Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Our past, their future

This post may roll too long, so I might chunk it up into parts. We'll see. The subject?

The little ones. The children.

But wait, if you don't have little ones yourself, don't check out yet. This post is as much about being children as it is about having them.

I've been pondering for a while about what 'emerging' is doing, or not doing, to our little girls. It's been a source of guilt at times, and freedom at others. Of course they're only 1 and 3 (ish), and so my source of guilt is actually fear, a form of future-guilt I suppose, of what they may not get from a traditional Sunday school setting. In contrast, freedom has come from knowing that I might be able to positively shape the thoughts that come to my girls' minds when they hear the (for me, very loaded) word, 'church'. Hopefully there are no walls, figuratively or literally, in their definition.

So tonight, on my drive home, came a moderate revelation: I never went to Sunday school. Never. Never as a young child, at least. I first heard the gospel story when I was 9, and didn't attend church until 12.

A setback? Maybe. And yet today I would consider myself very passionate about finding out God's purpose for this crazy creation of His, and sometimes I even act on that passion. :-)

And so, here's where I could use some dialogue to help shape my thoughts. I'd like to hear what everybody's early childhood church experiences were. I believe a collective of these experiences could prove very valuable to all of us.

Let's say anything before junior high goes (for now). Share as much as you'd like about your Sunday School, both positives and negatives. For now, let's try to just collect our experiences. We'll do another post for what conclusions could be drawn, and possibly yet another post for what others are doing around the world in the way of 'children's ministry'.

To get us thinking -

What did you take from Sunday School, that you still cherish today? What things have you had to shed, or get rid of, if any? What specific things that you learned would you say were most valuable? Least?


maventheavenger aka jamie said...

I was sent to the corner for not sharing my play-do and I refused to come out. I waited until my mom got there.

Jimbo said...

I grew up Catholic.
So, no Sunday school. Had to sit thru Mass on a hard pew, stand, sit, kneel, stand again, kneel, etc. Had no idea what was going on.
I did have the benefit of a Catholic school education, but only spiritual aspect of that I recall is going to Mass a few extra times a week and having the hell scared out of me by Nuns.
I would say that I learned alot about Religion, but very little of Faith.

maventheavenger aka jamie said...

I am very curious about Catholicism. I've heard that more and more evangelicals are converting because of the mystical aspects of it. Did you enjoy any of it?

Jimbo said...

You know, as a kid I think I was more confused by everything that was going on. Looking back as an adult I can appreciate some things about the Catholic Church.
They place a great deal of emphasis on communion. Sometimes I miss that and seems like we don't take it very seriously any more.
They also taught me that marriage is a sacrament which is a point of view I appreciate learning.

maventheavenger aka jamie said...

That's something I have been hearing about, the sacrement. As a child growing up, we participated in communion, but it didn't seem special to me other than one had to be Christian in order to participate.

Arizona Bam said...

Well I, for one, experienced a very thorough childhood Sunday school career in the evangelical realm! (too thorough, if you ask me). Before Junior High, eh?

Well, there are two main things that stick-out in my mind from the early elementary years: The Odor & The Crafts.

The Odor: a pronounced medley of smells consisting of Ritz crackers, waxy Dixie cups full of lukewarm tap water, and musky commercial-application carpet which had suffered far too many spills & "expulsions" while receiving minimal cleaning.

The Crafts: various permutations on the use of construction paper, Elmer's glue, pipe cleaners, dry pasta, crayons, & glitter. You know, kind of like Taco Bell in the sense that somehow they come up with an entire menu using the same five ingredients (don't get me wrong, I LOVE Taco Bell).

I suppose if I were to try to put a positive spin on those experiences, the best I can come up with is the basic knowledge of Bible stories that I gained while munching on waxy crackers all the while wiping glittery glue behind my ears. You know, Daniel hugging lions, Samson pushing buildings over even without a mullet, David really sticking it to Goliath, Noah with his boat full of cuddly animals, etc... oh yeah, and Jesus being a stand-up guy for loving all the little children like me.

But even then, while learning those stories may seem fine at face value, I feel like the main thing that I learned in those years was how to become a part of the American 'evangelical' culture. I was being taught how to just "be OK" with these strange Sunday mornings, to "be OK" with the hypocrisy that I was observing around me because "going to church in this way EVERY WEEK is simply what good people do."

So, I hope that doesn't come across as overly cynical and jaded because I'm really just being honest (with as much wit as I can muster!).

The bottom-line from me is that I now perceive those experiences as simply conditioning me to feel comfortable in a culture that I have grown to be increasingly uncomfortable with (I'm not saying that my parents or the teachers were knowingly trying to "indoctrinate" me, but rather that it's just the way the model/cycle works). And I've spent the last 8 years de-constructing a lot the mindsets that were passed onto me in those formative times.

tasia said...

Hello, I'm semi-new. I've been to one meeting, but have kept up to speed through the blog. This topic is very important to me. We have a four-year old and have been struggling with what to do and what not do to with her.

Regarding my own experience with Sunday School, I always said I grew up in the church, but now that I think about, I really didn't go until fifth grade and didn't attend regularly until sixth grade. So, I missed out on the Sunday School experience for the most part. However, from the little I was there I remember how pressured I felt to "accept Jesus into my heart." It felt like a..."all the cool kids are doing it"...kind of thing. I also remember when I did finally "accept Jesus into my heart," I assumed I would stop sinning. I was very confused on why I still did "bad" things. I remember feeling very lost, as if there was quite a bit of emphasis placed on the act of accepting Jesus, but not a lot on what happens afterward.

My positive experience with Sunday School would be how active it kept me. The social aspect of it was great for me at the time. I could look deeper into it and analyze what it taught me about relationships, but at the surface, from a sixth graders perspective, I had good friends and got to hang out with them several times a week at church. From my mom's perspective, she loved not having to worry about who was influencing me because all my close friends were from church.

Yard said...

Good stuff guys. This is great.

I think part of re-imagining church is taking what we think is beautiful about the body of Christ, and leaving what we think may not be necessary.

Jim, I hear your concern for the sacraments. I totally agree. Let's start brainstorming down this path as well...I'm thinking of a time where there is not so much conversation, but just worship, communion, meditation, etc. Maybe monthly, to keep it sacred? I'd love to hear your and Jamie's ideas regarding this. Maybe you guys could collaborate, and we could put this together.

Okay...so I want to hear more Sunday school stories!

maventheavenger aka jamie said...

I enjoyed going, although there was a certain odor...I think it was those cheap paper towels.
Tasia's right, there was definitely an emphasis on inviting Jesus into one's heart...being your best friend...inviting your friends to church.
We did a lot of verse memorization, listening to bible stories, coloring bible stories, singing. But was there any chance of exposing children to the dangers of Christian living? Church is so safe, Sunday school safer...

Tim Trainor said...

I was in Sunday School before I could walk...so I think I have a pretty good grasp on what it meant to me. I think the biggest impact on my life during those years was the attention. The learning was very minimal. But honestly, how much information do you really retain at that age? You remember little tid-bits of bible stories here and there, like Adam talked about about in his previous post but I wouldn't say any of that information was life changing or even made me into the person I am today. What made the difference in my life was the love and attention showed to me by my Sunday School teachers. The fact that there were people that were investing into my life just because they loved me and my friends had more impact on me than any lesson could have. I don't remember a single verse from my Mighty Memorizer accomplishments....(and yes, my mom still has the trophy on her shelf to this day!!) but I do remember the love and attention. I think in the context of a smaller group, or home group its vital for everyone to invest into the children. Ask them how they are doing, tell them things about Jesus, hug them, invest in their lives but most of all show them love!

I say all of this and I am very convicted. Being the 27 year old single guy, kids are the very last thing on my mind. I think about the small church I attend and how much I don't play with our children and how much I don't invest into them. Its not an easy switch to make or an easy mindset to adjust to. But the more I think about it the more I see that we are all one Body and though the child in front of me is ultimately not my responsibility it is still my duty as part of the Body to invest into them. Life was much easier when I was the one drinking the juice.....This is all quite humbling.

Yard said...

I agree Tim, about it being a humbling process. Thanks so much for your openness. Just for the record, becoming a parent only makes you responsible by law; you still have to make a choice to invest, and I'm still learning that process even though I have little ones. It just doesn't come natural, to me at least, and I have to consciously make an effort to give real love, and communicate real care to my daughters.

And this is the exact point of bringing up 'children's church': I am blessed that my children are cared after by our community. And maybe that's all that is really necessary for children to see of church, in these formative years. Teaching them Bible stories can be part of caring after them, but it isn't what really stuck with any of us (that have shared so far - correct me if I'm wrong). Showing them how to treat others can also be part of training them up. 'How' we do that is largely up to us, and can look different from community to community. There is something freeing for me about this realization.

Tara said...

I went every. single. week. from age 5 - highschool. I actually did like some of the stories, and while I am thankful for that foundational knowledge of Bible (OK, mostly Old Testament stories), they were secondary to me.

I like Tim's point about the attention/love from teachers. As I think back, I really did have some great, loving teachers who I loved seeing every week. I also loved playing games, but that's probably because I can get a bit too competitive. I DID have to defend my title as Bible Jeopardy champion, people. (Yes, I was/am a total nerd) I also liked it because it allowed me to see my friends.

I also remember the "ask Jesus into your heart" campaign. Kind of like it was used almost as a scare tactic. I remember that I kept secretly asking Jesus into my heart every few months or so just to make sure that I was still insured, or something. I doubt that my teachers intended for me to feel that way, but it does seem like there must be a more genuine way to present Jesus to kids as more than just a "ticket to heaven."

averyrayne said...

I was a weekly member of the Sunday school club as well. The strongest memories for me were the songs and crafts. The 2 ways Sunday school shaped me the most are almost funny in their polarity-- 1. I came to think of Jesus as my best friend.I remember praying all the time, and talking to Him while I was alone. I miss the closeness I felt to Him then. 2. I became very good at judging people for any of a multitude of things they were doing that "Jesus didn't like." Including, of course, smoking, drinking, swearing, not paying attention in Bible school, wearing inappropriate clothing, not speaking in tongues, not bringing their Bibles (gasp!), not knowing the Bible verse, not being able to find the verse in the Bible as quickly as I could, and finally (during several years at the Triple Nipple)...playing with or watching Barbies, My Little Ponies, Carebears, The Smurfs, any sort of magic, ouija boards, etc (all of the aforementioned were a surefire way to invite the evil spirits in).....or listening to any music that wasn't Christian (or any music that was Christian who had "sold out" and was played on secular radio.) Ew. Now I want to smack my 8-year-old self in the face. I can't remember why I felt guilty about not sending our girls to Sunday school.

maventheavenger aka jamie said...

I assume the triple nipple is that weird boob church in Mesa? First Breastbyterian?

averyrayne said...

Yes, LOL. I haven't heard First Breastbyterian. Back then I think it was Gospel Echoes? That was about 20 years ago. Crap I'm old. :)

trishasuzanne said...

Hi everyone. It has been a while! Unfortunately I have to miss another meeting because I will be in Chicago this weekend visiting some friends. But I believe Zac will be there to represent the future Gilbertsons.

I've enjoyed reading everyone's posts, and it has been interesting reflecting on my own experiences growing up in the church. I grew up at the same Protestant church where my Grandmother and Mother were confirmed. The church has a relatively small congregation – around 400 members – so it’s a pretty tight knit group of people.

I am in agreement with several of you – I don’t look back on Sunday School (and Vacation Bible School and kids’ choir and everything else I participated in at church) impressed with the amount of biblical knowledge I gained. (In fact, my biblical knowledge is actually pretty terrible. I must have had some bad teachers or something.)

Instead, these are the thoughts that come to mind when I reflect on my time at church as a child: Jesus, love, creativity, songs, friends, games, playground, fun, snacks, support system. Looking back, I always knew that church was a place where I felt loved and safe.

Of course, if I really search hard enough, I’m sure I could come up with some negative influences that the church had on my development as a true Jesus-seeker. (After all, it wasn’t until college – away from my home church – when I truly began to question all that I had ever been taught about my faith and seek a genuine relationship with God.) But I’d prefer to keep my happy little memories of Sunday school and appreciate it for its positive impact on my life.

I imagine Zac and I will be involved at a church when we have children and will likely send them to Sunday School. I suppose it will be our responsibility then, to make sure that we balance the (religious) education they receive in church school with real, authentic relationships with Christ in our home ... so they don't end up all churchy on us. Perhaps this is easier said than done? Luckily, we have a few years to think about it, and in the mean time, all you parents can figure it out and let us know how it all works! :)