Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

The King and I: Teaching Jesus from a UU Perspective

posted by Leila Z.

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This year I have been volunteering as a Sunday school teacher for one of the 4th and 5th grade classes at University Unitarian Church. Given my background as a high school teacher, I had originally hoped to work with older youth, but there were no openings this year, so I instead ended up with the younger crowd. Having little teaching experience with those under the age of 16, I was a little apprehensive, but the class has turned out to be a joy to teach: each week the students are engaged, creative, thoughtful, and nearly always make me laugh.

We have been following a modified curriculum entitled "Spirit of Adventure", which explores the lives of famous UUs and of people whose lives embody the 7 UU principles. Each lesson usually includes a game and an activity as well as a discussion; the kids have loved learning about Fannie Farmer (by making pancakes), Frank Lloyd Wright (Lego creations), N.C. Wyeth (illustrator of the original Treasure Island, so we dressed up as pirates and had a treasure hunt), and Clara Barton (we played 'Operation' and learned first aid from the Red Cross). It is generally very light on what would traditionally be called theology.

This week there was no "famous UUs" lesson plan, so we piggybacked on another class's lesson to learn about Jesus. To kick things off, we asked the class what they already knew about Jesus; responses included that Jesus "lived in England", " was the 'son of God'" (airquotes included), and was "really into Christianity". They generally seemed to know about the resurrection story, but seemed careful to phrase it in terms of "Christians believe that...". Following this discussion, we read excerpts from a short biography about Jesus's birth, teachings, followers, and death and resurrection.

When we asked what they had learned about Jesus's teachings from the book, most student focused on Jesus's teachings about helping the poor, but one student in particular took a rather non-traditional view of things. Jesus was a bit of a rabble-rouser, she said adamantly, and the crucifixion? Well, those Romans were just following the rules of the land. Another student agreed that Romans were awesome. We steered the discussion into what we should do when laws are unjust (though I felt on somewhat shaky ground here defining "unjust", being a generally by-the-book type gal), and brought up women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, and Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience". I wish we could have spent more time on this topic, and am fascinated to see their emerging morality do battle (gladiator-style?) with Machiavellian self-interest.

You have to admit that Romans ARE awesome.
Finally, we had a activity entitled "What Would Jesus Do?". You see a bully on the playground; what would Jesus do? Your friend is pulling his cat's tail; what would Jesus do? The Roman advocate decided that Jesus would probably give a long, boring lecture, thus breaking up any conflict. Honestly, I didn't learn much about what Jesus would do, but I did learn what my students would do (punch the bully!).

In the end, I decided that Jesus may need a PR campaign more than he needs a proselytizer. I hope that in the lesson we conveyed some of the essence of Jesus's life, and what most UUs believe: that regardless of your opinion on the divinity of his life or death, Jesus's teachings are radical -- for his time or ours -- and we'd probably be a lot better off if "love your neighbor" were a reality. 

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