Category Archives: Lent
Genesis 37:20, RSV
It’s hard to hold on to dreams in the face of opposition. Ask Joseph, the main character in Genesis chapter 37. His brothers, tired of hearing about Joseph’s dreams, decided to rid themselves of him for good. If it hadn’t been for Reuben’s interceding, Joseph would have been killed—a heavy price to pay for dreaming.
Martin Luther King, Jr. paid the price for daring to dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray on 4 April 1968.
Mohandas Ghandi paid the price for daring to dream that one day his beloved India would be free from British rule. He was gunned down by a disgruntled fellow countryman on 30 January 1948, only five months after India gained its independence.
Not every dreamer pays the ultimate price for his or her dreams, but every dreamer meets opposition along the way. Sometimes that opposition seems insurmountable.
During World War II, when my dad was a young man, he dreamed of becoming a soldier, and spent one summer in a military camp. Then one day his dream turned into a nightmare when he was ordered to plunge a bayonet into a target shaped like a man and “twist to kill.” That was the day he knew he wasn’t cut out to be a soldier. He told his parents he was going to become a conscientious objector and perform alternative service for his country. His mother threatened to kill herself if he carried out his plan.
My dad faced a great moral dilemma: Should he listen to his mother’s threat or follow his conscience? After a great deal of soul-searching, he chose the way of peace, not war, and his mother, my grandmother, lived well into her eighties.
When opposition to their dreams arises, my students will probably not face choices as dramatic as my father faced. They are, after all, only sixth- and seventh-graders.
Yet someone is waiting to tell them that their dreams aren’t worthwhile; that they can’t do what they set out to do; that they are too slow, too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too weak or too stupid to accomplish much of anything.
That’s why everyone needs a Reuben—someone who will defend them against the dream-killers.
And yes, teacher can be dream-killers just as well as anyone else. I have to be on guard day after day to make sure that I nurture, instead of destroy, my students’ dreams. I have to make an effort to use kind words instead of sarcastic words; to smile instead of frown; to affirm rather than put down.
The dreams-made-flesh in my students will bear witness to the nurturing work I have done. Who could ask for more?
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they only hated him the more.
Genesis 37:5, RSV
Dreamers are often misunderstood. Joseph was a dreamer, and his father’s favorite child. Joseph’s brothers hated him because of his favored status, and because the family patriarch had given him an “amazing Technicolor dreamcoat” as a token of esteem and affection. Joseph’s brothers hated him even more when he began to share his dreams with them. They hated him so much that they finally sold him into slavery and told his grief-stricken father that he was dead.
Maybe it’s safer not to dream—or at least not to share those dreams with anyone else. Why risk mockery or even death?
Teachers can be dream-killers or dream nurturers. Dream-killers discourage, rather than encourage, children. Dream-killers scoff and mock and deride. Dream-killers say, “Forget about it. You don’t have what it takes.” Every child has probably had at least one dream-killing teacher in his or her life. Fortunate are those who also have had at least one teacher who knows how to nurture dreams.
When I first started teaching, I came up with a signature that I add under my name; it goes out on every e-mail I send: “Weaving Dreams, Telling Stories, Changing Lives.” That’s not just a slogan devised by some slick advertising agency on Madison Avenue, it’s my life:
Your dream is safe with me, child.
I will never mock you or deride you.
I will never sneer and say, “Forget it.”
You will never hear me scoff, “You’re not good enough,
not smart enough, not strong enough.”
You’re as good as any other dreamer.
You’re as smart as you need to be to make
your dream take shape.
You’re so strong you can hold on to your dream
for as long as you need to,
no matter what happens,
until that dream comes true—that’s how strong you are.
Your dream is safe with me, child.
Your dream is safe with me.
Many people think that Lent is primarily a season of deprivation. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common question.
I prefer to see Lent as a season for dreaming, as a time for envisioning new possibilities and looking forward with hope to the day when those possibilities will become realities through planning and hard work.
When I return to my classroom tomorrow, one of the first things I’m going to do is say to my students is “What’s your dream?”
And then I’m going to listen, not just with my ears, but also with my heart.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
Psalm 32:8-9, NRSV
There are very few teachers who won’t bend over backwards to make sure that their students “get” math or English or science or history. Most teachers will do whatever it takes to help their students move toward mastery of a subject.
For example, reading comprehension is a big deal in my class. I have students who can read fairly fluently, stumbling over only the most uncommon words. Think they understand what they read? Not necessarily.
Several weeks ago, I opened More Pies! by Robert Munsch, picked a sentence at random, and wrote it on the board:
When he walked into the kitchen, his mom said, “Samuel, I know you are really hungry, so I made you pies for lunch.”
I read the sentence to my students, and then asked them to write one question that could be answered using the information given in the sentence. “You don’t have to give me the answer,” I said. “You just have to write a good question.”
The results were disappointing. One student wrote (and I am using original spelling, grammar and punctuation): “Why did Samule eat all the pies?” (I can’t answer that question from the information given.)
Another wrote: “why was he hungry” (Don’t know, dear student. You tell me, if you can, from the sentence I wrote on the board.)
Still another wrote: “How does he’s mom know he was hungry?” (Um, ‘cause he was gnawing on his arm?)
After reading these questions, I started a daily regimen of helping my students write questions based passages from the book we are reading in class, Number the Stars. Three weeks later, I see vast improvement.
Would kind of teacher would I have been if I had given up on my students? Persistence and daily practice have paid off: These kids can now formulate questions based on what they read—although their spelling is still atrocious! Yet if my students had refused to do the daily practice—if they had acted like stubborn little mules— their ability to comprehend Number the Stars would not have improved.
Lent is traditionally a time for “giving up something” (cigarettes, candy, movies, etc.) to develop one’s spiritual life. But Psalm 32 says nothing about “giving up something.” Instead, it contains an invitation to receive spiritual instruction from God. That instruction is available as a gift to anyone who refuses to act “like a horse or a mule, without understanding.”
Like my students, I need practice. A daily regimen of listening to the Spirit, instead of going my own way, will help me to improve my spiritual understanding.