Monday, May 4, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T... From the School House to the White House

I recently started a job as a substitute teacher for middle school music classes.  It's a 5 week gig, and I'm about half way through.  It's been.... challenging, to say the least.

I didn't expect it to be easy.  I know how we treated "the sub" when I was in school.  Since I'm in a longer term position instead of just a one-day role, the students are finally figuring out they have to put up with me until the end of the school year, so they best get used to it.  Most of the students have been great, but a few of them make me want to pull my hair out.  They are rude, disruptive, hyper, angry, obnoxious, and snotty.  When I enforce the rules, they balk.  One sixth grader actually flipped me off the other day.  

Even the good students show resistance at times.  "We don't do things that way," they say.  I do my best to communicate my reasoning for why I'm choosing to run the class a certain way, and they just sigh and roll their eyes like I'm just another idiotic adult who couldn't possibly understand.

There have been countless times in the past 2 weeks when I've wanted to get a bullhorn and declare, "I am the teacher, and you will show me respect because I am the teacher.  You don't have to like me, you don't have to like my decisions, but you will obey the rules and treat me with respect regardless of how you feel."

Now that I'm in a position of authority, it has given me new insight into what it means to respect authority.  When a student approaches me with a kind and respectful attitude to discuss a problem or issue, I am more than willing to listen and come to some sort of compromise with him.  If a student comes with a bad attitude written all over his face and disdain in his voice, I don't have much patience for negotiation.  

Some church friends of mine have been talking a lot about respect these last six months.  They started a website and Facebook group called "Respect Our President."  They didn't vote for Obama, but they recognized that people--Christians in particular-- have gotten into the horrible habit of treating our President with utter disrespect.  We badmouthed Clinton, we badmouthed Bush, and we badmouth Obama.  

I was dismayed at the slanderous accusations about Obama that were passed around via e-mail by Christians in the months leading up to the election.  Suddenly facts didn't matter, and people didn't take the time to see what was true.  Hysteria seemed to rule the day.  Now that Obama is in office, I still hear Christians refer to the him as if they have a bad taste in their mouth.  

I voted for Obama, and while I'm not entirely happy with many of his decisions thus far, it's still fairly easy for me to respect him.  I did, however, speak about Bush and Clinton disrespectfully while they were in office, much to my shame.  It's one thing to disagree with their policy decisions; it's quite another to malign their character or make jokes at their expense.  As Christians, we have no business speaking of our leadership in this way.  We can thoughtfully disagree, but we should do so out of respect.

If you need some Biblical support for this idea, check out Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, and 1 Timothy 2:1-4.  

Some may argue that if a leader stands in opposition to the will of God, then we should not respect them or submit to them.  True, there is a time when we have to choose to obey the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of man.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego disobeyed the king's edict to bow down to the idol, but in their resistance, they still answered the king with respect.  (Check out Daniel 3 to see how they responded.)  I wonder if we here in 21st century America are too quick to jump to the resistance stage instead of using creativity, intelligence, and love to work out solutions on the cultural stage.  If we put forth half the effort into doing something positive that we put into maligning our leadership, we might actually be able accomplish something good rather than complain about all that we see as wrong.

Remember, too, that the Biblical command to honor those in authority also applies to the Christian in North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.  I think it would be a much harder concept to apply in those countries than it is in our own.

If you are interested in some great discussions on respecting our President and what that means, I encourage you to check out Respect Our President's website as well as the Facebook group.  You'll find some practical suggestions as well as some lively debate.

In the meantime, I'm learning that respect is a crucial aspect of human relationships.  "Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king" (1 Peter 2:17).  We should show respect regardless of whether or not we think it is deserved, because respect and love seem to be closely intertwined.

At the very least, it will get you on the teacher's good side.

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