Monday, June 21, 2010

Where are we going? When will we get there?

I did a double-take as I passed a familiar church on the way home, and saw the signboard out front. "Galactic Odyssy VBS". Or something like that.

Another church is doing Vacation Bible School with a shipwreck theme. Last year two of them were using a program called "Crocodile Dock." These curricula come pre-packaged, with flashy graphics, advertising banners, games, etc.

I am not even sure I can adequately express my puzzlement. Total disconnect here, in my mind. I don't recall crocodiles playing a significant part in the bible, unless it was bit parts in the Old Testament...something related to Moses and the bulrushes, maybe...and of course Noah's floating menagerie. But Christ and crocodiles, in my mind.

Celestial city, yes. I just started reading the late 17th century classic, The Pilgrim's Progress. (This is the "little book" that Mrs. March gives each of the girls in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.) Galactic travels...not so much. What translation includes the world "galactic"?

By contrast, one of the ministers at Willow Springs expounded on Sunday School during his sermon. Or, more precisely, expounded on why the Old German Baptists do not have "bible study" or "Sunday School"...and I presume no "Vacation Bible School" either. Quite simply, it is considered the responsibility of the father to teach his family God's Word. Therefore the church does not undertake to do it for him.

In Alanon, we have a saying about "Don't do for others what they should do for themselves." It makes sense to train our own children in the faith we want them to claim and profess later in life, rather than delegate that important task to others. That goes for values, beliefs, scriptures, practices, etc.

Even in the context of an unchurched childhood, I think my parents got this right. I grew up with their values firmly in mind and heart, a solid foundation for the rest of my life. I had the raw materials, the concepts and vocabulary, to put together an adult faith when it came time to do so, even if I could not have explained any of it for a game-show quiz in VBS if that had been part of my childhood. Obviously, it is a quirky and unorthodox adult faith, fitting quite imperfectly into any of the conventional denominational boxes. But square peg though it may be, it is a strong square peg, one with deeply held and deeply lived convictions.

I don't think an isolated week of "Galactic Odyssey" would have given me the spiritual strength to persevere on the difficult spiritual journey that's gotten me where I am today.

One thing that has always impressed me about the Plain churches is that the children sit with the parents throughout the entire matter how long the service, no matter how young the child. (Teens cluster in the back, wisely segregated by sex.) Some services are several hours long, and the mothers of young children may come and go occasionally to tend to the real needs of hungry infants or take toddlers to the bathroom. I liked this about the Mennonite church I first attended, too--that at least sometimes the little children remained for the whole service. After all, Jesus said "Suffer the little ones to come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven." Sometimes their cries seemed to underscore a particular point..."out of the mouth of babes."

It is not only the mothers that see to their children during the service. Often the mother has an infant, and the father has the next older sibling in his lap on the men's side of the meetinghouse, tender and loving. How precious it is to see fathers attending to their young children so kindly in public! Not what one observes in more worldly venues, like the bus or the grocery store.

Sunday one of the ministers had his daughter--perhaps 7 years old--sitting with him at the front of the room. I was struck by the irony that she was one of the few women who will ever experience a service from that vantage point, since women are not ministers in the OGB church. An odd concept to me, certainly, but I can see that it serves these people well in the context of their practice and community. But how wonderful that her father is, truly, teaching her the Word in every way he can. She will grow into a woman with a special sympathy for her husband should the lot fall on him to be a minister.

But--how could a complex adult sermon, more than an hour long and full of tracing the referenced scripture from one chapter and verse to another, ever compete with Gameboy? And there, perhaps, is the key to understanding the "Galactic Odyssey" phenomenon. The OGB children don't have Gameboy, tv, movies, etc. to draw their attention towards the realms of fantasy. They are surrounded, instead, by people who are talking and living the scriptures. Like Mary, they sit and listen when Jesus visits their home through their father's words. Their challenge is to find the scriptures, rather than achieve some computer-game goal. What different skills and values they will learn, compared to their worldly peers!

The world's children, by contrast, are distracted by many things. Like Martha. It takes something with flashy graphics and a catchy title to get their attention, much less hold it.

I think the OGB have chosen the better part.

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