In August of 2008, I was asked to teach an Old Testament Bible class to the freshman (and a few other students) at International Community School. I started after school had already begun. Really, none of the students knew me. Since they were splitting an enormous existing class, the students weren't that thrilled with the prospect. So the administration came up with the idea of having half of the class with me for the first semester and half with "Mr. Willson" - the current teacher. In January, we would swap classes. I think that ICS figured that this way the class would only have to suffer through a half year of any potential idiocy I could muster and still get at least one semester of quality Bible teaching with Mr. Willson. Fair enough reasoning, in my opinion.
I was terrified. Even though I had a degree in education and had been a substitute for one semester up in Clay County, I never had actually been in charge of my own classroom. I never had developed lesson plans, written tests, or been completely responsible for the education of a group of kids. Plus, there was this looming old coot, "Mr. Willson," that the kids already loved and resisted leaving. I had no idea how sharing a class and working together on an overall teaching/grading policy would go.
It turned out to be one of the happiest years of my life. Mr. Willson, who I now just call Greg, turned out to be an awesome guy and is one of my better friends now. In a bizarre case of "small world," he actually had been in band with my wife in high school. The time teaching was challenging, but wonderful. I loved it. It helped that the students were just incredible. I taught the class in a completely different way than Greg did. Greg taught in an excellent manner, imparting the theological and doctrinal lessons from the Old Testament. I tried to get the kids to think through WHY it was important to know these things - asking an overarching question about the passages we would cover that week. It presented two different techniques to studying the Bible - both equally important. The kids responded well. It was awesome.
I wanted to keep teaching there, but we ended up moving to Tallahassee. I have kept in touch with those students and with the school. I still come back to teach chapels and parent workshops. But I never have been able to have my own class there again - or even substitute teach. It just never worked out that way. What I have been able to do - thanks to the wonders of modern social media - is keep up with these students as they have grown. Each year, a few of my former students would graduate or transfer off to other schools in the area. The main core stayed though. Tomorrow night, I will be at Northland Church to watch these amazing young men and women as they graduate and go into their next step of life. I have spend a lot of time thinking about them lately. I am so proud of what kind of people they have become. If I could say one final thing to them - one final lesson - this is what it would be.
(Imagine this as a graduation address, if you will)
Class of 2012
We are not meant to live life alone. This concept has become more and more real to me over the recent months. Our pastor at church has talked about it frequently. We are created to be social creatures. We were supposed to live life together. You can see this throughout the Bible. God saw man at Creation and said it was not good for him to be alone, so He created a companion for him. God Himself used to walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden, spending time together and talking. When Israel was being established after the Exodus from Egypt, God's laws forced interaction as a community. Their camp was situated that way. Their religious ceremonies and sacrifices were not independent procedures. There was no room for lone rangers.
Fast forward to the era of Nehemiah. In the rebuilding of the walls of the city, it was essential that everyone worked together. Their houses WERE the walls. If one person didn't hold up their end of the bargain or keep their word, the city was compromised. Jesus also promoted this concept of sticking together. He surrounded Himself with friends, He sent the Disciples off in pairs. The Early Church loved and supported each other - taking care of the weaker and less fortunate. Paul repeatedly teaches us of the importance of caring for each other and supporting each other.
In America, we have created this bizarre archetype of the self-made man. He's a lone ranger, a solitary hero. He doesn't need or want any help. He pulled himself up the bootstraps and made everything great happen on his own. This is portrayed in movies and on television in the cop that doesn't need a partner, the hero who won't rely on anyone else, the loner billionaire. And while that may seem like an exciting way to live, it is actually foolhardy. What happens in those movies to the person left to defend themselves? They meet the sharp end of the spear or the business end of a ray gun. They get marooned on a desert planet. It doesn't end well.
That isn't said to discourage you from striking out on your own and finding your destiny. Rather, I encourage that. Find out what makes you sparkle, what makes your passion flare. See where your gifts and talents and love collides. But do not try to do it alone. Why? It isn't because you aren't capable. The one thing that I have learned over the last four years is to never underestimate this particular class of students. You are extraordinary. I am in constant awe of the things that you accomplish. And I cannot even imagine where you will end up. The sky is not the limit - that's dreaming too small. You are brilliant - incredibly gifted with phenomenal brains. You are athletically blessed. You have the personalities that will win over the world. And you have the biggest, most loving, amazing hearts. You reflect the love of God in such a powerful way.
So it isn't that I think that you CAN'T do it alone. It is that I know you SHOULDN'T. It isn't wise. It isn't best. God has brought you together to do even more extraordinary things that you could ever do alone. I have always been so impressed when I have watched you over the years. I have been amazed at how rarely I would see any of you alone. It isn't just Michael - it is Michael, Ben, and Matthew. Art and Kyle and Jonathan. I don't just see Anna unless I also see Kaitlyn. There's Jono and Seth. Susan and Erika. You are always together. While this may be a comfortable way to go through life, it is also an incredible gift. Some people go their entire lives aching for someone to love them. You have been so blessed with many friends who care about you. I love watching your groups interacting. I know that God has brought you together to do incredible things. That is part of His plan for you.
I love each and every one of you. I have enjoyed watching you grow up and blossom into wonderful men and women. And I have been truly honored that you have allowed me to be a part of your lives. Sometimes I sit there and think about how I was involved in one class in one half of one year of your life. But somehow I was lucky enough to still be included for the next three years. You may not realize it, but you all changed my life for the better. You have blessed me in more ways that you can possibly know. I think each and every one of you is so amazingly and uniquely gifted. It has been awesome knowing you. And I can't wait to see what will do in the future - especially as you do it together.