Friday, March 25, 2011

As usual, I woke up about 5:45 this morning; my alarm was set for 6:20.

Unfortunately, this early rising is a rather regular occurrence in the Czech Republic: we are so far north that the sun is teetering on the horizon before 6:00 in the morning. In summer, I'm told, the skies will begin to lighten at 4:30. And as usual, I rise with the sun (I've inherited the early-rising-gene from both my parents). What this means is that my project for next week is to run to IKEA on the outskirts of Prague and replace my lacy curtains with dark red ones, or a similarly dark colour.

In spite of my increasingly early schedule, it's been a good week, one marked by the chance to get to know some students better and to moderate some deep theological discussions in class. Let me share a few of these stories with you.


Alex's Story

At noon every Monday and Wednesday, I toodle down to the lunchroom to keep track of lunch attendance. At
first, I stood in the hallway and simply marked off student names as they entered the cafeteria; more recently, I've made a deliberate effort to take a cup of tea and sit on the lunchroom myself and chat with my students. And I've made a deliberate effort to have deeper chats whenever possible.

Last Monday, I had one with Alex. Alex (or Alexandra, which is her given name) turned to me, perched beside her on a table, and asked whether I'd always planned on becoming an English teacher. I hemmed and hawed a bit (As a 13-year-old, I'd wanted to teach Christian fiction, and as a college student, I deliberately avoided an education degree), and then turned the question back on her: What did she want to do, after graduating next year? Alex confessed that originally she'd intended to be a dentist, but she wasn't sure she wanted to spend her life shoving her hands in people's mouths.

And so we talked about life choices: I encouraged her not to stress out about having her life planned to a T in 11th grade and told her I'd be praying for her. I shared with her how radically God changed some of my plans (two years ago, I thought that in 2011 I'd be starting my first year of a PhD program). Alex shared some of her own experiences: She hadn't intended to come to a Christian school at all, but God led her here when her plans to attend an intensive high school in the Czech Republic fell through. Looking back, we both saw how God had directed us to a good place, how all His plans are good.

Rachel's Story

My 10th grade class includes a student named Rachel, a sweet 17-year-old that moved from the States to the Czech Republic late last year. Her family and I are the "newbies" here at CISP. A few days back, I caught her after class just to chat, but as the other student filed out, I could see that Rachel was visibly upset. As we talked, she shared with me how difficult it was for her to make her opinion and voice heard in English class.

As a teacher, I suggested a way to rearrange the classroom to encourage Rachel to speak up more often and more comfortably (moving her place in class closer to my position at the front of the room). I high-fived her when she spoke up in class last time. But I also got to talk with her on a deeper level: She told me that in her Bible class, she had deliberately chosen to do an assigned presentation on Psalm 121. There, the Psalmist "lifts up [his] eyes to the hills" and asks "where does [his] help come from"; ultimately, he concludes, his "help comes from the Lord". Rachel told me how comforting she found this verse, knowing that God alone was her help.

I like this verse as well, particularly after climbing four mountains in Colorado over the past few years. What I love about it, I told Rachel, was that the Psalmist asks a question in the first portion: the question indicates that he has no clue at first where help is going to come from. For the Psalmist, this moment is one where he feels utterly alone, staring at the hills and wondering how in the world there will ever be help for him. And
even in these moments, I told Rachel, God is still with us, is still our help.

A 12th grade story

My 12th graders read Martin Luther's "95 Theses" as part of their Renaissance literature unit. I'd planned a class of reviewing the various arguments Luther made and debating when to get involved in theological debates, and when to let sleeping dogs lie. But the 12th graders had a different idea, and our class took a far deeper turn.

A question about whether Luther was "Catholic" or "Christian" prompted a mini lecture in church history, explaining that until the 1500s all Christians were Catholic; there simply wasn't any other option. Luther was originally Catholic, and then as his views on Scripture and on faith strengthened, he gradually broke away from the Catholic church. To assist our discussion, we compared current Catholic and Protestant differences (prayers to the saints & Mary, the importance of baptism, the role of priests, etc).

At this point, another student complained about "Catholic hate": he felt perhaps we were being unfair to Catholics, condemning them too roundly and too universally. Of course, the point of doctrine is not to hate people at all, and so I explained that what we as believers must be concerned about is not Catholicism / Protestantism per se. What we must be concerned about is bad doctrine, wherever such doctrine appears. If it is in the Catholic church, we must correct such doctrine (praying to Mary, for instance). If it is in the Protestant church, than we must correct that too (such as the current universalism debate that Rob Bell ignited).

As student debate started to wind down (or reach a stalemate), I tried to wrap up our discussion for everyone.
What the gospel boils down to, I told my students is this: Christ died and rose again, and in Him alone are we saved. After that, as we love Christ and grow in Him, we will gradually correct our doctrine and our behaviour to fall in line with His expectations.

As I've taken the effort to deliberately engage myself in students' spiritual lives, I've enjoyed the chance to get to know each of them and to encourage both those who are believers and those who are not. Recently, someone told me that the spiritual life is a journey: though there is that point in time when we are converted, Christ is still working in us before and after that point, always drawing us closer to Him. As my students and I talk, I get to help them walk along their journey closer to God; occasionally, they encourage me in my own spiritual journey.


I want to share my love of Czech architecture with you today. A friend told me, as we were walking through Prague, that I was 'such a photographer'; I'd been fussing about not having my huge Pentax with me to snap photos of clouds scudding across the sky over the Vltava.

As a photographer, though, I am in love with light. And so I love the lampposts adorning the streets and bridges throughout Prague. Let me share a few photos with you. Some of these have already showed up on my Facebook account, but I think they're worth showing again:

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