Weekly school assemblies were very much apart of the timetable for many of the years I worked as a secondary school teacher. Generally, I enjoyed them, however I went through seasons when I found them a little tedious, for various reasons.
This week I had cause to remember one such assembly.
It was a full school assembly held in the church across the road from the senior campus and as I was running late, I had to sneak into the auditorium using a side entrance. As I drew near the assembly, I could hear the key note speaker, over the P.A., addressing the students. He was explaining that as a Yr. 8 student he had been bullied in class… When I heard this, I immediately felt negative towards the speaker and dismissed him as “yet another one of those motivational speakers who doesn’t know a lot.”
What can I say? I am not a particularly pleasant chap at times.
In my defence, I had been having a hard day, probably with my Yr. 8 students, and was at the time swamped with correction and curriculum and so the last place I wanted to be was in a church listening to a speaker telling me about Yr. 8.
Such was my angst, that I didn’t even want to look at him, so I hid behind a wall at the back of the church and looked out a window.
Well that didn’t last long because I started to feel quite guilty about my negativity and so I thought the least I could do was to look at the speaker and feign interest. So, I popped my head around the corner of the wall and took a look and instantly my attitude changed and from that moment on I hung on every word the man spoke. To this day I would regard him as one of the very best speakers I have ever had the privilege of listening to.
Nick Vujicic, born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of arms and legs, was in the middle of the room on a table, telling six hundred students and staff that God had a plan for their lives. That regardless of the challenges we may face, the Lord walks with us and strengthens us so that we may be overcomers.
Seriously, you could have heard a pin drop in the church that day.
I had undergone a complete paradigm shift and the construct I had formed about this “motivational speaker” lay in ruins around my feet as I was confronted with a far more accurate paradigm. It highlighted to me that I had approached this event with a rather narrow, jaundiced perspective, which if not addressed would have coloured my interpretation of the whole experience. Fortunately for me, the event itself was potent enough to challenge my attitude.
Needless to say, having undergone this massive paradigm shift, I felt more than a little ashamed of my earlier judgement of Nick. So much so, that after the assembly, when everyone had left, I approached Nick and apologised to him for my rash judgement. In typical style he was very gracious, forgave me and then asked me to give him a hug.
Still moves me deeply.
I left the church that day with a completely different attitude to the one I had entered with.
C. S. Lewis in his book entitled, Miracles, points out;
“the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses… and our senses are not infallible. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, then if anything extraordinary happens, we can always say we are victims of an illusion. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to the experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.”
In other words, before people can sit down and talk about the interpretation of some experience or event, they first must examine the philosophy or paradigm they have “brought to the table”.
I would suggest, this principle can be expanded to include more than simply a discussion about miracles. The positions we hold and defend on a variety of events and topics, whether it be miracles, current affairs, theology or the football (AFL of course) can often be traced back to the paradigms which we “bring to table” and not so much the actual topic that happens to be in question at the time. Therefore, it is often worthwhile to take a few minutes to examine the paradigms first before launching into some debate as to why Collingwood should be banned from the AFL… Kidding.
In the gospels it is not uncommon to read how Jesus after performing a miracle would direct the recipients to not tell anyone what he had done. The raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:43) is but one example. Why do this?
It seems that at least one reason was due to the paradigm the Jewish people of the time held about the Messiah and his mission when he returned. That being to deliver the nation of Israel from the yoke of oppression and restore them in all glory and power. The Messiah was seen from their perspective to be the all-conquering king. This view would have been also held to some extent by Jesus’ disciples. One of the consequences of “broadcasting” the miracles Jesus performed would have been to reinforce this paradigm which of course was not even close to why Jesus had come to earth.
Jesus came, not as the conquering king, but as the suffering servant who was to die on a cross for the sins of the whole world. Again, and again we see Jesus revealing this truth about himself, while at the same time trying to correct the false paradigm the disciples and the people in general held about the Messiah.
“For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve and, to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45. (RSV)
Barclay in his commentary of Mark chapter 3 makes the following point…
“Jesus thought of the Messiahship in terms of love; the people thought of Messiahship in terms of Jewish nationalism… At this stage nothing but harm and trouble and disaster could come from the proclamation that the Messiah had arrived… First of all, men had to learn the true conception of what the Messiah was, and a premature announcement such as this could have wrecked Jesus’ whole mission.”
Therefore, if Jesus was fully aware of the paradigms people embraced and did not disregard them in his dealings with folk, are we not called to do the same?
Consequently, given the difficult times we currently find ourselves in and the various strong opinions about these events, I have been particularly challenged this week about the idea of paradigms and their relevance. That is, the importance of praying about and examining my own perspectives on matters and trying to understand the paradigms of others, before I “argue the point”.
Does this mean we are not to make judgements at times and have no opinions? I think not, as doing so is part of being “salt and light” to the world.
However, can I suggest this week we try remember the words of James…
“Know this my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”
James 1:19&20 (RSV)