Philosophy of education

I come from a long line of uncommon teachers. An uncommon teacher is one who teaches or trains in the duties of an everyday work life, rather than in a classroom. My father was a videographer who far preferred explaining the intricate guts or the laborious editing process than the actual job of shooting a wedding or editing the event afterward. In his spare time, he would elaborate on the way a car engine was put together, why the clouds were cumulus before a storm, or the exact process of how to perfectly cook a soft boiled egg. My mother was celebrated as an encourager, a trainer, and a mentor. She relished in the act of taking a neophyte through what normally was an agonizing dance of making mistakes, and surpassed her peers in her ability to toss the neophyte into action while at the same time holding the learners’ hands. After 25 years of trying to operate a small sales business, she finally found her passion in mentoring and training missionaries for the field.

Background of new model. From these experiences of uncommon teachers, plus my ten years of teaching experience, I have developed a unique model of education for adult learners (specifically, above the age of 17). My model was inspired by classic theories of education (Bloom, 1956), combined with a Christological worldview and my own unique perspective. I have also used Jane Vella’s approach (2002), some ideas of Parker Palmer (1998), and some of Bruce Chilton’s research (2000) on the concept of the teacher during first century Jerusalem which paved the way for the unique style utilized by Jesus. In this paper, I will apply each of the ten areas of my model to a specific question relating to learning theory. The goal of this paper is to clearly illustrate and define a new model of education and learning that is both based on the transformation of the individual towards a Christ-like state, as well as instilling an ethical approach towards cross-cultural education (specifically in comparison with Chinese models of education, as I am a teacher in a Chinese university).

Based on apotheosis (or heroic transformation), my model should not be confused with Meizrow’s transformational model (1991), which focuses on the three meaning schemes of beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions. My model uses three core concepts of educational psychology in Bloom’s taxonomy (1956): cognitive (to know), affective (to change behavior), and psychomotor (to experience). I relate the concepts to 1st Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith (cognitive, to know), hope (psychomotor, to experience), love (affective, to change behavior).”

With the goal of apotheosis, each of the three concepts (faith, hope, love) expands into two paths. Faith (known in the model as enlightenment) opens into synthesis (ability to process knowledge) and intellect (ability to utilize knowledge), hope (known in the model as pilgrimage) opens into enculture (lifestyle) and expertise (skills), and love (known in the model as virtue) opens into eudaimonia (happiness) and discernment (critical thinking). Faith is dyadic, necessitating an acceptance of both belief in a creator and reason (see Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on fides et ratio, September 14, 1998), hope is ultimately focused around the eschatology of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth through the return of Jesus Christ, and love is centered in the Second Commandment: “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:30-31). I will review each of the ten concepts in my model by answering a simple question about adult education and learning. I divided the questions into three categories: 1)What is learning?, 2)the adult learner, and 3)the teacher as learner.

Figure 1: Original educational model of transformation

educational transformation

What is learning?

1. What is the purpose of learning? The purpose of learning is heroic transformation, or what is known in Greek as apotheosis. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and accepted and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul was an educated man, studied in the classics, letters, and holy texts yet he continued to encourage transformation into the image of Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). For myself, education has always been an occupation of a hero-raiser, but as a Christian heroic qualities must always be drawn from the image of Christ.

Jesus was a teacher and leader, mentor and encourager. He was a recognized as a rabbi by other teachers of the law, and was a member of the highly celebrated chasid caste (rabbis who were anointed by God and could channel the ruach, or Holy Spirit), revered even among Jewish leaders such as Gamaliel (Chilton, 2000). He was a pupil of John the Baptist, and continued his master’s legacy through the practice of John’s mishnah (words and actions that conveyed one’s teachings), while making the mishnah totally his own. Just as Christ transformed his own talmid (disciples) through mastering halakhah (a rabbi whose actions were equal to his words), so a teacher must focus on transformation, specifically oriented towards teaching and training pupils so that they do adopt the same methods and capacity to think critically in their own lives. The purpose of learning, therefore, is to become transformed into a new creature in the image of Christ.

2. What is the definition of learning? To learn is to fundamentally process information in such a way that the information is coded and chunked for interpretation, also known as synthesis. According to Waitzin (2007), learning is accomplished when a series of tasks take place, much like a long journey: 1)intelligent preparation, 2)cultivated resilience, 3)informational naturalization through incremental practice so that 4)when one carefully assimilates information for pattern recognition (known as chunking), 5)the focus becomes enlarged, simplistic, defined, and ready for utilization. Synthesis is classically seen as the solution to the struggle between thesis and antithesis, where common truths are reconciled between the proposition and reaction to said proposition. In learning, synthesis is the ability to hear an intellectual concept, intuit the boundaries, and classify what is common for categorization.

As an aspect of faith, learning as a journey is intimately attached to the act of listening, watching, and practice. As Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). In many places in scripture, learning is equated with receiving the Holy Spirit, implying a humility that passes intellectual boundaries (Galatians 3:2), ending in a beautiful communion with the Creator of the universe.

3. What is the truth of adult learning? The truth of adult learning is that no matter how much one learns, learning can never be truly achieved without embracing enlightenment. For children, learning is a technique that allows them to pass through the expectations of society: test-skills, essay patterns, and reading abilities are important powers to achieve academic fluency. However for adults, learning must breathe on its own, just as Palmer states: “geologists are people who hear rocks speak, historians are people who hear the voices of the long dead, writers are people who hear the music of words” (p. 107, 1998). For children, the aspect of being learned is one’s educational status; for adults, the act of maturity in knowledge, where light is literally shone onto a dark space deepening insight through a delicate dance between spiritual truth and reason. In Palmer’s example, the act of listening to rocks doesn’t transform the geologist into a rock worshiper, the historian into a necromancer, or the writer into a mystic; rather, the enlightened adult is able to put the two disparate concepts in his mind, both the material and the immaterial and hear the knowledge within.

Learning, according to God, cannot be divided from the act of experience as experience is the best teacher. In the Old Testament, the word lamad is repeatedly used to describe the act of teaching (over 80 occurrences alone, with 16 references in the book of Deuteronomy, and 26 references in Psalms). However, lamad is also used interchangeably with the act of learning. When God tells the Israelites to learn something, He is telling them to teach it – when He tells them to teach something, He tells them to learn it. One cannot teach something without truly understanding the implications of what is taught. Lastly, lamad is also used to signify the word train, bridging the gap between the act of teaching and the act of learning through the process of incremental practice.

The adult learner

1. Why do adults learn? Adults learn because of the necessity of enculturation, the first aspect of pilgrimage (or hope). While education for children is mandatory in most countries, education for adults is optional, used as a catch-up enculturation mechanism to renew or introduce skills necessary for survival in a given context. Enculturation is the process to acquire value according to a set behavioral standard within a given culture through deliberate action, either on behalf of the student, the teacher, or both. Adult education takes many forms: universities, training programs, community colleges, Sunday school, even in-house corporate consultants and equipping classes.

As I teach graduate students in the school of engineering, my classes focus on equipping students with the ability to communicate in the English language their specialized fields and common lives, so that they can increase their prestige as professionals and improve their socialization skills. However, my students are primarily studying English to be acculturated out of their cultural worldview and into a non-Chinese worldview. Enculturation and acculturation are similar; while enculturation teaches relevant skills in the native context, acculturation is the method for teaching relevant skills in a foreign context. Both enculturation and acculturation are relevant reasons for adult education, although enculturation is by far a more necessary component of society.

While an important aspect of society, enculturation is an even more important aspect of the Kingdom of God. One of the two aspects of hope, enculturation (or lifestyle) is the process of preparation as adopted children of God (Romans 8:23) into the holy Kingdom, and is significantly anchored in the future rather than the present. As a teacher, I seek to communicate the lifestyle and hope (elpis) that is sanctified by God through my actions and my words, while at the same time helping my students prepare for the lifestyle that awaits for them on this Earth. Therefore, teaching values such as love and respect for the sacredness in life is important to my teaching, with the hope I can inculcate those values within myself and my students as well.

2. What methods do adults use to learn? The three methods adults use to learn in my model are the intellect (faith aspect), expertise (hope aspect), and discernment (love aspect). The intellect is the ability to utilize knowledge, expertise is the skill needed in order to create change within a society, and discernment is the method to increase one’s capacity to critically assess either personal behavior or the behavior of another (such as a person, an idea, or a thing).

The intellect is the action aspect of enlightenment, where the learner not only utilizes the knowledge they processed through the act of synthesis but also reflects on how the knowledge was used (expertise and discernment). Expertise is the action aspect of pilgrimage, applying intellect in discernment to accomplish tasks using knowledge learned through synthesis and enculturation. Discernment is the action aspect of virtue, when judgment on the rightness or wrongness of intellect and expertise truly supports the end goal of education (apotheosis) or design methodology (eudaimonia). The three methods are entwined with each other, necessary for transformation to occur.

Praxis is an important tool in methodology for adult education as it acts as a gauge for whether the intellect, expertise, or discernment was used properly. According to Vella (2002), praxis is both a deductive and inductive activity used to foster an increase in intellect, expertise, or discernment (what Vella calls knowledge, skills, and attitudes). The act of praxis involves a close analysis of content, the act of re-creation in a different context, and a re-analysis through participatory examination. Applying Vella’s praxis to my model would mean taking a lesson for my engineering students and identifying the key truths (the intellect), re-purposing those truths for my business students (expertise) and critically assessing the value of those truths outside of a classroom of engineers (discernment).

More importantly, though, are the lasting values represented in the methods. The intellect without God is related by Solomon as “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26), because the purpose of obtaining intellect is vain rather than holy. Solomon also said that if skill is used in envy of one’s neighbor, the expertise obtained is “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4:). The spirit of God (also known as God’s ruach) was the physical manifestation of God’s love for his people, the presence of God in the Temple, the power which anointed kings, and the aspect which saved through physical manipulation of the earthly elements. Even in the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma was used in the same capacity as ruach, although the pneuma rather than presiding as a covenant between God and His people inhabited the disciples and anointed each of them with the legacy of the chasid; a truer testament of God’s love could not be found. However the key truth about the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment: when Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was led by the Holy Spirit and only after his experience did he truly begin his ministry as the answer to prophecy (Matthew 4:1-11), to bring the love of God to every person on the earth.

3. What is the importance of learning as an adult? The importance of learning for adults, according to my model, is to practice faith, hope, and love. In my model, faith, hope, and love are represented by the concepts of enlightenment, pilgrimage, and virtue. Paul compares the practice of faith, hope and love to the maturation from child to adult (1 Corinthians 13:11), and then draws a metaphor of a mirror to explain that in the practice of faith, hope, and love full knowledge of the self is realized. Therefore, the importance of learning for adults to for adults to learn about themselves and understand how to holistically practice the love of the pneuma.

Contemporary theories of education stress the importance of learning as a participatory activity helping society move from a more mechanistic worldview focused on materialism to a world focused on discovery, creation, integration, and peace-making. Vella (2002) stresses six quantum concepts regarding the current of learning: 1)relatedness, 2)holism, 3)duality, 4)energy, 5)uncertainty, and 6)participation. Her model is known as dialogue education and is empowered by quantum concepts, which like Palmer (1998), stresses the importance of learning as a community.

Paul in the book of Ephesians also stresses the importance of learning in community. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul goes beyond quantum thinking, saying that the body is one creature, each part necessary for every other part.

The teacher as learner

1. What is the role of the teacher in adult education? The role of the teacher in adult education is to convey virtue through both words and actions. According to Dungy (2010), teaching must be oriented towards building lives of significance, creating a legacy of lasting value, and traveling together (student and teacher) so that integrity, character, and faith is strengthened for all involved. Education is about empowerment, which makes the teacher the one who empowers.

I connected virtue together with love because love without virtue is savage and lustful but love with virtue is pure, honor-bound, and noble. As a teacher, my job is to love my students in the same way that God loves his people or that Christ loves us. Paul was compelled to classify virtue apart from knowledge, given the popular sentiment that virtue (arete) was in itself knowledge. Paul says faith must be supplemented with virtue, but virtue with knowledge, showing that the two are not the same (2 Peter 1:5). The result of teaching must always be measured with a yardstick of virtue: were the students’ lives enhanced, did they grow in excellence, were they empowered because of the example their teacher set?

2. Personal design methodologies. As I grow as a teacher, I recognize that learning is intimately connected with happiness. If students are happy, they are more open-minded and willing when learning but if unhappy about a subject, more close-minded and skeptical. In his inspirational book about teaching, Burns describes a student referring to his teacher: “You helped me to realize that learning is the key to a full and happy life” (2011). He explains that the best teaching comes from the heart, not from a book, that excellence is about making a class fun, inspirational, and applying teaching methods of self-empowerment where worth is equal to possibilities of the future.

In my own experience, the concept of eudaimonia (happiness) is the core value in my design methodologies. Developing activities and assignments which not only increase value but confidence, love, virtue, hope, and enlightenment are key aspects to my design methodology. While I have struggled over the last ten years of finding a happy medium between encouraging the professional capacities of my students in taking charge of their own education to defining exactly what is necessary to pass a course, I have consistently tried to develop materials which have lasting, eternal value.

In an environment of stunning negativity, I feel the necessity to design courses that not only empower but educate. Tom Wolff, an educator in a Chinese university, wrote a book detailing 18 different kinds of complaints, with a collated 412 submitted allegations over a two-year period, indicating the level of dissatisfaction existing for many foreign teachers in China (2009). Given that learner autonomy is not stressed in the Asian classroom (Ma & Zhang, 2009), curriculum that is based on students needing to do self-evaluation, self-direction, and personal engagement with course material must be tempered to fit the unique model of education present in China: teacher-centered, test-based, and attitude promotion (Gao & Watkins, 2002). Inserting happiness into the utilitarian model present in many Chinese classrooms is a necessity for invigorating learners beyond the walls of the classroom.

3. Personal teaching methodologies. I have described teaching and learning as the same through the Hebraic lamad, with a beautiful example of Jesus as both teacher and learner. Hope is the cornerstone of my teaching methodologies as it is the act of pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Jesus established the Kingdom through the granting of the Holy Spirit upon all, including the Gentiles.

Just like Jesus’ example, in Chinese tradition the word jiaoxue xiangzhang literally means “teach-learn each other-grow up,” a common phrase among teachers to explain the importance of learning what you teach. Confucius said: “He who is able to acquire new ideas while reviewing old knowledge is worthy of being a teacher” (The Analects, Book II:11). Zhang made a connection between the affective learning of the student and the competence of the teacher in a given subject, showing a relationship between the teacher’s mastery and passion of the subject taught (2011). Therefore, the need for me to not only be a continual learner in my field but a teacher is absolute.

Besides his occupation as a talmid of John the Baptist, the book of Matthew describes Jesus as both learner and teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus would not have told others to emulate his example of gentleness and humbleness if He himself was also not on a journey of learning. As a student of John the Baptist, Jesus continually enhanced his kabbalah (spiritual technique), emphasizing the need for purity not from outward structures but from inside (Chilton, 2000).


Six years ago I began to teach Chinese students at the university level. Knowing what I know today and applying my philosophy back then, my teaching would have been dramatically different. Rather than delivering lectures to my students, personally investing in them for the purpose of apotheosis into the divine image of God. Rather than trying to change society through sweeping reform activities, focusing on mentorship. Rather than legitimizing myself as a scholar without peer, stooping beneath my students and deigning to believe that even they could teach me. Finally, seeking felt needs of my students first, rather than as a last resort. Applying these would have radically altered my teaching, and no doubt will radically alter my future as a teacher — no… a learner.


Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Burns, T. (2011). Thank you, teacher: An appreciation of a difficult job well done. London: Axis Publishing Limited.

Chilton, B. (2000). Rabbi Jesus: An intimate biography. New York: Doubleday.

Dungy, T. (2010). The mentor leader: Secrets to building people and teams that win consistently. Winter Park, FL: Tyndale.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, D.A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Meizrow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: John Wiley.

Vella, J. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: the power of dialogue in educating adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Waitzin, J. (2007). The art of learning: An inner journey to optimal performance. New York: Free Press.

Wolff, T. (2009). Teaching EFL in China: What every foreign teacher should know before they go. New York: Nova.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarify as predictors of student affective learning: a Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.

The Teacher’s Identity: a review of Palmer’s “Courage to Teach”

My first “real” teaching experience was standing in front of a crowd of four year-old children, holding up cards of colors and numbers, and then dancing until my audience was giggling so hard that they forgot they were speaking a foreign language. While not all teachers may have had origin stories as kindergarten teachers, my journey into the teaching profession began quite unexpectedly. What you realize (even as a kindergarten teacher) is that teaching begins with relationship and only after a relationship has been established can learning take place. When the eyes of the teacher lock with the child and there is a spark of trust – then, only then – can learning begin.

As children grow older into adults, they fashion more poetic and artistic ways of learning, but in the end relationship continues to be the keystone, even in university and postgraduate studies. Parker Palmer recognizes this key fact, as the thesis to the book “The Courage To Teach” centers around the community that grows and is watered by the teacher. Even though I teach in a different country, culture, and sometimes language, the relationship between student and teacher is still tantamount, albeit interpreted and visualized differently. Even though expectations for what that relationship means may differ from culture to culture, the student and teacher can never be separated.

As a teacher, I have struggled with the concept of who I am as a teacher. Am I an instructor? Am I a friend? Am I a spiritual guide to help my students reach the next plateau in their lives? Am I the sage on the mountain, or the muse that whispers secrets into the hearts of learners while remaining at a distance to observe a transformed life? Palmer explains that the core of a teacher lies in his or her identity. “Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.” (p. 12) In other words, identity forms the central axis upon which teachers revolve around: how far they can grow, their possibilities of self-actualization, how they relate to their subject material, and the extent to which students can grow under their tutelage. However, teachers are not the impact mechanism which affects students, according to Palmer; rather, once the teacher identifies the work of teaching as a vocation where “deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet,” (p. 30) then the result is what Palmer describes as good teaching. Good teaching is the penultimate goal, because the beauty of education lies in the subject-based classroom, where ideas are met with passion from both teacher and student. While Palmer wouldn’t necessarily say that the content of the lesson is more important than the teacher, neither would he say that the teacher is deserving of authority because of privilege or status; rather, in the mashing of paradox and fulfillment, within that tempestuous storm lies the diligence of purity and true knowledge, keys to unlocking true learning.

Perhaps the most insidious barrier to true learning is the atmosphere of the classroom. Teachers often complain of toxic environments, where students are uncompromisingly stalwart in erecting and rebuilding barriers to learning the teacher attempts to pursue. Sometimes these barriers are as simple as a consistently snide attitude toward the material of the class, and sometimes these barriers are as poisonous as repeated attempts to derail other students through an elaborately orchestrated coup. However, such grand dreams of Hell are merely illusions from the teacher’s fear, transformed into monsters and shadows that if not countered lead to a true malformation of bad teaching, where the teacher loses all credibility in not only the students but in himself or herself as a bearer of knowledge. Palmer classifies this barrier as “the teacher’s fearful heart” (p. 47), and reflects that the only true counter to fear is a change in attitude. Rather than combating the toxicity of the environment, the teacher should treat good teaching not as benefiting the student, but rather as benefiting the teacher. “Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest.” (p. 49) However, Palmer doesn’t say that the teacher shouldn’t attempt to care for the students, as “a good teacher is someone who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken – so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence” (p. 46). In other words, a teacher has priority, but if the teacher is at risk of falling to fear, confidence falters and only the strongest student survives, if survival can even be called a hope.

Wisdom is generally found in paradox. Many view this as the “wise man’s crutch,” with popular sentiments such as “during peace, prepare for war,” or “the wise man knows he is not wise.” Simplistic philosophical algorithms which propound great thoughts by abusing the existence of unspoken space are the sage’s artillery. As a teacher, I am held to account to the things I teach and often see myself on that distant high hill; what the wise man on the hill often fails to perceive however, is that while he chose solitude over community (as many scholars do), he stands out as he is the only one on that hill. According to Palmer, paradox is the key to good teaching; creating environments of tension in which learning can occur. He mentions six different kinds of environments of paradox: protected but open, inviting but dangerous, self-led in community, realistically archetypal, a community encouraging solitude, and a place of active discourse and quiet reflection (p. 76-78). Tension is the key to unlocking potential; tension for tension’s sake does not create potentials, but neither does tension for learning’s sake. Rather, exercising one’s abilities in the medium between light and dark, while aiming the mind at a goal allows one to critically assess the virtual environment, and through that assessment, self-knowledge is increased, which when utilized as a source of energy, helps create bridges over rivers of mystery and encourages us forward into the mist. In the end, the ability to learn can never come from any other but the self. However, the teacher must take full responsibility over the environmental design.

Palmer asserts strongly his Quaker identity, and perhaps nowhere stronger is his dedication to his faith in his preaching of the community of truth. As a teacher, I operate primarily in community but also outside of it – a class is a scheduled activity, required by the state, encouraged by the culture, and associated with shame and honor in the social spectrum. The student has no choice over the material studied, nor choice over the tasks assigned, and no choice over the time of the prescribed learning nor the length of that learning. In a true community the voice of the many act as one, but in a classroom, community cannot be understood in traditional terms; if purported as such, such definitions serve only to act as a rationalization for a more positive teacher and student relationship rather than a communal activity. For this reason, Palmer explores the concept of community not as a commune of individuals but rather as “the community of truth, the grace of great things, the transcendent subject, the ‘Secret that sits in the middle and knows,” and the sacredness of soil that Palmer believes community is rooted in not as physical and objective fact but as the numinous energy at the heart of reality, which binds all together, teacher and student alike. (p. 112) While this definition may seem obscure and philosophical, heis not claiming that community shouldn’t be held accountable as a collection of individuals working in harmony, but rather the spirit of community must be central to the reason why all parties are gathered. In other words – attitude. The classroom cannot be understood as a social requirement without the prescience of why and how that gathering of hearts and minds is necessary for personal growth. Even a person who hates learning must find an apple in a dry orchard if he seeks to become more than what he was; for this reason, community doesn’t spring out of the ground like a well of water; a teacher must, like a focusing iris pointing a laser of light at a spot on a wall, create an atmosphere of an “eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” (p. 105) For Palmer, that conversation deals with a particular subject, but I believe the teacher, as a leader, must also know how to wield the power of the iris wisely; a teacher does not exist in a vacuum.

In our modern society, we are inundated with data. Wikipedia boasts millions of pages of information, our liberal arts colleges offer hundreds of different majors, each major holding under its wings several different disciplines, even a field such as engineering must now be understood as mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, structural engineering, coastal engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and so on. The university has responded to this and does its best to offer as comprehensive an education as possible. Palmer asserts that what has happened in our society because of the rise of data collection is backward; rather than being more knowledgeable, we are less; rather than having more skill, we have trouble knowing how to actually process the data into action. Furthermore, in the university, classes often operate from one of two poles: where the teacher is a bastion of knowledge, or where the teacher workshops the students into pseudo-professors where every emotion or thought has value, regardless of the extrinsic value those ideas carry. Palmer’s solution then, is to offer less meaningless data, but data of value to the community. “The human brain works best with information presented not in the form of isolated data bits but in patterns of meaningful connection, in a community of data.” (p. 130) Hence, the responsibility lies on the teacher to carefully select information for a course that not only is aligned, but mindful that both the learners and the tutor are members of an intricate biological microcosm that grows and changes from the things touched, sensed, and experienced. Hence, the goal of education should neither be the holy hand grenade of knowledge from Heaven’s ambassador, nor should the goal of education be for students to play Battleship with their texts and hope to sink their opponent’s navy. In the center of everything lies the passionate subject, a bendable but intractable member of the learning society which is strategically selected by the teacher while at the same time open to interpretation. After all, the subject won’t go away if a student interprets it into oblivion, but that interpretation may reveal a deeper secret about the student previously unrealized, as long as the student is able to focus on the step-process of the latter obliviated idea.

Teaching is a personal art. Teachers draw from their lives stories, metaphors, experiences, emotions, and fears, in this complex interplay of personal elements a unique teaching methodology is practiced. Each teacher carries different variables into the classroom, and as such, rubrics, selection of curriculum, even priorities and time schedules differ from class to class. One teacher telling another teacher how to teach better can be explained by thinking of an image of a bird telling a beaver how to build a better home out of sticks. While both the bird and the beaver use the branches of a tree to build their homes, they are not the same creature and have different goals even though both are trying to provide for their families. Given these barriers to discussion, how can one teacher benefit from the experience of another teacher, without feeling the need to clone himself after that teacher? Palmer outlines a three-pronged process, which I will restate as preparedness, sacredness, and reflective paraphrasing. (p. 156-160). Preparedness concerns the full background of an issue, even data which might seem non-relevant. Sacredness is an attitude of pure exploration of situation and methodology. Reflective paraphrasing is the final step in the process where the listener tells the focus what she or he said, along with clarifying questions and non-confrontational observations. While these three methods may be useful in bridging the gap between teachers and allowing them a space in which to conceptualize themselves in a different environment, Palmer asserts the necessity for educational leaders to encourage dialogue. “Good talk about good teaching is unlikely to happen if presidents and principals, deans and department chairs, and others who have influence without position do not expect it and invite it into being.” (p. 160) Palmer’s premise, from the beginning of the book to the end, maintains a healthy accountability for those in power, whether those people are the teachers in charge of their classrooms or the leaders in charge of their teachers. As a person who has influence without position, I am encouraged by Palmer’s words.

The dread word for any teacher is invariably reform. It’s not that teachers are enemies of reform, but reform means change and forced systematic change is not a teacher’s bread and butter; much like the amputation of a limb, teachers view reform as a soldier might leer at a medic holding an axe in his hands. Teachers spend a lifetime developing strategies for use in the classrooms – elaborate rituals, choice texts, personal philosophies that others would find ludicrous outside of the tiny spec of wood, metal, and paper that comprises the classroom. Teachers spend countless hours pouring over evaluations, trying to come up with crazy theories in the sometimes haphazard goal of shaping lumps of teeny, naïve, and hormonal creatures into something their societies can be proud of on both an intellectual and a social level. So when words like “educational reform” get thrown around from other teachers (especially those outside the system) often the result is met with cold distance, apprehensiveness, or even outright rejection. Palmer recognizes the inherent weaknesses of reform, especially as reform tends more or less to be institutional rather than carrying intrinsic value. Hence, for Palmer the strategy is not to find ways of incorporating reform within the teacher’s life, but rather reforming the concept of the movement. To illustrate the reformed movement, Palmer uses four stages: institutional rejection in community, establishing support systems and a shared vision, opening goals and vision for public critique, and establishing a reward system outside of institutional values. (p. 172) Rather than working through the institution, Palmer asserts that a movement has value as “movements have the power to alter the logic of organizations because an organization is, at bottom, a system of social sanctions: do this and you will be punished; do that and you will be rewarded.” (p. 186) However, given the foundation of an institution lies in punishment and reward rather than passion and community, movements are to the institution what a shot of morphine is to a man bleeding on the battlefield: a second chance, a reawakening, and a re-purposing of “the power within each of us that in communion with powers beyond ourselves, co-creates the world, for better or worse.” (p. 189)

As a teacher in China, there are further challenges. I don’t have the space to talk in details, but there are five cardinal concepts of social intelligence of great importance in Chinese society: mianzi (face – impression management/self-presentation), wuxing/wulun (holism – social cognition/information identity), guanxi (relationship – attunement/interaction awareness), renqing (favor – influence/behavioral affectation), and yuan (fate – concern/interest management). Teaching in China affords me space; as a foreigner, I am not privy to the intrinsic culture, but I am aware that the culture where I live is far more attuned to social intelligence than my own and as a teacher I must train myself to be keenly aware or face the consequences. I bring this topic up because while Palmer’s model of teaching works well in a Judeo-Christian culture based in the sophistry of Plato, Aristotle, and Adam Smith, the Chinese worldview towards education is very different, founded in the entirely different philosophical petri dish of Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi. While Palmer identifies areas of improvement for the vocation of a teacher, most teachers would welcome his suggestions even though they might balk at their own responsibility to change; in China, I’m afraid many if not most teachers would find Palmer’s suggestions not only amazingly out-of-touch with the ideals of the teacher, but unusable except in particular situations where western ideas are more welcome and schools have been incentivized to test out alternate theories.

For myself as a scholar living in a foreign country, I have come to recognize that Palmer presents two significant challenges to me: firstly, that in order to function as a teacher in China, I must relearn basic concepts about human action. Not only does Palmer explain the inherent spirituality of the teaching profession, but he does so in a way that revitalizes old ideas in new colors. I must learn this language of human action, how to interpret what I see before me, and how to speak that language in such a way that I know who exactly I am, how my fears root me to inaction or backward thinking, how to approach the paradox of east and west and use that so that I can create a more positive learning environment. Concepts like mianzi and renqing are extraordinarily powerful as relationship modulators, while wuxing, guanxi, and yuan establish even the expectations of my own work. Mianzi and wulun alters/limits the extent to which I can affect change among my students, wuxing and yuan influences the amount of power I have as an influencer without position, and guanxi changes the nature of promotion, benefits, and even the concept of the movement.

Secondly, while I do believe that I have the spiritual gift of teaching, I don’t believe I am currently investing myself in it to the fullest extent.  While the culture is challenging, I am not naïve enough to believe the system would be any better in another place – so Palmer speaks directly to my attitude and the necessity for me to be a light to others, no matter how dark the island may be.

Intercultural immersion: an evaluation of personal variances

In my analysis of Elmer (2006) and Lewis (1996), I looked at the basic philosophy the two men brought to the conversation of cross-cultural work, focusing on the need for understanding a culture beyond just book knowledge, but having an intimate awareness – an empathy – of how that culture operates on a worldview level. In this second paper, I will discuss how these perspectives transform my own life as an educator and a cross-cultural worker, by discussing pertinent issues from both books, as well as illustrate some problematic issues that have occurred as a result of my transplant into Chinese culture. Most importantly, however, I will discuss the power that I wield as a cross-cultural worker, in not only shaping others around me but being transformed intimately by the collection of new ideas foreign cultures introduce.

Before I came to work overseas, I had several academic degrees: two bachelor degrees (one in English and another in Biblical studies), as well as two certifications (one for teaching English as a foreign language and one for international business). I also had studied the Chinese language extensively before coming to China for my professional career. I was not only highly qualified, but motivated to pass on that knowledge to others. However, one stipulation Elmer makes is that education in different countries carries different expectations (2006, Loc 879). In the United States (where I earned my degrees), certain expectations are held for both students and teachers: academic originality, reflected critical thought patterns, and willingness to participate in opinionated discussions. However, in China those three aspects of education do not actually exist, as students in high school are encouraged to emulate rather than create, elaborate rather than criticize, and listen rather than speak. Such basic principles built into a system that for a thousand years operated and evolved independently of other cultural educational systems provided a stark challenge as an educator, and still I struggle with today. I continue to struggle inwardly in putting aside my philosophy of education, in the hopes of helping the process of transformation inside my fundamentally different students.

Even if, however, an educator such as myself can grasp the invisible lines of cultural variants, the problem arises of actually understanding why. Elmer (2006) uses the example of learning not only from but learning with the target culture (Loc 1143). Empathy (learning with) functions separately from sympathy (learning from): while sympathy is an acknowledgment of a different experience from the perspective of oneself, empathy is an insertion of oneself into a different perspective; cross-cultural work requires empathy, because while sympathy will allow the cross-cultural worker to react more positively to situational problems, empathy allows the worker to transform a basic ethic to a new worldview, while retaining elements of the old. Elmer gives the example of Isaiah 28:33-39, in which God’s care for even the most common of workers (a wheat farmer) is so specific that the Lord of Creation steps down from his throne to instruct the farmer in the most basic of work, from planting barley to grinding the grain. The model of the wheat farmer is the model for the cross-cultural worker, who in working with others (who operate from a totally different outlook) must take the care to truly understand them to the detail that God takes with the common farmer.

Book knowledge and empathy can take the cross-cultural worker into the living room of another culture, but they cannot change the worker’s insecurities about stepping into a world that disagrees with his or her outlook. Lewis (1996) mentions that one of the most dangerous areas for cross-cultural workers exist in black holes, mental blocks that exist inside a mind that prohibit analysis of other cultures because of the isolation the worker received while living in his or her particular geographical home. “They wallow in powerful, all-encompassing ‘cultural black holes,’ core beliefs of such gravity that they cannot be questioned” (Loc 1859). Take the simple example of spitting: according to ancient Chinese philosophy, public spitting is similar to the practice of blowing one’s nose in the United States, a healthy activity that promotes flow in the body. On an empathic level, I can understand spitting on a public street because the pollution in China is so dangerous that walking outside for a few hours results in preparing a new wash (given how dirty the white shirt becomes), and so even thinking about the grime that is breathed in through the lungs on a daily basis is bewildering. However, I still cannot bring myself to spit on a public street, because of the barriers formed in my mind during the first and second grade of elementary school, when students who spit on the ground were sent to the principal’s office for a time-out; a cultural black hole, so strong as to induce a physical response of repulsion and a mental judgment when I see someone spitting on the sidewalk in China. The process for closing black holes is awareness – understanding how and why a worker responds a certain way, and then slowly working through a strategy of deconstruction and re-construction; identification is paramount, and after identification, the real work begins.

Just like Lewis (1996) and Elmer (2006), I suffer from stereotypical viewpoints. When Lewis describes Americans and Australians, not only is he crass but offensive (Loc 1749), and his description of the Austrians’ only national accomplishment being their obsession with paper recycling is meant in good humor but comes off like a stand-up insult (Loc 4144). Elmer’s encouragement to make “two or three local friends” (Loc 1359) is as insipid as it is ignorant (try twenty or thirty for real perspective), but regardless of these glaring holes in reasoning, all cross-cultural workers suffer from these problems, regardless of the worker being an American in China (such as myself) or a Chinese national or immigrant working in the United States. To deny these manifestations is to deny reality; that even the most educated, kindest soul carries baggage that they he or she never asked for, but is part of the basic building blocks of the intellect and must be trained accordingly.

Elmer’s call to model Christ (2006, Loc 1606) helps in this regard, as well as his recognition of the mystery that surrounds other cultures (Loc 1929) being a powerful and destructive force if not accepted willingly as God’s grace. Lewis (1996) explains that the power of history and the collective unconscious which exists within people groups is a force that all cross-cultural workers must not only be aware of, but submit themselves to, because the legacy of a people dramatically shapes “thoughts, attitudes, actions, values, plans, an a unique mindset” (Loc 10068) that most are unaware of, even if they have been educated in their own worldview. For myself, I must constantly be vigilant against generalizations, be continually humble in identifying my lack of understanding regarding foreign points-of-view, and live my life in constant prayer that God shapes me so that I am a force of healing rather than a force of fire when I interact with people who are most likely unaware of why there is friction but intensely aware that there is friction.

Intercultural immersion: an analysis of textual sources

One of the most humbling aspects of working cross-culturally is working with people from radically different backgrounds, and then inserting oneself into that pool of different mindsets and trying to make sense of it all. Duane Elmer and Richard Lewis have added to the cross-cultural conversation in their books Cross-Cultural Servanthood (2006) and When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures (1996). Both books attempt to explore the intersection between cultures, but while Elmer explores culture through his Christian vocation as a pastor and missionary, Lewis explores culture through his secular vocation as a teacher and businessman. While both authors approach the topic with radically different points-of-view, they do offer consensus on a select few areas, namely the need to separate oneself from the primary culture (home) so as to embrace the secondary culture (foreign), as well as emphasizing that while cultures can be different from each other, at the core cultures consist of people in their most fragile and malleable forms, capable of both corruption and beauty, no matter the culture or country.

While the old adage may be true: “people are just people no matter where they live,” cultures vary primarily because of three functions: history (collective experience), environment (physical surroundings), and language (communicated personalities). Lewis (1996) argues that cultures at their core function from a foundation of myth: “Germans believe in a world governed by Ordnung, where everything and everyone has a place in a grand design calculated to produce maximum efficiency” (Loc 1970). In his exposition of German culture, Lewis claims that this mythical perception of Ordnung permeates each person with the collective experience that is Germany, in the same way that Confucius permeates people from Asia (Loc 2904) and the establishment of the Napoleonic École normale supérieure defines how the French view leadership expectations (Loc 2016). From myths such as the Founding Fathers in the United States, to the old Viking Code in Sweden, to the tales of King Arthur and the Welsh stories of the Mabinogi in the United Kingdom, philosophies and cultural mythology form a very strong bond between people who claim a certain lineage, regardless of blood. Cultures may vary, but all people are flesh and blood and operate from a basic survival mechanism for the need of food, shelter, clothing, and security. Beyond even those four basic needs, people are connected through an even stronger link: their experience as human beings. Elmer (2006): “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (Loc 600). To only accept that people are different and move on is not enough; transformation, regardless of station, is what divides human beings from trees, mountains, and even animals. Elmer argues that true transformation comes from Jesus Christ, but while Christ is the inspiration, servanthood (through Christ) is the only truly cross-cultural attitude can that reach across the divide and transform people (Loc 1476). Cultural concepts of servanthood must be abandoned however, and instead Elmer relates serving to learning, “seeking out the knowledge of the people, learning from them, knowing their cultural values and then acting in ways to support the fabric of the culture” (Loc 1130). Serving others by honoring their ways fosters trust (Loc 947), and as trust operates different in each and every culture (Loc 855), the process for gaining trust must be inductive rather than deductive through experience and an approach of humility rather than superiority.

Intercultural competence is not only a process of education but of immersing oneself into a culture so as to embrace that culture personally. While cultures are different and can only be accessed through a humble attitude of learning, action within a culture must acknowledge the secondary as primary (see first paragraph), as cultures operate not only from a historical and environmental vantage, but also through a linguistic medium. Language is more than a mere collection of sounds, but contains an entirely different philosophical approach to life (Lewis, 1996) and often trains people to act in certain ways by altering personality to fit appropriateness of speech (Loc 2288). Beyond adapting to the personality of the culture however, Elmer (2006) also encourages the art of listening: “You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or with impressing the other, or are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or are debating about whether what is being said is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered” (Loc 1217). These two aspects of language (a sensitivity to spoken personality and listening to learn) constitute the two most immediate needs for intercultural competence, and if trained successfully would solve innumerable issues in cross-cultural work.

The most dangerous pitfall for cross-cultural workers, however, is adopting the mentalities of us versus them, superiority complexes, and stereotypical generalizations. Elmer and Lewis fall prey to all three of these issues in their books. Elmer (2006) struggles with perspectivism, a strategy he believes is helpful where a cross-cultural servant makes “two or three local friends” in order to find a basis to work from (Loc 1359), while Lewis (1996) falls much further into the pit, eradicating his reliability through multiple outlandish statements that were probably written more for satire than education, but come off oafish and insecure (Loc 1749, 2274, 2691, 6326, 9152, 9199). I won’t bother with rehashing his statements, but the selection in the latter sentence are only a few of Lewis’s egregious errors in generalization he happily bounds through the bulk of his otherwise very helpful cultural tome, a trivial selection of far more than I wish to list in this short essay.

Regardless of these trite statements from the two authors, their books are worth reading and studying, as both men acknowledge that the importance of understanding differences in culture are ingrained deeper than just etiquette and restaurant menus, but serve much deeper foundations, from politics (Lewis, Loc 2912), history (Loc 6982), and even differing perceptions of servanthood (Elmer). To cross that boundary between culture, to learn from another culture through the process of serving and transforming the self into a different perspective, is the first step to synergy, Elmer believes (Loc 1033), and synergy is the key to operating at full value when working abroad. Lewis (Loc 2314) believes that an international team can only operate at full power when each member of the team not only is willing to work with one another, but respects one another for who they are at their core. Core beliefs are not something a person can be induced to give up unwillingly, and quite often are so deeply built into the core mindset that awareness of those core beliefs is as foggy as the foreign culture; the goal then, is for the cultural worker to adapt him or herself to the culture they are either operating in or interfacing with, rather than expecting the secondary culture to transform around the primary culture.

Book review: The gift of being yourself, by David Benner

Transformation, according to Benner, cannot be achieved without a thorough knowledge of both self and God. Benner states, “truly transformational knowledge is always personal, never merely objective. It involves knowing of, not merely knowing about.” Benner uses the example of the Apostle Peter to explain transformational knowledge, as Peter is the disciple readers have the most intimate details of his personal struggle regarding accepting God’s call on his life. Benner concludes his chapter by stating, “the authentic transformation of the self… is at the core of Christian spirituality.” Knowledge has the ability to inform, but only God has the ability to transform.

To truly know God, however, means that one must be embrace God at the in the “depths, not in the abstraction of dusty theological propositions.” Benner emphasizes experience over knowledge, and believes that prayer and meditation are the keys to unlocking true transformation in Christ. Objective knowledge will never be as powerful as relationship-based knowing, as evidenced by the personal time the disciples spent with Jesus rather than spending that time as a school, much like the Jewish elite such as Saul. Before Saul truly understood himself, he had an experience with Christ, and so must anyone desiring the same.

The first step to knowing oneself, however, is to recognize that God’s knowledge is far-surpassing and deeper than any other, even personal knowledge of the self. Benner states, “The generative love of God was our origin. The embracing love of God sustains our existence. The inextinguishable love of God is the only hope for our fulfillment.” Therefore, Benner claims, God must be at the core of the self, but to allow God into the self means to accepting oneself in all the beauty and darkness. Acknowledging the sin nature of the self is tantamount, but equaling recognizing the love of God as important. Benner uses the example of a young Jewish woman who found Christ only after she embraced the courage God gave her in acknowledging parts of herself she had long been ashamed.

However, Benner believes, it is not enough to face darkness, but God’s desire is for the darkness to be fully embodied, embraced, and sanctified through that personal relationship. In order to face darkness one must recognize God’s love, as Benner states eloquently, “sin is more basic than what we do. Sin is who we are. In this regard, we could say that sin is fundamentally a matter of ontology (being), not simply morality. To be a human is to be a sinner.” Benner suggests the Enneagram, a personality profiler used to reflect on one’s “sins”, but instead of approaching as a psychological tool, he uses the tool to help one face deep, raw truths and through that profound process attain a mastery of the self so that one can approach God’s love with humility and transparency.

One of the terrible dangers, however, of confronting sin is that human beings have a habit of creating false selves. False selves are created so that sins are shielded, not recognized, or at worst, held in honor. Benner calls this “listening to the serpent,” a reference to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Often, false selves are created not because of fear of authenticity, but because of the desire to be more like the Creator God but without God as a figure of authority. Benner states, “paradoxically, Adam and Eve got what they wanted – to be like God without God, likeness that was based on independence rather than surrender.” A similar example would be if a child wanted desperately to be like his physical father; he wanted his strength, his intellect, and his kindness, but he did not want anything to do with his father and wanted to stay as far away as possible. “The false self is the tragic result of trying to steal something from God that we did not have to steal. Had we dared to trust God’s goodness, we would have discovered that everything we could ever most deeply long for would be ours in God.” The false self clothes man in illusion, and that illusion creates a circular necessity; only by revealing the false self and embracing vulnerability with God can one take the first step towards tearing down self-inflicted idols.

Once the false self is revealed, the next step Benner says is to “become your true self.” However, Benner is strong in stating that “the foundation of our identity resides in our life-giving relationship with the Source of Life. Any identity that exists apart from this relationship is an illusion.” Benner uses the example of Jesus needing solitude and meditation in order to find his true self, even though he understood clearly his purpose on the earth, even to the point of accepting death as a sacrifice for those who wished to kill him when he could have fled or returned to his family trade without incident. Benner explains that for the Christian, vocation is more than just a career or job, but must be grounded in identity, community, and an expression of the gifts God gave that person.

Our self-in-Christ is a self that fits perfectly because it is completely us. It is a self that allows us to be free of all anxiety regarding how we should be and who we are. And it allows us to be absolutely our self – unique not by virtue of our strivings for individuality but profoundly original simply because that is who and what we are.

I found Benner’s insights to be valuable, especially as I have always had some difficulty with setting time aside for prayer and meditation. Benner has encouraged me to take time throughout the day or the week to consider carefully my own experience with God, especially with regards to how God has gifted me in a unique way. I have always viewed my life holistically, as well as taken seriously the gifts God has given me, although I have had some trouble learning where and how to use those gifts most effectively. For example, my love of writing and my love of the imagination have often found a focus in writing stories, although the amount of discipline and solitude required for such an endeavor has been a constant challenge, one that has not benefited from a lack of solitude with God. I deeply want to serve God with the gifts I have been given, but some of my many “false selves” (as evidenced by the Enneagram) is my need to be special (fours) and my need to be perfect (ones); strangely enough, both Paul and Joseph are two of my strongest Biblical heroes, and Benner states that they suffer from the same false selves as I do. I am encouraged however, because both Paul and Joseph turned out as not only paragons of faith but through their deep flaws, transformed those around; Benner has encouraged me to study more about how they conquered their false selves.

An American theory of everything: Mutual self-actualization clothed in self-determination

I admit, I find Maslow’s triangle of appreciating needs satisfyingly secure as an American. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist and professor at a private college in New York City, was an extreme individualist. He was the first scholar to clearly state that human need was more than just material; he elevated psychology into spirituality. The psycho-spirituality of Maslow’s self-actualization, beginning with basic physiological needs, then increasing to security, belonging, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization, was an answer to many prayers for a more evolved form of psychology that moved beyond the trait-like (and dogmatic) approach of behavioralism and tried to forget about the mythic and slimy fallacies Freudian psychology brought; Maslow brought humanity back into psychology.

​        The application of self-actualization to leadership is when a group of individuals together seek to become self-actualized together, thereby creating a space for mutual self-actualization. The leader, recognizing this basic drive for people to self-actualize, also pursues this with his followers and together they are able to move towards the penultimate point of human spirituality as a unit and a team, but ultimately is fueled by a personal desire for improvement. The commitment of mutual self-actualization within an organization is a commitment to a value than is higher than anyone one person, but has the capability to help each person “become everything that one is capable of becoming” and turn each person into change agents whose self-determination contingency (upon the group value) becomes a destiny. The keystone to the mystery of self-actualization is a concept known as effectance, which is an ability which if utilized properly, people can remain undeterred by the events that surround them if they have learned how to train themselves to continual growth in paradox. Effectance is the most important skill to have when pursuing self-actualization and any leader should be well-acquainted with the theory and methodology of training people to strengthen their effectance.

​        Maslow’s ideas, as heroic and idealistic as they sound, contain one major flaw, and that flaw is actually the strength the ideas are built upon: individualistic self-determination. When he was 20 years old, Maslow married his cousin and left his parents forever. He could not stand the sight or even the thought of his mother, and he hated his father for most of his life. As a child, his father had physically abused him, and his mother had both mentally and physically abused him severely. He hated himself as a child; a victim of extreme antisemitism, he forsook people and hid in the library, abandoned the faith of his parents and became an atheist (later seeking to revisit faith by comparing his self-actualization with an actual spiritual experience), and when he finally was free of his family, became a sexuality researcher for most of his life, trying to discover why a woman in a sexual relationship with a man, felt the need to show dominance over him through manipulation or ‘castration’ while at the same time yearn for his respect. He finally deduced that human sexual behavior was almost identical to primate behavior, and through these conclusions deemed that needs were less based on the materialistic needs of the enlightenment and more based on self-propagated conception of a deeper level, because he had noticed in his monkey studies that their sexual behavior was primarily driven less by natural instinct and more by social attitudes.

​        Two singularly important issues arise from this discussion. Firstly, in cultures where individualistic determination is not only taboo but undesired, his theory of social attitudes desiring self-actualization falls short. Secondly, the fact that his theories were derived primarily by analyzing sexual attitudes of domination and submission falls prey to the fallacy that perhaps not everyone’s self-determination is driven solely by their sexual propensities, but perhaps by a deeper and more fulfilling role, especially for people who have allowed the Holy Spirit into their lives and given their sexual being to God instead of using it for their own desired ends. I question as a leader, how it is possible to even use Maslow’s theories in countries where self-actualization is considered poor form, and what’s more, how to implement his theories as a Christian with self-actualization taking the place of Christ.

​        Maslow was the first psychologist to define “humanistic psychology” which was composed of the following five claims:
​                1. Humans cannot be reduced to parts.
​                2. Humans exist in a wholly human context.
​                3. Humans are continually conscious of context.
​                4. Human choice leads to responsibility.
​                5. Human intentionality is rooted in meaning and value.

​        Essentially, Maslow says that our actions are not rooted to context, but rather are rooted to meaning. Context is important for Maslow (as people exist in context), but in the end there is a greater desire, a “transpersonal” desire to self-actualize to a more spiritual-type of existence. For a person whose context is derived from his or her desires to self-actualize, the five claims of humanistic psychology carries tremendous weight. However, for a person whose self-perception (and even self-actualization) is derived entirely from their context, humanistic psychology is a vapid and empty set of statements that has little bearing on reality.

​        The Ideal Man, in Chinese philosophy, is someone who has achieved ren, or humaneness. Humaneness is Confucius’s mirror-image of Maslow’s self-actualization, but in the opposite direction. Harmonious, self-sacrificing, humble to a fault, an inveterate nepotist and a wholly functioning contextualist, the humane person in Chinese philosophy disdains anyone who attempts to self-actualize and berates them for their pride, cutting the head off before wings can be grown. Today, many western ideas have filled the halls of China and transformed many into those who seek self-actualization, but usually if those people want to pursue their dreams they must leave the country. And usually they do, fondly remembering their homeland, but never forgetting that in their homeland leaders are but specters who hover behind the curtains, and workers are the cogs in a giant socialist machine, spinning into eternity so that the state, an inhumane creation, can self-actualize and find spirituality in itself.

G.B. Caird: The Placement of History Within Biblical Interpretation

Caird presents the reader with an alternate view of understanding the Bible. Whereas Bultmann focused on teaching the application of mythology within the Bible, Caird presents a study of words, or a study of eschatological proportion. Caird claims that the Bible is perhaps, a metaphor for existence and personal reflection. He proves this through different passages, and claims three conclusions about Biblical passages: 1) the Biblical writers believed in a beginning and an end, 2) the words expressed were metaphorical end-of-the-world language, and 3) people misinterpret these metaphors in the literal sense.

Caird understands the Bible in a historical and purpose sense. He believes the Bible should be read and understood in the historical mode. He also believes the intention of the author should be fully grasped, before interpretation. He views interpretative meaning as merely interpretation, and claims the interpretative events are metaphors for something else.

Also, Caird also asserts the eschatology of the words in the Bible – being that, they mean what they are. Therefore, when something is stated in a Biblical passage, then it is truth within that passage for that writer during that time. I believe this is a healthy way to understand the Bible, because you are not thrusting your own experience and your own intentions upon something that did not originate from you or your experience.

I, however, do believe that people can interpret Scripture to their own whims. But I classify this as interpretation, not as truth – the only truth being that eschatological reading based upon history and the intention of the author. Caird asserts any interpretation beyond what is true to history and the author is misinterpreted, and he continues by stating some problems this type of interpretation have caused, such as the ‘day of the Lord’ (Anno Domini) and the ‘latter end of days.’

Eschatology is important for understanding the Bible, especially if you believe the Bible was written by human hands and not divine hands. If you believe solely God wrote the Bible, then neither I, not Caird, can help you, because the divine cannot be questioned. However, if you are willing to believe that human hands wrote the Bible, and each author had their own intentions in writing his or her specific passage, and each author lived in a historical period with an experience and a judgment, then the application of eschatology is important. By understanding the placement and meaning of the words in the exegetical process through the application of eschatology, you can unravel the mysteries behind the lines and passages. There are patterns in the Bible, and the Biblical authors expressively used these patterns to their advantage. There are also literary expressions used throughout the Bible in pattern to other books that, if understood, reveal great details about what the author was intending to say about society and culture. Recognizing these facets is something Caird impressed upon the Biblical world. I thank him.

(This short essay was written for a class on Biblical methods and interpretation throughout Christian history.  Today my feelings are slightly different from when I wrote this back in 2002: using historical criticism of the Bible is a helpful tool, but beyond a tool, we must still rely on the authority of Jesus in our relationship with God as the prime end of how we should interpret the scriptures.  Understand cultural implications and the historical significance is important to illuminating the lessons intended within the specific work, but even our interpretations must be subjected to our own cultural worldview and interpretation of fact.)

The Prodigal Son of Jixian

The Prodigal Son of Jixian is a play I wrote back in 2008, for a show my then-school (New Century Language and Culture Center) put on to showcase student talent in speaking the Chinese language. I wrote this basic script, and then each student performing in the play took his or her lines and translated those lines into Chinese, and then our troupe performed the play for the school.

This play is roughly based off of the Biblical parable, “the prodigal son,” although deviates a bit as this story takes place around the turn of the new millennium in China.


The Prodigal Son of Jixian


Narrator: (8 parts)

Father: (26 lines)

Older Daughter: (15 lines)

Younger Son: (21 lines)

Contractor: (6 lines)

Fast Blaze/Ms. Liu: (12 lines)

Wild Kitty/Ms. Chen: (8 lines)


Prologue The Prodigal Son

(Enter Narrator)

NARRATOR: Welcome to our play. Some of you have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son. Tonight we give you the story with new clothes. Our story begins in Jixian, near the city of Tianjin, with a businessman and his two children, an older daughter and his younger, impatient son. The older daughter helps her father everyday, cleaning the home, cooking food, and taking care of household business, but the younger son plays everyday, not listening to his father or his sister, returning home late in the evening, and spending his father’s money. He does not go to school, but spends his days at the internet café, playing games and smoking cigarettes. This is the story of his life. This is the story of how he became a good man.


Act 1 Leaving Jixian

(Enter Father and Daughter. Daughter is just doing some housework, and Father is arriving home from work.)

DAUGHTER: Good evening, Dad. How was work?

FATHER: Good. That young man from your college came to visit. Do you remember him? The handsome one?

DAUGHTER (exasperated): Oh, please, Dad. You know I don’t have time for that. Everything I do here, with Mom gone…

FATHER: Fine, fine. Have you seen your brother around? I need to tell him something.

DAUGHTER: He’s been gone all day. He left this morning, said he was going outside to smoke. He has not returned home yet.

FATHER: You don’t know where he went?

DAUGHTER: He’s probably at that internet bar, the Great Wall Café.

FATHER: Go down there are tell him to come home for dinner. I have something important to say to both of you.


(Exit Father)

(Enter Son)


NARRATOR: That evening, the older daughter went to the internet café. Her brother was sleeping next to a pile of cigarettes. She told him to wake up, but he refused. She was very angry. She slapped him and carried him home. His eyes were very red, and he was not in a good mood. The family sat down for dinner.


(Enter Father. The family is sitting down for a nice dinner.)

FATHER: Next week, because of the holiday, my workers are going back to their hometowns. Because it will be a very busy week for travel, we can go to see your Aunt in the mountains.

DAUGHTER: That is great! I miss her so much. Is Cousin Li going to come home from Beijing?

FATHER: I heard, but I do not know. He is very busy. He has a really great job, you know.

SON: I’m not going.

FATHER: Of course you are going. What are you going to do here? You need some mountain air.

SON: I’m not going.

DAUGHTER: You’re crazy! Everyday you spend our money, eat our food, but do nothing! You don’t go to school, you don’t work, and you’re lazy.

FATHER: Please, daughter, he is still very young.

SON: I’m leaving.

FATHER: See? I told you. He is already growing up.

SON: You. I’m leaving you. I’m leaving Jixian. I’m leaving this house, and this stupid family.


SON: I have friends in Shanghai.

DAUGHTER: They are his internet friends, Dad. He doesn’t know their real names.

SON: I want my money, and I want the car. It’s mine, anyways, you bought it for me.

DAUGHTER: If you graduate from school, but you have never gone to class!

FATHER: It’s ok, daughter. This is his decision.

SON: I am leaving tonight.

FATHER: Be safe, son.

(Exit Father and Daughter)


Act II In Shanghai

NARRATOR: That evening, his son drove to Shanghai. It was a long drive, but the son finally felt happy. Finally, he could do as his pleased. No domineering sister, no one telling him what to do. No old father, no dead mother. And money, lots and lots of money. He felt like a king. He would become a king. The king of Shanghai.


(Enter Fast Blaze)

FAST: Hey, buddy. What’s up?

SON: Are you Fast Blaze? From the Superman Chat?

FAST: Yeah, buddy. You want to go have some fun?

SON: Yeah!

FAST: You got cash?

SON: I’m loaded!

FAST: Great, really great. Follow me…


NARRATOR: The two new friends went out into the night. They gambled at the best places, smoked at the richest bars, drove down the fastest streets. They were children of the night, and they were happy. That night they found a hotel, and they slept at the top of the hotel. They watched TV all night, ate the most expensive food, and when the morning came, they slept all day. That night they met Wild Kitty.


(Enter Wild Kitty)

KITTY: Hey, Blaze.

FAST: Hey Kitty.

KITTY: Who is this guy?

FAST: This is “Prodigal”. Remember? He’s the guy from Jixian with the rich Dad.

KITTY: Hey, Prodigal! You’re here! So great! You want to have some fun?

SON: Yeah! Is that possible?

KITTY: I got a place in Shanghai. You can make money fast. Lots of money. Important guys come to my place. If they like you, you might get a job for them, and make more money. What do you think?

SON: This is more than my Dad ever gave me. This is so great.

(Exit Wild Kitty and Fast Blaze)


NARRATOR: The son joined Wild Kitty’s company. He worked hard and made lots of money. He spent money fast, bought houses, cars, love, everything he ever wanted. He was at the top of the world. Then one day, everything died.


(Enter Son. He is groggy and lying on the ground.)

(Enter Blaze. She looks angry. She walks over and kicks the Son.)

FAST: Hey! Where’s my money?!

SON: What? Where? What’s going on?

FAST: Where’s my money? You owe me 40,000 kuai! Last week I told you to pay up, or else I’d kill you!

SON: Wait! I’ve got your money right here…

(He looks in his pants, but his wallet is gone.)

My wallet, my money, it’s all gone…

FAST: I should kill you because of that! But I’m a generous woman. But don’t think you can work on these streets anymore. You will never again be able to get a job in this city. Leave, disappear, I don’t care. I don’t want to see your face again.

(Exit Fast)


Narrator: The son knew he had problems. He started to beg on the streets for money, but when no one would look at him, he started stealing food from trashcans. One day he saw himself in a mirror and started to cry. He stood up and took a job at as a city worker, making streets in the hot sun, wearing broken shoes. Everyday his body became black, and at night he slept on the ground with other dirty men who stayed up all night drinking. After six months of working, he still had not received any money, so he went to see his boss.


(Enter Contractor)

SON: Hey, Boss.

CONTRACTOR: Why aren’t you at work? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?

SON: Pardon me, I’m terribly sorry, please forgive your stupid worker, but your worker wanted to ask you a stupid question.

CONTRACTOR: I’m a busy woman! Ask me now.

SON: When do I get paid?

CONTRACTOR: Paid? You want money?

(She laughs.)

You see all those other men? You think they have money? You’re all the same. Don’t forget it.

SON: But the job…

CONTRACTOR: Where do you think you are? You are lucky to have a job and food to eat. Don’t come to me with your problems. You think I have money? I have no money! You think you have problems? I have problems!

(The contractor is getting a little angry.)

You workers, you are all the same. Give us money, give us food. There isn’t enough! If you don’t like it, go home, go back to the farm. Eat your own tomatoes! Don’t beg me for mine!

SON: Terribly sorry, please excuse your stupid worker.

(Exit Contractor)


Act III The Return

NARRATOR: The son looked into his own heart and finally understood what he must do. He must return to his father and ask for forgiveness, and become his worker to pay off his debt. That was the only way he could become a good man. Soon, the son left his job, and got on a train to return home. However, because he had no money, he had to hide in the train, but when he was found, he had to find another train or another bus, or a stranger to take him in his truck. It took him many days to return home. And then one day, he saw his home. He felt so sad, but he knew what he must do.


(Enter Father)

FATHER: My son! My son!

(He runs out to embrace him.)

SON (weeping and kneeling before him): I am sorry, father. No, do not call me your son. I am a stupid, stupid man. I lost all your money, I lost your car, I lost your face. I am nothing. I only ask you to let me work for you as a worker, and I will give you all your money back.

FATHER: Ms. Chen!

(Enter Ms. Chen)

Bring my best jacket. Ms. Liu!

(Enter Ms. Liu)

Prepare dinner immediately, and call all the family! We are going to have a great feast!

SON: I don’t understand…

FATHER: You are returned my son. Please come inside and rest until dinner.

(Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen make preparations for the feast.)

(Exit Father and Son)


NARRATOR: That evening, the father put on a huge feast. Tables and tables of food, music and songs for the guests, and the son seated at the front of the table. His father was so happy seeing him sitting there, smiling like the sun. The Daughter, meanwhile, was working late at the office. As she came home, she heard the music and saw the lights of the feast.


(Enter Daughter)

DAUGHTER: What is going on?

CHEN: Your brother has returned.

DAUGHTER: My brother…

LIU: Your father prepared a huge feast and invited all the family. We tried to call you, but your phone was turned off.

DAUGHTER: I was at the office…

my brother is home? He has been in Shanghai for two years. He never called, never sent a letter, and my father invites all the family for a big feast?

CHEN: Just go in, Miss. He will be happy to see you.

DAUGHTER: I will not.

LIU (to Ms. Chen): His children are all the same.

(Daughter storms out.)


(Enter Father.)

FATHER: Was that my daughter?

CHEN: Yes, it was. She went out to the garden.

FATHER: What was wrong? I heard yelling.

LIU: She was angry, sir.

FATHER: Angry? Why?

CHEN: She’s not far.

FATHER: I’ll talk to her. You two go inside and serve the guests.

(Exit Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen)


(Enter Daughter)

FATHER: Daughter, what is wrong?

DAUGHTER: I don’t want to talk about it.

FATHER: Is it because of your brother?

(She is silent.)

Don’t you understand? He has come home!

DAUGHTER (in anger): I have given this home everything! I have given you everything! You have never given me a feast, you have never even given me a party! But this stupid boy, who stole your money, your car, our family’s respect, he comes back and you throw him the biggest party of the year! I knew you loved him more than me when you gave him the car, but now…

FATHER: Oh, daughter… everything I have is yours. My love I give you, my home I give you, you are the best dream an old man can wish for. But your brother, he died when he left, do you see? We lost him. He died…

(Pause for dramatic impact.)

but now he is alive. Come to the feast, and see him. Eat with us, because he was lost, but now, he is found.

Book Review: Upside Down

The essence of servant leadership comes from Christ and his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in their inter-relatedness, diversity, and old world “Early Christian” equality. The disciples and the life of Jesus are our direct models for how to utilize these principles in a very direct way for the church, to eliminate the spread of the “McChristians” and develop a huge network of people who know their individual callings, and are working towards the establishment of the kingdom of God.

There are several focii in the book: on Jesus as the ideal servant leader, the disciples as the servant leaders he taught through modeling, and the equality (and hence, servant leadership qualities) shared by the Early Christians. The qualities of a leader are: intimacy with Christ, being above reproach, solitary authenticity, rooted and growing in grace, submitting to authority, but above all, leading others through developing and equipping them with their God-given gifts, and then releasing them.

Rinehart is in danger of being labeled a polytheist. Beyond the odd relationship between the trinity he espouses, his servant leadership model seems primarily aimed at increasing the size of the church of believers, as he intimates that servant leadership is primarily relegated to Christians who are working for the church. However, his commitment remains to discovering how the scriptures root all Christians in the concepts of servant leadership, and his discoveries are insightful and sometimes amazing, specifically when he mentions that “serving” appears over 250 times in the New Testament. It makes one wonder why more scholars have not caught onto this, unless they have but did not have the benefit of Rinehart’s paradigm.

My desire is to see a model of servant leadership that has no goal but to serve, and I believed I had found that in Rinehart, but ultimately, his focus was less on the debt we owe to God for our lives, and more on the Christianization (in a good way) of society; thus the incentive for us to be salt and light having a purpose beyond that of being a servant, but of the expansion of all believers. However, Rinehart has done tremendous work in bringing in context verses from the Bible which talk about servant leadership in a very accessible way, as well as explaining how New Testament servants were very different from Old Testament heroes because of the influence of Christ. Most intriguing to me was the extent which Christ went in teaching his followers practically how to be servant leaders, something definitely to emulate.

Bibliographic information/citation

Rinehart, S.T. (1998). Upside Down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership. Colorado Springs: Navpress.