“Kendra says she doesn’t want any trouble for the teacher, but wants it known that ‘it’s alright to defend God’.” Okay. This story was reported a few months ago and is not new. However, someone mentioned it in church today and I went back to it. It smacks of “he said-she said-they said.” There’s some initial confusion. The student has one version. The school has another version. However, it seems clear that “bless you” was banned from usage in that particular classroom. Between the lack of clarity of exactly how this happened, the comments made, and “bless you” being considered religious language, you’ve evidently wandered into confused terrain.
The confused terrain of “bless you”
It’s quite likely that when you say, “bless you,” you’re invoking a blessing from God on a person. However, I doubt that’s what you’re doing when you say it each time someone sneezes. Someone help me, but really: When did “bless you” when someone sneezes fall into the strict category of religious or godly language? It’s one of those universal things that you hear around the world, including people who never have and do not plan to set foot in a church or consider themselves to be religious.
In addition, is it zeal or confusion that allows someone to decide to keep godly language out of the classroom? Or, was it excessive use, whatever that could be?
This is a time when norms are evaporating across the board and what is considered polite takes different shapes in different spaces. You could see why some ground rules concerning appropriate language usage in the class are needed. However, considering the ways in which religious language has penetrated common speech, and as is the case with language has morphed in its meaning, banning religious and/or godly language is a tall order. It makes for confusing terrain. How would your navigate this confused terrain if confronted with this type of situation? What would you tell your youth if they’re in the middle of it?
The confused terrain of God’s defense
Do you ever wonder how it is that God needs defending? I know I do. It just seems to make God pitiful and weak. I understand explaining your faith, bearing witness to the truth of God and the gospel, and even seeking to lay out logical arguments to try to persuade others of God’s existence, etc. However, defending God? God is. Moreover, it seems to me that God is capable of defending God’s self. Instead of defending God, perhaps you could discuss with your students how they can live so that their lives match their words. As they navigate confused terrain, quit defending God with their mouths, in sometimes confrontational ways, and focus on living like Christ. Let them seek to imitate Jesus Christ and always being ready to explain why they live the way they do in love for God and love for everyone they meet. Wouldn’t that give weight to God being whom they say God is?
The confused terrain of who negotiates
While it is good that young people are able to stand up for themselves, how do you balance that with respect for the authority of the person who is in charge? In this confused terrain, at some point, children and youth need to be just that—children and youth. Let adults negotiate some things. Schools have parent teachers association meetings. It seems that would be the place for discussion, negotiation, and consensus on broad aspects of classroom management. One would hope that adults would bring not only their reasoning ability, sense of fairness and justice, the issue of rights to the table, but also their life experiences. In addition, parents know where they and their children are coming from. They also have specific hopes and goals for their children to achieve at school. A cooperative venture makes for greater productivity in the educational enterprise.
Similarly, you could have meetings with the parents of your youth at which you discuss and, when necessary, negotiate boundaries and aspects of youth group management. Of course, in your context, a much smaller one, they youth can have input.
As things continue to change, including the demographics, it’s confused terrain out there. Your young people have to manoeuvre in it. While you cannot take the place of their parents, you can give some guidance to both youth and parents, especially when it comes to matters of faith. How will you/are you doing this?
Living fully. Living faithfully. Following Christ.
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