Friday, January 25, 2008

Literature's Lessons

One of the reasons I love teaching literature is that it gives me an opportunity to look at the lives and works of people who speak the truth about the universe, and who challenge me to find the truth as well and then share that discovery with my students. At the end of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, the mother asks her son, “What more can I do?” and he replies, “You can be better. Once and for all you can know there’s a universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it.” The people we study are those who, in the words of one of my college English professors, “have been walking allegories teaching this truth [for centuries]. Without their lives and their words our own understanding of the meaning of our lives would be limited. Without our lives and our words, the understanding of those around us and those in the future will be limited. We are responsible for changing or leaving untouched those around us.”

I love the fact that in a Christian school I have the opportunity…nay the responsibility…to change those around me. I love that I can choose material to bring to my students that challenges them to think about their world and their responsibility to it. When I teach American Literature, I begin at the beginning of American history, sharing the early literature of the time. Most of it is focused either on survival or religion. And most of what I chose to bring before the students is the religious writing, as it fits in so well with our specific purpose of educating for eternity.

The early settlers of New England came from England to practice their religion freely. Many were escaping persecution and death by coming to this country, which made our part of the country, in theory, a haven for many. The sad truth, though, is that even though the Puritans had fled their home country because of the intolerance of their religion there, they turned around and were equally intolerant of those who differed from their religious practices in the safe haven. It is an interesting, and sad, demonstration of how Christian principles can be misused by those who claim to be representing Christ but in fact misrepresent Him and His gospel of love. In our class discussions and homework assignment, I ask the students to consider their own commitment to Christ and Christianity. I ask them to look at how they represent Christ to others. What do their actions say about Christ? Are they telling the truth about him through their words and deeds? Or are they keeping the lie alive that so many believe about Christianity? I ask them to consider carefully their responsibility.

These conversations make me consider my own relationship with Christ and the way I am witnessing as well. I find myself asking why it is that we as Christians, especially adult Christians, find it so difficult to practice what we preach. Why is it easier for us to judge and condemn than it is to forgive and forget? Why do we find it necessary to force conformity on everyone else but make exceptions for ourselves? What is it about a close, closed community such as we once were—and still are, to some extent—that makes it OK to point a finger at those around us? Why can’t we practice what we preach, the Gospel of Love and Acceptance?

My hope, in exploring these issues with my students, is that they will consider seriously the implication of misrepresenting their Lord and Savior. For it’s not just a matter of others getting the wrong idea of what Christianity is all about. It’s a matter of us, ourselves, missing the point and purpose of the gift of Salvation, of us, in fact, possibly missing out entirely on that gift of Salvation. My prayer, is that as I consider these questions with my students, we both will emerge from the study stronger and better ambassadors for Christ and Christianity.

1 comment:

Inland Empire Girl said...

You are fortunate to be able to make those connections. It really makes the connections more meaningful.