Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Walking Dead: Matthew 24

Recent episodes (season 4 episode 10 in particular) of the Walking Dead have some  intentional symbolic connections and overtones to Matthew 24. Historically, Matthew 24 is linked to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in AD 70 which led to the dispersion of the early church and the spread of faith in Christ. Now we see the dispersion of the prison community after the devastation caused by the Governor. The question is: What will the destruction of the community mean in future episodes?

The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times (Matthew 24)

1Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2“Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
15“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’a spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
22“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25See, I have told you ahead of time.
26“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Saved by the Bell?

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching is managing student behavior, a critical component of which is initiating classroom structure and rules (guidelines) that everyone is expected to follow. The high school bell is a notable example. When students hear the warning bell they are supposed to head quickly to class before the final bell rings. I would categorize student responses into three general types, the early birds who arrive several minutes early, the just in time people who surf in as the bell rings, and the minority who are professionally late on a regular basis.

Now while most students choose to be on time, I’m under no illusion that many of them would prefer not to be. Instead, they comply to avoid the negative consequence of being marked late. If the teacher were to stop monitoring, the likelihood is that the number of late students would increase. Speeding tickets are the obvious adult version. In contrast, those who are late are betting that the consequences will not be that great, and that any supposed rewards for being on time are also probably not that great.

As students mature, the goal is for them to be on time out of choice because they recognize the value of actively engaging in their own education and growth. Learning to show up on time - not just because someone is checking on you but because you have matured to the point where you get the basics of delayed gratification - is basic moral character development. In the real world, failure to learn and apply this skill leads to unemployment, broken families, addiction and a host of other problems. You could call these consequences, the judgement that naturally results from failing to develop moral character.

Fortunately we are not stuck there. Grace is available for all of us who struggle to be on time in developing the moral skills and behaviours that bring life. Yet to be able to receive grace we must have a favorable picture of God. If we see God as an angry judge waiting to punish infractions or a task master monitoring and keeping check of our daily missteps then we will probably prefer to skip all together.  The bible teaches that  “the law was our guardian (teacher) until Christ came that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:22).  In other words, in God's classroom the rules were put in place to help us mature until we were ready to choose faith in Christ.  Rule keeping does not change people. A shift in understanding and an opportunity to learn does. Sometimes to make that shift will require  consequences (judgement) as a wake up  call to reality, but it’s far better to learn the easy way. What kind of student are you?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Justin Bieber: A Canary in the Coal Mine of Youth Culture

Justin Bieber’s recent DUI arrest after getting caught drag racing a luxury vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, pot, and prescription drugs and aided by his father is perhaps only remarkable because of his celebrity. On a regular basis in the classroom I see young adults make and consume imagery that idolizes street culture and fast cars. Of course they will all say they dislike Justin Bieber and mock his misfortune, but what else would you expect when Bieber looks like a high school kid who has unfairly hit the celebrity jackpot?

Almost all western youth today live under an omnipresent pop culture that tantalizes an idealized version of life promising an escape from the monotony of oncoming adulthood and the perceived empty rules and expectations that accompany this transition. Drugs are often a part of that process, a cultural script that goes back to the hippie revolution of the 60’s from which drugs and freedom and rejecting traditional authority made their indelible spiritual connection. While the spiritual awakening has grown dim, the construction of adolescence as a time of rebellion, escape, risk taking and drug use has become the default view of the adolescent transition, effectively blurring the pathway toward adulthood.

As an adolescent, I needed spiritual guidance to transition into the role of adulthood yet in my life there were no adults capable of providing that help. My school and teachers bored me and my family was a battleground. Lacking the help to move outward into the world, I tried to escape inward, briefly experimenting with drugs and meditation. Later, I had to spend most of my twenties and thirties overcoming that deficit helped largely by discovering the power of faith and a few timely surrogate fathers. Luckily, I did not have the endless funds or celebrity of Justin Bieber to insulate me from reality of my choices.

Here’s what’s at stake for teenagers and young adults growing up on the fast food media diet of western culture:  how to find a foundation for life that escapes the emptiness of more conspicuous consumption and more entertainment.  If, as many believe, life is a mere accident formed by chance and ending unceremoniously in death, then maybe it is the right time to become a “belieber” and drink the pop culture Kool-aid. Why work hard?  Why grow up?  Why embrace the responsibility and reality of becoming an adult when celebrities like Justin Bieber seem to represent an escape from the man?

Justin Bieber has in the past spoken of his faith in God but given the almost unlimited temptations of his celebrity life and its distorting impact on the adults around him, he has a tough road to walk to maturity. Yet how many teenagers and young adults (even fathers) would also fall into the same trap if they had his money and fame?  Given this view of reality, Justin Bieber’s arrest is a canary in the coal mine warning us that our culture’s spiritual ozone hole is leaving today’s youth unprotected.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why Teenage Trash Talk Reflects an Underlying Spiritual Problem

Teenagers swearing and verbally running down their peers is nothing new. I remember having a swear off with my brother to see who could use the most swear words in the shortest amount of time. There was something strangely liberating about it. Of course now as a parent and a teacher I prefer to keep the cuss words to a minimum but in adolescence, swearing and using offensive language against peers is common place. Yet I still found it abrasive when one of four normal looking teenage girls sitting in the library launched into an episode of “I f--n hate that b---ch, she’s a so and so...Did you f--n see what she did?”

Of course I don’t know what terrible thing the recipient of the verbal hand-grenades did to deserve the volley, but I know there is never any shortage of incidents in a large high-school. Teenagers are wired up to talk about their peers as part of a process of working out their identity and behavior in relationship to the group. The high-school experience itself contains an undercurrent of competition for popularity, position, power and success and teenagers for the first time are experiencing the need to work out their social position in relationship to a larger group other than their family.

Talking down about a peer is one way to try and elevate oneself at the expense of the other person, but really it tells us more about the condition of the attacker than it does the recipient. In short, it reflects a spiritual condition. Jesus said “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." (Luke 6:45) Basic high-school spirituality can be as simple as this: What words are coming out of your mouth? Are they rooted in pride or humility towards others?

Many view the bible today as biased and irrelevant but from this ancient curriculum here is a basic spiritual rule of thumb: God gives grace (help) to the humble (those that don’t try to manufacture their superiority in and of themselves) but opposes the proud (those that believe they already are superior to others) (James 4:6) Funnily enough, as a teacher I see the same spiritual principle at work in the classroom. It is so much easier to teach  a struggling student who shows humility as opposed to a stronger one who is arrogant and does not respond to any help. What kind of student are you?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pascal's Wager: When Will I Ever Need This?

A student asks a teacher about to give an exam. When will I ever need to know this?  Teacher answers: “How about now?”

Nothing says total indifference to one of your lessons as a teacher than the question: When will I ever need to know this? When I am asked that question I know the student is telling me “I believe this is irrelevant to my life both now and in the future,” and there has been a major disconnect.

For many people today, religion has fallen into the category of an irrelevant lesson that people feel they don’t need. The language and the presentation all seem like blah blah blah noise that needs to be tuned out. This is of course not really a new problem.

To cut through that noise, religion has traditionally used the promise of heaven vs the threat of hell as a means to up the intensity and motivate people to listen. The philosopher Pascal posed a famous wager based on this carrot and stick approach.  His premise goes like this:
  1. If you believe in God and he exists then you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven 
  2. If you do not believe in God but God exists then you face eternal punishment in hell 
  3. If you believe in God and he does not exist then you lose the expected reward 
  4. If you do not believe in God and he does not exist then you will gain living life your way
Heres the problem with Pascal's wager--it turns faith into a type of fire insurance for when we die leaving little relevance for when we are young and healthy.   In contrast, the central teaching of Jesus is that the rule of God has already started to happen and Jesus himself told us to "seek the kingdom first" and he promised “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Why follow a God who cannot be found now? Oh, and in case you have not heard, there is a pop quiz happening today.