Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Teachers, Prayer, and "the Finger"

I just received a church publication aimed at teaching children in Lutheran schools. One of the articles is a well-intentioned help for Christian school teachers who must lead devotions and give children's "sermons." This particlular teacher gives out a web address where teachers can glom ideas for "chapel talks" from others (I hope their pastors aren't preaching the same way!).

This particular one is supposed to "teach kids how to pray." Of course, we have the catechism to do that. Even very young children can learn the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the table blessings - as well as the morning and night prayers. But, of course, we can always improve on the fathers of the Church, not to mention our Blessed Lord Himself! So, therefore, we need cutesy little "prayers" that are more "fun" than the kinds of "boring" prayers children have learned (by memorization) for centuries, prayers that serve them their whole lives long.

Anyway, this "prayer" consists of using the fingers as symbols. I suppose this is a little like a "digital rosary" where fingers are substituted for beads as a prayer aid. A little odd, but whatever! Let me quote a paragraph:

"We then refer to the middle finger as our tallest finger. The tallest finger is used to remind us to pray for those who lead us. This is a reminder to pray for the President, the Governor, the Principal, and other community leaders."

So, the middle finger is used for those in authority. Yes, this makes perfect sense - especially assuming that a "baby boomer" wrote this particular "devotion." Maybe it was the same guy who was captured in a 1960s news magazine giving the "tallest finger" to the police during a Vietnam protest. I'm quite certain he was praying for the cop.

Here in Louisiana, there are plenty of people who would like to use this "devotion" as a "prayer aid" in the aftermath of the hurricanes from last year. Of course, we tend to be partisan, so those who would like to give the "tallest finger" to President Bush may not want to use this "prayer" for Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin. Others may want to "salute" the mayor and governor, while offering another prayer for the president.

But I think most of us would like to offer the "tallest finger prayer" for FEMA, for the Army Corps of Engineers, and the looters who took advantage of the situation of chaos after the storm. Indeed, these "prayers" are a great show of unity among our partisan and racially divided people. While we may vote differently, we can "do the finger prayer" in unison for those who have injured us by their stupidity, incompetence, or mendacity - and there are plenty around here in need of such "prayers."

Of course, Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies, but I don't think he was referring to the "tallest finger prayer" - as tempting as it is.

Instead of teaching children this kind of "prayer" - why not teach them true prayer. I refuse to believe that little children today, who have every advantage of technology, who live in relative wealth and comfort when compared to children of every prior era - are not as smart as the generations of illiterate peasant children who really could pray, instead of playing finger games that will have no use to them when they get older.

Is it any wonder that Christianity is seen as banal and silly, and that once children are confirmed, they "outgrow" the church and see no reason to continue coming?

Let's teach our children to pray, and leave "the finger" to other contexts - hopefully not using it to allow our anger to lead us into sin. And if you teachers don't know how to preach a "sermon," I can tell you who does: pastors. Most of them don't have to glom ideas off the web. Holy Scripture is filled with plenty of things that can be preached to all ages. Too often, teachers are pitted against pastors, and pastors "can't be bothered" to preach and teach in their schools.

I am grateful beyond measure that the relationship between church and school here at Salem is what it is. The pastors love and respect the teachers, and are happy to lead chapel and devotions whenever possible. The teachers love and respect the pastors and the pastoral office, and are happy to allow the pastors to preach and teach in the context of the school.

Here at Salem, our children are taught to pray. If they learn clever things to do with their fingers, they aren't getting that at our church or school. Considering our highways in post-Katrina New Orleans, I have a feeling they are learning this "prayer" on I-10!

1 comment:

Twice Burned said...

Good post. As someone who weathered Camille in '69, my prayers continue for the communities still recovering from Katrina.

"Too often, teachers are pitted against pastors, and pastors "can't be bothered" to preach and teach in their schools."

Worse, still, when pastors invite their teachers or women DCE's to preach a children's "sermon" in public worship.