For The 9:30am Sunday School Crowd
Revivals, worship services, banquets, dinners, lunches, heck weddings and funerals it seemed, we were there. But my least favorite time to be at church was Sunday School. My mom has this uncanny ability to be everywhere 30 minutes early – I remember one time she told me she didn’t like when people wasted her time so she wasn’t going to waste anyone else’s time and so that was why she was always early an never late. So that life lesson has paid off pretty well, even though I am late a lot of places I go (not always my fault) I feel the need of urgency to not waste time…But that is neither here nor there.
Sunday School was normally overwhelmingly boring, and by normally I mean always. There is no amount of workbook coloring handouts with stupid cartoons that could wake me up from having to be up at 9:30 in the AM. There were a few perks to being one of the five kids in Dale and Joann’s Sunday School class:
1.) First pick of Sunday morning doughnuts. Cha-ching.
2.) The occasional lesson on gossiping where we got to play the telephone/rumor game, you know the one where everyone gets in a line and one end starts a “rumor” and tells the next person, and then you see how different it is at the end of the line.
3.) The occasional substitute that would let us watch The Donut Man videos. This is a recently found lost memory I had. By simply searching “Donut Man” on YouTube, I have realized why I am one of the few people in the world that actually do trust men with mustaches. Thank you Donut Man (http://www.donutman.com)
4.)The occasional pre-Sunday School trip to the convenience store where my mom would buy me some Wild Cherry Lifesavers, which I believe hold a magical power.
5.) (My favorite of these) The occasional bringing out of the felt board. Sunday School junkies know what I’m talking about. Take a board, cover it in furry, fuzzy felt, draw a desert landscape on it or something, and take your favorite Bible characters cut out into pieces of paper with a mystery substance on the back, and place them on the felt board, and watch them magically stick. Tell the story of the characters on the felt board and move them from time to time.
Note: Four out of the five perks were “occasional”, meaning 90% of Sunday School lessons were dumb.
Dale and Joann must have known I loved felt board more than anyone else on the planet because they would only break it out on special occasions. Felt board is basically a magic trick and everyone knows kids with A.D.D. love magic, but as Southern Baptists, we didn’t believe in magic.
But Dale and Joann must have also known that I would have ditched Sunday School every week to play in the creek behind the church if it were not for:
1.) The frogs in the creek. I hate frogs.
2.) The thought of the possibility of the class using the felt board. The hope of magic.
So they left the felt board up and out every week. They never took it to a closet where it would be pulled out when needed, it Just sat there, week after week on its easel. A dream land of fuzzy desert and a little pond hand drawn on the baby blue felt. I can, to this day, still remember exactly what the felt board looked like, because while other students where doing the handouts, I just starred at the empty felt board.
But on the rare occasion that we did get to use the felt board it made Sunday School way more interesting. It was like a movie, only the characters didn’t talk, and didn’t move, they just magically clung to the felt board landscape.
I’m a little older now, old enough to understand the magic that was felt board was hardly magic, but still young enough to wonder. The stories told on the felt were stories from the Bible, stories of Joseph and his coat, Moses and his tablets, Noah and all the animals. And sometimes there was this Jesus fellow.
It is interesting to take a step back and look at all that I learned in Sunday School and how quite frankly, sorry Dale and Joann, it is all wrong. Felt board made me think that following the paper cut out of Jesus was going to be easy. Sunday School made me think that the Bible was just a story that has good coloring sheets and connect the dot pages. Sunday School took the stories of real people, who suffered and died in the hands of their own faith, and reduced them to puppet shows and talking vegetables.
I understand that I was just a kid. But do you know how long it took me to break the habit of thinking of Jesus as a white skinned, blue eyed, and perfectly bearded man with awesome sandals? I wonder how much of an impact our bringing up in the faith has on our outlook of Jesus now.
The story of Joseph to a 7 year old:
“I get to color a rainbow coat on this guy? I get to use all the crayons I want? Thank you teacher, my A.D.D. will be fine for the next five to ten minutes, depending on how worn down the red crayon is.”
The story of Joseph in real life:
Shortly after than rainbow coat was torn to shreds, take a man who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, put him in jail for a few years because a chick accused him of trying to sleep with her, only to almost give up on the dreams he and God had wrote and dreamed together, and then finally reunite with his brothers only to have them not recognize him. Click. (That was the sound of a camera going off to capture this Kodak moment for the coloring sheet.) But it also tells this story that God loves his followers and would stop at nothing to have them follow him whole heartily, even in prison, and that He is always there.
The Story of Noah to a 7 year old:
“Animals!!! Two by two!!!”
The story of Noah in real life:
How about the end of all humanity save one family. The killing off of entire generations and creations that God had built up. But somehow everything is set right again, a promise from God that he takes care of his followers and would stop at nothing for relationship with His creation.
The Story of Jonah to a 7 year old:
“A whale eats a guy? And then throws him up? Can we talk about this in church?”
The story of Jonah in real life:
Take a man who says one thing to God but then does another, and all of a sudden he finds himself tossed overboard because his crew thinks he is a curse to the ship. He then gets swallowed by a fish and has to hang in his belly for a few days, only to be spewed onto the beach. But you learn that somehow God takes care of His followers, and that people who don’t follow Him when they say they will end up in some pretty deep water, no pun intended, or in this case, they find themselves in some pretty deep water dwelling animals. Or also in this case, pretty deep projectile vomit. However, we learn that God will stop at nothing to bless His children, even when we turn our backs on Him.
And the stories continue: Moses, Samson, David, Daniel and so on and so forth. All with fun Bible time warm fuzzies for children, but in reality all terrifying stories of heart break and sin and near death. But what shines through in all the stories is that God takes care of His followers. He never says this will be easy, He never says He will get you to your destination just as planned, but that there will be lay overs and delays all throughout your journey. He never hands us a coloring sheet and a box of crayons to distract us, rather he offers a chance to enter into the stories themselves, to get dirty. God will stop at nothing to bless His creation, to let us know that he is always there and that He will still be there even when we turn our backs and screw up.
And then Jesus gets put on the felt board.
This beautiful bearded man, with a lamb tucked under His arm and children on His lap.
The most tame and domestic of all Bible characters.
At least to a 7 year old anyway.
Jesus. Doesn’t his name just soothe your soul?
And then they take Him away because He was being defiant to the kingdom at the time, because He was claiming to be the son of God, and then they stripped Him down, beat Him and hung Him on a cross and left Him to die.
Pretty little lambs…
Wait, omit the last two.
And somehow, even through this story, we learn that God takes care of His kids. How much so? He sent His own kid to die this way. In this grand picture of God setting all things right, all the messed up stories and characters, God has delivered us from this. He has delivered us from being the stupid characters in the story, He has delivered us from following a color sheet copy of Jesus and following a real tangible Savior who has sent us grace instead of puppets. Redemption instead of connect the dots. Hope instead of colorful coats. Dreams instead of animals marching two by two. A sacrificial Lamb instead of a cuddly sheep. A promise. A covenant. A Savior.
Buy my new book, “Definitive Blurs”