Notes from an English Classroom: a HASH post

Bible Image Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John L. Feldman, in memory of his father Alvin Lindberg Feldman, 1997

Image Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John L. Feldman, in memory of his father Alvin Lindberg Feldman, 1997

When, after a month of brainstorming and writing, there still seems to be no way forward with the post I planned for you, I resort to things I’ve already practiced expressing. These are the things I tell my students on the first day of a new semester: some of the reasons why I’m an English teacher rather than something else, and why I think being an English teacher is important. The first day of my new semester happened a week ago, and I had the privilege of sharing these things with three separate groups of students.

First, the word “presupposition.” I start here, because the next things I share with them — including the course syllabus, which I won’t share with you — are presuppositions of mine, and also because I will eventually want to talk about authors’ presuppositions, so it’s helpful to have already defined the term. I ask the students to define it, but they usually don’t, so I break it down for them, into “pre” and “suppose,” and arrive at an idea of a presupposition being something assumed or believed before other things: an idea that is foundational or first. Then I write two presuppositions on the white board:

1. Words are important.

2. People are important.

Words. Perhaps my favorite passage in the Bible is John 1:1-14, with its grand beginning, “In the beginning was the Word . . . .” I read it aloud to my students, trying to convey some of the drama and excitement I feel: the Word who was in the beginning; the Word who is God; the Word through whom all things were created.

In Genesis 1, we read how God — this Word from the gospel of John — created the heavens and the earth: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” He created with words. I can’t do this; when I set out to make something, it involves gathering materials, measuring, cutting or stirring, glueing, sewing, nailing, baking. My words can express a desire to create, but they cannot create anything material. God’s words? They are POWERFUL.

But there’s more. Not only does this God use words to create, He calls Himself the Word. We communicate with words, but we also communicate in other ways: through gestures, expressions, through painting, dance, music. But God doesn’t say that “In the beginning was the melody,” or “In the beginning was the painting.” In the beginning was the Word. If God chooses to call Himself the Word, then we can assume that there is something special about words. Words matter.

But there’s even more. God created by words, calls Himself the Word, AND He has given us words as His primary revelation of Himself: the Bible, a book full of words. (Again, not a picture-book, not a dance, not an orchestral score — though we have creation bearing witness, through all our senses, to His glory.) If God is real, and uses words to communicate to us, it is vital that we learn to interpret words well, so that we can know Him, and it is also vital that we learn to use words well, because they are powerful, even apart from God’s revelation to us.

Words. Words are important. But people are also important. Back in the gospel of John, we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word — who we previously established is God — became flesh — a person. Remember what this Word did? How this Word spoke the universe — THE UNIVERSE — into being? Earth is less than a speck in the midst of the universe, and people less than specks on Earth, and the God who made it all chose to become one of us. People are important.

But why? What do we know about people? Back in Genesis, we read of God creating people in His own image, and read that, while everything else was created by His words, God used His hands to fashion people and breathed life into our frames: we’re that special. When He made us, we, like all creation, were perfect. But we sinned, and fell from the perfection in which we were created, and the Bible tells us that now “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We’re messed up, and we know it. Moreover, because of our sins, we deserve to die.

This could be the end of the story, but God loves us. And He shows us that love in that while we were still sinners, He made Himself a man — Jesus Christ — was born in the shame and mess of all human births, lived and worked in our poverty and dirt, and, though He’d lived a perfect life, He died. For us. Because He loves us. He took the punishment for our sins, rose from the grave in which we would have been stuck forever, and grants eternal life, adoption as children of God, to those who believe in Him.

If God loves people enough to do that, people are important.

And if people are important, each student in each of my classes — and each reader of this blog — is important so that my project, as a teacher of English, as a writer of words, is not only to value words, but also to value people. I value them by teaching them about literature, about writing. I value them by listening to the things they have to say and being interested in them as people. I value them by sharing this gospel, that Christ Jesus died to save sinners — because this is the most important thing of all.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

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