Friday, April 15, 2011

A New Calling - teaching in the inner city

Two years.

I've spent two years thinking and praying about this.

Two years asking God, "is this really where you want me to go?  This seems like the right path.  If not, please, please stop me."

Not only did God not stop me, but with my job offer to teach through Teach For America, He pretty much laied it all out for me.  More on that in a future post 

About two years ago, several different strands began to come together.  The first was my desire to do ministry in a non-traditional setting.  Some missional writer whose name I can't recall wrote (Although this seems like something Reggie McNeal would say) wrote in a place which I can't remember something along these lines, "pastors of the future need to find a profession beyond regular pastoral ministry." 

When asking myself what I'd like for that other career to be, I thought back to my days in college when I'd joke with some friends preparing to teach and coach, "if I wasn't called to preach, I'd be doing exactly what you're doing."  I'd always said that teaching and coaching would be my second choice, if God was okay with it.  Well, now with my new teaching job and my possible role at Indian Creek Gardner, I might be able to do both - though those details still need to be worked out.  That strand had lain dormant for awhile but came back to life after reading that quote and through my coaching experience in 2007.

My 2007 coaching experience was wonderful.  I'd forgotten how much I'd missed football until being back on a practice field and listening to the pop of shoulder pads.  I took an immediate liking to the sound of being called, "coach."  It was such a great experience that  I almost cried when leading the team onto the field for our first game.  As the head 7th grade JV coach, I was able to touch the lives of some kids while also helping them to improve and even win some games.  Due to how well the kids responded to my coaching and the feedback from the school's administration, I assumed I'd be rehired that next fall.  But the head coach, a former college teammate of mine, was required to give hiring priority to a teacher over me.  A conversation with a friend in the District's administrative department, however, inspired me to seek out educational certification.  That search lead to Rockhurst University, where I've been accepted into their Masters of Education program.  Coincidentally, Rockhurst is one of the KC partners with TFA. 

Another strand in this new calling is my growing desire to serve the people Jesus' modeled and taught us to serve, "the least of these." 
To summarize this, here's a part of my initial letter of intent from my TFA application:
I grew up on an Iowa hog farm; far removed both culturally and economically from the under-resourced school districts of America’s inner cities.  It was during my graduate studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary that I became aware of the systemic injustices existing in our nation.  While studying the Old Testament Prophets I realized that governments and institutions can be just as guilty as individuals in committing acts of oppression against the more vulnerable groups and individuals of society.  I came to understand that while the destructive choice of an individual is one cause of poverty, systemic oppression is another.  This was a big change of perspective for a conservative, Iowa farm kid.   

This change of perspective has come from some reading I've been doing over the past few years.  Here's who this strand turned into a calling to serve the inner city.
- In 2008, I read Jesus for President (all these books are linked on the side of this webpage) by Shane Claiborne.  One line in particular has stuck with me,  Claiborne's challenge to go into the places that the Empire has forgotten.  In our Empire, that's the inner-city. 
- In reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, I learned how our nation's educational system is set up to help affluent students succeed while poor students are robbed of those resources while at the same time being told the reason for their failure is their own lack of a work ethic.  Our educational system teaches some kids that they're worthwhile and other kids that they're worthless, then backs up that teaching through the inequal distribution of educational funds.
- Last summer I read Savage Inequalities.  That book stocked the fires of righteous indignation first set ablaze by Shane Claiborne.  One line idea from that book sticks with me (and I paraphrase), "Of course some people will be generals while others will be soldiers, but we can't continue to designate some people as those with the chance to be generals while others are given only the option of being soldiers due simply to the economic status into which they were born."
- In January I read Generous Justice by Tim Keller. 
Post 1  Post 2  That book provided a good biblical foundation for this new calling to teach in the inner city.  Keller reminded me of what I already knew, Jesus spent time with the poor and those ignored by the rest of society and then he expected that his followers would do the same.
Finally, Crazy Love challenged me to be willing to give up everything to serve the poor.  At that time, I made a commitment to invest all that we'd saved into the Masters of Education program at Rockhurst in order to get a teaching job in an inner city school.  With TFA, that process has gotten less expensive and much quicker.  But I needed to be challenged the way Francis Chan challenged me. 

During my TFA interview, my interviewer asked me, "Am I sensing a strain of social justice in your desire to work with TFA."  I laughed out loud then explained everything I wrote above. 

Finally, the TFA strand.  You can read about Teach For America
here.  Basically, this organization is all of the above strands come together.  Their motto is, "that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education."  TFA selects and trains proven leaders and put them in under resourced school districts, which also giving their teachers money for their educational degree.  I had heard bits and pieces about TFA before, but until the episode of The Office  "IT Guy" walked away from his job saying, "I'm going to each computers for TFA, " I hadn't actually researched the organization.  When I went to their website, I realized "this is it."  And as I explained in this post, it was quite a coincidence the way it all came together.  And my next post will be some even more non-coincidental coincidences that lead to this new position and new form of ministry.

When I was called to preach at the Iowa District Church of the Nazarene teen camp in June of 1994, I was given the distinct calling to preach the gospel, particularly to those who had never heard it before.  And while this new endeavor feels a bit like a new calling, I think it's actually just a new take on the same calling.  My methods will certainly change but the calling to proclaim (or "preach") the good news (i.e. gospel) that my life is still guiding my life. 

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