In class

th“Now in my class you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world…

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman:

O me, O life of the questions of these recurring, of the endless strains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer: that you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

“That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” These words are repeated by Professor Keating (Robin Williams) in the opening scenes from one of my favorite films, Dead Poets Society.

Free thinking is not something generally encouraged in Christian circles.

I taught a class once as part of a Youth Ministry major at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. I named the class “Youth in Contemporary Culture,” and at the outset, I told the students they would be writing a number of short papers in my class because that was the only way I could find out what they were thinking. I wanted them to write their thoughts, not mine – that if I suspected they were just parroting what I had said in class, they would be graded down. That was the last thing I wanted. I know what I think already. I want to know what they were thinking, and I wanted some kind of evidence they were grappling with something new.

Three students quit the class that first day and they were all three “A” students. They suddenly realized they had a loose cannon for a teacher – one who wasn’t going to comply with a grading system they could manipulate. Their GPA could not risk this class. Good riddance.

This, of course, is the beauty of the Internet. We can have a thousand people or a hundred thousand, but it will still come down to a “secret” society of you and me. So we need your good thinking on how we can get the word out about the Catch to more people who are looking for independent-thinking Christians. Please let us know how we can help you expand our Catch audience to more people who would benefit from it. We welcome your ideas and suggestions.

And in the meantime, while you are thinking about that, I am going to close this Catch with excerpts from one of those papers from that class I taught at Gordon College. This was from a summary paper presented by Glenn Fischer, Mary Moore, Dawn Johnson, Cindy Loux, and John McKenna. If you’re wondering, they all got an “A.” I am still so proud of them all.

We wait patiently for someone to take the initiative. Will it be God or us? We know perfectly well, as humans, our first tendencies are to stand silent and erect, glaring coarsely from behind the battle line. We are afraid of the wounded in the world, but more afraid of being wounded ourselves. We are afraid of reality and convinced by pride that darkness and light just don’t mix. But at the same time, we easily imagine ourselves out in the world someday – exposing the darkness through God’s light within us, even though it may be only a dim ray of our own insecurity.

As Christians, we are not so much aware of the world as we are aware of ourselves. We are obsessed at times with our spiritual standing more than with those who don’t even have legs to stand on, never mind kneel in prayer. We serve ourselves with Bible studies and with morning, noon, and night church services while street people starve because no one is willing to serve them. Our religious convictions convict us, but we refuse to relate with the convicted behind bars.

Somewhere along the line our priorities have been distorted. We face the danger of seducing ourselves within the church and erasing any feelings of obligation to reach out to the world. We choose not to conform to society or its culture out of fears and insecurities in ourselves. But in choosing non-conformity, we create our own conformity: comfortable Christianity. It’s our crutch in a time of need, while we’re afraid of the blood, violence, and greed of the wilderness jungle – the real world. We use Christianity and abuse it too many times as a shelter from the pain and remorse.

So how do we cut through into the real world? What is that first step in becoming aware of the needs of our world (God’s world) instead of just our own needs? First, as Oswald Chambers points out in his book My Utmost for His Highest, we must realize that “…we cannot do what God does, and God will not do what we can” do. We have to work out the salvation God has worked in.

Conscious involvement is a twofold enterprise. We not only have to be aware that God is at work in our lives, but we must work out that awareness in a world that is unaware of God’s love, unaware of justice and reason, love and mercy, identity and heart.

We are called to awaken to the world around us, to seek Christ’s direction and look at the world through His eyes instead of our own. We are to be obedient, to take the direction He gives us. We are to spread the same love to others that Christ has so freely given to us.

How we appear to our Christian brothers and sisters should not hinder our obedience to the call God has laid before us. We must not be afraid of what other Christians think of us when we are in the world. After all, Jesus had to deal with persecution. What we should be concerned with is what non-Christians see in us, for they will see right through us.

Bleeding hearts and images,
Aware of influence and rejection;
We choose reality, you see infection.
Split decisions, split directions.
Stripped of our identity, no longer immune to passion or pain;
We give you our hearts, you poison the strain.
Down comes our religion, drowning in the pouring rain.

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7 Responses to In class

  1. Lisa in Sunland says:

    A great point! If we believe in the need for the message The Catch is providing to Christians, then we should share. I just forwarded my Catch to 11 people with a recommendation that they sign up for it (and a recommendation to read 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee, which goes along with this so well – and is SO needed by virtually every Christian). Okay – every other reader, forward your Catch to YOUR closest 10 friends (or even a few enemies)…. GO!

    Or think of some other way to expand who is catching the Catch and give John your ideas. What he actually asked for – our sharing our ideas with him – works also. 🙂

    Wishing you a blessed day!

  2. Mark Seguin says:

    I would like to ask you Pastor John who told u that was the reason(s) you stated those “A” students quit your class? Could it possiably be they knew that your class wasn’t for them? One because of maybe all of the writing and OMG they may of had an independant thought – to quit before half way throu the class and it was confirmed – it wasn’t something for them! 🙂

    Of course if those students told you that was the reason they felt a need to leave your class before the 2nd day – that could, or should have led to furthur discussions, not this, which i easily find a “us” and “them” mentality in your – “Good riddance”

    • jwfisch says:

      Touche, Mark. You nailed me on the “Good riddance.” That was out of line. I do know for a fact that the students were expecting a much easier class from someone who was not a regular professor. Their reasons for leaving were communicated to me through their friends who chose to stay.

      • Mark Seguin says:

        Thx 4 the reply, appreciate and you…
        PS let me ask u do u mind if I call u Pastor John? I started doing that after i heard Marti had once mentioned u r a Pastor, during an teleconference Bible study so that’s when I started referring to u as Pastor John, because to me that is a term of respect…

      • jwfisch says:

        Honestly, you are the only one who calls me “pastor” and I do not mind it. Based on our place as a sort of unofficial cyberchurch and our history with you from the teleconference Bible study until now, I find it appropriate and rather endearing, although I can see how some people might think it is inappropriate since am not an officially recognized pastor of this “community.” I am ordained which would make me a “pastor” in that regard, so as far as I’m concerned you may call me anything you like.

  3. Carole in Midland says:

    It’s a lovely place with every comfort and one couldn’t ask for more – good friends, good food, ample entertainment, lovely views to the outside. There are a couple of caveats, tho – conformity is the standard; independent thinking is not allowed – and the doors are all locked tight. No matter how wonderfully disguised, a prison is still a prison. The Catch was my key out. Or maybe it was my key IN – into the world at large, not bound by rules that have no connection to the Word, but are manmade. Surely, we ALL know someone who is beginning to feel the confinements of their own prison. Maybe the Catch can be their way out (and in) too. It’s not that the Catch has answers to every question, it is that you are free to ASK questions here, and it’s okay that not every question has a pat answer, or even an answer at all. You even get to disagree and on occasion, be disagreeable and STILL be welcome. Moreover, the doors are always open for coming in and for going out. You can take what you need and share the treasures that you have discovered on your own journey. In FACT, coming, taking, going, sharing is the whole idea!

  4. Ralph Gaily says:

    John… Could you please give us a couple of examples of what you call “free thinking which is not generally encouraged in Christian circles”. Please be specific. Thanks….., Ralph Gaily

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