Friday, November 9, 2012

"Am I Better than Jesus?"

As you all know, I am a teacher.

Something you may not know about teachers is that there is a cycle that we go through.  Sometimes the cycle is weekly or daily or even yearly.

I wish I had a cool name to give it, but I will simply call it the Effect Cycle.  It revolves around this question: is what I am doing having an effect?

There are days when the classroom is alive with activity and the students are happy and engaged and excited and you can see the wheels turning in their minds as the light of wisdom is enkindled.

And then there are days where you get distinct suspicion that you sound to them like all of the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  You look down at blank stares with vacant expressions, where every word of seeming wisdom you have appears to evaporate in the ether as soon as it is spoken.

The nature of teaching is such, as I'm sure it is in many other fields.  There are good days and bad days.  But the reason why Effect Cycle is so important is that teachers run on passion.

I would venture to say that most of us became teachers because at some point in our education we had a teacher open up our minds in a unique way.  We realized the power that a teacher to change people's lives because our lives have been changed.  We hope then to become that change for other people by assuming the educator's mantle.  And the field we choose should be the one that excites us the most.  In my case, I chose to funnel my enthusiasm for my faith into a career in teaching theology.

But while enthusiasm can be contagious, it is not guaranteed.  Have you ever heard a joke that you thought was hysterical and then tried to tell it again to disastrous effect?  You have that horrible shame of feeling inadequately funny and the frustration that you cannot convey what was so wonderful about the joke when you heard it.

That it what it is like when you care more about what you are teaching than the students.  I'm not complaining, but this is the reality.  You have an overwhelming sense of deflation and you wonder if you are doing anything good at all.  You look for any outward measure of interest, and should you not find it, it continues to toss cold water on your zeal for your topic.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be enthusiastic.  The ONLY way to excite students is to be excited about the topic yourself.  Students can tell when you genuinely enjoy your topic or if you also find it boring as you teach it.  We must be excited.  But keeping that flame burning is not easy.

I'm reminded of a story Pope Benedict XVI once wrote:

There was a travelling circus outside a small village.  That evening, the circus tent and many of the attractions caught fire.  They sent one of their company down to the village to beg for assistance.  So the man ran down to the crowded town square and screamed and begged for help because the circus was on fire.  But since he was already dressed in his clown costume, the people thought he was joking and began to laugh at his exuberance.  And the more emphatically, and passionately, and sincerely he pleaded, the more they laughed.

Pope Benedict asks if this is not the feeling the modern Christian has in the world.  I know it is the feeling of the modern theology teacher.  There are days when I give every once of my energy and try to tell them about the joys of Jesus and horrors of sin, and many of their eyes glaze over, as it feels as though the more passionate I am, the less they believe.

And on the downward part of the Effect Cycle, you say to yourself, "I'm doing anything right."

It is at times like this that I think we need to remember the 2 greatest teachers in history of the world:
Socrates and Jesus.

Socrates was born about 5 centuries before Jesus.  He was stone cutter who took it upon himself to find someone in Athens who was wise.  In his search, he discovered the laws of logic and applied them to every seemingly wise person he knew.  He kept asking question after question until he discovered that so many of those who claimed to be wise were, in fact foolish. 

Socrates wasn't satisfied with opinions.  He wanted truth.  And he knew that he could only find truth through reason.  That was the great lesson that he taught: Reason and Logic are sure guides to truth.

Someone once asked a modern historian why science advanced so well in the west for centuries but not in the east.  The historian said: "That's easy: the west had Socrates."  Socrates made clear that if something violated the laws of reason and logic it couldn't be true. 

Jesus, of course, was an even greater teacher.  He not only displayed fantastic reason and logic ("render to Caesar..."), but He also understood that Man is more than logic.  The soul thirsts not just for truth but for love.

And Jesus taught us how to find love in our lives by being loving.  And by being pure of heart we would see the source of all of our love: God.

So why is it important on the downward part of the Effect Cycle to remember these 2 greatest teachers?

Because we must remember what happened:  Their own people killed them.

Socrates was deemed an enemy of the state for not having blind loyalty to its gods.  The people he was trying to enlighten chose to kill him instead.  He was sentenced to death and ordered to drink poison.

Jesus hated and abandoned by all of the powerful groups of His day.  In the end, the crowds that on Sunday hailed their teacher with "Hosanna," 5 days later screamed, "Crucify Him."

Socrates could not convince everyone, even though reason was on his side.

Jesus could not convince everyone, and He is the Incarnate God.

Am I better than Jesus?

Of course not. 

Then why do I expect to NOT encounter trouble in convincing others about the truth?

Jesus said that no servant is greater than his master.  He they hated Him, they will hate us as well.  If Jesus struggled to show others the truth, then I would be arrogant indeed to think that I shouldn't struggle.

Mother Teresa had some great advice that has kept me sane in my years of teaching.  It was shared with my by a wonderful priest named Fr. Bob Jasney.

Someone asked Mother Teresa how did she know God would help her be a success.  Mother Teresa responded that she didn't know that God called her to be successful.  She had no idea if she was successful or not.  God does call us to be faithful.

We must do the work of the Lord in front of us.  Success or failure is not in our hands but the Lord's.  Commit yourself to process and give the results to God.

When I can remember this, I don't get as discouraged.  I know that God works in ways I cannot see.  I can't become complacent.  I must still seek new and better ways to teach.  But whether or not I am making a footprint in another person's soul, I leave that result to God.

And then amazingly God will give me a little insight.  He'll pull back the curtain a little see some of the effects, great and small, that I have made possible by the work I do.  I wish I had words to describe what it is like when you can see that something good you have said or done is going to be carried in the minds and hearts of others beyond your school, your community, and even your life.  God is so good when he opens up that window to let that light in.

Not too much though, otherwise I will get filled with stupid pride and somehow think that this effect is because of me and not the Lord.

And the cycle goes on.

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