The Next Step

Here are my thoughts for Ascension Sunday, 24 May 2009. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 1: 1 – 11, Ephesians 1:  15 – 23, and Luke 24: 44 -53.


There is an old Chinese proverb that says that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” There is also a corollary to this saying that says that those who can’t teach become administrators but I will save any discussion of that for a latter time and place.

Naturally, I would disagree with that proverb. Up until the writing of this piece I thought that this saying came from many who disagreed with the nature of our educational system. And my own experience suggests that there are many in the educational system who could not survive in private industry with the same education that allows them to be teachers.

Now, before anyone (and especially teachers) gets really bent out of shape with this idea, let me put forth another idea. Are you a practitioner of the subject who happens to teach or are you someone who teaches the subject? I am by training and preference a chemist but I find my interests and desires lie in chemical education. I have a friend who is an artist first and enjoys transmitting the joy of sculpture and painting to his students. But there are many teachers who have the certification to teach subjects like chemistry and art but approach the subject from the standpoint of only teaching the information. In too many situations today, we have people teaching subject matter but who only have a basic understanding of what the subject is about. They have enough information to teach students the subject but not enough so that they themselves can utilize it in other settings.

In today’s world, what this has done is create a situation where we are teaching facts and figures, without any respect to how the information is applied. In a recent discussion on the CHEMED list (a discussion list for chemical educators), it was noted that we are fast preparing students who know how to look up the answer to a question but who cannot come up with a solution through thought and analysis. Our students are very proficient in the use of the modern calculator with its graphing capability (where were these calculators when I was in high school!!) but have no idea if the answer that they come up with has any validity in the real world.

One of the reasons that I was drawn into chemical education research was that I was fascinated by how students learned and what one could do to improve that learning. One of the things that I discovered in preparation for my doctorate was that the majority of experiments in chemistry are designed to prove what was said in lecture was correct rather than providing the data necessary to confirm the theory. And too often, the work that is done in the classroom only serves to reinforce the present instead of providing the basis for students to develop their advanced thinking skills.

Now learning takes many forms but one model (Bloom’s Taxonomy) identifies three different domains or areas of educational activity: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Each of these domains has a specific area of interest; the affective deals with growth in feelings and emotions, the psychomotor domain deals with the development of manual or physical skills, the cognitive deals with the development of mental skills and knowledge.

In the research that was done to identify these three areas, it was shown that there were sublevels in each area. Within the cognitive domain, these sublevels can be identified as:

  1. Knowledge (dealing with the recall of data or information)
  2. Comprehension (dealing with the understanding of the information)
  3. Application (using the knowledge in new situations)
  4. Analysis (separate the parts of knowledge into components so that it can be understood)
  5. Synthesis (building from the analysis and putting different parts together to form new information)
  6. Evaluation (making judgment about the value of ideas)

(Adapted from “Learning Domains or Bloom’s Taxonomy”)

Now, the problem with America’s educational system is not that we have too many unqualified teachers (which is still a problem) but that our educational system concentrates only on the first two levels of this taxonomy. Very little is being done to move beyond the simple absorption of information and its recall for a test; too often, students will memorize countless reams of information for a test and promptly forget it, even if it is necessary for future learning and examinations.

And any learning process that focuses on the lower levels of thinking is not going to create situations whereby the upper levels can even begin to be applied. And they cannot be done through instruction and memorization; there must be an active involvement of the student in the learning and it is something that they must internalize. (For a discussion of this moment in a student’s learning process see “The AHA! Moment”)

If we do not provide those opportunities, then our students are never going to develop the thinking skills that are going to be so needed in the coming years as we find ourselves incapable of solving the problems that we now face and unable to determine solutions for the problems that we do not even know about at this time.

And it is a problem that the church faces as well. Now some may tell me that the church’s problems are more in the affective domain than they are in the cognitive domain (and I would have to agree). But the challenge of the church to find its mission in this world has to be seen in the same light as any other problem that society faces.

The old ways haven’t worked and the new ways aren’t doing the job that they need to be doing. And I think the reason for that is the same reason that we are having problems with our educational system. We are not allowing those special moments that internalize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We are too much like the people who are expecting the 2nd coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Kingdom in the 1st reading for today. With the ascension of Christ into Heaven, the people are already talking about the 2nd coming without having experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The same is, I believe, true today. Too many people in churches today are more interested in establishing some sort of heavenly kingdom here on earth today but they are doing it without the Holy Spirit. It is their kingdom that they want to establish, a kingdom where they can dictate how people think and behave. They cannot stand the thought or possibility that individuals can come to Christ on their own or that they can find the presence of Christ in ways other than what they think are appropriate.

To me, that moment that we call being born again is a personal and internal process; it cannot be accomplished by someone else on your behalf nor can someone else dictate to you how you will receive the Holy Spirit. But others can show you the Holy Spirit and others can provide the opportunity for you to encounter the Holy Spirit.

Harvey and Lois Seifert in their book Liberation of Life wrote,

This internalizing of openness to God and concern for neighbors is what it means to be a Christian, rather than simply to act like a Christian. That the church can produce this kind of person is a persuasive recommendation for the church.

Within the fellowship of the church, we help one another become such Christians. Here we can become comrades of our better selves. We support one another in our highest resolves. An entire searching congregation turns our attention to the liberation of unrealized possibilities as we respond to the upward call of God. Even one other person or a small subgroup within the church can sustain our determination to spend more time at devotions and to act differently in society.

In such a combination, we are to love both God and neighbor. We cannot fully do either without the other. We reach the ecstatic heights of a devotional life only as we also act creatively in society. Full creativity as consumer, worker, citizen, and friend is possible only with the vision and power that comes vital devotion. To “turn on” is to “turn up” toward God and to “turn out” toward neighbor. The two wings of soaring, liberated life are indeed devotion and action.

They also wrote that those two wings were personal piety and community charity.

An ancient saying suggested that there are two wings by which we rise, one being personal piety and the other community charity. No one can fly by flapping only one wing. It is impossible to be sincere in our worship of God without expecting to do the will of God. It is equally impossible to do the full will of God without the guidance and empowerment of a vital personal relationship with God. As Allan Hunter has said, “Those who picket should also pray, and those who pray should also picket.” The same combination of devotional vitality and social action is also emphasized in the two great commandments of Jesus — to love God with all one’s being and to love other persons as ourselves (Matthew 22: 36 – 40). (Harvey and Lois Seifert, Liberation of Life)

The church cannot be a community of itself for to do that is to shut its doors to the community outside its doors. A church which shuts its doors to the outside community becomes a collection of individuals who have shut the door to everyone, including Christ. As individuals who have accepted Christ as our Savior, we are part of a community and we are charged with taking the Word out into the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and martyr for the faith, wrote,

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to god. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. Luther said, “The challenge of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone . . . I will not be with you then, nor you with me.”

But the reverse is also true: Let he who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you. Luther also said, “If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me. (“Life Together”)

If you believe that Jesus is the Lord and Savior of all and your words, actions, thoughts, and deeds reflect that, then you are an evangelical. If your words harmonize with the examples given to us by Jesus, then you are an evangelical, whether you claim to be one or not. (Duncan) Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, tells us that he has heard of the faith of the people of Ephesus. He has heard of their faith, which means that the people are living the faith and they are evangelicals.

Clarence Jordan, who wrote the Cotton Patch Gospels, said that evangelism was declaring the Good News about all that God is doing in the world. While he emphasized that evangelism includes challenging individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them into new creations, he also made it clear that evangelism is much more than that. It also involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring about justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It was a call to the people to participate in this revolutionary transformation of the world.

For Clarence Jordan, evangelism was the declaration that God, right now, is changing people and changing the world. This, he said, requires not only preaching, but also the living out of the kingdom of God “in community” and in social action. His work in founding the Koinonia farm was his way of showing the world how to put words into action.

We are at a special moment in time with this Sunday. We, through the eyes of history, know what is to come. We also know that we have to each take the next step, the step in which we open our hearts and minds to the power of the Holy Spirit. When we accepted Christ as our Savior, we began that process. Now, we must complete that process and take the next step. The Holy Spirit will come and we must be ready and then we must be prepared to go out into the world and help others to see and feel and know the presence of the Christ in their lives.

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