With the exception of a few of us homeschooling parents who stubbornly persist in a twentieth century school calendar, all of the teachers here in Indiana are back at school welcoming children, teaching multiplication tables, listening to and reading stories, encouraging learning and helping develop character.
Back to school is also back to the business of loving your neighbor as yourself. Whether your neighbor is an elementary school student, middle schooler, high schooler or even a college student, if you are a Christian your focus is to love the one before you as Christ would love them, as, indeed, he loves them.
Beloved children’s author Katherine Paterson, creator of The Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, after a speaking engagement was once asked by a teacher for a piece of advice he could share with his class. In her speech, “The Child in the Attic” delivered at The Ohio State University Children’s Literature Festival in February 2000, she gives the following response:
“I’m very biblically oriented,” I said, “and so for me the most important thing is for the word to become flesh. I can write stories for children, and in that sense I can offer them words, but you are the word become flesh in your classroom. Society has taught our children that they are nobodies unless their faces appear on television. But by your caring, by your showing them how important each one of them is, you become the word that I would like to share with each of them. You are that word become flesh.”
Twenty years later, the only difference is that children are tempted to see their value not necessarily by way of television, but by YouTube.
I write these few words to teachers, administrators, custodial staff, bus drivers, counselors and cafeteria workers: your light shines. Your smile matters. Your compassion changes hearts and futures. Your influence may be incalculable.
And, really, this is the charge Christ gives to all of us, whether we are a teacher, student, neighbor, friend, employee, manager or stranger on the street. We are the light of the world. We are his ambassadors for a different life possible. We are his love incarnate. We are that word become flesh. We take on Christ both in the insignificant gestures and the grandiose ones, because they all reflect his movements.
To all to whom this may apply,
Welcome back to school.