Most of you know that, by day, I strive to teach students how to think deeply and, hopefully, wisely, about their lives. We wrestle with the nature of the self, the problem of evil, living and leading from the inside out, what it means to be well-educated, and how to avoid becoming the tragic character in one’s own life. For the past six years, I have been privileged and blessed to work at a place that has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally, making me a better teacher, husband and father.
While serving as a teacher, coach, counselor, and administrator, I have also been working for the past five years on my doctorate in the philosophy of moral education, trying to unpack a vision of education that helps shape students who are themselves fully flourishing human beings, capable of working towards healthy communities and the common good. This present semester is my last semester of course work, with only my general exams and dissertation left.
Donald Miller writes, in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, that most of us live stories that no one would bother watching if they were played out as movies because most of us work hard to avoid conflict and pursue ease in mindless repetition that leaves us, at the end, full of regret, disappointment and a sense of having missed something important.
Along that same vein, Winston Churchill has this great quote: “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
Though my present situation has afforded me the opportunity to live a really good story, I have felt this stirring for the past six months that it is time to live a bigger story. Therefore, both with great sorrow at leaving a place I dearly love, yet with great peace in the Mystery, I have tendered my resignation at the school where I have served for the past six years to take a year of sabbath to read, write and finish my dissertation.
I spent some time during college at the L’Abri study center founded by Francis Schafer high in the alpine peaks of Switzerland, and one of my favorite memories is of a morning when the fog rolled in so thick you could not see beyond your hand. The walk from the lodge château to the dining hall was a series of blind steps into the fog, with just enough light for each current step. Moving forward, I have no guarantees of future employment or financial security, and I’m not even sure how I will cover my insurance expenses. What I do know is that the Mystery is at work, even now.
It is interesting how things begin to shape up once one takes that first step out into the unknown. For the past four months, I have engaged in several different conversations with groups of folk eager to re-imagine education, including a well-resourced group of some of OKC’s most influential leaders eager to see city-wide change come to schooling for the most vulnerable, a private Christian school that wants to create a pedagogical vision for justice and shalom, and a small group of guys who are working to start a uniquely positioned school to reverse the pipelines to prison that many of our most forgotten neighborhoods have become. Though I am not sure quite what my role in any of these discussions may be, I do know that freeing myself up to have the time to enter into them is but one step forward into the Mystery.
Perhaps the greatest reason I am leaving my job is to help my family write a bigger story. My favorite chapter in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is titled, “How Jason Saved His Family,” and it tells about Donald Miller’s friend, Jason, whose family was fraying at all the edges because he, as a father, had failed to offer them a better story. Once he did, his marriage transformed, his daughter dumped her loser boyfriend, and his family was ultimately redeemed.
This is my greatest reason for taking this leap of faith–I want to offer my family a bigger story. A story that is fraught with fear and danger and suffering, for that is where true character is forged. A story that is filled with wonder and adventure and quest, for that is where characters of depth are formed. A story that is intentional and sacrificial and transcendent, for that is where wisdom is found. A story ripe with grace and mercy and justice, for that is where God is at work.
Perhaps, at the end, these words by Frederick Buechner will be true of this story into which I am stepping:
“A voice says, ‘Whom shall I send into the pain of a world where people die?’ and if you are not careful, you may find yourself answering, ‘Send me.'”
It is into a world in desperate need of an education that will offer hope for our small, shivering selves, into a world hungry for better stories, where the hope of the Mystery envelopes like a thick, wet blanket that I find myself answering, “Send me.”