This week, we had combined the high-schoolers, the junior high and the 3-5th graders to work on the Christmas pageant. It was chaos, but it was a loving chaos. The high-schoolers were patient with the little ones, even when they painted over things they should have painted around. There was affectionate horsing around between kids who were related and kids who weren't. A teenager pulled up to the piano and played. Another pulled up some folding chairs and took a nap. But when it was time to wrap things up, the backdrop, complete with a peace-sign wearing cobra, unicorn, and spitting llama, was carefully taken downstairs to dry and the kids set the room up for the potluck without complaint. Okay, so some of my junior high kids complained a little that I woke the sleeping teenager up gently instead to letting them pull the chair out from under his head, but mostly they were really good. Wild, unruly, the-camel's-teeth-don't-really-need-to-be-bloody angels (no-really-I'm-serious-do-not-paint-blood-on-the-camel's-teeth).
There are ways in which Quaker kids are special. You can get 7th graders to talk about their doubts about God. You can tell a teenager to coordinate twenty younger kids in a painting project and not have anyone throw a tantrum. There's something about they way that we treat our kids that makes them more responsible than other kids their age. Sometimes.
Sometimes, they're more reluctant to quietly accept orders from adults. They're prone to making their own decisions about sex and drugs and can really make a mess out of things that way. They tend to be less motivated and fairly indecisive when it comes to careers. When you raise children to value simplicity and an inner spiritual life, they tend to be uncommitted to the labor market. Quaker boys seem especially unmotivated to say, finish college, do their own laundry, stop smoking pot and get a real job.
I remember teaching my younger brothers the story of Jonah and the whale. My youngest brother amused himself for quite some time by making vomiting noises, but in between the fits of giggles, we were able to talk about the story on a deeper level than the question-and-answer, were-you-really-paying-attentio
When I was working with a group of Methodist children, they were much calmer. They sat down when and where I asked them to, but could not wrap their minds around the open-ended questions I would ask them about the parables I was teaching them. I would get blank stares if I asked for their opinions, or for how the story might be applicable to their lives.
One of my friends, who got kicked out of Catholic Sunday school for asking too many questions, was taken aback when I was telling her about the lesson I lead where we talked about what the kids thought about god (the answer: reincarnation, probably real; God, probably not real). When it comes to matters of faith, I'm of the opinion that giving kids the ability to think about what they believe and learning about what other people believe gives them the opportunity to stay open to the leadings of the Holy Spirit a while longer than the didactic methods favored by other Christian denominations. Does this mean that we end up with some non-theists who believe in reincarnation and care more about the environment than the Spirit? Sure. But we don't end up with a large number of young adults who hate organized religion. I'd like to believe that this leaves them more open to the movement of the Spirit within as they grow older. I believe that we are drawn into the Community of Believers in God's time and the best way be can prepare our children for that is to keep them open to the ideas that God might exist and have a plan for them.
One of the things that I value most about my Quaker education was that I got to talk, really talk, to a number of adults about their faith and their faith in practice. Taking the time to be one of those grownups for a new generation of young Quakers is important to me. It's not a strong leading, it's not a long term commitment. It's something that I can do to give back to a Society which has given so much to me.
While I often come home from First Day School exhausted and mumbling incoherently about heathens, I've decided to go ahead and teach the junior high class again next semester. The curriculum, as set by the Meeting, covers the parables of Jesus next trimester and I'm looking forward to introducing them to the back half of the Bible. Maybe I'll even be able to share enough of my faith that they'll be able to realize someday that Evangelical and Christian aren't mutually inclusive terms. I could tell them that, of course, but they wouldn't listen. They're Quaker kids and they'll need to figure it out for themselves in their own time.
Yes, you have have snack now.