**My next post, Schooling for the End of the World (where schooling and eschatology meet), will be a philosophical theology of schooling wrapped around the idea of the eschatological vision of what might be possible through schooling to “make all things new”. Prior to that, though, I am reposting here a mashup of two earlier posts (Embrace the End of the World and Educating for the World to Come) that define what I mean by “eschatology” and “the end of the world” and re-raises some questions that I am just now getting back to. Those who have been following for a while might remember these posts; for the new followers, enjoy!
There is a strand of biblical prophecy that is revealed in such words as “the end of the age” that might mean some apocalyptic doom (heralded by guys wearing cardboard signs hanging out on street corners); for me, however, this idea sounds a deeper note, one of expectation, hope, and fulfillment for the broken places in this world. In other words, this eschatological hope (a fancy word meaning “the study of last things”) is not for the destruction of this world but for its renewal. Let me explain.
There is a beautiful concept in the Hebraic scriptures known as tikkun olam. The translation literally means “to repair the world” and it is held in close kinship to the idea of olam haba (“the world to come”) where justice (mispat –meaning “to save from oppression” and is linked to the idea of defending the weak, liberating the oppressed, and doing justice to the poor) and righteousness (sedaqah—the active intervention in social affairs in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance, and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity) are the continuing refrain of a religious, political, economic, relational, and social way of life that confronts and critiques power here and now. What tikkun olam points to is a way of living rightly within a world oppressed on all sides by systems of domination, cruelty and injustice.
For me, then, “the end of the age” is key. When I look at the present “age” I see a world marked by self-indulgence, addiction, and oppression populated by communities of marginalized, voiceless persons struggling to maintain lives of dignity in the face of systems that offer little hope or possibility. I see overcrowded prisons full of men and women who started out as beautiful young toddlers already behind in the game of life who never quite got the support or had the safety nets available to avoid the tragic pitfalls surrounding them at every turn. I see families torn apart both by poverty and wealth, with absentee fathers filling jail cells, boardrooms, and golf courses while their children long for a healthy, present, active role model. I see generational cycles of despair in every socio-economic bracket. I see children seduced by a culture that promises happiness while gorging themselves on their very souls. I see violence glorified and sex used to sell everything from clothing to valve caps.
In short, I see a world far short from what could be.
And yet the hope lies in what is beyond “the end of the age”; namely, the vision of the world as it could be…the “world to come”.
By embracing the “end of the world,” I embrace a vision for a different world.
A world where prison yards become playgrounds, where every child wakes up to a loving family and a full breakfast, where education provides every student wisdom and possibility, where gratitude replaces self-indulgence, where self-discipline replaces self-gratification, where every zip code reflects the blessings of full human flourishing, where swords are turned into plowshares and lions lay down with lambs, where justice and righteousness roll like might streams and forgiveness pours down like Niagara Falls, where wealth is redefined as relational, familial, intellectual and spiritual. I have a vision of a world where violence, preventable disease, war, injustice and inequity are found only as artifacts in museums.
In light of this, what might the olam haba (the world to come) look like if we took seriously the Hebraic mandate to be architects of repair in the world, intent on living out mispat and sedaqah? What if, in particular, we saw the work of education reform not as holding “higher standards” but as working to liberate the oppressed, defend the weak, and do justice to the poor? What if we reframe the discussion of education reform by seeing the systems that hold progress at bay? What if we started asking deeper, more humane questions of our schooling? What if we intentionally designed every facet of schooling around the question: “What does it mean to live a meaningful life and to do meaningful things with that life?” What if we asked students to think about meaning and purpose rather than success and consumption? The end of the world might just be one worth seeing happen after all.
**These are the ideas and questions I plan to tackle in my next post. I welcome any thoughts, questions or comments you may have before I do!