Saturday, March 31, 2007

What it's ok to pray for

As some of you know, one of my essays was published last summer in The Rambler, a neat little magazine from North Carolina. That essay did pretty well for itself. In addition to publication, I received a little money and a one-year subscription to the magazine. It's a very good little magazine, and I look forward to it coming every other month. I might just have to write something else so that I can keep up my subscription.

In the September/October issue, which for some reason sat on my bedside table for months, utterly forgotten, the feature is an interview with Lewis "Buddy" Nordan, who wrote a bunch of novels I haven't read--but might look into, now. He's not a "Christian" writer, in that he's writing mainstream novels, not "inspirational" fiction. Anyway, the article describes one thing "he always does when he sits down to write: he will pray to God to make him a great writer. He jokes that he used to pray to God to make him a good writer, but upgraded to asking to be a great one."

That really got me thinking. I've often prayed for inspiration (like when I had to sum up my church in 1000 words or so for the local news paper!), and I've prayed thankfully--that I have any gift with words at all.

I haven't prayed to be a great writer, though. Praying for gift on top of gift--as if what I've been given isn't enough--seems audacious. Isn't it enough to be thankful that I'm an above-average writer? Yet, when I read that, it made total sense to me. Yes, I want to be a great writer. Yes, I should ask God for all my desires--because what I'm doing now, relying soley on my own skills and determination, is not working fast or well. Plus, it's a lot of work!

Does God mind when we pray for greater gifts? Maybe He likes it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Long time, no update

Sorry about that.

I've had the craziest two weeks ever. The car needed a new clutch, the hubby needed to go to a doctor (only good news there, as it turns out), we're thinking about buying a house and so have to fax every financial piece of information to total strangers, plus of course looking at houses, AND both of our teams at work have serious deadlines this week. In fact, I'm at work right now, but because of a server crash, I have a little break.

Through all this craziness, we've been praying and really taking care of each other, and that's good. I've been so exhausted these two weeks--I felt awful when we were visiting JC's family because I was much less of a help to his mom than I usually try to be...I just could hardly convince myself to do anything. I kept praying though, every minute, and I kept (almost literally) hearing the Holy Spirit within me, just saying, Keep moving. Look after the task that's in your hands now. Don't worry about what's coming down the pike. Take it one minute at a time. The primary instruction seemed to be, just don't sit down and cry and give up. Keep moving keep working keep trying keep praying. And you know...I did. And the clutch was fixed in time, the records all got from various previous doctors to the one we were going to see, the doctor was wonderful and helpful and thinks he knows what's going on, the paperwork is mostly taken care of, we maybe have picked out a house, and everyone at work is being super wonderful to each other, despite being insanely stressed. People are going out of their way to be kind because they know they're predisposed to being grouchy.

Does trusting God preclude being scared? Before dinner, on the night when we drove to Richmond for JC's early morning appointment, we sang together (we sing rather than praying before meals). I got to pick--it was just the Doxology. And we were standing there, singing, and looking into each other's eyes, and I couldn't get past the second line, I just started crying. I kept thinking about how God is the fountain of all blessings, but as Job says, He also taketh away. I was feeling very trust-y, very relying on God, very feeling the Holy Spirit right at my side, supporting me. I wasn't scared that we wouldn't get through what ever was coming our way. I was just scared of the thought of losing JC--not scared that I couldn't handle it, but scared of having to.

As I said, doctor visit went very well, and most of the truly frightening diagnoses have been ruled out with a pretty high degree of assurance. I know that even if they hadn't, we would keep moving, keep working, keep praying, because what else is there to do? That doesn't stop me from being a scared child sometimes though.

The Sunday before last, we did a pretty quick romp through most of 1 Samuel and the first little bit of 2 Samuel. It was mostly what we call a "story telling" session, not, I'm afraid, very interesting. We talked about forgiveness (all those times David lets Saul go when he could kill him and end it there).

One cool thing was that the division of the kingdom under David and Ishbosheth finally helped the kids understand the tribes of Israel. I don't think they got it before, but we told them about the divisions (Judah goes with David, everyone else doesn't) and we used the family tree in our classroom to explain it. I saw light bulbs go on, I really did!

On Wednesday night, I was showing JoEtta around our classroom, because she was going to take over for us on Sunday (we were going home to visit JC's parents & sisters). As I was showing her all the different things we do with the kids, and explaining how we decide (sometimes preplanned, based on material, sometimes spontaneous based on which kids are there), I realized that wow we really have a lot that we do with them. Jo was (and has been) incredibly encouraging, exclaiming over all the things that we've thought up. I felt great about our class after I showed her all that--so funny, I don't even realize what I'm doing until I sit down and try to explain it, step by step, to someone else.

So that was good, and when I called Jo yesterday, she said that she had a great time with my sweet little monsters! :) I really appreciated her doing that for us, and she complimented the notes I sent her. I had worried that they were unclear--I had tried to write down what we do in class, which is basically to play a game or something (not really a game, usually something like, Who can look up their Bible verse the fastest? or similar), and then get into the text and talk about it a few verses at a time...and then maybe do a map, diagram, chart, or something. "It's very simple," Jo said, "and I'm not sure I would have been brave enough to trust kids that age with those kinds of questions or expected them to carry on that kind of discussion. I was surprised at how well they did."
Jo had opened class (her idea, and a good one) with a game she called, "Good King/Bad King." She brought a little crown that the kids took turns wearing, and each kid had to be either a good king or a bad king. Another student got to choose what kind of good (generous, brave, loyal) or bad (grabby, cowardly, cruel) monarch a given student was, and then that student had to act out what a miserly king would do or a merciful queen. Because the story of David is basically all about being a good or bad king, this was a really great way to introduce the kids to the first serious "bad king" segment--the whole Bathsheba incident.

I had suggested that JoEtta ask Lachlan or Josh to read the racier bits of the story because they have children's Bibles, which tend to be very tasteful. She told me, laughing, that theirs were actually a good deal more graphic than the New King James! Oops.

Jo and I had had a long talk about what one can or cannot discuss with other people's children, how we talk about adultery and sex in Sunday school, etc. My number one rule, which she thinks is a good one, is to be entirely unafraid of the response, "That's a very good question. Why don't you ask your parents for more information about that?" Depending on the content, I might alternatively offer to talk about it after class, or to talk about it with the child and a parent. It's a touchy subject, though. JoEtta said that the kids were mostly unphased by that, although Josh was bothered by a drawing she brought to show them, of Bathsheba bathing on the roof. "I added a few lines so it looked like the towel was covering her more than it was originally, but Joshua didn't want to look at it. I just wanted them to see what the flat roof looked like! I didn't think it was racy at all." She said that, other than that, the kids really took this difficult material in stride. In Sunday school, we usually talk about sex as, "acting like she was his wife" which some of the kids take to mean kissing, and they can fill in about all they know or want to know in their own minds.

She ended by doing a Venn diagram of Jesus and David. "I wish we had had more time for that," she said. "The kids really got into it!" I was pleasantly surprised that they were able to come up with differences and similarities and understand what to do with such a diagram. Perhaps we'll do a few more of them, comparing various Bible characters with Jesus, and then at the end of the quarter ask them to do one comparing themselves to Jesus. It might be interesting, anyway. I'd like to see how they do at that. That's a hard self-evaluation. I might consider doing that with my teen girls too.

I forgot to ask Jo if David was there. He's been missing a lot lately, and I worry about him. He's a good kid. They all are.

JoEtta, thank you so much again for taking over! I'm sure the kids had a great time with you--I always love having you for a teacher (and a friend!). <3

Ok...time to post something on the kids' blog before this server comes back online. :)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lesson 22: Jealousy and Reading Comprehension

It won't take me long to write about Sunday's class because it was really good...and therefore, uneventful, oddly. I had been thinking about making the paraphrasing exercise easier by turning it into a worksheet where the kids would answer questions ("Who is Samuel talking to? What does he want him to do?"). JC and I both hate worksheets, though, and as he pointed out, the kids don't seem to like solo work at all. They all love writing on the whiteboard, though, and so we decided to modify that worksheet idea into a whiteboard game. The game was this: I wrote all the interrogatives (Who, What, Where, etc) down the left side of the board. The kids (unfortunately, only two showed up) took turns generating questions for each other, about the three-verse passage we were reading (1 Sam. 18:6-9). The catch was, each interrogative could only be used once. That meant that if Josh asked Lachlan, "Why were the women singing?" she could not ask him, "Why was Saul angry?"

The amazing thing was--they loved it. They wanted to play another round! Unfortunately, class was just about over by then. Still, wow! We'll definitely repeat this activity. Generating the questions turned out to be the hard part for them--but that's the essence of reading comprehension, right? Figuring out what question each sentence is answering?

We had a teacher meeting during evening church. When Ralph asked if there were any major problems we were having, I mentioned being surprised at the lack of reading comprehension. Pat said, "You can't fix that. You can't teach them that. Maybe for the older kids, the high school kids, you can expect that, but not fourth-graders." She basically implied that I shouldn't bother trying--but how will they ever be able to study God's word on their own? How will they magically learn to understand what they read in time for high school if they can't do it now?

If not me, whom? If not now, when? (wow. that loses some punch when you throw in the good grammar....)

Anyway, we're trying, we're insisting...and they're coming along, inch by tiny inch.

In good news, everyone at the teacher meeting agreed that the Sunday school curriculum we've been using (21st Century Christian) is total junk and filled with a bushel of busy work. Pat got very upset with them when she called the head editor for the curriculum and he said, "Well, I'm sorry you don't like it"--without thanking her for her feedback or telling her that he would take her concerns into account. It's also really expensive (JC's on the budget committee, and when he told me how much that fluff garbage costs, my jaw dropped). So, everyone is taking very seriously this search for new curriculum. Pat says she has one at home that John (the preacher father of a respected, intelligent, and eager-minded member of our congregation) recommends. "You'll like it," she told me. "It has timelines." :) Maybe I'm getting a bit of a reputation...

Pat told me that her little kids (4- and 5-year-olds) do an activity about putting the books of the Bible in order, as a class. We should institute that as a solo opener activity for our class-give them five minutes to do it, who ever does it fastest gets a class point or something. I'm not sure I could do it very well, I'm ashamed to say. I'd get messed up in the minor prophets and the later epistles. Maybe instituting this activity would help me get better at those too. I really should self-educate more strongly.

Ok..time for the day job.


JoEtta says that it's presumptuous of me to say that no good history of the Churches of Christ exists. She points out that there are a number of good articles on the subject--and I'm sure she's right. What I meant was more like...a biography of the Church.

I still haven't found one of those, but I've found a number of books that look like good places to start--including (duh) the works of Alexander Campbell himself.

I think I was also reacting to the culture of willful ignorance of our roots that seems to pervade our church. Why that? Jo says that she hadn't really thought about all this until grad school, and she's surprised that I'm thinking of it now. I guess that's a point, but she grew up in the church. I'm a newbie still, and I'm used to asking questions like, "Why doesn't our auditorium have windows? Why don't we use instruments?" etc. "Why don't we talk about our history?" seemed to fit logically in that pattern.

Another thing I'm wondering about lately is the "Church of Christ--Emergent" movement. They have a stub on wikipedia which seems to connect them to the Church of Christ as I know it, but I don't know if that's a real connection or what. A lot of these churches have different names and don't call themselves "Church of Christ" at all. None of the websites referenced from the wikipedia seem to have a FAQ--this is where we're coming from, this is who we are. Still...the conversation they seem to be inviting is an interesting one. Is it time for a re-restoration? Have we become as traditional as the denominations our founders were reacting against?

Teen Girl Squad

I seriously need to get caught up on writing about my lessons. Bethany says that the blog thing is a nice forum for writing about something because you only need a little discipline at a time. She's right...but you still need some discipline.

So, on Wednesday, I taught Teen Girl Squad. Summer, a recruiter from Ohio Valley University, was passing through, and I invited her to come to our class. I'm glad the girls got to talk with her. Some of them are thinking way too much about college, and missing out on what little fun high school has to offer, but more are thinking too little--not sure that it's worth going. Summer's a good recruiter, though, and by the time they finished talking to her a few of them were starting to say, "I'm still not sure I want to do more school, but I'm excited thinking about it."

A number of the girls are very young, of course, and college shouldn't be filling their thoughts just yet. A few of them, though, really ought to be thinking about it. Amanda told Summer, "I'm not sure I'm going to go to college, but if I do, it will probably be Freid-Hardman. My mom went there, and she really liked it."
"You might not like a school just because your mom did," Summer said. "You and your mom are different people. Of course, you might like it, but going to a school just because your mom went there isn't a good idea." That can be a harsh thing to say to a fifteen-year-old, but Amanda needed to hear it. Later in the evening, Amanda came up to me all excited because a family from church is going to some sort of singing event at Harding University (a lot of our kids end up there) and they said she could come with them to visit the campus.

Although I was glad that Summer was there, she made me a bit nervous. I'm not used to teaching with other adults (besides JC) present, particularly not ones who were raised in the church and then went to a Christian university. Sometimes, in answer to the girls' questions, I have to admit ignorance (often, to things that I know most of the adults in my church should know) and have them help me look things up. Other times, I play devil's advocate, which I think is a good way of teaching them, but I'm never sure how other adults will take it. I think we all did ok, though.

We talked about baptism--where in the Bible it says to get baptized, why (especially, why immersion in water rather than, say, jumping naked through a bonfire or something?), and when. Only a handful of these girls--the youngest ones--are unbaptized. We devoted a lot of time to a discussion about how you know it's time. That's a hard question, actually. We baptize adults in our church because every example in the Bible is of an adult hearing, believing, and needing baptism rather fast. No babies are baptized in the New Testament accounts. The difficult thing is that only Jesus, who was baptized at around thirty years old, grew up knowing the Gospel message, right? Everyone else in the New Testament hears it as an adult. We don't have any examples about growing up in the church (nor, for that matter, being a parent in the church). The arguments for an "age of accountability" are pretty vague. We decided, as a group, that it must have something to do with developing an understanding of sin, and an understanding of empathy. We talked a lot about how children sometimes behave badly, but adults sin, and there's a difference.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Amanda, whom I've often thought of as very sheltered, knows a great deal more about the other types of Christianity than most of the other girls do. She goes to a Christian high school in town, where most of the students, from what I can gather, are Baptists or something. She's in a pretty serious minority, being Church of Christ. Because of this, she is very aware of the aspects of our practice that make us different from others--she doesn't know the historical origin of the differences, but she knows the scriputural reasoning backwards and forwards. She's also very aware of what other churches do. The rest of the girls hadn't even heard of the sprinkling vs. immersion debate (although we have at least one sermon each year on it--but maybe they just didn't follow that). Many of them were unaware that other churches baptize babies. Amanda knew about all of that.

We have a campaign coming up (it's called "We Care," which makes me giggle, since there was a daycare center in my hometown called "Wee Care.") to invite new people into our church. Apparently they've done this other places and added sixty or more people to each of those churches. What that means is that we are going to have a lot of people coming in who maybe grew up in a different church, lapsed, and now they'll be coming to us with many different religious backgrounds and understandings..and we have to be able to explain ourselves to them. We expect that some of them will have or be teenagers, so I really need to work on preparing my girls for the kinds of questions they'll be asked. Of course, one trouble is that some of those questions have terribly unsatisfactory answers--places where scripture says one thing in one place, but implies another in a different passage (example: Paul asks women to keep silent during worship and not have authority over men...Which means that, in our church, women don't lead prayer, read Scripture aloud, serve Communion, etc....but Paul also says that women should keep their heads covered or have long hair when they are praying and prophesying in public, which implies that they are expected to do these things. Uhm...?). I'm not sure how to handle these things, or how much I have to prepare my students to face them, but it's time to start thinking about them. So we start with the ones that have a really strong Scriputural basis, like our take on baptism. Maybe I'll figure something out from there?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lesson 21: A Question of Perception

Last Sunday's class was so good, there was hardly anything to write about. We had only half of our students there, and they were the ones who are a little quicker on the uptake and a bit calmer over all than the others. I missed the other two, but it was nice to have a breather, in some ways. It was too bad that they weren't there-- I think that Amanda would have enjoyed the activity, and David would have liked the poem.

Ah, yes. The poem. I started class by reading the poem by GA Studdart Kennedy that I posted previously. Specifically, I had hoped that David would be there because I thought he'd enjoy the fantasy elements of the poem--he plays lots of Worlds of Warcraft and gets into the Tolkein thing (books or movies, I'm not sure which. Maybe both?). The kids didn't share many thoughts about the poem, but that's ok. I hate when teachers, in the words of Billy Collins, "tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it." Joshua had a funny comment about the poem--he said, "Why were they talking about kissing?"
"It's in the fairy tales that he wrote about. The prince wakes Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. Same thing for Snow White. It's a magic kiss."
"Still, that's disgusting." I'm very happy to learn that, although our nine- and ten-year-old girls are all giggly over Zac Ephron, apparently boys still believe in cooties. Does this "Kids Getting Older Younger" marketing concept (see also: Bratz dolls, toddler-sized jeans with fake thong showing, and those awful CDs of children singing trashy pop songs (what are those called? "KidzBop" or something?)) applies only to girls. If so...I'm glad the boys are spared, but why do girls have to be shoved into this kind of thing? I really haven't thought much about this before. I don't know if my students play, ever. I know the boys play sports, but just imaginative games? I don't know. They all play video games, but of course that's not what I mean either. I don't get much of an impression that they do. Amanda brought a doll to class once, but she seemed sort of ashamed of it, hiding it from the others. She didn't hold it like a baby or anything, certainly. Lachlan has two older sisters, one in ninth grade, one in seventh, so maybe she feels like she needs to keep up with the bigger girls. Maybe what I should be concerned about is the oppositite of the worry Kennedy expresses in his poem. He declares that without Jesus, no imaginary magical land of transformation could ever have existed. Maybe we need that fairyland to understand the miraculous, as well. So how do I help them find that? This problem just keeps getting bigger and more complicated.

Anyway, about our lesson. We read about King David's young life. Both Lachlan and Josh are strong readers, and they like to be called on. Josh actually complained when I gave him only one verse at one point. I had to promise him a longer one later. In an effort to push them more about the reading comprehension thing, I've begun asking them questions about what they read. They answer verbally way better than they do in a written paraphrase, but still, they sometimes have no idea what they just read. Liz, from I Speak of Dreams, writes that these kids were probably taught to read using a "whole language" method, and therefore, they probably are devoting a huge amount of brain resources to summoning up the words, and don't have much left over for deciphering the meaning. It's an interesting argument. None of them ever try to sound anything out. I'm not as militantly anti-Whole Language as Liz is, but I think it's good to be able to take words apart, break them down, and figure out what they mean, and a guess at how they are said. Otherwise, how do you ever learn new words?

We're trying to practice the comprehension thing, and I might start helping them sound out words, as well. I worry about putting them on the spot like that--instead of just supplying the word and moving on, asking them to sound it out slowly...I don't know, I'll have to think about it.

The thing we focused on most about King David was that no one saw him as he truly was, except God. His dad saw him as the family baby, Saul and Goliath both saw him as a little boy--but Saul's servant describes him as "a great warrior and a man of valour." Confusing, yes?

We helped the kids make a chart of all the people David encounters in the section we read (which covered his annointing through the Goliath incident). Under each person, we wrote what they thought of David. In the last column, we listed what God saw in David--God being the only one who could see him truly. This was an interesting exercise, reading comprehension that didn't feel like reading comprehension. We also talked a lot about the people in our own lives who don't see us the way we see ourselves (because they are kids, the primary example here was parental misconceptions). They were definitely able to relate to David's plight, as the youngest kid whose dad thought he was good for nothing but tending the sheep.

I guess that "David and Goliath" must be one of Josh's favorite stories, because when we finally got to that point, he cheered. The kids like it when, after a long meandering through stories they haven't heard before, we land again on familiar ground. I wonder if they feel like they see these stories differently, coming into them with more background. As David's family and acquaintances saw him differently depending on their own experience with him, do my students see familiar stories in a new light, having more understanding of what happened around them? Did our lesson about Passover make them see The Prince of Egypt differently?

I hope so. If not, I'm wasting my time and theirs.

This week, we're going to give the newsflash view of David's relationship with, and eventual falling-out from, Saul's family...Might be interesting to actually make a little newspaper thing with some blanks for them to fill in on their own....

Saturday, March 3, 2007


The Protestant movement was a literacy revolution: True or false?

And if it was a literacy revolution, why are we losing that focus on literacy in the modern church? Or are we?

We like you too....

On Wednesday evening, as we were going into the church, Amanda and Lachlan ran up to us. "Is Miss Ginny here tonight?" Amanda asked.
"Yes,"I said.
They both started jumping up and down and clapping. You might recall that JC and I took over for "Miss Ginny" last week, since she was out of town.
"We like you guys, too," I said.
Lachlan, bless her, is a very well-bred child. She stopped jumping around long enough to say, "Oh, we like your class. But we like her class too, and we missed her last week."

My feelings were kind of hurt, although I get it, and I ended up thinking about the incident through most of the ladies' Bible study. Our preacher's wife was sitting next to me, and she turned to me after class and asked me what was on my mind. I told her what had happened, and then I told her the kinds of classes JC and I are doing, and how upset we were when we discovered that our kids, for all that they loved Jesus, couldn't find the Gospels in their Bibles and didn't understand that Jesus was the Son of God. "You'll get a lot of support for what you're doing," she said. "We need those kids to really understand."

She helped me feel a little better.....

I guess it's like when I was a kid and I thought it was horribly unfair that we didn't have any TV to speak of (one channel, grainy). Now that I'm an adult, I feel like I should thank my parents for refusing to buy a satellite dish (WV's state flower). I don't have TV now (or, we have a TV, it just doesn't get any incoming signal. We use it for watching DVDs), and I have no intention of having one when we have children. You don't know what it is you need, when you're a kid. The packaged curriculum has coloring sheets and coloring sheets make you happy.

Multiple Intelligences

At work, we've been doing some stuff involving preparing materials for use in the public schools......

Among these assignments has been one involving discovering ways to use the Multiple Intelligences strategy to teach foreign languages.

That got me can we use MI in Sunday school?

And then I had a silly thought, which was to use mathematical/logical intelligence by creating a graph of the body counts of various Biblical generals.

And then I had another thought, which was that that thought wasn't all that silly, really, and that some of our kids, particularly David, who seems interested in numbers, would dig it.

Who are we?

I've become a little distressed lately at the growing realization that the children I'm teaching don't understand that Christianity is a decision, that there are options and choices to make. They are Christians by default. They don't know anything about the other religions in the world, and therefore, they don't know what it means, by comparison, to be Christian. We've been working on this by giving them some understanding of Judaism at least, but I think they don't understand that there are still Jews in the world, not just in the Old Testament. They don't seem to get that there are people in the world who aren't Christians, despite the repeated exhortations in the general Sunday school curriculum to "talk to your friends about Jesus."

There's also no understanding of who we, as the Churches of Christ, are. All my Methodist friends know about John Wesley. They've read his writings. They know what he was thinking when he founded the Methodist church. My Lutheran friends sing hymns written by Luther.

In the average congregation of the Churches of Christ, I don't think many people even know what it means to be Campbellite. Actually, I don't know much about it. I don't know what impulses there were initially that drew us apart from the Methodists and Baptists. Our preachers study this kind of thing in preacher school, but no one else gets at it. I understand and agree with the concept that we should revere the Bible above other works, and that we should regard Jesus Himself as the founder of our church...and yet...what are we missing out on? Because of our reverence for the Bible, we tend to ignore the writings of countless theologians and scholars between Jesus and us. However, we think that Cynthia Heald and Max Lucado have something good to say to us. Why can we read the Bible through the guidance of those figures, but not through the guidance of David Lipscomb or ... See? I've actually been trying to educate myself lately, and I still am only able to name two church founders, one of whom has a university named after him.

There is basically no readable history of the Churches of Christ, that I can discover. If you know of one, please tell me. I also imagine that there wouldn't be much market for one, if such a thing were to be written. It would violate our fiction of an unbroken lineage straight back to the Cross...which is not a fiction, in a spiritual sense, but definitely is one in a historical sense. We miss out on so many great writers...why aren't we doing Bible studies guided by Luther or Thomas Aquinas? I don't get it.

Our denial of a historical context also deprives us of our traditions. We've maintained the tradition of a cappela singing, but lost the tradition of pacifism. We know that our auditoriums generally don't have windows, but I don't know why...

Last night, I was trying to do some research on the Churches of Christ, and I found the amazing liturgical poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, whose chapbook, The Unutterable Beauty, is online. One of his poems brought tears to my eyes--it was so beautiful! I got angry for a moment, thinking, WHY is this not part of our tradition? WHY have I never even heard of this guy before? JC was reading over my shoulder, and he said, "Hey, you know...we're teachers."

Oh yeah.

Now, we don't have the time in our class to cover comparitive religion. Maybe if the kids ever get the whole trinity thing, or sin/salvation concepts, or even a decent grasp of Old Law/New Law, we can try to go there.

We don't really even have the time (or in my case, the knowledge) to cover church history. Plus, I don't think 4th graders would care.

I'm not sure we have the time for talking about famous members of the Church of Christ..I'm not sure many of them would have heard of our A-list (James Garfield (I used to live next to his house!), Pat Sajak, Weird Al Yankovic, and uhm....Kenneth Starr).

But we do have the time for one small thing, a poem isn't much time at all. Here it is, for your enjoyment. I wish I had read it months ago.


G. A. Studdart Kennedy

SUPPOSE it is not true,
And Jesus never lived,
But only grew,
Like Aphrodite, from the foam
Of fancy--
From the sea
Of pure imagining, that frets
Within the soul eternally.
Suppose the Word was not made flesh,
But just another dream,
Which dwelt amongst us, only
As a gleam
Of glory from the land,
Where sand
Is gold, and golden sand
Shines bright beside the sapphire sea.
Where up is down,
And down is up,
And mortals mount on wings,
To sup
From golden goblets
With young stars
The nectar of eternity;
Where trees have souls, And lilies arms
To fold us in,
And charms
To soothe our sorrows into peace.
Where cease,
And sink to silence
Of content,

The sad complainings
Man has sent
To heaven's high throne
All down the years,
Where bitter tears
Are turned to diamonds for the crown of God.
Suppose He never trod
This earth nor saw the sun,
Nor looked up to the skies,
That sinless one,
All spotless clean,
Untainted by man's curse,
The might have been,
The ghost of good undone.
Suppose the gospel story lies,
What then? Why, then
There are no fairies
Any more For men,
The shore
Of fairyland is dry,
Unlapped by any sea.
All fancies die,
If Jesus never lived,
For living fancies need to be
The symbols of a Truth.
He is the door
By which we enter in
To wonderland.
By Christ's strong sooth
Set free from sin,
Poor Cinderella weds her Prince,
As we long since
Were taught and may believe,
For God is found of those who seek,
Exalts the humble and the meek,

And puts the mighty from their seats,
In Christ.
Her tryst,
If Jesus never lived,
Is still unkept;
By those dead ashes where she wept
For Paradise,
She weeps on still,
And moans upon her fate;
The pumpkins still are pumpkins,
And the mice still mice;
Still by the cold and empty grate
She sits in rags and tears;
Through all the years--the empty years,
No fairy comes--nor ever will
If Jesus never lived.
In Christ's pure light,
Fair Snowy-White
Can lift the coffin-lid,
And leave her tomb,
And vanquish all the gloom
Of death.
Because He lives
And gives
To Sleeping Beauty
One long kiss,
She opens her blue eyes and wakes,
Her sleep and shines for ever,
Beautiful in bliss.
There is no chance of childhood,
But for this
One Child of God, who knew
That childhood's sweetest dreams come true,
And was their Truth.
Lord Jesus, live for me,

Open my eyes to see
Thy face,
So by Thy Grace
Shall all the world be peopled
By bright forms.
The wind of many voices,
In its storms,
Shall speak of Giant powers,
The many-coloured flowers
Shall hold their lips up for a kiss.
Still in the deep
Shall mermaids sleep,
And dryads from the oak tree
Stretch white hands,
While through the leaves,
Small faces peep
And laugh in elfin revelry,
Binding with silken bands
My spirit to the glades.
So shall my soul swing free
Of this small world,
And dance with daffodilly maids,
Amid the bluebells in the sun.
O live for me, Thou sinless one,
Cleanse Thou for me
The earth and sea,
Sweep all the clouds from off
The sky,
For fancies never, never die
If only Jesus lives.

Strength in numbers?

JC and I had a discussion yesterday about the people at our office. In his department, when asked if they could work on the weekend to get an important job done, out of six people, five said that they could work on Saturday, but had church for several hours on Sunday. My thesis was that our company, possibly because of its Mennonite roots, possibly because it's just odd, has more religious young people (20-30 year olds) than is normal. JC feels that, actually, our generation is more religious than that before or after it. Of course, he also makes the claim that generations should be considered in brackets of only a few years, instead of the brackets on typical polls, which tend to range from seven to twenty years. While I agree that the poll sampling is overly broad, I disagree that our "generation," even as he defines it (which, I think, means that he thinks of himself and his younger sisters as being in separate generations) is any more religious than any other. My assertion was that we tend to hang out with people who are (a) smart, (b) kind, and (c) strong in a faith tradition. Why? Because those people are friendly and dependable. I think this skews our sampling.

I've been trying to do some research on it, and according to the best data I can come up with, church attendance in the US is somewhere around 26% (although it's often reported as 40%, most statisticians have compared these numbers with church attendance records and concluded that a lot of people are lying about going to church).

The Pew Research Center's report on "Generation Next" (who comes up with these names?) reports that 1 in 5 of people ages 18-25 report as agnostic or atheist. Of people ages 26 and older, only 11% do. The interesting attendant piece of data they gave here was that, in the late 1980s, 11% of 18-25 year olds were non-religious, compared to 8% of those 26 and older. That kind of data is interesting to me, because it compares people in the same stage in their lives. The result? To my eye, it says that we're getting less religious. However, as JC points out, 18-22 is very very different from 23-27, in terms of what's going on in your life. Church might not be important to you when you're in college, but when you get married, start having kids, and discover crises bigger than, uhm, someone hacking your MySpace, maybe people do turn to religion. I don't know. Thoughts? Data? Anything?

I actually wrote to the Pew Research Center to see if I could get raw data for that survey.