Speech Therapy and Learning to Live Like Jesus: An Analogy

“Let’s go sit in front of the mirror. Look at my mouth. See how my tongue looks? You try. Good. Let’s try again.

Not quite. Let’s try again.

That’s it. Now, look at how I say ‘n’. Make sure you’re looking. Great. Now you try.”

This was a segment of a speech therapy session one of my students was receiving the other day. I sat in with him to gain some insight into how to help him speak better. Not just how to sound better, but how to actually form the sounds and words with his tongue, lips, and breath.

Speaking is an embodied act. It goes beyond theory, although there is certainly a need for it. However, it wouldn’t do much good to fill my 5 year old student with concepts of how to speak. He doesn’t need information for its own sake; he needs formation. Literally, his mouth, lungs, and a host of other muscle groups and organs must sync in order for correct English speech to come forth.

Within the kingdom of speech therapy, there is a correct manner by which progress is made. And, in this particular instance, it comes by attending to the Queen of the Speech Therapy Kingdom. She knows the why and how of staying within the parameters of the good life found within her kingdom.

The beauty of this particular session was her process of recording this progress. She took my student to a large mirror and demonstrated to him by example the proper way of obtaining an “n”. Every attempt he made, he received either a smiley face or a sad face to indicate whether it both sounded correctly and was properly formed physically. There was not a preconceived set of correct responses he had to attain. He simply had to act upon her instruction and make the attempt. What she was looking for was trust and obedience in listening to her words and watching her mouth. She didn’t leave him on his own; she didn’t set him up for pressured achievement. There wasn’t a “you must get 6 out of 10 correct” for us to continue. It was a “try your best and know I am with you” exercise. It was a “let’s get this down and then we’ll build from here” activity. Every attempt – whether it was done correctly or not – was an opportunity for learning and growth.

I couldn’t help sitting there and seeing a synonymous method by which we learn to live like Jesus. He doesn’t ask us to perform without seeing him do it first. He shows us by example and beckons us to follow. He doesn’t set us up for performance anxiety; he gently invites us to trust him and to try our best knowing he is with us. When we get things wrong, we don’t lose his guidance. No, he challenges us to pick ourselves up, stop doing it that way and try again. And again. And again. There is no giving up found in Jesus. He asks for our obedience to his loving voice as he forms us in his own image.

Akin to speech therapy, learning this Jesus-life comes from doing. Growth takes place as we actually embody what it is he is saying to us. It does us no good knowing the teachings of Jesus devoid of practicing the teachings of Jesus. Discipleship to Jesus is certainly a spiritual thing, but it only comes at the employment of the physical.

This is what Jesus means when he offers us this abundant life. He is the one who knows how to live in the kingdom of God. His relationships between himself and God, himself and his fellow human beings, and himself and his created order are exemplified by justice and rightness. That is, they are how they are supposed to be. And it is to this that he calls. Just like the “Queen of the Speech Therapy Kingdom” can teach the proper sound and formation of an “n”, so Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God and can teach the proper way of life abundant.

And he does it again. And again. And again.

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Education: Freedom or Bondage?

As of Monday, subsidized student loan interest rates have doubled. You can read about it here and here. I’ve often reflected on my own journey through college and seminary (graduate school) and the cost I have accrued. I’ve said it before, but if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have done community college then a state school and then seminary. Not only for the changing tides from Christendom to post-Christendom and the need for an employable skill set outside of the Church, but also for the cost. Private, religious education doesn’t come cheaply.

But besides the financial restraints that come along with education, we must be aware of what sort of character bondage are we falling prey to. Institutions of education, whether public or private, faith-based or not, high school or college, are places of formation. They do not only make impacts on our wallets, but also on our being. They – along with everything else in this life – hand us stories and practices resulting in identities comprised of both character and skill: being and doing. If we aren’t walking through life with eyes and ears attuned to these stories and practices, we will be formed in ways that we are not cognizant of. And not always for the best.

So, in many ways, I wonder how education has either brought freedom or bondage to our lives.

Norman Wirzba brings this to our attention with the following quote. Notice how he ties together our financial costs to our current primary way of identification, namely as consumers. In a world deeply marked by individualistic consumerism, we would do well to ask in what manners education is forming us to become just that: individual consumers. As we perpetuate and participate in consumeristic stories and practices, our identities are subtly, yet profoundly, shaped to the point where consumerism simply oozes out of us. And, as inwardly bent consumers, we are often blinded by prices, efficiency, and ease; the very things which keep us buried beneath “ignorance and incompetence.”

In the end, we must begin to wrestle with the inextricable tie between all areas of life. We fool ourselves when we think our economic decisions (doing) don’t flow directly from our character (being). In a world striving after the proper credentials, we need to be strident in our simultaneous cultivation of our character.

Freedom or bondage?

Though we may produce remarkable communicators (often communicating little of value) or efficient managers (often managing sites that are exhausted or degraded), the fact of the matter is that current education does precious little to develop in us the basic competencies of life – growing and preparing food, raising a family, judging quality, maintaining a home, practicing hospitality, or making a toy – that are vital and indispensable to a healthy and successful life. Because many of our educational agendas are driven by “the career of money,” most basically in the form of corporate funding and in the promotion of the most lucrative (especially to corporations) fields of study, we should not be surprised that the most essential skill graduates must learn is how to write a check or lay down a credit card. Education, rather than leading us to freedom, fosters various forms of bondage as we move further into economic debt (beginning with our educational costs!) owing to our collective ignorance and incompetence.– Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, 134.