I have never shied away from sharing my Christian faith, as imperfect as it is.  I view faith as something personal, but appropriate to share with others, as long as someone is not compelled or required to conform to as a condition for employment or citizenship. We do not have a national religion, but we are still a nation that values belief in God.       

For educators, Christmas marks the half-way point in the year.  When school returns it will be a new year:  2019.   Educators will spend a few days at home with their own family at Christmas.  It may afford them an opportunity to catch up on reading as well as a chance to finish some personal chores left untended since school started.  Christmas is a special time for family, friends and faith. 

Christmas Day is one day a year we set aside to thank God for the gift of His son.  We must all eventually ponder the meaning of the life and death of a teacher from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. For those of a different faith or even no faith, it is also an opportunity to partake in the goodwill of friends and neighbors, who may be Christian.  This time of the year should reflect the best of mankind. For Christians there are five things to consider:

  1. Miracles.  We can claim Jesus is the reason for the season, but the truth is we get lost in the busyness of the holiday.  So, it is through childlike wonder we must remember a tiny baby in a manger born in Bethlehem.  And while we fully engage in myriad of events, we do not lose focus on this miracle of Jesus Christ living among us.  He is the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
  2. Message.  The hopeful message of Christmas is that we are not alone.  God so loved the world that he sent His son Jesus Christ into a world of sin to restore the brokenness between God and Man.  His gift of love is better than any gift found under a tree.    
  3. Meaning.  Without Jesus birth, His death could never have happened.  Jesus’ death made possible the forgiveness of sins, which in turn enables us to look forward to living and reigning with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
  4. Mission.  Our mission is to serve others, in love, and with grace.  As Eugene Peterson wrote: “Christian spirituality means living into the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life—children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships—and experiencing them as an act of faith.”
  5. Ministry.  Ministry is more than just work done by clergy. The Greek word in the New Testament that is often translated as “ministry” is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “service.” The ultimate example of ministry is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus of his own free will gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. His entire life on earth, and ultimately His death on the cross, was about others.  Ministry means to serve.   

Live life by those beliefs and values. Love God. Love each other. Love the world. Love the least. Make disciples of others.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.  Mother Teresa said: “Give your hands to serve, and your hearts to love.”  That is the path forward for faith, and the “riveting, redemptive, and revolutionary story of God, who left His home to bring us home, and more profoundly, to make us His home” added Nathan Edwardson. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He is a lifelong educator.

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I drew back my fist and tried to defend my mother after my dad had struck her numerous times.  I don’t remember my exact age, but I was around 4 years of age.  It is etched forever in my mind and fuels my abhorrence of injustice and deep respect of women. Sometimes I close my eyes and it is as if I am there again.

In high school, it was endless cycle of verbal battles—and I could give much better than I would take. My dad, Francis Bowman, was a tough man. He was the 11th of 12 children of a moderately successful, yet well-respected father, who himself died way too early.  It was hard for me to love him, yet other people told me stories of his constant charity and gregarious nature.  He had a determined work ethic, often working two jobs, and he taught me to never expect to be handed anything in life.  Certainly nothing would be handed to me under his roof.  When I was 17 it escalated and he finally slapped me.  I wanted to hit back at him, but somehow, I knew better.  I yelled the words that I thought would hurt him the most: “I hate you.”  And at that moment in my life, I did.

Hate is a motivating emotion.  Fear, anger, and hatred are all painstakingly linked together.  Much like love, all of them can serve to influence our behavior. My father had served his country during the Korean War in the United States Navy.  So, after high school, I needed to show him that I was much tougher than him and I joined the United States Marines.  I didn’t even bother to tell him until just a few days before I left for boot camp.  It was the only time I ever recall seeing him cry.

It is an ancient ritual of fathers and their children.  The child yearning to grow into adulthood, and a father’s tough love.  Mothers can be demanding, but they have that nurturing and caring side that escapes most men. Fathers try to instill discipline in order to help their children succeed in a heartless, often uncaring, world.

When you become a father, you are reminded by memory and experience or from others and those lessons you pass along to your own children.  The ritual of fatherhood continues.  You will hear the words of hate spewed back at you, and it hurts.  The emotional pain hurts more than any physical pain.  At that moment you realize the hurt you caused your own father.  It is then you start the healing process.

The Christmas before he passed away, my dad asked me to come see him.  He handed me a wad of cash, and a newspaper with the price of hams circled.  He then handed me a list of names and some addresses.  He wanted me to deliver, in secret, hams to all those addresses, including many people I had never met.  I had discovered he had been doing this much of his life for the underprivileged.  I also learned from my Uncle that he had played Santa Claus at orphanages in South Korea while he was in the Navy.  He said he would never play that role again, and he didn’t, because one little girl had asked him for a father.  I started to understand him better.

My mother called me on that October day in 1991.  You need to come home, your father is dying.  I had heard that before.  More to please her than to satisfy him, I went home.  He was dying.  But it would be a magnificent death.  For once all was clear, pain seemingly gone.  For just a few days he was able to apologize for all the wrongs he had committed or felt he had committed.  Words were said that needed to be spoken, and a message was given that needed to be heard.  He held nothing back, sharing a lifetime full of words in a few hours.  His remorse was heartfelt and restorative.

Sitting there watching my father pass into his eternal reward, based on his Christian faith, I reflected on the broken man who raised me.  It was years later when I was truly able to forgive.  I don’t condone many of his actions, but I was able to move past them.  I learned that I am much like my father in many ways.  A strength, a toughness that is entrenched into my being that I inherited.  I remember among his last words: “Life really is simple, we just complicate it. If I had to do it over again I would focus more on those things that are important, like faith and family.”  I am my father’s son.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman or his Blog at www.jcbowman.com