I was dreading today. All morning I debated back and forth: Do the lesson plan? Or dive into a conversation I wasn’t sure would turn out well. I wheeled my briefcase into the classroom and set my lesson plan in front of me. Students started trickling in. Some set their long boards in the back of the room; others finished up texts or checked Facebook one last time.
I wandered over to the corner where my trusted TA of the past year and a half sits, “I am debating about whether or not to discuss it as a case study, but that seems wrong. I don’t know that I’m getting paid enough to have this discussion,” I whispered in her ear, trying to ease my own tension. The case I was speaking of is a transgendered professor came out last week at Azusa Pacific University. My pay, well, that’s another blog.
“You certainly don’t have to,” Lindsy said gracefully.
In the end, I decided the students would be my guides. We began class discussing their journals, in which they can tie in campus events. A small number chose to write about this latest story.
“Our chapter talked about taking in all sides, and that was important to read,” one shared.
Others chimed in about their journals and professors who talked about the situation in their classes yesterday and today. I sat in the front of the classroom rolling two whiteboard markers over and over again in my hand. The therapeutic movement became my rosary as more students opened up. God be with us.
“My professor is liberal, and so am I, but the class was really open and shared from all different sides. I learned a lot,” another said of her class which had met earlier.
The ball started rolling. Another student spoke up about his views being black and white… “No room for gray,” he said firmly, but also with openness to hearing people respond to him. His peer then spoke about her family story which is quite the opposite of his own. All the while people were engaged, bodies moved to watch the people talking, and there wasn’t a cell phone in sight.
“I’m going to the bathroom, I’m not leaving because I’m mad,” a classmate said as he exited briefly, providing comic relief in the middle. His one-liner serving to remind us that in the end we are all human, just needing relief of some sort.
I jotted down some notes and called on people as they raised their hands, watching something a little short of a miracle happen. These students, these young adults with differing opinions, listened to each other. They shared their emotions. Some shared stories, but it never became heated or disrespectful. Some students talked more than others, but the more pensive ones spoke up, too, after they had gathered their thoughts. It was one of the most respectful conversations I have been part of dealing with a controversial issue. Civility was practiced in ways I have not seen in a lot of Christian arenas.
“I just feel like we need to remember we all suck. We’re sinners,” one woman said, trying to equalize us all. There were nods of agreement and understanding. I knew what she was saying, but inside, I knew that was the point to correct.
“Thank you,” I said in the last fives minutes. “I feel like everyone got a chance to talk, but people also listened. Really listened. In this, I just want you all to know you don’t suck. You were created in Imago Dei, the image of God, and that is beautiful. This was proved today. Our conversation never rose to a temperature that made me feel like I needed to step in. The reality is, we are all in process and our discussion reflected that.” I continued to point back to fact that so often we get caught up in statements and agenda items instead of seeing the people behind them- or the people they affect. Learning people’s stories and the “why’s” behind why a person thinks what they do might be the most important point emphasized this semester.
This aspect of learning – of listening – is important for me to remember, as well. Some days, I need to sit back and enjoy the miracle of life unfolding around me. I need to realize that there are people in process all around me, not sucking, just trying to discover what love really means- true radical interrupting love in the darkest places in our lives. A love that is firstly, patient and kind.
And then, as if God wanted to affirm all that happened, a resounding melody burst though the walls in our final minutes. The class next door was playing “One Day More” from Les Miserables, one of the most redemptive scripts ever where storytelling is at its finest. (I kid you not, this really happened.) One day more, one day at a time, a day when I remembered what teaching is all about once again. A day that made me grateful for the discomfort of not choosing what was easy. My lesson plan would have been easy. However, in throwing it out, I was reminded that sometimes, maybe always, it’s better to be a learner than a teacher.
Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in Heaven has in store! One more dawn, One more day, One day more!