Addicted to Ink

Monday, March 13, 2006

musings from a Sunday School princess

i posted this a coupla months ago, then got chicken took it down within a few hours. then this weekend, Dawn asked me where that post went... so here it is, but expect edits.

Growing up I was an angel. Look up "goody two-shoes" in the dictionary, and there was my picture, my halo screwed on pretty tightly and very, very straight. Poster child for "Kids of the Kingdom."

I was the Sunday school princess. I had to have the most stars by my name. To memorize the most Bible verses. In junior church, I knew all the answers and received the most awards for being the "good girl." Even into high school, I was a shoo-in for president of the youth group, and retained that post for several years running, a record. I led Wednesday night Bible studies, and passed my knowledge onto the fourth grade Sunday school class that I taught, and occasionally enlightened other classes as a substitute as well. In high school I abandoned friends who sinned by having sex with boys or drinking alcohol or cussing. As a result, I had very few friends. One, maybe two.

I was doing my best at the time, though, and though my faith may seem stuffy, it was sincere. And it was my lifeline. My family had been through some tragedies, some desperate times of sickness and...not poverty, but definite financial difficulty. And my mom especially taught me to trust and Believe by herself living a faith that was real and solid. I always remember God being my rock, and myself as being a tough little soldier.

After I went to college--a safe place, a great place for me to explore my faith to deepen my faith, make incredible friends, and become a (here's to you, John) deliberately conscious worldview thinker, etc. But the things that were happening at my home church rocked my world and shook my faith...and some instances at college did that too. To the point where, though I never abandoned my faith, it was definitely shaken to the core. It was crushed and broken into a million little pieces, and I had to completely let go of all that I thought I had known and allow God to put all of the pieces back together again and allow my faith to begin growing in a new sort of way.

This is just part of my story. The last few years, I've been intrigued by memoirs written by youngish people...people that speak truth in sometimes an irreverent, but yet very real way. Like Ann Lamott. Like Lauren Winner. And now... Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller. My mom asked what I wanted for Christmas, and I named this book I've been wanting to read all year long. My mom LOVES to read, and even when I was a kid and spent every spare penny I could get my hands on on books, she read all of them. Not because she was censoring them, just because she loves to read--and she passed that love of reading onto me. But tonight we had this discussion that freaked us both out a little as I asked myself when and how I will read the Old Testament Bible stories to my children when they are young.
Miller says:

I associated much of Christian doctrine with children's stories because I grew up in church. My Sunday school teachers had turned Bible narrative into children's fables. They talked about Noah and the ark because the story had animals in it. They failed to mention that this was when God massacred all of humanity.

It also confused me that some people would look at parts of the Bible but not the whole thing. They ignored a lot of the obvious questions. I felt as if Christianity, as a religious system, was a product that kept falling apart, and whoever was selling it would hold the broken parts behind his back trying to divert everybody's attention.

The children's story stuff was the thing I felt Christians were holding behind their back. The Garden of Eden, the fall of man, was a pretty silly story, and Noah and the ark, all of that, that seemed pretty fairy-tale too.

It took me a while to realize that these stories, while often used with children, are not at all children's stories. I think the devil has tricked us into thinking so much of biblical theology is story fit for kids. How did we come to think the story of Noah's ark is appropriate for children? Can you imagine a children's book about Noah's ark complete with paintings of people gasping in gallons of water, mothers grasping their children while their bodies go flying down white rapid rivers, the children's tiny heads being bashed against rocks or hung up in fallen trees? I don't think a children's book like that would sell many copies.

My new faith, the way that it has grown these past coupla years, is uncomfortable sometimes. It allows me to think through concepts such as the above, to be challenged...and it doesn't fit any of the old boxes that I used to be able to put it in. It takes forms of being rather self-examining and pacifistic and desperate for social justice... and of learning that my neighbor really might smell and be dirty and bleeding--and is not just the brat who pulled my hair in math class.

As a righteous teenager, my favorite Bible hero was David. I loved that God picked him, the shepherd boy, among all of his big, successful brothers. I loved the fact that in spite of all of his victories, he was still emotional and sometimes insecure. I loved his deep friendship with Jonathan. I loved that he killed giants and defeated tens of thousands in battle. I loved his righteousness, his compassion for Jonathan's young son, his kindness to his enemies, who just happened to be his father-in-law (and father of his best friend) and later his own son. Best of all, I liked that God called him a man after his own heart. My heart yearned to be like that, to be like David.

In recent years, though, and though I still of course want to be a woman after God's own heart, I must confess that I've had more & more trouble viewing David as a hero (as well as other heroes of the Older Testament. For example…remember Rahab-the-prostitute? Why were the good-ole’ Jewish spies at her place?). For one, it goes back to the war-killing-those-we're-supposed-to-be-loving-into-heaven-thing. And...I have huge problems with David's harem...which included thousands and thousands of women. I have trouble respecting any man, king or not, who could be so awful, so thoughtless, so degrading to women. I know, I know, it was a cultural thing. But still, it deeply disturbs me.

Of course, I WILL teach my kids all of the Bible stories. (And besides...isn't everyone an expert on how to raise children until they actually have children?) For there's great value in teaching your kids the good stuff about David too, what God can do through "little people," that he can use the ordinary, that he loves us in spite of all our brokenness, our humanness. I'm not sorry that I learned these stories as a kid--in fact I'm extremely grateful, and they were always explained in proper context. Yet, how do I teach the right context? I think that is a matter of focusing on who God is and how He moved and telling the stories of the Bible as a look at the whole of human history, how God moved in that and how He moves still. And most of all His amazing, redeeming love. Not as fairy tale, but as truth...

The magical proposition of the gospel once free from the clasps of fairy tale, was very adult to me, very gritty like something from Hemingway or Steinbeck, like something with copious amounts of sex and blood. Christian spirituality was not a children's story. It wasn't cute or neat. It was mystical and odd and clean, and it was reaching into dirty. There was wonder in it and enchantment. [BLJ 30-35]

I think, too, that teaching the tough stuff of the Bible gets to the bigger picture of just how do you explain evil to children and at what age? I mean, it's important for them (at a certain age) to know about the holocaust, right? And slavery and other parts of history, for good and for bad. When God "massacred" the earth, the people were completely evil. When Joshua conquered the Canaanites, God allowed that because the people were so evil they were offering up their infants as sacrifices to their stone gods... .

My faith, my growing, evolving faith, looks a lot different now than it did during my teen years. It's a lot more difficult, a lot messier. Completely undefineable. I have so many fewer answers. But my faith is still sincere... very much so. And it remains my very soul, the reason for my very existence.

There is a definite danger for Christians to put our ideas of God into our own little boxes, forgetting that God is outside of time and outside of eternity and simply beyond understanding. Of making God smaller rather than bigger; of not allowing ourselves to be surprised by Him and mystified by Him. I think both ends of the spectrum can be in danger of that: those who are considered fundamentalists are judged for being judgmental and for putting God into boxes of moral laws and patriotism and the Republican Party; and more socially liberal Christians... we, too, put Him into our own boxes of causes and protests and fairness and other definitions. We all can forget that we are supposed to love our enemies as well as our brothers, and that Jesus loves the whole Church as well as the world, and that most fundamentalists --and socially liberal Christians--truly love God and are doing the best that they believe to be true.

For the past several years, I've read The Chronicles of Narnia each year the week between Christmas & New Year's because I am not working that week and because it is a book that refreshes my soul and continues to speak new truths to me.

Here's a passage I love, from Prince Caspian, that I feel describes my views of my faith:
A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all around it. And then--oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.

But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

"Aslan, Aslan, dear Aslan," sobbed Lucy. "At last."
The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into his large wise face.

"Welcome, child," he said.

"Aslan," said Lucy, "You're bigger."

"That is because you are older, little one," he answered.

"Not because you are?"

"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."


Blogger Missy said...

Hello Amber, you have no idea who I am, but my name is Missy. I occationally flip over to your blog from Dawns. I did it accidently once and found that I like the way you think, I never commented because as I said earlier you don't know me. I had to comment this time because at the beginning of your sounded unsure and maybe a little embaresed for some reason. I some ways I was a opposite of you growing up. I was the rebel, trouble maker, I was at church every week but I made sure people knew my mom made me do it. As I got older I became a Sunday School Teacher, a Youth Leader and a UMW member. I am still their wild child sometimes, and I still let them know I am not always in agreement, but I go now because I feel a real need to. Do I always agree with whats being said and Done? Not a chance in Heck, but now I'm the Mom and I want my Kid to have the foundation of a good religious knowledge. Joey (My Son) is 3 and already gets into some philisophical dilemas (Feel free to read my blog) he is a wonderful, careing, evil little troll!! I am a big questioner and a huge quester. And I salute you for having the Heart and the Courage of convistion to let people know how you feel and think.

1:51 PM  
Blogger amber said...

Thanks for your comments, Missy!
Actually, I've heard a lot of "Missy" stories from Megan & Dawn :0) All fun ones of course. And actually, I've read your blog before too, as you've commented on Dawn's & Andrew's & Meg's :0)

Hmmmmmmmm. I don't mean to sound embarrassed of who I was--and I'm not. My intention was to just try to be honest about where I've come from and how my faith has changed through the years and how it continues to grow, and how my image of God grows & expands even in my doubts.

I am very thankful for God's faithfulness & protection to me through the years... I don't have an exciting testimony, but I'm really grateful that I have been spared a lot of pain and have been, for the most part, able to make good decisions.

Keep up the great work with Joey...that's the most important responsibility in the world! And here's to hoping he's a Sunday School prince ;0)

2:09 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

No, I haven't seen Crash, but I'd really like to. Also, I'd really like to read this blog entry. And I will as soon as I get some time.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Beautiful work, Amber. Have you thought about trying to publish this entry or a version of this entry with a publication (Barclay perhaps)? I enjoyed the ending.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I stand - no, bow - in awe of your insight and ability to share it so poignantly with everyone. Rachel's right. You should try to publish this.

9:00 AM  
Blogger amber said...

Thanks, guys, for your encouragement :0) You, too, Dawn--you guys are the best!

8:55 AM  

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