Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In recent days, I have watched as online conversations have ramped up regarding the opening of in-person school for the next academic year. I have recently looked at the survey Richland One has sent out to parents; I have seen the information from my children's school, and I have heard from various administrators and teachers. As a parent, as a person whose mom taught for 30 years, and as a husband to a wife who has taught for 17 years, I find myself both deeply moved and saddened by some of these conversations -- so much so that I want to offer a couple of thoughts.
My first thought is related to an observation I have had over the years as priests begin calls to ministry in new parishes. The new priest almost always faces the same first significant challenge. That challenge is that there is almost always a group of people who assume they can do the job better than said priest. A criticism of clergy during this time is often, "He/she is a good preacher, but he is not very good at business." This is code for, "He/she needs to raise more money." In my experience as a consultant for churches in trouble, this is rarely a fair criticism. It is also almost always put forward by a person longing for a time when things were easier. I also have observed that teachers experience this same level of pseudo-expertise all the time. I do not think it is done out of a lack of respect. Instead, in the same way as for clergy, I think this pseudo-expertise comes out of a longing for “yesterday.” Either way, if you are a person suddenly weighing in on safe practices for schools, but you have never worked in a school, I think you should stop.
My second thought is that fear combined with increased time online, particularly on social media, has continued to lead to a rise in the spread of misinformation. Misinformation deliberately spread or not is slowing our effective responses to COVID, which accelerates disease spread. This too is not helpful. So what do we do?
I have been thinking a lot about the Christian virtue of "humility." What does it look like when you have a humble conversation, both in person and online with someone who disagrees with you? What does it look like when you humbly ask for the opinion of an expert and ask clarifying questions, not "gotchas"?
I long for my children to have in-person school just as I long for us to have in-person church. I miss my friends and I know that my children miss theirs. But longing for what is currently gone does not excuse me or anyone from the task of humble listening. We need to listen to teachers. We need to listen to doctors, and we need to humbly put personal wants aside as we hear the fears, hopes, and dreams of others in a non-judgmental way.
In a culture of division, the humble connector and the Anglican model of a middle way is needed more than ever. As schools struggle with the questions of tomorrow, I encourage you to pray for our educators, parents, students, public health officials, and health care workers. I encourage you to pray for our nation's experts. I am not saying do not participate in public conversation or debate. I am merely saying compare your statements against the test of our faith handed to us by Jesus himself: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Does your participation in a conversation show your love of God? Does it show that you love your neighbor as yourself? Are you helping the whole or are you hurting it? We are in this current reality together. Working together, listening to each other, striving for the common good is how we will make tomorrow better.