Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Teaching...or Being a Co-Learner

Early in March in my Sunday School class, we were beginning a new quarter.  I teach fifth grade.  Usually when we begin a new quarter I completely redecorate the room with new bulletin boards and posters, etc.  But my week had been unusually busy.  There was illness and snow and family crises.  I decided that it was OK not to do all that.  In fact it might be good.

The lesson book suggested travel decorations because after Easter we will be talking about missionary journeys.  I have a stack of National Geographic maps that I threw into my Sunday School bag.

I wrote out the briefest outline of a class plan.  This class no longer wants to be babied.  They are ready to explore the Bible on their own terms.  I thought we might try a simplified Lectio Divina approach to the scripture.  We would look at the story together, and we would share with each other the things that God was helping us to notice about it.

I went to bed exhausted on Saturday night.  Didn't sleep much.  Woke up drained and tense.  Thought about whether I was fit to teach.  Remembered that nearly always, being with the kids changes me.

As kids started to arrive I told them that I decided to let them decide how we wanted to decorate the class.  I had maps.  I had memory work posters.  Did they want to get rid of everything from the last quarter?  Were there projects that they still wanted to keep?  Everyone got busy, and it was fun figuring out what to put where.

The lesson passage was the story in Mark of the rich young ruler.  Each person opened a Bible and we began taking turns reading a few verses at a time.

It was a bit rowdy at first, and our first reader had to start over a second time in order to be heard but soon the room was still except for the voice of each reader in turn.

"What did you notice?" I asked.  Everyone had thoughts about it.

We read it again, and I asked again."What did you notice this time?"

There were many responses.
  • a camel going through the eye of a needle? Why did Jesus say that?
  • why is it so hard for a rich person?
  • why sell everything and give to the poor?
  • remember the poor woman who gave everything she had?  do rich people ever do that?
  • maybe rich people are thinking more about what they want to buy and have a harder time giving?
  • maybe rich people count on their money to take care of them instead of understanding that God takes care of them?
I love this class.

My preparations for teaching usually include making an assignment for them to complete during the week.  I'd not had time to do that either, so I had blank pieces of paper.  "What should our assignment be this week?"

A few ideas began to come out and then one of the kids said, "I think we should do something with what we just talked about.  Let's do something that is giving!"

It was agreed.  Everyone was to find a way to give that week.  It could be money or time or caring.  Be creative.  Write down what happened.

A week later, our story was the story of the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  When we'd completed our usual preliminary activities we moved our chairs into a circle and I explained that today we are having a story that we've all heard many times before.  It's tempting when we have a story like that to quit listening because we already know the story.  But with the Bible, there can be new lessons to learn every time we read it.  We are older.  We might see things in new ways, or hear something that makes sense in a different way.  So we are going to read the story again, even though we've read it many times before.

One of the kids piped up, "Can we tell you what we noticed again, like we did last week?"

They are getting it!  God speaks to them, not just to me.  In fact God speaks to me through them.  It is good.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter Reflections

Our pastor asked me to share for a few minutes on Easter Sunday about how I experience new life in my daily life.  These are my reflections (which include a paragraph I left out at church because I was running over the allotted time).

* * * * * * *

When Anita emailed early in Lent, I didn't know if I could share about new life. Stressful events that required a lot from me had been piling up during January and February. I was beginning to struggle to keep hold of my vision of new life. I wasn't waking up in the morning singing, “Oh what a beautiful morning!” And then March became even more stressful.

So I decided to tell Anita that I'd love to share sometime, but that right now I wasn't experiencing enough “new life” in my daily life with God. She should find someone more successful than me. That was on March 12.

I headed to my computer to write the email.

I have never heard an audible message from God, but there are times when the thoughts that have come to my mind are not like my thoughts. As I got ready to write, this thought came to me. “If there isn't new life in me when things are hard, then there isn't new life at all.”

The next thought after that was, “Say yes to Anita right now before you can rethink this and chicken out.” So I did.

You can be the judge of whether that was a good decision or not because I've reconsidered it multiple times every day since then.

This Lent has been one of identification with struggle. The sleepless night in the garden has resonated with me during my sleepless nights of asking God for a lessening of my worry and fear. It has been significant to me that Jesus maintained his resolve in spite of no release from the task ahead of him. My tasks are not as great as His. But I am glad that the Bible included the story of that sleeplessness. It let me off the hook a bit from my guilt at being unable to feel peace, and to rejoice always.

The thing is, there IS new life. It IS with us right now, right here. Even when I'm having a low day, God is still good all the time. David had bad days. Elijah had bad days. Even Jesus had bad days. And Easter is here bringing new life to us somehow even in the midst of those days.

I keep a tiny gratitude book. In it I write down things I love, things that touch my heart, people who bless me.

It's a good book to read on hard days. So many of these things are given by God. The amazing song of a cardinal. Sunflowers. The feel of new grass on my bare feet. The smell of fresh warm bread. The way people engage with a baby. Chocolate. The light of a nearly full moon on a snow covered yard. My family. My small group. Luke's head on my shoulder while we read stories. Aaron's belly laugh. Charlie's happy dance. Too many things to list.

Remembering gratitude is a good way to remember the new life, even when I'm struggling to feel it.

And there is so much of you in that little book.

I need you. Being with you is one of the ways I can remember who God is and what God is doing. There are so many things I'm grateful for here. Sometimes just getting into the sanctuary and hearing the music is enough to release all the pent up tension inside me. Seeing the smiles and greetings as I enter and find a seat.

When Anita asked me about new life, my first thought was memory from fall, when Andrea asked the fifth grade girls to help lead a song in church. She gave the girls long white ribbons that floated through the air as they did the motions for 'Holy Holy Holy Lord'. I thought it would be fun to have Andrea lead that song again when I shared. I never got around to asking, but God took care of it. Last Sunday, the fifth graders helped Andrea lead all the children in that same song with all their palm branches held high and waving with the motions of the song. It was an affirmation of God's grace to me.

Another story...A week before Palm Sunday, I'd spent a lot of Saturday night awake. I got up Sunday morning with my stomach knotted up, unable to eat breakfast. It was my morning to teach and I wondered whether I should call a sub. But I remembered that teaching usually helps.

So I went to my class. We opened our Bibles to the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler. As we read together, the fifth graders started to talk about the things they noticed in the story. They noticed how Jesus had compassion for this young man who walked away. They discussed why it might be hard for a rich person like us to enter the kingdom...about attitudes that we who are rich might have that make it hard to trust God. They remembered the widow giving all she had. As we talked, my worries faded and my stomach ache disappeared. By the time class was over, I was full of gratitude for the way God teaches me through these children. New life.

One more story. Chuck and I attend Casa Betania whenever we can. My Spanish is lousy, but I take my dictionary and my bilingual translation of the Bible and I make out OK. I'm blessed by this church. On that particular Sunday, Jaime was preaching on the greatest commandments. As he warmed into his topic I heard again and again, “Quien es tu proximo?” Who is your neighbor? I would catch words and knew he was asking about people in our families, at our workplaces, who might need a neighbor. Finally someone in the group interrupted him, saying how hard this teaching is, how hard it was to offer love, to be a neighbor, to someone who was difficult in that person's life. Immediately the sermon became a dialogue of encouragement, not only between Jaime and this person, but also others joined in. The worship time ended with a spontaneous circle of prayer, not only for this person, but also for others who struggled to love the neighbors God had placed in their lives. New life in the midst of struggle.

New life is not only for the good days. Even Paul claimed not to have attained it. Philippians 3:13-14 from The Message reads like this:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

I found the same sentiments in the words of Martin Luther, which I have copied and placed around my home.

This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly,
not health but getting well,
not being but becoming
not rest but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be,
but we are on the way.
The process is not finished,
But it is actively going on.
This is not the goal, but it is the right road.
At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle,
But everything is being cleansed.

It is here, where I am with you, who are also maybe not yet reaching the goal, but are actively seeking and finding the right roads...it is here that I so often find new life.