Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why I Teach

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."  --Philippians 4:8

A friend of mine shared this verse with me today and, after posting it on my own Facebook page, I decided I wanted to blog about it as well.

I believe it speaks to what I love about my job as a teacher. 

I get to spend my day contemplating and reconsidering what is considered to be noble, true, right and pure.  I get to spend every day in the presence of intelligences greater than my own, and I get to focus my exclusive attention on things and ideas that people and cultures have historically struggled to define as excellent and praiseworthy.  

Even on days when I have to teach about books, lives and events that seem to encompass the very antithesis of all of these qualities, I am always thinking about such things, if only by default and by means of stark contrasts. 

I'm always amazed at my luck.  Not everyone gets to do this on a daily basis.

I think that the advice that Paul offers here goes beyond the suggestion that we should "accentuate the positive," as the old Johnny Mercer song has it.  "Eliminating the negative" is always easier said than done, and sooner or later, we're all doomed to "mess with Mister In-Between." 

The question, though, seems to be where we choose to mentally and spiritually set up shop.  Do we allow our minds and our words to embrace spite and negativity, or do we train our attention on the ideals that we wish to see in our world, even if we don't think we've seen them for quite some time?

For my own part, I hear Paul's words in Philippians in concert with Christ's words in Luke and Matthew.  While it is sometimes necessary to form a judgment of others' conduct and to acknowledge when words and behavior aren't acceptable to us, I think we do well to always remember the question posed in Luke 6:37:  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."