11389004Finally got round to watching ‘School Of Rock’ (movie). I was feeling a bit under the weather, recovering from a mild viral infection. So, to pick up my spirits, I: a) prayed; b) fasted; c) read scripture; d) went out and got a DVD. No prizes for those who picked “d”. (Ok, I also prayed and read some scriptures, and since the virus was attacking my tummy, it was de facto fasting. Sheesh!)

I decided to get ‘School of Rock’ because so many of my younger friends had recommended it to me. I figured they realized that only an aging baby boomer like myself would be able to recognize the rock classics that Jack Black mentions in the movie.

I enjoyed the movie. ‘School of Rock’ is no ‘Dead Poets Society’ but it gets the laughs and its message across. I will assume that most readers of this column didn’t see ‘School of Rock’ so here is the storyline.

An aging failed rock musician (played by Jack Black) masquerades as a substitute teacher in a very posh American private elementary prep school. Rich parents send their children there to begin their journey to Harvard and Yale and the upper echelons of American society. The school is a veritable Procrustean bed that lops off any individual expression as she prepares her charges for their prescribed lives.

You know what happens next. Jack Black’s character teaches the kids the only thing he knows, classic rock. He prepares the class to perform a rock song to take part in a “battle of the bands”. Along the way he falls in love with the kids, and the kids find their true voices. And their passions.

Nothing new in the message. But I always take notice when messages come in twos or more. I had just come back from a retreat with some Regent College alumni where Dr. James Houston, one of Regent’s founding fathers, had been speaking.

As usual he referred to many dead poets as he spoke from the Scriptures and from his heart. One of the things he said that really struck a chord was the fact that true freedom was to be found in rooting your identity in Christ and embracing your uniqueness. I found that theme echoed in ‘School of Rock’.

A number of times in the movie, we are reminded that life is not about winning, or about grades. It’s about finding your unique self and impacting the world. Wisdom in strange places. But wisdom it is.

God is a God of diversity. We hear this in Paul’s appeal to the Corinthian Church to respect and celebrate the differences between the different church members (1Corinthians 12:12-20). We see in God’s calling of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4,5). Jeremiah was unique and God created and knew him as such. Indeed, we are all called and we are all special.

In contrast, the world wants to fit us into a mould. Its much easier to manage and control people that way. Governments want to mould us into some prescribed formula. Companies want to do the same. Most schools too. Hey, that’s what ‘the man’ is about.

Invariably, a world of sameness becomes a world of winners and losers. (If we are all alike then the only thing that differentiates us is, who is on top and who is at the bottom.) It is a world hostile to colour and passion. It?s a world where the individual doesn?t count. Not really.

What is scary is that I see this happening in Christendom too. Many churches and parachurch groups operate on this basis: “God loves you and we have a wonderful plan for your life.” These groups start with their plans and programmes and then see how the individual fits into the system. There is little or no attempt to help the individual discover his or her unique calling in Christ. In fact, the larger the church/group, the more this tends to happen.

The church, championing conformism? Dr. Houston, ‘School of Rock’, and more important, the Scriptures tell me this is a “no-no”.

OK, maybe I am reading too much into ‘School of Rock’. You know it’s fantasy when you see all the upper crust parents turning up at the “Battle of the Bands” and approving of their snotty kids being transformed into budding rock stars.

But I am still tempted to show this movie to my next seminar on mentoring. Many people confuse mentoring with cloning. They understand mentoring as making prot?g?s into clones of themselves. True mentoring is helping people find their unique identities in Christ.

That is why real mentoring is tough. It demands patient listening as we seek to hear what God has been doing in a person’s life as we seek clues to that person’s unique identity and calling. Real mentoring starts with the individual and not some prescribed plan. It means starting afresh with each ‘proétgé’.

The Regent alumni retreat also reminded me that we are living in a time when there is a sea change in global culture. This is a scary time but also a time of unprecedented opportunities for the gospel. This is a time for us to find and speak in our unique God-given voices. It is a time to help others find and use their unique voices.

The gospel of life is best presented in multi-part harmony. And in multi-colour.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan