Speaking of Faith: Being Lutheran in a Public School
By Isaac Ostapowich
Despite the reality that public schools are often hostile to Christianity, I openly practice my Lutheran faith in my public school. Actually, it works out better than most people would think. Sure, I wear a crucifix necklace, but the most obvious thing I do is pray every day. In public and everything. Not obnoxiously though, just quietly by myself. In the mornings, I try to get to my first class early and pray before the day really begins. I also pray before and after lunch like we did at my Lutheran middle school (Faith Lutheran School in Plano, Texas). I used to pray at the end of the school day, too, but now that I can drive, I just want to get home. What can I say, I'm a teenager!
Living Out the Faith
Living out my faith like this started after attending my first Higher Things conference a few years ago where I began to realize how good I have things. Since then, I've learned so much and have really begun to understand what it means to be Lutheran. Practicing my faith this way doesn't really affect my life negatively at all. Most people find my lifestyle strange, and don’t really see it anywhere else. I'm kind of like a foreigner and they want to know more. And they ask me questions. ALL. The. Time.
About 95% of the kids I know are basically "Nones," meaning they don't consider themselves to be religious in any way. A lot of them will wear Christian labels, but they don't know what they believe. They might go to church regularly, but they have no clue what their denomination is or what their church believes about anything. Teaching that sort of thing doesn't seem important at a lot of churches. They just go to a church because the people there are nice and sometimes it's even entertaining.
Most kids at my school don't really see anyone practicing their faith outside of church either. They certainly don't see anyone praying by themselves in public. Sometimes, I'll pull out my Small Catechism or Lutheran Book of Prayer (as Lutherans do). Kids occasionally interrupt me, asking if it's a Bible. So I explain it's just a book of prayers or teachings. The next question is inevitably, "What’s Lutheran?"
But because kids at school know I'm a Christian and since I'm also a teenager like them, they ask me a lot of questions about religious issues. Usually, people ask what the Bible says about this or that, or whether something is a sin. But since so many kids have never been exposed to something like the Ten Commandments—especially in writing—they honestly don't know when something is sinful or what a sin even is. I'm glad they feel comfortable asking me, though.
Talking about Religion
There are generally three categories of people who want to talk to me about religion. First there are people from a non-denominational church or they say they're Baptist (there are a lot of both in Texas) who have some grasp of Christianity so it can often be easier to explain things to them. Lutherans have a lot of sensible reasons for what we believe, and these friends are quick to come around and find some areas of agreement with me. Atheists are either super-interested in debating about religion. . .or they hate it completely. But my favorite people are those who are interested in talking about "spirituality" but haven't really had any exposure to an organized religion. They ask the really good questions, not just things like, "Why does my pastor say this and your pastor say that?" but rather deeper questions like, "Why do you believe in God?" and "What does it mean to believe in God?" Those are the most fun conversations!
There's something important to keep in mind: when my friends have different beliefs and morals than mine, I try to approach conversations about controversial issues very gently and carefully. I've learned that if I'm aggressive about my beliefs, the other person will shut down and get defensive. We'll both just stubbornly dig into our original points and neither one of us will ever get anywhere. But if I can approach things civilly and calmly, showing a willingness to consider what the other person is saying, he'll usually give my side a chance, too. Often, he'll see that what I'm saying actually makes more sense than an emotional argument, too. When I take a gentler approach, there's also no pressure to respond quickly or aggressively.
You've Got This!
Here are three things to keep in mind as you practice your faith at school:
Be open minded. When you're talking with non-Lutherans you need to know when to listen to their views, and when to express your views. But you also need to know when those views are likely to clash strongly so you don't start off on the wrong foot with them. You can always pick up the conversation at another time.
Be friendly about your beliefs. If someone's asking you questions, provide an answer! That may interest him or her in learning more and possibly even coming to embrace your faith.
Remain dedicated. The more dedicated you are to living out your faith openly, the more it communicates to others that not only you are a faithful person but also that you have good judgment and are a trustworthy person to talk to.
Do I run the risk of being swayed by someone else's beliefs? Well, as a Lutheran who knows what I believe and why, it's easy to see the holes and flaws of my friends' beliefs and ideas so I don't worry about being tempted away from mine. Besides, when you tell people the Gospel and about salvation they have through Christ, they're like "What??" because the notion (that wonderful notion!) that faith alone saves is completely alien to people who have never been exposed to our Lutheran faith. Even a lot of Christians don't believe in faith alone when it comes down to it, but believe somehow they're ultimately saved by works. They don't directly say works will save you, but they believe that doing good things and being a good person plays a role in how you get into heaven. And that's another opportunity to tell people about Jesus, right there!
This article was originally published in the spring 2020 issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Isaac Ostapowich is a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas and a senior at Denison High School in Denison, Texas. He plays a lot of video games and writes as a hobby.
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