What would you do if you were asked to teach a class of middle school children for 1 hour each week for 6 -7 weeks on the subject of Christian faith? This is what I was asked to teach at Broadstone Middle School as part of their University of Broadstone Curriculum. Some of the things on offer are in areas of sport, gardening, table tennis, circus skills, comic book art, and music making…etc. Some exciting and fun things to choose from for sure!
Since the children decided what class they would sign up for, the first task was to come up with a title and course description that would capture their imagination in hopes that there would be enough interest to actually have the class. So what would you do? Here’s what we did.
Title: Supernatural, Superhero, Supersomething…Stories about God.
Description: Everyone loves a good story! Books, film, music, comedy and art all tell a story. But what makes for a great story? Heroes, villains, love, tension, tragedy, a battle, a victory… The truth is these things are all part our stories! What about the great stories, the ones that have endured the test of time, having been told and retold for generations? These epic stories are in a class of their own. Every culture has them and most often you find them safely kept in the particular culture’s sacred writings.
Using film, music, narrative and art, this course is going to look at some of the epic stories shared throughout generations of British history from the Christian Bible.
And so we did get our quota of children signed up for this course. In fact, so many children signed up that we were asked to teach a second course the following term.
We began in the New Year and finished just before Easter, and since Jo Farmer was now working with me, she played an important role in the success of the course!
We always opened with this statement:
• The Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project is a three-year Oxford-based project, which incorporated more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers looking at countries from China to Poland and the United States to Micronesia.
• The findings tell us that religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings. It shows that religious belief is much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted then we have understood.
Religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings! If this is true then we can expect to find redemptive themes not only in the Bible or in church but expressed in all kinds of ways, for instance, in art, film, music, and stories… And so our search began to find the biblical redemptive story in these things we love today.
First we looked at Jesus through the lens of the cultural icon, Superman. Sent to earth wrapped in a cape. And though he had earthly parents (Martha and Jonathan (M,J) similar to Mary and Joseph (M,J)), he had a real father somewhere else. Superman’s real father’s name is Jor-El.
El is Hebrew for God. Superman’s real name is Kal-El. Hebrew for Star God similar to the ‘star’ that announced Christ’s birth. Superman had an enemy, Lex Luthur similar to Lucifer, and so on.
In the most recent film, Jor-El says of his son, “he will be a God to them” (the people of earth). His wife responds, “He’ll be an outcast. They will kill him.” Later on Jor-El says to his son through a hologram he had made, “You’ll give the people of earth an ideal to strive towards. They’ll race behind you. They will stumble, they will fall. But in time they will join you.” Superman is such a great example of a story that has within it all the elements of the redemptive story of Christ.
Of course, we had a special formula for the students to discover their own Superhero name, and they got to choose their Superhero powers that they would use for the good of humankind!
Following this pattern we looked at other films such as those from Disney to help the children relate more and more to the biblical Jesus, interspersing, all the while, the epic stories from the Bible, helping the children connect the dots from what they see in the films to the biblical text. One of my favourites was a film called Pay it Forward, where a class of middle school students were asked to come up with an idea to ‘change the world and put it into practice.’ This sounds like something biblical, but so much more appealing to a middle school student when it’s from a film with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt in it!
When it came to music, we explored several genres of Christian music, giving the children the opportunity, as if they were the judges on X-Factor, to mark the different songs. I found this quite informative as it gave us a window into how these children viewed the different types of music the church of today uses in their church services. The one that scored lowest was from the contemporary Christian music scene; Hillsong’s children’s worship song, Every Move I Make. They actually thought it was ‘creepy’! The sentence, ‘Every breath I take, I take in you, Jesus...’ was just too weird! So yes, I have used this song at Messy Church, and no, I won’t be anymore! What they loved and scored the highest was a song by the Mormon Children’s Choir, Glorious. The song is about God’s purpose for each of us as individuals, that when joined together with others, we are like a beautiful symphony, Glorious! WOW! All 10’s for that one! Second place was a Christian rap song by Toby Mac called Forgiveness. A song about needing and receiving forgiveness seemed to really resonate with these children.
From there we moved on to art and Michelangelo’s painting, the Creation of Adam, in the Sistine Chapel. We used this as a backdrop to think about God and what we think God is like, as well as the creation story and what that might mean for us today. This also produced some very interesting artwork by the students.
And for the perfect ending to every class, I just couldn’t resist baking some brownies or cookies that guaranteed many new faces at our weekly Thirsty Thursday in the coffee lounge at the church!