July 25, 2012

Presbyopia and Christian Education

You know you have presbyopia when you have to hold your cell phone at arm’s length to read the text; when you find yourself squinting to make out the words on a restaurant menu.

Presbyopia is the slow deterioration of close-up focus that usually starts in the late 30s and early 40s. Presbyopia develops when the clear lens of the eye loses its elasticity. Elasticity changes focus, and focus determines whether you can make out the words on that dinner menu.

Until recently presbyopia was treated with inexpensive reading glasses or repeated laser surgeries as the condition progressed. Now there’s a treatment for the condition called transscleral light therapy (TLT). The TLT procedure is really quite simple. A laser device emits a focused beam of light at the ciliary muscle, the muscle that focuses the lens when you read. This light treatment is designed to increase the strength and flexibility of the ciliary muscle. After five 10-minute sessions and periodic tune-up treatments, patients report that their glasses are obsolete. This application of light sharpens the ability to focus.

2012 1521 page17Application to Christian Education
Our attitude toward Christian education has experienced some of the same symptoms; in  some cases it has lost its focus, blurred its mission, and had its cost-benefit value challenged. Parents, students, and church leaders are challenged to remember, articulate, and affirm its value and purpose. Figuratively speaking, Christian education has come to the point where it needs more than reading glasses and laser surgery: it needs a TLT treatment.

The blended light of inspiration and denominational energies can correct the presbyopia brought on by denominational age, secularism, and economic stress. Bible writers outline three therapeutic benefits of the light of inspiration:

Education provides direction: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130).

It models Christ: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4).

It provides a mechanism for self-examination: “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35).

I’m a product of Christian education. More than half of my 30-plus years in ministry has been committed to some aspect of Christian education. During my 14-year tenure as president of Oakwood University, more than 7,000 young people graduated under its banner. I can attest that Adventist education is effective and salvific. It works!

But its various levels need additional light. It has to be rethought, refocused, for the twenty-first century. The light has to hone its mission, the reason for its enduring value, how it can be made more affordable. There has to be intentional promotion of both its temporal and eternal benefits.

Solution Path
Leaders in our church are doing commendable work with its educational resources and personnel. But if we are to attain 20/20 vision in our challenging times, our educational presbyopia must be jointly faced, assessed, and treated in order to reach the next level of excellence required by our times.

We must remember the value that Christian education affords our young people and our church. We need light to refocus our attitudes, perspectives, and models in order to keep Christian education clear in our vision. As Ellen White wrote: “The education that does not furnish knowledge as enduring as eternity is of no purpose. Unless you keep heaven and the future, immortal life before you, your attainments are of no permanent value. But if Jesus is your teacher, . . . every day, every hour, you may have His smile upon you in the pursuit of literary acquirements” (Messages to Young People, p. 176).

When life gets fuzzy, we need focused light. 

Delbert W. Baker is a general vice president of the General Conference. This article was published July 26, 2012.