Reflections by Adam J. Copeland, teacher at Luther Seminary, St. Paul Minnesota
When I was young, I approached each new school year with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. My love for learning kept me going, but who knew what embarrassments awaited me in the cafeteria. And who would sit by me on the bus?
At some point along the way (in elementary school, I hope) I remember having a breakdown and complaining to my parents in no uncertain terms that I no longer wanted to go to school. I figured I would be just fine sitting at home reading books and researching on the computer. I didn’t want to deal with the challenges of actually going to school. I think my repeated response to my parents’ pleas was the ever-so-popular childish response, “But, why?”
My parents, in their very patient ways, explained the importance of what I would experience at school — the learning, the relationships, the personal growth — and then my dad said something that’s stuck with me. “School is sort of like your job,” he said, “I go to work every day, and you go to school. It’s where you’re supposed to be.” Dad didn’t quite use theological language, but he was getting at the notion of one’s calling, one’s vocation. My elementary-aged calling was to go to school and learn. It’s what society expected I do, but it was also what I could do to serve God best as well.
John Calvin, the father of Presbyterian theology, was a master intellect (and had a profound sense of spirituality). Calvin emphasized the importance of knowledge of the world, but always with the reminder, “that the knowledge of all that is most excellent in human life is said to be communicated to us through the Spirit of God.” Knowledge is a gift from God, just like school. So kids, parents and grandparents, learners everywhere, study away. It’s God’s gift. And as the poem below suggests, keep your eyes open, for you might even see God.
by Marcus Goodyear
God slouches at the front of the universe
leaning against his desk, taking roll
with a red pen in his spiral book of life.
He teaches every subject himself,
every grade, every student. He leads
every parent conference appearing
as principal, department head, counselor,
and teacher. At night he walks the halls
alone with a broom and a trash can.
He’s not too grand to pick up
the wad of gum some kid mashed
onto a door frame. He’s not above
using divine elbow grease to scrub
away bathroom graffiti. Sometimes
he finds drawings of himself
cross-eyed with a caption,
“What a dork!” the picture of a fool.
But every morning he’s back
in the cafeteria, handing out
his own body for breakfast
with a pint of 2% milk—
or chocolate if you like.
He wears a Padres ball cap
to keep God hairs out of the food.
He runs the register, too,
though he never makes us pay.
“I’ll get this one,” he says—
and every time we wonder why
there’s a register at all? Why receipts?
When the bells ring, students rush to class
past God the hall monitor into the room
of Mr. God, the teacher. He greets us
by name wherever we are.
But only in his room do we find
a seat while he watches. God’s voice
crackles and pops over the PA
during announcements while God
lines up the hooligans in the hall
to assign tardy detentions.
I hold my breath when God walks
the aisles in his classroom collecting
our English themes like prayers.
Dear God, I pray, I pass.
Adam Copeland teaches at Luther Seminary and is the author of Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College. His newest book Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship has just released.
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