Agape (Christian Love)The distinctively Christian value of ‘Agape’ (Christian Love) is part of the ‘Inspire’ strand and without this value we are lacking that which inspires us to be essentially human. It is more correctly translated into English as ‘Love’ but the Christian, Agape, type of love is so much more than what we mean by love when we use that word in English. It is a truly awesome value. True love is totally unselfish and totally self-giving. This sort of love empowers the one being loved and can be costly to the lover.
The Bible tells us that ‘God is love’. It should therefore come as no surprise that it also tells us that the greatest value is love. Because of this, it must infuse the very life of our church school, it must dictate every action, and inform every relationship. As the greatest value, it lies at the root of all other values, and they depend on it. Christ, as God with us, demonstrated this love through the events of the First Easter. He explained it in the Last Supper and then showed it by His actions in Gethsemane, at His trial and during His crucifixion and death.
In our relationships in school, this value of agape love challenges us. We need to apply this love when dealing with relationships between pupils and their families. The home-school dynamic needs to be infused with this value of agape love, even when the child may be in local authority care or have a very unorthodox home life. We need to show this love through helping to build up the relationships in the home. The staff-pupil relationship needs to be based on this value of agape love, even when the pupil is not the easiest of people. We need to offer unselfish, self-giving encouragement to enable them to grow, develop and flourish. As for the interpersonal relationships between staff, expressing this agape love in our community to empower our colleagues may carry with it a cost to us. In seeking to express this agape love value in our school, we create an environment which is so often commented upon in church schools. It is the difficult to define ‘Christian Ethos’ that flows from our attempts to put agape love into practice and so creates the opportunity for God’s love to work in our community.
This agape love is about giving. As the poet puts it; “The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love ‘til you give it away.” Love is never about what we want or what we get. In fact the best description of this agape love is in a Bible reading that is often used in Church weddings.
“Love is patient, love is kind; It is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope and patience never fail” 1 Cor 13:4ff.
To get an idea of how well we are doing, just replace the word love with your name and see how well the description fits!
Peace‘Peace’ is a value that is understood universally but the Christian understanding is much fuller than that which is commonly understood. Generally, peace is thought of as the absence of conflict. This is essentially a limited definition in that it describes when something is not taking place. The Christian value is a much fuller definition. It draws on the Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ from which the Arabic word ‘Salam’ is also derived. It carries the meaning of wholeness, completeness and well-being. If we are to promote ‘peace’ as a value, we need to be involved in promoting the wholeness, the well-being of our school community and the people associated with it. We are to strive to make our school community complete, having no deficiencies and creating a school community where people can find the person they were created to be in God.
Our policies need to reflect the need to seek the well-being of all who are part of our school community, and we need to be willing to implement these so that they are not just there as the letter of the law but are worked out in the spirit of enabling the well-being of others as well. The way we deal with pupils needs to seek to recognise that, they may have experienced significant damage in life, and it needs to help them along on the journey to wholeness. This needs to be extended to colleagues and those who are associated with our school as none of us are immune to the storms of life. Such a school community will surely allow God to touch for the better the lives of the people who come in contact with it. This gives us the strand in which to find the Christian value of peace and that is the ‘Inspire’ strand. A school community which develops wholeness in people will be an inspiration to those who come in contact with it.
“Jesus came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’” John 20:19b
ForgivenessTo ‘Inspire’ is something that it can be hard to do. Often the burden of past failure can make inspiration difficult. A football player who has given away a penalty can often go on to have a poor game because they allow that failure to dominate their thoughts, despite the efforts of team mates and the manager/coach to inspire them. It is essential to deal with the past failure if inspiration is to be effective. Indeed, the very act of dealing with the past failure can be the source of inspiration in itself. This brings us to the Christian value of ‘forgiveness’ and it is this value which perhaps sets Christianity apart from contemporary British culture more radically than any other.
In the story of the prodigal (run away) son, Jesus tells us “while the son was still a long way off his father saw him, and his heart went out to him. He ran to meet him, flung his arms round him, and kissed him.” Luke 15:20
The motive and drive of ‘the world’ is a selfish one to ‘get your own back’; seek compensation; ‘an eye for an eye’; or ‘because were worth it’. It is true that we usually sugar this particular ‘pill’ by justifying our actions as ‘seeking justice’ or ‘having our rights’ upheld but all too often this is a smoke screen for that ‘get even’ feeling inside us. In contrast, the practice of forgiveness does not focus on ‘getting even’ but on restoring relationship. This is only possible if we have first used judgement to recognise what has gone wrong, then applied justice to call the perpetrator of that wrongness to account. Without these two steps, there is no recognition that forgiveness is possible. These two steps must form the start of our disciplinary approach but then we need to apply forgiveness through grace. Our aim is to welcome back the estranged pupil so that they are restored to the school community, understanding where things went wrong but knowing that they are no longer burdened by past failure. Our approach must be like that of the father in the story. We should not seek to do down but rather to restore relationship, acknowledging the failure and then forgiving it and rebuilding the person into the community. This can be truly inspirational, and not just for pupils in the school community.
Relationship‘Inspire’ is central to Relationship, the Christian value that we promote here at Bury CE High School. That value of ’Relationship’ is vitally important for effective learning. To Christians, God is both one God and three persons. This can be thought of as similar to a man being a man, but simultaneously being a Father, a Husband and a Son. Since God, in His very nature is in the positive relationship of Father Son and Holy Spirit, we are called to promote positive relationships in our school community. We need to encourage an awareness of the ‘Other’ and the others in our lives. We need to recognise the importance of social education and link this to the promotion of the global dimension to learning that provides opportunities not only to understand others who are close at hand, but others who are different from us, such as those in our partner schools.
Why is this Christian valuing of relationships connected to the ‘Inspire’ stream? Because it is through great relationships that we are often inspired to press on to make the world a better place. How many charities are set up in memory of a special person with whom the founders have had a positive relationship? How many people will point to another person with whom they have had a good relationship, as the driving force behind their achievements? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Lk 10:27
We look for opportunities to promote this love for others through valuing healthy relationships.
Transcendence‘Inspire’ requires us to reach beyond ourselves to something more. One aspect of this is the Christian value of ‘Transcendence’. In collective worship we seek to bring all those present to the threshold of worship, so that the ones who want to engage with worship can do so and so experience something of transcendence in their lives. To help with this we will use signs and symbols which enable pupils to approach that threshold. This is something we do in life all the time. The use of a cup, shield or medal as an item to be presented to the winners of a sporting competition or the bunch of flowers or the cuddly toy given to show love or grief. The items in themselves simply point the way towards the intangible but very real impact of the experience. In the Church of England, such a connection between a sign or symbol and an unseen reality is known as a sacrament.
The prophet Isaiah, when at the Temple in Jerusalem, where singing, incense and many symbols helped to encourage him, experienced transcendence. “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and his train filled the temple.” Is 6:1-2
Valuing the transcendent is important as it can act as an incredible motivator. In our teaching and our delivery of collective worship, we need to make use of appropriate signs and symbols to promote learning and encourage a positive contribution to society.
Possibility‘Inspire’ leads us to consider possibilities that we might not have considered before. The Christian value of God’s possibilities is different from the idea that children should see everything as possible, a view often put forward in society today. The Christian value of possibility is about the realistic, being open to take the path less travelled, having courage to act differently and step out of the comfort zone. We see this at work in the story of Ruth. Naomi has decided to go back to her home country and Ruth, who is of a different nationality, could go with her sister in law back to her home country and community and leave Naomi. Naomi says to Ruth “Your sister in law has gone back to her people and her gods; go back with her.” “Do not urge me to go back and desert you,” Ruth answered. “Where you go, I will go.” Ruth 1:15 Here we see Naomi’s need acting as an inspiration for Ruth and opening her up to the possibility of going to a new country. (Read the book to see what God had in store for her. It was good!).
At Bury CE High School, we need to be inspiring our pupils and each other to consider realistic possibilities, always seeking to expand horizons and opening up a range of good opportunities, whatever journey they may take us on.
ResponsibilityThe fact that people are made in the image of God inspires in us to respond to this privilege with due responsibility. We live in a society that is very focused on rights; of people, of animals, and in our dealings with others. Yet a right does not require a response. We can agree that someone has a right without feeling that it has anything to do with us. Our Christian ethos calls us to teach rights, but to inspire and teach responsibilities. We are called to care for others, to care for the environment and to act justly in our dealings. We need to do this in the classroom through what we teach and the way we teach; through collaborative working, encouraging ownership of one’s own learning, and enabling pupils to support each other with their learning. In the wider school, our dealings with each other need to encourage and model responsibility through our pastoral work, our charity work and our personal relationships. In this way we can educate pupils to be responsible members of society, who will make a positive difference wherever they may go. ‘Responsibility’ is one of the Christian values that we are need to ‘Inspire’ in Bury CE High School.
The story of Jonah gives us a clear picture of how to inspire responsibility. As the story concludes we find God saying to Jonah “You are concerned about a bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow;…….should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people”.
We may not need to resort to the extremes that Jonah experienced but we should seek to enable our pupils to have their sense of responsibility awakened and employed for the good of all.
Awe & Wonder‘Awe and wonder’ is part of the ‘Inspire’ strand. As the Psalmist gazed at the sky, he was inspired by God and His creation. “When I look up to Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars set in place by You, what are people that You are mindful of them ….?” (Psalm 8: 3-4) Yet the Psalmist knew that it was all there because God cared for people and he was awestruck and wondered.
We need to ensure that our curriculum planning ensures that there are opportunities for pupils to wonder, to be in awe of the subject, or the skills or experiences we give them. In order to do that, we ourselves need to stay fresh with our subject knowledge, develop our skills and be aware of the experiences that inspire us so that we can share that awe and wonder with others. This is why we take steps to refresh our vision, to keep us inspired by our subject, our first love.
So…. What will we be doing this week, this month, this half term? Will it create the opportunity for awe and wonder? The degree to which we develop awe and wonder will determine the degree to which we ‘Inspire’. As the Head of Bury CE High School with a background in Physics, I understand much about the Universe, but it does not rob it of that awe and wonder when I look up into the sky on a clear dark evening.
“What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” W.H. Davies