Teaching Sunday School – Beginnings
I've wanted to write this for a while. I'm not sure how interesting it will be for anyone else, but I keep wanting to tell someone how much fun I've been having teaching Sunday School, as well as rant a little bit.
In November I finally got fed up with the crapologia and insipid approach our Sunday School was taking towards the Hebrew Bible. From the constant Book of Mormon-inspired Christological approach to texts that have nothing to do with a Messiah viewpoint to the horrible misrepresentations of Jewish beliefs I was tired of it. I study this stuff all the time; it's not that hard to do a little research outside of the Sunday School manual. I love the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament! They're so deliciously messy and human. They're worn down by time and are written by dozens of real, and different, human beings. It argues against itself constantly and consistently challenges the reader to understand it both as individual works and as the artificial whole we tend to view it as. It's fun!
So I finally did it: I asked the bishop to let me teach. I've got the chops for it: I've read the books, I know the current scholarship relatively well, and gosh-darn it (because I'm talking to the Bishop) I've even put the effort into learning Ancient Greek and can read the New Testament (admittedly, I can read it far too slowly to actually do any real translating in class) for cryin' out loud. I can do this!
And so they actually called me. I wasn't actually expecting them to, mind you. Mormons are trained very early that there's two things to understand about callings: you don't turn them down and you don't seek for any calling.
So I actually told them I'd get back to them and waited a bit. I wrote my friends on reddit to ask their opinion. They seemed to be, for the most part, of the opinion that it would be a bad idea: I'd not be able to continue teach if I gave my full beliefs about the LDS Church in class and if I taught things that the parents didn't like I might get in trouble.
So in the end, I decided to be honest. I told the second counselor who had extended the calling that I really wanted to teach, felt that I could teach the New Testament quite well, but that I personally had many doubts in relation to Mormonism itself and wasn't sure that I could teach the class everything I would be expected to teach them and remain honest to myself and them. He told me that he had some serious doubts himself and to just teach around what I had doubts about. “If you don't believe it,” he said, “then don't teach it. If you still think you can provide a good experience for these kids, then do it.”
So I did and started. Thankfully, I was able to skip the first lesson on the “Pre-existent Christ” and we started off with the two nativity stories (Matthew and Luke) and how they were the same and how they were different. I went into the meaning of the word κατάλυμα (kataluma) and explained that it didn't have to mean “inn”, but instead could also mean “guest-chamber” or “special room” (this is the same word used by Luke for the “upper chamber” of the Last Supper). So you see that in all likelihood, if the nativity story as Luke wrote it occurred as written, then Jesus could have been born in a stable not because there was nowhere for the family to stay, but in an attempt to give them some privacy in a very full house. It's even possible that the manger that Jesus was laid in was a centralized stable within this very full house and that Mary had no privacy whatsoever. It was also fun to explain to them the differences between the gospel writers (Matthew's nativity does not mesh with Luke's and instead looks to have been based very heavily on the Biblical life of Moses; we're not even sure how historical to take any of it), their traditional authorship (and their actual anonymity), and to see these kids have fun actually learning something about the Christmas stories.
I'll keep talking about the rest later. I need to go to sleep now.