by Darren Spyksma, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
A school can pray in the morning, teach Bible in the afternoon, and have chapel on Friday, yet not be a Christian school. A school’s practices, whether intentional or inconsequential, shape their students’ version of a good life. Every Christian school needs to explore the reality that their practices may espouse a version of the good life that does not align with their mission or core values.
Christianity is not just a belief system, but a way of being in the world. Christians in the early church were called to live well, and to impact their culture through a life of interdependence. It was the early church’s ability to live well together, looking first to the needs of others while excitedly anticipating the next letter from a close follower of Jesus Christ. This way of living shaped their thinking. It was when thinking well preempted the ability to live well that the early church found themselves challenged by Paul (Galatians 5). How do Christian schools ensure that students are developing a way of living in the world that aligns with the gospel and the coming of a new community* here on earth?
One powerful way to explore this idea is to look at the earth now. God’s created order invites us to see how we should live in the here and now. The main goal of all science study should be to reveal an even deeper understanding of the Creator. As we develop a deeper understanding of God through His creation, we can invite students into a rhythm each time they learn something about the earth. They can be prompted to ask, “what does this teach us about our Creator?” Creation reveals the wonders of the Creator. Each year students should be heading into summer knowing more about who God is through their study of creation. In the study of creation, we are introduced to a concept that undergirds a Christian way of being in the world: interdependence. God’s call to interdependence, seen first and foremost in the very nature of God as found in the Trinity, and repeatedly seen in both the law of the Old Testament and the evidence we have of the early church, is also seen in the easily ignored mason bee.
Though it might be a stretch, I would like to suggest that a mason bee demonstrates a way of life that aligns with Paul’s call to a way of being as found at the end of Galatians 5. Mason bees do not get sucked into the world’s soul crushing story of independence; rather they exist to benefit others while sustaining their population. Their nests are built by a collective, they take what they need to survive, and thrive without destroying their environment. Mason bees are active in almost any weather. Their existence benefits the lives of those around them. They don’t sting, and their homes provide homes for other species. Their work is constructive and benefits other animals and humans, contributing to the common good through their way of being.
Now, let’s admit that a mason bee does not make a great mascot or logo. They are small, black, and nondescript. They don’t have menacing stripes or a large stinger. Yet, isn’t that part of the problem? Too often our practices encourage students to be more like a wasp at a late summer barbecue, taking as much as you can get, regardless of the impact on others around you, and less like a mason bee, using what you have to make life and creation better. Too often schools promote individual flash over collective faithfulness. What might happen if a school committed to model their way of being on the concept of interdependence and promoted the mason bee as a model for “the good life”?
In the classroom, a mason bee looks out for their classmates, giving up their chair for someone who needs one, making sure that an absent bee (or student) has all the notes and updates they need to be successful. Classroom jobs include helper bee, a bee whose job it is to look around and see who needs help with their job because it is too big for them today. Individual awards are replaced with collective reflection of how the community is working together and what could be improved. Each bee knows that while they learn, they learn while making other learner’s lives better.
Out of the classroom, a mason bee mission trip would be closer to home or, at least, carbon neutral. Learning would always focus on the positive impact it can have on others. Field trips are replaced by field work, where leaving campus means deepening our connection to our local community, solving problems, enhancing environments, and making other peoples lives better. A mason bee learner would spend thirteen or more years at a school which invites them to see learning as a means to not firstly improve themselves, but rather improve themselves through supporting the improvement of others and their environment.
Chapel, prayer, and Bible class, though important rhythms, do not define a Christian school. It is the combined practices which promote self-giving love, peace, joy, persistence through hard times, and a willingness to work toward being kind and good, that along with meaningful learning and the regular rhythms of a Christian school that work together to point to the new community that God calls us to.
* I have intentionally used the word “community” rather than “kingdom.” This is not an attempt to adjust scripture but rather to unshackle the call to interdependence away from what has become a term that points toward colonial thinking and living.