Thank you for calling me to tell me about your ninth birthday party.
It seems you and your friends had a good time. When you told me that you placed only fourth out of ten in your contest, you seemed to suggest that you thought of yourself as less than a winner. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It is how you live life that counts. A winner makes the best of any situation. That means that all winners put forth their best effort regardless of their placement in any competition.
The real test of a person’s greatness is when he loves and cares for the non-winners. You will find in life that sometimes you will place first, fourth, eighth, and even in last place. That is O.K. as long as you put in your best effort and are a good person. Some winners think only of themselves and fail to help the needy. To me, they are selfish losers, not winners. Yet many winners are good people who do not seek self-glory or first place in everything. They are just putting forth their best effort.
Do you remember a few years ago when you were in Boston at Christmas time? You put all the money from your piggy bank into the Salvation Army’s bucket? To my way of thinking you were a winner then. You showed us a better way. You helped the needy out of the goodness of your heart.
God loves those people who do God’s will and who come to the aid of the poor and helpless. That is what Jesus taught us through his self-giving love. Winners have a grateful heart, a clear conscience, and a heart full of love. Their actions speak louder than words.
Parents and educators who are concerned with the Christian education of our young people need to know the beneficial effects of education over indoctrination.
Indoctrination is the communication of non-evidence supported beliefs that the receiver is expected to accept without any questioning or argumentation. For instance, it is snowing today. I tell the person I am trying to indoctrinate that it is not snowing, that what they see is an illusion. He or she cannot question my authority and partisan point of view. In effect, I am brainwashing and gaslighting that person.
I see on the internet pictures of ISIS preparing boys for battle as young as four or five against their perceived enemy. These boys even wear military-style clothing and learn to handle and use guns. They are being given cocktails of drugs, superstition, false religion, and violence to make them killers.
Contrary to indoctrination, John Elias in his Psychology and Religious Education writes:
Education is teaching; it is not indoctrination or preaching. It is not propagandizing or manipulating. Education respects the freedom of the student. It presents as certain truth that which is believed to be the truth. It shows the options available and presents differences of opinion if they exist are significant. Education is concerned with the entire person: mind, body, spirit, and character. It is concerned with both thought and emotions. It is not limited to schooling, but is a lifelong process. (p.6)
What then is religious education? It is everything that education is—and also more. Religious education attempts to educate a person to a religious view of life. It should present various religious views and even present non-religious views of life. It should respect the freedom of others to accept or reject our religious point of view. Even though we may have very strong Christian convictions, beliefs, and commitments, we should not force anyone to believe as we do.
Every attempt should be made to have our children and adults question our beliefs, to voice their disbelief, and be aware of and grapple with the inconsistencies that appear in the Bible and in everyday life. Our job as a parent and/or teacher is to anticipate the stumbling blocks on their road to faith. There are no textbook answers to their doubts and questions. All we can do is help guide them to figure things out for themselves. Do not be afraid to voice your own beliefs on certain matters, how you struggled to arrive at an understanding, and how time and experience may cause you to adjust your present understanding in the future. Only through personal understanding of our religious beliefs and personal struggle with our doubts can we come to enjoy the conviction necessary to make a thoughtful commitment to God.
Perhaps Jesus taught in parables so that listeners had to struggle with the meaning and purpose of his parables to gain insight to what he was about. Take for instance Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Who would you say is indoctrinated and who is educated? What makes you think so?
Religious education should be rooted in knowledge, but knowledge alone is insufficient. Additionally, we need to accept God’s grace and use it wisely. Since we are endowed with the ability to think, you and your children should use this gift as you navigate your spiritual journey in life.
The church school and church are only two sources for the Christian education of our children. Families, too, must bear responsibility for the Christian education of their children, especially in the home.
Years ago on a beautiful summer day, we set sail from Rye, NY, for Shelter Island in Long Island Sound. Near journey’s end, the fog rolled in, the wind died, visibility dropped, daylight gave way to darkness. My husband turned on the engine and slowly powered ahead. At that time our boat lacked radar and a GPS. But we did have two compasses and a depth finder which my husband used in conjunction with his charts to track our course. I stood on the bow of the boat away from the noise of the engine to listen and look for the entrance bell buoy to Shelter Island. If we couldn’t find it, we could land on the rocks or be hit by oncoming boats . . . Eventually I heard the bell buoy. We cautiously approached it. My relief and sense of safety made me want to circle this bell buoy until the fog lifted. But my husband, a fearless yet cautious man, refused . . . By carefully plotting our compass course and reading the soundings below, we made our way into the safety of the harbor . . . I view the Bible and its revelations about God as my compass, chart, depth finder, GPS, boat, and habitat for my voyage through life. They are like bell buoys and road signs that point us toward our destination. How we use them is our choice.
From Anita E. Keire’s Walking on Water
Think About It:
• What is your destination in life?
• How do you plan to reach it?
• Who or what will help you navigate the dangerous route ahead to an unknown future?
• Who will be your traveling companion?
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)
A lot of people believe God doesn’t exist, that God is only a fanciful projection of our minds. That is their choice. But their disbelief does not mean that God does not exist. Some Jews in hiding from the Nazis in World War II wrote on a cellar wall in Cologne the following inscription. “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when not feeling it. I believe in God, even when God is silent.”
When John says Jesus is the Light of the World, he refers to the divine illumination of a person’s mind and conscience. This light dispels human darkness and continues throughout time. The word Life refers to the function of the Holy Spirit that represents the positive aspects of life and existence. Life represents the authentic existence God wants us to have. Life and salvation are associated with light.
Darkness is symbolic of disbelief as well as total evil that cannot overcome the Word. Jesus comes into the world as a human being to have a flesh and blood relationship with us. Jesus partially reveals to us the mind of God. As the Word, Jesus brings light into our midst to dispel the darkness; but many turn their backs on the light.
Walking on Water: Skeptics and Believers Discuss Whether Jesus Matters, pages 148 & 47.
Look at the drawing “From Oral Tradition to Canon” as I try to explain how the Bible with its Old and New Testaments came into being.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament developed along similar lines. But the Old Testament took a much longer time to develop.
Both Testaments began as an oral tradition.
Many of the stories we find in the Old Testament were memorized, told, and retold by illiterate tribal storytellers for at least 1,000 years before they were put into writing. That means that these oral stories began some 4500 years ago.
After the Jewish people entered the Promised Land and after King David had defeated the Philistines, peace made it possible for the people to live in cities and towns. The old tribal system that existed before King David was beginning to fall apart. Their storytellers were beginning to die, and no new storytellers were coming along to replace them.
Because King David was concerned that these Bible stories would be lost forever, he hired scribes to travel into the countryside where the tribal storytellers lived. The scribes wrote down every story that the various storytellers knew about their people.
The process of putting these stories into written form began around the year 950 B.C. It took another 200 years for the Jewish people to collect, combine/merge, and piece together all existing stories into one story.
After this time period, we have additional books written for or by various prophets.
Canon refers to the books selected to be in the Bible. The Old Testament books had to be judged as to their truth and spiritual value. After the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Pharisees concentrated on collecting all known books. Then they held the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. to decide which books should be considered Jewish Holy Scripture and the books that form our Old Testament and their Torah or Hebrew Scripture.
New Testament writing began about 46 or 48 A.D. with the letters of Paul. Before Paul’s letters, the gospel message was oral. Very little was in a written format. The gospel of Mark is the oldest of the four gospels and was believed to have been written between 64 and 75 A.D. This time period includes the war and the destruction of the Temple. The gospel of John was the last one written. It could have been written as early as 90 A.D. and as late as 120 A.D.
Even though the process of developing the New Testament was much shorter and covered events that happened in less than 100 years (as compared to more than 2,000 years for the Old Testament), both the Old and New Testaments went through the same process from Oral Tradition to Written Form, then Collected and Edited to become Canon.
In 382 A.D., the Council of Rome vetted, accepted, and adopted the New Testament books in our Bible.
The New and Old Testaments are considered the Holy Scripture and Bible for the Christian Church.
Six months after the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah announcing that his aged wife Elizabeth will conceive a son, Gabriel visits a Jewish peasant maiden named Mary. He tells her that she is favored and blessed among women and has been chosen by God to conceive and bear a son whom she will call Jesus. Gabriel’s visit to Mary is known as the Annunciation.
Of course, Mary wonders how this can occur as she is a virgin. Gabriel tells her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:35) Mary then says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
The term overshadow does not refer to divine sexual activity as found in Greek myths of gods impregnating women. By using the Greek term for overshadow, Luke emphasizes the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ conception and removes any thoughts of sexual intercourse. The emphasis here is that Jesus has human and divine origins.
In other words, the entire birth story is not a matter of biology. It is a matter of religious truths and beliefs. Mary represents the faithful of Israel who respond to God’s call for humble loving service.
Whatever your belief or acceptance or rejection of these birth narratives, all gospels want to make it clear that Jesus is God who comes to us in the flesh. His incarnation is a new creative act and revelation by God.
All my life, God has been with me. Sometimes I did not realize what God was doing; but as I grow older, I know God, God’s people, and our hard work carried us through some pretty tough times.
We left my home country of Latvia in late 1944. The Soviet bombers were dropping their bombs on certain parts of the capital city of Riga. We could see the smoke spiral upwards from the fires the bombs started. We understood the Soviet Army was about ten miles away.
Our Nazi German rulers for the past few years were retreating and taking all Germans with them. My father had died 10 years earlier. He and my uncles were well known and politically suspect by the Soviets. If we stayed, we would be either killed or sent to Siberia.
My mother decided we should leave while we could. Because she spoke German fluently and because of the chaos of the German retreat, the Germans did not ask to see our papers. We were allowed to board the last troop ship leaving Latvia. We each carried a couple of suitcases and that was it. Everything we owned was left behind.
As soon as we disembarked from the ship in Germany, the soldiers assigned us to work details. My mother, younger sister, and younger brothers were sent to work on a farm. I had to work in a shipyard. Within a year, World War II ended and all non-German people were put into Displaced Persons’ Camps by the American and British forces. We were put in the American camp with hundreds of other Displaced Persons.
We couldn’t return home to Latvia because we would be persecuted by the Soviets. Our family was on their wanted list. We decided to seek refuge in the United States and out West where everything was still new and opportunities existed.
We put in our application for permission to settle in the United States. It took about four years before we could emigrate. We had to have a sponsor. The United States’ Resettlement Office paid for our sea voyage, and the Lutheran Church paid for our train fare to the West.
Our hopes ran high as we entered New York harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty standing so tall. When we turned to the tall buildings in New York City, it was almost as if the Statue of Liberty said, “See what opportunities I have given immigrants like yourselves.”
We had finally reached the Promised Land, our new country. My younger brothers and sister were excited, too. But my mother was sad and anxious. Her English wasn’t very good. This was an unknown part of the world for her. What lay ahead for her family and her? Where was God leading her?
We were put on a passenger train to the West Coast and the state of Washington. We bought sandwiches or bread and peanut butter and jelly at every train stop because we could not afford to buy the food on the train. Day after day, our train kept moving west.
When my mother saw the vastness of the United States, with field after field of crops and no one to be seen and the empty vastness of the dry land, prairies, and even deserts, she began to wonder whether she had made the right decision to go to the West Coast. You see, my mother was a city woman.
Finally, our train reached Olympia, Washington. Our sponsor met us. He took us to his farm in Lacy, Washington, where we worked for three months. All of us had to work from dawn to dusk picking vegetables, broccoli, squash, and pumpkins. And at night all we had to live in was a converted railroad boxcar. My mother worried about what would happen to us when winter came. She knew we could not survive on what little money we had earned and live in a boxcar.
Pastor Milton Nesse from the Lutheran Church in Aberdeen, Washington, went to the local Resettlement Office to find an immigrant family that his church could sponsor. He met with us. My mother poured out her heart and her worries to him as best she could in her broken English. He told her not to worry, that he and his congregation would help us.
Soon thereafter, those Christians came to get us and took us to Aberdeen. They found us a small house in which to live and helped us to find jobs. I worked in a furniture factory for a few months. Then the Korean War broke out, and I was drafted into the Army. I had just turned 20 years old.
I served in the United States Army and was discharged in 1953. My service time gave me the opportunity to learn English and needed money to go to college with my G.I. Bill of Rights. I studied hard, learned to be proficient in the English language, and went through the University of Washington’s engineering school. During the summer, I earned money working on highway construction. After I graduated from college, I went to Washington, D.C. and worked in the Patent Office of the United States during the day. At night, I went to law school. Ever since I graduated from law school, I have made my living as an intellectual property/patent attorney.
I tell you this story for a couple of reasons. One, you cannot own possessions. You can use them, but you cannot really own them. Circumstances may and will cause you to abandon them as my family and I had to do if we wanted to live. Your most precious possessions are a good attitude, belief in and obedience to God, trust, love, a good education, and practical knowledge. These essentials are all you need to survive. No one, no government, no person can take these from you.
Good health and loved ones are needed also. But sometimes wars or divorces or illness and death take these from you. Faith and belief in God in Jesus Christ can help you survive these valleys of trouble.
Immigrants come to this country every day. They may be in your town. They may need your help. Would you do for them what Pastor Nesse and the Lutheran Church did for me? For my family and me, the help we received from God’s people is what Thanksgiving is all about.
Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist famous for his research in the field of cognitive development—the study of how the mind develops. He discovered that people think on one of four levels of thought.
The first level of thought is called the Sensorimotor stage. This stage usually last only for the first two years of a person’s life. Little or no organized thinking occurs. Infants react and respond to whatever stimuli affects their physical senses. By about age two, children learn that they are a separate entity from their environment.
Piaget’s second level of thought is called the Prelogical stage which begins around age two and lasts to around age five. In this stage, boundaries between fantasy and reality are blurred; and children perceive the world in egocentric terms. Language develops during these years.
His Concrete Operations stage begins around age five and lasts until about age twelve. During this stage, children begin to develop cause-and-effect thinking skills. They also acquire the ability to solve many of their problems by themselves. They can organize facts, categorize them, and then reorganize them if necessary.
The last mental developmental stage many children enter is called the Formal Operations stage. People begin entering this stage around the age of twelve. But some people never enter it. During this stage, people develop abstract thinking skills. They are able to develop complicated philosophical systems and concepts. They do not necessarily take things literally, but can reason through metaphors, parables, allegories, etc.
Many people can enter Piaget’s last stage of cognitive development if they are challenged to think abstractly and choose to accept the challenge. However, because it occurs on unfamiliar, non-physical territory, many people feel threatened by abstract thinking. Part of a Christian educator’s job is to help children and students cross this barrier by challenging them to think in “what if” categories. Jesus used this teaching method to challenge the thoughts and beliefs of his listeners.
Take for instance the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Was the elder son justified in his reaction to his younger brother’s welcome home? Based on the elder son’s reaction and possible future actions, what do you think will happen to the brothers when their father dies?
Each child has his/her own timetable for growth and mental development. Accept this as a given and help your students to grow in the faith as best you can by working with each child within the limits of the stage of cognitive development in which you find him/her.
Keep in mind that students who have fully entered Piaget’s Formal Operations stage become extremely bored when asked to think and work at a lower level. They are not challenged by factual questions that have easy answers. On the other hand, factual questions must be posed and answered to assure that all students know the factual material they are expected to master. For students in this fourth stage and those entering it, supplement factual questions with more challenging questions such as: “Was Jacob right in taking Esau’s birthright from him?” “Why was Rebecca unfaithful to her husband when it came to her two sons?” “What if you…”
Today at the grocery story, a mother was negotiating with her five-year old which granola bars he wanted. I overheard them while I was trying to decide what I wanted. I told them what my grandson likes. The mother must have told him that he was going to send her to the nut house if he didn’t make up his mind. Seeing my indecision, the little boy asked me if I were going to the nut house with his mother. Where would you place him on Piaget’s cognitive development scale?
It’s November. Wind blows leaves off their trees. Yet they lack the beautiful variation and colors of past years. Why? Could the severe drought of last year and the moderate drought of this year be the cause?
We could say out lives are like the leaves on the trees. If the trees are watered, fertilized, and free from invasive vines and insects, chances are their foliage is a beautiful gift to those who lift their eyes from their smart phones and observe the beauty in nature.
We, too, have a similar life cycle to a tree. How we nourish our spiritual lives that influence not only our life but the lives of other people will be displayed in the fruit we bear. We may or may not provide others with shade as well as protection from the dysfunction in society if we fail to nourish our own spiritual lives.
Will our life’s end be a dried up colorless leaf or a vibrant multi-colored one?
If Christian educators are not properly prepared and confident about what they teach and how they teach or if the material they present to their students lacks depth, or seems like a fairy tale, then the realities and pressures of our times will cause our young people to abandon or take a wrong turn in their spiritual quest. They will never answer for themselves the four major questions our faith and our life’s journey demand us to ask: Who am I? Who are you? Who is God; and What does God want of me?
To ensure that our young people do come to terms with these questions, the Mustard Seed Series uses Jesus’ own teaching techniques of parables and open-ended questions. In our lives as Christians, there are often no easy or ready-made answers to difficult questions and uncertainties. All of us need to ask how we as Christians can be God’s instruments in such matters as refugee and displaced persons resettlement, towards the starving in Africa, towards persecuted minorities, and towards the homeless and vulnerable in America. In the Mustard Seed Series as in life, questions arise for which there are no easy or ready-made answers.