Monday, May 28, 2007

Trying not to Step on Toes

I'll start with the cute stuff.
We had our last Sunday school class for the summer yesterday. Only Josh showed up. We talked about the story of Esther--he was pretty fascinated with the idea that she, like Daniel & co., had two names. He knew the story of Esther, but we talked about it in much more detail than he ever had before. There's a lot, in that story, that gets left out of little-kid Bible school. "Chapter nine," we told him, "is really sick. They don't tell little kids about this part."
He wanted to read the whole thing.
When he got to the end of this passage, he said, "What was sick about that?"
"These people were partying after slaying 75,000 people!"
"You don't think that's sick?"
"I've seen Pirates of the Carribean III," he told us. "I see this kind of thing all the time. It's not so bad."

Ick. Talk about desensitizing.

I also worked in the church nursery that morning, but basically no one showed up. Amy came by to change her baby's diaper, and we started talking again about the whole curriculum issue. "Pat still hasn't found anyone else," Amy said. "I'm thinking I'll ask her if I could call the company and return the unused curriculum for a refund, or for credit toward the materials for next quarter."
"That's a good idea," I said. Pat's whole reasoning for why Amy should use the curriculum was that the church had paid for it, and we shouldn't waste the church's resources. Accepting Amy's offer would keep the church from losing that money and save Pat from having to find a teacher.

Amy went off to find Pat--though church was going on, Pat was in the teacher supply room; I had seen her there earlier. She came back, five minutes later, in quite a snit. "She said no, and then dumped on both of us. She said that we would just have to learn to live with it, until someone writes something better, because that's what we have."

Ok. So I still don't know who is teaching my kids this summer.

After evening church, I talked to Laurie--I wanted to know what curriculum the church I went to in high school used for their little kids, and Laurie's mom is heavily involved with the education program there. We had a really interesting conversation. Laurie told me that she thought the curriculum that we have was doing just fine--her boys all know the Bible backward and forward. I pointed out that this is because she teaches them a great deal at home, and probably has nothing to do with the education they get inside the church walls. "Well, the parents have to teach their kids at home," she said.
"But a lot of them don't," I told her. "Some of them just can't, and some don't really think about it. Some of them didn't grow up in the church--like me--and don't have any idea what to tell their kids. I'd love to encourage my students' parents to be more involved with teaching the Bible at home, but I feel awkward telling people how to raise their children. If they're not getting it here, some of them aren't getting it." And I went on to tell her that our students still don't really get the concept of Jesus as a person in time, as well as an infinite person. I told her about arguing with David over whether Jesus "really died," about my teen girls who take forever to look up anything that's not in the four Gospels, and how NONE of them got a joke about Jael that I put into the skit I wrote for them. Laurie was shocked. "They really aren't learning that stuff?" Nope.

She told me what curriculum they used at our old church--I had asked mostly because JC's younger sisters went through the kid Sunday school program there and they both have very strong Bible knowledge. Of course, JC's parents talked about the Bible at home too. That curriculum is from Sweet Publishing, but there's no mention of it on their website. I emailed them for some info, but of course they won't get back to me today, it being a holiday and all.

Finally, Laurie counseled me, rightly, to be really careful about Pat's feelings. My ambivalence toward Pat is so thorough, I'm not sure I could bring myself to hurt her on purpose--but I know I need to be careful not to do so accidentally. "The education program is her baby," Laurie said. The thing is, Pat herself has said that this curriculum is garbage, that the teachers have to add a lot and be very creative in order to get anywhere with it. What about the teachers who just do exactly what it says? Our students' parents feel like the kids have learned from our class, and they weren't before. Josh's mom especially--who is probably the most tuned-in of the bunch--has told us repeatedly that she loves that he is getting real "meat" every week. She loves that we are challenging him all the time. A lot of the teachers more or less ignore the curriculum (even Laurie, after making the usual, "but they'll get through the whole Bible in twelve years with 21st Century" argument, noted that she, "follows the storyline, but doesn't use many of the activities."). The finance committee thinks it's way overpriced compared to other curricula--which would be FINE if it actually worked.

I feel like I can't just go to Pat and say, "Can't everyone just make up their own curriculum? What we'll miss in breadth, we'll more than make up for in depth. JC and I don't have any kids, we don't know anything about teaching, we don't know anything about anything, but we made up our own curriculum as we went, and our kids learned from it." She'll tell me that the teachers are lazy and don't want to do any preparation work, which, if they're basically ignoring the curriculum, is not the case. I think if I go in there with a solution that is less expensive and more Bible-based, maybe she'll listen to me, particularly if I can take a few options and suggest that she make the final decision. I don't want a whole lot in a curriculum--just some sense, especially in the later grades, that the Bible is a document rooted in history and geography. I want something that asks the children to turn to the right passage in their Bibles rather than having the verses printed there. I would prefer something that the church could make a one-time investment in and reuse each year, or every two years, rather than these throw-away coloring sheets.

If you have any recommendations for curricula I haven't reviewed yet (or for polite, kind, and effective ways to approach Pat about this), please email or comment and let me know!

JC and I have decided that, next year, we are going to give the parents a note each week (give it to the parents, not to the kids to give to the parents!) outlining what we talked about, suggesting memory verses, perhaps some questions they might ask their kids. We really want the parents to discuss Sunday school material outside of Sunday school, but I don't think the kids are very forthcoming, and with the exception of Josh's mom, I don't think the parents push very hard.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Getting by...with a little help from my friends

A few days ago, Amy called me to talk about the teen girls at our church. She shares my concern that they aren't really learning how to be grown-up ladies in the church. She's frustrated that so many of the adults don't invite the girls to do those things that grown-up ladies do. How will they ever learn, if they don't do it themselves?

I'm frustrated too, but just knowing that Amy also felt like she was beating her head against the wall made me feel better, some how. I'm not alone! Woo!

We agreed that we shouldn't dwell too much on the things (like Girls' Day--planned and executed exclusively by the over-eighteen crowd) that we can't control. Instead, we're going to focus on doing what we can to get the girls to the point where they can really take some initiative on their own. I'm going to start asking them to plan and teach our once-monthly class. I'm also going to expand the range of activities we do in the class so that more than one girl gets to work on each one.

Autonomy comes even in the littlest things, though. After church on Sunday, Hanna came to me and said that the girls had really enjoyed the skit, and they were being asked to perform it a few other times through the year. "Could you write us a few more? We don't want to do the same one over and over all year," she said. I told her I would think about it--really I was just trying not to lose Joshua in the crowd. Now that I have thought about it, I think I shall ask them to take some initiative and write and direct these things themselves. When JC and I were in high school, we wrote several puppet shows every summer for the Vacation Bible School. They weren't that good, but they were serviceable, certainly. The one that I wrote for them this time wasn't that good either.

I'm curious how they will respond to this. Amanda has complained a few times that when her older brother was in the youth group, the kids just got together all the time and were really close. By my calculation, that was before they had a youth minister to depend on for getting everything done. It's easy to get lazy when you have someone else whose job is attending to the details. I want to really challenge them to attend to their own details. How to do that, though?

Amy also mentioned the idea of having a parenting class at the church. She initially seemed worried that people would be offended at the suggestion, but I reminded her that the church also offers a marriage class once per year--it doesn't mean that all the marriages in our church are falling apart, it just means that every marriage needs some work. I think the same is true of parenting. I've yet to meet a perfect parent (other than my mother-in-law, but she's a special saint, so she doesn't count!). Most of the parents of children we worry about are also worried about their children. They know they are missing something, they just don't know what. I think a lot of them would really like to take a parenting class. I'd like to take it, but I don't think they'd let me, since the only children I have are borrowed ones on short leases.

I'm really glad Amy called me--we came up with a few strategies, a few untapped resources, and some major solidarity. Knowing that I'm not alone is a great feeling.

Keeping Busy

Well, it's now one week until we close on our house. Life is pretty chaotic right now. It's ok, though--we're so excited about having our own cottage in the woods.

I had worried that I wouldn't have anything to blog about once JC and I took our hiatus from teaching this summer, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Now that people know what I'm working on, food for thought keeps finding me.

JC's sister brought me the August 2006 Gospel Advocate. The GA is not exactly in my must-read list, but I understand why she thought I should check out this issue. The cover read: "Putting the Bible back into Bible School." I'm glad to know that the editors of the Church of Christ publication of record and note agree with me that we're in a dire situation. The articles within had a few good ideas. There was one, entitled "Seven Ways for Parents to Help," by Roger D. Campbell, that I think I will Xerox and give to my students' parents next year. Every point he made seemed very obvious to me, but sometimes it's the obvious things that need stating: Ask your kid about class, get him there on time, go to class yourself.

How hard is that?

Pretty hard, apparently.

The cover article ("'I Have Found the Bible': Putting the Bible Back Into Bible School" by Al Bugg, Jr.) laid out some very practical advice. His number one suggestion was to ensure that the Bible is central to study. Ask even very little kids to read from real Bibles--from their own Bibles--he writes. Any curriculum that doesn't teach kids to navigate their Bible gets the big thumbs-down from me.

The last (depressing!) article to come my way this week was "Why Johnny Can't Believe," by James Patrick Holding. I discovered it while cruising the internet on the google search terms: "Sunday school failure." The title, a play on the excellent Why Johnny Can't Read--and What You Can Do About It, caught my eye. Titles are good for communicating the kid of person you are, and the kind of take you'll have on a problem. This title is a very good one in that it would not mislead someone who didn't catch the reference, but to someone familiar with the namesake work, it's an insider reference. Enough with the geeky English major digression.

The guy seems a bit obsessed with The DaVinci Code (he goes so far as to say, if your church doesn't have a planned, typewritten answer to those claims, it's not teaching. What's wrong with saying, "The DaVinci Code is fiction. Do you also believe that Peter Pan will come take you to Neverland if you think happy thoughts? If you meet someone named Harold, do you ask him for his purple crayon?"), but other than that, it's a great article. Holding makes an indictment of a church that is afraid to ask people to think, because those people might have thoughts that are inconsistent with the party line. Goodness knows, I do! He points out that people whose faith is rooted in habit have no defenses at all when faced with atheistic arguments. Do we want to raise habitual Christians? Of course not!

It's a good article, check it out.

I'm still trying to find articles that do a consumer reports-type look at curricula -- or something very practical about actually teaching middle-elementary Sunday school. There's not a whole lot out there, other than people trying to sell stuff.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Review: Bible Study Guide

Pat, the education coordinator from church, gave me a copy of a ring-bound Bible study guide for all ages, and it looks lovely! Unfortunately, I doubt that we could acquire it for use in our classrooms at church, as Amazon has it listed as a "classic," with one copy available for $40.

We really need to figure out something, though. The awful 21st-Century Christian fluff we use now is actually losing us teachers. Most recently, my friend Amy, who was supposed to teach my heathens this summer, on learning that this curriculum had been ordered for her (without consulting her), said she just couldn't get forty-five minutes of real education out of one of those lessons--and she's right. Pat insisted that, since it had been ordered, it must be used, and Amy told her that she would not, in that case, be teaching. I don't know who will be shepherding my flock this summer, but I know when I get them back, I'm going to have to start all over with the re-education process (mazes and complete-the-picture activities do not belong in Sunday school).

At least Josh is the only one I'm retaining; the rest will be coming up from the 2nd grade. Josh knows what to expect from us. When I told his mother about Amy and the curriculum situation, she was visibly upset. "They don't learn anything from that stuff!" she said, "They need meat at his age." She's right..but a summer of marshmallow fluff won't hurt them too badly, I hope.

Ok, I'm in love with this curriculum. Each lesson has a Bible story (and yes, they go in chronological order), drills (which can be things like saying the books of the Bible in order, putting biblical figures in chronological order, naming all of Jacob's sons, etc), review (preparation for the story), supplemental scriptures (tying the story to the larger context of the Bible), definitions of hard or Bible-specific words (disciple, psalm), discussion questions (ranked in order of importance), MAP ACTIVITIES! (I <3 maps!), timelines, and a visual of some kind (draw a picture about the story).

This is the best curriculum ever. It's a lot like what JC and I are doing, except more organized. It's designed to be used with people of all ages, together, with modifications for older or younger participants. I think that's a neat idea.

It's too bad this is basically out of print! But maybe we could get it...

I need to tell Pat that it's awesome. MUCH better than that 21st century nonsense. I think children (and adults) would really benefit from this kind of curriculum.


The other day, JC and I were discussing what we might teach when if we were trying to write a curriculum that would cover all ages. I think that the group we have now (3rd and 4th grades) is about ideal for a detailed look at the Old Testament--and if you have two years to do it, you can get through the whole thing fairly well. Much younger than that, and they can't really grasp the chronology (our students have a rough time with that even at their ages!). Any older, and they begin discovering that they really need all this background information to understand what they need to be learning about right then.

JC expressed distress and frustration that our students have no real understanding of Jesus as a being who is God and yet is not only God. The divine nature of Jesus, they are totally down with. They pray to Jesus. They sing "Jesus Loves Me." They view Him as an eternal being. Sweet.

But then you start talking about when Jesus lived--you talk about him being a human after Moses, but before Paul. You talk about Him living--walking on Earth--for thirty-three years. You mention the Holy Spirit. You get total blank looks.

I think my students understand the stories they know about Jesus' life in much the same way the ancient Greeks thought about the life of Zeus. He has a chronology, of sorts, but he spends a lot of time dropping in on humans to seduce them in the guise of a bull (Zeus), or heal and feed them (Jesus), and then going back to Mount Olympus/Heaven.

Because of this confusion, we thought it would be interesting to do a very linear study, complete with a timeline that the students would build, just as those in our current class have been building our family tree. We'd start with the birth and go, event by miraculous event, to the Ascension. Maybe studying the life of Jesus this way, instead of piecemeal as it is in the curriculum the church generally uses, would help the students get a sense of it as a single story.
For fifth and sixth graders, we think a very intensive, slow, and meticulous study of the last week of Jesus' human life would be in order. That age is more or less when most of them will get baptized, or start to seriously think about it, and they should really get the whole death/burial/resurrection thing before they do that. A study on the Holy Spirit would also be helpful for that age group. What's the point of receiving the "gift of the Holy Spirit," if you haven't a clue what or who the Holy Spirit is?

For the younger kids (five and under), we drew a blank. Maybe there is an age below which you actually can't do much other than tell stories that have animals in them and sing "Father Abraham."

There's plenty of material for 7th grade and up, so we didn't even bother discussing it.

Three for the Hebrew Children

Today, we discussed the Book of Daniel. We did a superquick look at it, but it's our second-to-last week with them...I don't know. We're doing Esther next week to wrap up. In the fall, when we're teaching them again (unless our summer sub wants to keep doing it), we're planning to do a pretty intense look at Kings, Chronicles, and that whole diaspora thing (isn't "diaspora" a cool word?). When we do that, we'll go really slowly and set up diagrams, timelines, etc. This right now is ending up being kind of an overview, drawing the moral lessons out of the stories.

The "moral" of today's story was the idea that God never leaves you without an exit strategy. The analogy we used was the way, in Looney Tunes, when Bugs Bunny is running away from someone and he finds himself in a dead end, he pulls out a marker, draws a door, and walks through it. We made a diagram with "dead ends" (Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-Nego get thrown in the furnace), and made them into open doors (God sends his angel to rescue them). The doors literally opened, too. Amanda wants to cut off one of the doors and take it home next week, for some reason. So, that was fun, and the kids seemed pretty happy. Amanda is seriously a handful sometimes. She interrupts us when we're trying to explain things and seems to never listen. About five times today, I had to ask her to quit messing with Josh's stuff and listen while JC was explaining something to them. I don't think she's ADD--I've worked with a kid who was, and it was nothing like this--but it wouldn't surprise me if she's at high risk for a misdiagnosis in that general direction. At one point, I said to her, "You're older than Josh is--can't you please be mature and set a good example?"
She replied, with plenty of attitude, "I'm not mature!"
"You've got a year on him," I told her, "and I expect you to try." That's the rough thing with Amanda--the adults in her life seem to tell her that she's wild and immature--and they mean these things as criticism, but she takes them as license. As in, "I'm immature, and I can't be expected to do anything about it."

I read a study once that said that the best thing to do for kids is to teach them self-discipline by praising effort rather than effortless successes. That made a lot of sense to me--what did I learn by people telling me I was a good reader? About half of nothing, because reading came easily to me. When my dad complimented the hard work I had done to earn high marks in high school chemistry, though, that meant something. I'm trying to think about how I can apply this to my teaching. The issue is that I only have these kids for one hour per week, and several of them (including Amanda) don't come every week. Amanda was fifteen minutes late (for a forty-five minute class) for the second week in a row. Today, her mom didn't get her there on time, which is one thing, but a lot of the time she's just hanging out somewhere at the church. We started doing a game involving putting the books of the Bible in order, which students can start whenever they get to class. We don't do it every week, but you can't win if you're very late. It was motivating the kids to urge their parents to get in on time, for a while. We might need to start that up again.

It's hard to praise a kid's effort when she's making almost none. The few times David put in some serious effort and produced something great, after a load of hard work, we made sure he left feeling really good about himself. What do you do with the kid who practically never makes any effort? We praise her for being a good and eager reader, but I know that's easy for her. She's not learning from that. I praise her any time she manages to stay focused for even five minutes, but sadly, that doesn't happen often.

I see her growing into a very entitled person, much like a number of those I encountered when I was a TA for writing classes in college. She's young enough, though, that she can surely divert her course. I just want to figure out how to help her do that. She and Lachlan are both advancing to the next class this fall (classes are in two-year brackets at this church--we teach third- and fourth-graders; they will be in fifth). "Miss Cathy," the fifth grade teacher, is notoriously strict. She's also old enough to be Amanda's mother and then some, rather than (like me) far too young. That age difference may make her less accessible, less pushable, than I am.

Still, I view my work with David this year as a partial success--he took a liking to us, for at least a while, he learned something, and he worked very hard when we pushed him to. My work with Amanda, though, has not been nearly so successful, I fear. She's a good kid. I just have had such a hard time finding common ground with her. I don't think we have much in common--she's kind of caught up in pop culture in a way I was always too geeky to be. She's not naturally attuned to any ideas of community. Part of the "prize" for the points they are earning is supposed to be some solo time with adults other than their parents; Amanda was the one who suggested a gift card. Maybe it's just my bias that makes me see that idea as pretty impersonal and mercenary.

The really rough part is, I feel so guilty for not liking this kid much, for not having a super connection with her.

Today, we took Josh to the Bookfair (his prize for hitting 25 points). It was WONDERFUL. He's a great kid, and an avid reader. I just love him to pieces. We went to Long John Silver's (his choice) for lunch first. His food came before ours, and he opened the package, and then put his head down on his arms (hair, yes, in the food), and prayed for two or three minutes before he ate. My head about exploded, it was so cute. He was terribly excited by the Bookfair, and made out like a bandit. He thanked us several times, and from the look on his face, you would think we had given him bars of gold. He said that all of the books looked so good, he couldn't decide what to read first, so he played eeny-meeny-miney-moe in the back seat. On the way home, we showed him where our new house is (we didn't go out there, but we pointed and said, "a few miles that way"). He asked, about six times, "But you'll still be teaching us in the fall, right?" I loved him for that, too. Talk about stroking the ego.

Of course, Josh needs another pair of loving adults in his life like he needs more books. Not only is he the beloved only child of two wonderful parents, but one set of grandparents lives in the same town (and sees him all the time), and the other set lives only an hour or so away. He's well-adjusted, his parents are married, his life is pretty good. The kids who need a concerned adult the most, not surprisingly, are the ones who are the most difficult to spend time with. Even when Amanda's not in my class any more, I'll keep trying to connect. She seriously needs that, I know. It's a real challenge for me, though.

I just read a WONDERFUL interview in The Rambler with Rafe Esquith, who is an award-winning teacher. He gets fifth-graders in inner-city LA to perform Shakespeare and read Huck Finn and Orwell and such. Crazy, yes? He can do this with children whose parents are drug dealers, and I can't even get a whiff of focus out of a little girl who lives in a pretty standard American (divorced, messy) family. I'm going to add his new book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, to my reading list, and see if that gives me any ideas.

It looks like we'll have all or mostly boys in the fall, and I'm going to spend the summer looking for ways to make class even more visual and tactile--the boys we've taught so far respond really well to graphic organizers and things they can move around. I'm glad to have the summer to prepare.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Last Sunday, the children got off easy. We actually did (shock horror) a craft. They were excited, because we practically never do crafts. They made bracelets for their moms. We talked about moms from the Bible, and about how God is like a mom (nurturing, loving, creative, hard-working). The bracelets came out a little short for moms (our friend at the bead store gave us some bad math). I was upset about that, but the kids were totally fine. "She can use it to pull the string on the fan," one kid said. Another pointed out that, while it might not fit Mom, it was just the right size for her.

My own mom came, which was really nice. She was a big help with Amanda, who was struggling with the beading. We also talked about how we're taking Josh to the Bookfair, because he reached his goal of 25 points. The girls are pretty close to the goal too, having stepped up their efforts since Josh beat them to it, and they talked about what we might do with them for their prize ("You could take us shopping. Or you could just give us a Peebles gift card."). Uhm. No, sorry. Amanda kept saying that she and Lachlan could do their prize together, but I need to make sure Lachlan is ok with that. She's kind enough not to tell Amanda that they aren't really best friends, as Amanda believes they are, but it's pretty clear that the two girls have very different ideas about their relationship.

The sermon, given by Mike, was really great, too. It was also about how God is like a mother, and how, without the female aspect of God, we have an incomplete picture. My mom really liked the sermon, though afterward she said, "Then why don't you let women speak in church?"

Good question. Some Churches of Christ do, we told her. I didn't have a great answer for that one--there's sort of conflicting New Testament information regarding women's roles in the religious community.

After church, we picked up Gary and Alex and met Mike and JoEtta for a picnic at the park. That was a lot of fun. I like for my mom to spend time with fun Christians, ones who don't balk every time my kid brother drops an F-bomb. Unfortunately, Mom sees these people as the exception, not the rule. Still, this was the best visit to my church that my mom has ever had, and that's a step.

Alex is probably living with us for about six weeks this summer, and doing an internship with the photo department at work. We're thinking about hosting a Sunday evening study group at our house (new house is about an hour from church...driving back there on Sunday evenings for small group....does not seem like something my limited willpower can accomplish regularly). I wonder if he'll participate....

Today is Girls' Day at church, and I need to go down there in a few hours to help with a skit I wrote for them. I've had a real struggle with this, because I don't really agree with how it's being run (Adult women are doing all the planning, and are speaking. The girls are just coming. Also, the girls didn't originate the idea or have much buy-in; one of the adult women just told them, "We're having a Girls' Day."). I think the girls would learn a lot more about how to be a woman in the church if they actually had to plan it. It's also been a struggle because there's been basically no flow of information. I didn't know until Wednesday what time I needed to be there. Last night, as JC and I were leaving work and driving to Bethany and Peter's for dinner, I got a phone call from one of the girls (I still can't figure out who it was) saying that they were all there decorating for Girls' Day, and could I please come down to help? I was, at this point, about an hour from the church. I had seen the woman who is running the thing on Wednesday and the previous Sunday. No one had said anything to me about when we were decorating. I told the girl that I was sorry, but no one had asked me to come, and I had other plans.

I guess what bothers me is that I really dislike being angry at church people. In this particular case, I like this person a great deal. And yes, I've tried to talk with her about this, and so has Amy. She just gets defensive and angry.

JC said he was proud of me for saying "no" last night (which I almost never do), but I felt pretty crappy about it. And, of course, what else was I going to do? We were far away. By the time I got there, they would have been mostly done.

Ok, need to get breakfast and pack some boxes before going to Girls' Day. Wooo.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Restoration Roots

First off, I love that map loco thing at the bottom of the page--you guys come from all over, and it's really exciting to me to get visits from people in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the UK, Japan, Korea, etc. Plus, every now and then, there's a hit from some place I actually know or somewhere I've lived (I was in Bethel Park, PA for about a year when I was six, and there's a regular from there). Sometimes I see places that I recognize because a friend lives there, and I always wonder, "Rachael? Is that you?" Anyway, leave a comment, let me know who you are, why you're here, will you come back?

Second order of business: My much-lauded Digg button has evaporated. It should be over there to the left. It was there the last time I checked...I'll have to look into that, but not right now, as my internet connection is acting weird.

JoEtta pointed out, correctly, that it was rather arrogant of me to insist that there aren't any good books on the Church of Christ, in a historical/theological kind of way. It turns out that there are several, but you only find out about them if you go to a Church of Christ university. She lent me several, and I just finished Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ.

It's a very interesting introductory look at the historical currents that brought about the Church of Christ, with a focus on other Restorationist groups (Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists, even Mormons) and how we all are different. The authors, C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes, were both professors at Abilene Christian University. They do a very fair and ecumenical job of presenting the Restorationist arguments behind each group's thoughts, and they argue repeatedly against the culture of historical blindness present in the Church of Christ. "The sweeping rejection of tradition," they write, "results not in a traditionless and culture-free faith but in a faith even more vulnerable to blind traditionalism." Brilliant stuff.

However, in the section on Anabaptists (Amish, Church of the Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites), I was really caught off guard by what the authors described as the major difference between Anabaptists and the Churches of Christ.

"The [Anabaptists] paid
little attention to the various forms and structures that have been important to the Churches of Christ in America...There is, for example, little evidence that [Anabaptists] concerned themselves with matters of church organization. Their chief concern instead was for the rule of Christ in the lives of the believers. And while the [Anabaptists] said little about the frequency of the Lord's Supper, they spoke much of its meaning and significance. Further, while they often practiced immersion, their first concern was for the baptism of adults who would commit themselves without reservation to the way of the cross."
I hate to kick my own church, but doesn't the Anabaptist focus sound...better? We Church of Christ folks come out pretty legalistic in that offing. (By way of disclosure, I should mention that my best friend is Mennonite, I live in the Menno capital of Virginia, if not the Eastern US, and a large number of the people at Rosetta Stone are Menno). It's interesting, because we talk a lot in our adult classes about avoiding legalism, and how what Christ brings is freedom from a legalistic mindset--but I can't imagine anyone ever suggesting that, hey, we take Communion every week, we stop thinking about it, stop appreciating it. Let's just skip it this week and it will mean more next week. I think that would cause a riot. We've also got some messy legalistic stuff about whether or not you can clap your hands along with hymns (I don't, but I think that's a matter of personal preference...others make a theological argument against it). When I look at my church, which has made a very good attempt at restoring the forms and practices of the "primitive" church (I hate that term, and it was all over this book. It makes Jesus & friends sound like cavemen. What's wrong with .. "Late Classical"?), I wonder why we chose to focus on that. True Campbellites would argue that the Bible provides a blueprint for Christian forms, and if we follow it, everyone will join our church and we'll be a unified Christian body once more. I hate to say it, but that whole uniting Christianity in the one true church thing doesn't seem to be working. We're not exactly the fastest growing denomination out there.

I don't know if the Mennonites are growing at all, but I admire their focus on capturing the spirit and motives of the first-century church. I love their passionate servant mindset, their radical pacifism, their insistence on living in a community.

I guess my question isn't why am I a member of the Church of Christ, rather than a Mennonite? (Rob says, "You can never become a Mennonite!") I think my question is, why choose? Why do we have to have form or spirit? Why not form and spirit?

I don't get it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Digg it

My grandfather once wrote a textbook about archeology called (I am not making this up) Dig It, Man!

Following in the familial footsteps (and at Rob's advice), I'm adding Digg This buttons to the site. When you see stuff that you think is very neat...well, Digg it. I was going to do it on every post, but now I'm thinking that no one will want to digg any individual post in significant numbers, so I'm just putting it on the page overall.

If you think something on the site is neat, hit the "Digg This" button, and write a quickie note about it. It doesn't take very long at all, I promise.

More about the Sunday school later. Mom is coming to visit for Mother's Day, along with her fiance and my li'l brudder. Mom doesn't really like going to church with me, and it seems like every time she does come (twice, in the six years since my baptism), the sermon is one of those that makes me want to crawl in a hole and die. Example: The last time she came, it was the 45th anniversary of my congregation. I thought the guest preacher (I think he used to be the minister there, way back when) would preach about the joys of our church family. What better day to bring my mom than a celebration day, right?

He preached about obedience to God, and his primary example was the destruction of the Amelekites. Super. Needless to say=awkward conversation with Mom after (all those hard questions: "How can you love a God who punishes someone for not going through with, effectively, genocide?" uhm. Sometimes, I don't know.).

But this Sunday is Mother's Day, a day when we can usually count on a vaguely feminist sort of feeling from pulpit and pews, and rumor has it that my friend Mike is preaching. How much more safe can you get than Mother's Day at a church in the south?

When I was talking to Mom about her visit, she asked me, "Do you have church obligations on Sunday?"

Obligations? That's like asking her if she has...I don't know...contra dance obligations. It's not an obligation, I'm going because I want to, and because I love it--and, yes, because I'm obliged to teach Sunday School.

We have a Mother's Day craft, thanks to the help of Bead Store Maggie, our next-door neighbor. I told Mom that I'd appreciate it if she came, because an extra pair of hands would be a big help with the kids and the craft thing. We'll see if she bites.

Interestingly, my li'l brudder might be living with us this summer. I'm curious as to whether he'll come to even one service with us. We're talking about hosting a Sunday night group at our house, rather than drive the two-hour round-trip twice each Sunday (or trying to enjoy our Sabbath while killing time for the six hours between services). I wonder if he'll come to that.

Ok, back to digging....or probably playing some Civilization--even your devoted Sunday schoolmarm needs a bit of recreational computing every now and again.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A day of rest, eh?

Well, this has been a good, generally mellow weekend. But it's just after 8 and I'm feeling pretty wiped out already. Sundays end up being a lot busier for us than I would like, mostly with church stuff.

Today, JC taught our class by himself, while I attempted to do some work on Girls' Day with TGS. More on those later...

After class, JC and I volunteered in the nursery during services. Sarah, who used to be in our class, came by to hang out. We should probably have scolded her for not staying in the auditorium, but she's such a pleasant kid, I couldn't bring myself to fuss at her. Nursery was pretty low-key. We only had two girls in there, both about eighteen months. One funny/sad thing--Haven, Amy's daughter, was sitting in the rocking chair. JC was standing on the other side of the room looking at some of the toys. Suddenly, Haven furrowed her brow, took her pacifier out of her mouth, pointed at him and said, "No daddies!" Whenever he tried to help her with something, she repeated that at him. Like, "There aren't supposed to be daddies in the nursery; why are you here?" She wasn't angry or anything, just completely perplexed.
"It's ok," I told her. "He's not anyone's daddy." She pretty much ignored that, or didn't understand it. I worry about the messages our church sends to children, especially girls. Why shouldn't men work in the nursery? JC's the only one on the list, and the lady who solicits volunteers for it asked me especially if JC would mind. "We notice that he watches the babies in church," she said. "I just need to fill one more slot, and none of the women are available. Do you think he would mind?"
JC grew up with three sisters, two of them younger than him. He loves babies--and yes, he definitely selects our seat in the assembly based almost exclusively on where the families with babies sit.
JC is good with babies. He loves them. I want to have babies one of these years, and I want him to be a good, involved, and diaper-changing father. Where else will young men learn these skills if we bar them from the nursery? There's the conflicting issue of...limiting women's roles mean that women defend their allowed roles very seriously. Men aren't allowed in the nursery because women want something that's theirs. That's sad, but understandable.

So, after church, we moved a lot of stuff around and traded classrooms with another teacher. Our classroom is too big--the kids just randomly get up and wander around. It also echoes a lot when they are noisy. The other teacher has younger kids--first- and second-graders, and often more of them (sometimes as many as 14, where we hardly ever have more than 4). It was a trade that made sense, and I think will serve both groups well. It was a lot of work, though, and I was exhausted by the end of it.

We came home, ate some lunch, and then realized that the cat was missing--much wailing and gnashing of teeth----and an hour later, we found her, where she had jumped into the neighbor's window, and the neighbor's five-year-old had closed the window because she likes our cat and wanted to keep her "just for today." Cat recovered, success! Then, a little reading together, some housework, and JC had to go to a finance meeting for church. In a few more weeks, we won't be teaching for a while, but we're still on a half-dozen committees, and of course, getting ready to move house at the end of May, and balancing career (writing for RS) with hoped-for-career (querying every magazine under the sun, on topics as diverse as CouchSurfing and visiting presidential towns). We're too busy right now, and I don't like that.

So, class. Here's JC's report. He had them draw connections between the miracles of Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and the apostles. He was trying to get them to categorize the miracles a bit, and think about how these individuals prefigure each other. JC was surprised to discover that, although they could see the connections between, say, walking on water and parting the Red Sea, they didn't want to put them into a category of "miracles controlling water." Maybe it's just the small sampling in our class, or maybe kids that age just tend to be more splitters than lumpers. He said that he had fun with them--it was just Lachlan and Josh again, as I think Amanda spends some weekends with her dad. He had them draw a mind map about the miracles and the individuals, and they liked that a lot--they love to write on the whiteboard, and graphic organizers are great for getting them involved.

As for me...I had a much less satisfying experience with TGS this morning. We were supposed to be rehearsing the skit, but only four out of seven girls showed up, and only two of remembered their scripts. That was ok though, because there was a lot of other stuff we needed to do for Girls' Day. Angie, who is organizing it, said that she had to stay home that morning (I think one of her kids is under the weather), and she asked Amy and me to work with the girls on some of the planning that remained to be done for the Girls' Day. That's when things started to go very, very badly. "What have you guys done for planning Girls' Day?" we asked them. They shrugged.
"Angie just told us we were having Girls' Day, and that's the last we heard of it," Hanna said.
"Angie said that you were in charge of decorations," Amy tried. This was the first the girls had heard about it.
"What's our budget for decorations?" one of them asked.
"Since we don't know, basically nothing," Amy told her.
We tried to brain storm with them about a few things that we could do around the "princess" theme. Ideas included using things from people's homes (like my princess dream net), possibly asking recently-married people if they had any fancy things or lengths of tulle around or something. The girls were not excited, and why would they be? They weren't given any agency in this at all. Angie's concept for the Girls' Day was that the adults would plan it and the girls would just come. At my in-law's church, they've had a few Girl's Days, but always entirely planned and executed (including leading singing, teaching sessions, etc) by the girls. It was a great learning experience for JC's sisters. They realized how much goes into planning that kind of thing, and they began to think about church events in a different--and much more realistic--way. When I heard that our girls were doing a Girl's Day, I hoped it would be like that--but it's not. So we were stuck trying to work with them on an aspect of the project that they hadn't previously been involved in, and didn't want to do. They also worked on some sashes for our skit, and did a great job on that--because they wanted to. They got to design them themselves. Amy and I stayed out of it, just gave them the materials. They organized themselves, found additional materials, passed out jobs, and came out with beautiful sashes. They'll be proud of wearing them in the skit. They have ownership.

Dealing with this whole thing has been seriously challenging. I hope that the Girls' Day goes well, and that next time, the girls are encouraged to do more. As Amy said, "Sure, you put a fifteen-year-old in charge of food and you might only end up with peanut butter sandwiches, but she learns. And who knows, she might surprise you."

I'm glad Amy will be taking over my class for the summer. She's a great mom (and therefore is FAR more qualified than I am to teach!), and she shares my values about education in the church--not so much with the coloring sheets, yay for real scholarship. She understands very clearly our need to balance kids' need to be kids with their need to learn what it means to be an adult in our church community.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

TGS: The Play

As it turned out, the girls really liked the little play I wrote for them. I was afraid they wouldn't get it, or they'd think the jokes were dumb, but they were really positive. We did a read-thru and blocking last night. I'm glad Amy was there--I definitely needed the moral support! I felt so discombobulated all day yesterday.

I worried that, having directed in grad school, I wouldn't be very good at directing amateurs again. I was concerned that my snobbery and impatience would get the better of me. Instead, I had a great time with them last night. They're not perfect, of course. No one has even the tiniest semblance of technique. That stopped mattering, though. I rejoiced when they found the funny things that I had hidden in there for them. I found that I had underestimated them--I didn't have to explain nearly as much as I thought I would.

They all speak too fast, they all mumble, and they all turn their backs to the audience--but you know, I don't care. They'll be fine. It will be a good little play.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

It's late, and I need to go to bed. Just two things.

First, I'm not sure if I've posted the link to Mars Hill Bible Church previously, but you should check it out. Their website is amazing (we're working on redoing our church site, and I just pray ours can be half as inviting as theirs), their sermon podcasts ROCK, and apparently they're really energizing the church in Grand Rapids. I found them on a website (which was not very good, and did not contain the information I was looking for) about the "Church of Christ-Emergent." What is that? (that's what the website didn't tell me) Is it related to the Restoration-Stone-Campbell Church of Christ or is it something entirely different (see also: International Church of Christ, United Church of Christ)? Anyone?

Normally people trying to make the church more "accessible" just tick me off. They water everything down and put it to pop music. This church, though, whatever they're doing is SO "accessible" and yet astute, and very deep. I want to learn more about this, and bring it home.

The other thing is this--just a smidge of an email I wrote to Rob. One of my old writing teachers used to say that the first two-thirds of everything you write is just garbage you need to get out of your brain until you get to the real stuff. I think that means I've just hit the two-thirds mark, because I found myself writing something I've been looking for since September. It's my mission with all this. And my goodness, is it ever ambitious! Nigh impossible....

Before I do this--backstory--Rob was my manager's manager's manager for a while at RosettaStone. Now he's at Stanford, getting an MBA. Rob is one of the smartest people I know, and when I told him I wanted to do something -- but I didn't know what -- with Sunday school, he told me to start a blog ("Like the Long Tail guy"). It's because of Rob that you're reading these words at all.

From the email:

I think I’ve even figured out exactly what it is that I want to accomplish through this whole thing. Eco-evangelism is huge right now, and growing. Some genius in the green movement realized that churches are powerful. Then he convinced the churches that environmentalism fit perfectly with the church’s morality. I think that’s what I want to do for education. The schools are very seriously failing the churches—and I don’t mean in terms of divisive issues like prayer in schools or evolution. I mean more in terms of giving students geography, history, and reading comprehension skills. Likewise, the churches are failing the schools. They aren’t creating citizens who understand self-sacrifice or honesty. Schools, like the one where my mom is a guidance counselor, now have “character-building” programs, which belong more in churches than in schools. I want to get both sides to stop failing each other. Modest goals, right? I think I’ll start with the churches, though.

Lessons on Elijah

Hello, faithful readers! I'm ever so sorry I've been a blog slacker. Life has been crazy, with the house (looks like we are buying it--closing May 29!), lots of family stuff (my gran in the hospital, each of JC's sisters being a nut in her own unique way), and some really challenging situations (though, unfortunately, not challenging assignments) at work. a special prize, here's a link to the play I wrote for the teen girls' day (May 19, email me for more info if you live in VA and are interested in attending) at our church. The theme/guiding book for the day is For Such a Time as This, by Lisa Ryan, who was a Miss California or something. Thus, the play is a beauty pageant. Not my finest work, but I think it's a pretty decent attempt, for something I wrote in a few hours. Hearsing it tonight, rehearsing it on Sunday.

So, Sunday school.
Well, first some sad news--David and his family moved a few weeks ago, without saying goodbye to anybody. I just heard through the grapevine that he wouldn't be in my class any more. I don't believe they left a forwarding address or anything. He's had a few rough deals in his life--I hope he turns out ok.

So, the past two weeks, we've been talking about Elijah with the kiddies. They seem to really get into Elijah--and they remembered some stories from other parts of the Bible and made connections!!! I really felt like we had made some serious progress with them, given that, when we started, they couldn't even piece together a rough chronology (and I mean rough, as in, who came first, Jesus or Moses?). We had to ask some leading questions, but they drew the connections themselves, the first week that we talked about Elijah, between the widow's flour lasting forever and Jesus feeding the multitudes, between Elijah resurrecting the widow's son and Jesus resurrecting people. "If you had grown up with a tradition that Elijah was going to come back some day, and then there's Jesus walking around resurrecting people, who would you think he was?" we asked them.

"Elijah," they said. So we had them read Mark 8:27-29. I think they've probably seen that passage before, but I doubt they fully understood it. They were really excited to have figured out something new about that passage. We also read the bit about where Elijah and Moses appear to Jesus and some of his friends. I'm not sure they really get this whole people-coming-back-from-beyond thing. They're all growing up in Christian families, but the idea of Jesus coming back must be pretty hard for a kid to get his mind around (or for an adult, for that matter!)

The second week we talked about Elijah, we discussed how he found Elisha and taught him. Josh & Lachlan were in a giggly mood for some reason and reading all that stuff about Elijah and Elisha just escalated the giggles. They were giggly in an involved, and not very loud, sort of way, though, so I didn't mind. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. They were so excited from last week, when remembering stories from other parts of the Bible helped them understand what we were studying, that they searched for those kinds of connections everywhere. When Elijah parted the water in the Jordan, both of them shouted, "Like Moses!" Granted, that's a pretty easy one, but I love that they are starting to think about the interconnected story that is the Bible. That was one of my goals for them, and we're getting there! :)

The chariot of fire was a pretty crazy one to explain. We did our best, and Lachlan said it reminded her of some commercial--since we don't have cable or even an antenna (TV=PS2/DVD monitor), we had no idea what she was talking about, but Josh agreed.

Here's a rough one to explain to little kids: Elijah doesn't exactly die. He...ascends? I think my theology is a bit vague on this kind of situation, which made it harder. JC wasn't there (he was feeling ill). When I asked him about it later, he said that his feeling was that Elijah was so in tune with the nature of God that he could transition from a physical being into a spiritual being without needing to go through the transformative experience of death. I thought that was interesting, and I wish that he had been there to say that, because I really floundered.

"Do you guys remember which other person in the Bible walked with God and didn't die?" I asked them. Joshua went over to the family tree and looked at the names--he knew it was early, but he couldn't remember who. He was looking in the right place, though, and where we had recorded the ages of the early folks, he saw Enoch and a note about him walking with God. "So, is Enoch still alive?" asked Lachlan. "Gross!"
"Well, he's not exactly alive, physically, in the world. He's with God...he just didn't have to die."

Yeah, I'm not so good at this metaphysical stuff.

We're taking the summer off from Bible class, but Amy is going to take over, and I know she'll do a great job--and NOT let them get spoiled with stupid coloring sheets and word searches!! They're really learning now; they've finally built a critical mass of knowledge, and they are starting to develop connections on their own. I LOVE this. This is the most fun and rewarding thing I've done all year (other than marrying my high school sweetheart... <3).

AND they are going to love this--for once we're doing a CRAFT in Sunday school. On Mother's Day, I'm going to bring in some wire and beads and things and we're going to make necklaces for our moms. Any ideas about scripture or stories I could do with this?

Also, JC's mom finally sent us the topic for Bible bowl in the fall--1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, and Titus. That's a passel of books I haven't studied much, so we should have a good time with that...if the kids want to do it. Which I don't know that they will, but we shall see.

Ok, it's officially time for me to start my work day. Sigh. I wish my job was teaching Sunday school... :)