Monday, December 11, 2006

Lesson 12: The Word of God, The Word of Editors/Translators/Scholars (also, a moment of teacher being a moron)

A few weeks ago, all the kids were talking about Christmas. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, as I recall, and I could have sworn someone had flipped a switch in their brains. No single kid started it, they were just all talking about it --what they wanted to get for Christmas, where they were going for Christmas, how their big sister always got more presents than they did. Since third- and fourth-graders are just on the cusp between believing in Santa and NOT believing in Santa, they had an argument about the jolly fat man's existance, too. Some of the kids insisted that he couldn't possibly exist, while others said he must. "I've seen him," said Amanda.
"It's just your parents," David told her.
Ali had the only iron-clad argument. "Of course there's a Santa Claus. Your parents wouldn't buy you presents when they didn't have to."

Ali had a question for us, too: "Did Moses celebrate Christmas?"
"No," JC said. "Moses died before Jesus was born."
"Nu-uh," said David. "Jesus always existed!"
"Uhm. Yes. But he also was born, he had a birthday."
"I don't get it," said Amanda.
"Jesus wasn't born until the beginning of the New Testament," I said.
"What's the New Testament?" asked Ali. How do they not know what the New Testament is?
"It's the last part of the Bible," JC said. "It's the part about Jesus."

We had given David a Bible, since his dog ate his, and he seemed very curious this week about why his (New King James) was different from the other kids' (New International Version). He also wanted to know what a "per-face" was, and why JC's Bible had footnotes and a different page layout than his, despite the fact that they have the same translation.

Because of all these things, JC and I decided to do a couple special classes to deal with some immediate confusion. The first of these would be a look at What is in your Bible--from the dedication page to the maps on the endpaper. The second would be a look at the prophecies about Jesus' birth. They all know that Jesus is the Son of God, but they don't know why they believe that. Because their parents told them so, I guess, but they don't ask for any proof.

Yesterday, we did the first of those special classes. We made a chart for them to fill in (basically a glorified table of contents) with the things in their own Bibles. We had divided them into "Not the Word of God" (endpaper, title page, copyright page, preface/introduction, key), "The Word of God" (further divided into Old and New Testaments, which we also divided into "Books of the Law," "Jesus' Biography and Church History," "Books of Prophecy," etc.), and then another "Not the Word of God" section (maps, concordance, dictionary).

"There are things in your Bible, whole sections of your Bible," I told them, "that are not the Word of God. Can anyone tell me which parts those would be?"
Ali eyed her thick volume skeptically. "I haven't read all of it, you know," she said.
"Okay," JC said. "What's the first thing in your Bible?"
"Genesis!" said Lakeland.
"Nope, before that."
"The per-face!" said David.
"Before that."
We talked them back and back, until they hit the endpaper. We had them add it to their charts. Then we showed them the dedication page--"This is to remind you of who gave you your Bible, and when. So, Joshua's mom and dad gave him his Bible, right? And mine was given to me by friends at my church when I was baptized. They signed it here."
They added "Dedication Page" to their charts. Things were going pretty well.
When we talked about the preface, we asked them if the Bible had always been written in English. "Yes!" they said.
"Nope," we told them. "It was written a long time before English was invented. The Old Testament was written mostly in Aramaic and Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek. We have different translations because sometimes one word in Hebrew is the same as a couple of words in English. A translator has to pick which word. That's why sometimes the words in your Bible are a little different from the wods in someone else's. The preface usually tells you why they decided to do a new translation and what makes it different from other ones."
Then we got to the books of the Bible. This also went well at first. "Who knows why Genesis is called Genesis?" No one knew.
"Joshua, read the first three words of the book of Genesis."
"In the beginning," he read.
"'Genesis,'" JC said, "Is Greek for 'In the beginning.'"

And here's where the whole class collapsed. I wanted them to follow along closely with us, writing in the names of the books as we talked about them--overview of content, explanation of the name. They were hurrying ahead (David said, "I'm done!" at least five times), but I wanted them to go slowly so we could talk about each book. "Maybe we should just let them fill it in," JC said.
"But Lakeland is following along," I told him. So we stuck to our slow and steady pace, and the class spiraled rapidly out of control.

When I thought about it later, during the service, I realized that the class had gotten out of hand because I had violated one of the primary rules of my interaction with them: I had treated them like children, and they had, accordingly, begun to act like children. I hate hate hate it when people want me to follow along and do what they tell me to, at their pace. It makes me feel like a third-grader; it brings out my ornery side. I hated that when I was in third grade, too. I hated the standardized tests, where we all had to fill in our names, and then wait, and then all do the idiotic "sample" question together, and then do all the tests in timed sections. I hated waiting for everyone, for my teachers. How could I forget that and treat these kids that way? I've been so impressed with how mature and smart they all are. I don't know what got into me, that I insisted on treating them like little kids.

In my interviews with other Christians, the ones who became really excellent, spiritual people are the ones who said, "My parents treated me like an adult in church." They were people whose parents didn't bring a whole toybox for them, but only let them have maybe a pencil and a piece of paper--from as young as two years old. Their parents expected them to follow along in their Bibles, to sing the hymns with the congregation, to listen to the sermon. "I wasn't always paying attention," one of them told me, "but I had to be sitting there, quietly, facing the front, so I had the opportunity to pay attention."

I've always said that if we want children to grow up into practicing, believing Christians, people with ownership of their faith, with strong belief, we must treat them like equal partners in our community of faith.

I think I just lost my mind, or maybe my vision, last Sunday. Of course, it's nice that kids forget these things, and I know I get another chance next week. I'm still learning, still practicing, still trying to get it right...God help me.


Anonymous said...

Your comment about translations reminded me of a funny story. Once a friend of my parents from seminary moved to a new church and new town and wanted to buy a new copy of the Greek Bible, cause his was lost in the move or was kinda falling apart or something. Anyway, he went to the local Christian bookstore and asked the woman at the counter if they had copies of the Bible in Greek and she respond "No sir, I don't think they've translated it into that language yet."

Hannah N said...

Sorry, that was me.

Alisha said...

Hi Hannah! I'm glad someone's reading, and I'm glad it's you.

Let me know how life is and where you are and things. I'm checking the sbemail at nilatti at gmail dot com these days