Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Teacher Within

   I am in the midst of taking the second to last required course in my Doctoral program before I begin the yearlong work on my final paper. The class is on the ministry of teaching and Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach was one of the assigned readings. It is brilliant. He proposes that every person has a "teacher within." This might sound strange to those who don't lead classes on a regular basis, but I think he is right; all persons are made to influence those around them.
   Delving deeper than the surface of subjects or methods, Palmer proposes that teaching begins inside the teacher. He says first, "that what we teach will never take unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students’ lives,” and second, that “we can speak to the teacher within our students only when we are on speaking terms with the teacher within ourselves.” As I read more about this first difficult truth, I was struck at how it sounded like one of the distinguishing characteristics of Jesus’ ministry with the persons he met and those with whom he conversed. Jesus was different than other contemporary religious teachers of his time in the way he valued people. At one point Matthew 9 summarizes his ministry by saying, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7, ends with the statement, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” I wonder if the root of that authority could be traced back to the compassion he had for them. He slowed down and made himself vulnerable to them by offering his presence even when the time didn't seem right or there were other demands on him. This seems to be what Palmer talked about when he says that, “The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able.” 
   I think all followers of Christ should regularly consider and pray about how their own hearts are open to those with whom they are doing life together. We are people of influence, like it or not. What influence are we having? Is it for good? It starts with caring enough to engage in the inner work of listening and learning: from those around us and from ourselves.
   Grace and Peace, Scott

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