By the time you receive this issue, the summer holidays will likely be a fading memory for you, your students and colleagues, and you will have settled into the routine of a new school year. It is my hope that you will have a rewarding year of learning and teaching.
One of the many challenges that will face you this year, as it does every year for Christian educators, will be to balance the demands of standardized tests, with their emphasis on the mastery of “neutral” facts and concepts, with your hope to accompany their students on an authentic journey of faithful learning. Because at its foundation, education is the process of discovering and exploring what it means to be human; although the mastery of facts and concepts has a place in that process, it certainly cannot be regarded as education’s final goal.
In the end, education is a lifelong process of deepening our faith and our understanding of what it means to serve God in this world. People of faith confess that this is God’s world and that although the events we see around us are sometimes disturbing and disheartening, we live in trust that God’s kingdom is here and is coming in all its fullness. So in our schools this year we hope to learn more about how the world works, the challenges we face in this world, and how we, as God’s people, can add even in small ways to the coming of the kingdom. We can do so by contributing to the public good by pursuing justice, equity, and peace for the earth, for all people, and in all nations.
In this approach to education, we recognize that our faith is not a private matter to be reserved for our homes and churches, but is the basis on which we build our view of the world and our understanding of how we are called to live. Christians have a role to play in public life; they have important and healing things to say about public issues. What should political leadership look like? What are ethical business practices? What would a unique Christian presence in the media look like? What should we say about the pervasive influence of social media, especially in the lives of our young people? How can Christians address pressing social issues such as poverty, racial reconciliation, the place of same-sex attracted people in our communities, or abortion, in constructive, nonjudgmental, and healing ways?
In spite of our sense that Christianity is not well regarded in our society, there are numerous examples of Christians who publicly take faith-based positions on many of these issues and who are well respected for it. Note, for instance, the public support for Pope Francis, who has spoken powerfully and clearly on any number of public issues without compromising or hiding his faith. The voice of Christians, when presented in a credible, considered, and well informed way, will be seen as a valid expression of a positive worldview.
So Christian education is certainly about developing skills, but those skills are only meaningful in the context of helping all of us, across generations, deepen our faith and develop our gifts so that we can contribute to the public good, wherever we are called to serve. Let us never lose sight of the fact that Christians have heard the gospel, the good news of forgiveness, healing, and hope. That does not mean that we will have the complete answers to all questions, or that we will not make mistakes. We see through a glass darkly, and we live in a world that is noisy and confusing at times. But we should remember, as Pope John Paul II said, “Do not abandon yourself to despair. We are the Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.”
I trust that this will be a hope-filled year for all of us.