Friday, January 10, 2014

Four Minutes

What can you do in four minutes? In four minutes at the beginning of each school day we can orient ourselves as a classroom community to God--to receive all the day’s learning opportunities and challenges with thanksgiving, in his strength, for his glory. The perennial question is how to keep the opening prayer from devolving into a rote “Thank-you-for-this-day-please-help-us-glorify-you-in-it” before jumping into the “real” business of the day.

I’ve found it effective to center our brief daily class devotions on something related to the themes, content, or skills we are working on in class. That not only gives both focus and variety (no more opening the Bible to pick a verse blindly, or wondering if I haven’t already read this verse this year), but also keeps the Biblical perspective permeating the unit rather than restricted to the initial lecture. In this way it models the reintegration of the divide we’ve created between God’s Word and world. 

Theme-related: This is easiest in a literature unit. Any theme that is such a universal human concern that great literature has been written to grapple with it, certainly God has something to say about that theme. And certainly seeing the world as a God-created, sin-shattered, God-redeemed place and our roles in it as his worshipers, his stewards, and his hands and feet in the broken places has some affect on how we grapple with that theme. Here are some of the ways I’ve come up with theme related devotions in World Literature (English 10):
  • Bible stories/passages related to the theme: The parable of the Good Samaritan for “Who is my neighbor?” or 1 Corinthians 13 for “What is love?”
  • Collected pieces related to the theme: Just this week I used a YouTube video a friend had posted on FaceBook to illustrate the power for good that creativity with words can have. I also use sources like the end of “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis for implications of people being made in the image of God on how we treat our neighbor; anecdotes from John Ortberg books about having a mission or making a difference; a news story that illustrates people’s inhumanity to each other or the possibility of grace when a person risks stepping out of the bystander role to love a neighbor.
  • Devotional by the author we are reading. The most serendipitous discovery of my life along these lines was the devotional Instrument of Thy Peace by Alan Paton, whose novel Cry, the Beloved Country we study. I edit and excerpt as I read, but in the devotions, Paton expounds on many of the themes we talk about as we read the novel, and it becomes clear that the teacher is not making applications that had never crossed the author’s mind!
  • My own creation: Really just an expansion of the first one--finding a number of Bible stories and passages and drawing out the themes. Yes, this is the most work, but also the most fun. For my introductory unit, I actually wrote up a model biblical perspective essay expanding the unit’s enduring understanding “Because people are made in the image of God, we are creative, communicative truth-seekers.” I give students copies, and then read and discuss a paragraph per day. Less intensive, right now I have notes I’m talking through for our grammar unit devotions about a creation/fall/redemption/restoration perspective of language. They include the juxtaposition of the story of Babel and the story of Pentecost and the creative range God gave Adam in naming the animals.

Content-related: Reading Psalms during poetry (Did you know that 40% of the Old Testament is poetry? And understanding general poetic devices as well as specific traits of Hebrew poetry can deepen our reading of that poetry?); retelling the story Esther when studying the functions of irony.

Skill-related: One of my favorites here is reading the first chapter of Quentin Schultze’s An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue, a couple of paragraphs per day, during a unit on speech.

I used to shy away from this, thinking it wasn’t fair if my first period class got more biblical perspective than my other periods. Then I realized that was crazy--why starve one cat because I can't feed them all? Of course I work as much biblical perspective as possible into my other periods. But why not connect it all up even better for first period?

If you are a first period teacher in a Christian school, and you have a couple of extra minutes added to first period in which to open with devotions, how do you or could you use that time to connect kids’ faith with what they are about to learn?

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