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Sunday School

Once again it is Sunday morning and dread fills my soul. I am a Sunday School teacher.

Every Sunday when I’m not out on tour or a speaking engagement, I have the opportunity to face thirty or so knowledgeable, eagle-eyed connoisseurs of the Bible. Most of them can look back on fifty or more years of reading, memorizing, quoting and reciting the entire Good Book. In our Sunday School class alone, they have been through it two or three times. How can they not sneer at my pathetic excuse for a Sunday school lesson? Me, with my limited Biblical knowledge when they know so much more than I?


The beautiful First United Methodist Church

And yet, in Christian kindness I suppose, they put up with my teaching. Okay, perhaps it’s because no one else wants to teach the class. Or perhaps it’s because we laugh. And we discuss. And we argue. And eyebrows go up at comments. And heads shake. And they get a chance to speak up. And I draw on their knowledge as we learn from each other.

It’s been quite an experience to teach a class based on one source rather than the myriad of books I am used to. I’m a historian, after all, not a Biblical scholar. I’ve attended Sunday School and Church since I was little. My father was originally a Catholic. My mother a Presbyterian. But we attended church in Mexico City throughout my youth at a Union Church that catered to all Protestant denominations. We never had to memorize verses or even read the Bible. So I never did.


I’m reading it now

Then when we came to the United States when I was 17, I looked askance at the variety of churches available. We arrived in Miami during the wild and crazy 1960s and 1970s. While one brother went off to Bible College in Florida, my mother went off to a Doctorate in every weird philosophy that Fritz Perls and the Esalen Insititute of California had to offer. I stayed away from church altogether.

We kids, like it or not, got to participate in every mind-expanding Therapy group drifting through the weed-infused ether of the 1970s. After one particularly harrowing group encounter, I can remember sitting on the side of the road with my flailing and recumbent aunt while she had a “break-through.” The cop who stopped didn’t think a break-through was such a good thing with my aunt shaking and crying and screaming in the weeds on the side of the road. He could only shake his head at our explanation. And no, surprisingly, there was no helpful “weed” involved.

As a result, we pretty much experimented with churches. My sister joined the Church of Christ, my other brother became a Berean Baptist (still not sure what that means), the Bible College brother went on to pastor his own church and I married a Jew. Although I knew more about the Jewish religion than he did (after taking a Religious Studies class as part of my history Bachelor’s Degree), I didn’t convert and we didn’t attend synagogue, much to his mother’s displeasure.


Family grouping
All over the map liturgically

Today, our family is still all over the Biblical and liturgical map. Mom, although she is now learning the truth about the after-life, preached every new philosophy that came along. My sister is now a Unitarian, or is it a Universalist Unitarian? Or something that extends love of mankind to every human. Very New Age Green New Deal. The church brother is now a proper Baptist after getting a degree from the Methodist Asbury Seminary. The last brother is into the Evangelicals but not sure if they have a denomination. And here I find myself pontificating to a room full of proper Methodists.

All I can say, as I frantically find something coherent to say about Mark, Chapter 13, is that God must have a sense of humor.

6 Responses
  1. Denton Florian

    Mary Lou and I joke about being MethoBapterians. My dad was raised Catholic and that side of the family remains so, but through the influence of my mother we were reared in the Methodist church. As a high schooler I was in a large and very disciplined choir led by a truly great man, Ray Evans. He was a strong leader and a musical perfectionist who worked our tails off. The result was we were good. Very good. And through it all he taught us what we were singing about. (Does anybody know what a “fetter” is?) So much music is seared into my brain that I can’t read scripture to this day without music playing in my head. That’s a real gift. Handel, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and the numerous storied hymn writers –all are still with me.

    The bedrock of faith both absorbs a lot of sucker punches and illuminates little things all around us that normally go unnoticed. I passed a ditch full of wildflowers yesterday and thought about what they would look like if I photographed them with a macro lens. The beauty and delicate structure of each one is amazing.

    What if that patch of flowers was the only one like it that bloomed each year? Just that little spot? That ditch would be a tourist attraction. People would come from all over to see it and the flowers would grace the covers of national magazines. But the flowers are everywhere and so all of those cars were just filing by with scarcely a glance. Somebody once said if the stars only came out once a year we’d celebrate it like the fourth of July. We’d have cookouts and block parties and all gather around just to look at them.

    I think about things like that.

  2. Carol Smith

    Caroline: You are still the best…it really doesn’t matter what the subject is…we love you!

  3. Lee Jamison

    Caroline, I have to say I love our discussions of both Theology in general and Methodism in particular. The point you raise, though, especially in relation to your mom’s philosophical meandering is a serious one. It is now so easy to be inundated with what passes for information about what passes for serious thought that it is often difficult for us to pin down why philosophies and social movements of long standing really should be discussed seriously. Why are they not as vacuous as the dozens of hip philosophies we have seen in the electronic age?

    Perhaps that should be a curriculum core question.

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