The current academic year represents the first time a friend resident, Amanda Kragt, is fully participating in a seminary class, Hebrew.
At Western Seminary, Hebrew is taught interactively with plastic swords and spears, stuffed animals (both clean and unclean), dolls, sticks, stones, playhouses, various foods, etc. Students see, touch, taste, and smell words. They also hear the words. We give them commands in Hebrew, and the students respond by following the command.
Amanda is enthusiastic about learning and loves languages. With our interactive approach, I thought that we could accommodate her. What I did not realize at the time was how much she would contribute to everyone’s learning, how the classroom would became a place where the societal barriers between people of various abilities would temporarily break down.
In class one day I was giving commands. Without thinking much about it, I said to the students in Hebrew, “Stand on your chair,” and as soon as I said it I realized that Amanda, who is a little unsteady on her feet, might fall. Before I could do anything, the students on her left and on her right took her hand, helped her stand on her chair, and then later helped her down.
I was deeply moved by this simple gesture. Neither the students nor Amanda thought much of it. They did it naturally, instinctively. To me this was a sacramental moment, a foreshadowing of the community that Jesus has called us to be — a community in which the barriers dividing people and the resulting prejudices have broken down.
My experience with Amanda in the classroom has me thinking more broadly about barriers in theological education. Who do we allow in? What are the criteria? What constitutes a rich learning environment? Amanda’s presence and that of the Friendship House are challenging all of us to reflect more deeply on what it means to be the community Jesus desires us to be.
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