Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review 6: Y'all Do What Ya S'posed T'Do

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Liguori Publications has recently published Classroom Management for Catechists by fellow South Carolina catechist Jennifer Fitz. I received a review copy which I have now thoroughly marked up. I've been catechizing since 1998, so I have lots opinions about running a classroom, and love to compare them to what other catechists think. Here are some of my observations on a chapter-by-chapter basis (but not necessarily using each chapter’s title):

1. Your World as a Catechist

You're a volunteer and an amateur. Yikes! Angst! No! Don't be afraid; and don't forget why you're a catechist. You know- "because you want to share Christ with your students." Umm...yes! That pretty well covers it. And being a volunteer amateur gives you a lot of discretion as to how you'll teach. You know about the Holy Spirit and the charism business, right? You got some gifts, so figure out what they are and then use 'em.

2. The Elements of Discipline

Oh yeah- just say it out loud: DISCIPLINE. 'Cause if the little pagans don't behave, there won't be much Christ-sharing going on. Right away Jen notes that "vague admonitions...don't really mean much," and proceeds with "The Six E's." I won't cover all of them, but then that's why there is a book.

Set an Example: I do set an example, but hadn't quite put it in these pithy terms: "This is how Christians behave; this is how you should behave." But mos def the kids will never take class more seriously than you do. So act and look serious.

Environment: Uh-oh. There's a ton of stuff in here which I think applies more to littl'uns than the proto-teenagers I have in 6th-grade. But I do follow this advice: "Remove Temptations." Like Jen, I "bring visual aids and props," and if that stuff isn't out of sight until the instant it's relevant, it's a distraction.

Keep 'em Engaged: "If your students have nothing to do, they will think up something to do." This ties into having a lesson plan that will fill the whole class period. But if it doesn't, Jen offers some easy quick fixes. I know from experience they work.

But to keep the YouTube Generation engaged doesn't require Technology In The Classroom: "...stand out by offering human interaction." Ask leading questions, guide discussion, encourage the kids to take an active role in their own learning experience.

Enforce: I like the sound of that- ENFORCE. But Jen first points out that "You cannot control your students. You cannot." A timely observation: just this week I experienced the oddest behavior I've ever seen in a classroom in my entire life, and we just worked around it 'til class was over. Anyway, Jen lists about 10 discrete problems and solutions from her own classroom; and to the extent that I have those problems, my solutions are virtually the same.

Encourage: Jen has about a half-dozen ideas here. My favorite is Personal Encouragement: praise the kids out loud when they do well, and encourage them to keep trying when the answers are wrong. I generally think of the kids in class just like I think of my own kids: I love them and want to maintain an environment in which they can do well.

3. Rhythm and Routine

Oh man I am so thankful I don't teach younger kids. Jen has all kinds of good, concrete recommendations about ways to structure classtime...I don't do this stuff...I'm tired now.

4. The Young and the Restless

This chapter is so spot on. Love the kids; ask serious questions; ask silly questions; let 'em talk; don't dumb it down; don't flinch from teaching the big words; say things opposite; use props; pretend. Every bit of this I use all the time because all of it works all of the time.

5. Teaching Beginners and Advanced Together

I have to do this every year for the whole year. Everything Jen says I agree with, and I follow most of her recommendations. Truly, I like having to teach such that for any topic (e.g., Baptism) we start at the very bottom and work our way up to the big picture; because even if some kids know a lot, they rarely see how the all the parts fit together into a bigger whole.

6. Include Every Student

I get quiet kids, and shy kids, and kids that are unchurched; with respect to those kids, Jen’s remarks are spot on.  I haven’t ever had a child with any kind of disability that required the type of accommodations that she also covers, but what she says makes sense.

7. More Than One Teacher

A few pages about coordination, who does what and when…I don’t team-teach…I’m getting tired again.

8. Class Plans

At first I thought, “oh yeah, lesson plans, I know all about it,” but this chapter is less about lesson plans, and more about the catechist’s dynamic use of available space and time. Interesting. I can see how this applies more to younger kids, where one must plan for craft logistics, physical space for games, that sort of thing. Regardless, Jen emphasizes that the plan is a plan. Or as Feldmarschall Helmuth Carl Bernard Graf von Moltke would say, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” So between Jen and von Moltke, plan on making changes to your plan, which will make your life easier next year. You heard me: next year. And the year after that.

9. Conclusion

I haven’t mentioned this yet because it’s implied in the last two pages: this book isn’t about Class Management per se. It’s really about how you are going to evangelize the children that the Church has entrusted to you. Jen says, “This is the most important subject your students will ever study.” I agree it is. So the parents put soccer above Sunday School? So the kids are tired and inattentive? So catechizing takes up too much of your time and energy? So what? God put you in front of those kids for a reason: To Change the World.  So- change it.
 
This book will help.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Conversations at Night

I've been reading this shortstory about every other year for 40 years. It just occurred to me today that it's my favorite romance.

Conversations at Night 

And this one by the same author shaped how I think about abortion before I had even thought about abortion:

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sheep vs. Beached Whales

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
 No.

 
 Yes.

I read something recently about lackluster homilies, which touched on one of my favorite topics, the two major Catholic subgroups:

A. Priests.
B. Their critics.

I'd say in general we have a D laity and a B+ clergy. So when I hear griping about how Faddah ain't doin' thus and so, my first reaction is well, what are you doing? Are you knocking yourself out for Jesus' church? If you are, great. I reckon you've earned the right to criticize the priest for whatever he ain't doing, such as delivering vibrant homilies. But after the crit's done, then what? And although I do hear excellent homilies, they comprise maybe 15% of my faith formation. As an adult Catholic, that's my responsibility. It ain't Faddah's job. A sheep ain't a beached whale.

Now here's what I think about bad homilies, in case nobody imagined I had an opinion! Dull homilists aren't likely to improve unless Jesus knocks 'em slap off their horses. But I wouldn't count on it. What I count on instead is individuals within the Catholic laity responding to the Holy Spirit's prodding; and then renovating the Church from the bottom up. Like democracies, the laity tends to get the priests it deserves. So it's up to the laity to act like grownups and take charge of themselves. Father's job is to treat his adult children like adults, not to be a spiritual spoon-feeder and butt-wiper. And if the laity goes from an F for effort to say, a C+, and raises up a generation of faithful, knowledgeable, orthodox, energized Catholics, then they'll also raise up priests who can smack a homerun from the pulpit most Sundays.


Ram photo by Alexandre Prévot. Whale via Treehugger & Globo.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review 5: Covenant and Communion

Guest-posted at Standing on My Head and linked to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

I have to admit I don't know one person's theology from another. I thought theology was theology, and it did not come in flavors. So this little book was a pleasant surprise: first, it's an overview of how Benedict XVI thinks about God; and second, it shows how Benedict thinks about God through the Bible.

I have to digress already. Last year I had this book fall into my lap:

What an unexpected delight! B16 takes the reader through a conversational exegesis of all the Bible bits concerning young Jesus, from the Annunciation of John to Jesus in the Temple. I thought it was terrific, and I still re-read parts of it. So I had a good idea about how the pope approached Scripture before I started on Covenant and Communion, which is a more learned and demanding book than The Infancy Narratives. If you're an unschooled layman like me, I'd recommend reading one of the Jesus of Nazareth books first. It will make it easier to grasp what Scott Hahn wants us to know about B16's thinking in Covenant and Communion.

In C&C, the author condenses what must be well-over a million words and several decades of Benedict's God-thinking into about 200 pages. Hahn quotes St. Jerome in the opening chapter's title: Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ, and writes, "How we read and interpret the Bible directly affects what we believe about Christ, the Church, the sacraments, and the liturgy." The rest of the book shows us what Benedict understands about those things, and also how the Bible shaped his thinking. Hahn provides just enough commentary and guidance such that the reader can understand big chunks of the Pope's original prose on its own terms. At the same time, by following Benedict one sees how he directly uses the Word itself as the primary written testimony of Catholic faith- say, as opposed to the Catechism, or a Bible study guide, or any number of other books that often mediate between an individual and Scripture.

And Benedict thinks big: C&C isn't about apologetics, doesn't focus in detail on discrete topics. Its God-scope is universal, as broad and deep as can be managed in a small package. It's the whole Faith; the whole Bible; the whole time.

Read Covenant and Communion: it's not the usual.   

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I Never Noticed This Either #2


 

Last night I attended a mission at Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, SC. The speaker was Michael Cumbie, whose faith journey is not the usual; I was pleasantly surprised by both the plot and the content of his 90-minute presentation (the 2nd of 3).

One of the Bible stories he covered was the Road to Emmaus, per Luke 24. I'm editing a bit:

"That very day two of them were going to Emmaus and talking about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding?" 18 Cleopas answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened?"  "What things?"  "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, and how our chief priests and rulers crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive." 25 And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."

In catechism class I always thump on that last line. It reminds us that the disciples were average guys; and unlike scribes and Pharisees, didn't have wads of Scripture committed to memory. They didn't spend their workdays thinking about Isaiah; they thought about, oh, catching fish. Nor would it be obvious to even an expert that golly, Jesus sure has fulfilled an awful lotta Scripture on this, the very first Easter Sunday! So Jesus had to explain it all from God's viewpoint as they were walking; and he probably needed every minute of the journey to do so.

"So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 29 but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. 30* When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight."

And I jump on that as well, and y'all are familiar with  it. The bread-breaking is a big deal, because that's the moment Jesus was recognized, not merely seen. In other words, anyone can see, but does everyone understand what they are seeing? Of course this alludes to Mass, and the necessity of not just seeing what things may look like, like, you know, bread; but recognizing what they are.

But Cumbie also pointed out that not only was Jesus recognized when he broke bread, but that he was not recognized during hours of Scripturally enlightening the two disciples about himself. And the two disciples seem surprised at that: "They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" Yeah....wouldn't that have been the time for recognition? Nope. They knew Jesus when he broke bread; not when he showed them how all Scripture had been fulfilled in himself. Huh.

I never noticed. But boy howdy am I using it in catechism class when we cover this passage in March. I expect to Go Negative, like so:

"Later on Easter Sunday, Jesus ran into a couple of sad disciples. Why would they be sad? 'Cause they thought Jesus was dead. Yes. Let's listen to Luke's Gospel: "That very day two of them were going to Emmaus and talking about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking, Jesus himself drew near and went with them." But y'all just said Jesus was dead. He's alive again, it's Easter! Oh, oh yeah, that's right. "But their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Who kept them from recognizing Jesus? Umm, I guess Jesus did. Yes, why? I don't know. That's ok, let's see if you can figure it out. Then Jesus said, "What is this conversation which you are holding?" 18 Cleopas answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened?"  "What things?"  "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, and how our chief priests and rulers crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive." Who are they telling Jesus about? They're telling him about himself! Yes! Do they know who he is yet? No! Right! And Jesus said, O foolish men, y'all don't understand all the stuff the prophets predicted! Prophets like who? Isaiah! Yes. But are these guys Bible experts? No! Right, they need a little help: "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Now once Jesus explained everything to them, did they recognize him? Yes! No! Trick Question! Jesus walked with them most of the day explaining how he fulfilled all those prophecies, but they still didn't know who he was!

"So they drew near to the village to which they were going. The disciples said, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight."

"So tell me about it. They knew he was Jesus. Yes of course, but tell me how they knew. Jesus let them see. Yes, but why did Jesus let them see now? Why didn't he do it when they were having Bible Study all day [going negative]? OK, hard question? Y'all listen again and tell me why he waited:  "he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes-" It's like at Mass! Yes; what's like at Mass? That's what we say at Mass. Yes, what the priests says. So try again: why didn't he do it when they were having Bible Study all day? He wanted to wait until the bread stuff. Yes, good. Now can y'all recognize Jesus in the Bible? Yes. And can you recognize him at Mass? Yes. But which one of those ways is Jesus emphasizing in the story? Mass! Yes! And even the disciples are surprised: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" See, even they notice that Jesus didn't let them recognize him until he "blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to them."

The Bible never runs out of Catholic ideas.