Darkness into Light

Warning: The following post may contain material of a sensitive nature. But please read and discuss it anyway.

I haven’t visited a Halloween costume shop in a while but my boys wanted to dress up like Star Wars characters for our church’s Trunk or Treat this year, so we paid a visit to a local Halloween store.

I have to say I was surprised and appalled by the merchandise we found there and I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination.

At least three-fourths of the Halloween costumes they sold were for women, which seemed strange to me at first. But about 90% of those women’s costumes were more appropriate for strip club attire than for public display. Every costume seemed designed to be slutty sexy, from the more obvious ones like Nurse Knock-out or Sexy Lioness, to the absurd ones like Sexy Robin (who knew Batman’s sidekick could be seductive?) and Sexy Chucky (yes, that is the murderous doll turned femme fatale–see image). These costumes were not only being purchased by adults, but by teenagers, young adults, and even pre-teens.

Whatever happened to the days when we dressed up like princesses, fairies, angels, or Little Bo Peep? When did dress-up become less about putting on a persona and more about taking off our clothes?

I have been thinking about it and researching it and I have come to the conclusion that these hyper-sexual Halloween costumes are one of many side effects of the culture of pornography that is surreptitiously invading our society.

The porn industry, which is a 15-billion dollar a year industry in America, obviously glorifies many evils–commercialized sex, lust, greed, exploitation, and self-gratification. But the subtle evils it propagates are far more dangerous than we realize.

Dr. Annette Lynch, professor of textiles and Apparel and author of Porn Chic, recognizes the insidious influence of pornography on fashion, especially costumes.  She writes this about teen and tween attire:

“When a little girl shops for a Halloween costume, she is bombarded with choices and poses that flirt with and attract sexual attention, teaching her to self-objectify and court the male gaze in advance of the blossoming of her own sexuality… what is most damaging is the normalization of this patterned response, with girls taught to shop, dress and behave while imagining the response of a male audience… this patterned response to these messages become ingrained and natural to these girls, who then carry the patterns into adulthood.”

So girls who have not even viewed pornography are “patterned” to dress for men, specifically men who are porn users, without even knowing it. The porn look is so ingrained in the media and culture of our country that it does not need to be overt to affect change in all segments of society.

Jessica Bennett, in “The Pornification of America,” wakes us up to the overwhelming impact the porn industry is making on our everyday lives.

“In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn’t take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives. Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms.”

When we weren’t looking, the subculture of pornography, which claims to affect only workers and users in that industry, became part of our mainstream culture, affecting everyone from fashion designers to pop stars (do I even have to put a link to a Miley Cyrus’ example?) to young girls shopping for Halloween costumes.

How did our society succumb so easily to such a destructive problem?

Robert Jenson, a professor of journalism who wrote a book on the porn industry in America, believes that the popularity of pornography in our country “is a reminder that, for all the progress of contemporary social movements, we still live in a world structured by patriarchy, white supremacy and a corporate capitalism that is predatory by nature. Pornography is consistently cruel and degrading to women, overtly racist and fueled by the ideology that money matters more than people.” (from an online interview)

So, it is not that pornography has corrupted our moral, just, and equality-driven society (read with sarcasm) but vice versa—the deep-seated, and often downplayed, American obsession with power, sex, and money has produced our current porn culture.

We got ourselves in this mess, but how do we get out?

We could push for more legislation against the porn industry, for more oversight and higher levels of censorship, but many Americans would cry, “First Amendment Violation!” and anyway, the porn industry has well-paid lobbyists and spin doctors to halt change on that front.

We could sit around and complain about the problem on blogs and social media, blaming Hollywood or the fashion or music industry. Oh wait, we already do that and it is certainly not working.

Or, we as the body of Christ can stand up and attack the problem at its root.

Because the root of every evil associated with pornography, from greed to lust to infidelity to exploitation, is the same. The problem is the darkness that we humans carry around inside us. The only way to fight the darkness is with the light. And when we hide the deeds of darkness, and the dismiss the effects of that darkness, we will slowly become overwhelmed by darkness instead of the light.

And the Word, the Gospel of John tells us, was not overcome by darkness but overcame darkness with light.

So we need to bring the deeds of darkness into light.

We need to talk about this uncomfortable, shameful problem in our churches and in our homes and in our schools and on our blogs.

We need to love and support those who are in bondage to all kinds of addiction, especially sexual addiction and pornography.

We need to talk to our children openly–about the gift of sex within marriage, the perils of internet pornography, and the lies society spreads about freedom and the body.

We also must ensure girls and women that they are loved for who they are and who Christ is making them to be, not for what they wear or how they look. We need to teach them to live to please God and not the opposite sex.

We need to address the issues of self-worth and self-respect and self-control. Every day. In every venue. Until people start to listen.

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:8-13)


Bourbon Street Cat

Here’s the reality—It’s week 11.  The semester is two-thirds of the way through.  And my students are weary.  Any enthusiasm they displayed on day one is now long gone.  Even more distressing, they are beginning to ignore class room rules.  While I’m teaching, I catch them texting on their phones.  When we workshop, they can’t resist the temptation to check Facebook.  Some of them even put their heads on their desks and go to sleep.  Does this irritate me?  You bet.  Does it impact my enthusiasm?   Yes.  But, more than anything, it just makes me sad.

I want my students to feel safe in my classes, but I don’t want them to get complacent.

So I tell them—Sustain your intensity.  Maintain your momentum.  Stay self-directed. 

Don’t get comfortable. 

Don’t be a Bourbon Street Cat.

And, of course, they know a story is coming.

My wife and I recently visited the French Quarter in New Orleans.  We enjoyed French cuisine at a beautiful restaurant and browsed elegant boutiques.  We walked on brick sidewalks and held hands and imagined that we were in another country altogether.  The French Quarter is, without a doubt, a romantic spot. 

Then we found ourselves on Bourbon Street. 

It was around 10:00 p.m. and the street shook with music.  People jammed themselves into clubs.  They spilled out onto the sidewalks and finally into the narrow street itself.  Boys lined the balconies above.  They dangled beads in their hands, ready to throw them to the young women passing beneath who would stop, look up, and then casually lift their blouses.  People carried drinks in their hands as they passed shops peddling adult-themed t-shirts.  Explicit posters covered the windows of sex-oriented clubs.  One man we talked to described Bourbon Street as an adult state fair. 

We veered down a side street where we passed palm readers, knuckle readers, and a voodoo bone lady.  She called out to us.  The beat of the Bourbon Street music vibrated beneath our feet. 

And then, out of the darkness, we saw a man walking towards us. 

He wore ragged jeans and a dirty grey t-shirt.  I noticed something on the man’s shoulder.  As he got closer, I whispered to my wife, “It’s a cat.”  It was black and sleek—and comfortable—its front legs stretching down the man’s back.  As the man passed by, we turned around for one final look.  The cat gazed back at us—its eyes calm, its body relaxed.  We watched the man with the cat on his shoulder head straight for Bourbon Street—directly into the crowds, the noise, and the chaos. 

“You know what’s wrong with that picture?” my wife asked.

I didn’t know.

Cats aren’t social creatures, she explained.  They don’t like noise and chaos.  A cat on Bourbon Street is a cat out of its element.  A cat on Bourbon Street can be summed up in one word—desensitized.   And this cat was comfortable.  This cat was complacent.  This cat had lost its edge.

So, don’t be a Bourbon Street cat, I tell my students.  Don’t lose your edge.

I want this to be true for my students in the classroom.  And I want this to be true for them spiritually as well.      

Peter writes in his first letter—“Be of sober spirit.  Be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”  (5:8). 

Peter’s words haunt me.  Peter knew a thing or two about Satan.  He knew a thing or two about being devoured.  He had denied Jesus.  Three times.  Much worse than texting in class or checking Facebook. 

But Peter also knew something about Jesus.  He knew love.  And forgiveness.  And grace.  And because Peter knew Jesus, he wanted us to know Him too. 

Peter’s message is simple and straight forward.  Pray.  Keep your focus.  Don’t get comfortable. 

And don’t take anything for granted—not college or family or friends or Jesus.

Don’t be a cat on Bourbon Street.



The Next Seven Years

Last spring break I read a book that changed my perspective about students, and myself. It is called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcom Gladwell.


We are all an element of our circumstances. Our lives are shaped by the advantages and disadvantages we encounter.

It seems as if we can look back on our past and point out the bad decisions or all the things that maybe didn’t go to our advantage. I see students making bad decisions weekly and sometimes daily. These decisions lead to sometimes lifelong heartache and struggle.

I want to encourage you today to make the sacrifices needed today so that you can have the opportunities tomorrow.

I want to share a little bit of my journey as a ETBU student to a current ETBU Assistant Professor.

When I reflect on my life story, I can’t help but notice how many situations allowed me to have an advantage. For example, I was 1 of only 8 people that were allowed to take dual credit college courses at my high school. We were the first group in the history of the high school to have access to this opportunity. When I came to college, I had 12 college credit hours completed. This allowed me to graduate early. Since I knew I could graduate early, I realized I could take courses over the summer and graduate even earlier. I graduated from ETBU in 5 semesters or 2.5 years.  I then got a Graduate Teaching assistant position and moved into an apartment across from UNT. A year into my Master’s, I got the opportunity to be a House Director at one of the Sorority houses. I was then able to stay somewhere rent free, get paid to live/work, and still keep my job teaching at UNT. I was able to pay for most of my Masters  & PhD degree out of pocket. During my PhD program at Texas Woman’s University, I had 2-3 other part-time adjunct teaching jobs at other universities (in addition to being a Graduate Teaching Assistant at TWU).  I successfully defended my dissertation in Aug. 2012.

So I went from… freshman year at ETBU as a student in Aug. 2004… to Assistant Professor (ABD) at ETBU in Aug. 2011. I was motivated. God gave me the desire to work hard and to take advantage of every opportunity.

I do not apologize for being young. I have worked hard to get here. I still have a lot of work to do.. God is still shaping me.

When reading the book “Outliers,” I noticed how our good and bad decisions take a toll on the direction of our life. It is easy for me to write the paragraph above and leave out all the failures I encountered along that 7 year journey. But the important thing is… I got where I wanted to go. I didn’t stop or give up when I encountered those difficulties.

So when you encounter your next “failure” or “difficulty”… remember that this is a journey… not a sprint… not a race won by only one path…

I don’t know exactly where I will be or what I will be doing in the next 7 years. But I hope I look back on this time in my life and can see how God was shaping me for what is ahead.


Confidence in reason

Confidence in reason

So, this past Friday I told my freshman biology students (both sections) that I would give them an oral quiz over mitosis on Monday morning.  I pointed out the figures in the text they would need and sent them on their way.  This morning the first section (0800) acted as they hadn’t heard of mitosis ever before in their WHOLE lives.  During their chemistry class at 9:00 they complained among themselves about the mean Dr. Cone and how unfair it was to expect anyone to study during the weekend.  The 1100 section was ready to answer my questions because they had been forewarned by the students in the 0800 section.  The later section did a bit better but not much.  You’d think by now these kids would get the fact that if I say I’m going to do something then I will do it.  Silly me, I have confidence in reason.  I have confidence in my students to think rationally, coherently and logically.  From previous experience with me the students should know by now that I try my best to do what I say I will do.  Either these students distrust the evidence of the past eight weeks of interactions with me or they completely lack critical reasoning skills.  Many Christians are like my students in that they distrust logic, reason, and evidence.  Why have we Christians become a stupid people? 

Jesus wasn’t stupid.

Jesus was a top-notch problem solver.  He stated whatever problem was at hand very clearly for his audience.  He discussed what kind of problem was at hand and concentrated His efforts on the problems He could solve at that time.  He actively sought information, carefully analyzed the facts and interpreted the information coming to reasonable, logical conclusions.  He then decided the best course of action given the limitations of the circumstance.  He made a plan and followed through on that plan.  Sometimes His plan was a wait-and-see and sometimes it was an outburst of pure righteous indignation.  Read Jesus’ teachings and actively look for His problem solving skills.

Jesus had confidence in reason.  Do you?


What my wrongs (and N.T. Wright) taught me this week

There are weeks when I feel particularly inadequate as a teacher.Bashaw

This week, I attempted to teach the entire book of Romans to my NT Intro students in a 45-minute lecture. I stood in front of my students, some of them Bible-idolizing and some of them Bible-illiterate, and I tried to walk that fine line between teaching and preaching, between information and emotion. I gave the most pertinent background information and I highlighted Romans’ literary features. Then, we discussed the terms and imagery that Paul uses to explain salvation, and I pleaded with them to understand that salvation was more like a process than a one-time decision, that sin was serious and that Christ’s sacrifice was miraculous.

I made a valiant effort but at the end of the class, I still felt like a failure.

How can I sufficiently describe some of the most complex theological concepts in the Bible when I myself still fluctuate on the particulars? How does justification work? Is salvation a past action or a future action or both? Is “once saved always saved” even a biblical principle? What does sanctification look like in the life of the believer?

Isn’t a Bible professor supposed to know the answers to all these questions BEFORE she attempts to teach them to her students? Fail, fail, fail.

Then, for my New Testament Theology class, we read the script of a brilliantly crafted lecture by scholar and bishop, N.T. Wright (“Whence and Whither Pauline Studies in the life of the church?”). In it, Wright presents one of the most eloquent and comprehensive analyses of Pauline thought I had ever read. There is a beauty and clarity of thought in his words, in the simple yet profound truth that he declares. I had to wipe the tears from eyes more than once while I read (Who would have thought that Pauline theology could bring anyone to tears?). I was in awe of him, in awe that someone could not only understand Paul so thoroughly, but could teach the core of his message with such precision and depth.

And it struck me that Wright’s lecture affected me in the way it did because it did not just teach me truth; it demonstrated a truth. N.T. Wright has been studying the Bible, teaching, pastoring (is bishoping a word?), and lecturing for more years than I have been alive.  He did not have such a clear understanding of the intricacies of Scripture twenty years ago. It was a process. Much like sanctification.

Sanctification is the process by which a believer becomes more and more like Christ. We tend to assume this refers to an ethical or moral change, but I think it is more than that. As we study and read and live and love, the Holy Spirit does not just help us grow in character. We also grow in knowledge and understanding of God and Scripture.

If a solid and deep understanding of the Bible and its theology comes only after the long process of learning and teaching, of articulating and correcting, then I have awhile before I will be confident in my knowledge and certain in my theology. And that is how it should be.

I will probably never understand the Bible the way N.T. Wright does. However, I understand more every day.  I am still in the process of sanctification—a sanctification of mind, heart, and life. And although I do not have perfect understanding, I praise God that I have enough understanding  to teach others…others who are just starting the process of sanctification or have yet to begin.

The Story of My Life

As I pulled into the campus parking lot the other morning, a colleague was just getting out of her car.  As she hurried past me, I tossed out a quick, “Hi, How’s it going?”  And without slowing down, she replied, “If I wasn’t late, I’d be doing fine!!  I’m always running late,” she said, her voice fading into the distance—“It’s the story of my life. . . .”

Her words stayed with me.  And as I climbed the stairs to my office, I began thinking—

What’s the story of my life?

We all have a story to tell.  Each one of our lives, in fact, is a story.  And people are reading us every day.

Earlier this semester, I invited my students to write about the stories of their lives, and I received some thought-provoking responses.

One student wrote about traveling to a war-torn part of Africa.  As she was talking with a fifteen-year-old boy who had seen more violence in his life than most of us ever will, she asked him—“So what do you do when things get dangerous?”  He looked at her bewildered, and without hesitating, answered, “We just pray.”  This simple expression of faith and dependency on God changed her life.

One of my students wrote about hiding in her closet when her parents fought—“the yelling as loud as thunder.”  She remembers a dad addicted to drugs.  She remembers the divorce.  She remembers living with her grandparents and her struggle to reconcile God’s goodness with all of the badness surrounding her.  “My earthly father isn’t perfect,” she writes, but my Heavenly Father makes up for what he lacks.”

Another student traveled to Nicaragua on a mission trip.  She wasn’t prepared for what she encountered.  “Barbed wire filled the one foot spacing between the walls and the roof of my new home, piercing the only ventilation it had.  Dirt from outside coated the concrete and clay floors . . . . Looking out the front door, the busy streets were filled with dirt, trash, and animal feces creating an unforgettable smell that stained our clothes and skin—still lingering after harsh scrubbing in the bucket powered shower.”  And yet, in these surroundings, this student discovers an unexpected treasure.  The believers she meets are content and joyful.  “If these people could still be happy as bees in a field of dandelions,” she writes, “why should I ever complain?”

Some of my students are writing really good stories. . . which made me think of the prophet Jonah.

I’m haunted by this tiny book in the Old Testament—because Jonah doesn’t write a very good story.  When he confronts Nineveh (an impossible situation in his eyes), he runs—in the opposite direction.

And it’s interesting—as Jonah’s story concludes, it ends with a question mark.

God asks Jonah, “Shouldn’t I feel compassion for such a great city?”

And Jonah doesn’t answer.

We just have that question mark—lingering there on the page. 

I hope I’m writing a good story—with my life.  I keep thinking there’s a better story inside of me, waiting to get out—a story that God is still wanting to write.  That’s the one I want.  I don’t want to end my story with a question mark.

I want to end my story with an exclamation point.

I want to trust—not run

I want to be better—not bitter

I want to forgive—not hang on to the hurt and the pain of the past.

I want to wrap my arms around more and more of Jesus every day that I’m alive

so that I may know him more fully

trust him more completely

follow him more closely and

love him more deeply.

I pray the story of my life is a good one.

Podcast Progress

My reflection of my podcast experience with my students thus far has been a positive one.

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc

It is important to note that the Podcasts in my class are not meant to replace the in-class learning experience. It is meant to enhance it. The idea of a “Flipped” classroom is that the students are more prepared to ask questions, and discuss the topic.

 Students will need time to adjust to the new classroom expectations. Some students expressed frustration that they had an assignment outside of class.  I addressed this perception with my students… However, the students that are frustrated about listening to the podcast are also the ones not reading the textbook, or turning in other assignments.

So thus far, I can say that the podcast has enhanced the learning experience for students that are wanting… and willing to learn. It hinders those students that are already underperforming. I do not believe it is the podcast that is facilitating this behavior, rather the initial LOW-achieving behavior that is working against the purpose of the podcast.

I will keep introducing one podcast with each test. On the next podcast, I plan to quiz them on the material at the beginning of class. This will help me gauge how many students are listening to the podcast prior to coming to class. My goal is to get all of my students to listen to the 30 minute podcast prior to coming to class so we can have more meaningful & interactive discussion.

I will keep everyone posted on the progress.

Missed Again

Once again there was TOO much to do on my Monday list: lecture, lab, chapel, appointments, getting the stitches removed and going to the bathroom.  Simply too much on my plate.   I have to schedule my bathroom breaks.  Too, too busy we are!  If all I had to do was take care of myself then I wouldn’t be so busy.  I am responsible for teaching a Sunday school class. There are committee meetings to attend.  I went to the Mission Marshall missions fair to look for opportunities for my students to volunteer.  I already volunteer.  Grocery store, Lowe’s, laundry, wash dishes, mop the floor, sweep the porch, plant flowers, dig up weeds, fold laundry, grade papers, grade papers, prep lectures, prep labs, gas the truck, check the air in the tires, visit with whom ever, play fetch with Brinkley, rub puppy tummy, rub kitty tummy, feed every one, water for everyone,


Do you ever feel that way? OVERWHELMED?

We are such a busy, busy people.  We have forgotten how to rest, be still, and enjoy the peace and quiet of God’s creation.  We have forgotten the Sabbath.  Sunday is not the original Sabbath, Saturday is.  Sunday is the first day of the week.  Sunday is the day the early Christians chose to be their day of worship.  PEOPLE!  Even GOD needed to rest which is why He set aside the 7th day for rest.  So, why do we, as Christians, believe that we don’t need to rest?  My friend says he will rest when “he dies.”   He will also miss many of God’s blessings by not being still.

One of my favorite things to do on any morning but especially Saturday morning is to sit out on my back patio with a cup of coffee and listen.  The wind through the pines is a favorite sound.  The birds chittering and singing is relaxing to me.  The horses nicker.  A hawk calls out while it soars.  I enjoy the light patter of rain on the patio roof.  At night the frogs, toads, and crickets songs help me to shudder off my tensions and worries.  I am content to read while a gentle breeze cools me.  If I had a hammock, I would take a nap.  A previous dog chewed the hammock to bits.  Maybe I’ll buy another one next spring.

Every evening I should take an hour or so and be still.  The world of responsibilities pulls at me.  Brinkley wants to play fetch; Sam is always on the wrong side of a door.  The phone rings.  There are dirty dishes and dirty clothes.  Brinkley is a very, very messy puppy and the floors are a mess.

I need help, Lord, to get my priorities straight and be still.

Did I mention there are papers to grade?

Real Live Prof

Perspective. Before I taught at ETBU, I was an adjunct professor at Dallas Baptist. (btw, “Adjunct professor” = part  time professor.) DBU prided itself on being a degree completion destination, and so, many students were well into their 30’s or even 40’s and were coming back to finish their degrees. As a teacher, I was almost never the oldest person in the classroom.

One of my favorite ways to introduce a class to the value of a sociological perspective was to pose as a student on the first day of class. I would walk into class the first time we met, usually a few minutes early, sit at a desk in the middle of room, and start asking “other” students what they had heard about the professor. As I was part time, I was somewhat anonymous and seldom the oldest person. Since few had heard of “Miller” and fewer still even knew my gender, there were not a lot of comments. So, I would start smack talking about myself. “I heard his tests are impossible!” or, “He makes you write a really long paper!”

Usually, I would let the class continue for 15 minutes past the start time. Inevitably, a student would finally get up and announce they were going to talk to somebody in charge and find out why the prof never showed up. At this point, I would stand up and say, “Well, I guess I could teach.” I would then walk to the front of the room, pass out the syllabi, and start a short lecture on why I loved sociology and the different perspectives it forces us to use.  The students usually were fairly good natured about my “prank”, but they were also furiously rewinding their mental tapes about anything incriminating they might have said before I outed myself as a prof.  

In my Minority Groups class,(which I often taught at DBU and annually teach at ETBU) I send my students to their same denominational churches that serve a race, ethnicity or people group that is different than them. Usually this means that white Baptist students visit Black Baptist churches, or Hispanic Baptist churches if they speak Spanish. They learn about another groups’ way of worshipping and their customs. Often times, at least for white students, it is the very first time they have ever felt like a minority in their lives. I think this is a great perspective to have, and to have challenged. Students almost always talk about the fact that this is a very positive experience, but that before they actually visited the church, how it was scary, intimidating, and uncomfortable for them. They usually admit that they were very glad they did it, and how they will not take their race for granted anymore.

Almost always, the pre-prof outing conversation in my classes was about other classes and profs the students had before this semester. I learned a little too much about my colleagues on several occasions. Once, I learned too much about myself…

I had sat next to a student who was eager to tell me about her friend who had taken the same Minority Groups class the semester before. She told me all about this crazy visit-a-church assignment. I listened politely as she told me all of the details. She finally concluded her recounting of her friend’s experience by stating that her friend thought it was the easiest class she had ever taken.

I was really surprised by this. “That doesn’t sound like an easy class to me”, I said.

She replied, “Oh, but it was! My friend totally faked the whole thing!”

A few minutes later, I stood up and said, “Well, I guess I could teach.” I walked to the front of the room, passed out the syllabi, and started a short lecture on why I loved sociology and the different perspectives it forces us to use.

When Empathy Backfires

I almost never get angry in the classroom.Bashaw

I place a high value on empathy and understanding, so in most stress-inducing situations involving students, I make myself stop and consider perspective of the student. For example, if a student has forgotten to do his journal assignment three classes in a row, I tell myself, “Perhaps this was a difficult week for him.” Or if someone makes a belligerent comment towards me in class, I reassure myself, saying, “Perhaps her family environment has developed this trait in her but she means no harm.”

But yesterday, the classroom empathy that I take great pride in, finally (and with finality!) failed me. I experienced a boiling fury—the kind that starts as bubbling acid in your belly, spreads like poison through your shaking limbs, and results in a red-faced, hyperventilating eruption—and I almost spewed fire and sulfur (of the Sodom and Gomorrah type) all over my Biblical Interpretation students.

she-hulk08pic2Roughly two-thirds of my class had not done their reading OR their homework!!! The reading schedule was on the syllabus and I had even reminded them of the details of the assignment during our previous class meeting. And yet, thirteen of my (Religion!) students showed up completely unprepared for class. I was shocked and hurt and angry and I wondered, “What went wrong?”

It was then the great spirit of empathy I had patiently practiced, which usually resulted in a renewal of hope and optimism in my heart, showed me that last thing I thought it would…reality.

As I stared into the eyes of my slacking students, I felt what they felt. They did not do their work because they knew, from their former experience with me, that I would allow them to turn in their work late, even very late, with only a 10-point penalty. And they had decided that the lack of preparation was worth the penalty.

I realized in that moment that empathy in the classroom is not always a good thing.

I went to sleep that night with a clawing feeling in my stomach. I had always thought that mercy and empathy were the twin pillars that made me who I was as a person and a teacher. And I liked those characteristics in me. Those were pillars I constructed to emulate Jesus’ life and characteristics. But it seemed that those pillars were crumbling at the cracks and I did not understand why.

Then today God showed up to spackle and buttress my pillars.

As is often the case, God encouraged me in a mundane, unexpected moment. In preparation for another class, I watched a short video by Daniel Goleman about leadership and the three kinds of empathy. A good leader, he explains, practices all three kinds of empathy:

1) cognitive empathy—the ability to see things from another person’s perspective

2) emotional empathy—the ability to feel another person’s feelings

3) empathic concern—the ability to help another person to do better and be better

And it became clear what was wrong with my empathy.

I  had been passionately practicing the first two kinds of empathy, seeing the perspectives of my students and feeling what they felt, but I had not begun to help them to be better or do better in my class. I was not showing the third kind of empathy, empathic concern. My “merciful” policy about late work and my deep “understanding” of extenuating circumstances had worked to my students’ detriment.

So what God taught me this week was that being an truly empathetic teacher means being an abler for my students…not an enabler. May God give me the strength to do just that.