Thursday, June 24, 2010

God's Classroom

Based on a real encounter
By Andrew Flaherty

You don’t expect a Friday afternoon to hold more than the potential for relaxation. But last Friday I was coming down an escalator carrying my briefcase and computer after a long week at a new job when a stranger behind me spoke.

You’ve got a lot of bags there like me. Long day?

I turned slightly to see him and he spoke again.

Oh, I know mine aren’t as fancy as yours but I noticed you carry yours with such confidence.

In my hesitation I recalled that his bags were paper -- probably from a Jewel -- not Tumi. A slight veil of shame descended on me as I looked down at my own bags and the gift I had just purchased with a gift certificate from Christmas. I followed the cadence of the moving stairs to avoid further contact but my heart prevented my escape.

May I ask what you do?
I am a teacher but just left my job to write curriculum, I replied.
Nice. What were you teaching?
English. At least my principal thought so but I always felt more like a life teacher, someone trying to help kids get prepared for the real world.

By this time we had both stepped off onto the marble floor and were facing each other. His breath had an odor, not of alcohol, but of use. He stood confidently looking me in the eye. His combed brown hair and tweed jacket would not have seemed out of place if I had been at a distance. Up close, however, his brown eyes were hidden behind out-dated eye glasses and his shoes looked unseemly from a season of street salt. Looking at him now I saw the ordered nature of his bags, a methodical system of papers, magazines, and books.

So you took a leap of faith?
Yeah, I guess I did?
Well, you hold yourself with dignity. I suspect you have made the right decision.
Thank you, I replied adding, what do you mean dignity?
You look like you work hard at what you do and are proud.
Why … thank you.

After a long and rather tentative pause, he spoke again.

Do you believe in God?
Worried that this was about to take a strange turn, I responded anyway.
Yes, my own conception of God, yes.
I thought so. That would explain the dignity, the integrity.
You can tell that from looking at me?
Of course. By the way, I like what you were teaching your students. I have always felt the problem is that students aren’t taught to be people, to be social, to value each other. Look at the world.
Exactly, it scares me.
Me, too. But have you ever thought about what God’s classroom would look like?
No, what do you mean?
What would God’s classroom look like? What would students, we, be doing in his classroom?
Ah, you mean living in community with each other like “on earth” – the world as classroom?
Yes, you got it!
Well, oh by the way, what is your name?
Well Robert, how would I trick people into listening to me if I used the word God?

And there was a pause, again, a bit of a laugh.

Well, “trick” is not the word I would use, but ok.
I didn’t mean to be rude, I mumbled.
Oh, I know you didn’t. But you did not hear me correctly. I was not suggesting that you trick anybody or go to your job and call your curriculum God’s curriculum.
What did you mean then?
That you simply plan with your God in mind. Ask yourself what he would want the classrooms you are helping teachers to create to look like? You said yourself that you don’t really teach English. If you truly taught life then how was that possible without some source of power greater than yourself guiding you?

I stood there silently. At least ten minutes had passed. Crowding into my thinking as the people passed us on both sides was this idea of Jesus coming again and the inability our modern society would have recognizing him. I wondered if we have become too weighted down with baggage. Would the stuff of life crowd out the hope of life? Here in the middle of the Water Tower mall, a material landscape, I was receiving a spiritual gift. For a brief second nothing I held in my hands or on my body mattered. This stranger, this man, was asking me to go inside and bring my insides out and present them to the world. I was being called again. How else can I explain the staying put? I did not run, I listened. I knew within moments that he was suggesting I trust and have faith in this new life that is unfolding because “God is my employer.” For a brief moment I knew peace.

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