Example #8 Grammar and Giving

What if a grammar lesson challenged selfishness?

Stephen teaches modern foreign languages in a college and was concerned that language learning tends to revolve around self. “There comes a point in my foreign language courses when I teach the subjunctive – sentences on the pattern of ‘what would you do if … ?’ I wanted to find a way of practising this that challenged students to discipline their imaginations. I decided to use the following activity. I display the following questions one at a time at the front of the classroom and have students discuss their answers in pairs. After each pair discussion I ask for a few answers to the whole class. This gives us plenty of practise with, ‘I would … if … ’ sentences and sets us up for the next step. Here are the questions:

  • If I gave you £50,000 to buy anything you like, what would you buy?
  • If I gave you £50,000 for you to give away, to whom would you give it?
  • If you had a week completely free, how would you spend it?
  • If you could give a week to serving someone, whom would you serve?
  • If you could have a free holiday anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  • If you could change things for the better anywhere in the world, where would you go?

“Once we have discussed all of the questions, I then ask students to reflect for a few moments on which of the questions they found it easiest to think of answers for and which were the hardest. They are usually willing to admit what was already clear from the volume level of the discussions. The questions involving spending money and getting free time usually produce immediate discussion, whereas the giving and serving questions usually lead to more hesitant, subdued conversations. We then take a few minutes to talk about why it was easier to imagine spending then giving, and about how our culture encourages us (through constant advertising) to imagine spending things and having new experiences more often than it encourages us to imagine giving and serving. I ask them to think about how it might change them if they deliberately chose to fantasize about giving and serving at least as often as they fantasized about buying and receiving.”

What’s going on here?

Stephen saw language learning as an appropriate context to change the focus from self to others and from consumption to giving and service.
He engaged students in approaching the lesson within a new framework (from imagining getting to imagining giving) and in discussing both getting and giving in order to enable a comparison.
He reshaped his practice by using an intentional arrangement of questions and answers to stimulate moral and spiritual reflection (why are some of these questions easier?) and by using volume of discussion as a tangible marker of how easy it was to engage.
How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Many Christian writers have described love in its Christian sense as a movement out from self-centredness towards a focus on the wellbeing of one’s neighbour. The basic command to “love your neighbour as yourself” sums this up. This focus on living a life centred on love challenges our tendency to spend more energy imagining improvements to our own wellbeing and enjoyment than we do imagining how we could serve those around us. The activity also implicitly addresses hope – what hopes for our future are expressed in our daydreaming? How do these hopes include our neighbour?

What difference does it make?

All too often, language learning ends up revolving around the self and the satisfaction of consumer needs. Students learn to buy things in another language, secure services they might need while abroad, and talk about what they like and dislike. All of these things have their place, but when they make up the dominant repertoire of the language classroom they invite learners to imagine that language learning is mostly about serving one’s own needs and desires. This activity changes the repertoire so as to actively ask students to imagine the needs of others and the role they could play in meeting them. It also asks students to reflect on how their imagination has been formed, giving them a chance to question whether consumerist emphases overly dominate their thinking.

Where could we go from here?

A next step might be to have each student reflect further on one of the neighbour-oriented questions and produce a short piece of writing in the target language describing exactly how they would give or serve and why. Another follow-up could involve having students speak or write about what they could do (this practises another subjunctive verb) with their actual present resources that would practise giving and serving. There are other parts of the language curriculum where a focus on self and on others can be explored. Do students learn to complain at the hotel, for example, but not to encourage or compliment? Do they only talk about what foods or school subjects they themselves like or dislike, or do they learn about others' perspectives?

Digging deeper

Jesus talked of loving others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Choosing to be unselfish is to go against the grain and it is an act of faith: If I don’t look after 'Number One', will God? Will others? Jesus talked in terms of 'dying to self' which is something that happens with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is not a one-off act but a daily process. Self is not lost in the process, it is strengthened. There is a strange inversion; in focusing on God and others, we find ourselves (Matthew 16:25). In 1 Corinthians, love is described as ‘not self-seeking’. This does not mean self is effaced or personal needs are not met. We can uphold the dignity of people (including ourselves) and their entitlement to be treated as God’s children. Security in the love of God means that self and others do not have to be in competition, there is enough of God’s love to go round. Jesus is the ultimate example of a love that is big enough for everyone (Romans 5:8).
“… for Augustine, sin was no more than self-love: sin consisted in valuing oneself over others and conceiving of others and of God in terms of one’s own self. … It was to measure others in reference to oneself, to enter into social relations out of self-interest. Worship was the counteraction of self-love. The worship of God was the movement of the soul, from self-love, self-orientation, to God and outward to others: honouring them, according humanity equal value to oneself, and according God greater value than oneself.” Lee Palmer Wandel, Zwingli and Reformed Practice, p. 286.

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1Jesus then told them this story: A farmer once planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it and dug a pit to crush the grapes in. He also built a lookout tower. Then he let his vineyard and left the country. 2When it was harvest time, he sent a servant to get his share of the grapes. 3The tenants grabbed the servant. They beat him up and sent him away without a thing. 4The owner sent another servant, but the tenants beat him on the head and insulted him terribly. 5Then the man sent another servant, and they killed him. He kept sending servant after servant. They beat some of them and killed others. 6The owner had a son he loved very much. Finally, he sent his son to the tenants because he thought they would respect him. 7But they said to themselves, Some day he will own this vineyard. Let's kill him! That way we can have it all for ourselves. 8So they grabbed the owner's son and killed him. Then they threw his body out of the vineyard. 9Jesus asked, What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? He will come and kill those tenants and let someone else have his vineyard. 10Surely you know that the Scriptures say, The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone of all. 11This is something the Lord has done, and it is amazing to us. 12The leaders knew that Jesus was really talking about them, and they wanted to arrest him. But because they were afraid of the crowd, they let him alone and left. Paying taxes (Matthew 22.15-22; Luke 20.20-26) 13The Pharisees got together with Herod's followers. Then they sent some men to trick Jesus into saying something wrong. 14They went to him and said, Teacher, we know that you are honest. You treat everyone with the same respect, no matter who they are. And you teach the truth about what God wants people to do. Tell us, should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not? 15Jesus knew what they were up to, and he said, Why are you trying to test me? Show me a coin! 16They brought him a silver coin, and he asked, Whose picture and name are on it? The Emperor's, they answered. 17Then Jesus told them, Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God. The men were amazed at Jesus. Life in the future world (Matthew 22.23-33; Luke 20.27-40) 18The Sadducees did not believe that people would rise to life after death. So some of them came to Jesus and said: 19Teacher, Moses wrote that if a married man dies and has no children, his brother should marry the widow. Their first son would then be thought of as the son of the dead brother. 20There were once seven brothers. The first one married, but died without having any children. 21The second brother married his brother's widow, and he also died without having children. The same thing happened to the third brother, 22and finally to all seven brothers. At last the woman died. 23When God raises people from death, whose wife will this woman be? After all, she had been married to all seven brothers. 24Jesus answered: You are completely wrong! You don't know what the Scriptures teach. And you don't know anything about the power of God. 25When God raises people to life, they won't marry. They will be like the angels in heaven. 26You know about people being raised to life. You know that in the story about Moses and the burning bush, God said, I am the God worshipped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 27He isn't the God of the dead, but of the living. You Sadducees are all wrong. The most important commandment (Matthew 22.34-40; Luke 10.25-28) 28One of the teachers of the Law of Moses came up while Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing. When he heard Jesus give a good answer, he asked him, What is the most important commandment? 29Jesus answered, The most important one says: People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. 30You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. 31The second most important commandment says: Love others as much as you love yourself. No other commandment is more important than these. 32The man replied, Teacher, you are certainly right to say there is only one God. 33It is also true that we must love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and that we must love others as much as we love ourselves. These commandments are more important than all the sacrifices and offerings that we could possibly make. 34When Jesus saw that the man had given a sensible answer, he told him, You are not far from God's kingdom. After this, no one dared ask Jesus any more questions. About David's son (Matthew 22.41-46; Luke 20.41-44) 35As Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, How can the teachers of the Law of Moses say that the Messiah will come from the family of King David? 36The Holy Spirit led David to say, The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right side until I make your enemies into a footstool for you. 37If David called the Messiah his Lord, how can the Messiah be his son? The large crowd enjoyed listening to Jesus teach. Jesus condemns the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses (Matthew 23.1-36; Luke 20.45-47) 38As Jesus was teaching, he said: Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses! They love to walk around in long robes and be greeted in the market. 39They like the front seats in the meeting places and the best seats at banquets. 40But they cheat widows out of their homes and pray long prayers just to show off. They will be punished most of all. A widow's offering (Luke 21.1-4) 41Jesus was sitting in the temple near the offering box and watching people put in their gifts. He noticed that many rich people were giving a lot of money. 42Finally, a poor widow came up and put in two coins that were worth only a few pennies. 43Jesus told his disciples to gather around him. Then he said: I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 44Everyone else gave what they didn't need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn't have a penny to live on. The temple will be destroyed (Matthew 24.1,2; Luke 21.5,6)
1The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tried to test him by asking for a sign from heaven. 2He told them: If the sky is red in the evening, you say the weather will be good. 3But if the sky is red and gloomy in the morning, you say it is going to rain. You can tell what the weather will be like by looking at the sky. But you don't understand what is happening now. 4You want a sign because you are evil and won't believe! But the only sign you will be given is what happened to Jonah. Then Jesus left. The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mark 8.14-21) 5The disciples had forgotten to bring any bread when they crossed the lake. 6Jesus then warned them, Watch out! Guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 7The disciples talked this over and said to each other, He must be saying this because we didn't bring along any bread. 8Jesus knew what they were thinking and said: You don't have much faith! Why are you talking about not having any bread? 9Don't you understand? Have you forgotten about the five thousand people and all those baskets of leftovers from just five loaves of bread? 10And what about the four thousand people and all those baskets of leftovers from only seven loaves of bread? 11Don't you know by now that I am not talking to you about bread? Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees! 12Finally, the disciples understood that Jesus wasn't talking about the yeast used to make bread, but about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Who is Jesus? (Mark 8.27-30; Luke 9.18-21) 13When Jesus and his disciples were near the town of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them, What do people say about the Son of Man? 14The disciples answered, Some people say you are John the Baptist or perhaps Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet. 15Then Jesus asked them, But who do you say I am? 16Simon Peter spoke up, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. 17Jesus told him: Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed! You didn't discover this on your own. It was shown to you by my Father in heaven. 18So I will call you Peter, which means a rock. On this rock I will build my church, and death itself will not have any power over it. 19I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth. But he will not allow anything that you don't allow. 20Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Jesus speaks about his suffering and death (Mark 8.319.1; Luke 9.22-27) 21From then on, Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, I must go to Jerusalem. There the nation's leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make me suffer terribly. I will be killed, but three days later I will rise to life. 22Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. He said, God would never let this happen to you, Lord! 23Jesus turned to Peter and said, Satan, get away from me! You're in my way because you think like everyone else and not like God. 24Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. 25If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it. 26What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul? 27The Son of Man will soon come in the glory of his Father and with his angels to reward all people for what they have done. 28I promise you that some of those standing here will not die before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom. The true glory of Jesus (Mark 9.2-13; Luke 9.28-36)
1By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. 2Christ has also introduced us to God's undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. 3But that's not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. 4And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope 5that will never disappoint us. All this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. 6Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. 7No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. 8But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful. 9But there is more! Now that God has accepted us because Christ sacrificed his life's blood, we will also be kept safe from God's anger. 10Even when we were God's enemies, he made peace with us, because his Son died for us. Yet something even greater than friendship is ours. Now that we are at peace with God, we will be saved by his Son's life. 11And in addition to everything else, we are happy because God sent our Lord Jesus Christ to make peace with us. Adam and Christ 12Adam sinned, and that sin brought death into the world. Now everyone has sinned, and so everyone must die. 13Sin was in the world before the Law came. But no record of sin was kept, because there was no Law. 14Yet death still had power over all who lived from the time of Adam to the time of Moses. This happened, though not everyone disobeyed a direct command from God, as Adam did. In some ways Adam is like Christ who came later. 15But the gift that God was kind enough to give was very different from Adam's sin. That one sin brought death to many others. Yet in an even greater way, Jesus Christ alone brought God's gift of kindness to many people. 16There is a lot of difference between Adam's sin and God's gift. That one sin led to punishment. But God's gift made it possible for us to be acceptable to him, even though we have sinned many times. 17Death ruled like a king because Adam had sinned. But that cannot compare with what Jesus Christ has done. God has been so kind to us, and he has accepted us because of Jesus. And so we will live and rule like kings. 18Everyone was going to be punished because Adam sinned. But because of the good thing that Christ has done, God accepts us and gives us the gift of life. 19Adam disobeyed God and caused many others to be sinners. But Jesus obeyed him and will make many people acceptable to God. 20The Law came, so that the full power of sin could be seen. Yet where sin was powerful, God's kindness was even more powerful. 21Sin ruled by means of death. But God's kindness now rules, and God has accepted us because of Jesus Christ our Lord. This means that we will have eternal life. Dead to sin but alive because of Christ