Living between the Trees

Did you catch Gayle Monsma’s recent CSI webinar, “A Framework for Authentic and Integral Christian Education”? Monsma elaborates on a helpful way of thinking about our task as Christian educators and leaders. Attributed to N.T. Wright (but actually differing slightly), Monsma asks us to consider the following scenario:

Imagine you are on an archaeological dig and uncover a previously unknown Shakespeare play. The play is in five acts, and you have managed to recover the first three and the final acts, but Act 4 is missing. Your task is to write Act 4, fully honoring the context found in Acts 1-3 and 5.

Think of God’s story unfolding as such a five-act play.

Act 1: Creation (It is all “very good.”)
Act 2: Fall (Disobedience corrupts the “very goodness.”)
Act 3: Redemption (The Messiah’s redeeming work; the Kingdom comes.)
Act 4:
Act 5: Restoration (When all things are restored back to “very goodness,” or shalom.)

Our task as Kingdom leaders? Write—no, live out—Act 4. This is now; this is here, where we live and act out God’s calling in our lives. We are living between redemption and complete restoration. As author Chuck Colson asked in his book, “How now shall we live?”

The Bible is the story of a people called out of the world to be for God in the world. As such, it is the story of every believer. Yes, the Bible is our story, and the story of every one of our believing students. Beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation 22, the Bible is a story of “living between the trees.” (“Living between the Trees” is an example of a storyline theme referred to in Monsma’s webinar, denoting the two gardens that serve as bookends to the Bible story.)

How does living out Act 4 happen in your school?

When collaboratively developing our teacher standards of excellence last year, I was struck by the extent that teaching is a theological activity. (Of course, from a Reformed perspective, everything is theological.) So much of teaching flows out of the personal motivation of the teacher and the stated purpose for which the students are there in the first place. Perhaps our very first calling is being a blessing while teaching and modeling to students what being a blessing means. Students “catch” our motivation, and our assumptions of our students’ motivation, to a much greater extent than we are aware. Leaders, isn’t the same true of us and those we serve?

One of the liturgies we use at our school to begin the day says, “Holy is the space of each classroom, and sacred is the work we do today.” Relationships, interactions, and subject matter are all means of catching the worldview—the theology—of the teacher. At my current school, a former practice was dressing up for school on Thursdays, chapel day. Certainly there is nothing wrong with dressing up for chapel, but were we sending the message that what happened in chapel was holier than the rest of the day? If I ever did believe that, I no longer do!

In her webinar, Gayle refers to Teaching for Transformation’s (TfT) “invitations” of how to “live between the trees.” This is another aspect of the holy and theological activity of teaching. (See Prairie Centre for Christian Education.) Those invitations are to be a God worshiper, idolatry discerner, Earth keeper, beauty creator, justice seeker, creation enjoyer, servant worker, community builder, image reflector, and order discoverer. TfT intends these invitations to be integrated authentically throughout the entire curriculum.

Finally, an important aspect of holiness, or living between the trees, is addressing what is broken in our world. One of my school’s core values states, “We address the fallen-ness of humanity and the broken-ness of creation by directly addressing their effects on life as God intended it to be. We do not avoid difficult issues. We teach biblical discernment.” To many parents, it is preferable (easier?) to protect their children from these issues than to address them. Our students will be exposed to the broken-ness of addictions, pornography, alternative lifestyles, etc. It is a holy calling to address these issues at appropriate age levels.

– Bart Den Boer, worldview specialist

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