I watched a few days ago while a sensitive healer took care to apply some cool ointment and a band-aid to a hurtful wound. I wouldn't mention it if it weren't for the fact that I see the very same lesion in so many different settings these days. What this caring man did needs to be repeated.
The fissure I'm referring to is the sometimes just-below-the-surface tension you feel increasingly these days-and especially within practically every local church I hear about-between families committed to Christian schools, those committed to homeschooling, and those who remain loyal to public schools.
The issue is combustible precisely because it involves our children, that most precious of all our possessions, about whom we find it all but impossible to be objective. The decisions we make about anything our children do, but especially about how we educate them, tend to become staked-out positions that by their very nature must be defended at all costs.
That's why, even in churches that otherwise enjoy remarkable unity and amicable fellowship in matters of doctrine, folks find themselves fragmented over the schooling issue. And more often than any of us like, that fragmentation begins to look a little ugly a little too often.
So I was refreshed by what I saw a few days ago. I had been invited to speak at the opening convocation for the new academic year at Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Ala. With 1,900 students, Briarwood is a pacesetter among Christian schools; its list of institutional achievements goes on and on.
But Briarwood Christian School is part of the 4,000-member Briarwood Presbyterian Church-and not everyone at the church is part of or committed to the school. A significant number of families are energetic homeschoolers. And another group is very committed to a variety of public schools in the area. Indeed, the church's pastor, Rev. Harry Reeder, told me he'd just been told that 97 of the church's members are educators in schools other than the one operated by the church. In all kinds of settings, that would be a recipe for dissension and disaster.
But Reeder hasn't addressed the issue by trying to stay aloof, or by pretending that he can be all things to all people. He is, in fact, absolutely committed-philosophically and in every way imaginable-to the church's own school. "I hold that Christian education is a mandate for all believers," he told me candidly. "But the particular vehicle by which Christian education is delivered isn't always so clear."
That's why, after I spoke at the gathering for the Briarwood school, Reeder first asked all the faculty and staff of the school to come forward and stand in a row across the front of the room. It was a long and impressive lineup, including almost 100 people.
And then he asked everyone who was otherwise involved in the education of young people-homeschoolers and teachers and administrators in other schools-to form a second line right next to the first one. A similar number of people came forward.
Finally, Reeder asked everyone in the two lines to get acquainted with the person standing just opposite-and to agree to a prayer partnership for the coming year. Just imagine: every single employee of Briarwood school agreeing to pray at least once a week (Reeder suggested it be every Monday morning) for some homeschooler or some public-school teacher. And vice versa.
My own pastor suggests from time to time that one of the best things you can do on your own sickbed or from your own hospital room is to pass the hours by praying for somebody who is exactly in the fix you are in. Who can pray with more understanding or motivation?
Reeder's proposal grows, I think, out of the same heart. It struck me, as I watched it, as one of those incredibly simple answers to a problem we've all witnessed but seldom addressed. No bureaucracy, no administrative bother, no expensive search for the right personnel, no cost, no overhead. Just a simple straightforward opportunity for bringing together people with slightly different ideas about how to fulfill similar commitments.
What a great way, I thought, for all the rest of us to start a new school year.