Fashion Me a People by Maria Harris

According to an online dictionary, the meaning of “curriculum” is “all the courses of study offered by an educational institution” or “a set of courses constituting an area of specialization” (dictionary.com). In “Fashion Me a People,” Maria Harris paints a multi-dimensional picture of “curriculum” within a church context. In fact, “curriculum” is not “reducible to resource materials” (8), nor is it simply “indoctrination” or “giving instructions” (48). Curriculum is “an activity, a practice of a people” (8), carried out by the “whole community” of believers (46). According to Harris, there are five forms of curriculum: (1) koinonia—the curriculum of community; (2) leiturgia—the curriculum of prayer; (3) didache—the curriculum of teaching; (4) kerygma—the curriculum of proclamation; and (5) diakonia—the curriculum of service (5). In other words, “curriculum” is the teaching about God (didache), how to worship God (leiturgia), how to love God’s people (koinonia), how to love those outside the church (diakonia), and how to tell others about Christ (kerygma). These five forms of curriculum must be done by all believers.

Weaknesses of the Book

The idea of “curriculum” is said to be a type of education that “includes education to and by community” (48). The title clearly shows that the curriculum in question is for the church, so it is unclear if the author intended to include the community of unbelievers in the context of curriculum. It makes sense that the church’s curriculum would be to the community, but this type of education cannot be reciprocated unless the “community” are Christians. In the same sense, her chapter on “the curriculum of service” was essentially social care. There is nothing wrong with helping people to meet their need for food or clothing, but if the five forms of curriculum are to be fulfilled then there must be some sort of teaching or proclaiming about God intermixed with the act of service to the community.

In one part of the book, Harris uses Paulo Freire’s description of “human beings as subjects” (67). Although its inclusion was to expand one’s understanding of the “many layers of subject matter,” the descriptive words used to show the tension of every human seemed confusing. For instance, Harris quotes Freire, “for human beings the essential decision is between speaking or remaining embedded in a culture of silence, between naming ourselves or being named by others, between remaining an object or becoming a subject” (67). One could assume that the intent of this quote was to illustrate that people are in need of “knowing” and “being known,” a “need” expressed by Maslow.

Harris takes old concepts and presents them as something new. For example, she shares, “in a newer educational ministry framework, the whole community is educating and empowering the whole community to engage in ministry in the midst of the world” (46). This concept is found in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 2:44-47 which essentially states that Christians ought to support one another and proclaim Christ to all people. She claims that the “present direction” is to “engage in ministry in the midst of the world,” but it has already been mentioned by Paul in Romans 12:2.

In her chapter on the “curriculum of prayer,” Harris includes that prayer toward “God our Mother” or “God as the Great Sphere” is acceptable because some people are “desiring imagery for God” in order to pray (96). This act of creating a god does not properly convey leiturgia, didache, and kerygma.

Strengths of the Book

The author did an incredible job of expanding the definition of “curriculum.” She made it very clear that “curriculum” was more than just a textbook—it was the activity or duty of all Christians. In fact, Harris shared that the word “curriculum” came from a Latin word that meant “to run,” and she stressed, “Curriculum is a course to be run” (55).

Her use of the word “curriculum” is very much in line with the Bible’s use of the term “run.” In the Book of Hebrews, Christians are told to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1), while Isaiah reminds believers that those “who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength…they shall run and not be weary” (Isa. 40:31), and Paul tells Timothy in his last letter, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Following each chapter, Harris included questions that induced rumination and contemplation that directed the reader to practical application of the chapter’s content. One exercise in particular was an examination of the church’s overall curriculum—the “explicit,” “implicit,” and “null” forms of curriculum as it pertained to the five forms of curriculum. Earlier in the chapter she had pointed out that the “explicit” curriculum was anything written, while “implicit” was the aesthetics or “patterns, organization, or procedures” of the explicit curriculum (i.e. “attitudes” or “design of a room”) (69). The “null” curriculum was basically the unwritten rules or the curriculum that is unmentioned, such as “points of view” or “design of worship” (69).

Applicability of the Book

Harris’ redefinition of “curriculum” makes it possible for churches to evaluate their whole ministry in terms of the congregation as a “curriculum,” meaning that the aspects of “community, prayer, teaching, proclaiming, and service” is taken into consideration when seeking the best way to engage God’s Word (175). I would say that the book is written for the church, although it would not help in actually finding written curriculum.

 

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti

 

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