TruthJesus, talking of the Holy Spirit said “When He comes, who is the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you into all truth……and the truth will set you free” (John 16:13, John 8:33) But what is truth?
The word ‘truth’ here has the sense of ‘unhiddeness’ or ‘unconcealed’. It is like peeling an onion, layer by layer until the heart is exposed. It is in this sense that we are called to promote the value of truth in our church school. It is very important in our Christian ethos as Jesus was not only full of it but was the personification of it. Our church school needs to be a community of truth.
How does this work out in practice? Well, we need to take care to understand the truth of misbehaviour incidents before we act, as things are not always what they seem when first presented. Equally well, when we teach, we need to ensure that we take pupils on the journey of peeling back the layers of understanding of a topic to allow them to discover the truth of it. In Science, the understanding of the atom is a good example of this, starting out as a ‘ball’, then becoming a ‘plum pudding’, then more of a ‘solar system’, then a series of energy levels for the electrons with protons and neutrons making up the nucleus, then a series of sub-atomic particles making up protons and neutrons, and then forms of energy making up the sub-atomic particles and then…….?
Truth is an important value but, as we shall see, it needs to be placed alongside the central value of love because the truth in a Christian sense should always lead to building and planting, and not to uprooting and destroying. Sometimes telling the truth is not easy and we need to think about how it can be done in a way that builds up.
‘Believe’ only makes sense if it is rooted in the truth.
Hope“I hope it will stay dry” we might say as we grab a ‘brolly’ going out the door. This is a rather pessimistic insurance type of hope. Similarly the “I hope it will all turn out for the best” type of hope is a baseless optimistic type of hope. These types of ‘hope’ are not the Christian hope of the Bible. Christian hope is a hope that grapples with the challenges of an imperfect world in which God works to bring good in the face of evil, light in the face of darkness. It is the hope that says,”I hope the sun will come up in the morning” or “I hope that seed will grow” and it is based on both recognising the realities of the present, working in the present to bring about change for good and knowing the certainty of God being at work for good in His world and through His people.
At Bury CE High School, we need to demonstrate the Christian value of this type of hope to everyone in our community. This type of hope equips us to face the challenges of life knowing that God is ‘at hand’ not to magically remove the challenges of life, but rather to walk with us through those challenges, working for good that will ultimately come to fruition. It is part of the ‘Believe’ strand that we engender in our community.
If we enable our pupils to grasp this hope, it will empower them to go forward to work for a better world and to face the challenges that life will throw at them.
“He that plows should plow in hope” 1Cor 9:10
FaithAt Christmas time, the response of Mary to the announcement of the Angel that she was to “become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the most high God” (Lk 1:31) brings us to the Christian value, of ’Faith’. Faith flows from our ‘Believe’ stand and is an essential part of being human. We are told that “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” (Heb 11:1) If you like, it is the difference between those that say ‘seeing is believing’ and those that demonstrate that ‘believing is seeing’. Ask any sports psychologist and they will tell you that you need to have faith, before you will achieve the very best performance. Faith is a value that we need to instil in our pupils. It is about enabling them to be able to act on their hopes through having faith, growing their confidence through having faith, turning the dream into reality through having faith and inviting them to recognise that in Christ there are enormous possibilities through faith. We seek to create the environment where faith is encouraged and built up so that, like Mary, we look to act on those hopes and dreams to which God has called us.
ReconciliationThe Christian value of ‘reconciliation’ is central to the ‘Believe’ strand of our school’s core purpose. It was God’s purpose in sending Christ; “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their misdeeds against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” 2Cor 5:19 Forgiveness clears the way for relationships to be restored but reconciliation is the next step if that restoration is to take place. The secular world often portrays forgiveness and reconciliation as a display of weakness but anyone who has sought to move from forgiveness to reconciliation will know that it is rather a display of constructive strength. Our school needs to be underpinned by the value of reconciliation. We need to work to bring about reconciliation between the perpetrator and the victim; between those who hurt and those who have been hurt which can include parents, families and staff as well as pupils. Working through our friendship policy to deal with bullying, our approach to those who hold different views to us and what we teach in our curriculum all need to take the value of reconciliation seriously. This is the reason each Form Room contains an olive wood cross from the holy land and a notice stating “we support reconciliation”. These were provided by an organisation that works with Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jewish believers who work to bring about reconciliation between communities that are hurt and divided. To take the value of reconciliation seriously means taking risks and being prepared to be courageous. We can do no less because the Bible goes on to say that God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation”.
HealingIn the ‘Believe’ strand we encounter a value that has universal appeal but has a distinctly Christian dimension, that of healing. Within all world faiths there is an acknowledgement that the human condition is flawed; that we are damaged significantly. What we are less aware of is that we are all damaged and in need of healing. That healing in the bible is the same word as the one used for salvation. This should not surprise us because God; Father, son and Holy Spirit, is interested in restoring the whole person in community, the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical. As the Bible puts it, body, soul, mind and spirit.
The need for healing extends beyond the pupils as we all are in the same boat. From time to time pupils, staff, governors, parents, carers and other stakeholders in our school will have particular needs that require a healing touch from God. We need to develop our community so that it seeks to be a community where the healing of people is its focus. In our praying, our conversation and our actions, we should be seeking to bring healing to individuals and to the community.
The picture that is painted of God’s ultimate purpose is the ‘God’s home is with the human race. He will live with them, and they shall be His people. God himself will be with them, and He will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.’ Rev 21:3-4 In this community we find ‘on each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations’ Rev 22:2 Our challenge is to be a school community that reflects the Christian value of healing and begins to demonstrate something of God’s ultimate purpose for people.
Grace“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Gal 6: 18). The word ‘Grace’ occurs often in the New Testament part of the Bible because it is a central Christian value. But what is it? Grace can best be explained as ‘undeserved kindness.’ It is something that God gives to us and something that He encourages a Christian community to practice. It is a gift that comes out of the blue! It is the one thing people find distinctive about Christianity and should be the Hallmark of any Christian community. We cannot earn God’s love. None of us are good enough to gain God’s acceptance. Yet God loves and accepts us anyway! This should be evident in the way our community operates. We must be prepared to practice kindness towards those who do not deserve to be shown kindness. This sounds easy, but it is a very challenging thing when you are the one who recognises that kindness is not deserved. Yet which one of us has never messed up? To experience grace is a healing and freeing thing. It reaches beyond our words and actions and touches our soul with kindness that recognises the image of God within us. This is why it is good to pray, perhaps before Governors meetings, Leadership Team meetings, in a lesson, for one another, or at Briefing. We are seeking God’s grace, His undeserved kindness towards us. Within a community in which prayer is seen to be important, such an explicit conviction that God’s grace is, indeed available to us in our work, should percolate down to the awareness of pupils. As a previous chaplain to the school used to say; it is not about whether you believe in God, but about the fact that God believes in you! This is why ‘Grace’ as a Christian value sits under the Believe strand.
SacramentThe ‘Believe’ strand gives insight into another value which, on the face of it, we might think is a Religious if not a Christian value but which, on closer inspection, we find to be an almost Universal value. That value is that of a sacramental universe.
A ‘sacrament’ is essentially something which is physical but which also possesses another, spiritual dimension associated with it. For example, a bunch of flowers is just a bunch of flowers until it is tied to a lamp post at the side of the road. Once there, we all recognise that it is not just a bunch of flowers but it has a spiritual significance in remembrance of a loved one who has died in a road traffic accident.
We recognise this sacramental universe in our language, talking of the ordinary and the extraordinary, secular and sacred, material and spiritual, or the natural and supernatural as dichotomies.
The particularly Christian value is to recognise that the universe is essentially sacramental. That even the most mundane thing can be invested with greater significance. A piece of paper can become valuable through the design printed on it if that design is a fifty pound note. A simple cup can become a valuable trophy if it represents the Premier League title.
It is holding these together and not swinging to either extreme, emptying the universe of its spiritual dimension, or in spiritualising everything by divorcing it from material evidence, that is the essentially Christian aspect of this value. We are called to establish our school community on the basis of both being implicitly and explicitly sacramental: Implicitly by developing the school community so that it mediates God’s grace, His undeserved kindness, through its systems and structures; and explicitly through its use of simple things that God can take and add value to them. Both of these aspects are to be seen in the Eucharist, Mass, Breaking of Bread or Holy Communion (depending on Christian tradition) and this is why this plays a significant role in the worshipping life of our school community.
“Heavenly Father… your Son, Jesus Christ…..on the same night that he was betrayed, took bread and gave you thanks; He broke it and gave it to His disciples saying ‘Take, eat, this is my body broken for you’. In the same way after supper He took the cup and gave you thanks; he gave it to them saying; ‘Drink this all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink, it in remembrance of me.’” Common worship.
Global VisionThe value of having a global vision is all about how far we see our community extending. In its simplest form it is a value that can be embraced by many, a universal value, which stands in opposition to Xenophobia. The specifically Christian dimension to this is in how we regard that community. The Bible is littered with examples of God encouraging His people to extend a welcome beyond their community and across national, ethnic and cultural barriers. We can read the story of Ruth, the female foreigner, who is welcomed into the community of God’s people, or the law which requires care for the marginalised and expatriate in the land. In the Exodus, we find that God’s people who come out of Egypt are not just the ethnically Jewish, but include those with Egyptian heritage as well.
Jesus makes it clear that our attitude towards those who are ‘different’ from us should be to see them as our neighbour. This is the point of his story about a foreigner in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which was the answer to the question “who is my neighbour”. Jesus makes it clear to his followers that his message is for the whole world, not just the Jewish people. This theme is taken up by the early Church, and should be at the centre of a Church school.
As we teach and learn together, we need to set this in the context of the world, not just our local or national community. Illustrations and examples need to extend beyond those with whom we are familiar, and include those from other backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and nationalities. We need to engage with national and international issues that cross boundaries and that are naturally rooted in our area of study or care. For example, in the development of Astronomy, we might highlight the part played by the Greek and Romans, Arabs and Chinese, and those in other European countries, both male and female, and of a range of faith backgrounds. In all this, we need to present them as our neighbours, those who are deserving of our welcome, care and recognition.
This approach is embedded in the ‘Believe’ strand as it is all about what we believe to be the way God sees the world. “So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles (people not ethnically Jewish), between slaves and free men, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28 In God’s eyes, we all have the status of valued sons and daughters, whether we have come back to the family yet or not.