May 2nd, 2007

People are Complicated at Every Age

Much light as the hairy little monsters shine into my life—I had decided a few months ago that I would not be teaching catechism to antsy third-graders next year. Though I’ve settled a little bit now, there were a couple of months where they just drove me nuts. (Not to mention the parents who continue to drive me nuts.) And work is just so, so hectic right now that the thought of committing every Tuesday night to explaining fun terms like “original sin” and “immaculate conception” makes me get twitchy. And I am wholly anticipating that my personal life will shortly become so lively that my schedule will be fuller yet. Really. I do. Honestly. It's going to happen.


Still, I’d been dreading the moment the director of religious education would ask me whether I was returning next year—something she usually does around November.


Last night, that moment came.


Some things, you can just say “No” to. The lack of an explanation makes your response firmer and difficult to argue with. But this time, I felt compelled to explain: I just have way too much work. (I’ve already cut out Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and I told the historical society board I will probably never again be able to attend a board meeting, because my newest gig requires me to spend board meeting day in The Wilds of Los Angeles.) I even told her what my newest gig was.


“Oh,” she said. “You know who used to hold that position? Jim. And you know what? He taught catechism while he was doing it.”


Burn!


And it just got better from there.


“So it really takes that much time? To do a monthly newspaper?”


I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean that the way it sounded.


“Oh—you work at home? So I guess the position doesn’t require that much interfacing with other people.”


Wow! The hits just keep on coming. 

It was a relief to go to my little classroom and wait for the hairy little monsters. (Although I must admit: I was hoping the special ed girl would be absent, as she usually is, because that would mean her father would be absent too. Here’s the exchange he and I had last week:

Him: “Hey—do you live on X St.?”  

Me: “Um—yeah.”

Him: “I knew it! I saw you taking your trash cans in today as I was driving by!”

Okay, I know the kids get excited when they see me in real life. But this just had an overtone of oh my.)


Last night’s lesson was about parables. We’ve discussed them before, but the kids still can’t remember what the word means. Then I read them a story—slowly, but With Great Expression—in which Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a couple of things: a treasure, and a banquet. We discussed the story at some length. We discussed the Kingdom of God. Then we made a list of things the Kingdom of God could be compared to, and no one could remember either one of the two thigns we’d just spent 20 minutes discussing. So we came up with some other similes. Here is my favorite:


The Kingdom of God is like a heavenly bounce house.


We made the list so they could do the little art project I stole from the old textbook—a project that involves coloring and writing and cutting and then pinning two circles together with a brad. And they all did a very fine job (though it was again abundantly obvious that Troubelmaker Boy is not a huge fan of coloring with more than one crayon).


Attention Boy, who once included a missile and an erupting volcano in a stained glass window he drew, was particularly immersed. He drew a heavenly bounce house, and then proceeded to explain to me that those things sticking out of the bouncing kid weren’t arms, but wings, because in heaven everyone has wings. (All my students have Very Firm Ideas about what Heaven is like.) Then he drew a fancy roller coaster—but without upside-down loops, because apparently God doesn’t allow them (that’s what Attention Boy told me, anyway. I don’t see any reason to doubt him)—because


The Kingdom of God is also like an amusement park.


It was called Jesus World, and it had a big fountain that sprayed people going past, and there was a cart of little angels with their wings up in the air, whipping around the curls of the roller coaster. Attention Boy, who has the mind of an engineer, laid it all out in very technical detail.


His enthusiasm was particularly exciting because he and I were not on the right foot for months and months and months.


He has a habit of reading slow then fast, loud then soft. Yes, he’s only 9, but I couldn’t shake the suspicion that he was jerking me around.


I do not like being jerked around.


But how else do you interpret a reading like this:


“JESUS told his disciples abouttheKingdomofGod by SHARINGSPECIALSTORIES called parables. THAT’SAKEYWORD.” 


Well, as I at last discovered, the little guy is absolutely not jerking me around. He just reads like that. And sometimes in the middle of reading, he talks to himself, announcing key words, or muttering things like, “Judas hanged himself after Jesus died.” (He loves to talk about Judas.)


So as he escorted me out of the classroom, telling me all about the three different villains Spider-Man has to battle this time around, I just felt so glad that I got to know him, and that we understand each other now, and that I learned something really important about holding off judgement—even if I think I’m being jerked around.


But the director of religious education and her casual remarks—well, let’s just say the jury’s still out on those.



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