Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas Party!

Sorry, our class does not have a Christmas party. We have a regular class period, which consists mostly of suffering. We cover Christmas themes and consume a modest amount of candy.
This is the kids' favorite part of the Christmas class:
I remind the children that for a long time most people couldn't read, and that even if they could, there weren't many books available, including the Bible. So one way people learned their faith was through pictures. All the kids know what a Nativity scene looks like, but what they don't know is that the components of a Nativity relate to prophecies by Isaiah (they already know who Isaiah is).
So what we do is make our own nativity scene, with Isaiah as our guide. That is, we'll create a New Testament portrait by using the Old Testament. As the kids name each image that goes in the picture based on each bit of Scripture, I draw that bit on the board.
I read the following passages from Isaiah one at a time:
7:13-14 Hear ye now, O house of David...the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Mary (and Joseph) are drawn, but not the (baby) son, for reasons that will become apparent later....maybe you can guess.
40:9 ......O Jerusalem, you bring good tidings (evangelousious) not afraid, say...Behold your God!
This one isn't so obvious. First we recall from Luke 2 what the shepherds heard, "Be not afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy," and compare that to the Isaiah passage to see how Luke borrows from Isaiah to show Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled. Then I write 'ev/angelousious' on the board, and explain how it means good/tidings, good/news, good/message in Greek (they've already been exposed to other Greek words such as bishop and euthanasia). Focusing on the good/message translation, I erase the front and back of evangelousious so we have angel, and the kids figure out that an angel is a....messenger! (and since the message comes from heaven, the messenger is shown with......wings!) On the board go a couple of winged messengers.
40:10-11 Behold, the Lord GOD.....shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom. 60:7 All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee.
This is an easy one, I draw shepherds and lambs.
60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. 2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
The star of course....

60:3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
The three kings...not that Scripture says anything about three of them, but there were three presents, and nobody brings more than one present, so.....
60:6 The multitude of camels shall come... ones, Isaiah says they're Dromedaries, not two-humped Bactrians.
....they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the LORD.
Gold for a king, incense for worshiping God, (myrrh to bury the dead); I doodle a few pots.

1:2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: " I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me; 3 The ox knows its owner And the ass its master’s manger But Israel does not know, My people do not consider."
An ox and an ass, naturally, with giggles about, you know, an ass. And let's look at the French word for "eat": manger (meɪnʤə). So what's a manger? Yes, it's what the animals eat out of, the name tells us so. And whose manger is it? The master's, yes, and who is the master? Yes, Jesus, so at last I draw the baby in the manger.
And let's notice that Isaiah says Israel doesn't know the master, but the dumb animals the ox and ass do (maybe they aren't so 'dumb'), and as we see from the picture we've drawn, the humble, uneducated shepherds know who Jesus is, and so do the Gentile Kings, who aren't even Jewish. So we see that Jesus came for the Jews, for non-Jews (that's us), the rich and the poor. Jesus came for everyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beim Schlafengehen

The whole process of getting old is ever fascinating, and the older I get, the more I'm interested in the perspectives of those who are older still, especially those who know themselves to be on the cusp of death. About 25 years ago, by chance I checked out a CD by soprano Kiri Te Kanawa: Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss. Composed in the last year of his life, they are about death. The mood, which was striking then to a young man, and grows more meaningful each year, is one of peace, pleasant tiredness, acceptance of mortality.

Among the four, I return the most to Beim Schlafengehen (At the Going to Sleep, my translation); a poem by Hermann Hesse, set to music by Strauss.

The words are effective even without music, and in English:

Now the Day wearies me;
all my longing Desires should
sweetly succumb to the starry Night
like a tired Child. Hands, let go of all Work;
Brow, forget all Thoughts.
Now all my Senses
would sink themselves in Slumber.
And my unregarded Spirit
would rise on spread Wings
in Night's magic realm
to live deep and thousandfold.

At age 51, I'm not the least bit tired of living, or better put, tired from living. But such work as this helps me imagine being that tired. It shows that one may reach such a point in life, and that although death is something I would avoid now, I may feel different much later, when death might seem to be more of a transition and less of an ending.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Barney & St. Augustine

From time to time students will mention that their big brother/ grandmother/ one or both of their parents doesn't go to church. This usually crops up when we discuss the 4th Commandment, Honor Thy Father and Mother. My standard response is that, as children, they don't have any authority over their parents, but that they should certainly pray for whomever they wish to be closer to God.

This year was a little different, and I didn't have to mention anyone's relatives. I started by discussing the 15-year period in my life that I didn't take God seriously, and used that as an intro to that famous sinner St. Augustine (who has a city named after him in Florida, but it's pronounced differently). I explained how his mother, St. Monica (who has a beachtown named after her in Spanish) prayed for about 15 years (!) that her dissolute son would have a change of heart and return to the Christian faith of his childhood. Eventually Augustine did just that, and in time became a great saint. Maybe someone prayed 15 years for me, too; not that I'm a saint, but if anyone has relatives they wish were closer to God, do as St. Monica did and pray for them.

"Now, everybody, sing along!
I love you, you love me,

We're a happy family
With a great big hug
And a kiss from me to you,
Won't you say you love me too"

You should see all the laughing faces as the kids join in singing the theme song from Barney the reason they're laughing is that it makes no sense to be singing Barney in Wednesday Night Sunday School. Another reason is that they're too old to watch now, but it's fun to remember when they were little that they are 11 or 12 and too mature for Barney.

"Hey, how many of you used to watch Barney when you were little?" Nearly every hand goes up.
"Who still watches?" No one, except a couple who sheepishly admit they still do sometimes.
"Why don't you watch anymore?'s for little kids. 
If you watched it now, how would you like it?
We'd be bored. 
Why would you be bored? You used to think it was interesting.
Because we're smarter now...we're older.
Right. You're older, you know more now, you want something more interesting. Stuff from when you were 4 years old doesn't engage your brain anymore. This is the problem a lot of people have with taking God seriously as they get older. Y'all are going to be done with Wednesday Night Sunday School in two more years, after you are Confirmed. That's the last time many people learn about God. Imagine when you're a grownup that all you know about God is what you learned when you were 13. Can you guess how boring God will seem? More boring than you think Barney is right now. This is why you have to keep learning about God all your life: God is way more interesting than Barney, but an adult that has a kid's knowledge of God is going to think Barney and God are both for kids. Some people you may know have this problem; like St. Monica, you should pray for them. And as you get older, make sure you keep learning about God and his Church so that it's never boring to you.

That way nobody in your family will someday be praying for you to come back to church."

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Each class usually starts with a recap of the previous class, not to exceed 5 minutes. The recap is done from a sheet of notepaper which has maybe 5 words or phrases I wrote down after the previous class. I punch holes in the notepaper and it goes in my class binder in front of this week's lesson plan. If time permits, the recap may have some new ideas as well. New ideas will always tie the recap to something else: a Bible story, something Catholic, something they already learned, or something that they'll be learning in the future, i.e, anticipating a future lesson.

For example, last week we finshed up with a bit about Elisha & Elijah using Elijah's cloak to cross over Jordan on dry ground (2Kings 2). Part of this week's recap added a reenactment of Elijah putting his cloak over Elisha in the field to show Elisha would succeed Elijah (1Kings 19); using the chicken bone relic to remember that Elisha's bones brought a dead man back to life (2Kings 13:20); and finally recalling that Elijah, who was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, later appeared talking with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matt17).

God's grace, God's power, can go through physical things. This theme prepares the class for understanding Sacraments.

Later on, when we learn about Elisha and Naaman as a prelude to baptism (2Kings 5), they'll already have some idea of who Elisha is.