Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Week without Jesus’ Death and Resurrection?

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Apparently, the Christian publisher First Look has actually removed all references to Jesus’ death and resurrection from its preschool age Sunday School curriculum (HT: Mere Comments). Their explanation sounds like something straight out of The Wittenburg Door:

In order to be sensitive to the physical, intellectual, and emotional development of preschoolers, First Look has chosen not to include the Easter story in our curriculum. Instead, we are focusing on the Last Supper, when Jesus shared a meal and spent time with the people He loved. We have made this choice because the crucifixion is simply too violent for preschoolers. And if we skip the crucifixion and go straight to the resurrection, then preschoolers would be confused....

However, we know that some of you use First Look in your five-year-old and kindergarten classrooms. To accommodate your needs, we have included an alternative ending to the Bible story that tells a simple version of the Easter story.

My first reaction to this was mild shock. I mean, it’s not as though Easter were the reason we teach Sunday School to begin with. No, it might frighten or confuse the children so we’ll relegate it to an “alternative ending!”

But after mulling it over, I have a hard time feeling enraged about this. Perhaps they are wrong. Perhaps they have bought into the self-esteem myth and ignored the fact that many three and four year-olds can indeed understand Jesus’ death and resurrection. But many preschoolers are not capable of understanding this, and it makes sense to save the story until they can. It is not as though First Look is proposing that we don’t teach Easter at all, merely that we wait until elementary school, when it will make more sense.

The way they have approached this seems ill-advised (an “alternative ending,” really?) but I actually rather appreciate the sentiment. Personally, I have known about Jesus’ death and resurrection for as long as I can remember. One of my very earliest memories was “praying the prayer” with my mother when I was five years old. I certainly thought I knew Jesus, but it was only many years later that I really did.

It wasn’t until late elementary school – when the first of my great-grandmothers died – that I even understood the concept of death in any real way, and even then I don’t recall connecting that to Jesus. I certainly didn’t live any differently because of it. I was a terror in elementary school, the kid Sunday School teachers feared and other parents told their kids to avoid. It wasn't until Middle School that I first realized the meaning of the Gospel, and it came from reading Tolkien.

My dad had read The Hobbit to my brothers and I as kids, and that story always stuck with me. So in 6th grade when my English class allowed us to choose what book to read, I ambitiously choose The Lord of the Rings. I still remember reading the first few chapters of The Two Towers for the first time, certain (like Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and the rest) that Gandalf was dead, and experiencing the fear and confusion surrounding his unexpected appearances (of which, unlike in the movies, there are several). Suddenly realizing that Gandalf had been restored to life, only then did I finally understand what it must have been like for Jesus’ first disciples. To know that Jesus, their hope, was dead, and then suddenly and unexpectedly to discover that, beyond all hope, he was alive!

I thank God for Tolkien, but it frustrates me that it took a work of fantasy for me to really hear the Gospel for the first time, when I had in fact been hearing the story my whole life. The problem, I think, is precisely that I had been hearing it my whole life. By pounding these stories into our children from such an early age (long before they can have any conception of its meaning), we seem to be numbing them to its power. At least, that’s what happened to me, and I doubt I am alone.

Of course our kids need to hear about Easter! Tolkien’s take on the event would not have had the impact that it did on me if I hadn’t been so familiar with the Gospel first. But does it need to be so early? I’m not sure. Easter can hardly seem like Good News, if it doesn’t seem like News.


Carmen Andres said...

c.s. lewis has a quote somewhere (if i weren't scrambling to get out the door to take my spring-break kids to the smithsonian's natural history museum i'd look it up) about how good stories take the stained glass off truth and give it to us in a way that stirs us to the core. i, too, caught that aspect of lotr:tt, but at MUCH older age than you. i thought jackson's film caught that moment well.

Ken Brown said...

Hey Carmen,
I thought the movie caught the moment well, but they seriously blew it by showing Gandalf in the previews! My wife hadn't yet read the books when she saw the films, so she had experienced Gandalf's heroic death as final (the way Tolkien intended it to be experienced) but then the previews completely spoiled it for her.

Oh, and I include that quote from Lewis in full in my initial post on Harry Potter, here. (Actually, that post is very applicable to this one, but I should clarify that my point there is not to imply that Narnia, LOTR or HP are intended to be allegorical - none of them were. I don't feel like I made that clear enough in the post itself.)

Anonymous said...

Easter is overrated. This series of Easter sermons is worth a look, though: