I have just turned in my final set of grades for the year. I teach seniors, which means I am usually done a week earlier than the rest of the school. This has been my second year teaching seniors and it was a completely different experience from last year. If anyone tells you that all teenagers are virtually the same, call them out as a liar right there. I thought I could easily connect with high school students based on my seniors last year. This year I’m starting to question if teenagers might secretly be aliens from a distant planet. I still haven’t figured out why I was not as successful in connecting with this years group of seniors and I am going to use this blog post to figure it out.
1. The first challenge I face is that I am teaching Biblical doctrine to a spiritually diverse group of students. Our school does not force you to be a Christian in order to attend, which I think is a very good thing. However, we require those same students to attend chapel and go through four years of Bible. This puts both the chaplains and Bible teachers in a very interesting position. We are trying to engage students who want to go deeper in their faith along with students who have no interest in learning the basics. I wholeheartedly believe that the gospel and the Christian story are compelling in and of themselves. This has meant that for me, what I teach does not change based on who is in the classroom. I think Christians and non-Christians alike will find the story of Jesus compelling and challenging. This strategy worked last year, it did not work this year.
2. The second challenge I face is the kind of Christianity that is commonly produced in the “Bible Belt” culture. What passes for Christianity in the South is usually indistinguishable from simply being a good American or in my case a good Texan. I will be presenting a paper on this topic in a few weeks at the Christian Scholars Conference in Nashville, TN. So the second strategy I implement in the classroom is to get my students to (as Hauerwas puts it): separate the American “we” from the Christian “we.” This was moderately successful last year and an utter failure this year.
3. At the beginning of the year I always tell my students that we can disagree with each other and still be brother and sister in Christ. As long as we can disagree in a civil way, I have no problems with it. In fact, disagreement is necessary in order to produce a semi-decent discussion. I seek to emphasize that as Christians we need to be humble and willing to be wrong. One of the comments that I received a lot last year was that I was willing to listen to a different perspective and that I was challenging but not arrogant. As you might be able to guess, my group of students this year came to different conclusions =).
I am a social teacher. This means that a lot of my inspiration is drawn from what takes place in the classroom. The unfortunate thing about being a social teacher is that you never know what you’re going to get in that classroom. As I reflect back on this year, I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a follower of Jesus. I think the best goal to set for myself next year, in light of two very different years I have had, is to do my best to reflect the image of Jesus in the classroom. At the end of the day I simply want my students to love Jesus more than they did before.
(And I guess I still haven’t figured it out even after writing the post….oh well)
All this talk about the Noah movie and how to interpret/use scripture in art made me think about the following statement by Stanley Hauerwas in, The Peaceable Kingdom. I think viewing the New Testament as a midrash is particularly interesting.
“The New Testament is in many ways a midrash on the Hebrew Scriptures through which we Christians try to understand better what it means to be a part of God’s people in light of God’s presence to us in Jesus of Nazareth… Indeed, the diversity of Scripture is at the heart of the Christian life insofar as it requires that we be a community, a church, capable of allowing these differing texts to be read amongst us with authority.
We Christians must recognize, by the very fact that we are a people of a book, that we are a community which lives through memory. We do not seek a philosophical truth separate from the book’s text. Rather we are a people of the book because we believe that ‘the love that moves the sun and stars’ is known in the people of Israel and the life of a particular man, Jesus… Therefore, Christians claim or attribute authority to Scripture because it is the irreplaceable source of the stories that train us to be a faithful people. To remember, we require not only historical-critical skills, but examples of people whose lives have been formed by that memory.”
Before the Noah movie I would not have sought to be formed by story of the flood. This is the gift of a midrash and hence the gift given to us in the film. It helps us enter the story in a fresh new way.
 Stanley Hauerwas. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. pp. 70.
There has been a lot of negative backlash aimed at the recent Noah movie, with many Christian leaders calling for boycotts. I went and saw the movie last night and after having a chance to process both the movie and the reactions decided to offer my thoughts for whatever they’re worth.
1) Yes, the movie does not strictly follow the Biblical account. However, the movie poignantly portrays many key Biblical themes like: the depravity of humans, image of God, and the inherent goodness of creation. Yes there are weird rock monsters that are fallen angels and some humans have unexplainable magic powers, but if we simply focus on this we truly do miss the beauty and tragedy displayed on screen.
2) In Genesis 6, scripture states that the world was filled with violence. If I am to imagine a world filled with violence, I need look no further then my own backyard, I live in Houston after all. But Noah vividly shines a light on humans propensity for violence and wickedness. In one of Noah’s visions he is confronted with the fact that the violence he sees in the people around him is reflected in his own soul. The movie does not break down into an us versus them mentality. Noah has been given the gift/burden of knowledge, and it tears him to shreds. This is reason enough to go and see the movie. It is not often that we are given a blockbuster movie that denies us the myth of human progress.
3) A theme that is weaved throughout the movie is the idea that man is made in God’s image, with the underlying question: what does it means to be a man? This movie serves as a very good critique of the idea that to be made in God’s image means we get to dominate creation. It is here that Noah gets it very right. Humanity has been charged to be a caretaker, not a slave master. Yes, the details are grossly inaccurate, but it has hit the themes head on! It is through Noah’s torment and obedience that we start to see what it means to be human.
We are all sons of Adam. This movie serves as an excellent reminder of that fact, and it is precisely during the season of lent that we need this kind of reminder. In this season we are haunted by the violence within our own hearts, we remember that we are dust, and we wait patiently for a work of new creation.
“Literature – particularly fictional narratives and drama – tends to encourage its readers to acknowledge and attend to the humanity of other human beings. Consequently, its seems a particularly appropriate medium for thinking through the claims of Christian theology, since Christianity has, from its beginnings, stressed the importance of such acknowledgment and attention. Most of us, as we work our way through life, tend to focus on ourselves. This is certainly understandable to a point, since we all participate in the biological ‘drive to survive’; but Jesus lived his life focused on the significance of other people, and he taught us to try to do the same. Reading fictional narratives helps to reinforce that lesson, for if we are to enter into the world of the novel…, we have to step out of the limelight ourselves. If I am to enter this fictional world, I will have to accept that I am no longer the main character… At least in their form,…narratives and drama encourage us to become more other-directed.” 
Finally! I now have a theological justification for all of the literary fiction I read!
In all seriousness, this book is a gem and I highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to creatively teach the creeds. David Cunningham takes each phrase from the Nicene creed, gives a short treatise over its theological significance, and compares it to a great work of fiction.
 David S. Cunningham, Reading is Believing: The Christian Faith Through Literature and Film, 10.