Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: school

Book Review: Stanley at School

stanleyatschool25439356Stanley at School, Linda Bailey, Kids Can Press, 2015.

This is a fun little book about a dog named Stanley who is curious about what the kids do in school. He asks his dog friends at the park, but they do not anymore than he does. He convinces them to join him in breaching the school doors. And what could go wrong with four dogs in an elementary school?

Bill Slavin’s illustrations are perfect for the story. They are colorful, fun, and engaging. The illustrations, like all good illustrations, help tell the story. These are no different. The bright pictures reinforce how Stanley and his friends drive the story. In fact, you do not hear a human speak until the custodian, with his broom in hand, says, “Bad dogs.”

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The Ten: Don’t Hurt People

Do not kill. (Exodus 20:13, Common English Bible)

There is a story in Genesis of two brothers, the world’s first two brothers: Cain and Abel. They both brought sacrifices to God. Able brought the first and best of his sheep, while Cain brought scraps from his harvest. Their tithing was their worship. God looked favorably on Abel’s offering, and not so favorably on Cain’s offering.

In a fit of jealousy and anger, Cain kills his brother Abel.

The world’s first murder.

Perhaps this story from the Hebrew tradition is what came to mind for the Hebrews when Moses announced this commandment. Life is a precious gift given by God. The responsibility for giving and taking life belonged to God. But the commandment to not kill may have a broader stroke.

Terence Fretheim writes about this commandment:

….any act of violence against an individual out of hatred, anger, malice, deceit, or for personal gain, in whatever circumstances and by whatever method, that might result in death.

“Any act of violence” with the intention of death.

Recently our community had bomb threats at a number of area schools, elementary through high school. A fire drill blared, and the students, in orderly lines, went outside. Some of the students were funneled into school buses. The next day there were children who did not want to go to school. They were filled with anxiety and fear. And I can’t blame them. If I was in the first grade and had that experience, I most likely would fight my parents to not go to school.

The person or persons who called in these bomb threats are attempting to act in God’s stead. This act of violence goes against God’s loving creation. The effects of this act will last longer than that moment, which can be wildly dangerous. God beckons us to place value on the lives of others.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, goes a bit farther. Jesus, always one to turn the world upside down, tells the crowd that the commandment goes beyond physical violence. Verbal abuse and other expressions of anger, hatred, malice, and so on. Jesus extends the commandment to include anything that we might do to hurt others. Name-calling, gossiping, back-stabbing, (all the stuff you see happening on House of Cards), is damaging to the person you do that to. It kills a part of them. And frankly, it kills a part of us as well.

When we hurt others – in physical, emotional, or verbal ways – we are hurting God’s plans for a safe and loving world. When we call in bomb threats that leave first graders huddled on a cold school bus, we are disrupting God’s plan for a safe and loving world. When we choose vile and selfish ways to keep people out (even in the name of God), we rattle God’s plan for a safe and loving world.

In the beginning, God created and it was good. When we hurt others, we disturb the goodness of God’s creation. And that is not good.

Remembering Ira

photo: rmc.edu

On August 17, 2012 we lost a great saint, Ira Andrews, III to a four-year battle with cancer. Ira was the dean of students at Randolph-Macon College for 35 years. In addition he was a graduate of R-MC (class of ’59), a United Methodist minister, and a religious studies professor. Ira was a beloved member of the R-MC community. His memorial service was yesterday in Ashland, and I was unable to attend.

From 2001-2004, he was one of my professors and mentors. Ira taught me in a number of church history and theology courses. Ira’s classes were always popular. Ira had a gift for asking questions without giving answers. I have a clear memory of Ira leaning back in his chair, hand on his chin, listening intently to what was being said, and then he would ask the most unexpected question, yet a question that was guaranteed to make you think. I remember working on a group project for Liberation Theology, where we took the time to think through all the questions Ira might ask. Of course, there was really no way of successfully doing that. Ira would do the same thing in my interviews with the Ashland District Committee on Ordained Ministry.  When I admitted that I was slightly nervous about the theology committee, Ira quickly started shooting rounds of questions at me, which would give me strength for the interviews.

Ira had a gift of getting young people to think. At times it wasn’t so much the answer that mattered, as much as the process in answering the question. This could have easily been the time and place in which I came to love questions. It was easy to feel intimated by his presence and knowledge, but there was no need to be. He asked open-ended questions while being non-judgmental. Ira was a kind, loving, and compassionate person, which is what made him a great teacher. In seminary and beyond, I have found myself endless times commenting, “I learned that in Ira’s class.”

Ira was one of those teachers who was able to bring out the best in his students. You did the work in the class, has heavy loaded as it was at times, not because you HAD to, but because you wanted to. You wanted to be as prepared as you could to be in dialogue with Ira during the next class.  And at the end of the day – at the end of the semester – you were a better person because of it. I think this is one reason why I came to love theological discussions, and engaging young people in them today.

It was during college that I began to first write about theological connections in film and television. I recently pulled out some of my papers that I wrote during college. There was one paper where I put Augustine and Charles Schultz in dialogue with one another. But, my favorite papers were the ones in which I quoted Buffy Summers from the television show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.  I will be honest, I was a bit nervous the first time I did this. I had written a paper on Paul Tillich’s Theology of Culture, and somehow I had worked in Buffy. Ira was a big supporter of this. After that Tillich paper, he encouraged me countless times to continue to this, including sending me to be in conversation with a professor who was working on a writing project on Buffy.

Ira also encouraged me, as he did so many others, in my call to ordained ministry.  In fact, he was consistent in casually talking to me about it. He was never “in your face” about it, that just was not his style. I can recall conversations he had with me in the halls, in the old chapel, or on the campus grounds about ministry, assessing in his own way where I was in my discernment, and offering words of encouragement that one the roughest days kept me going.

I had the privilege in recent years to serve on the Advisory Board for the R-MC Bailey Scholarship program with Ira. This included a chance to interview high school students for the scholarship. It was an honor to sit at the table with Ira and observe him do what he does best, ask questions, listen passionately to young people, and be the great encourager. He was one of the few people who could gracefully see you as a student, a friend, and a collegue, without any of them getting in the way of the other. In one of these interviews, after the interviewee left the room and we were to discuss the interview, I spent more time picking Ira’s brain about his past experiences. Even after all of these years, Ira was still so fascinating! Even though he had been fighting cancer, Ira was still sharp and still had the ability to get you thinking, even – especially – when you didn’t see it coming.

Ira and his friend Pepper Laughon inside the Andrews Hall.
photo: rmc.edu

A month ago, Megan and I went to R-MC for the SERVE retreat, a retreat for high school students exploring a call to ordained ministry. We stayed in the new Ira Andrews dorms. As a student at R-MC I did not live on campus. In early August I got the chance to stay in an RA room in the Andrews Hall. During the retreat, high schoolers worked an eight hour day on a home in the Ashland area, seconds from R-MC campus. The event was a tribute, in a way, to Ira. Service was an essential piece of who Ira was. The College’s Provost, Dr. William Franz, was quoted in one article as saying, “Ira’s life made manifest the scriptural value that greatness is achieved by becoming the servant of all.”

Ira will be missed, there is no doubt about that. But, in each of us who knew him, learned from him, and worked with him, there is a little bit of him still around.

God bless you, Ira, and the lives you had changed.

For more memories and comments about Ira, visit the college’s web site.

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