And the walls came tumbling down…

Something extraordinary happened yesterday in my Biblical Interpretation class. Yes, this is the same class I went all she-hulk on last month (see self worth image psalmWhen Empathy Backfires…).

We had recently returned from a chapel service focused on transparency and confession. Several of my Religion students had given short testimonies during the service and had laid bare their souls, recounting their sordid stories and sins, their insecurities and their struggles. They then challenged the chapel attenders to do the same thing, writing their sins and insecurities on themselves with markers as a physical act of confession and honesty.

It was inspiring and thought-provoking and I wanted to make sure that the moment for openness and learning did not pass us by.

self worth image orange guySo instead of lecturing on the grammatical-structural relationships in biblical prose, I asked the students in my class to share the words they had written on their arms. And I went first.

After I explained my struggle with the sinful attitude of selfishness, I confessed that my biggest recurring insecurity is that I feel “other” as a woman called to and gifted for pastoral ministry in a culture that only affirms the pastoral position for men, a fact that continues to ignite resentment and bitterness in my heart toward the church.

And then they shared. In front of their peers, they talked about their feelings of inadequacy, they revealed dark parts of their pasts, and they confessed sins and weaknesses that usually remain  hidden in the locked parts of our souls. They praised God for the healing and deliverance they had experienced in some areas while also recognizing the work that still had to be done. They were raw and real and honest and vulnerable and so incredibly brave that it took my breath away.

It made me think of Jericho.

In Joshua 6, we read the story of the fledgling Israelites who, after having crossed into the land God had promised Abraham generations before, came upon the strong-walled city of Jericho, the first major barrier between them and God’s promise. God gave Joshua and the people detailed instructions that included marching around the walls, blowing trumpets, and shouting in success over the Lord’s promised victory.

We tend to emphasize the great faith that Joshua and the priests and soldiers showed and we celebrate their obedience to God in the face of impossible odds. But we sometimes forget that in order to obey, these Israelites had to be shockingly brave and illogically vulnerable.self worth image

For seven days they marched outside the heavily fortified city, aware that at any moment arrows could fly over the walls to pierce through their bodies and tear away their hopes of entering the promised land. Yet they continued to put themselves in that vulnerable position, with no rocks or walls to hide behind, in order to breach the walls that God told them they would destroy.

Yesterday, my students were as brave and as vulnerable as those Israelites outside Jericho. They put their hearts in the line of fire, exposing parts of themselves to potential arrows of judgment and ridicule and rejection. They did this because they knew they could only experience victory over their sins and their insecurities if they exposed them.

And in the wake of their vulnerability and brave shouts of confession, the walls came tumbling down.

The walls of pain, protection, and pride that guarded their hearts from the world. The walls of denial, competition, and fear that prevent true community among peers. The walls of decorum, distance, and doubt that serve to separate teacher from student. These all started to fall and I realized that I had much to learn from these millenials, these students who both exasperate and inspire me.

Yesterday, my students taught me that true community cannot exist without healing, that healing cannot begin without trust, and that trust can only be earned through vulnerability. They taught me that the toughest battles are not fought with weapons and strategy but with trust and transparency. They taught me that as a community of faith we have many more walls to tear down before we enter the promised land, that kingdom that God has promised us of love and healing, of unity and rest.

jgb

The Code

One of my favorite works of literature is the Middle English poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” 

Gawain is the nephew of King Arthur and the most valiant and noble knight of the Round Table.  He is a Christian and lives by a strict code.  In fact, the five points of his code are etched into his shield—kindness, brotherly love, a pure mind, courtesy, and piety.

One semester, not long ago, I was discussing this code with my students. 

So, what do you think? I ask.

“It’s too hard,” one of my students says.

“What do you mean—It’s too hard?  Shouldn’t these characteristics define our behavior?”

“You can’t be nice to everybody,” he says.  “I work in a shoe store and this old lady comes in and she asks me how much a pair of shoes is and I told her the price was right there on the sign and she asked me again so I said the price hadn’t changed—it was still 30 dollars just like on the sign.  Then she asked me if I was sure the sign was right because 30 dollars sounded like too much, and I said, ‘Lady I don’t set the price it’s 30 dollars’ and then I walked off.” 

“So you were mean to an elderly woman?”

“I wasn’t mean. I just got impatient with her.  She was being impossible and I lose my patience with people like that—You can’t be nice to everybody.  You can’t love everybody.”

“Jesus loved everybody,” I remind them.

The entire class groans.

“Jesus was God—He was perfect.  You can’t compare us to Him.  There’s no way we can be like Jesus.”

“We’re supposed to try,” I say.  They are quiet.

“What’s your own code?” I ask them.  They are still quiet.  I try a different approach.  “So is there a code here on campus?”  And one of them replies, “You shouldn’t get drunk.”

“Okay, so sobriety is the first part of the code.”

“And gambling—You shouldn’t gamble.” 

“No gambling.”

“You got to act like a Christian.”

“Okay—Piety.”

“And you can’t curse.”

“No cursing.”

“You shouldn’t dress suggestively.”

“Okay—Modesty.”

“And you can’t dance.  Unless it’s a university approved event and then you can only dance twice a year.”

“This looks like a really good Southern Baptist code.”

Everyone laughs.

“So, how do these rules resemble your own personal code?”

This time a few of the students respond.

“I try to be open minded.”

“I try to do better and to be better every day.”

“I try to be tolerant.”

“I want to lead by example.”

“I try to do the right thing.”

“How do you define the right thing?” I ask.

“I just try to do what I think is best.”

“But what is your framework for that? I say. “How do you know what is right?”

“I just rely on myself, and if I think it’s right, I do it.”

“So you go on instinct.  You go with your gut.”

“Yes—I do what I think I should do and I don’t care what others think.”

“That could be dangerous, right?  Not to have a framework or a foundation for your code?”

No response.

“You want to know my code?” I ask.

“Love God—Love my wife.  And don’t do anything in private that I wouldn’t do in public.  Basically, stay out of trouble.” 

They all laugh.

“What—You can’t picture me getting in trouble?”

They can’t.

“You can’t picture me getting mad at the driver that cuts me off or is going too slow or the school bus that stops in front of me to let a kid off and I have to wait and I’m late for an appointment?”

“You gotta be careful with that Dr. C because you have an ETBU sticker on your car.”

“Yes.  That’s what my wife says—Be careful.” 

“So—How about Galatians 5:22-23?”

“The fruit of the Spirit,” they say.

“Yes. Do you know them?”

A lot of them do. 

“Are these too hard?  Because they aren’t that much different from Gawain’s code.” 

I can see they are thinking. 

The class ends.  I tell them goodbye.  And I remind them to keep the faith.    

And I pray that they keep thinking—about what it means to have a code.  And what the code looks like.  And where the code comes from.  And I pray for a miracle in my class—that my students will come to know Jesus and that they will love Him deeply and follow Him faithfully. 

I pray hard for the miracle of renewed minds and transformed lives.

 

 

Real Live Prof

Funny thing happened in Social Psychology last week…it turns out that social psychologist are very interested in the effect that other people and situations have on us. They have even given it a catchy name: The ABC Triad. ”A” stands for Affect or how we feel inside. “B” stands for behavior or what we do. Finally, “C” stands for cognition, or more simply, what we think about as we are doing something.  CaptureCharacterWe might use the Triad to try to understand horrific behavior such as how seemingly normal American soldiers could get caught up in the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003. Were they simply following orders or were they morally bankrupt? We want to know how such a thing could happen and so we are faced with either blaming the torture (“Behavior”) on the soldiers (“Affect”) or the situation (“Cognition”).  Oddly, when we do something wonderful and awe-inspiring, we are very willing to take the credit.  For example, if students make an “A” on an exam then it is because they studied hard. If they failed an exam, it was obviously the Prof’s fault for making it so crazy hard. (Conversely, if all students pass an exam, it is our fault for not making it harder. If they all fail, then it is their fault and they should have studied much harder.) We often find ourselves between blaming and boasting.

After talking about the Triad, I asked the class about the Christian idea of character (doing the right thing, even if no one is looking). How would character fit into the Triad? We came up with the ABCC Quad. Developing Biblical, Christ-like character allows us to more accurately assess the situation (peer pressure, convenience, or no one is looking, etc), our own feelings about the situation (which are often faulty and self-centered), and then to act rightly and do the right thing, despite the situation and my feelings.

 Maybe I should have made the exam a little easier…