Saturday, 6 September 2014

My Adventures with God Ch.16

Ch 16: Schools & Miracles

I took “religious education” classes one morning a week in each of the two government junior schools which served the area.

There was a provision for people accredited by an inter-church body to give these half-hour lessons in government schools using an approved syllabus. Over time this body had brought out revised syllabuses to appease the strong anti-Christian lobby groups which wanted no religious education at all. I believe that this was a mistake because these lobbyists, like the proverbial camel getting into the tent inch-by-inch, would never be appeased no matter how much the Christian content was watered down. However the fact is that the inter-church body had watered down their new syllabus so much by this time that it was little more than a secular social studies course dressed up in a few Bible verses. My snapping point with it had come a year or so earlier when the lesson about Easter was totally taken up with a story about some eastern European tradition of rolling Easter eggs downhill! The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead rated I think just an obscure line ticked away at the end to the effect that “Some people believe ...”

After reaching my snapping point with the new syllabus I was faced with a problem. Not just the problem that the approved syllabus came with glossy worksheets for the children and notes for the teachers. The ethical problem. People who want to be Christ-like aim to act honestly and honourably. If the government has granted access to schoolchildren under its care on certain conditions then Christ-like people will not break those conditions. There are of course unscrupulous people who do abuse such access to indoctrinate children into their political or religious outlook: but we do not copy their example.

My breakthrough came when, as a curate I took this up with a representative of the inter-church body. I was told that there was an “old syllabus” which was still permitted. But of course, I was told I would not want to use that because there were no teaching aids for the old syllabus and anyway it was only Bible stories! So henceforth I used what I understood to be the old syllabus: Bible stories.

A Quick aside on stories as instruction
In that period people in the churches who held themselves up as 'experts' pooh-poohed Bible stories. I think they were just short of barking mad! Stories are brilliant teaching tools. Young children have a great ability to extract a moral from a story without it being spelled out. Later when I was studying moral philosophy one of my texts was Alastair McIntyre’s 'After Virtue' One point he made was that for a thousand years Homer's stories had fixed the model in the minds of generation after generation of what it was to be a Greek Citizen. Similarly, he pointed out, in the Judeo-Christian world, Bible stories had been powerful in character formation and upbringing. So ceasing to tell the stories of the Bible to children so that they at least know them and can draw their own morals from them was a big mistake. Huge!

So I told Bible stories. I covered the whole span of the Old and new Testaments. I narrated, I dramatised, I got them to act out some parts: but I stuck to the original script – I did not try to foist my conclusions on them! We also did prayers. I would ask the kids for anything they wanted me to pray about. That got interesting in the football season – everyone wanted God to make their team win, and thought God just making it a fair game wasn't any good – after all the best team was going to win anyway!

The kids loved the stories. However I did need something else. I wanted music. There I faced two problems. First I couldn't sing or play an instrument. Second, and most important I couldn't find any suitable music.

Those readers who have been brought up in the church may say: “Oh but there are such lovely Sunday School songs” or perhaps “There is so much contemporary church music”. Really? Try looking at the words from the point of view of a ten year old with no Christian background. Try singing some of the tunes – if one can call them tunes!

I was not going to insult the street-wise intelligence of these kids with words like “Noah and the floodie-wuddy” In fact I came to the sad conclusion that the words of all the “children's” Christian music were so trite and condescending that they would make the good news about Jesus look ridiculous to these life-hardened kids.

So what did I do? I went into my study and complained to God. I was direct. I said more or less: “God, If you want me to teach RE then I need you to provide some decent kids music!”

So what did God do? God did something really amazing.

A few days later Rosalie, our first convert, turned up again on our doorstep and said she had a strange story to tell. Her story went like this: “Yesterday I was cleaning the house. As I scrubbed the toilet the back of the brush hit the bowl and made a note. Suddenly the thought popped into my head:'that's the beginning note for a song'. Then this whole song flowed into my head. It is a Christian children's song, and I am getting other songs like it.”

Needless to say I stopped and listened to her sing a couple of her songs. The words were sound solid theology. The language was what the local kids spoke. The tunes were – melodic for a start – and they were predictable in the sense that you felt you could join in after just hearing a few bars.

Yes I said “Thank you God, thank you God” with all my heart!

Rosalie then offered to join me in the RE lessons. She took the singing bit, and mingled with the kids while I was doing the stories and prayers. God continued to give Rosalie more songs for the schools and for Sunday School. One class of very disturbed kids even got their own song which they proudly kept written on a large sheet of paper which was kept rolled away in the classroom to be brought out each lesson. No one else got to sing it. It started angry – which reflected their lives – and as it progressed transformed through Jesus love to peaceful. It worked for them!

The songs were an instant hit with the kids. They said something. They were singable. They were intelligible.

I want to illustrate how profound the theology of these songs were compared to even adult contemporary church music. The language is simple, the sub-text is not. Often the songs started by expressing the feelings and anxieties that our local kids really did have. Here are some examples.

For start of Sunday School;
Good morning God
You’ve brought us here together
Good morning God
You’ve brought us here today
Help us to learn
To care about each other
Help us to do
Everything your way. (the kids added “Olay!” at the end)

For Good Friday ...
See him dying, see him dying
Hanging high, near the sky
See him dying
(next verses modulate – up to the relative minor & then back to finish in major key)
Hear them crying, hear them crying
Gathered round, on the ground
Hear them crying

How he suffers, how he suffers
But he knows God’s love grows
We are free!

Just two more examples:

Hey Lord I'm lonely, hey Lord I'm lost
I wanted the world but look what it cost.
I know that I've hurt you, I've made you sad,
just like some kid done wrong by his dad.
Hey Lord forgive – I won't do it again.


Hey hey hey hey, hey look at me
now now now now, now that I'm free
see see see see, see how I've changed
love love love love, love's re-arranged.

What am I saying? Just this: When I cam to the limit of my resources to do his work and asked God straight out for help – He sent help. In this case a combination of human effort and divine miracle.

Next Post: Holiday Mission.

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