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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Brave spelling

On the refrigerator door at our son’s house there is a family picture drawn by our grandson Luke, who is in kindergarten. There is Mommy and Daddy, his little sister Eliza, Luke himself, and their Jack Russell terrier, identified in the drawing as “Loosee.”

Picky persons might want to point out that her name is really spelled “Lucy,” but Luke’s version comes from the concept of “Brave Spelling” being taught to the kindergarteners in Mrs. Meinhardt’s room, dubbed “the Smarties.” The youngsters are learning letters and the sounds they make, and the teacher encourages them to be bold with new words and make use of what they have learned to figure out how those words might be spelled. “Lucy” becomes “Loosee.” Pretty good, logical thinking, if you ask Luke’s grandfather.

I love this concept of “Brave Spelling.” (I love it for kindergarteners, that is; interns and supervisors should know how to spell the words they use, and can fall back on Spell Check if they are in a jam.) I love the teacher encouraging the students to be bold, to take a chance, to spell bravely. 

In those distant days when I was in elementary school, certainly the unhappiest years of my life, we were taught to live in fear of making a mistake, getting it wrong. You simply did not spell bravely. That was much too risky. Spell fearfully. Better to play it safe and not even try to use the word. Not sure about how to spell “Lucy?” Label your drawing “dog.” Don’t make a mistake. I like Luke’s kind of school a lot more.

I like “brave ministry” when I see it, ministry that does not live in fear of making a mistake but strikes out boldly into the future. We usually associate bravery with those who face physical threats: members of the military, police and firefighters. But pastors are some of the bravest people I know, daring not only to walk into the presence of death, but also to call comfortable communities with no desire to change, to walk in the direction of mission. The ministers you see on TV are often either wimps or charlatans. The real life ministers I know aren’t that way at all.

As Rick Foss writes elsewhere in this issue, the situation at Penn State which has recently come to light motivates us to think about another kind of bravery that clergy (including interns) sometimes must draw on: the courage to speak and act on behalf of a child being abused. If you suspect abuse, you might be tempted to look the other way for fear of making a mistake. But that child (or those children) might need you to be brave and speak up. If you weigh out the fear of looking foolish yourself, on the one hand, against further harm to a child on the other…well, that’s not much of a contest, is it?

Time for a little bravery. Indeed, in many states clergy are mandatory reporters. For further clarity on this matter, here’s a good website:

It’s good for Luke to be a brave speller, and for us to be brave pastors.

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