Being and becoming oriented as an educational goal

I have been thinking a lot about the difference between the words ‘orientation’ and ‘worldview’.  So often in faith-based educational contexts the phrase ‘Christian worldview’ is used to describe what teachers or professors should have and what students should acquire.  A worldview is understood to be the correct way of thinking about the world, thinking the way a Christian should think based on certain interpretations of the Bible.  It is assumed that if someone has a Christian worldview, correct decisions and choices will be made and a Christian life will be lived.  Therefore, teaching someone to be a Christian becomes a task of teaching correct ideas and ensuring these ideas can be articulated or used to interpret the world around them or to see the world correctly.  Having a worldview often makes me think of seeing the world from outer space – the whole world can be seen at once and understood in a coherent meaningful way.  The messy complex realities of life lived ‘on the ground’ are lost in the perfect beauty of intellectual categories and rationalizations.   Things are clearly good, bad, right, wrong, beautiful, ugly, false and true.  For a Christian worldview to be acquired, much is dependent on humans and their intellectual capabilities.  They acquire a worldview, and are in control of their worldview and, therefore, control their world.

I spent many years trying to acquire and use a Christian worldview.  I wanted to be the best Christian I could be and I was told that this was the path – especially for a Christian academic.  However, a Christian worldview has never been very helpful to me because the world, lived on the ground, in a body, is much messier and complex than the world perfectly organized in my head.  What is good for me is not necessarily good for another.  What is right for me could very well be wrong for another.  What is false might be proven to be true when illumined with light rather than the darkness of my mind.  I have come to see ‘having a Christian worldview’ as quite presumptuous of me.  As if I could figure everything out, as if I could be God.

I am not suggesting that the Christian faith is not reasoned or reasonable.  I am also not denying that there is much to be gained by becoming more knowledgeable about our faith through reading scriptures and becoming immersed in the holy writings of the Christian tradition.  I also think that Christian educational institutions can and should have goals that increase students’ knowledge about their faith.   What I am trying to say (or explore by writing this blog) is that a Christian worldview isn’t the goal we should be striving for in Christian institutions, that more knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to a life lived for Christ.  The pitfalls of pride, dualism, disembodied idealism and self-righteousness seem to be what we achieve when we aim for this goal.  I am wondering what would happen if we sought to be oriented towards Christ instead.   How would acquiring an orientation be different?

The word orientation, in its current use, has come to mean something we do for people entering a new situation so that they can begin their new journey with and in the right direction.  Many schools and universities will be “orienting” their students this weekend, getting them off to a good start, immersing them in a particular community and helping them to connect with that community. To be ‘oriented’, in its original meaning, is to be in relation to ‘the east’ or  to be facing the east.  To be facing the east implies a whole body turned towards or  moving in a preferred direction. Throughout the history of Christendom, in the east and the west (up until the modern times of churches in gymnasiums and malls), church buildings have always been oriented to the east, with the altar on the east wall.  In order to worship in a church, one faced the altar and the Holy Gifts came to you from the east in the same way that scripture describes Christ as the rising sun coming to us in glory.  This worship orientation of offering and receiving forms us to live our lives facing and experiencing the joy of Christ coming to us, even though not yet fully realized.  It is an eschatological orientation that can happen anywhere in the world because the orientation is not to a particular place, but to a particular personal God,  the coming Christ, whose face we seek, whose face shines on us and causes our own faces to shine, whose light illumines us, transfigures us, saves us.

Acquiring an orientation to Christ is very different from acquiring a Christian worldview.  I can’t think my way into a better orientation, I have to move there, to practice staying there, to recognize when I’m not there.  I do this by following Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  His ways are prayer, fasting, almsgiving, service, self-emptying or humility, submission to the will of God, living in communion with God and others.  These practices become revelatory.  It is only as I practice this Way, putting myself in the stream of God’s light that I can gradually become filled with the light of God and can increasingly respond in life-giving ways to the messy and complex world I live and teach in.  This is the knowledge that matters, this is the wisdom I long for.  This is what we hope a Christian worldview will give us, but so often it doesn’t.

I sometimes wish that a Christian worldview was all I or my students needed.  It doesn’t seem to require as much from me as a teacher.  I can easily learn correct ideas, even if I have little understanding of what it means to put those words into practice.  It also doesn’t require much from students.  They can easily parrot back ideas they expect I am wanting to hear.  But I know how empty and despairing this worldview game can be and I am much more interested in struggling with my students to orient and reorient myself – again and again.  To be formed, transformed and informed by grace-filled Christian practices.

I wonder how ‘orientation’ can become a preferred goal of Christian educational institutions, educational institutions aren’t churches and struggle to provide spiritual practices that can orient and reorient….But this posting is already too long.  Future postings will come back to this question and I would love to hear from other educators about practices they use in their classroom to “orient” themselves and students towards God and others.

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If the Lord wills, we shall do this and that

The summer is drawing to a close and many of us who are educators are thinking about the school year that lies ahead.  We are grateful for a summer of more time with family and friends, more time in creation, more time to think deeply about our work and about life.  But likely, within each of our hearts, is the growing excitement of reconnecting with colleagues, meeting new students, starting new projects and getting back into routine.  The educator’s life is a cycle of seasons – each season necessary and fruitful in different ways.  We have good work to do and we are grateful.

The beginning of a school year is an intense time of planning and goal setting, both for and with students – and it needs to be.  A reverence for learners would emphasize the importance of planning with students or at least with their unique needs in mind.  I find a plan that is more of a ‘vision open to revision’, is inherently more inclusive of learners than a plan that is a blueprint requiring every detail to be implemented.  Blueprints work extremely well for buildings, less well for human growth and flourishing.  Blueprints assume a confidence that is not possible in the often messy, humbling, relational and dynamic context of teaching.

This week I was reading St. James’ caution to the overly confident.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.  For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”  (James 4: 13-15)

It is easy to forget in a context of pressure to write and accomplish particular outcomes that we are a vapor and there is nothing that we do outside of the Lord’s will.  It is easy to forget what the Psalmist says – that we set our time in light of God’s face.  It is easy to forget, in our making of plans, that we are taught by God, helped by God, gladdened by God, led by God.

Even more tragically, when focused on our ends and then distracted by detailed means, we forget that each moment is a potential revelation, a possible connection with eternity, an opportunity for the “more” that we all long for – more presence, more peace, more communion.

May we learn to plan and then say, “If the Lord wills.”  May we live each moment of our coming practice in the light of God’s face.  May we learn to accomplish and say, “Thanks be to God.”

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