16 September 2010

School, Church and Being Wrong - Part 1

I write about a lot of things - food, family, discipline, potty training, memory work.

But, I don't get emails from folks asking me about most of them. The two things people ask me about most are our education decisions for the children and our church decisions for our family.

I dance around them a lot, and have written more explicitly about school in the past. See this post, and really all of the posts from October of 2009.

But, I still get these questions, so I thought it might be time for another rundown on school and an initial rundown on church. But, first, some general principles.

People ask about church and school - mainly out of curiosity, but as soon as you start talking about church and school, almost everyone becomes defensive. Church is always a very personal, dear-to-our-hearts, decision (assuming it has been a decision and not a default, and even then, the power of nostalgia can stir up quite the pride or insecurity, which are, of course, the same thing). And for parents of young-ish children (or even those who have ever been parents of young ish children), how we educate our little people is also very, very dear.

People do different things; it is a fact of life. And we don't like that. There are those that celebrate diversity, but as soon as you say you don't really care very much about diversity, they don't like you to be that diverse. Rare is the truly 'tolerant' among us.

Why? Because we don't like to be wrong. And as soon as we admit that someone else does it differently, and that could be okay, that means that we could be wrong. And that gives us this icky feeling all over. It's human nature.

And it's something we should figure out how to combat.

Our pastor, Steven Wedgeworth, has used two quotes in sermons recently that I thought would be useful in this conversation.

Do you remember Oliver Cromwell. Yes, he was one of those English dudes, but do you remember the context? I don't pretend to know all of the details, but, basically, O.C. is post-reformation, but believes that the anglocatholic tendencies of the Church of England are still heretical. He's a committed puritan, and when he rises to power in England, he puts those beliefs into political practice. He is loved by Roman Catholics about as much as Americans loved Nixon in the late 1970s. So yeah: Satan, Judas, Hitler, Oliver Cromwell.

He's going around, politically and at times violently, trying to quash any form of Roman Catholocism and, additionally, monarchical tendencies. He, after invading Ireland not very calmly, quite calmly, invaded Scotland to urge them to deny the succession of Charles II. They were very sure that Charles should be King. Oliver was very sure that Charles II should not be King.

And so Oliver wrote to the Scottish assembly: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Stop. For just a second. Think. For just a minute. Could you be wrong? About church? About school? About a whole host of things?

We tend to be willing to admit that we could be wrong about the little things - the way we do laundry, the way we take care of our cars. Well, some of us are able to admit potential mistakes in those areas.

But when is the last time, in a discussion about church or education, even in your head, you said, "You know - I could be wrong."

And meant it.

So, before I go any further. Know that I actually, most of the time, think that I could be wrong. I don't think I am wrong, because if you think you are wrong, then you should probably do something differently. But, I try, at each juncture, to entertain the possibility that I am wrong.

There are also different forms of right and wrong.

One traditional response to the question of right and wrong - not just moral right and wrong, but right education, right church, right food, right art - is to deny that there can be more than one right - to deny that there is any subjective nature to the right.

Another response is to deny that there can be any wrong. Or at least marginalize the wrong to such a degree that it's irrelevant (Yes, nazi-ism is wrong, beastiality is wrong, but beyond that we cannot say much....).

These are dangerous ditches.
As another favorite preacher of mine teaches me all the time, we are called to avoid the ditches.

In reacting to the wrongness of one ditch, we cannot fall into the other.

Which is of course what the those folks responding that way are doing - falling into an unfortunate ditch.

One is saying, with enough contempt to power the Titanic, that, "Heavens, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and if we don't take a stand on right and wrong then it's all going to fall down around us, so, dammit, everyone should know that voting republican, watching fox news, and being a evangelical, democracy-loving American is the only way to go. Oh, and if you like modern art, classical music, anything european, or don't want to make this current war out to be just, you're probably a liberal, hippie, heretic in disguise."

And the other says, quite patronizingly,
"These sad, repressed people - don't they know that everybody has a different life experience and a different perspective, and that Muslims who are praying to Allah are just expressing their cultural understanding of the same God to whom we pray? We just all need to tolerate all of these differences. Oh, and if you vote republican or are a stay at home mom or don't like public school or are pro-life, then you're probably a racist, rightwinged nut who shouldn't be allowed to raise your own children."

Well, these are obviously ditches. I'm not exaggerating. That's what the talking heads on both sides believe and preach. And if you don't think it's preaching, you haven't been listening.

So, what is the middle way as we approach schooling and churching ourselves and our families? What is the right attitude as we enter into a profitable, interesting discussion?

Well, in my opinion, the right way is to recognize a few things:

1 - Like Mr. Cromwell, said, we could all, every one of us, get to heaven and discover that we had it wrong the whole time. And often, it won't take until we get to heaven. We are daily humbled, and should be, when we realize that we often miss the mark - sometimes slightly - sometimes off by a mile. And we actually miss the mark because we weren't even aiming in the right direction. If we can be off about so many things, certainly we can be wrong about education. This does not mean we go around doubting - I mean, my heavens, I am super-duper confident that the way we are educating Ada Brooks is the right way to go for us, and probably for a lot of other people, too. But, in any conversation I have with people, if I don't keep ever-present the idea that I might be wrong, then I turn into a prideful, unpleasant person.

2 - There are multiple right ways. I know. Gasp. Horrors. But it's true. Some children shouldn't be homeschooled. Some children shouldn't be in school. Which means that for some what is right, is absolutely wrong for others. Some people hate contemporary, substanceless worship, others hate stodgy old-timey worship. We can talk about the better, but in that situation, we cannot talk about the wrong. Which brings me to point 3.

3 - There is a difference between right vs. wrong and better vs. worse. There are wrong ways to do church, certainly, but within the non-wrong, there are also just worse ways to do it. And that better or worse can be subjective. It isn't always subjective, but often times it is. Better church in Jackson, MS looks different and should look different than better church in Hong Kong.

I think this can all be summed up with the other quote that Pastor Wedgeworth recently used in a sermon. This one is in Latin, so that makes it inherently better...

"In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas." - Rupertus Meldenius, a lutheran educator who, in this context, was urging a slew of contending theological parties to be a peaceful people.

In necessities, unity, in non-essentials (dubiis- doubtful things) liberty, and in all things charity.

The liberal/conservative ditches seem to be confused about the essentials. To the folks in that left hand ditch, I would say there are some essentials and to the ones who fell off the right side of the road, I would say that we should be careful how many things we put into the category of essential.

And to us all, I would urge, with Meldenius, all things charity. It has, since Wedge's recent sermon, become our household motto. Don't know that it's working, but we are certainly all preaching it to one another...

This may all seem tangential, but before I write Parts 2 & 3 on School and Church respectively, we have to have a good framework from which to work. How do we think about this stuff?

Unity on the super-important stuff, Liberty on the rest, and Charity in All.


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