Humility, Hospitality, Hope
by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
“God’s faithful presence in our community while addressing the social issues of our time.”
Christian schools continue to refine their understanding of how and when to engage with culture or the social order of the day. This complex and nuanced topic has been explored by God’s people since they were enslaved in Egypt. The social complexity of our world today requires clear thinking from Christian school leaders.
Much of Scripture speaks to the critical topic of cultural engagement. Mark 5 offers keen insight into how Jesus engaged with, and upended, the social order of his day.
In the story of the demon possessed man, sometimes called Legion, Jesus releases the man and allows the demons to enter the pigs who go mad and plunge off a cliff. Jesus’ action here demonstrates care for the marginalized, in healing the possessed man, and a challenge to misappropriated power, as the herd of pigs was likely used to provide bacon and pork chops to a Roman Legion stationed nearby.
Mark 5 also tells the story of the hemorrhaging woman who, in faith, touched Jesus’ robe. Like Legion, this woman was an outcast of society. Viewed as unclean, she was isolated and segregated. Jesus is on a mission to help a synagogue leader, a man of status, privilege, and power when his journey is interrupted by the courageous touch of this vulnerable woman. The crowd of the day was appalled by the audacious act of this woman who violated the cultural order and societal expectations. Jesus blesses her for her faith and courage and she is healed of her affliction. Once again, Jesus challenges the social order of the day, delaying his mission to those of status, bestowing blessing and honour on the marginalized and outcast.
How do we understand the social order of today? Who is honoured and why? How do we treat those on the margins due to sickness, economic status, homelessness, addiction, race, sexuality, or identity? Are we prepared, as Jesus modelled, to take risks to challenge a social order based on wealth and status, measuring success not by power and privilege, but how the vulnerable are treated?
Many issues highlight our posture of cultural engagement, but for us in Canada at this time, the topic of residential schools is prominent. How do Christian schools respond in the face of the devastating discovery of unmarked graves of children on residential school properties? Other social issues, such as sogi and covid-19 pandemic response, can cause serious division and heightened consternation in Christian school communities.
Michelle Dempsey, Chief Executive Officer of Christian Educational National, an SCSBC partner organization in Australia, offers a well reasoned matrix for cultural engagement based on Humility, Hospitality, and Hope. The framework is designed to help schools understand what it means to be “God’s faithful presence in our community while addressing the social issues of our time.” Dempsey writes:
In recent years, various communities in Australia have expressed their frustration with the perceived intolerance of some within the Christian community, much of it directed towards the church and some towards Christian schools. The sad reality is that people have felt hurt and angered by actions of the church and school leaders in the past, and in some instances, in the present.
I want to suggest to our members that rather than taking up the bats and assuming a defensive, self-protective posture, our tone and responses should be based much more on a sense of repentance and on-going humility. I don’t think it is unfair to say that, by and large, Christian organisations have not dealt with these challenging issues particularly well, including some of our own Christian schools. If we are to do better it would be appropriate to admit that we have often been ignorant of the facts rather than informed, judgmental rather than understanding, fearful rather than faithful, proud rather than humble, clumsy rather than careful, and defensive rather than proactive.
CEN can’t speak on behalf of its member schools for actions of the past. But I believe that there are plenty of regrets, situations that weren’t handled well, decisions that were misunderstood, advice that was clumsy or insensitive, people who were condemned and lifestyles that were publicly and harshly judged. Rightly or wrongly, these experiences did create considerable hurt and pain for some minority groups in Australia.
We now live in a society that, by and large, has reflected on its past opinions and actions and changed the way it approaches minority communities. We, too, need to reflect and consider our own responses very carefully and very prayerfully. Our communities will continue to grapple with a range of theological responses and I know that some of us are by nature more the ‘warriors’ and some of us are ‘diplomats’ or ‘peace-makers’ in the way we think and act in these matters. None of us, in my view, should shy away from the fact that despite our good intentions, we have often not expressed God’s love and grace in the way we have approached many of these issues in the past. Recognition, repentance, on-going humility — I think that’s where we must start.
A sincere humility should lead us on to the next essential attitude or approach. I believe that we are being called to a radical new season of being God’s people in the world and in one simple word, I think we are being called to be increasingly ‘hospitable.’ I believe our schools should literally be flourishing with expressions of hospitality!
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)
True hospitality is not about agreeing with everything someone else says: it is about knowing someone, welcoming someone, listening to someone, sharing yourself, your home, your thoughts, your food, your environment, your values, in a most open and vulnerable way. Vulnerable for you as the host and vulnerable for the guest.
I remember when the Harry Potter books came out. That was 20 years ago! I was Deputy Principal at a small school in the Dandenong Ranges. Like every other Christian school, we were about to face the big question of whether Harry Potter should be included in the library! I recall at the time that our leadership team agreed that we would read the books and only entertain conversations around a decision when we had actually engaged with the content. We didn’t have to like it, but at least we were going to be informed.
Perhaps the same should be applied to these issues that are difficult for Christian schools. Are we really informed (on the issues of the day, be it SOGI, pandemic response, residential schools or other)? We find it easier, don’t we, to extend hospitality to those who think the same as us, or who have the same beliefs, or who make us feel good about ourselves. Are we really displaying hospitality to all of our families in our schools? Are we displaying hospitality to those external groups who criticise us?
I think it is the stories of grace, hospitality, and love that in the long run are going to trump the stories of homophobia, distrust, disgust, intolerance, and ignorance that we appear to be surrounded with and labelled with.
The lovely surprise for me in Scripture is the way Jesus shows us how to be hospitable to the stranger. In two stories in particular, the “stranger” or the guest, becomes the host. We see this particularly in the story of the Wedding of Cana (John 2:1- 11) where Jesus makes the party better by turning the water into fine wine, and in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1- 10). Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he will eat with him on that day, and actually he’s going to forgive him as well. Jesus uses this opportunity to bring grace to the host and to those looking on. He literally turns our understanding of hospitality (I am the host, you are the guest), upside down! I think Jesus is showing us that hospitality has the chance to transform us. It transforms the giver and it transforms the receiver.
We have an extraordinary opportunity in our time to present ourselves, as James Davison Hunter suggests, as a “faithful presence” in society — a presence that is marked by humility and hospitality.
If we are a community of humility and hospitality, we will not respond to people or issues with fear or aggressiveness. We will always be motivated by the hope of the Gospel and by God’s good presence which brings hope and encouragement. So, let me conclude my open statement to our CEN members by expressing some deep hopes which I believe capture what we aspire to be as an organisation representing our Lord Jesus.
It is our deep hope
that our schools would be defined as schools that teach, lead, and govern from a Biblically informed worldview.
It is our deep hope
that our schools would seek the path of humility and grace in everything that we think and do.
It is our deep hope
that our schools would be repentant of the mistakes of the past and seek to restore relationship with past teachers, students, and families who have been hurt by our actions and responses.
It is our deep hope
that our schools would be committed to loving and nurturing all students in their care.
It is our deep hope
that our schools will always be safe places for all students to grow and flourish.
It is our deep hope
that our schools would be hospitable and relational to all within the school community and to those beyond the school gates.
Flourishing Christian schools are places of prophetic vision and healing. We are no longer complicit in shamefully supporting economic practices or social order that runs counter to the beautiful, and somewhat mysterious, nature of the Kingdom of God as presented in the gospels and in Jesus’ parables. May you lead so that your school provides a Kingdom vision, acting in humility, hospitality, and hope, to be a prophetic voice and healing balm in your neighbourhood, city, province, country, and indeed the world.
Sections on Humility, Hospitality and Hope used with permission from CEN publication of that name. Thanks for sharing, mates!
Michelle Dempsey has been in or around Christian Schools for a long time. Starting out as an enthusiastic teacher in Tasmania, Michelle has taught all ages and served as a coordinator, deputy, and principal. She remains truly passionate about Christian education and gets excited about schools, teachers, and leaders laying claim to the Lordship of Christ in “every square inch” of this world, especially the sphere of education. Currently, Michelle serves as the CEO of Christian Education National. She loves her role and the people she gets to work with. Michelle is married to the lovely Mic (also an educator), and is mum to two fabulous kids, Max & Meg. In her spare time, Michelle loves to cook and entertain, and enjoys a good laugh with friends and yet-to-be friends.