Archive for October, 2009

Mike writes:

Last night wasn’t the best class we’ve had this fall.  I wasn’t on my best game and the kids, as Susan said, “had ants in their pants.” They weren’t bad or misbehaved. We just had trouble getting engaged. That’s life. Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.

Content-wise, we backed up and covered the chapter we missed last week (Chapter 2 in the text book.)

We started by talking again about the importance of participating in the Church community, and not just sitting on the sidelines and watching. The text showed pictures of people participating in the mass.

We began a soft introduction to the concept of the sacraments. The key concept was that the sacraments are a means of receiving God’s grace. In the course of discussion, we elaborated on two concepts.

When the text mentioned “grace,” I asked the class if they knew what that was. I received blank stares. So we backed up a little and talked about love and people who loved them. We asked the students about times they felt they were receiving their parents’ love more than others. They came up with occasions like when their parents care for them, hug them, fix their favorite meal, do things with them, and so on.  We described “grace” as God’s love for them, and the sacraments as an occasion for them to receive and feel God’s love.

The text emphasized the Holy Trinity, which brought up a whole additional concept foreign to most of the students. Beyond the basics of the Sign of the Cross, no one could really describe the concept of God and the Holy Trinity. We asked, “So how can God be one being but three persons?” One student very astutely answered, “Because he is GOD!” Using that as a springboard, we talked about the nature of God and the Trinity with three concepts.

1. It is beyond our abilities as humans to totally understand the full nature of God. And, yes, God can be one being and three persons because he is, well, God.

2. We told that because of that we could not provide them with a totally accurate description of the nature of the Trinity, but there two examples that may approach the truth. The first was St. Patrick’s description of the Trinity as being like a shamrock with one stem but three leaves.

3. We also asked the students to think about some of the various roles they have in life. They came up with concepts like son, daughter, grandchild, friend, student, soccer player, Scout, band member and others. They are one person, but they have various identities depending on what they may be doing or who they are with. We compared this to God. When we think of God as the Creator, that is the Father. When we think of God as the Savior, that is Jesus, the son. And when we think of God as the source of continuing love and grace, that is God the Holy Spirit.

We finished off with a five minute “quiz bowl,” to reinforce some of the lessons. For whatever it is worth, the students’ retention is really excellent. Something is sticking. There is hope! Back next week.

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Mike writes:

We started last night’s class with a short review of last week’s program on Genesis and the story of Creation. With just a little prompting, there was actually some recall. Progress!!!

Last night’s lesson started off a little odd to me. When we moved to the second page of the chapter, I realized I had started the class on the wrong lesson. The first pages of chapters two and three are very similar. I planned and prepared chapter two, but inadvertently started out on chapter three. Fortunately, I guess, I’ve taught this curriculum for four previous years, so it wasn’t a total disaster to do it on the fly. Next week we’ll back up and catch the chapter we missed.

We began with an exercise and discussion about ways to participate in the Church and to contribute their God-given gifts. The class picked up on this quickly and understood the difference between being just a spectator and being a participant.  Also, that the concept of “talent” is loosely defined, and everyone has some talent they can contribute to the Church community.

From that we segued into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. This is usually a difficult chapter, but this group picked up on it quickly. We compared the Beatitudes to the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are mostly phrased in the negative, telling us things we should NOT do. “Thou shalt not…” The Beatitudes, on the other hand, provide a positive direction on ways to live our lives.

To compare the effect of the two, we did a short “warmer-colder” exercise with one of the students. At first, she tried to locate something in the room while I gave her only negative feedback (Commandments.) She was not able to do so. Then we repeated the exercise while giving her both positive (warmer) directions as well as negative (colder) feedback. She identified the pair of scissors on the teacher’s desk quickly. This demonstrated (hopefully) the importance of a set of positive directions on how to live to go along with the prohibitions.

We spent some time talking about asking God for help in our lives. We pointed out that God may respond, but frequently people don’t recognize God’s help, because he does not  necessarily respond  in the way the we ask or might expect.

As an example, we told the old story about the minister whose church was in the path of rising flood waters. He rejected assistance from the four-wheel patrol, a rescuer in a boat and eventually a helicopter, saying that God would protect him. The flood water swept him a way and he drowned. When he showed up at the gates of Heaven, he was wet and very angry. He accused God of letting him down, to which God replied, “I sent you a jeep. I sent you a boat. And finally, I sent you a helicopter. Just exactly, what were you waiting for?”

It’s a silly story, but the students appreciated it and understood the message.

Until next week…

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Mike writes:

We had a fun class. I always like this chapter because it creates so many questions and discussions.

The focus of last night’s lesson was the biblical story of creation and what it means to us today. The textbook has an abridged, plain English, version of the first chapter of Genesis. We read that and talked about it. We especially focused on the difference between this account and what the students have learned or will learn in their science classes. We pointed out that some people do believe in the absolute literal version of Genesis, but that most people do not. As Catholics, we are not required to believe that Genesis is the literal and only acceptable account of Creation.

We described how the first five books of the Bible were supposedly written by Moses in approximately 1,400 BCE for a people who were mostly illiterate nomadic shepherds. They had no concept of the solar system, the “Big Bang,” or anything remotely close. We also showed the ancient Hebrew concept of the world (below). They believed the world to be like one of those “snow domes” with a flat surface and an overhead dome. We discussed the obvious differences between that picture and what we know the Universe to be today.

The Hebrew concept of the world

The Hebrew concept of the world

With that in mind, we probed the students to try to justify the two different stories of the same series of events. We pointed out that Genesis says that God created the world and everything that is in it, but is a little vague on exactly how he did it. We also told them that the “days” in Genesis should be thought of as time periods, not necessarily 24 hour days.  The answer to the dilemma of the two versions is this.

Genesis says that God created the world; modern science tells us how he did it.

This may sound an awfully lot like “intelligent design,” and I guess it is. However, please remember, we are teaching religion,  not public school science. We also talked about why they would not hear about this in a public school.

We emphasized to the students that there are a few key messages they should get from Genesis.

1. God created the world and everything that is in it.

2. Everything God created is good.

3. It is our responsibility to care for God’s gifts of Creation.

To reinforce #3, we talked about the story of Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, and one of the first pioneers of the environmental movement. We finished off by asking the students to brainstorm about ways they can work to improve the environment in their own neighborhood. They came up with ideas like recycling and cleaning up trash.

All in all, it was a busy hour.  The class stayed engaged and active in the discussion. We’re looking forward to next week.

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Mike writes:

This class is turning out to be a lot of fun. They are smart. They engage. They ask questions. They think about answers and ask follow up questions.

We didn’t make anywhere near the progress we planned last night, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What we intended to be a fairly quick introduction/overview of the sacraments turned into a much longer discussion.

Our plan got sidetracked when we started describing the RCIA process. This prompted several questions about different religions. What are the differences between Catholicism and some Protestant religions? And so on. We gave the class a short historical overview of Martin Luther and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation just to give them an idea of how Christianity split into separate faiths.

Some of the students were surprised to learn that Martin Luther and Martin Luther King were neither the same person, nor a father-son combo.

We had more questions when we came to the Sacraments of Service (Matrimony and Holy Orders.) Most students were unfamiliar with deacons, so we talked about that a little.

When we hit the Sacraments of Healing, all were familiar with Reconciliation, but Anointing of the Sick was a new concept to most of them. So we talked about the changes in the sacrament from years ago when it was “Last Rites.” We also talked about the relationship between spiritual health and physical health.

We finished off with a ten minute quiz bowl, using material from the past two weeks. The boys were pitted against the girls. To Mrs. Worthington’s and my surprise, both teams did very well. Although the students love the quiz bowl competition, the purpose isn’t just to have fun. By quizzing them on material we have taught, it forces them to think about the question and recall the answer. This reinforces the impression, and hopefully, the likelihood they might actually remember it for longer than a nanosecond.


Next week we will cover the first chapters of Genesis, the Creation story and a touch on  environmentalism. This is a good chapter. Should be interesting.

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Mike writes:

We had another good class tonight, but I think we may have gotten bogged down in some minutiae. We covered the second half of the first chapter, which dealt with the cycle of the Church year, church holidays and the cycle of the readings at mass. There were a lot of facts, but little in the way of subjective concepts.  Certainly no “Ah-ha!” moments.

(A reminder — your child should have brought a second, “used book” home with him/her two weeks ago.)

Ask your son or daughter if they can tell you how the date of Easter is determined.

We didn’t get to the last section on the sacraments. I think we’ll fly over that quickly next week and move onto the first real chapter, which deals with Genesis and the story of creation.

From that point on, we’ll try to move at roughly a chapter a week. However, this year we have several extra weeks of classes, so we’re in no real hurry.

For the past two weeks, we have selected three students at the end of class to go down the hall and help Mrs. Peragine with her kindergarteners. It seems the 5-year olds aren’t really into listening to Mrs. Peragine when she tries to get them organized and to the parking lot safely. So each week, we send three of our 5th graders down to act as “big brothers and sisters” and help her herd her group of young ones out the door. Just about everyone in the class is eager to take on this responsibility. I’m trying to spread it around so everyone gets a shot at it. For the past two weeks, Mrs. Peragine has reported her “helpers” have done a great job. We’ll spread it around and give everyone who wants to an opportunity to help before we start repeating. If our child complains that he/she hasn’t been picked yet, it’s nothing personal. They will get their chance.

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