I’m Not a Businessman

It has been an emotional and challenging rookie year, but I made it to my first winter break as a high school Assistant Principal.

Among my many notable experiences so far:

  • a gaffe that landed us some unwanted local and national media attention, and elicited painful accusations of racism
  • a post-election community event that included about a dozen community organizations, a dozen immigration and civil rights lawyers, and a few city leaders
  • a handful of uncomfortable conversations with colleagues around performance
  • struggling to gain traction with our school’s intervention team
  • learning about our district’s $74 million projected budget shortfall and the tenuous employment status of the district’s many new employees, including my own

I am savoring this opportunity to reflect on the ups-and-downs of the still new school year, because there are so few opportunities to stop and think. Leaders in public education often preach the value of reflection and its invaluable role in improving practice system wide, but I have found it nearly impossible to put their advice to practice during the normal ebb and flow of the regular school day. Thankfully, winter break affords everyone the elusive chance to reflect.

Of particular interest to me right now is how I understand the nature of my job. There are some who believe the school leader should model their work after business executives, who maintain a results-oriented culture. Others find the school-leader-as-doctor model more compelling, particularly for the emphasis it places on promoting healing and wellness.

While both capture important and often overlooked functions of the role, I don’t think either capture what I aspire to in my work. My vocation is to shepherd, to lead and guide, and provide care. I fight for a more just world, and do everything I can to ensure that everyone within my fold – students and staff alike – have what they need to thrive. My job is to help people believe that a better future is possible, and to know how to wield the tools to make it so.

That’s why I find it most helpful to think of my work as pastoral.

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On Hospitality

Below is a transcript of my talk during week 2 of Faith & Race. I describe the logic and work of race in my own life, and look to hospitality as a way forward.

When I arrived at the UW campus for college, there were two things that I was certain of. First, I would be an active member of an on-campus ministry.  I grew up at Chinese Baptist Church on Beacon Hill, where I was formed and nurtured in our youth group to love serving in ministry. It was within the context of this ethnic-specific community that I first came to understand God’s love for all humanity.  Second, despite my appreciation for my Chinese church, the on-campus ministry that I would join would have to be multi-ethnic. I reasoned that the next step in my spiritual maturation would be to worship with people not like me.

At this point, it’s important to point out that I was already worshipping with people not like me. Even in “homogenous” Asian communities like CBC, there is messiness and diversity, with a wide range of experiences, beliefs and opinions. We’re not all alike. I was only marginally connected to the Chinese immigrant congregants at my church, and by leaving my home church in favor of a multi-ethnic community, I lost my family’s immigrant story. I moved away from the story of their courageous journey to America, a story to which I am inextricably bound, regardless of how embarrassing it might feel to be connected to broken English and funny accents. That’s my story; they are my parents. It is ironic that by moving away from a multi-ethnic fellowship, I actually moved from a bilingual faith community to an English-only faith community, away from a community of people that were really different from me, to a place already quite familiar. Continue reading

the formation of the student

this year, for better or worse, my school has turned its collective attention toward managing student behavior. we created a vision for how students are to behave in structured and unstructured environments, with detailed descriptions of what “good” and “bad” behavior looks like in both contexts.

our motivation for doing this is largely pragmatic: it’s just easier to teach when students aren’t going crazy. everyone is happier when the classroom is running in an orderly fashion — including the students who tend to be disorderly.

but there may be unintended consequences to this approach that may be worth reflecting upon.

the other day, one of my students was walking to his car in the parking lot when a security guard confronted him, grabbed his arm, and jerked him backward. i don’t know the particulars of the incident, but i do know the student was found to have done nothing wrong. this isn’t an unusual occurrence — my students are regularly harassed for no discernible reason. as i observed this situation unfolding outside my classroom, i found myself increasingly disturbed by my student’s lack of power to resist what was happening to him precisely because he reacted to this situation exactly the way we taught him to.

in some sense, our school is attempting to train our students to react to these (frequent) unfair situations precisely as john taylor gatto describes in his incriminating essay, “against school.” in this piece (which i had my students read and discuss), gatto claims that schools are “virtual factories of childishness” — that is, schools, by design, socialize students to never grow up. students are trained to do as they’re told, to submit to authority, and to uncritically obey the consumer ethos of american culture. we “reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” in every way, the public school is in service of the interests of the state while functioning under the misleading guise of student empowerment.

to further compound the issue, i’m wondering about how the church figures into this situation. for better or worse, the public school plays an enormous role in the formation of students, and unfortunately, as gatto might suggest, this kind of formation seems better suited to serve the interests of rome rather than the kingdom of god. as a christian teacher, i’m forced to consider what kind of student do i hope to produce, and i wonder if hauerwas’s idea of the resident alien could inform the way i think about shaping students as people who can live within a system, while looking forward to (and bringing forth) another way of being. as i explained to a few of my students, i hope that my students learn how to operate within the world, not so they can become servants of the world’s logic, but so that they can ultimately turn it upside down.

jesus today

check out more of this, here.

first question that popped into my head when i saw this was: should i be offended by this? then i thought about the image for a little bit more and realized what i was actually looking at.

that my first thought  was regarding the offensive nature of this image is particularly telling, and i realize that much of what i think of jesus has been a bit too domesticated. indeed, jesus would probably make a habit of making me cringe.

dark places

i remember reading an essay by frederica mathewes-green where she asked a theologian, “what is the best way to know god?” her (and my) assumption was that the theologian would continue to follow the path of the conversation that had led them to that particular prompt, and maybe single out a few traditions to observe, outline some good practices to adopt, or even identify some good books to read. of course the theologian was much too sly to offer an obvious answer to such a timeless question. his answes to the question was, “by following him.”

i bring this up because last month i heard a great sermon by dan allender (of mhgs fame) at mars hill bible church (the one in michigan) that has lingered in my mind. i’ve heard thousands of sermons in my life, only from a handful of which can i recall any content, but this one really stood out to me. he said a lot of really good stuff, but in part of his talk he essentially took the theologian’s response and elaborated upon it:

if you want to know god, you must go to dark places. does god show himself in the beautiful light of this gorgeous church? absolutely. but if you want to know god deeply and personally, if you want to tremble in the presence of the goodness of god, you need to go to very dark places.  Continue reading

why the spiritually mature are leaving the church

a fascinating article from out of ur, christianity today’s leadership blog.

part 1.
part 2.

here’s george barna’s book, revolution, which deals with the subject a bit more in depth.

and then there’s duin’s quitting church, why the faithful are fleeing and what to do about it.  interesting book, though i’m not sure i find her solutions particularly helpful.

this is an outstanding book

“So in Jesus’ own teaching, in his choice not to avoid confrontation with the temple leaders and their Roman overseers, we find that his most definitive calling is neither to cultivate nor create — though, as we have seen, he did both extensively.  The core calling of his life is not something he does at all in an active sense–it is something he suffers. The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion — not a doing but a suffering.”

[andy crouch, culture making]