I don’t personally know the families involved in last weekend’s horrible shootings, but at one point I knew what it was like to be a student at Norfolk Christian. In the wake of the tragedy, those memories have haunted me. I remember many nights driving home to the beach from school events, graduation parties, friend’s houses. I knew exactly how many minutes it took to get from the school’s neighborhood to my driveway, and what time I would have to leave to get there by 11:30. I knew there would always be a parent, half asleep on the couch waiting for me.
I wasn’t a parent yet. I didn’t realize how much praying one can do when half asleep.
I also didn’t realize that the true curriculum of Norfolk Christian would not sink in until years later, when I was far away from Thole Street and Triple R Ranch. I had spent years learning Scripture alongside the periodic table, but the revelations that shape me still are Incarnational…Jesus in the form of people – teachers, students, families that were faithful and sacrificial. Who believed though it cost them dearly. Who loved me well, though I was a self-important, stance-taking, theology debating, cynical remark making, champion for dancing at school formals. No, I have not changed as much as I should have. Yes, I think they have dances now. Yes, I’m sure that has improved everyone’s lives significantly.
Over the past days and nights as I’ve prayed for the Rodriguezes, I’ve been praying for parents and teachers at the school. And for those sweet students. Students who are learning, as I wish I did sooner, that faith is not like algebra or AP Chem… it is not linear and does not feel balanced. We often don’t experience it terms of forward progression, step by step. Faith is a gift that is birthed and nurtured, sustaining when we least expect it. It happens upside down and inside out…it comes out of the cracks when we feel on the verge of breaking, or when our hearts go right ahead and split down the middle.
In Mrs. Merkel’s 6th grade class we had to memorize Hebrews 11. The whole thing. We got a handout at the beginning of the year, photocopied straight from the Bible. We put it in a plastic sleeve and slid it into our binders and the girls would painstakingly highlight each verse in a different color. It looked hideous. I still remember most of it. I know most of my classmates do too.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. This is what the Ancients were commended for. By faith…”
It then goes on to list the crazy crazy stuff people did out of faith and by faith and through faith. Great chapter for 6th graders – lots of action, swords, lion’s mouths, etc. It’s been called the “Faith Hall of Fame,” but really that’s too glamorous. In a brief interlude, verse 13 admits the tension we inevitably learn as we age on this journey, why the Christian life is ultimately a calling with great cost, not a commodity we can package and sell.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
The author of Hebrews then returns to his list, “By faith…”
Hebrews 12:1 is rarely studied, or memorized alongside its preceding chapter. Yet, it should have been highlighted away by my 12 year old hands.
“Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”
This week has provided signficant additions to my own ever-running “By faith” list. The peace, strength and mercy being demonstrated can only be described as other-worldly. A community gathers and is comforted by a family facing the unthinkable. Those of us watching the news reports through tears have to remind ourselves that what we see is real.
I’ve been thinking about Norfolk Christian this week ultimately because I still fight the temptation to grow my faith in a classroom. If I can just find the right book...But what taught me all those years ago, the teaching that sticks and shapes, came in the form of names, Mr. Elder, Mr. Doyle, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Linz…It’s what continues my true education today – the community, the cloud.
In an era when belief is statistically going out of style, the community bears witness and reminds, and sometimes, such as in this tremendous and difficult moment, those most devastated believe for us all.