Updated: Jan 6
Everything Is Spiritual by John Mark Comer, from Garden City Paraphrased and reworked for the school context by Neil P. Schiller
You have a calling. There’s someone God made you to be. Something God made you to do. God has a purpose and a mission for your life. All you have to do is dig it out from under the rubble of your fear and insecurity and upbringing and culture and consciousness. It’s there; it’s waiting to be found.
All of us would agree with that to some degree or other. But, I know what some of you are thinking; really, are you for real? I know that God calls people to church stuff, but I’m a School Teacher and a lot of what I do is planning and marking and presenting lessons — how is that a calling from God?
To get to a rigorous, deep, rich, active theology of work, and for that matter, rest, we have to cross the chasm that is the sacred/secular divide (C.S. Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce).
And I forewarn you; the Great Divorce is a deep, wide, ominous chasm. So put your boots on...
The sacred/secular divide is this erroneous idea that some things are sacred or spiritual, and they matter to God; but other things are secular or physical, and by implication, they don’t matter to God, at least, not all that much.
The problem with this widespread, ubiquitous, domineering, destructive way of thinking is that, well, by this definition, most of life is secular.
The sacred stuff is a tiny slice of the pie — going to church, praying, reading the Bible, witnessing. What is that, 5% of our lives? Max? If you’re really “spiritual”?
Most of life — the other 95% — is spent working, being entertained, going out and having fun, going to a show in the city, watching live sports, playing sport or doing something to keep fit and keep the weight off, grocery shopping, eating, doing the dishes or not, cleaning the house, gardening, walking the dog or cutting your toenails or reading at the park or doing the jobs your wife has been reminding you about for weeks, or grabbing coffee and cake with a few friends and then feeling bloated afterward — but less so if you just finished doing your exercise together.
This is the stuff of everyday life.
And so most of us feel a little bit frustrated because we think that what we do every day — our work and our rest — how we play and unwind and enjoy God’s world — is meaningless and pointless and short lived and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of heaven and hell and eternal life because it’s not sacred.
So much of life is just mundane and pretty normal. There’s nothing super glamorous about it. We don’t feel like we’re changing the world; we’re changing diapers or answering emails or marking some student work or, or, and on it goes. So we feel frustrated, or maybe even empty and aimless, because every night as we lie in bed, we think, the daily grind is just one hard slog to earn a living and get great holidays?
Or we feel a twinge of guilt because even though our job as a teacher isn’t sacred, we really enjoy it and are proud of what we do. Every time we come home from school and drink a glass of really good wine or watch a great film or eat a delicious meal, we feel this nagging sense of shame because we enjoy it so much — it feels good and right and earthy and human— but it’s not “spiritual.” We might even feel we are making a difference to the live our students will ultimately have because of what we taught them.
This entire paradigm of the sacred and the so-called secular is seriously out of whack. And not only is it untrue, but it’s also dangerous. There are good reasons for me saying that to you.
To start off, let’s talk about the word spiritual. It’s one of those words we use all the time, but as a wise Spaniard with a sweet moustache once said, “I don’t think it means what you think it means.” (Princess Bride)
Did you know there’s no word for spiritual in the Hebrew language? Hebrew is the original language of the first three quarters of the Bible — what we call the Old Testament. Look up the word spiritual in Genesis to Malachi — the Bible used by Jesus. It’s not there. Why? The answer is that in a Hebrew worldview, all of life is spiritual.
Even when you get to the New Testament, the word spiritual is really only used by Paul. In his writings it means “animated by the Holy Spirit.” And for Paul, every facet of our life should be spiritual.
I believe if I were to ask Jesus about His spiritual life, He would look at me very confused. My guess is He would ask, 'What do you mean by my spiritual life? You mean My life? All of My life is spiritual. My Father created the world and everyone in it and sent me to call everyone back home to him.
Jesus didn’t buy into sacred/secular thinking. Not one bit. To Him, the God He called Father is as close as the air up against our skin. To Him, life is a seamless, integrated, holistic experience where the sacred is all around us. And for Jesus and His way, God wants to be involved in every square inch of our lives. Pretty much like you want to be involved in the lives of you children; see their first smile, hear them call you mummy or daddy, kiss the hurt better and delight in their littlest mannerisms which make them unique (if you have some).
You see everything is spiritual. Everything matters to God, just like everything that happens to you matters to you.
The word pnuematikos, or “spiritual,” does show up in the New Testament, mostly in the writings of Paul. But it’s not used how most of us use it. Most people think spiritual means mysterious, inexplicable, otherworldly, inscrutable or deep, mystic experiences with God. But in Paul’s theology it means “animated by the Spirit of God.” It’s from the root word pneuma, where we get the word pneumatic. Like where a driver works through pressure generated by wind or air. It’s this driving, empowering presence in us to do what we’re called to do — on Earth. It has nothing to do with material/immaterial. That’s why in 1 Corinthians 2 he puts all humans into two categories. The “spiritual” are all followers of Jesus who have His Spirit; everybody else is not spiritual.
In a Lutheran School, we see education differently from other schools. Our world view is different because it is a school where we invite God to be present with us each and every moment. God is welcome and honoured and worshipped and praised in our Chapel, in our classrooms, on the oval and in our playground. He is present in our relationship with each other and he empowers us to help, work with, share and forgive each other and to not take offence easily. We are people of the Spirit of God and everything we do, no matter where we go, should reflect our love and commitment to him. Everything counts and what we do and how we relate to the people around us have an impact on us and on them, on how we and they grow and mature in Christ.
Happy loving, caring communities don’t just happen, they are a gift to us from our loving Heavenly Father. True love, care and happiness come from the faith we hold and the belief we have that God created every person in his image. The knowledge that God values each and every one of us UNCONDITIONALLY is really astounding and should amaze and overpower us. That does not mean that he likes everything we do and that he does not give us correction and reprove our actions. He does and so must we. In the classroom and in the school grounds and everywhere else we are called to stand up for what is good and right and speak up when children, parents and colleagues wander from the path of the truth and goodness.
Bullying words must be called out, hurtful actions must be denounced and we must all hear and learn about the right way to behave and to care for the people around us. None of us can say, “It’s not my problem, or I don’t have time now, or I have told that kid 1000 times and he won’t do it anyway!” As God is the same yesterday, today and forever and his word never changes, we are to be the same. What was wrong yesterday is still wrong today and will also be wrong tomorrow and so we consistently respond in the same way.
In our community we can say, “I am not putting up with that!” Don’t let anyone pull our community down. We need to set our standards. We need to clearly express our standards. Then we need to stand strong. This might seem difficult at first, but the more we practice it, the more comfortable it will become.
Words have great power. God used words to create the world. Godly, kind and loving words can revive, heal, uplift, encourage and change lives. Ungodly, mean and nasty words can bind, imprison and destroy. Think about the power we wield each day with our tongue:
· Creative words create
· Destructive words destroy
· Hurtful words crush
· Helpful words build up
· Toxic words poison
· Soothing words heal
· Faith-filled words bring life
· Faithless words bring death
Hundreds of times each day, when it comes to what we hear and say, we have a choice to make. When we hear the words of others, we can choose to receive them as the truth or reject them as lies. Use every opportunity to make your words count and build our community. If you think something good, say it. Every time you think something positive, give it life with your words. Bless one another and others with your good thoughts, help them to feel good about themselves and help them by giving them feedback and encouragement.
People learn and grow and build relationships when they discuss what they do and why they do it. With ‘the entertainment of isolation’ and our new technologies, this is an emphasis the Lutheran school should not leave to chance.
The following 11 factors were identified in a Case Study completed in a Lutheran Primary School in 2000 as critical for the development of Christian Community in a Lutheran School. The factors were identified through the development and use of a survey instrument used with a statistically valid group of stakeholders within the school. (These were ranked by the stakeholders later in the study)
· ACCEPTANCE – being made to feel welcome
· VALUES AND BELIEFS – the degree to which God’s love is shown by members of the school to one another. Valuing and living the faith as taught by the school.
· CARING – the understanding, support and empathy shown throughout the school
· RESPECT – giving other people value and worth (supporting and honouring them in their role and as people)
· FRIENDSHIP – taking time to get to know each other and sharing being together (sticking by each other)
· LEADERSHIP – administration and empowering the group to reach its aims and goals
· SELF-ESTEEM – helping to build others up and encouraging them to use and develop their talents
· APPRECIATION AND THANKFULNESS – being valued for what you contribute to the group
· POSITIVE FRAMEWORKS – policies, structure and committee frameworks which provide the roadmap for getting the job done (using the correct ways of operating)
· ATMOSPHERE – the culture, climate or tone of the school
· CELEBRATION – having fun together, valuing common beliefs and achievements
In conclusion, I want to give you a concrete picture or description of what Lutheran School Spirit that is functioning well under God’s grace and love looks like. Bear in mind, this side of heaven Christian community will not and cannot be perfect as we are all sinners and fail to constantly do the right thing. However, we live in a community of forgiveness and when we fall others pick us up, forgive us and we continue on our way healed and restored.
School is a welcoming and friendly place. There is an atmosphere that says people belong and are happy. People are given opportunities to contribute their skills and their efforts are appreciated. The Principal encourages people and is friendly. The school makes clear what it teaches about God and Church beliefs. Individuals are accepted unconditionally as part of God’s family and every person in the school is seen as important.
The teachers listen to parents and children and value their opinions. Bullying is seen as unacceptable and poor behaviour is dealt with quickly. The Principal and teachers trust and respect each other. Worship is valued and meaningful to students, staff and parents and Christian forgiveness is taught and lived with the students. Parents have a sense of security and confidence that the school is a safe place for children to learn and play.
The school teaches children Christian attitudes and values in living with each other. The staff members are equals and work together as a team and they work closely together with parents when there is a problem. Successes are celebrated in sport, in academic achievement and on the completion of school projects. There is pride in the school, the surroundings and the people in it. The Principal and teachers are open and friendly.
Negative comments aren’t shared in the carpark. God’s love shows through in the way the staff does their jobs. Respect and manners are valued by the school; people are included and there is a ‘we’ rather than an ‘I’ emphasis.