Half of my teaching load each semester consists of teaching the required freshman class Biblical Interpretation and Spiritual Formation. Although I thought the combination of these two topics in one class was strange when I first read the job posting, the class has grown on me and I now love teaching it. I see the connection as leading from proper reading of the Bible to spiritual formation: the very structure of the class helps prevent us from merely reading the Bible in an academic fashion. We spend a large part of the semester looking at the different genres of the Bible (law, prophecy, etc.) and then we reflect on spiritual formation topics related to those genres (such as legalism and idolatry).
Throughout the semester I give the students spiritual formation assignments to give them an opportunity both to experience the classical spiritual disciplines and to stretch their thinking in other areas that they might not have thought connected to spiritual formation. Since classes started recently, I thought it might be of interest to some of you to know what these assignments are. Perhaps some of you will even want to try these on your own!
The first active assignment of the semester is thanksgiving (like several other of these assignments, I’ve taken various parts of the instructions from my colleagues, so my thanks to them for letting me borrow their work). Here are the instructions:
- The first part of most of these active assignments is to read a chapter from our excellent textbook Knowing Grace, written by Joanne Jung, a fellow Talbot professor.
- Each student writes out 25 things they are thankful for. Just making this list can be quite helpful. Whenever you are tempted to say something critical, turn your thoughts in thanksgiving toward the Lord for all he has done for you.
- Choose one day in which you plan to avoid saying anything critical or negative about anyone or anything (you must choose the day beforehand). If someone begins to criticize someone else, you are required to say something like, “I’d rather not discuss this, if you don’t mind.” One of the goals of this exercise is to help us see how often we complain and make critical comments of others. By “fasting” from “evaluating,” it will help us see how critical we often are. You are not allowed to verbally criticize anything or say anything negative or evaluate anything. This means that you can’t comment on how hard a class is, how hot or cold the weather is, or how hard it was for you to find your keys this morning. Most likely, you will speak much less this day than other days.
- The students then reflect on their experience and give themselves a grade on how well they followed the instructions.
Naturally, this day of not saying anything critical is not designed to be something we do every day; all of us must critique at various points in our life (those of us who are parents will be doing that quite often!). But this exercise helps to show us how often we do complain and begins the process of training us towards greater thankfulness. Let me know how it goes if you try this!