What I Learned Teaching the World's Great Traditions

As I think about teaching the world's great traditions again this fall, I reflect upon what I learned most from each.

Hinduism: The interconnectivity of everything, infused with the divine that sustains and animates us all, reminds us that we are not a universe in ourselves, but are part of a large, expansive universe.

Buddhism: The power of the mind to change yourself through enlightened thinking is an antidote to the powerlessness that can be felt when trying to change the world. 'Be the change' is more than just a mantra. It may be the only realistic first step out there.

Confucianism: Ritual isn't bad. It's good. If we live 'as if' (or, as I like to say: fake it 'til you make it) we slowly become. It's not hypocritical to live as you'd like to be.

Taoism: The wisdom of wu wei, or allowing oneself, like water, to flow with life rather than trying to force life to conform to your will. Simultaneously, 'the Way', or the very essence of being, isn't something you necessarily find, but is something you can create.

Judaism: Tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is central to religious identity, yet this identity is difficult to maintain. The Jewish people have navigated the tension of seeing themselves as the Abrahamic blessing to the world, yet as we see in festivals like Purim and Hannukah, sometimes you must survive as a people in the world before you can bless that world.

Christianity: The human of humans, the one called 'Son of God', rises to his place of preeminence after living his life as a marginalized, homeless, Jewish prophet living under the occupation of the greatest empire of his day, The true 'Lord', Jesus, was the one executed by the state, not the head of the state. It's this one who is called 'the firstfruits of the resurrection'.

Islam: The Prophet Muhammad begins orphaned, marries a widowed woman, then launches a universalizing religion that advocates the unity of humanity under God in the midst of a tribal culture. This universalizing religion demands Zakat (or financial care for the less fortunate) as one of its central pillars.

Meditations on Being a Rookie Teacher

Year 1 is in the books!

All Saints Chapel at TMI-The Episcopal School of Texas

All Saints Chapel at TMI-The Episcopal School of Texas

I've submitted all my grades. I've said my goodbyes to colleagues and students. I've readied my office for the summer. I'm wearing a t-shirt and jeans at 2 pm on a Friday. It's time for summer vacation.

Honestly, I don't know how I survived my rookie year as a high school teacher while also finishing my dissertation. I do know I couldn't have done it without the loving support and patience of my wife, Miranda. Also, my friend, mentor, and the Chair of the Religion Department, Fr. Nate Bostian, who guided me when I needed it, but also gave me a lot of space to make mistakes, try new things, and figure out my style/approach.

Next year I'll be a sophomore teacher. Let's hope there's no slump. I'm confident that I'll be a much better educator next year.

Over the summer I'll be writing a few reflections. I don't have any particular plans for how to pace this, but I do want to use the exercise of writing to formulate my thoughts on the year that was. These are the topics I plan on covering:

- Being Ready to Succeed...and Fail
- Adopting Institutional Identity
- Pedagogical Goals
- Being Authentically Christian and Pluralistic
- Being Methodist and Episcopalian
- Teaching the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible
- Teaching the New Testament
- Teaching World Religion
- Using Authority Correctly
- Balancing Academic Rigor with Play
- Balancing an Energetic Classroom with a Serene Learning Environment
- Advising Freshmen (Rising Sophomores)
- Classroom Culture and the Use of Technology
- Classroom Culture and Diversity of Opinion
- Classroom Culture and Corrective Measures

Hopefully what I have to say will benefit future rookie teachers, especially those teaching high school and/or religious studies. Some topics are very specific to yours truly, but this is my way of meditating/reflecting.

The Old Testament Isn't Dead Yet!

On my 'must read' list this summer is Brent A. Strawn's The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment. I won't be interacting with the book here, because I haven't read it yet, obviously, but I'll recommend Prof. Strawn's interview on OnScipt for those who are interested. That's what I'm interacting with here. Strawn uses the analogy of a dying language to explain the Old Testament's increasing irrelevance in society. When I read the book this summer I'll interact with it here.

The point of this post is celebratory. Where I teach we offer OT only in the fall semester. World Religion and NT are offered in fall and spring. This shows OT is already the third wheel of religious studies (oddly). Last fall on the first day of classes I had 2 blocks for a total of 15 students. By the end of the first week, three students had dropped the course already apparently not convinced it would be enjoyable. I ended the semester with 11. Nevertheless, my PD goal was to double the initial enrollment in OT for fall 17 over fall 16.

Good news.

Presently, with a whole summer for changes, my two blocks of OT contain 20 and 15 students for a total of 35. That exceeds my goal of doubling! 

This last year I had 70 students across 5 blocks of NT (compared with 15 in 2 blocks of OT). For this fall, I have 17 NT students and 32 in the spring. So the gap between OT-NT has shrunk from 70>15 to 49>35 with many of my NT students in the spring having been my OT students in the fall!