Monday, June 4, 2012

a farewell to armistice

Last day ice-cream-cake party. Pic by Chloe.
For the past several years, I've worked for a church - or rather, a school that is an arm of a church - and have thought of my job as a church; a place to live and work in community with a bunch of people with whom I shared a faith (if not, perhaps, an institutionalized formulation of that faith).

It's bothersome, a bit, to be fired (or rather, to "have your contract not renewed") by your faith community. It's bothersome that although some of the reason for this is my intentional, ongoing decision to continue to write on this blog exactly what I think, when I think it (regardless of the consequences), the expressed reason for my dismissal has ended up being what it is - that I "ask theological and philosophical questions beyond the scope of some of our students."

Oh, sure, I've gotten in trouble for reading a letter in class in which my missionary-kid friend Yoey quoted someone as saying "fuck," in order to illustrate how his experience as a Christian teacher in a public, inner-city school had changed his perception of profanity. And sure, I've pissed off my boss's boss's husband's boss by writing a memoir entitled "Anatomy of an Effup" (oh, the profanity); but the school has stood by me through all that and more... for which I am extremely grateful. I was hired on during the most difficult experience of my life - the death of my marriage - and they supported and loved me through it. Great people, all. So it doesn't bug me, quite so much, that they're "letting me go."

It's just that I disagree with the "protect-the-youth" rationale on so many levels, and it's not hard to wonder if perhaps my dismissal has more to do with this blog; or the unnamed mutterings apparently made against me by unnamed colleagues; or my tendency to want to tell the truth of a beautiful letter, despite the fact that some parent might want his son to never, ever hear the word "fuck" come out of an adult's mouth, ever.

Nonetheless, I am no Mr. Keating. It is quite possible - despite the assurances of the administration that they were thrilled with the quality of my work and of the work produced by my students - that I am just a sucky art teacher. I'll be the first to admit that the practicalities of classroom management and the transmission of art technique have always been far less important to me than encouraging in my students a sense of wonder at the mystery of it all, and a love of art and the act of art-making.

If that sounds like me obliquely praising myself whilst pretending to be all humble, it's not. I'm actually a pretty lazy guy, and often my artsy, mystical approach has meant that I've had students pass through my classroom without seeming to improve much at all in the actual art-making I was ostensibly there to teach. I could have worked harder and made it happen, but I didn't. There is no virtue in laziness, fershure.

But although I have my doubts about the justification for my dismissal, and would not have chosen to leave, I am fully at peace with it. It has provided me with the impetus to step out and take the first major risk of failure of my life as an artist - driving me to attempt to give the majority of my time to this writing thing, in the belief that it will pan out.

Although it hurts, a little, to get fired by my church, I am not embittered against it, nor against the church as a whole. Sure, I think it's nuts the way institutions expunge uncomfortable and dissenting voices in order to maintain organizational "purity;" but that's just the nature of institutions. This particular institution has been there for me for four years now, and has allowed me a lot more leeway than expected, as I've been persistently vocal in my dissent. I guess it just finally reached a tipping point. No biggie.

i did not take this picture
I suppose I'm writing this to assure myself, and you, that despite this oh-so-gentle kick in the teeth my church has given me, I'm going to be marching right along as a JesusShip Trooper. I've even found a church (like, with a building and a pastor and all that) that I think is really great; and have decided to put in the effort to become more a part of that faith community.

It's a tiny place that fits all my criteria of what a church ought to be trying to be, and (hooray for serendipity!) happens to also be a favorite hangout of some of my favorite students, who pestered me into going there in the first place.

I still believe, as I said in a poem I once wrote, that a church is not a building, or an institution. But I'm excited to move toward my creative horizon in intentional community, with a group of people who seem geared toward creatively keeping the faith in ways that really matter - by living it out through loving action, service, and community. It is a place, I would venture to wager, that is not likely to revoke my membership if I get caught struggling with big questions within earshot of teenagers.

And the best part of all? I've talked a beautiful woman into attending with me next week. Like, as a date. That's right: church, art, and a beautiful woman... it's aaaaall happening. Right here, right now, baby. 

25 comments:

  1. your the best Mr. Barkey,we will miss you -dillo

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  2. what church is it?

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  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls-CNruapm4
    Oh, how many times I wanted to blast this in the halls of that church. I struggle to see how a church believes it's there because of the building. The place of worship is in your heart, surrounded by your brothers and sisters. I can pretend I'll be welcoming you into my place of fellowship, but I've been truly lacking in attendence, so how about I let your effort convict me into coming back?
    Eternally Grateful,
    Wesley

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    1. I wouldn't want you to go because of "conviction," hombre (whatever that is). Do it for the love, and for the assurance that community can give. This Sunday was a beautiful thing.

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  4. You're the man Mr. Barkey. It's Covenant Day's loss.

    David L.

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    1. I thought Chuck Norris was the man?

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  5. Awesome. Peruvian Wednesday or did we sufficiently squander that perfect weekly opportunity?

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    1. I think so. I'll have to get back to you, hombre.

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  6. If teachers can no longer talk truthfully to their students without fear of getting fired, then I'm not so sure I like the direction our school is heading. As you once taught me, doubt is a good thing; it means you're asking the right questions. Teachers should be free to pose such questions.
    I'm gonna miss you more than you can imagine, Mr. Barkey! I thought that you would be around to proctor the exams, so I never got to give you a proper goodbye. So, Goodbye! Thank you for teaching me to slow down and see, and for brightening every one of my days! Have a blessed life!

    Logan Foltz

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    1. Thanks, Logan. It's been a pleasure to have you in class, as well. You're a bright young man... go places! (Oh, the places you'll go!)

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    2. Thanks, Mr. Barky. I promise to do so, provided you promise to do so as well.

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  7. Your students should be getting a petition signed several billion times saying they want you there. We're supposed to give them what they want, aren't we? I take it they're paying for this education??? Are you in a union?

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    1. They wanted to... but y'know, this is going to be a good thing for me. And I don't want to work where I'm not wanted. So, it'll be okay.

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  8. I am excited for you Josh, not for your being fired but for the upcoming adventures. I have been one of the teachers at my school who managed to get hired back again next year, but I will be teaching a split class which will be a lot more work.

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    1. Thanks, Daniel. Good luck with your new job! Does being a split-class teacher mean you get to dress up like Two-Face? Because that'd be awesome.

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  9. I think we all know you're an outstanding teacher, Mr Barkey. Shrug it off. Add it to your resume. Forgive those you feel are responsible. Do more of what you love. Continue to be awesome. In that order.

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  10. I'd just like to say that when kids at Providence complained about how many bicycles they had to draw, or how many pictures they remade, I'd bring up the fact that I had this ridiculous teacher who made us mutilate famous art pieces with our minds and spit it out on paper. Your classroom was always a safehaven of expression, and I hope wherever you go, you can recreate that same environment for slacking, struggling students like I was. I'm glad their mistake of letting you go hasn't faltered your faith in Christ :)

    P.S. I never thought vampires were real

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  11. Oh man, you are living out my biggest fear (well, not THE biggest, but biggish). I feel like I should be emboldened by your integrity, but I also wonder when I'm being true to my thoughts and opinions and when I'm just throwing grenades to throw grenades. I probably am safer than I need to be, but I'm not sure why Christian institutions feel it so necessary to make us all think, speak and act in such a uniform manner. The world is not as scary as they make it out to be (especially if you are a Christian because you can see through all the crap better...) and it's okay if sometimes we bring that into the classroom (gays exist, so let's talk about that, eh? let's learn to effing deal with them as people!). My biggest pet peeve is that, without fail, ever class I teach (college), I will inevitably get a comment back from a student, "It would have been nice if we opened in prayer." AHHHHHH! Why? I've worked at lots of Christian places and we never open every activity with prayer. Does prayer automatically make this endeavor more like Jesus? They've been so conditioned to need that to prove it's Christian. Okay... this is getting to be a soap box...

    I wish the best of luck... there are no wasted experiences. And having been laid of twice (TWICE), I promise it gets better.

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  12. Thanks, Sharon.

    While I was expected to "open classes with prayer," I almost never did. And of course, I felt I had to justify/explain this, so I told my classes that I saw absolutely NO justification for it in the Bible - that in fact, Jesus seemed to argue for the opposite - and that it always felt like a performance to me. I wasn't about to let prayer become a performance, so until I attained the personal humility to pray out loud in front of other people without spending the entire time thinking about how what I was saying was coming off... well, then I just wasn't going to do it. It felt dishonest.

    Maybe other people aren't as endlessly self-deconstructing as I am, but to me the whole thing just feels more like another weird aspect of current evangelical culture than anything real.

    Perhaps that's one of the many reasons I became un-employed. Hmmm.

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  13. Yeah, for sure... I'm not there to play some weird "who can show they are the most like Jesus" evangelical game (which usually also includes being Republican, not swearing, etc). I tell them my reasoning is that I'm here to make them more like Jesus and the way to do that is to make them the best at what they are called to do... you've got plenty of time to pray abou this outside of class (and they do!). Yet, the faithful still are disheartened by my lack of prayer. :)

    Revel in the un-employed-ness. It's sometimes a nice forced break.

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  14. You have truly been a mentor, friend,and occasional jam session buddy. I will miss you next yearas I pass by the art room. It will never be the same, but I know that there is,and always will be a divine plan. You will do great things.I can't wait to be in the movie theater as the credits go and see your name under writer or director!

    McClain Cauthen

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  15. Thanks, McClain Cauthen, of the Clan FastFingers. Let me know when you're doing open mic night at the Evening Muse. I'll be there.

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