Saturday, January 22, 2011

A New Cast of Characters

The theology courses I teach are all semester-length, meaning that with the start of the second semester I found myself standing in front of four entirely new sets of students (3 frosh courses, 1 sophomore). I feel like my grandmother as I struggle to learn their names quickly: I end up pointing at kids, fumbling madly to get to name. "Chris, Mark, Martin....MAX!" has been a frequent chorus this week.

With each student comes an entirely new story. I have the guy who basically refuses to speak, so he flashes me the thumbs-up sign when I'm taking attendance. Another student has transcended the level of 'bookbag' and carries a suitcase with him. I sort of like this guy because, as a freshman, he walked into school holding  a take-out cup from Tim Horton's filled with black coffee, which he drank while leaning against a pillar, observing his surroundings.

With the freshmen in particular, we began the "Magical Mystery" tour of religion. I have been tinkering with a presentation that gets a bit better (and clearer) each semester. I distribute notecards and tell them that I've grown tired of God. God, if our culture is to be believed, is failing at His job and should probably be replaced. So I ask them to write a "want-ad" for a new God: they have to tell me what characteristics the job carries.  The answers, as you can imagine, are fascinating.

Why do we need to know God's job? Well, for all of those who think that IF there is a God, He is doing a pretty rotten job or for those who deny that there could even BE a God, we need to find clarity on (1) what God they question or (2) what God they deny. If we can figure out what God is supposed to do, then perhaps we can better make an assessment of his performance.

What? Think about it this way. If I am at Best Buy and some man approaches a clerk and says, "Sir, I should like to return my washing machine because it is doing a terrible job making my grilled cheese sandwich," we would have cause to be puzzled: a good washing machine, unless extraordinarily modified, is not the sort of thing that makes grilled cheese sandwiches! A good washing machine washes clothes well, without shredding them, and a bad washing machine is one that loses socks or tears clothes apart. In other words, I know what a good washing machine is because I know what a washing machine is supposed to do. Because I know what it is supposed to do, I know the range of critiques I can make of it, too. Hence my puzzlement when there is a complaint that it doesn't make grilled cheese: that's not the job of a washing machine!

Anyway, after they puzzle this out for a time and write things like, "God's job is to be nice/keep me safe/grant wishes/etc." I suggest a very simple definition: God's job is to make things TO BE. That's it. Very simple description:

Wanted: God
Job: Make Things to Be

Now, I can't make a glass of vodka to be (if I could, I'd be running a very profitable liquor company), so I'm out of running for the God job. Making things to be is pretty tough - it means that God makes the whole thing -- like everything -- to be and sustains it in being. Calling up a historical chestnut, God is the reason there is "something rather than nothing." 

So that's the fun activity for a 15-year old boy on the first day of Mr. Duns's religion class. We do other things, too, but we need to figure out what God is supposed to do (even if we don't quite know what God is since God is not some thing). I can get my mind around a washing machine (thing) but since I can't comprehend EVERYTHING, I can' well get my mind around the reason that there is ANYTHING at all. 

I think I'm going off to practice the accordion: I have a feis in Cleveland on February 5th and one in Georgia at the end of February and I should probably get back into playing shape. I also need to plan for the upcoming week: while my sophomore course is a repeat of last semester's, the frosh course is totally new and needs a great deal of attention. 

1 comment:

David Backes said...

I really like that assignment! As for learning student names, a few years ago I started taking photos of all my students at the start of the semester, and making an alphabetical photo roster. It does take some time, but I learn names much faster this way.