A Theology of People

My sister, Linda, teaches 5th grade in Salinas, CA. Her students come from some of the poorest immigrant families in the state of California. Poverty is a predictor of academic performance and often keeps students from receiving the instruction they deserve. My sister’s students come in the Fall with many deficits, and she is determined to bring them to grade level.

Recently, her district introduced a program called “Lectia” to help teachers help their students with reading. (Those of you who know the spiritual practice “Lectio Divina” will recognize this as “reading”.) The district did not provide training for educators, so most teachers did not utilize the program; they weren’t taught how. However, my sister was determined to help her students, so she taught herself how to use the program, which was no small feat.

First, she had to get through her frustration of yet another district idea that lacked adequate support for teachers. Then she had to figure out an entirely new computer platform for herself so she could optimize it for her students: All on her own time. (And before you say, “Well, a good teacher would do that anyway,” please know that my sister, like other teachers works not one, but two additional jobs to pay the bills. You can hear her on KWAV, Saturday and Sunday 2-7 pm: https://www.kwav.com/.)

Her students this year have improved in reading. Most of the class arrived reading well below grade level. In less than a school year, most of her students improved by two grade levels. One third of the class is now reading at grade level.

It occurred to me that my sister has a Celtic understanding of her students; they were born good. They were born with potential and that potential is still inside them, even though it might be covered by the effects of poverty. Seeing people as essentially good is not a theological notion that has been taught by Christianity. The impact of the teaching of original sin persists and gives permission to ascribe people to the conditions in which they find themselves. As we’ve been reflecting on Celtic Christianity in worship and small group study, this notion that we are born good, that we are substantively of God, is a foundational theological teaching.

Our theology impacts how we choose to live, even unconsciously. Why bother teaching a child who is behind and lives in poverty and doesn’t stand much of a chance in the world as it is? Why? Because that child was born with great potential and that potential has not been extinguished. Subdued and hidden perhaps, but not extinguished.

It takes great hope to teach. It requires seeing that in each student there lies the spark of curiosity and learning. I would call it the divine spark, the sacred at the heart of our own hearts. It takes tremendous effort to pursue the good that is unseen. Nurturing a literate citizenry is no small feat and reaps rewards for ALL of us. Thank a teacher. (Better yet, let’s pay them for what they really add to our common life.)

It also takes tremendous effort to uncover the sacred in ourselves when we’ve had it bullied out of us and buried. But it is worthwhile work that will transform our living and the lives of those around us. You are a child of God. This is your birthright.

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