LEA Convocation 2016!

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References

Mallinson, J. (2010). How We Know. In J. D. Heck & A. J. L. Menuge, (Eds.), Learning at the foot of the cross: a Lutheran vision for education (pp. 115–133). Austin, TX: Concordia University Press.

Moulds, R. (2007). A teacher of the church: theology, formation, and practice for the ministry of teaching. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Mueller, S. (2010). The Doctrine of God. In J. D. Heck & A. J. L. Menuge, (Eds.), Learning at the foot of the cross: a Lutheran vision for education (pp. 23–33). Austin, TX: Concordia University Press.

Recommended reading (free download):

Bartsch, M. I. (2012). A God Who Speaks and Acts: Theology for teachers in Lutheran schools. Adelaide: Openbook Howden. Retrieved.

 

other STF links

Partnering with Parents (ECEnet)

Relevant Religion Classes for Junior High (ETnet)

What if you could “click”
on the cross?

Many Lutheran schools now utilize learning management systems (LMS) or other types of portals, platforms, or online classroom spaces. These are virtual spaces where teachers post announcements to students (and parents), upload handouts, provide links to web resources, offer individualized assistance, engage students in discussion forums, and offer a place to submit student work.

If you use such virtual classroom spaces, do you have a cross “hanging” in that space? If not, find a way to insert an image of a cross so that it’s visible even in this space, and then look for creative ways to point to it.

As an additional challenge, imagine if this cross was “clickable.” If a student could click on the cross, to which online destination would you link them? If you could frequently change the destination link, how could you sustain a curiosity to come back to click on the cross again and again?

How do you use the symbol of the cross in your virtual classroom? Please share your ideas with Tim Schumacher.

What Is the Theology of the Cross?

Where did God show his truest colors? Where did he display his greatest power? It was at the cross, where his Son Jesus rescued you—by dying. At the cross God’s love and power came together in the death of Christ for your sins. Without the death of Christ, sin and death would have the last say in our lives. But when Christ died, the dead came to life (Matthew 27:50-53), the devil lost his power (Hebrews 2:14), and your sin was forgiven (Ephesians 1:7). That is the theology of the cross.

The theology of the cross reminds us that Jesus does not meet us in our strength, but in our greatest weakness. He meets us in our sins. He comforts our consciences with the wonderful news that God forgives our sins for his sake. When a mother loses her temper, when a teacher jumps to conclusions, when a child hits a friend, they might (and should) feel guilt and shame. Yet God’s answer is not to rub it in. His answer is not an admonition to do better next time. His answer is forgiveness. His answer is the cross.

Rev. David W. Loy, Ph.D. is assistant professor of philosophy, theology and ethics at Concordia University Irvine. Prior to coming to Concordia in 2011, he served eight years as pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, Missouri.

The Cross on the Classroom Wall

The symbol of the cross is one
such way that God communicates who He is.
Have you noticed that cross on the wall in your classroom lately? My question assumes there is a cross somewhere on a wall in your classroom. It’s something I expect to see in a Lutheran school classroom, and I would suggest it’s the most important element of a Lutheran school classroom.

Like many traditions, we don’t know who hung the first cross on a classroom wall or exactly when the practice began. We do know that the cross has been a symbol of the Christian faith since at least the third century A.D. according to Tertullian, and likely earlier than that. Since then, Christians have given witness to their faith by making the sign of the cross, wearing crosses, erecting crosses on hillsides, topping steeples with crosses, and hanging crosses on the walls of our homes, schools, churches, and other places where Christians live and work.

It may be a reminder of a most gruesome form of execution, but Christians return to the cross and to the fact that it testifies to the well-known declaration and bedrock gospel statement in John 3:16 (ESV), “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Thus, according to Andrew Root, “The cross is at the very heart of who god [sic] is.” St. Paul did not write that we preach “Christ risen,” but rather, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” 1 Corinthians 1:23 In God’s wisdom, a symbol for death and the fact of Christ’s sacrificial death has been turned upside down into a symbol for life.

The Cross as Merely a Passive Symbol

Other than routinely reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance to the Cross” to begin school days, I have to admit that the cross has often gone unnoticed and under-utilized in my classroom. Like our kids becoming desensitized to violence on television, many of us are no longer startled by this reminder of both a grotesque and sacrificial death, and a miraculous resurrection – an act that altered our eternity.

While a series of court cases in the United States in the middle of the 20th century significantly limited the display of religious symbols in public schools, crosses are still prescribed for public school classrooms by the government in three European countries: Italy, Austria, and in certain administrative regions of Germany. Crosses are also found in public school classrooms of several other European countries that have no laws regulating such practice. Italy’s current practice of cross hanging in public classrooms dates to at least 1860 when it was ordered in a royal decree still cited in Italian courts today. The practice has been challenged in several European countries in recent decades, including Spain, Germany, and Italy.

Ironically, the cross has survived the most recent legal challenge to the practice of it being hung in Italian public school classrooms because a European court determined that “a crucifix on a wall is an essentially passive symbol.” That may be the case in Italian public schools, but is it a “passive” symbol in your classroom?

God Hidden in the Cross

Lutheran doctrine describes our God as “hidden.” Since God cannot reveal Himself fully in all his glory, He has chosen to reveal Himself in various ways in the physical world. The symbol of the cross is one such way that God communicates who He is. To the uninitiated, the cross may indeed be a passive symbol. But to those to whom its explanation has been given through the Word, the cross points us to Jesus Christ as “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 ESV In this hiddenness, we find that God loves us and sent his Son to suffer and die to solely earn our redemption from sin and death. In this hiddenness, God confounds human reason by turning defeat into victory, revealing Jesus’ glory.

The Cross in the Lutheran Classroom

The cross is a universal symbol that every Christian would link to the fact of Jesus Christ’s death. However, no other Christian denomination’s theology shares with Lutherans a single-minded focus on the cross. Others begin with the cross, but typically ascend (or descend, depending on your viewpoint) to man-centered theologies. Lutheran theology begins and ends with the cross. As Hermann Sasse wrote, “Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else.” It is this understanding of the cross’s central importance to Lutheran theology that leads us to often say in Lutheran education that everything must be seen through, or funneled through, the cross.

If Lutheran education is truly “Lutheran,” then the centrality of the cross should be evident in the purposes of Lutheran education. If the Lutheran theology of the cross is unique among Christian denominations, then the centrality of the cross in Lutheran education should make it distinct in practice from other systems of Christian education. If so, Lutheran schools ought to exemplify Steven Mueller’s bold statement that, “Lutheran education is unabashedly Christocentric.”

The Spirit does not require a cross on the wall to do His work of cultivating faith in the hearts of students, but the power of symbols in a classroom should not be dismissed.Referring to Lutheran schools, Russ Moulds wrote, “Our students, like our culture in general, are often looking for God in all the wrong places.” The cross on the wall in a Lutheran classroom provides a referent point for revealing our hidden God. The Spirit does not require a cross on the wall to do His work of cultivating faith in the hearts of students, but the power of symbols in a classroom should not be dismissed. The cross as a symbol helps to communicate God’s incomprehensible love on which the eternal life of our students is dependent. In their study of the impact of symbols in religious schools, Denig and Furst cited McLaren who stated, “religious symbols provide a compelling way of helping young people view reality and their location within that reality.”

To make it clear, there is no magical power contained solely within the object shaped like a cross. (Recall the story of Moses and the bronze snake Numbers 21:4-9 and Jesus’ self-revelation John 3:14-15) Yet, the object of the cross is attached to a meaning and a historical fact, which, when revealed and believed, has an eternal consequence.

“When Christians look around to determine where in the world they stand, they find themselves at the foot of the cross.” —Jeff MallinsonIn March 2002, the Israeli Defense Forces raided Dar al-Kalima School, a K-12 Lutheran school serving Palestinians in Bethlehem. The soldiers caused heavy damage. They trashed the classrooms and even took the crosses off the walls and smashed them. Two months later, upon receiving a gift of replacement crosses, the school’s director, Mitri Raheb, said, “Getting these crosses at this time is for me a reminder that death does not have the last word.” Confirming the conclusion of Denig and Furst as stated earlier, the crosses in the Bethlehem school classrooms were recognized for their value in helping the Palestinian students view their reality and their location within that reality. “When Christians look around to determine where in the world they stand, they find themselves at the foot of the cross,” according to Jeff Mallinson.

Lutheran Teachers Point to the Cross

God does not only hide behind objects like crosses or other physical objects. The Lutheran doctrine of vocation teaches that God hides within His followers who are considered to be His “masks.” Luke Thompson provided an overview of this teaching:

Through our vocations, the circumstances and events that we find ourselves in, the unique place God has decided to place us, God puts us on as masks and through us reaches out into the world. “Through my vocation, I take my place between God and my neighbor and become a conduit through which divine blessings reach others. In Luther’s terminology, I become ‘the mask’ God wears or ‘the hands’ God uses as he does his work in the world.”

As God’s masks, our role as Lutheran teachers is to point our students to the cross. Despite living in a world that is filled with trials and troubles, disappointments and depression, pain, and ultimately death, we as Christians “see Jesus” and the victory He has secured for us. The author of Hebrews explains:

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:8b-9 (ESV)

We are called especially in our vocation as Lutheran educators to share what we see of God’s grace (in the cross) with the rest of the world. Commissioned by Jesus Himself, we are called especially in our vocation as Lutheran educators to share what we see of God’s grace (in the cross) with the rest of the world. Referring to the importance of properly applying the Law and the Gospel in the classroom, Russ Moulds wrote that this "highest skill of Christian teaching is difficult to master." Matt Richard explained in simple terms the application of Law and Gospel that is necessary in a Lutheran classroom:

When it comes to the cross, we see actually two messages with the cross. The cross on the one hand says, “Look how awful your sin is that the Son of God had to die. And the cross also shows us and points to us, “Look how gracious and redemptive the Son of God is that He died and said the words, ‘It is finished.’”

The Cross on Your Classroom Wall

So, how do we use the cross in our classroom as an active, rather than passive, symbol of our faith? In the spirit of the Gospel, consider the following questions as a means to reflect on your classroom practice – no matter what subject or grade level you teach.

  1. Do you have a cross on your classroom wall? If not, get one and use the moment to dedicate it and introduce our theology of the cross to your students. If your school won’t provide the funds for it, ask a volunteer parent with wood crafting skills to create one or invite another school supporter to gift one.
  2. Is your classroom cross lost in the clutter of your classroom walls? Give your cross its own space and respect it.
  3. Do you teach the story of the cross? Well, that’s a silly question – of course, you do! But is it THE story you teach and re-teach (no matter the grade level or subject matter) and hold more prominently before your students than any other story?
  4. Do your students see you living in the shadow of the cross? When “life” happens to you, share with your students how in your weakest moments you turn to the cross as your source of hope and example of sacrificial love. Demonstrate for them how the cross provides the context for your life and the foundation of your reality.
  5. Do you invite your students to join you in living in the shadow of the cross? Don’t assume they’ve each heard the personal invitation. Plant seeds. Teach your students that Jesus died on that cross for all people and all sins, once and for all.
  6. Do you actually point students (and their parents) to the cross? When disciplining students, apply the law as needed and then directly point them to where their sins go when you declare their sins are forgiven – again, no matter the grade level. Do this so often that the image of the cross is “emblazoned in their mind’s eye” and freely recalled when hurting from guilt and in the most helpless moments.
  7. Do you reveal for your students what is hidden in the cross? “Death does not have the last word.” God used the cross to turn death into victory for us. Connect the cross to your students’ baptisms, recalling how the death of our Old Adam with Christ on the cross leads to our new selves and life with Christ forever.
  8. As a teaching faculty, do you point each other to the cross? Encourage each other as you walk together in the shadow of the cross. Let the community see through your life together as a faculty how the cross calls everyone to the hope we have in Christ.

Tim Schumacher is an assistant professor of educational technology at Concordia University Irvine. He attended Lutheran schools from first grade through college and taught for over 20 years in various K-12 Lutheran schools in the United States and Australia. You are welcome to contact Tim Schumacher about this article.

Top photo by Brian Malloy. Balance of photos were sent into LEA by LEA members. Intentiionally or not, each photo shows that there is a cross on the wall of that classroom. Is there a cross in your classroom?