I have a dear friend from church. She is kind, generous and helpful. She has given me clothes for my kids, delivered meals when we were bogged down and always, always offered prayers and support when someone in my family is sick. She has been a big supporter to me. While I consider her a dear friend, when it comes to matters of faith, we couldn't be further apart.
This happens to me a lot. I find that in terms of faith, I exist in a kind of no-mans land. I am not a conservative, I am not a fundamentalist. At the same time, I would say that I am much more evangelical than most of the mainline church. I'm west of east and east of west, if that makes sense. It's a strange place to be and one that has caused me a lot of confusion in my life.
One area about which I really disagree with my more conservative friends is the public education system. I live in Canada and so, to my American friends, we are having a slightly different conversation. While our system could always use more money and there are problems, especially for parents of a special needs child, to the rest, it's a fairly decent system, as far as big, bureaucratic systems go. I think I do a fairly good job as a teacher and while I am certainly not perfect, I think my students do a lot of learning in a year and, if I do say so myself, I am good at engaging kids.
Back to this friend. She HATES the public system. As far as she is concerned, the public system exists to suppress faith, to ignore the needs of the kids and to create an uncompromisingly secular world view. She and I have had some reasonably heated discussions about this. She says that we need prayer in the schools and that would answer everything. I respond that yes, we need prayer, but prayer for everyone (when I said that we, as Christians, shouldn't object to Muslim prayer, we should be asking why our Christian kids aren't asking to pray, I think she was NOT happy with me). She says this is a Christian country and that if people come here, they should "become like us." I say that we should embrace the stranger and that for my faith and that of my children to be embraced and supported by the school, I must fight for all faiths to be embraced. That's the one that really annoys her.
She has regaled me with story after story of faith be rejected at the school. I find that so interesting. I don't ever hide my faith with my students. That being said, I celebrate Passover with my students and Holi and Eid and anything else I can think of. I encourage the kids to talk about what they believe, to ask questions and to bring in anything (including family) that expresses who they are. This friend is horrified. I have argued, over and over again, that my best form of evangelism is to teach my students to ask questions, to proudly declare their faith and to learn, learn, learn. I find it interesting that in this "politically correct" and "secular" system, those who believe differently from me are the ones who have actually been the most supportive of me along the way. I think that my biggest fan this year is a Jewish mother who can't stop thanking me for allowing her daughter not to be ashamed of who she is like this mother was as a girl. I keep telling my friend that I can lead by example and "be" Christ as I can by showing love, acceptance (within reason, of course) and, most of all, compassion for the outsider. Until now, I haven't had much to prove that it works. That changed for me today.
I have a girl in my class who is Catholic and has been very proudly telling us about the process of her first communion (which has led to some very interesting discussions about what communion means). Well, I got a note from her mom today. She wanted me to know that at her last communion class, she got her certificate and the families were all there, which meant that there were about 100 people. Each child had to get up and talk about one person who they felt showed God's mission in the world. This girl got up and talked about me! She shared that she felt that I lived my faith by being kind and helping people in as many ways as I can. I have never felt so proud as I did when I read that. I truly hope this doesn't sound like I am boasting, that is not my intent at all. I am just feeling that what I am trying to be is how I am being perceived at least by some. That is priceless to me.
See, we Christians BELONG in the public system. We CAN make a difference, we can model compassion and, most of all, there are children who notice. What can we do that's more important than that?