Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"I Don't Believe in Jesus" (a post where I get all Christocentric on you)

Over the past 7 months I have been spending most of my time as a stay at home mom.  And, as a priest without an altar (I refuse to say without a call, because I most certainly do have one) I have had the blessing of getting to pick what kind of volunteer ministry I want to participate in at our new church.  So, like any other clergy person who gets to be a pew dweller I picked the fun job--kindergarten Sunday School teacher!

Every Sunday, following the 9 o'clock service, I head down to the basement to play, pray and teach for an hour.  I love it.  And, I love that I have the opportunity to help create a strong and solid foundation for some of our youngest parishioners.  

Currently we are in the midst of Epiphany.  And, this last Sunday, we read the story of the miracle at Cana--a story in which many exclamatory words were used: "discovery!"; "revealed!"; "finding!"; "understanding!"  And, as I worked to help them understand the notion of revelation, one of the kids decided it would be amusing to declare, "I don't believe in Jesus."

Now, there was a glint in his eye and a smirk to his lip.  And, I could SEE the double dog dare he was proposing.  And, I took a breath, because I had nine 5 year olds staring at me...waiting, just waiting to see what I would say.  So, here is the rough paraphrase of our conversation on Sunday,

Kid 1 (steely look to his eye and a smirk on his face) "I don't believe in Jesus"
Me "that's fine, but in Sunday School we learn about Jesus"
Kid 2 (with a giggle) "lots of people don't believe in Jesus"
Me "you're right, lots of people believe other things"
Kid 3 (stated with increased volume) "I don't believe in Jesus either!"
Me (growing exasperated because all I wanted to do was read the gosh darn story of the wedding at Cana from the oh so lovely and well put together children's Bible offered via the amazing archbishop Desmond Tutu) "that's fine, but we are going to keep learning about Jesus because we are in Sunday School"
Kid 3 "that's fun?!"
Me: "no I said, fine.  Fine, not fun.  You can believe whatever you want!  But, I'm going to teach you about Jesus so you can make an intelligent choice about what you believe!"

Grrrr, who said teaching kindergarten Sunday School would be easy?

Of course, this was before I had to confiscate one child's toy brought from home and after a rousing discussion of why on earth Jesus would serve the best wine last...notably, I refrained from telling them that one would customarily serve the best booze first because the inebriated guests wouldn't care about the declining quality of the alcohol as the evening progressed.

But, ultimately, this conversation summed up why I feel so strongly about faith education for small children--I want people to know what they are rejecting.  I want people to know the stories, the traditions, the trajectory, the history and the present.  I want them to know how Christianity has been used and abused, and I want them to know what it means to actually work (as a Christian) for peace and justice in the world.   And, I want these kids to have a strong foundation so that  if they do choose a different path they at least know enough about Christianity that they can make intelligent and informed decisions.  

And, in the midst of the politics of hate and waves of intolerance coming from folks who profess to believe in Jesus, I want these kids to be able to look people in the eye and tell them that Christianity doesn't teach hatred.  I want them to be able to show and tell that Christians are capable of love and acceptance.  I need them to know that there are progressive folk out their in the world trying to bring about justice and peace for everyone--and that some of those folk believe in Jesus.  I don't want them to throw out the baby with the bathwater...because the baby did no wrong.  The baby just lived and grew and loved and learned--the baby that grew into a man who embraced the world.

I want these kids to embrace the world and be open to the possibility.  I want to meet the challenge of cynicism (even in the eyes of 5 year olds) with the challenge of love in return.  I want to meet the contagion of peer pressure and group think with the radical notion that you are perfect exactly as you are.  I want to make it clear that no matter how hard you work to reject the gifts you are given that those gifts will still be given...gracefully and freely.

So, how does one follow up this kind of conversation...how does a Sunday School teacher go on?

Well, you bust out the glue sticks and the goldfish crackers.

You have a snack and do some crafts.

You turn water into wine,

and, at the end of the day,

you hold onto the hope that if they can believe in love they have a shot at believing in Jesus.

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