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Out Loud in Class

February 9, 2014

imageThis week was a boisterous one, as I may have already told you.  After our study in the Gospel of Mark, we’d divide the room into two different teams and swing the desks toward each other and have a good old-fashioned debate.  On alternating days different students would play the role of agnostic, Christian, atheist or cult member.  Notebooks were pored over.  Strategies were discussed.  Emotions got high.

“So, Christian, why would you think that the Bible is the only inspired word of God?”

“You won’t answer my question, Mr. Atheist.  If you don’t believe in the universe being created, where did all of the materials come from in order for your universe to begin?”

“Why can’t the multiverse belief be valid?  Hundreds, even thousands of parallel universes in which anything can happen… that takes away the power of the solitary belief in a savior, doesn’t it?”

“If the universe were eternal instead of having a single point of creation, how do you explain Olber’s Paradox – light would fill the evening sky?  What about the Heat Death Paradox?  All temperatures would eventually cool and the whole universe would be the same temperature …”

“I follow Buddhism.  I feel I’m more holy than any Christian I’ve ever seen.”

“You claim to be a Darwinist and say that only the fittest would and should survive.  Would you shut down cancer wards and nursing homes?  Those people are not exactly the fittest, are they?”

“You Christians still evade the problem of why there is evil in the world.  Why does God allow it?”

Back and forth.  Louder and louder.  Quicker and sharper.

The energy carries outside of class.  Jason gets so excited about the debates that he stops me in the hall for hints and pointers.  Lauren admits that her friends have been huddling during study hall in order to get their notes organized.  Alden waves to me in the cafeteria:  “I’m ready to go!  I thought up some good arguments last night!”

As a teacher I hold on to the debaters’ delicate balance between organized raw energy and over-the-top emotion.  The students receive points for their performance – I am both moderator and judge – but there is always the risk that the bronco can escape the pen.  At times the battles get extreme.

Once an observing adult confessed that it was almost overwhelming.  “I’m quite uncomfortable with this whole format.”

“Why does it bother you?” I asked. “Do you feel the students cross the line on impropriety?”

“No,” she confessed.  “It’s just that I am not at ease with noise in a school setting.”  She shrugged.  “Noise gives the impression of a lack of discipline.”

Her comments brought the remembrance of a situation a few years before.  I was the Bible teacher in another school across town and was asked to speak in chapel to approximately 400 students.  The students had finished singing and as they seated themselves and settled down, I approached the center of the stage.

The silence was shattered by a manic shouting.

Startled teens looked wildly about.  In the midst of them stood a junior student, an otherwise quiet young man whom everyone liked.  Nick was a genial and easygoing pupil with a slender build, a mop of hair and a wide smile.

Not today.  Not right now.

“Listen to me!” he shouted to the stunned crowd.  “There has got to be a change in this school.  If you’re going to sit here and listen to God’s Word you need to get your lives right!”  He kept his gaze toward the floor but he gestured with his hand.  “How are we supposed to say we love God and we respect Him when we go about with sin – on campus and off campus?  How can we sit here and be hypocrites?  This is what the world accuses us of, and we give them every right to be cynical!”

Students looked at him and glanced back at me.  I stood there and let him speak.

“We serve a loving God and One who wants to give us blessings every day – but it’s like we spit in His face all the time!”  He pointed toward me.  “God has given us a speaker to share His Word right here and right now and if you’re going to get anything from this man’s message then you better get your heart clean and stop running about in hypocrisy now – this minute.  Make up your mind!”

He sat down quietly, spent from his tirade.  He put his head in his hands and looked at the floor.  The students turned toward me and looked.  How would I respond to an interruption like this?

I took a  step forward and gestured toward him with an open hand.  “Thank you, Nick.  You are absolutely right.” He glanced up, embarrassed, but I was aware of his motive.  God moved him, allowed him to share his grief and his anger at sin.  It was unorthodox, it was loud … and it was solid.

“You have given as good a chapel message as we’ll ever hear this year, sir,” I said.  “My message will simply be a postscript to what Nick has said…”

Energy.  Emotions. Unconventionality.

As God leads, it can be deeply powerful.

Proverbs 25:11:  “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”

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