Body, Mind and Heart: A New Curriculum Approach to “Service, Society, and the Sacred”


Three years ago my Humanities I in Action students and I wrapped up our yearlong study with the Heroic Cycle ritual at Mary Knoll retreat house in Stanley. Now three years later some of these students will join me again for “Service, Society, and the Sacred,” which further explores the question: what am I supposed to do with my life?

Dear SSS students,

I’m very excited to once again embark on the “Service, Society, and the Sacred” journey with you this semester! Mr. Coombs and I started teaching this class in January, 2000, and our initial slogan was “creating a new kind of HKIS student in the new millennium.” Shamelessly idealistic, but I also think it’s true. SSS, like the other courses it has inspired, like Humanities I in Action and Mr. Kersten’s Cambodia course, offer students the chance to become a different kind of human being. Continue reading

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“If You Will, You May Become All Flame:” Teachings of the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers with Cynthia Bourgeault

DSC_3918Our central image of the 4-day retreat: below the flame is a desert mother holding a scroll that reads, “Light the divine fire within yourself.”
(See end of the piece for a close-up of the image.)


The burning question of my life in the last few years has been this: what is the role of spiritual practices in the quest to become a deeper, more aware, more compassionate human being? It was with this question in mind that I attended a 4-day silent retreat in Auckland, New Zealand in May with Cynthia Bourgeault in which we studied the 4th and 5th century writings of the Christian desert fathers and mothers. Continue reading

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Stirring the Soul With a New Story: A Letter to HKIS Alumni

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 9.17.17 PMOn May 31st 2014 Mike Kersten and I walked out onto the stage of the nostalgic Sunbeam Theatre in North Point at TEDxHong Kong on education and shared the journey of social conscience that we take students on in Humanities I in Action, an interdisciplinary course option for grade 9 students. For the next few minutes we shared the vision, the content and experiences, and the impact of the course upon students over the last 12 years. We decided to write a retrospective article about how service has grown in our years at HKIS, and what it all means for alumni in the future. Continue reading

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“Opening of Self to the Divine Presence:” An Introduction of Centering Prayer for Students

screen-shot-2013-04-06-at-8-03-58-pmDear students,

The biggest insight that I’ve had in the last four years of teaching World Religions at HKIS is that most students are far more interested in spiritual practices than I’d ever imagined. I just did not think that the majority of grade 9 students would welcome meditation, making mandalas, walking a labyrinth or joining in with Hindu kirtan singing. However, every semester students have encouraged me to push a little further out – to try and make the content we study applicable to their daily lives. The main reason for this, I believe, is that spiritual practices are purpose-built to deal with the fundamental problems of life. In its HKIS version, the biggest issue students at HKIS seem to face is the mental and emotional toll of a high-stakes education in the midst of an achievement-oriented Asian cultural setting. Continue reading

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Dragons into Princesses: Knowing the Self in “Strictly Ballroom,” Buddhist Bardo, and Christian Eros

2015-06-20 18.24.21This summer’s religion course in Bhutan with my HKIS students prompted this reflection on how all of us can take what we consider our lower selves and work with these energies to become better human beings. Our group is pictured here in Phobjikha, the most beautiful valley in Bhutan, walking from a 17th century Buddhist temple down to a 14th century one where we had the honor of observing and participating in a vestment consecration ceremony.


Religion at its best brings to the fore unconventional wisdom that lightens our load, that tells us that life is unexpectedly better than we could have imagined. What if what we considered our foremost weaknesses, our vices, the dark recesses of our hearts were in fact precisely the necessary catalysts for growth? Rainer Marie Rilke’s rich metaphors are especially poignant in this regard, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are really princesses who are waiting to see us act, just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love” (123).

Teaching religion, as I have been doing in a study-travel course about Buddhist spiritual practices in Hong Kong and Bhutan this summer, should bring such wisdom to light. Too often, however, it seems as if the essence of religion teaching can be boiled down to a simple admonition: be good. Can such a l0w-bar aim justify my students’ time? Put more positively, what benefit beyond conventional morality can studying and practicing religion offer my students? Continue reading

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Whole Students for a Whole World: Catching Integrity in the Social Conscience Classroom

DSC_3460 This is a picture of the 2014-2015 Humanities I in Action class on day 1 of our journey through the curriculum.  Now 10 months later as the school year comes to a close, we have recently completed our final exam and end-of-year heroic cycle ritual in which every student shares something of their story this year. As a class, we have become aware of the deep personal growth and the genuine sense of community that we have experienced collectively. 

Abstract: This small action research project addresses the question whether student integrity is enhanced by the study of contemporary issues in a socially conscious classroom environment. Student responses suggest that the social conscience approach appears to implicitly require integrity to enable students to come to an understanding of their own worldview, which is an explicit aim of the course.
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Teaching for Empowerment in South India 2015

2015-03-12 04.44.25In March 2015, Hong Kong International School students and teachers led a four-day Teaching for Empowerment curriculum with students who attend Concordia Ambur and Concordia Pernambut in south India. The two student leaders of the trip, Caroline Scown and Brittany Fried, also produced a facilitator’s handbook to assist HKIS students lead the local students through the program. Their handbook, the printing of which was supported by the Jim Handrich service learning fund, also proved effective on trips to the Philippines and South Africa. Continue reading

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