Friday, September 10, 2010

The Classroom of Job . . .

. . . with a long "o"!

For the last several weeks I've been re-reading the biblical book of Job, and I've come to an understanding this time around that I'd missed before. You may remember that it is the story of a righteous man who suddenly loses almost all of his wealth and family, and finds himself sitting on a dungheap covered with sores. Several friends come to try to help him sort out his predicament. Job finds their help . . . wanting.

The friends all operate under the assumption that Job somehow brought his trials upon himself. He either overlooked some sin, or he hadn't fully confessed it. "No one suffers like this without having offended God," is their main point. The underlying theology is that God plays fair: do what God wants and prosper; mess up and suffer the consequences. Job protests, however, that he HASN'T messed up. Not only has he done everything minimally required, he has gone above and beyond the call of duty. And STILL he's on a dungheap covered in sores. "It's not FAIR!" he screams. (By the way, I don't read much "patience" in Job; he's pretty vocal about wanting things to change!)

So, while Job and his friends are deep in argument (they think he's deserving of his situation, he doesn't), they all operate under the same theological assumption: "The way the world works should be fair. The rules should be clear and apply to all." So, when God finally responds, the answer seems rather odd: "Job, where were YOU when everything came to be? Can you understand everything . . . or even ANYthing?" The implication is that the "fairness" doctrine that he and his friends adopted has no bearing in the divine way of thinking. In short, they all need some re-education. (Who, in the picture above, is the teacher and who is the student?)

Coincidentally, my re-reading of Job comes at a time when school is re-starting, i.e., education begins anew. This re-reading also coincides with the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and the end of Islam's month of fasting, Ramadan. The High Holy Days are marked by a sense of renewal; not only is the year beginning anew, but old errors and offenses are put to right. How one behaves during this holy period helps determine how the coming year will be lived. Ramadan, similarly prepares the devout Muslim for the year ahead: "These [habits and behaviors of Ramadan] should all become habits that we continue to live. This month is simply launching us for the rest of the year."*

The "Classroom of Job" is all about re-education, re-formation. While we all may feel sometimes that our role in education is akin to sitting on a dungheap covered with sores, maybe it is not the facts that are problematic, but the assumptions. We face a new year, full of challenges, full of possibilities, full of opportunities to question assumptions--and lay them aside--that might keep us chained to our dungheaps.

Carpe diem! Seize the opportunities of new possibilities! Let the learning commence!

Shanah tova! and Eid mubarak!



*Madiha Zaidi, "A Spiritual Launch Pad" Islamic Insights 9/8/10

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