I might have created a small fire on Wednesday night when I posted about a teacher at Centennial who allegedly invited Fr. Joel Phelps from St. Patrick’s in to school to “give ashes” to students on Ash Wednesday.
And it’s not only because the teacher in question may have actually done something wrong, which I believe that she did, no matter what the other side of the Constitutional discussion claims at this point.
I have a penchant for the dramatic; hyperbole seems to be in my blood. My mother, God bless her, is the Queen of this type of speech, and my father, not to be outdone, is constantly saying things to the effect of “If we don’t get this basket right here, that could be the season.”
So, that’s who I am. But it’s no excuse for the way I phrased a portion of the post in question the other night where I stated:
Any reasonable person who lives in America and understands the basic principles upon which our nation was founded will understand why allowing something like this to take place inside of a publicly funded school building is 100% unconstitutional and illegal.
Jesus. That's awful. I apologize for that.
It’s pretty rare when things are absolute, especially in matters of the law. And in this instance, it’s not simply an open and shut door case of a violation of the separation of church and state. There are still facts to be gathered, and while it seems like this was on the wrong side of what's allowed, judgment and interpreting the law is an interesting thing.
I don’t have any interest in dissecting the minutiae of what transpired, because it’s going to be told in different ways by different people, so I will just be clear on my position:
I do not believe that public school is any place for religious ceremonies of any kind, if they are being led or organized by adults, or through adults, teachers, and most importantly, by those who are in positions of leadership at a church.
There’s two reasons for that.
The first is personal, I suppose, because I simply don’t care for the idea of organized religion; moreover, I love the idea of living in a nation where I do not have to be subjected to it unless I choose to be. Having grown up in an evangelical church despite my Jewish heritage, and having witnessed both intense hypocrisy and unbelievable charity within, I can state with certainty that there’s plenty of confusion that surrounds it.
As such, I just don’t want it creeping into schools, no matter whether a Catholic feels like they need to participate in a ritual on a certain day, or whether a Jew or a Muslim or a Satanist needs to do the same. It's a slippery slope, and that's worth the interpretation of that law, in and of itself.
There are places to go worship and participate in those practices, so that’s where I believe they should be held. In the home, in the church, and generally, in private.
The importance of studying what you proclaim to believe
See, the big issue for me is that, well, I’ve actually read the Bible. A lot.
I am not trying to brag or prop myself up as some incredible theologian, no matter how you read that or how it sounds in your head but, I studied it in college, both as literature, and as the word of God, and have spent my lifetime reading it, in chapters, by passage, and in spurts. And I’ve ignored it at times, only to come back to it, ensconced and obsessively devouring it again.
In college, my regular routine was to read chapters, take a breather, rip a four foot bong, and then read the very same chapter again. Good for perspective.
Of the many parts of scripture that have resonated over the years, perhaps there are none as powerful to me that the two I am going to bring up now. The first being from the epistle of James, specifically chapter 3, verse 1, wherein it is written (and I am paraphrasing, because Christ knows the whole damn book is subject to interpretation and paraphrasing — I don’t speak, write, or translate Aramaic or Greek):
“Not all of you should be teachers, my brothers, as you will be judged with a greater strictness.”
And as such, let me be crystal clear: I do not consider myself to be a teacher. Lord knows that if there is a heaven or hell (which I don't believe there is), I want to be judged with as little strictness as is available to me. Please, Peter, give me the smallest available package, OK? OK, thank you.
But that leads me to the teachings of Jesus, which are the actual teachings you should really be paying attention to the most if you want to lay claim to being a Christian, because, let’s face it, Pauline Doctrine is boring and kind of shitty, and downright frustrating after the third or fourth letter. We can discuss that a different time, I suppose, and I shouldn't simply write it off, but hey — Jesus is who we came here to see, right? Right.
In the book of Matthew chapter 6, verses 5-6, Jesus is clear with those listening. Again, paraphrasing here:
“When you pray, do not be like those hypocrites; they love to stand on street corners and be seen by other men. Instead, when you pray, go into your room, and pray in private, and for that, the Father will bestow upon you reward.”
So, take a moment to let that sink in. Read it again, if you'd like. I will, too.
Good. So, these are the teachings of Jesus. It’s not John, or James, or Paul, that little punk. No, this is Jesus Christ and he is speaking to and teaching his newly formed discipleship.
And yes, while this too is open to interpretation, in my view, it’s pretty clear.
Your faith is not something to be put on display and worn like a badge of honor. It’s not here for you to make sure that everyone knows that you have arrived. It’s deeply personal. It’s sacred. It's meditative. It's within you. And it’s certainly not for those who wish to utilize it as methodical weapon designed to separate us from those we surround. Those would be the hypocrites he is discussing, from what I can gather.
I guess my main, overarching point is that, for all the upheaval and emotion that surrounds the idea of public prayer, and about what happened the other day inside of a public high school, it’s my contention that these acts fly directly in the face of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
And that’s no surprise. If there were ever an opportunity to behave hypocritically, it would be as the leader of a religious congregation. Or perhaps as the publisher of a magazine.
We are merely human.
With that stated, I should probably always allow a smart editor to look at my articles before I post them, knowing damn well what might lie ahead.
Just the same, it might help a bit for church leaders and devoted listeners to, you know, go back and read a chapter here and there, maybe get off the old high horse a bit now and again, as well.
Four foot binger: optional.
For the record and to be 100% on this point
I do not believe the teacher in question should be severely punished in any way. That would be even more ridiculous than the act of the alleged indiscretion itself. Of course, I am not in the position to make that call, but I suppose as the person who initially publicized it, I feel compelled to state that here, for the record. In case they are listening. I am hoping they are.
Often, we are too quick to accuse, and too slow to forgive. The number of emails and texts that I’ve received defending the teacher in question and their ability to connect with students is impressive to say the least.
And considering the fact that the person is a public school teacher in Unit 4, and is pretty well consistently marginalized by the people who dictate the terms of their salary and obligations as a teacher, the last thing they need is a suspension or worse, to be dismissed. From what I understand, the teacher has tenure, so that’s good news. Quite frankly, I don’t really trust the District at this point to be good stewards of most anything right now.
But with that said, I also believe the person at the top, Dr. Judy Wiegand, to be fair and just and reasonable and intelligent. So I am going to believe that this is going to be a teaching moment for us all. And yes, I have included myself in that equation.
We are all students, no matter what we choose to believe.
I believe that I will embrace that, and keep trying to learn.