rights

Ethiopia: Celebrating landforms, Healing from War, Freedom from Religious Extremism

Eritrea: Peace of Christ, Protection, Healing from War

Gaza and the West Bank: Peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Against mutual persecution

Indonesia: Protection and Peace of Christ

Jordan: Freedom of Religion, Equal rights under the law

Kuwait: Protection from War

Kyrgyzstan: Freedom of Religion

Libya: Protection and Peace of Christ

Madagascar: Freedom of Religion and from War, Celebrating islands and culture

Malaysia: Freedom, Kingdom of God established in Malaysia

Maldives: Protection and for people to know the Love of Jesus

Mauritania: Social belonging, Ending modern day slavery, Economic well-being

Learn more about Modern-day slavery in Mauritania here.

Myanmar: End of Government-led violence, Protection, and Hearts turned towards Jesus

North Korea: Protection from Arrest and False Accusation, Freedom of Religion

Oman: Protection for those who Convert, Equal Rights, Freedom of Religion

Pakistan: Truth over False Accusation, Equal Opportunities to participate in Government

Qatar: Protection, Evangelism, and the Peace of Christ

Somalia: Peace of Christ, Freedom, and Safety for Children

South Sudan: Healing from War and Celebrating Animals

Sri Lanka: Healing and Transformative Love

Sudan: Safety from Religious Extremism and Celebrating Animals

Syria: Protection

Tajikistan: Freedom from Poverty and Safety from COVID-19

Tibet: Protection

Tunisia: Celebrating animals and Safety

Turkmenistan: Protection and Freedom

United Arab Emirates: Evangelism

Uzbekistan: Equal Rights and Evangelism

Yemen: Clean Hearts and Healing

Going After Heart Change: Addressing the Spiritual Root of Student Misbehavior

As both a former child and now a teacher, I have come to believe that you cannot fully address student misbehavior without viewing it from a spiritual lens.

For many years of my life, I found myself caught in family patterns which I gradually learned to change as an adult. As a child, I frequently tested limits and my actions mirrored the instability of my home life. Ultimately, my teachers and friends did reach me. By experiencing the consequences that my actions had on loved ones AND being wooed into change by the love I had for them, a process of transformation started in me that eventually led me to Jesus. To this day, loyalty and love still motivates me to love others when its difficult (something I learned through loving family).

Now as a teacher, I have had many opportunities to reach out or isolate myself from students, based on their behavior. I have learned that most students respond to love, and most have the will to change if they are doing the wrong thing. Children often know when their actions are wrong, but they don’t always know how to stop. They usually need someone to show them a better way.

Just like the goal of the gospel isn’t just behavior modification but transformation of the whole person into the likeness of Christ, the goal of responding to student misbehavior should go beyond behavior modification into heart transformation. Similarly in Matthew 23, Jesus reminds his listeners that transformation must come from the inside out.

Some Ineffective Behavior Modification Methods

Since joining the field of education, I’ve seen instances of various methods being used for behavior modification. While some of these strategies may have the appearance of goodness, they are not powerful enough to transform the heart. The fruit they produce is insufficient.

So how do you respond to the internal needs of students in a way that starts with the spiritual issue, and provides freedom that manifests in the emotions and their natural environment?

Know Your Students’ Families

Before understanding how to support students, one must realize that student well-being is intrinsically linked to the well-being of their families. Deuteronomy 6 is a great place to see how parents actions affect future generations, and parents’ responsibilities in raising their children.

Check out this passage Deuteronomy 6 in other translations here.

Therefore, it is important for teachers to know their students’ families well, because families are their children’s first and most effective teachers. Since God designed parents to be children’s overseers, protectors, and guides, parents are meant to be their children’s first spiritual directors, helping them discern the voice of God. In recent years before the coronavirus pandemic, it has been increasingly common for parents to shift the responsibility and authority of parenting to teachers. Instead, teachers should play a supplemental role to parents, both providing supports and holding them accountable for their children.

Knowing and loving students’ families helps teachers understand which student traits and behaviors are familial patterns (for better or for worse). While many parents are healed of trauma and grounded enough to support their children’s holistic health, in a broken world, it is not reasonable to expect that all families will be. Many parents are still trying to process their own trauma, and are caught in cycles that they also need to be set free from. Helping students overcome the root causes of their negative behaviors much easier when family members are supportive, and are not committing the same errors themselves. However, students can still start the healing process even in an unstable environment with the support of caring adults.

While many resources and organizations already exist for counseling for both children and adults, that is not the lens of this post. Instead, this post is written from a lens of spiritual warfare.

What is Spiritual Warfare?

Spiritual warfare is based on belief within certain Christian groups that spiritual strongholds, and not people, are the root cause of most individual, regional, and systemic dysfunction. Therefore, Spiritual warfare is a set of practices whose goal is to address the spiritual root of an issue. One of the most commonly quoted verses on Spiritual Warfare is Ephesians 6, which says ” our wrestle is not against flesh and blood…but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). It is important to note that these principles directly relate to right relationships between people. Before discussing spiritual warfare, Paul describes right relationships between those in authoritative roles and those who support them, whether in families or in the form of slavery practiced during Paul’s day (which resembled indentured servanthood more than modern chattel slavery). If we would see the world restored, we must start at home.

If this concept still seems a little vague or spooky, a practical example of this issue could be that of addiction. If someone was guilty of neglecting their children due to some form of addiction, it is clear that root cause isn’t necessarily that person’s hatred for their family, but their addiction that is manipulating their behavior. In general, problems must be addressed at their source at the spiritual level. If problems are resolved at the spiritual level, students will come into freedom to see God correctly in their situation, providing their lack. They will also be equipped to see themselves as God sees them (capable, smart, trustworthy, etc). That knowledge can set students free!

As a side note, Paul’s progression from having right family relationships to being capable of stewarding the Church relates seamlessly to the qualifications for elders and overseers in 1 Timothy 3. That is no coincidence! If people are not able to love their families well, how can they steward God’s family (the Church)? One must be shown how to love his or her own family before taking on greater responsibility for others.

The following are steps that parents or teachers might find useful in supporting students from a perspective of spiritual warfare. I recognize that the topic of spiritual warfare is intimidating for some. However, if we are in Christ, Jesus has already put the enemy under our feet. There is no need for fear and no need to settle for less than being empowered by the Holy Spirit to overcome spiritual strongholds and live in freedom. These are several steps I’ve found useful in interceding in prayer for students, along with some anonymous anecdotes of what has happened afterwards.

1. Start in Prayer. Ask God how he sees the other person. Discern the root cause, and war against the spiritual stronghold that is hindering them.

Prayer should always be the starting place for resolving any conflict. Just like the practice of praying for enemies, by praying for individuals, God shows us his heart for them and equips us to love them. By starting in this relational place of love, we can then inquire from a softened heart (instead of hurt, anger, or pride) how God wants to speak into the situation. Restoration that comes from God will transform the other individual at the heart level, transform us to love better, and transform communities.

But one must know how to pray effectively! In order to understand and address the spiritual side of student behavior issues, you have to practice discernment to understand the root cause of student misbehavior. Once you have named the root cause (remember: spiritual, not people), pray that God would 1) bind the specific spiritual stronghold/root and 2) pray to release the opposite.

2. Address the issue at the individual and communal level. Discern how the Holy Spirit wants to speak into the issue. Do what you see the Holy Spirit doing.

Once you have dealt with the issue in prayer, you are then free to discuss the issue with the student and their surrounding community. This could mean a variety of different things, so it’s important to again, seek and obey the Holy Spirit. For the individuals Jesus healed in the four gospels, healing always occurred at the level of the individual, but resulted in restoration of the individual to community (and healing of the community itself). Similarly in Job, healing proceeds from the individual to the community level. Ultimately the story of Job is just as much about communal healing as it is personal encounter, given the great missteps of Job’s family and friends. Both individual and communal restoration are a process that can happen either instantaneously or progressively.

3. Allow change to affect your practice at a systemic level (changing YOUR OWN heart).

As communal restoration progresses, it is unlikely that your heart will be unchanged. Sometimes, the communal restoration process unearths the limits of our own love, our own patience, or own own grace. Luckily, we are created to be dependent on God, and he gives to all who ask him freely.

In the story of Jonah, Jonah had no intention of being used by God to bless his enemies. Once it became clear that God would not take Jonah’s no for an answer, Jonah obeyed begrudgingly, but in spite of his external actions, his heart was still unchanged. It took an encounter with God to expose the uncleanness of Jonah’s own heart, and reprove his hatred of the Ninevites. The story ends as a question with no recorded reply, with God asking, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” This cliffhanger ending is meant to prompt the listener into reflection about the hardness of their own heart.

It is very likely that this heart change will result in changes to classroom systems and procedures. For example, seeing one family who has struggled with isolation and hopelessness start to believe that God has a greater purpose for their lives will probably help you to feel less annoyed in receiving untimely texts asking for passwords to digital learning platforms. Enough instances of transformation such as these will probably inspire you to prioritize making a connection with families earlier in the school year and to be less easily offended when individuals fall short. You will be equipped to genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice because God has given you genuine love for them. Much more effective than awkward and/or punitive parent teacher conferences.

Anecdotes

So how does this all look in practice? Here are some recent anecdotes that will hopefully shed some light. I’m intentionally including 3 anecdotes whose external behaviors were nearly identical in order to make the point that discernment is everything.

  • Unmotivated Student A: The root cause of this students’ apathy was rejection and isolation, but perhaps not for the reason you’d think. This student was the only high achieving male in his predominantly female classroom, and past teachers had failed to keep him adequately challenged. Combined with low impulse control and all-or-nothing explosive emotions at home, praying for this student meant declaring his high calling in the Lord, and binding anything that would attempt to derail him from his future (discouragement). This student needed to know that 1) his teachers saw his capacity, and would hold him accountable to it 2) that he is one of many highly capable young men (requires relationship/mentorship), 3) any classroom boundaries would be used as a tool to help him pursue things he is passionate about. While I’m still working on getting this student connected to mentors/highly motivated peers, I have seen a great shift in his willingness to be challenged and desire to emotionally engage. Based on our grade level structure, I will still have him in my class next year!
  • Unmotivated Student B: The root cause of this students’ apathy was a sense of rejection that he felt both from peers and also from his parents. Meanwhile, his parents felt increasingly isolated (even before the pandemic), and needed to deal with their own difficulties with low self-worth/fear of authenticity. Praying for this student meant reaffirming his chosenness and his value before God (binding an Orphan spirit). Working with this student meant communicating a deep sense of solidarity and persevering to show him grace when his limit testing behaviors did not openly invite it (think the Prodigal Son). Ultimately, this student needed the security that comes from knowing you won’t be abandoned in order to choose a better path. While he’s still working on his responsibility level, his work completion, social skills with peers, and interactions with teachers have improved tremendously as a result of feeling wanted. This is the type of student who seems really difficult at the beginning of the year, but holds a special place in your heart by the end of it. Ironically, this student has needed a sense of belonging and for people to make room in their hearts for him. It’s no coincidence. As a bonus, befriending this students’ parents has allowed them to have a greater tether to the school community, that they didn’t have before. I have watched a sense of loneliness and the corresponding burden lift, and watched as they have been increasingly transparent with me about their limits (and more willing to ask for help). Lucky for me, we have a very functional school support system, so it’s not up to me alone to reach out to them. Still, I enjoy our chats.
  • Unmotivated Student C: The root cause of this students’ misbehavior didn’t come from a lack of parental support, but too much of it (in this case, co-dependence). He is one of many codependent boys I’ve known raised by single moms, who often in spite of their best efforts, expect too little from their kids. Since this student is so bright, he’s managed to underperform on assignments because he knows that the less he does, the less seriously others will take him. As might be expected, social skills are a little tricky for him too. The most important factor in all of this is that he has few family members who have gone an explicitly academic route. In spite of this boy’s capacity, he would prefer others do things for him, and doesn’t identify himself as particularly scholarly. In praying for this student, I had to specifically declare that he was destined for sharpness (in academics) and not dullness, that he and his family were meant for more than just making ends meet, and that he would be held accountable because the Lord disciplines those whom he loves. In addressing these issues on a parent teacher conference with our grade level team, I made it very clear that because I know he is capable, I expect more from him. Since then, this student has begun to believe that he is truly capable, and has been optimistically giving me more when I ask, almost like he’s hoping I will. While he still is working to set his own goals and believe in himself without others’ support, the fact that he is looking forward to challenges is marvelous.

While each individual can choose how they want to parent their children OR support their students, I find spiritual warfare to be a useful lens and the most effective method to intercede for my students. While some of the aspects of these anecdotes may seem personal, in reality, most details are in plain sight for anyone who has the interest to observe. Knowing these details prompts me to protect my students’/families’ privacy, not expose their flaws or condemn them.

To any skeptics, I understand. I didn’t endorse this sort of thing for various years. However, I’ve seen God do tremendous things, and I feel confident that at the very least, my prayers are doing no net harm. Full disclosure: as someone who went to counseling for years but didn’t see any noticeable changes, my rationale for supporting this lens comes out of personal experience. However, I believe that God can use a variety of methods to address individuals’ holistic health, including counseling or medicine for those who need it. That being said, I am certainly suspicious of any methods that do not have the effect of helping those who are earnestly in search of help.

May we all see God clearly, love our students and their families from a pure heart, and be transformed by many glorious answers to prayer. Amen!

Christian Approaches to Civil Disobedience, Political Disagreement, and Communication

With my 3rd and 4th graders last week, students and I examined popular ways Bible scriptures were used to endorse racism, segregation, and integration during the Civil Rights movement. In our studies, we analyzed many quotes and primary sources, including one letter exchange between 8 prominent Alabama clergy and Dr. Martin Luther King (Dr. King’s response was the foundation for “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Students also examined the contributions of President John F. Kennedy, the purpose and effect of Direct Action tactics used during the Civil Rights era, and diversity of tactics and philosophies of change among Civil Rights leaders. You can read more about students’ learning here.

As I led students’ into controversial conversations about civil disobedience, praying for enemies, and racism as a heart issue that bewitches our educational, healthcare, and governmental systems, I have needed to reflect on these themes for my own sake. After a calendar year full of protests, from the murder of George Floyd to the Capitol insurrection, with a bevvy of accusations, protest strategies, and gratingly insincere public apologies, I’ve needed to condense my own understanding of the ways Christians are called to political disagreement.

In reflecting somberly on Dr. Martin Luther King’s rebuke of the White Moderate, I’ve begun to wonder where the line is between respecting authorities and endorsing corruption (Letters from a Birmingham Jail).

For many of the controversial issues of our day, Christians (like all people) need to have rock solid discernment to know which arguments have appearance of good, but are ultimately evil. While we as adults will encounter many opinions that are obviously wrong (such as this segregationist statement based on the fear of racial mixing), other ideas require greater insight.

Take, for example, this argument in support of segregation by L. Nelson Bell, the founder of Christianity Today. Bell was a well-spoken, respectable, but tireless segregationist. While Bell admired that integration would remove barriers preventing the preaching of the gospel, he managed to reject Civil Disobedience of any kind.

Dr. King sharply rebuked Bell’s ideological equals, saying that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but cannot agree with you in your methods of direction action“; who paternalistically believes that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a more “convenient season.”” King’s rebuke reminds me of the findings of several anthropologists who have studied the ways that well-intentioned (?) people can use Civility as a catch-all means to dismiss the ideas of minority groups and maintain the status quo. King’s Civility depends on non-violence, and the Holy Spirit role in convicting individuals of their wrong-doing. When individuals see others treat them with respect when they least deserve it, their hearts may be softened (if they allow it). This is ultimately what Jesus meant by “turn the other cheek.” By turning the other cheek, you provide the means to increase individuals’ conviction.

For King’s White Moderate, peaceful direct action tactics like boycotts, strikes, sit ins, picketing, blockades, or freedom rides would be unacceptable. To King’s White Moderate, Civil Disobedience strategies are always wrong, never mind that each of these strategies (or similar forms of public demonstration such as marches, speeches, and protests) were intentionally designed to be non-violent. Dr. Kings’ commitment to non-violence was incredibly resolute. As a Christian leader, King developed Six Principles of Nonviolence:

01


Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

It is active nonviolent
resistance to evil.

02


Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding

The end result of
nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.

03


Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.

Nonviolence recognizes
that evildoers are also victims.

04


Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.

Nonviolence
willingly accepts the consequences to its acts.

05


Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Nonviolence resists violence to
the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolence love is active, not passive. Nonviolence love
does not sink to the level of the hater. Love restores community and resists injustice.
Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

06


Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

With a healthy respect for the work of Dr. King, I have chosen to summarize my own set of principles, for my personal and instructional use, and to the benefit of whoever may be interested. I have specifically reflected on what I know to be true of scripture, and to highlight an intentionally Christian Approach to Civil Disobedience, Political Disagreement, and Communication in general. My goal is not to increase lawlessness, but to provide a resource for Christians to use to practice discernment. I have chosen to write this list in plain language, both because my audience is ultimately children, and because simplified language is important for adults, regardless of their cognitive ability. Especially on such a tender topic, I worry that too many fancy words will get us lost in the weeds, making unnecessary enemies of one another.

Let’s begin.

*Note: In this post, I will mostly reference the bible in the “Easy to Read Version” translation because my audience is ultimately children. These verses are available in many other translations.

Basic Discipleship

Before addressing diplomacy or political engagement, there are some very basic truths that all Christians should internalize.

1. Your faith should change the way you speak.

2. Discernment requires that individuals pray and think carefully to understand others’ intentions. People’s intentions can be opposite or the same as God’s.

3. Since people speak and act from what is in their hearts, bad communication and/or actions are ultimately a heart issue.

4. God hates partiality.

5. Good judgement (discernment) is impartial and sincere.

10 Principles on Civil Disobedience, Political Disagreement, and Communication

Now to meatier matters.

1. Before you speak or act in conflict or in politics, seek God.

2. Use no violence.

3. Speak transparently.

Plain language for the win! The purpose of speaking transparently is to guard against rashness or manipulation. We should not try to influence others through deception (Satan deceives, but God invites).

4. Use no mockery, no insults, and no evil tactics.

5. Don’t twist, exaggerate, or change the truth (lie).

6. Listen to God to know how to speak wisely.

7. Whenever possible, use gentleness.

8. Fight the practice of evil, but don’t dehumanize others. Instead, pray for them!

9. Fierce language is for only special occasions when God has made it abundantly clear that nothing else will work.

10. Civil Disobedience is for only special occasions when God has made it abundantly clear that nothing else will work.

Reflection

In putting these verses in context, I was able to put words on what has felt so problematic in recent months, in discussions about when, how, and why to protest. Regardless of individual politics, Christians must internalize verses like these to know how to obey God in the public sphere and respond to evil without dehumanizing other people.

February Monthly Summary

Let me share a visual summary of where God took me in February! Some things are new, some things are old, many things are fabulous.

The Kids are Alright ( and Some of My Favorite Projects this Month)

Since we’ve gotten back into the classroom this month, things are continuing to get better and better! I have been very high on life and the Holy Spirit lately when it comes to work, and seem to be debating, studying, and teaching in my dreams. Here is a highlight of the many things we’ve done since returning to the classroom! Not even a burst radiator and a change of classroom could slow us down.

  • Although I wasn’t originally excited about this, we’ve changed our daily schedule for in-person students to add 15 minutes to our morning and afternoon Zoom calls. This has allowed us to re-start book clubs (more about that at the end of this post), and get more whole-class math review through 99Math.
  • I’ve helped most of my students connect to the Libby app, where they can use their library card numbers to read many free e-books from the DC library (including many high interest series and graphic novels)
  • In processing this change, I was able to use the ideas of colleagues to create a morning chapter book reading and afternoon writing practice block. My students are enjoying the break from screens and seem relieved to have a challenge. I see how industrious they’ve been lately and I get the sense they have craved that sense of agency and purpose.
This is what school should be.
  • Several students and I got to learn about mixed number fractions in the park last week in the 70 degree weather! I taught with whiteboards and dry erase markers, they brought their math books, my principal and school community afforded us plenty of liberty to get outside, and many strangers’ dogs listened eagerly.
I blurred this picture intentionally.
  • As students studied the Civil Rights movement through the lens of Biblical anti-racism this month, I have been planning a virtual field trip next week for them with a school alumni member who was one of our school’s first African American students after desegregation. They will examine school photos I’ve compiled, describe how the school has changed, reflect on the ways our school as changed, and dreams we have for it’s future. I’m excited to share parts of this timeline I created with them with them (from my research)!
  • Both my tutoring group (3 neighborhood second graders) AND my 3rd graders have been excited to do Close Reading with books about Dog Breeds and The History of House Cats.
  • I figured out how to MacGyver a broken face mask!
  • 13 of my Fourth graders are doing Inquiry Projects this month related to 4 themes they’ve chosen. A solid amount of my group are going to be challenged to relate their faith to different video games. They’re off to a great start, and I’m very curious to see how it will turn out!
  • Last week, my Fourth graders each wrote their own prayer for a country in Central Asia, the Middle East, or North Africa and the African Islands! We will finish our Praying for the Nations project this month by individually composing prayers this Friday for East Africa, South Asia, Gaza, Chiapas, and more! I can’t wait to write about how it has turned out.
Gifts from a student this month 🙂

Simple Pleasures

  • This month, I’ve savored the scent of hyacinth and celebrated the beauty of living creatures with students. We are very excited to see the return of hyacinths, daffodils, lilacs, tulips, grape hyacinth, and all of wonderful spring flowers some day soon.
  • After starting the live Zoom trainings for the Glasgow Prophetic Centre’s Emerging Prophet’s Program, a conversation I had led me to snag these beautiful sunflowers as a reminder of God’s grace and the new things he is doing in the Earth
  • With no side effects, I am now fully vaccinated against COVID-19! It’s a little mind-blowing that the same day I will receive full immunity (2 weeks after my appointment) will be March 13th, a full one year after to the day after D.C.P.S. (District of Columbia Public Schools) shut down last Spring. While the outstanding ways the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools have coped with the pandemic has allowed me to be in the classroom live teaching at various points this year, it’s very strange to come back upon the one year mark. I have decided to resist self-pity or fear of the unknown and declare that March 13th will be an invisible line in the sand, to crossover into whatever new and better things are coming.
  • With extra free time that resulted from greater peace with God, I cooked a ridiculous amount of food this month! Check out some of my dishes below.

Themes

This month has been one of:

  • Growing in intimacy with Jesus
  • Rest instead of dryness
  • Increased freedom as I ignore distractions and burdens that aren’t mine to carry
  • Overcoming boredom or irritation to remain focused on God
  • Greater awareness of what God is doing around me, increasing skill
  • Times where it suddenly occurred to me to talk to God about thoughts or emotions that I had yet to name before
  • High energy and expectation
This is a doodle of me wondering what the Holy Spirit is doing. “Hmm…” I downloaded the Picasso app to keep my fingers busy when I’m in Zoom calls and my mind needs another outlet. It’s been fun!

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

  • With just 2 weeks until the rough draft of my Contextual Study is due, I am just under halfway done writing my paper! This research process has lasted since July and I am very excited and confident about it coming to a close.

In this project, I’ve learned so many skills about giving and summarizing interviews, creating pivot tables to analyze data, archival scanning school photos, and creating organizational timelines. I am hoping to use all of this data to help my school fundraise next year, and celebrate the strengths of our community!

What I’m Praying For

This month, God has been encouraging me to pray for the educational systems in different countries.

How you can Pray for Me

  • That I would see long-awaited answers to prayer (in all subjects)
  • Increasing favor
  • Open doors for ministry, travel, and next steps
  • That I would imagine and dream bigger and bigger dreams

In Christ,

Haley

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