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Menno Simons Christian School is onto something important. The mission statement uses different language than one might normally read in school documents that use ‘Christian’ as their defining adjective. The language you read in our documents refers to integration of children’s faith into their lives and experiences. My opinion? That is where faith belongs. The mission statement makes it clear regarding who we are, what we stand for, how we want to be known. I believe that the mission is closely aligned to Jesus big idea that the kingdom of God not only rises and falls on right relationships, it does not even exist until right relationships are being experienced. Other schools I have experienced use mission statements that refer to ‘integration of faith and learning.’ That seems to locate faith primarily in our heads.  I don’t think that is where faith should primarily be housed. I think that I have experienced just about every other expression of people’s idea of what Christian schools should be about, from green-housing kids to keep them safe from the evil world, to teaching kids to be over and against what people are quite sure is bad, or for what people have concluded is good in the world. I am thankful that Menno has chosen a different mission, and hopefully you are too.

But here is the real problem. The kingdom of God does not exist until it does. You will not find it over there, in a building, in the Bible, in a country, in some sacred building in some corner of the world. It is not inert. It is not a place, or a religious system. It is not in nature (though creation is full of hints and guesses of what might be—of new possibilities, new futures). Jesus’s kingdom of God comes into existence only through right relationships. Until it does, it does not exist. This is the big idea of Menno Simons—that religion, that the uniquely human pursuit of religious answers to the meaning of everything, is explained and encompassed by right relationships.

Perhaps we need to be reminded again about this concept of the kingdom of God, but this time do so as a metaphor. A metaphor is usually bigger than the thing it represents and, when it comes to the kingdom of God, that is a good idea. The reality is that the kingdom is not exclusive, small, and does not need to be confined to a mere concept. Teachers and parents at Menno Simons might enjoy the conversation and continue to discuss what and how we teach our young people about the kingdom of God.  I for one do!

What to teach...

What to teach here at Menno Simons, the goals and content of our programs of studies, should be based on what we want our young people and graduates to look like? What is it we want to see, the visible expressions of right relationships with and by our students, year by year, and finally at graduation? We all might enjoy a spirited conversation together about this important question, One big idea that teachers already have in mind is in fact students developmentally appropriate ‘right’ relationships, with the Creator, each other, self, and the social and created order This desired end of teaching young people might not seem to be enough. I think it is.  

The visible expressions of learning, the intended learning outcomes of your teaching, may be quite different than what you or I likely experienced. Maybe the intended outcome of your teachers and parents was for you to ‘make a decision’ for Jesus. C.S. Lewis said, “It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts.”[1] My own learning experiences were laced with performing, to demonstrate behaviors would add up to some plus side of a spiritual ledger. I am sure today that it had to be hardly flattering to the Creator that I would choose any negative reinforcer such as threats, fear, worry, or guilt to guide my life.  Back then, I practiced guilt like it was an art and science. By my early twenties, my one remaining spiritual friend would broker two these two well-worn abstractions, God loves you and you need to love God. Both were meaningless to me by my early twenties. Besides, by that time, I was already well on my way out into practicing anything but God to make me happy.

I am convinced now that it can be different for our young people. If anything, the desired ends we could design for, could be young people into taking up personally chosen ethical actions? Another might be practice for them in modeling for younger children's virtuous decisions? A more subtle one for us in our design of experiences for young people to take up might be freedom.  Freedom not to do whatever they like, but for young people to freely engage with all of life, with permission to search for the ‘truth within the truth.’ As T.S. Elliot said, “These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer, observance, discipline, Thought, and action. The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.”7 Your intended outcome, the desired end of your teaching needs to be stated as an action. If your desired outcomes end in ing, perhaps you just already might be in the right game of teaching for the right relationships and being in the world in particular ways

One way to determine if you are on point regarding the outcome of right relationships is to ask yourself what interests are being served by what you do with your young people.  Is the interest being served by you and your teaching right relationships or right ideas? If the right ideas trump right relationships, quite likely this blog will be disruptive and trouble you. In right relationships, you may discover as I have that in and through the practice of right relationships, right ideas do emerge and are clarified. 

There it is. Next month we will look at how we might teach with the kingdom of God in mind. Open to a conversation with you!

Bernie Potvin, MSCS Principal 

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Harper One, 2015).

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