Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 22 2011

+s and Δs, part 2

Overheard during the all-corps kickoff BBQ
M,TLD: “Yes, there was poop involved with my middle school.”

Somehow, I’ve come down with a case of severe acute writer’s block. Fortunately, it’s been a quiet and relatively uneventful week, so I don’t have much to write about anyway, but those things that are worth mentioning will have to be in +s and Δs format.

I’ve had some excellent, albeit short, spurts of productivity this week, during which I’ve been able to finish my vision/big goals and management plan, as well as the long term plan and first unit plan for Algebra 2. This productivity has been due in large part to my discovery of a cafe in downtown Providence that is quaint and cozy, but not suffocatingly so; serves delicious coffee, cupcakes, and muffins; and usually stays pretty quiet, except for the owners’ mellow cafe playlist. I’ve also made some new friends with the workers and regulars there, which is nice, since I’m new to the city and all.

As I implied above, these spurts of productivity are short-lived and merely punctuate long periods of lethargy and distractedness. I could have easily completed my long term plan and first unit plan for Math Lab by this point, not to mention started on arranging and decorating my classroom. Instead, I’ve spent hours browsing Facebook, various news outlets, and TeachForUs (a perfect example of too much of a good thing). This is an unacceptable waste of the planning time that I’ve been made a steward of, so as I enter this last free week before the semester begins, one passage that I will keep in mind is Proverbs 13:4 (“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”).

I’ve been making my way through Jim Elliot’s biography, Shadow Of The Almighty, by his wife Elisabeth Elliot, and I recently started a more deeply theological book called Knowing God, by the British Canadian theologian J. I. Packer. Both have been profoundly inspiring; the former because of how singlemindedly and singleheartedly devoted Elliot was to serving God and building His kingdom, and the latter because of the powerful way in which it shows that the study of God is the only pursuit that simultaneously humbles, expands, and consoles the soul. I’ve also had some excellent conversations, including one over breakfast at 7:30 am (!) today, about the word of God and the ways in which it must touch every aspect of one’s life. I pray that as I meditate on these things, I would learn to align my will with God’s, because that’s the only way I’ll be able to truly transform lives (for the next two years, yes, but also far beyond).

It’s no coincidence that as I learn more about the character and word of God, I am reminded over and over that this learning should not be the end in itself. J. I. Packer says it thusly: “One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him.” Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3). Known by God, what a concept! And what does life look like for one who is known by Him? Paul makes this clear in his letter to the church in Galatia: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? … For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 4:9, 5:13). Here’s the thing: I can read all the commentaries and biblical exegeses and missionary biographies that I can get my hands on, but if it doesn’t lead me to serve others “through love” (and often, it doesn’t), then my soul is not right with God. That’s a sobering thought.

I’m really starting to fall in love with this city. Having lived in only the suburbs of LA (and in New Haven, I guess) my entire life, it’s quite a treat to see the ocean and pretty New England architecture everywhere I turn. Better yet, the people here—from the cashiers whom I’ve engaged in conversation at the grocery store, to the random people I’ve met on the street, to the hundreds (maybe thousands) of locals who showed up for “WaterFire’s Salute to Rhode Island teachers”—have been so welcoming that I can’t help but feel at home already. In fact, I’ll make a shameless plug here: if you’re a prospective 2012 corps member thinking about which regions to designate as preferences, trust me when I say that you’ll have a tough time finding one as tight-knit or supportive as Rhode Island. Also, the corps is tiny, so you get lots of personal attention. Just saying.

As much as I love places like College Hill, Downtown Providence, and Edgewood, I need to remember that these are not the parts of town where my students come from. I also need to discard any preconceived notions that I have (or, in the language of the diversity competencies, suspend judgment) about poorer neighborhoods like Lower South Providence and the West End, and realize that they too have a rich and unique heritage and abundant opportunities for witness rather than feel anxious whenever I have to pass through them. I am reminded of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4). It’s easy to forget, in grappling with the actual content of dialogue, that Jesus did not in fact have to pass through Samaria, which was considered unholy land and was general avoided by the Jews. Nor did he have to speak to the Samaritan woman, since Jews had “no dealings with Samaritans” at the time (4:9). Yet He did both of these things, and in doing so taught the woman about “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14) and “worship in spirit and truth” (4:24). Shall I not follow the example of Jesus Christ?

So with that said, here’s to spending the upcoming week in true worship, offering up everything I get done (hopefully a lot) to the glory of God, both in my life and in others’. See you next weekend!

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    New city, same vision

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