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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Did anyone notice where we set the bar? Can't find the bar... Is there a bar in here?

At what age does - did - it become acceptable to say, "I have as many questions as answers"?

...What age - era, physical age, spiritual age...

For those of you paying attention at home, I'm co-teaching the high school Sunday School class at my church this year.

1. It's not actually high school. At least a third of the 8 students in attendance last week were 8th graders.

2. There's no curriculum or plan.

3. I thought it might be kind of fun and interesting to go through Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis" with them, since coinkidinkly this semester quite a few of the adults are reading the book in Wednesday night study groups. Having had it made crystal clear to me that there will be no Homework, I've acquired an unabridged copy of the book on CD, which we could listen to and then discuss each Sunday for a couple months. My co-teacher, who's taught the class before (but, note, without 8th graders), wasn't familiar with the book, but took a copy home to look it over. At first glance/flip through my copy Wednesday night, he liked the idea: the themes, the voice, the style, the challenges.

4. Herein lies the objection: one of the Sunday School leaders heard our under-consideration plan and shook her head. It's too confusing and challenging for her sometimes, she said, and she's been through it twice. There's no way the 8th graders could handle it; they'd be frustrated. Maybe if they were all juniors and seniors, but, no.

Flashback to 1986. I'm in 8th grade. Permed hair, dark eyeshadow, extreme emotions, social awkwardness, cocky attitude. Could I have, would I have, handled this book?

Maybe that's not a fair question. I had the benefit and challenge of growing up in a different world from today's American 8th graders. I went away to boarding school for the first time at the age of 12. We had a couple unscheduled weeks off school while the Philippines underwent a peaceful coup and gave the world Flower Power, when I was in the 8th grade. I read voraciously. I hated Sunday School. And I can't remember for sure if I had more answers than questions, but within a year or two I know my Questions column was filling up.

How important is that year or two?

And how fair is it for parents of middle school aged students to judge their own kids' readiness for wrestling with challenging voices in Sunday School? Aren't parents the ones who always think of their kids as younger than they really are? I'm no parent, if you don't count my furry-purry babies (and I know you don't), but I still sometimes think of my 30-year-old little brother as about 8 or 12.

Where do we set the bar for challenging, but not frustrating or turning away, 8th and 9th graders who've been raised in the church? They've all been through Confirmation. I've never even been through Confirmation. Isn't it sort of like Bat Mitzvah, though, where you say, "This is What I Believe," and, "Today I am a Woman"? So you can be, do, think adult? Only, with less monetary gifts?

It's a valid question, concern, objection. I'm out of my league. I claim no special insight into Today's American Suburban Middle Class White Church-Raised Teenager. I don't want to rock someone's world, someone's faith, understanding, acceptance, before they have roots. But I also don't want to force our way through a dry, redundant, packaged High School curriculum which kids, who've already said out loud they're only there because their parents made them come, are going to yawn their way through. I want to be sensitive and responsible to the Weaker Sister and Brother, but not to patronize.

But then, maybe everyone has to hate their way through a year or two of vapid High School Sunday School (like I did) before they can grow into and claim their faith on their own.

Okay, quickly: - The book's not written for high schoolers. - They're not all even high schoolers. - The book challenges people to own and be a part of shaping contemporary church, not to hate or reject church. - I'm not a superbig fan of the book, but find knee-jerk rejections of it as either heretical or too pop both silly. The only objection I'm seriously considering is if it'd be too "hard for 8th graders to follow" without asking too much of them (we need to ask something).

We could always just watch the NOOMA videos which include Rob Bell's super hip and visual sermons, but I don't want to get a reputation as a teacher who just shows movies in class. Just kidding, I wish I had that reputation at my day job.

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