I cannot believe that I am a Sunday School teacher. If you had gone back in time to tell my younger self – the kid who went to church maybe twice a year in good years – he would have been been rolling on the floor. Even if you had asked me a couple of years ago that not only was I going to join a church, but I was going to get a lot out of it and start working with kids, I probably would have thought you were absolutely chock full of blueberry muffins.
I was christened as a United Methodist, but my formal religious education was limited to a week of Bible Study one summer. Otherwise, we showed up at church on Easter and maybe at Christmas. Despite this lack, I came up with a list of virtues to live my life by (a la Benjamin Franklin). I don’t think they exactly conform to the Big Ten, but I worked hard to live up to them. I still do. However, I didn’t think about going back to church until I was going to be a dad.
My wife Meka grew up with more experience with formal religion and attended several different denominations through her youth. To be honest, none of them sounded all that appealing and Meka didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about rejoining any of them. Still, we thought it was important for our son to have some exposure to religion. We talked about religion, we read books, we went “church shopping” on Sundays; checking out various services in the area. Still nothing. We had agreed that we wanted to all share a common religion as a family, but that was about all we could pin down. In the end, Meka and I agreed to disagree about religion and table the discussions.
Cut to several years later. My son was not a curious child. I had heard all the jokes about kids quizzing their parents on why the sky is blue and why grass is green. I wanted to be prepared. I did more studying than I did during whole years of high school. I had an explanation for blue sky all set. I was well versed in why grass was green. I sat back and waited for the inevitable questions to come pouring forth. The only problem was they never did. Daniel was totally content to walk on green grass under a blue sky, completely oblivious to the wonders of scattering and chlorophyll. A couple of times I tried hinting to him that I could answer those questions, if he wanted to know. Nope. Not interested. The word “why” was just not in his vocabulary.
The first stumper of a question from Daniel wasn’t a “why” question, but more of a “where”: Where did Great Grandma go?
The literal answer – of course – was “in the ground… not too far from the tollway”. I suspected that wasn’t going to cut it. So, I launched into some halfway coherent explanation of death that I felt covered the bases: Great Grandma had lived a long time and got sick. Her body died and she was buried in the ground in a beautiful place. When we think about her and how we loved her and she loved us, it’s like she’s still here with us. Daniel seemed to accept this explanation; he nodded and went on doing what he was doing.
A couple of weeks later, Meka got another stumper of a question: Where was I before I was born?
Meka smiled and thought she had a pretty good answer handy. She explained that before Daniel was born, he lived inside her belly. Daniel looked horrified.
“You mean, you ate me?”
I don’t know exactly how Meka managed to extricate herself from that one, but she managed. Later on, she got the death question too. Meka – being more of a churchgoer than me – explained how when people die they go to heaven and get to meet God.
That opened another big can of worms: Who is God?
Some more half-coherent explanations were forthcoming and Daniel seemed to take them in stride. We felt like we had done alright, but then we heard Daniel explaining God to one of his friends. God was big. God was old. He was like a dinosaur. God could do all sorts of wonderful things. He was like a Power Ranger.
Things got worse – theologically speaking – when Jesus was introduced. I don’t know exactly how Meka explained it; all I know is that I came downstairs one afternoon and there was Daniel in the living room, building crucifixes with his Tinkertoys. I asked him what he was doing.
“I’m making a Jesus Action Playset.”
Two thoughts entered my head simultaneously.
One, I am so going to Hell.
Two, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?
Meka and I had a hurried discussion and agreed that we needed to bring in some experts for this kind of stuff. We needed to go to church. But the question was still – where?
So, we turned to the Internet. It was worked for us in the past (we had met via the Internet). Meka found a website that had a quiz called the Belief-o-matic, designed to help you figure out what formal religion you would be best suited for. That was my primary problem. I had spent most of my life coming up with a belief system that worked for me. I really didn’t want to explain this to someone and hear, “Hmm… Very interesting, but wrong.” Meka took the quiz and came up as a close match for Quaker. I took the test and came up as 100% suited to be a Unitarian Universalist. What the heck is a Unitarian Universalist? I thought back and believed Ralph Waldo Emerson had been a Unitarian. Meka thought Unitarians had died out about 100 years ago.
Well, it turned out they had not died out. In fact there was quite a large congregation in nearby Rockford. We checked it out and I really liked what I heard. We took the “Fireside” classes to learn more about the church, Unitarian Universalism, etc. and formally joined in April, 2005. I helped out with the pre K / K class last year as an aide. This year, I planned to do the same, but I was asked to be “promoted” to actual teacher for the class. I am a little nervous, but on the other hand, we will be studying a lot about nature in the “prairie curriculum”; maybe I will finally get to explain why the grass is green and the sky is blue.