Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It is easy to find God in the Bible; takes analysis

Again this year, I have had someone "complain" about the texts I've selected for my cottage school students.  This time, however, it is from a student; one of my 10th graders.

It is a difficult tight-rope to walk, selecting novels for homeschooling families, because while most kids are definitely more immersed in secular culture than I expected (all the boys in my middle school class play the aggressive video games or at least know about them), there are some students who seem more sheltered.

When I select texts, I look at whether they are award winners (Newbery, Pulitzer, Nobel), whether they are considered classics, and whether they are taught at other Christian homeschooling entities.  I then consult with my directors for final approval.

Everything I teach is from a Christian world-view, which isn't too terribly difficult to do given how all of them deal with ethically/morally difficult concepts: revenge, murder, betrayal, pride, infidelity, suffering, discrimination, etc.

After I learned about this student's moral problems with The Great Gatsby, I spoke with my middle schoolers and 9th/10th graders about my favorite class from college, a course called Theology in Modern Literature.  We read texts in which characters question God (Walker Percy's The MovieGoer) or struggle to find God within the suffering of life (Albert Camus The Plague).

I asked my students to consider the poor choices of characters they've read about (either last year in my class or this year):
Frankenstein--acting like God
The Count of Monte Cristo--seeking revenge; acting like God
The Odyssey--murder, mayhem, infidelity
To Kill a Mockingbird--racism, gossip
Medea--murder, revenge
The Great Gatsby--infidelity, drinking to excess, manslaughter
Maniac Magee--racism
Nothing But the Truth--outright lying or mismanaging the truth
Hatchet--divorce, infidelity

I then asked them to consider whether all of these poor choices made in these books are also made by people from the Bible.  The answer was a definite yes.

One student said, "Yes, but the Bible tells us not to do those things."  And I agree with her.  It is easy to know what God wants us to do if we read the Bible.

But I asked whether any of the secular texts we read encourage us to engage in these behaviors?  They do not.  They, too, serve as lessons of the pain, discomfort, and moral conundrums of poor choices.

God is in these texts, serving to help us understand other people's choices, their judgments, their weaknesses.  We have to work harder to find God in the works, and that is the point of the tools I give them for analysis.  We have to really think about our beliefs, about world beliefs, about what is right and wrong, what is compassionate, how Jesus would react to these characters.

And that, I think, is what living in the real world is like.  Life isn't black and white.  It is, most of the time, full-on gray.  Complex, difficult, forcing us to really think carefully about our beliefs and how we are going to choose to live.

Reading the Bible is good, but sometimes it causes us to too easily think and act in platitudes, to forget that in real life finding God is not obvious or easy.  

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