Austin Ashcraft is a dear friend, and will no doubt be unconformable with this laudatory post. Too bad, Austin.
Austin teaches theology, philosophy and coaches football at St. Paul’s all boys high school in Covington, Louisiana and is a vibrant example of what pedagogy looks like when it is overcome by these words of St. John Paul II (they also serve as his email tagline): “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Austin sees relational ministry, which is all about evoking and provoking the gift of self, as the soul of authentic education. Only in the context of trust and love is a teacher capable of touching both the mind and the heart of a student. My own children, who love Austin, call him “Austin the Baptist” because of his off-beat, super-engaging style and off-balance joy. To me, his style embodies Pope Francis’ approach to the New Evangelization: young energy, heart for the poor and outcast, faith and reason in tandem, culturally savvy, lover of Jesus, funny and fun, light and deep, rooted in prayer, aware of his sinfulness but far more aware of mercy.
Austin gave a talk to high school teachers recently that I recorded. In it he speaks about how to engage high school youth with the Gospel of Jesus in a way that respects their freedom, but also challenges them to encounter the living Truth that frees. It was called “The Adventure of Truth: Redefining Freedom in Theological Education.” It’s about 30 minutes long. If you have teenage kids, will have them soon or teach teens, this will give you some good insights.
Excuse my annoying loud laughter and the sounds of my note taking during the recording. Listen here if you’re interested: