Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In His name~

Pope Benedict began his US visit today. Some of my fifth graders knew this. They described the Pope as "like a priest" and "a very religious man."

But other than that they had no concept of who he was, where he lives, and what his role is.

Mark knew he was "a Catholic." Mary said he lived in "England or something." But John knew he lived in Rome, although he didn't know that was in Italy. No one mentioned the Vatican City.

And then there were other confusions. Sue had told a friend that she was a Christian, and the friend replied, "Then you can't be a Catholic." Sue was not sure about this; no one was.

"Could you be both a Christian and a Catholic?" someone asked.

I put the word Christian on the board, underlined the word Christ in it. They understood that believers in Jesus as Lord call themselves Christians no matter what the denomination of their church.

But there is Sally who is Jewish and daily keeps me informed of upcoming holidays and the mitzvahs she is doing, what the Torah says, and other things she learns in Hebrew school.

Sally said she didn't believe in Jesus. Shocked Christian faces turned her way. She was one lone dissenter in a class of twenty-four.

"You don't?" one said.

Sally is a tough cookie. "No, I don't," she answered without hesitation, although she looked to me for approval.

"But Jesus was Jewish!" said another, confused at how she couldn't "believe" in someone who clearly existed.

We talked for a bit-- about Jesus' claims to be God, about some who believed and became his disciples, and others who thought his words were blasphemy. And how the Christian church sprang from these Jewish roots.

"Should we banish Sally?" I asked with a twinkle in my eye, knowing Sally would understand and not take offense at my use of a vocabulary word that applied to the period in history that we were studying.

No one wanted to banish her.

Wise Meg said, "We all just believe what our parents teach us anyway."

And then we talked about how maybe it was the same God we all believed in, but with different names. The Muslim's Allah, the Christian's God, Jehovah.

Sally struggled to come up with the name she used. The conversation continued while she scowled in frustration.

"Adonai!" she interrupted triumphantly, a big grin on her face.

Later these children will learn of all the blood shed in God's name. In all His names.

I won't have the answers for their questions. Or, maybe I will, but they won't make sense.
There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it. ~George Bernard Shaw


Barbara said...

This is so heart-warming! There would be a lot less misunderstanding if all children had a chance to participate in a discussion like this. Bravo to you for fostering acceptance of diversity!

Jen said...

GREAT conversation. A shame we can't have more of these in school b/c we always feel under the gun to get to the 'real stuff' when that stuff is what the kids will remember the most.

I had some of those moments with my teachers and it's always stayed with me.

leslie said...

Heck, I taught at a Christian school and I freely admitted I didn't have all the answers. I just encouraged them to treat each other with love and respect just as Jesus did even unto the worst lot.

Ross Eldridge said...

Good on Meg for realizing that our parents play such a big part ...

We took "Religious Knowledge" classes several days a week, had a Church of England service in "Assembly" every morning with hymns, chanting and prayers, and I don't think I EVER heard talk of Jews or Muslims in a religious context. They were certainly not welcome to attend our school. We had no people of "colour" except for Indians (from India) who, privately, would have been Hindus, but who chanted the name of Jesus with the rest of us unbelievers ...

Oh, Ruth, I wonder how you will deal with not having these youngsters challenging you every day! I shall miss the reports and stories from your classroom. However, I expect you will be telling us about many other things that come your way. as only you can do it. Let's hope!


Dawn said...

I'm interested in where you stand on the religious issue. Catholic? Protestant? Liberal? Conservative? Jewish? Muslim? What religion do you hold to?

One god? Jesus isn't really god? Did you also mention that there is no Santa Claus? You're getting into some moral issues there, treading where I thought teachers feared to tread and with 5th graders. Do you teach at a Christian School?

I'm not too sure about this discussion Ruth.



Ruth D~ said...

Maybe this bothers you because you can't tell discern what my beliefs are, which is exactly what I aimed for. I teach in a public school and I'm a Protestant, not that that has any bearing on the matter, nor is it anyone's business really.

Had I told the class that Jesus was God, I'd have been stepping where the law doesn't allow me to go. He did claim to be God and that was the problem many of the Jews of his day had. That's what led to his crucifiction. Nothing wrong with that statement.

You're concern that the God each of us worships, might in fact be the same . . . what's wrong with that? Many of the names the early Christians used for God are used across cultures. Who knows?

Do you think there are many Gods, or only one true God? If only one, who's to say people across the world all don't have a different glimpse of him? Sounds good to me.

Janice Thomson said...

I loved Meg's answer. It is a challenge teaching anything of a religious nature to a diverse group of children but I personally liked how you handled their questions without condemning any particular religion. The educational system will have lost a damn fine teacher when Ruth Douillette retires.

Dawn said...

I believe there is one true god and that we probably all worship the same deity, only we put our own human spin on how to worship or what to believe. I also believe that religion is best left with parents and churches to sort out. It is a personal thing, at least in my opinion.

You didn't propose that Jesus was god, but you did step on the toes of those parents who teach their children that there is one god, their god, and theirs is the one true religion.

It is a fine line to walk. Very fine. I haven't found anyone able to carry it off to everyone's satisfaction. I'm also a parent who did not like teachers to usurp my authority over my children. This exchange seemed to border on that.


Ruth D~ said...

Dawn~ Not to belabor things, but I think you had to be there. I presented only a portion of the discussion in the blog post and I'm as certain as I can be that I did it inoffensively. There is nothing I wouldn't have said, had parents have been listening in. I'm very careful to respecting the rights of parents and their beliefs. The last thing I want to do is usurp anyone's authority over their children. I can discuss religion; I can't proselytize in the classroom, which is why I was so broad in my discussion.

You might be interested to know that the Mass Curriculum Frameworks stipulates that we teach religion on a comparative basis. Years ago when I taught fourth grade, the state test asked a question where children chose from some historical religious characters and compared two. Jesus was one of the choices.