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Live Justly for Lent: Five Doors to Shalom at School

Whenever I walk through the school doors, the questions of justice or shalom-making greet me. Some are as obvious as the worn hallway or the wall notices, others are tucked away, things you learn from listening. The questions are found in all sorts of locations: in the rural school, in the well-stocked suburban complex, and particularly in the schools of the city, those schools that draw from the urban neighborhoods and the older postwar suburbs.

However, outside the school we miss the possibility of shalom-making in education. Schools are simply part of the environment, something taken for granted. And in our Christian Reformed community our love and sacrificial commitment to Christian education can create an involvement that misses the challenges facing the charter school around the corner, or the public school up the street.

And that brings us to Lent. These public schools offer an opportunity, a door, to reach out past our comfort zone and meet our neighbor. In my reflection, I’ve found biblical, theological, and practical reasons why we might desire to reach out.

Biblically, I keep turning to the story of Ishmael (Gen 21) as a sort of parable about engagement with the public and charter school. Away from the covenant community, Ishmael and Hagar find themselves at their seeming end; he’s placed under a bush and left to die. Hope has left the room. He cries, and the Lord hears him, has compassion on him gives him a blessing. And at the end, to borrow from John Chrysostom, Hagar’s eyes are opened to a well of living water. The acts of compassion and blessing pattern our own response.

Theologically, the public school is also one more place to fulfill baptismal vows. Most baptized children are already there. The vows we make at baptism extend to looking after other baptized members of the church. And those kids are in the hallways right now.

And practically, schools are places filled with hope, by parents, students, teachers. These are the places where the immigrants and refugees attend, places of the widest economic and racial diversity.  

This Lent, we can take some short steps to shalom-making through five doors:

  • Join- Stop in at the parent-teacher meeting. Listen. These are the parents who care a lot about their school and its programs. They are the ones who raise support and respond to needs. Listen to their issues – chances are, you will discover other ways that you and your congregation can respond. Meeting and listening are the first steps.
  • Engage- Talk with a decision maker -- the school principal, a school board member, even a state representative. Their decisions can have a significant impact on the school and your community. Learn about the challenges they face: they’ll introduce you to some of the structural barriers facing schools. Eventually those barriers will need advocacy, but for now? Pulling up a chair may be one of the most powerful paths to change.
  • Support- Teaching can be a lonely, underappreciated profession. This Lent, connect with the teachers. Send a card; bring snacks to the teachers’ lounge. If you want to be more strategic, focus on the young teacher. The attrition rate for new teachers is close to 50 percent. As a congregation you can offer support, a source of strength, a place to recover – and all it takes is a card. Send it.
  • Share- One of the chief characteristics of these city schools (as opposed to the far suburban ones) is the lack of resources, particularly when it comes to the extracurricular, or arts, or sports. In Lent, the sports season shifts. Does the school have enough equipment so kids can take part? Enough volunteers? Or, ask about the art program: it’s the end of the year and budgets are low – is there something you could provide? Or learn about extra-curricular activities that need a boost, an extra set of hands.  When you get involved with activities, you not only get to share yourself, you also get to meet the parents, neighbors who care deeply about their kids.
  • Yard Work- Lent comes at the end of winter. Like your house, the school and its grounds need some sprucing up. There may be a work day already scheduled, but if not, step in and spend a Saturday cleaning (this is a great group project). Investing in the physical aspects will do two things: deepen your own connection to that building, and for kids, a sense that this place matters.

So this Lent, risk yourself. Walk through the schoolhouse door. Listen. You may not only be a blessing, you may even open eyes.

Editor's note: This post is part of our Live Justly for Lent series. As we follow our suffering Lord to the cross, how can His example empower us to engage with a suffering world? We hope that the ideas for practical Lenten justice activities in these posts will help us to act justly, love sacrificially, and rejoice in the triumph of God’s justice in Jesus at Easter. Instead of giving something up for Lent this year, which of these activities will you take up? To make sure that you see all these posts, subscribe to our biweekly Do Justice digest.

[Image: Death to Stock Photos]


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