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To the students at Pepperdine:
There’s been a good deal of speculation as to why I’m no longer teaching at your university. Let’s put the rumors to rest: I’m not teaching there because the administration did not ask me back. I wanted to, so much so I met with the powers at Pepperdine for nine months to determine why the school had gone so cold to a class I’d been teaching for 7 years; a class which, by the Dean’s own description, had become “one of, if not the most popular class on campus.” You’d think after nine months, something substantive would have surfaced. Here are the reasons I was given in a series of meetings with faculty and administrators: pizza boxes, and a curse word. Yep, that’s it. Apparently, I committed an unpardonable sin by feeding the students, and then doing as instructed, leaving the empty boxes stacked outside the classroom to be recycled by the janitorial staff. As for the curse word, it was said off campus during a graduation speech I gave at Malibu High; a speech none of my objectors heard, so none could recite the context of the word, simply used in an off color joke. (I am a comic, after all. Did any of the administrators ever see any of my movies?) There was one more reason given, expressed by a higher-up in my last meeting at the University. Jealousy — jealousy amongst a few of the faculty towards the popularity of our class and conversation. As hard as that is to fathom, that students could be deprived of an educational experience because of jealousy, at least that one makes sense. You see, we adults are sometimes guilty of behavior more juvenile than the kids we teach. The problem isn’t that we can be petty, it’s that once that pettiness is exposed, we lack the courage or conviction to stand up to that pettiness. I admire this particular administrator for having the clarity to identify the cause of the rift; I don’t admire him for doing little, if anything, about it.
It didn’t have to be this way. An administration in touch with its students might well have fought to keep, rather than eliminate, a class in such high demand. The class was after all, offered to the University for free. But there are others gods at work here, not just the god of sanity.
To be clear, the University did offer me a directing class. And I would have agreed to teach that class on the one condition I would also be allowed to teach my class, Storytelling and Life. The administration insisted I only teach a skill; I wanted to have a larger conversation about life, about the stresses, hurdles, hopes and dreams of the students. The powers that be — none of whom had ever attended my class — said thanks, but no thanks. And I said the same.
Here’s a short dialogue I’ve penned, an imagined exchange between Jesus and a couple of Pepperdine faculty, to sum up what I believe is the absurdity of the situation. (Note: the intention here is not to compare myself to Jesus, only to point out, what I believe is a parallel dynamic…) This exchange is called:
Jesus Applies for a Teaching Job at Pepperdine.
Faculty A: So what is it you want to teach, um, Mr. Christ? It says here you teach love? That’s your class? It’s about love?
Jesus: It is as you say.
Faculty A: That’s all? You don’t teach a skill? You don’t teach a discipline? How is “love” going to help our students get jobs?
Jesus: Is it not good and right to address the most important job of all, the job of life? The job of loving each other and this world?
Faculty A: It’s not practical. We’re here to prepare our kids for global competitiveness. Haven’t you read the Department of Education’s website?
Jesus: I have read the faces of the students, their sagging spirits, dulled and deadened into believing they have to be someone, rather than awakened into the knowledge they already are someone.
Faculty B: I’m concerned about something else. After one of your “talks”, you were rumored to have fed the people, some five thousand — fishes and loaves. I’m also told there were fish bones and bread crumbs left behind. Is that true?
Jesus: The people were hungry, yes, so I gave them something to eat.
Faculty B: Your job is not to feed people, it’s to teach them, something they can use in the real world.
Jesus: Was I not teaching them by meeting them at their need? Teaching them to care for one another, teaching them there is a place for all at God’s table?
Faculty A: It also says here you kicked over the money lenders’ tables. Do you have a problem with anger, Mr. Christ?
Jesus: They had turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves.
Faculty A: I don’t care if they turned it into a House of Pancakes! You lashed out! Have you ever thought about attending anger management?
Jesus: I attend only to the Will of my Father.
Faculty A: Around here, you better start attending to the will of the Pharisees, I mean, the faculty. Look, why don’t you just teach carpentry? We all know you make a mean table.
Faculty B: Yes, carpentry is practical; it’s applicable in the real world. And our kids might be able to get work in the construction industry.
Faculty A: So it’s decided: teach carpentry and forget all this nonsense about love.
Faculty B: And whatever you do, don’t feed our students.
Faculty A: And now, if you’ll agree to 6 months of anger management…?
Faculty B: Well, what do you say? Are you going to be a Wave?
(From this point on, Jesus uttered not a word. And he went on to teach at Berkley…)
And well, that’s pretty much how things were left with me… I’ll miss you, Pepperdiners. I have loved every minute of our time together. You have deeply enriched my life, and I pray, I have added to yours. In spite of what you are taught in an overly competitive school system, remember to be for each other and not against each other. And from time to time, kick over a few money lenders’ tables; kick over the continued discriminatory policies against gay groups on campus, and while you’re at it, kick over an administration that all too often turns a deaf ear to your needs and wants; don’t just be Waves, make some. I love you all, young and old alike, even those whose hearts have grown callous and cold to this conversation. We are, after all, children of the same Creator.
Peace and blessings.
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