College

 

I love college. So much so that in high school I joined a college preparatory program to ensure that I would live the dream and be able to attend anyone of my top 3 choices, and I did, I got into my first choice-Go Lions! I fell in love with college early on because I was exposed to different college campuses. I knew LMU was right because of how being on campus made me feel. I was able to envision the next four years, taking advantage of clubs, study abroad, studying in the library and fulfilling my ideals of being a successful college student. Upon my bittersweet graduation I was happy to return to that college prep program as a staff member to help facilitate that process and to help each student find their fuzzy feelings and future self on a college campus of their dreams, which ultimately led me to Verb to continue my mission.

For the past two years, we have been blessed to be able to facilitate campus visits for all class levels. By the time of graduation, all Verbum Dei students will have visit 3-4 college campuses as part of the college guidance curriculum. This year Chapman University in Orange, CA hosted the freshmen class. For many of them it was their first time on a college campus and Chapman did not disappoint. Students were ushered around campus on intimate tours, received their first college lecture on admissions processes and financial aid and discussed the importance of college with their counselor in a lecture hall as well as ate lunch in the cafeteria- this always sells boys especially on college! We ended the day in a business lecture hall having conversations with student athletes, coaches and professors, all thanks to Verbum Dei alumni turned admission counselor, Christian Aguilar. Next up is the sophomore class who will visit both Concordia University Irvine, a small private Christian liberal arts college and UC Irvine, a larger public research based institution. Maybe they’ll find a perfect match to add to their top 3 list of colleges.

Our college exploration program is growing. If you are an alumni of a local college or university and know staff members in the outreach office who would be happy to host Verbum Dei students and provide some programming that helps students see what college is really about, please have them contact Antoinette Bowie-Smith, School Counselor at abowie@verbumdei.us. Our next step is to grow outward, providing college trips in Northern California and out-of-state for students. Wish us luck (and financial support) in our ventures!

 

Theology in Film

Admittedly, this is my favorite class to teach. I grew up doing two things on a weekly basis: attending mass and watching movies. This class is where my love of faith and film come together and it has become a favorite for each senior class I’ve taught. The seniors get to experience films through a theological lens. What that means is that we study a particular theological theme , unpack it, then analyze the film for insights into the theme. What the kids find exciting is that these films are not “Christian” films because they are not overtly about Christ(as they often remind me.) After we spend time studying the theme and watching the films, each student has their moment of realization when the non-Christian film begins to reveal more about Christianity than they ever could’ve imagined. These are the moments that I live for.

This class is an example of the Jesuit understanding that God is in all things. Most recently we studied the theme of Christology through the 1999 classic Sci-Fi film, The Matrix. The students were shocked to realize that the names, imagery, and themes of the film were tied to the life, works, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.(The Wachowski siblings did their homework!)

As we are a college prep school, we utilize challenging text from current theological voices like that of Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. Dr. Johnson is a professor emerita at Fordham University whose works have helped shape our theology department over the past few years. Through who works the students are confronted with college level rigor while also being challenged to see that God’s grace can be found in some of the most unlikely of contexts…like that of a sci-fi film.

The Matrix has helped the students understand the Gospels in a new way that connects to them in their current context. The Christ-like figure of Neo proclaims this in his final monologue of the film. Imagine Jesus saying these words instead and see if it resonates.

“I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

Something to think about, don’t you think? Jesus knows that the spirit of the world is afraid of change. This spirit of the world is that which breeds greed, injustice, hate, separation, and a misuse of power. Jesus knows that a change is coming since he is the herald of that change. He came to show us a better way of living, of loving, of being what God made us to be. That world he shows us is without the controls of sin, without the boundaries we have arbitrarily created between each person, each community. A world where authentic Christ-like love is possible not only on an individual level, but on the communal as well. But as always, God gives us free will to choose to live like Christ or not. The choice is up to us.

A Lesson in U.S. History

Though I have taught World History for many years now, this is the first year that I have taught US history.  This past November, I was teaching a unit about the events and conditions that led up to the Civil War, including the emergence of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party as the main opponents to the expansion of slavery in America.  One of my black students, Timothy, raised his hand looking confused.  “I don’t understand – how could Republicans be the party that was against slavery?  All my family are Democrats, and say that Republicans don’t want black people to vote!”  So my pre-planned lesson was put on hold as I was explained how the Democrats used to be the party of southern slave-owners and segregationists, while the Republicans were the party of abolitionists and reconstruction, and how all of that flipped during the Civil Rights era.  But even as I was explaining, it dawned on me how important it was to help Timothy and his fellow Verbum Dei gentlemen to understand the long journey of American history and how for people who looked like him, the United States has not always been a beacon of freedom or a city on a hill.

When I was in high school, my US history class never really dealt with reconstruction, segregation, Civil Rights, or any of the challenging history of racism in this country.  25 years ago, US history was mostly taught as one unbroken tale of triumph – where slavery was solved by the Civil War, and immigrants were always welcomed by Lady Liberty.  So now as a teacher at a school in Watts, California, I have to take up the challenge of teaching a more complete and complicated story of America – one of lights and shadows, freedom and oppression, shining ideals and infamous cruelty.  I have the duty to help our young men become faithful citizens of a country that is not always faithful to them.  I have the difficult task – and the great joy – of helping our gentlemen not only to know their rights, but also take responsibility for building a more just society for themselves, their children, and for all of us.

So at the beginning of this Black History month, blessings to you all.  May we all continue to learn and grow through greater awareness of our shared history of struggle, tragedy, and triumph.

Martin Luther King Jr. with Lyndon Johnson in 1966
Jackie Robinson with Richard Nixon in 1952