Earlier this year, I happened to read a book called, “The Bible and the Believer”, ecumenically written by Peter Enns (Protestant), Daniel J Harrington (Catholic), and Mark Zvi Brettler (Jewish). In this book, the authors discuss key differences and similarities in ways each of their respective groups relate to the text of the bible.
As a Protestant working in a Catholic school, I’ve found every possible reason to agree with Harrington in his claim that “Catholic socio-ethical teaching is one of the world’s best kept secrets” (80). Not only is Catholic socio-ethical teaching easily available for both children and adults, but it summarizes various themes throughout the Old and New Testaments in how Christians should love themselves and their neighbors. This year, I have enjoyed weaving main ideas from Catholic Social Teaching (CST) throughout lessons with students, in addition to anchoring sections of scripture. During our final week of school, students analyzed how these themes intersected the many topics we learned this year.
#1 Care of the Human Person
#2 Call to Family and Community
#3 Rights and Responsibilities
#4 Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
#5 Dignity of Work
#7 Care for God’s Creation (Stewardship)
In examining students’ reflections, several patterns emerge. One is that students were very emotionally invested in analyzing antiracism as it relates to various aspects of Catholic Social Teaching. Another is that students were collectively able to capture both the theoretical and applied nature of many of these ideas (for example, praying for people in various countries AND having family in New York and Mexico).
Given the murder of George Floyd and handfuls of events that brought racism forefront of American public consciousness during COVID, I am very grateful that my students are so passionate about antiracism on an individual and social level. May the Holy spirit continue to guide their responses and strengthen them as spiritually emancipated people of faith. May we gently but prophetically navigate the many challenges that productive changes will require.
The time of year when today’s passing thoughts birth next year’s curriculum,
When the flies remind us that DC was built on a swamp,
When yesterday’s midday walks shift into evening,
For the fragrance of Jasmine flowers and lack of sunburns,
When alarm clocks are respected, then dismissed, then dishonored,
A time of audacious dreaming.
What a time to be alive!
Summer Pace and Seminary
As of today, I am exactly half way into 3 weeks of morning and afternoon Seminary courses over Zoom. I’ve managed to get to know my classmates better, even as many of us second year Doctoral students discuss the weirdness of never having been on campus. After this summer, I will have just one more year of classes before I start preparing for my thesis.
In order to put myself in a summer frame of mind, I’ve created another spreadsheet (!). It includes daily fields for:
How I’m pursuing joy that day
Prophetic theme of the day
Audaciously dreaming about the future
Significant things from that day
In addition to helping me *mostly* keep track of the date and day of the week, I’ve actually really enjoyed how this tracker has kept me expectantly seeking God while having more time to listen at a slower pace.
Starving for the Nations
In late May and throughout June, I have been starving for books. I’ve devoured just about anything I can find on the History of World Christianity. Around this same time, I’ve gotten handfuls of dreams/images related to Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. In transcribing these dreams, I’ve been overcome with the same spiritual hunger that fades when I switch tasks. As someone who wants to do contextual theology and Nonprofit Foundation work within the Christian educational sector in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Africa later on, I decided to take this hunger seriously.
At first, I was terribly confused. “Lord, am I being drafted into missions?” But something about the timing felt off. After tracing the themes of prophetic words I’ve gotten lately and dreams from the past 6 months, and a handful of captivating research, I happened to find a 1 year Masters graduate program at the University of Edinburgh on World Christianities. This program would allow me to do a deep dive into current research before writing my thesis for my current Doctoral degree program. Who knows? I could see myself staying longer. Studying in Edinburgh would confirm the many prophetic words I got throughout late April and May with scenery of different parts of the UK, and dreams I’ve had about going into a season of rest and study. I also have found a friend who studies in a similar context in the University of Glasgow, and have received several offers to crash at people’s homes as necessary when/if I move.
As of now, I’m still reading and dreaming with the Lord to get more insight on how to write my application essays (due in September). I’ve got quite a bit of clarity so far, but God loves to layer details. I am learning to trust that God will provide financially for dreams as big as this. If accepted, I would start not this year, but next school year (AY 2022-2023). In discerning next steps, I’ve been especially grateful to ask my seminary classmates located in Japan and Sri Lanka about the educational sectors in their nations, and get their feedback on what it would look like to empower local theologians to create their own schools within their own cultural frameworks (vs. the legacy of colonialism still embedded in many Christian schools abroad). They were excited and agreed that my desire was both useful and timely.
As a plus, a future in Southeast Asia and Africa would put a remarkable twist on my Kindergarten aspirations.
It’s interesting to examine how my goals for this year have changed in the last six months. In January, I had just found out about being accepted into the Emerging Prophets program out of Glasgow. My potential 2021 calendar in January (left) was the byproduct of needing to figure out how to conceptualize all these changes. In the end, due to pandemic/teaching tiredness, I decided to forego one of my courses that I was hoping to take in April. I alsowasn’t ultimately able to attend a conference, due to COVID travel restrictions. However, due to the faithfulness of God, both of these changes were for the best. If I study outside the U.S., I will be able to gain the 12 extra credits I need to graduate my doctoral program here without needing to run myself ragged. I also ended up needing the time I would have spent at the conference to finish seminary assignments that got added last minute.
Without being very sure how much time left I have in the U.S., I’ve chosen to make time to visit my Dad, step-mom, aunt, sister, mom, and brothers in August. I’ll also get to visit my friend and step-dad in July! Overall, doing less and focusing on community more was the amendment my 2021 plans needed.
Personal Prophetic Themes this month:
God teaching me about how to end things well
Outside of time with God
Call to oceans, sea creatures
Intimacy with Jesus
Jesus holding my hands open
How you can Pray for Me
Clarity and alignment on applying to University of Edinburgh
As the 2020-2021 school year has come to a close, I gave my students the opportunity to reflect on where they’ve been, where they’re going, and how they’ve changed. Within these reflections, a handful of themes emerged, such as increasing devotion to God, increasing confidence, the importance of community, dealing with change/aging, loving math, and rest. Check out their responses below to see how we’ve grown this year!
As we begin cast vision for the shape and texture of next school year, students also had the chance to reflect on their favorite assignments. Being the person that I am, I decided to catalog and analyze this data in graphs.
Looking at this data was very satisfying, because I realized just how much students were able to glean from some of my labors of love. I’m excited to use this data to refine or invent new projects in 2021-2022! Check out the links below to catch a glimpse into several of our beloved projects from this year!
It goes without saying that this year has been challenging, but I am grateful that I met my personal goal of using this year to try so many new ideas! Having class online gave us plenty of room to experiment, research, and absorb plenty of new information. In spite of a staggered return to the classroom from October-Thanksgiving and from late January til the end of school in June, students were able to adjust to many changes. I saw my students’ passion for God and their own interests only increase as the majority of students shifted into in person learning. Next year, I’m looking forward to exploringlocal ecumenism (church denominations), the diverse traditions of Global Catholicism, and *hopefully* collaborating with local Jewish and/or Muslim elementary schools to explore religious symbolism.
As the school year comes to a close, I will be writing about some of my favorite projects of the late school year. As Catholics commemorate 2021 as the year of St. Joseph the Worker, I’ve been fascinated to come alongside my students as they meet Jesus in the topic of workers rights. In this Religion and Social Studies unit, students explored the ways that migrant farm workers used Catholic Faith to shape the religious symbolism and protest tactics of the United Farm Workers Movement (1962-1977).
Pre-empting Thinking: Stations of the Cross
In order to encourage my students to reflect on Catholic Social Teaching on the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers, I selected a version of Stations of the Cross that were developed from the homilies of St. Oscar Romero. This version of the Stations directly encourages a Matthew 24:40, Franciscan approach to meeting Jesus in poor. I intentionally selected stations that relate to Jesus’ interactions with women to highlight the emotional drama of allowing himself to gently die. I also incorporated art from various styles and cultures to help students access and generalize the tension in these scenes.
These two stations show Jesus’ willing self-giving (Station 8) as well as his need to make himself dependent on others (Station 6). Students considered the necessity of allowing Christ to live through us, and the sorrow the women felt in allowing their beloved friend, son, and leader to die. Combined, these two stations show a kind of mutual surrender that develops as we continue to pursue Christ.
After praying and examining the religious art, students were challenged to make a connection with the characters of one of the stations.
Starting with the Bible: Lectio Divina
After students returned Easter and Spring break, we continued to explore the theme of workers rights through scripture and art. As a Protestant Christian, I am passionate about using the bible as a primary source to inspire reflection and analysis of just about any subject. In order to apply a biblical worldview to the United Farm Workers movement as a chapter in history, it was important to me that students understand biblical teachings on justice and the treatment of the poor.
Students first examined several passages, pulling out key phrases. I intentionally chose short but complex sections of scripture so that we could discuss them in depth. Students were most intrigued by the phrase “to take advantage”. We discussed the importance of economics of mutuality and how we are to economically provide for those who are hungry (including animals).
Students completed a template in order to understand how God might be calling them to respond. This student focused on the need to be careful within her own life not to take advantage of people.
This student focused on how humans are responsible not just to consume the environment by cutting down trees, but ensure that animals have what they need to survive. He also objected to the idea of people working “super hard and getting nothing for pay” (the working poor). He believed ultimately that these issues were caused by greed.
This student focused on the power dynamic between the poor and the wealthy. She focused on the meaning of true poverty (being “without God”), and prayed that God would make the weak strong. In each of these work samples, I did very little to guide the discussion in advance. I am always amazed by what the Holy Spirit reveals to my students when we start with the word of God.
Adding Complexity: Generating Questions using Art
Once students had caught hold of the emotional tensions within the biblical text, we examined Jean Francois Millet’s “The Gleaners” painting. Various students noticed fine grain details (including the village behind the horses (misspelled as “houses,” lol). The students asked questions about whether the women in the front of the painting were slaves, why they were picking up the hay with their hands, and why they were working so far apart from the men.
Students then deduced what was similar from the Lectio Divina verses to the Gleaners painting. I used a modified 321 Bridge routine to encourage them to look closely. Again, many students assumed that the women farm workers were slaves.
I chose this speech specifically because 1) Cesar focuses on the role of religious institutions to help the poor 2) because he ecumenically celebrates the contributions of Protestants in supporting the migrant workers and 3) it discusses his fasting methods.
Students discussed the meaning of solidarity in plain language and talked about why it’s important for Christians of all kinds to unite in support of human rights (in spite of historical divisions between Catholics and Protestants).
Secondly, students also examined details that they noticed within this of the National Farm Workers Association. Several students were quick to point out the use of the Virgen of Guadelupe on the banner as a symbol of Chicano/Mexican culture (check out this article here). Especially for my students who have close ties to Mexico, this conversation took on another level of meaning. Students also noticed the presence of the United States and Mexican flags, and we talked about what the use of these symbols could mean.
Finally, students discussed links they had found between Cesar’s speech and the NFWA image.
Assessment through Writing: Understanding How Faith affects Protest Tactics
Ultimately, students considered the many things that they had learned to explore the specific ways that Cesar Chavez and other migrant farm workers protested. Through marches, prayer vigils, hunger fasts, nonviolence, imagery of the Virgen of Guadelupe, and other methods, students acknowledged that the United Farm Workers Movement’s (UFWM) protest strategies were infused with Mexican culture and Catholicism.
Watercolor Protest Art
To my joy, I found that students were very focused on the protest art of the Delano Grape Strike, and other similar boycotts related to the UFWM. One of my favorite ways of relaxing with students this school year has been a “Pick your own Watercolor Topic” block at the end of the day, where students are challenged to paint the most important idea from their favorite thing we discussed that day. This student chose to paint a version of protest art banning lettuce, grapes, and wine, the 3 most boycotted products of the UFWM.
Explaining the Conflict in Legos
Students also were able to express the most important tensions of the UFWM through Legos! In a similar end of the day option, students were challenged to explain the main conflict of something they had encountered that day. In this video, one of my students explains the conflict between the wealthy landowners in California and the migrant farmers within the UFWM.
In this project, I was very proud to start our exploration not just in philosophy, but in theology that is firmly rooted in the biblical text. I felt that this project built on the work we did in developing biblical antiracism to directly discuss how faithful people can ground their protest tactics within Christianity (or more specifically, Catholicism). This project had the effect of giving my students a concrete example of how Jesus calls us to engage with the world to pursue justice that has been formed by an understanding of his character. While there are elements of this project that fail to resonate with me as a Protestant, I’m very happy that in the primarily low-income Latinx community in which I teach, we made room to honor certain students’ Mexican culture, enter into the struggles of the working poor, and celebrate Jesus’.
Check out some of the most exciting things that happened during the month of May!
My Garden Continues to Grow
Lots of Fire
This month has been full of peace, but also full of extremes!
First, I had a desperate need to write. Then, I had a desperate need to teach. Now, I have a desperate need to read as much as humanly possible. I’m excited to get the chance to explore new things with God this summer!
Tracking the Supernatural
Since mid-April, I’ve used spreadsheets to make declarations and track answered prayer for my school. God has had me focus on specific psalms (including Psalm 119). I’ve made declarations based on scriptures and dreams I’ve had for my school, and have gotten into a routine of merely writing down all the wonderful things God does each day.
Recently, I’ve gone back several months and curated all of the prophetic words and dreams I’ve had or received for myself, or different nations. As I organized all the information, I noticed at least 50% more connections than I had previously, and spent some time just marveling at the glory of God.
Praying into Relocation
For several months now, I’ve been praying into the topic of relocation. I continue to get images when I’m praying and dreams that show the scenery of the United Kingdom, but in various parts. As you can imagine, it’s somewhat crazy-making. But I’m starting to really view this process as collecting pieces of a puzzle, and I know God will make it clear soon enough.
I have started to accept that it’s likely I will have to give up my most favorite part of being in DC: my apartment. Nearly 18 months ago, I got so stressed out in apartment shopping that I poured myself a glass of wine and just made declarations about the type of apartment the Lord would be sending me. He honored everything I prayed for and more. This apartment has been a place of freedom, healing, and joy. While I’ll be sad to give it up, I will certainly do so in order to follow God and the more he has for me.
When will this happen? Who knows! God will work out the timing.
An Abundance of Joy
From Field Day to every day life in the classroom, this month held incredible joy! There was even a week where I was absolutely miserable from an ear infection, but transparently told God that if he sent any more fire, I would not be able to physically handle it. I asked God to heal it in a way that I didn’t expect, and he sent me so much overwhelming joy and good sleep the following day that it was cleared quickly thereafter.
Celebrating the Servant Heart of Jesus
This month, my students read and memorized the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise to God in Luke 3. Based on the themes of humility and justice in this prayer, we spent the majority of this month understanding the difference between the Christlike Heart of a Servant and the Heart of a Rebel.
We also spoke about the reality of being held accountable by God for our actions, and God’s role (along with the rest of the Trinity) as the Righteous Judge.
Bringing the School Year to a Close
As I move boxes into my closet, cover up bookshelves with paper, and clear my white boards of any and all detritus, it’s clear: Just one more week until the end of the school year. During this daunting year, there have been so many times where I’ve longed for this moment. And now? I’m very much at peace, but also very interested in spending more time with my kids. Yet, I’m so excited to rest! I have some things I need to establish with the Lord this summer, but I will be excited to see them again at the right time.