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We had a really good class last night. I hope your children came home talking about it. If not, ask them.

We stepped outside the normal curriculum to take a look at the Ten Commandments. This subject used to be a part of the 5th grade curriculum, but it dropped out when we switched textbooks a few years ago. However, since these classes produced such engagement and energy, I kept them a part of our curriculum.

Last night was no exception. The students engaged and participated with interest. They generated lots of ideas, questions, etc., even from some of the students who are sometimes more reticent. Two of our students, who do not normally volunteer to read aloud did so.

We had one really funny incident. We were discussing the 4th Commandment (Honor your father and mother.). As one point of discussion, I was trying to drive the class towards the idea that as parents get elderly, it is the responsibility of their children to care for them. One of our students said: “Well, when people get old they become week and feeble, and need hearing aids.” As you may know, I wear hearing aids and have done so for more than 25 years. So I pulled one off and replied, “You mean like this one?” The poor girl’s mouth dropped open and she turned beet red. We laughed and I told her it was OK. But the whole thing was very funny.

But back to the lesson…

We started by telling the story of the Israelites escape from Egypt and how they came the base of Mt. Sinai. We talked about how they were worshiping idols, generally misbehaving and needed a set of rules to live by. We then had the students take turns reading aloud from Exodus Chapter 20, which is the first description of the Commandments.

We distributed a listing of the Commandments that included a chart showing how they are numbered differently in different religions. (Most Protestant churches break up the first three “God Commandments” into four and combine the “covet commandments” into just one.) We pointed out that this is only an issue when you discuss a particular commandment with a Protestant friend. If you are discussing the Fourth Commandment, a Catholic would be talking about “Honor your mother and father,” but the Protestant friend would be talking about keeping holy the Sabbath. We walked our way through the first seven Commandments with these key points.

#1 “I am the Lord your God…” We discussed how worshiping statues and other idols was common in the time of Moses. However, we asked the students to think of things in today’s world that some people may elevate to a priority higher than God. They came up with things like money, popularity, music stars, gambling, alcohol abuse, drugs, and even electronic games.

#2 “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of God” We talked about using God’s name improperly. We also pointed out that the early Jewish people took this commandment so far as to give God a name that could not be pronounced. It eventually evolved into Yahweh or Jehovah.

#3 “Keep holy the Sabbath” We discussed why Christians changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, and the requirement to attend Mass on Sunday.

#4. “Honor your father and mother” As mentioned above, we emphasized the need to love and respect your parents throughout their life and to help and support them when they need it.

#5 “You shall not kill” Not a lot of discussion here. We talked a little about self-defense and war, but didn’t go very deep into other issues.

#6 “You shall not commit adultery” Surprisingly, the first student I called up on could define adultery. We emphasized the importance of the marriage vows, but did not wander far afield on this one.

#7 “You shall not steal” Again, this one was pretty obvious to the class. We did broaden the definition to go beyond just physical objects to include intangibles like ideas, software, pirated music downloads, and so on.

Next week, we will finish off with the last three (false witness and the two “covet commandments.”) We will then break them into groups and have them come up with a set of commandments relevant for today’s 5th graders. That is always fun.

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Sorry for the delay in posting this update. The past couple of days were just a little busy.

In any case, on Wednesday evening, we tackled the last six of the Ten Commandments. This was a rather unstructured, free-flowing discussion. Perhaps it was a little too unstructured, as keeping the class focused on a group discussion was a little challenge. The temptations of cutting up and chatting with one’s neighbors was more than some of our little band could withstand. Even so, it was fairly lively and most of the group was involved.

We started with a review of the first four commandments we covered last week, then moved on to the next set. Here are the key points we discussed.

“You shall not kill” – Surprisingly, there weren’t as many questions about this as I had anticipated. Some students were concerned about killing animals, like for food. Some others were concerned that God had killed in the Bible (the plagues on Egypt in Exodus and the Great Flood in Genesis.) We talked a little about self-defense and then moved on.

“You shall not commit adultery” – We defined “adultery” simply as breaking your marriage vows or “cheating” on your husband or wife. (There was no need to go into greater detail with this age group.) We jumped out of order and also included #9 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” in he discussion. We pointed out that both commandments underscore the importance God puts on the sanctity of marriage. While the adultery commandment is aimed at the married couple, the covet prohibition is targeted towards the third person in an adulterous triangle.

“You shall not steal” – This must have been self explanatory, as we had no questions or “…but what if?” scenarios.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” – The class understood the obvious point of the commandment. We elaborated a little and tried to relate it to their age group by including gossip in he conversation. They seemed to make the connection and understood how simple playground gossip can be harmful and run afoul of this commandment.

“You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor” – In earlier discussions, we defined “covet” (which was a concept that no one initially understood) as wanting something so much that you are willing to do something wrong to get it. We gave a few examples and the idea seemed to click.

In response to a question from one of the students, we had a discussion about why the Jewish people did not follow Jesus and become Christians. We provided some historical perspective and explained how in the years immediately following Christ’s resurrection, here was much discussion in the Jewish and Christian community about the nature of Christ. Not everyone believed him to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Those who did followed the apostles and other early Christian leaders. Those who did not remained Jews.

As always, we concluded the class by polling each student and asking them to name one thing they learned that evening. Everyone who responded (and that was all of them), was rewarded with a homemade cookie.

This week, I may start with an exercise. We’ll break the class into small groups and ask them to imagine they are assigned to write a set of commandments for today’s fifth graders. It might be interesting to see what they come up with. They will probably take around half the class period. During the second half, we will cover the upcoming season of Lent.

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Last night was our second-to-last CCD class for the year and the last one during which we will try to teach a serious lesson. Spring fever is certainly upon us. The students were all hovering about six inches over their seats when we began class. Lots of energy!

As expected, we had a pretty interesting discussion. Last week, we discussed the Ten Commandments in general and the first commandment in detail. Last night, we went over the final nine commandments. There were lots of questions and plenty of discussion. Among the points we discussed were:

— Don’t use the name of God improperly, through exclamations, cursing and so on.

— Why Catholics celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday rather than the “seventh day,” and our obligations to honor the Sabbath, such as attending Mass.

— The fourth commandment to honor your father and mother is intended for all ages, not just children. It’s easy to honor your parents when you are a child and are dependent on them. However, God wants us to honor our parents, especially when they are old and they are dependent upon us.

— “You shall not kill” raised a ton of questions, including war, accidents and suicide. We could have spent all night talking about the morality of military combat, but we didn’t have that much time. We simply pointed out that while God hates war, sometimes a justified war is better than the alternative.

Accidents are not considered a sin. However, someone who kills another in a car “accident” would certainly have some responsibility if they had been drinking, using drugs, driving recklessly, etc.

We discussed the Church’s teaching that suicide is a mortal sin. While many of the students believed their life belongs only to hem, we pointed out that their life is a gift from God, and so for someone to take their own life would be taking something that belongs to God. We did discuss two important related points.

1.) Many people who commit suicide are mentally impaired and may not be responsible for their actions.

2.) Only God knows if the person may have repented and asked for forgiveness at the last moment.

Because of these points, we emphasized that they should never judge what might have happened if they hear about a suicide.

— The commandment prohibiting adultery raised some questions, mostly “What is adultery?” (Of course, one of those questions came after we had just spent ten minutes explaining and discussing it. Thank you for paying attention.) We referred back to our discussion of marital fidelity when we covered Matrimony, and the importance of keeping marriage vows to be faithful.

–“You shall not steal” was pretty straight-forward. The class understood it right off and we didn’t have much discussion.

–The prohibition against false witness raised some questions. We tried to relate the concept to 5th grade lives by talking about gossip and rumors, which they seemed to understand.

— The ninth and tenth commandments prohibit coveting your neighbors wife (or husband) and anything that belongs to your neighbor. “Covet” was a new concept to most of the class. We said that while it is OK to admire something that belongs to another person. It is wrong to want it so badly they would be willing to steal it or do something else wrong to obtain it.  We related the same concept to a married couple. While the sixth commandment obliges a married couple to be faithful to each other, the ninth commandment prohibits a third person from trying to interfere in the couple’s relationship. At their age, the students didn’t seem to understand why someone would do such a thing. Mrs. Rudolphi and I assured them that while this may be a foreign concept to them now, as they grow older they will see that it is not as uncommon as they might think.

Next week will be our last class. We are going to do something special. I’m just not sure exactly what that will be.

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