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Refamiliarize yourself with Luther's Small Catechism: Ten Commandments, the Creed, and The Lord's Prayer.

Lutheran World Relief: Take the interactive quiz on Lutheran Malaria Initiative to learn more about this devastating disease and what we can do to stop it in its tracks.

Wheat Ridge Ministries Hearts for Jesus programs

LCMS World Missions: See what our church is doing both nationally and internationally

UNICEF: See what students and teachers can do to alleviate suffering around the world.

Contact Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Service, Inc. for help in bringing Good News to children and adults with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities.

See The Arc for information on local chapters of this organization that works with developmental and intellectually disabled people.

 

other STF links

Retired… or ReFIREd for Ministry? (EncourAGEnet)

Rise and Shine! LEA Convocation (Feature)

Will I be Ready? (SNLnet)

 

Endnotes

1 Perhaps “appreciate” is the wrong word. I can’t say that I “understand” Chicago politics either. The nature of politics in Chicago, or anywhere else for that matter, is often too complex for people to understand. A better wording might be: “I have an acquaintance with the sometimes shadowy nature of Chicago politics…” To say we understand things about complex issues may be giving ourselves too much credit. As educators we need to remind ourselves that our ability to divine these complexities has limitations. Children should be aware that even adults have difficulties understanding things of such an intricate nature.

2 Here’s a quick reminder regarding these Commandments from Luther’s Small Catechism: The Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need. The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor's money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income. The Eighth Commandment: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way.

3 See Matthew 43-44: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

4 This is an opportunity to study the hypocrisy that Jesus speaks against in the story of the woman accused of adultery in John 8:3-11. Here Jesus is being tested by the scribes and pharisees and speaks against their hypocrisy. They are not interested in the spiritual well being of the woman; they are interested in tricking Jesus so they can condemn him. Their judgment is motivated by their evil intent instead of a desire to help her amend her ways.

5 Advent is a good time to discuss the concepts of setting the prisoners free (see Psalm 68:6, 146:7, Luke 4:18). Also see Matthew 25:31-46 noting the following verses in particular: 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (ESV - emphasis mine)

6 The Sixth Petition: And lead us not into temptation. What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory. An electronic version of Luther’s Small Catechism is available from CPH.

7 See Chanen, David. “Teen Dies After He Leans Out Bus Window, Hits Tree.” The [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. 9 May 1996 (p. A1.)

8 See Luke 10:25-37, The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

9 See Wheat Ridge Ministries and Lutheran World Relief.

10 Last year two of my students asked me to help them sponsor a benefit for working mothers who were in financial distress. They contacted an organization called Project Starfish that was started by two local St. Paul women who have helped hundreds of needy mothers and their children stay out of homeless shelters by providing them with modest amounts of financial assistance. We contactedThrivent Financial for Lutherans for matching funds and called on the musical and dramatic talents of our students at Concordia University, St. Paul, for putting on a mini-concert benefit in our campus chapel. Result: We were able to raise enough money to keep a mom and her children out of a homeless shelter for a year. Great things can happen with just a bit of initiative on the part of young people. This kind of event could have also been organized, with a little help from teachers and/or parents, by almost any Lutheran school.

11 Contact Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Service, Inc. for help in bringing Good News to children and adults with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities. Also see The Arc for information on local chapters of this organization that works with developmental and intellectually disabled people. Consult the Lutheran Annual index for more opportunities to serve organizations that serve people.

12 Remember that at our baptism we renounced the devil, his works, and all his ways (see the Lutheran Service Book page 268ff) and, through the Spirit’s power, have been equipped to live new lives of faithfulness to God.

13 How Firm a Foundation was sung at the funerals of General Robert E. Lee and U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. It is a hymn you might study in conjunction with the story of the Three Men in the Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3). It can be found in the Lutheran Service Book #728 and can be sung in canon (a round). The word “dross” in the fourth line refers to the scum that forms on molten metal. In this stanza God promises to consume our dross, i.e., worthless sin. The hymn proclaims that God is always with us and we need not fear because his grace is sufficient for all our needs. Also see Isaiah 43: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…” (ESV)

14 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (TNIV)

 

A Lutheran Educator’s Response

to Political Corruption, Local Tragedies, National-International Crises, and Things that Go Bump in the Night

Consider how we, as educators in Lutheran schools, can respond to these kinds of situations. A few years ago there was quite a bit of discussion on the LEA listserv regarding the crisis in the state of Illinois regarding Governor Rod Blagojevich’s alleged “sale” of President-Elect Obama’s senate seat. Having lived the first third of my life in Chicago, I was brought up on a steady diet of Mike Royko (long time Chi town columnist and author of Boss) and Len O’Conner (Chicago TV commentator and author of Clout ) and, therefore, appreciate1 the sometimes shadowy nature of politics in the Windy City and Illinois.

There was plenty of media coverage concerning the Governor of Illinois, and I need not elaborate on their reporting and editorializing. My purpose in writing this essay is to help us consider how we, as educators in Lutheran schools, can respond to these kinds of situations.

Responses from Lutheran Schools Concerning Political Corruption

Whenever situations of this magnitude are reported, children in our schools will read newspapers and magazines, listen to TV news commentators, search the internet, hear political jokes and repeat them (even if they don’t understand them), have dinner table discussions, ask questions and wonder what all the hoopla is about. Our response as Lutheran educators might include the following (these suggestions can be modified to fit any situation of this kind even though they are meant as a follow-up to the earlier comments regarding the Rod Blagojevich situation):

During your faculty’s morning devotion time discuss strategies for dealing with the situation and think about the kinds of things you can do at your school to help children deal with the situation from a Christian perspective? For example:

  • Discuss the facts with children as best we can;
  • Ask children what they think of the situation;
  • Decide on a few things we might do to help the situation;
  • Help direct positive discussion of the problems that politicians and governmental leaders face everyday – especially temptations;
  • Review Luther’s explanation to the fifth, seventh, and eighth commandments to help children understand both the Law aspects of the situation and also the Gospel message that presents the opportunity for us to support our neighbors;2
  • Discuss our legal system’s “presumption of innocence” and what implications it has for us as citizens.

Although praying for enemies may seem strange, it is what God desires of us.Include prayers in our classrooms and chapel services for all our political leaders and their familes.

Remind children that Jesus exhorts us to pray for our enemies.3 Although praying for enemies may seem strange it is what God desires of us. Jesus shows us how important this is in his prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34, NIV

Give children the opportunity to talk about how they might feel if someone close to them was charged with a crime. When children imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes they can develop a stronger sense of empathy. Empathy is difficult to cultivate when cynicism and finger pointing seem more fashionable. Helping children to enhance their ability to suspend judgment, be slow to anger and put the best construction on everything are tenets Christian educators can nurture. The Scriptures teach us that we should be deliberate, careful, and fair in our judgment of others. If we judge others with evil intentions or to elevate ourselves in the eyes of others, we are missing the point.4

We might invite a prison chaplain to our school to discuss how prisoners need to hear the Good News. A prison chaplain would, no doubt, have perspectives and suggestions on how children might help prisoners and their families.5 Children could also discuss how we have friends and neighbors who suffer from the imprisonment of sin, fear, illness, and distress. How can we help free them with a word of Good News?

Explain that with great power comes great responsibility and, sometimes, greater opportunity for temptation. A review of Luther’s explanation of the sixth petition of The Lord’s Prayer could help us in this kind of discussion.6

They are empowered by the Holy Spirit to lives of service to God and others.Make note of positive things that political figures have done. We can remind our students that we are, as Luther said, "Simul iustus et peccator" ("At the same time righteous and a sinner"). This is an opportunity to help children consider their sinful nature, how Christ has forgiven and freed them from sin, and how they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to lives of service to God and others.

Local Tragedies

In 1996 a Minneapolis teenager was killed when he stuck his head out a school bus window to talk to some of his friends. The school bus started to move and the teen struck his head against a tree and was killed instantly.7 Grisly stories of decapitation were spread, parents warned their children about the consequences of sticking heads, hands, and arms out school bus windows, and teachers cautioned kids to obey the rules of bus safety. While it is essential to discuss these kinds of tragedies and review safety procedures, the gruesome details get the brunt of attention while opportunities to discuss ways that we, as Christian people, can help our neighbors are missed. Here are some suggestions to help children in our Lutheran schools respond to these types of local situations:

  • Discuss what we can do to comfort, support, and aid those who have been touched by a tragic incident.Discuss the news story in a serious manner with children without causing undue fear (especially with younger children). While stories of decapitation and loss of limb may hold children’s attention, they may not be effective in changing behavior in the long term. It should always be our goal to help children to insert reason between impulse and action. Children and adults often act before they think, and it’s the parent’s and teacher’s jobs to help students think before they act. This theme can be reviewed almost every day because children (and adults) have a knack for acting before thinking about the consequences of their actions. Once the basics of safety and thinking/acting have been reviewed, it’s time to discuss what we can do to comfort, support, and aid those who have been touched by a tragic incident.
  • Pray for those who have been stricken and ask God to send them comfort, strength, and the peace that only God can provide.
  • Individual students can be encouraged to write letters of sympathy to the families (especially if the children know the family personally).
  • Children can create a card that comes from either a classroom or from the entire school.
  • We might send a representative of the student body to the funeral service or funeral home to deliver a message of sympathy to the bereaved.
    We were astounded at how grateful the student and her mother were that we had come to pay our respects.A personal note: I was a member of the student council at Luther High School North in Chicago. When a parent of one of our classmates died, it was our responsibility as representatives of the student body to attend the funeral or memorial service. I remember an instance when another member of the student council and I were excused from classes and attended the memorial service for the father of one of our classmates. We expressed our sympathies to our classmate and her mother and were deeply touched by the service. We were astounded at how grateful the student and her mother were that we had come to pay our respects. I even received a thank you note from the mother in which she expressed her gratitude to me for being there. I attended several funerals during my years on the student council and, while it was difficult, learned how much it means to people to simply be present and offer sympathy to them in time of need. These experiences played a significant part in my spiritual formation and helped me to understand what it means to minister to people during times of deep distress.
  • A children’s choir or small vocal ensemble from your school can sing at the funeral services of members of your congregation.
  • Discuss ways children can befriend their classmates and students from other schools when they are on the school bus, playground, walking to and from school, and at the local park. Ask children how they can show the love of God to their neighbors through their actions and in so doing serve both their neighbors and God.8
  • Remind children that it may take courage to help someone in need and that they might need help to do so. Encourage them to ask for help when they are not sure what to do.

Our purpose is to think about ways God’s children can respond in caring ways to help people in distress.You may note that the above suggestions focus on what our Christian responses (our “Response Abilities”) to situations might be. They do not dwell on the tragic details of an event. Our purpose in not to engage in lengthy discussion of the horrors of a situation – those details will be discussed ad nauseam in the media. Our purpose is to think about ways God’s children can respond in caring ways to help people in distress. Additionally, we can help children to consider how they can use their God given ability to think before they act in order to defuse situations that might be dangerous.

National and International Crises

Few days go by without some kind of national or international crisis appearing in the news. Our “response abilities” are always the same: we help children understand these events and to seek ways to respond to them as children of God. The current “crisis menu” has plenty of things from which to choose including: housing, energy, joblessness, and world-wide economic collapse, to name just a few.

CAUTION: We needn’t go into the esoteric intricacies of high finance, global warming, and the like with young children – they won’t get what we’re talking about and don’t need to be frightened out of their wits by bad news from the Wall Street Journal, the World Bank or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Some children may, however, have parents or relatives who have lost jobs, are in financial distress, or suffering from illness. As these situations arise we need to deal with them compassionately and in developmentally appropriate ways.

Discuss how students can respond to the needs of people who are suffering from financial troubles, homelessness, hunger, lack of clothing, or loneliness, and think of ways that children in our Lutheran schools could make a difference in someone’s life on local, regional, national, and international levels. We have many social service resources at our disposal through our respective LCMS districts and have traditionally participated in programs sponsored by organizations such as Lutheran World Relief or appeals from Hearts for Jesus to help alleviate suffering of people throughout the world (Hearts for Jesus: Giving Gardens from Wheat Ridge Ministries, for example).9 Additionally, we have many local social service organizations that we can contact to help us help others.10

Closing Thoughts and a Few More Suggestions…

Children in Lutheran schools can bring the message of Christ’s love, compassion, and hope to people in faraway places and those close to home. Our task as Christian educators is to help them develop a sense of compassion for people who need words of Good News. When we hear about people in need we have an opportunity to lead children to respond to those needs with a Christ-like attitude for the disenfranchised, lonely, lost, or infirm.

A Baker’s Dozen Service Suggestions for Students…

Think globally – act locally, but by all means act!
  • Visit a person in the hospital (have mom and dad drive you there and come along for support). Bring a get-well card and have a prayer with the person at home or in the hospital. Make sure you call ahead to make sure that the person can see visitors. Ask your teacher for help in what you might say to that person and what kind of prayer you might have with them.
  • Do volunteer service such as tutoring someone who is having academic trouble in your class or someone else’s class.
  • Send a card to a shut-in and include a picture of your class. Bring them a treat that you bake and spend some time talking with them. Start the card like this:

    Dear Mrs. Jones,
    My name is Jill Smith and I am a member of the 5th grade class at St. John Lutheran School. We heard from Pastor Brown that you haven’t been able to get to church because you’ve been unable to walk for the past couple of months. We pray for you every day in our morning devotions and hope you feel better soon.
    Two of my classmates, Becky and Jenny, heard that you like banana bread, so they baked two loaves for you to enjoy. Mrs. Jones, our teacher, helped them with the recipe. We hope you are able to come back to church soon.
    God bless you and we hope you like the banana bread (Becky and Jenny made us a loaf too and we all enjoyed it!).
    Sincerely yours,
    Jill Smith

    Attach a Bible passage to the end of the note. In this case a passage such as 1 Peter 5:7 might be apropos: “God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to him.” (CEV)

    You could deliver the gift to Mrs. Jones or have some children bring it to her. Don’t forget to take a picture that you can display in your classroom as a reminder to keep in touch with those in need.

  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter or kitchen. (Faculty, staff, and students at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn., served Saturday morning breakfast to homeless people at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul for many years. My “specialty” was mixing pancake batter by the gallon, my wife’s was in serving the food. We brought our children with us when we could, and it was always a good experience for everyone.)
  • Visit a nursing home and play games with the residents.
  • Look for opportunities to serve people in your community who have developmental or intellectual disabilities.11
  • Volunteer to do a puppet show at a children’s ward in a hospital.
  • Visit soldiers at a veteran’s hospital. (This is sometimes difficult because in many cases the soldiers are terribly disfigured or suffering from great mental anguish. When I taught high school in Greendale, Wis., I took the vocal ensemble I directed to the veteran’s hospital to sing for soldiers who, at that time, had been wounded in Viet Nam. It was hard for the students to see the difficulties these men faced, but when they had finished singing they always asked me when they could go back again. Students often surprise you with their compassion and willingness to serve others.)
  • Send some artwork to children living in countries far away. Put a note with the art work from each student that explains the story and sends words of greeting to a student in a far away land. You can find people and places to write to through the LCMS World Missions. Go and see what our church is doing both nationally and internationally.
  • Contact UNICEF and see what students and teachers can do to alleviate suffering around the world.
  • Contact Lutheran World Relief about the United Nations Malaria Initiative. Find out how your school and church can participate. It is the intent of this initiative to eradicate malaria by the year 2015.
  • Volunteer for any “marathon” or “fun run” for any worthy cause (cancer treatment, homeless shelter, independent living centers for people with various disabilities, etc.) in your neighborhood or city. Think globally – act locally, but by all means act!
  • Send a “thank you” card from the children in your class to your school/church secretary. If anyone needs to have a word of Good News it’s secretaries because of the thousands of thankless tasks they do every day for others. Amen? Amen! (PS: My mom was a secretary, I don’t think she ever got a “thank you” card, so do it for her and all office workers like her who can use a little “pick me up” for all they do without thought for praise, applause or monetary compensation!)

Things That Go Bump in the Night

…find in those events some way to vigorously speak words of Good News to children amid the fear…Members of my generation remember exactly what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. This generation recalls 9/11 as the date that will always live in their memory. On Saturday, September 15, 2001, I was leading a Sunday school workshop at Memorial Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I had everything I wanted to do planned several weeks in advance; my handouts were printed for distribution and my “script” was complete. The events of 9/11 changed everything. For the first two hours of the daylong workshop we discussed what we were going to do in Sunday school on September 16, 2001. The situation called for an immediate change in plans. Indeed, we would have been remiss in our duties as Sunday school teachers if we were not prepared to discuss the tragic events of 9/11 and find in those events some way to vigorously speak words of Good News to children amid the fear they were feeling that time.

We are called to be the emissaries of Good News when the world and the devil confront us with their devastating words of Law. In spite of the crushing intimidation of sin, death and the power of Satan, we stand in opposition to them enveloped in the assurance that God supports us though every “fiery trial” we face.12 At those times we need to recall the words of the hymn, How Firm a Foundation:13

When through fiery trials your pathways will lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be your supply;
The flame shall not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume, and your gold to refine.

God’s grace is sufficient for us even when difficult situations rise to challenge us. God’s grace is sufficient for us even when difficult situations rise to challenge us. In the words of the hymn, “the flames will not hurt us” because God has taken our dross — our sinful slag — on Himself and in so doing has made us pure as refined gold. Because God has made us His new creation we have been given power from the Holy Spirit to be who we are – children of God. The gifts God has given us will bear the fruits that Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians, namely: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.14

Every day in our Lutheran schools children should have the opportunity to show love to one another or to bring joy and peace to someone close or far away. Every day presents us with the possibility of showing patience, performing an act of kindness, spreading goodness, and remaining faithful to the Savior who shed His blood so that we would be saved. Each day needs a touch of gentleness and self-control. This is especially true when all things seem to be spinning out of control, and the world presents us with all the ugliness it can muster. At these times Christian educators must faithfully proclaim Good News to children and encouraged them to do the same.

Things sometimes do go “bump in the night” – they always have and always will. But thank God that Christ came to be light that shines through the darkness and show us the way around all the bumps that hinder us and cause us harm. In dark times it is good to know that the invincible light of Christ severs the darkness and that the Son of God reigns over all things in heaven and on earth.

Lutheran educators have an opportunity to… help children to interpret and respond to those situations in ways that are grounded in the Gospel.Whether something goes “bump” in our town or a national/international crisis looms on the horizon, Lutheran educators have an opportunity to develop strategies to cope with whatever situation presents itself and help children to interpret and respond to those situations in ways that are grounded in the Gospel.

Christ is the Savior of the world and all who believe in him shall inherit eternal life. This message of Good News gives direction and purpose to our teaching and is at the center of everything we do in our Lutheran schools. Christian educators proclaim the Good News so that through the Spirit’s power children might grow in their faith, comprehend the depth of God’s love for them, and live lives of service to God and the world. Children need to be steeped in the Gospel so they can respond to problems armed with faith, compassion, and the love of Christ. It is our privilege to proclaim Good News, help equip children for service to God and humanity, and to support parents as they rear their children in awe and love of God. May God richly bless you and your students as you live and grow in grace at your Lutheran school.

Jeffrey E. Burkart, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Educational Media and Communications, Artist in Residence, and Director of Drama Ministry and Special Projects at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photos © iStock/Guven Demir, Steve Debenport, Christopher Futcher, Rolf Bodmer, Erna Vader, Katja Bone.