Saturday, October 29, 2011

Plus des Pitchers

Behold the board at the end of the 10/26 class. As usual, much of it was erased and then refilled. This photo corresponds to the lesson plan as it runs from settling down in Canaan through the anointing of David. I'm not going to discuss everything we covered, just what is on the board.

 1. The Ark of the Covenant.  Some review of last week's class. The Glory Cloud/ Shekhinah is introduced, which settles on/ overshadows/ dwells in the Ark and Meeting Tent. At the far left a sketch of Moses atop Sinai  under the Glory Cloud/ Shekhinah has been erased. Tent drawing to left illustrates how the Glory Cloud overshadowed the Tent during the 40 years in the desert, and moved away when it was time to pull up stakes. Overshadowing implies protection. (future connections to Elijah & Elisha, the Holy Spirit & Mary.)

2. Review of atonement, forgiveness, and  Levitical sacrifice is followed by the question, "Could good Israelites who had their sins forgiven & atoned for by the sacrificial system go to Heaven?" If not, then where did they go? (future connection: Jesus descended into "Hell.")

3. The ritual mixing of cleansing water and atoning blood is introduced (Lev 14): "This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest; 3 and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. Then, if the leprous disease is healed in the leper, 4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet stuff and hyssop; 5 and the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. 6 He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet stuff and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water; 7 and he shall sprinkle it seven times upon him who is to be cleansed of leprosy..." (future connections to the Crucifixion and Baptism)

4. The Israelites settle down in Canaan. God dwells in the Meeting Tent at Shiloh. I add Eli sitting on his stool to the left while his corrupt sons profane the Dwelling.

5. Review of Samson introduces the word Nazirite, someone who is dedicated and separated to fully serve God. (future connection to John the Baptist, priests and nuns) Samuel's story follows Samson's, including Samuel being called by God 3 times and responding in the affirmative 3 times, which makes an oral contract. (future connections to Elijah & Elisha, Jesus & Peter)

6. Connecting the past to the present. A reminder that the Israelites still fight with their neighbors over the Promised Land.

7. Israel's enemies worshiped an assortment of baby-eating false gods, yet they were also afraid of the God of Israel: "Israel went out to battle against the Philistines....Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who slew about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies....the Philistines were afraid; for they said, "A god has come into the camp." And they said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness." (1Sam 4)

Sinful Israel is defeated, Eli & sons die. The Ark is captured, but due to plagues including my favorite plague, hemorrhoids, the Ark is returned to Israel. But the LORD never dwells again in Shiloh, which remains desolate. (future connections to Jeremiah, the Temple, and Jesus)

8. Confronted with the prospect of being misgoverned by Samuel's no-good sons, Israel insists on a king after Samuel. Samuel picks Saul, who as we see from the picture is tall and handsome.

9. Saul has his problems; God sends Samuel out to secretly anoint a new king: David. We act out the anointing process. The kids learn the common meaning of Messiah, Christos, and Anointed One. Some etymologically related words are discussed, especially chrism and msha, the Egyptian word for crocodile, whose oil was used to anoint Pharaoh. (lots of connections to all this)

10. The Gingerbread Man represents the unity of Body and Soul. This had to do with the hypocritical behavior of Eli & Sons. I usually draw him when the issue of Faith and Works comes up. The arrow from the body back to the soul indicates that one's works reflect one's inward disposition; so if your works oppose your faith, then you probably don't really believe. (connects to constant theme of Faith & Works)

Catechists, never forget the words of St. Francis of Assisi, Petter of Squirrels: "Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, draw pictures."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Deutsche Romanische Kirchen

I like church architecture. While I admire the technical daring and spectacle of Gothic architecture, I prefer Romanesque churches. And among the churches built in the Romanesque manner, I like the German ones best.

One of German Romanesque's strong points is its design flexibility: that is, its visual vocabulary and structural system allow each church to be very different from the others while recognizably belonging to the same family. If Gothic churches tend to all be sisters, the German Romanesque family would include aunts and nieces. The German churches may have a front main entry, side main entries, or main entries at both ends along with altars at both ends. There may any number of towers in an assortment of shapes and sizes. Within the vocabulary almost anything goes. And if they don't compare well against Gothic's glamor, they more than compensate by their charm and individuality.

A very few of my favorites:

Maria Laach Abbey, so small it needs 2 photos.



Speyer (the town is named after the spires)

Tournai, Belgium (it's not in Germany)

Late in the last century our architectural office (Greene & Associates) designed a 2400-seat Baptist church. For assorted reasons the project borrowed heavily from German Romanesque sources, including the above examples. A few drawings follow.

East Elevation

                      Ground Floor Plan
 South Elevation

A recent photo of the church taken by local photographer Jerry Spain

We do a lot of churches, but rarely have a budget and a client that allows for this kind of project.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Go Negative

A useful tactic to get kids to think in the classroom is to do what I call going negative.  I learned this way of thinking about a problem when I was a teenager, especially when trying to figure out faith.  Going negative isn't new: Sherlock Holmes fans may remember how he took the same approach in asking why the dog didn't bark. So instead of asking why Jesus did x, or why the Church teaches y, I was constantly wondering, "why didn't Jesus do a" or "why doesn't the Church say b." Pondering (sometimes for years) the a,b & c that weren't said or done often shed light on the superiority (not just the option) of x, y & z.

 I churned for decades over the fundamental problem of why God required the whole Jesus project instead of simply declaring us forgiven.  God is omnipotent, after all. I suppose this is no problem for billions of Christians, but I had to grind through dozens of negative propositions to arrive at an understanding of Salvation History that meant something to me. I knew all my life that "Jesus had to die for our sins,"  but that was just a fact, like heliocentricity.  I was in my late 20s before I finally understood Jesus' sacrifice in a way that mattered.  Oddly enough, years of "but why not...but why not...but why not..." eventually illuminated a childhood experience with a broken window which was full of "but why nots."  Once I sorted out the broken window, faith fell into place.  I don't think I'd've ever acquired a motivating faith without having reflected on the "why nots."

In Catechism class the kids will sometimes make no real progress in answering a positive question, such as "why did Moses hit the rock with his staff?"  They will readily say, "God told him to;" but reader, that ain't progress- that's parroting. If I say, "Yes, but why did God tell him to?" I typically get, "because the people were thirsty" which is just another bit of fluff. My temptation is to give them an answer, but they can often make progress through negative questions, such as:

Why wasn't it enough for Moses to just pray for water?
Why didn't God make water flow from the rock without the stick business?
Why didn't God just make the people's thirst go away?
Why didn't God put a lake ahead of them that they'd run into?
Why couldn't Moses go by himself to hit the rock?

Once a couple of kids give thoughtful answers to negative questions they never heard before, we can move forward again. Within the first month of class, the kids get used to going negative when their thinking stalls. They learn to perk up each time the negative questions start, and are stimulated by the oblique thinking that negative questions engender.

Typical negative questions I might ask:

Why didn't Jesus heal the paralyzed man as soon as he was plopped down in front of him?
Why didn't the paralyzed man's friends stay home and pray for his healing?
Why didn't the Prodigal Son's father interrupt his confession?
Why wouldn't the Pharisees accept that Jesus had healed the blind man?
Why didn't John the Baptist get married?
Why wouldn't Elisha come out and speak directly to Naaman?
Why didn't the little boy bring his bread and fish directly to Jesus?
Why didn't Jesus and the apostles eat any lamb at the Last Supper?
Why weren't Jesus' wounds healed up after his Resurrection?
Why didn't the stewards tell Jesus they had run out of wine?
Why didn't God take more than one rib from Adam?
Why didn't God take a toe instead of a rib?
At Mass why don't the people put the bread and wine on the altar?

I'd give you the answers- but you'll learn better if you work them out on your own.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I draw all the time in class.  This is a relatively tidy board, so it makes a good example of how the drawing flows along with the lesson plan.  Last night class started with some closing discussion of the Golden Calf, and finished with Samson collapsing the roof.

Here's the board at the end of the 10/19 class; some stuff has been erased to make room for new stuff.  It's not a very big board, so sometimes a entire board's content has to be erased to make space for another round of picture-drawing.  I'm going to comment mostly about what's in this picture, not the stuff that was erased.

1. The Golden Calf prodded final discussion of idol-worship, with blue squiggles showing the drunken Israelites misbehaving.  The kids knew that nobody nowadays would worship a calf statue, and suggested other types of idols that people put ahead of God.  Money was first, which led to other possessions, and ultimately to the idea of self-worship.  This led to discussing how babies only think of themselves, and that life is a process of becoming more other-oriented and less self-oriented.  During that conversation I drew a squalling baby (erased) to the upper left of the Calf, and the man on the upper right.  That was to illustrate the growth of each person from baby to adult.  I explained to the class that when I was 30 and single, I had made idols out of cars; being so self-oriented I was essentially a 30-year-old baby.

2. At this point we were discussing this handout from left to right:

Once we got into the Holy of Holies, I drew the Ark of the Covenant while reading parts of Exodus 25:

"They shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 And you shall overlay it with pure gold... 12 And you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them. (I don't tell the kids what the poles are for. I make them tell me)...16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. (The kids help decide what goes into the Ark, and as each item is named, I draw it in.) 17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be."

The squiggly red line indicates that God's presence descends from Heaven to hover over the mercy seat.  To give a rough sense of scale I draw a high priest in a special outfit.

1a. Now we discussed different types of Levitical sacrifice.  To introduce the topic, I read and acted out Moses' (pre-Levitical) sacrifice in Exodus 24:

"[Moses] rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." 8* And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."  We re-imagined the Golden Calf sketch as Moses' sacrifice as I added in the blood and the basin.

3. Here we were discussing the story of Manoah and his wife, from Judges 13.  This picture illustrates the moment that the sacrifice and the angel ascend to heaven, which will figure prominently in our Eucharistic Prayer class in the Spring:

"So Manoah took the kid with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground."

Through discussion, the kids figure out that Manoah isn't making an atonement sacrifice for sins, but a thanksgiving sacrifice for his wife's pregnancy.  Next week we'll review this a bit, connect it to thanksgiving sacrifices by Abel, Melchizedek, and Moses, and introduce the Greek word Eucharisteo.

4. God had told Manoah's wife, "Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Therefore beware, and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, 5 for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth."  The kids figured out what "no razor shall come upon his head" implies, and then named the long-haired man that was Manoah's son: Samson.  The kids can tell the Samson story, so I don't need to draw.  But I do list the the things that make Samson dedicated and separated.  Next week I'll explain what a Nazirite is, and connect that term to the concept of dedication & separation, which will repeatedly come up during the rest of the year.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

American Heroes

It's American Hero Day at Smaller Manhattans.

Yuliya Timoshenko/ Юлія Тимошенко, former prime minister of Ukraine/ Украина (see, Cyrillic isn't so tough) recently co-wrote an interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. You don't have to read it.  Actually I was more struck by the article's title than the content: Letter from a Kiev Jail, which is where Timoshenko is these days. Of course the title borrows from Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written in 1963. So this got me thinking again about King's letter, which I read for the first time about 35 years ago.

King and his memorial in Washington, DC are in the news, and I've been hearing snatches of King's "I Have a Dream" speech on the radio, and quotes in print.  "I Have a Dream" is inspiring- no wonder it gets such attention. But I find the Letter to be much more compelling: when I think of King, I think Birmingham, not DC. In fact, the pith of the Dream comes from the Letter.  Part of what makes the Letter better is that, unlike the lovely Dream speech which is a sermon being preached to the choir (which is not a criticism), King wrote his letter to a group of clergymen who did not share his "urgency of now."1 So it's direct, thorough, and not very charming; but no less eloquent than the Dream speech.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail takes about 20 minutes to read. If you haven't read it before, you may be surprised by its sweep and depth, and the people who influenced King's thinking. Reading it again today reminds me that like the prophets of antiquity, people may still be chosen by God to accomplish a single great and necessary thing.

If you aren't inclined to read the whole letter right now, that's ok. Here is a critical paragraph from the middle:

"We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."

And here is that same paragraph paraphrased in the Dream speech:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." 2

 American Hero

I love "Somewhere over the Rainbow."  It's a perfect song, especially with the prologue 3 that didn't make it into the Wizard of Oz.  In 2001 it was voted the best song of the 20th century, and I agree that it is.  I don't know if there's been a similar vote for prose, but I can't think of any more significant than this letter, written by one of my heroes.

Speaking of heroes, here's another one.  Even though he isn't mentioned in King's Letter or Dream, the influence is there. Here's a bit from one of his speeches:

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.  There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.  Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival."

Yeah, that's ummm...William Wilberforce?  Mr. Bleeding Kansas, John Brown?  Harriet Beecher Stowe?  Nope.  That's the escaped slave, orator, author, agitator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Douglass' words don't roll off the tongue as easily as King's, but he was speaking in a more formal age.

You may recall how rudely the prophet Jeremiah scolded the Temple personnel 2,600 years ago:

"Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'--only to go on doing all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?  Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD.  Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.  And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house which is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.  And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim."

You can hear all of Jeremiah's righteous anger and indignation in Douglass.  I imagine that Douglass was also well aware of Jeremiah even as he spoke on that 4th of July.

 American Hero

The older I get, the more I'm grateful that these two men dedicated their lives to cleansing my dear country, America, of this great sin.  Thank y'all both.  I know you can hear me.

1. I love King's phrase "the urgency of now."  And I like to hear it in two songs by Smashing Pumpkins: Tonight, Tonight; and 1979.

2. It always pays to look at the wider context of any Bible quote; King surely expected his Bible-literate listeners to do so.  That bit is from Amos 5: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon.  23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.   25 "Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?  26 You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves; 27 therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus," says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts."

Years later, when Jeremiah laid into the Temple staff, he may have been thinking of Amos a tiny bit.

3. When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around
Heaven opens a magic lane
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There's a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your window pane
To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain

Somewhere over the rainbow....

Monday, October 17, 2011

Right Answer Wrong Question

In Wednesday Sunday School I try to keep the class at a low boil all the time so the kids stay energized. There's usually an urgency to getting fast answers to questions, and often a child will belt out a wrong answer that's an excellent answer to a question I haven't asked. When possible, I will shortly follow a wrong answer with a new question that affirms that wrong answer, like so:

"Somebody remind me what happened fifty days after Easter...the Ascension! No, that's a good answer, though. C'mon, fifty days after Easter...umm, Pentecost! Yes."

And we discuss whatever was in the lesson plan about Pentecost. Then:

"Hey, speaking of stuff after Easter, what happened after forty days? Jesus went to Heaven! Yes, which is called? The Ascension! Yes!"

Another example:

"Who told the Israelites that God would let bad stuff happen to the Temple just like Shiloh? Isaiah! No, guess again. Samuel? Nope; this prophet also said to stop worshiping baby-eating false gods. Jeremiah! Yes! And who heard God call him three times? Samuel? There ya go. And who said a virgin would have a baby? Isaiah. Yes."

I don't have any empirical evidence (I don't even have quizzes) but I almost can see the open circuits closing when the kids connect an old wrong answer to a new right question.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Classroom Management

In Wednesday Sunday School I rarely need to admonish a child. Last week two boys were distracting each other. I walk over to where they are engaged in footplay, wait for 'em to notice me. They look up. I put on a quizzical expression and ask, "Are y'all flirting?"

End of problem.

Next week my Faithful Bouncer will separate them.