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Friday, 24 June 2016

The Core Matters

Apples in a bowl
   This week I brought a bowl containing different varieties of apples into my classroom. Unlike the image above I also had one green pear and one deep red nectarine among them, but I had turned them in such a way that they might be mistaken for apples.  I asked my students to tell me from a distance (they at their desks and the bowl at the front of the room) what was in the bowl. A couple of them saw the green apple and wondered if there might be a lime in the bowl.  One near the front said she saw the shape of a pear.  One at the very back of the room gave the answer I was hoping for: "a bowl of apples."
   I began by removing the yellow, green and red apples first.  We noted that they were all apples even though their surfaces were different colors.  I sliced two of them to reveal the "star shaped" core and dark brown seeds. Then I admitted that I had hidden two non-apples in the bowl.  To make the difference clear, I cut the nectarine lengthwise as well. We observed that the core was quite different, housing a single pit.  The pear, when divided in half, clearly had a different interior with distinctive seeds.
   My purpose for the lesson/devotion about fruit was to illustrate a truth about churches.  My students in 5th and 6th grade are starting to wonder about different types of churches and what they believe. On the outside (either the building's architecture or the liturgy/worship), churches might appear to be very different.  A child might assume, mistakenly, that if a particular church is not quite like the one he is familiar with then it must not really be a church.  
  How do we know for sure?  Like the fruit, we could determine its identity by the core.  What is the core that defines a church?  
   I introduced them to the Apostle's Creed, a summary statement outlining the "core" doctrines to which all Christian churches hold and which they profess.

     At times we might see something from a distance that appears to be a church.  The people enter a building, where they sing, pray and receive instruction.  However, if the core is not there--if one of the central tenets of the Apostle's Creed is rejected--it is not truly a Christian church.  It may be a religious gathering, but it is not a Christian one.
   One student asked a perceptive question.  He asked about a particular denomination saying, "What about this church, which also believes that a human authority is equal to the Bible?  Can that be a church?"
   I picked up one of the apples and a bit dramatically hurled it to the floor.  After picking it up, I asked the students what had happened to the apple.  They said, "It's bruised now."
   "Is it still an apple?" I pressed them.
   "Yes," they replied.
   I went on to explain that every church has some problems, some things that are not they way they are supposed to be.  Because churches are filled with sinners, there will always be a bruise or blemish somewhere, but that in itself does not disqualify the church as long as the core remains intact.
   In a world where many things are judged by external appearance or visual appeal, I wanted to convey the importance of considering the core or heart of something to determine its true worth.

Friday, 17 June 2016

What happened to Holy-days?

   I vividly recall attending a Christmas program over 10 years ago in which a youth group acting out a skit.  In this skit certain characters considered Christmas as "just another excuse to party."  The purpose of the actors was to hold up this mirror to the audience for self-reflection.  Is this what our holidays have become?
   Christmas, Easter, even the few lingering "Saints Days" that appear on secular calendars have strayed far from their original intentions. St. Valentine's Day often celebrates lust instead of love, while St. Patrick's Day is associated with overindulgence in beer while wearing the colour green.
   I'm quite certain that my fellow Canadians who celebrated the Victoria Day long weekend gave little or no consideration to the former monarch after whom the day was named.  It is a time to party with profuse amounts of alcohol and fireworks even if nobody knows why.
   As our culture disregards the foundations of western civilization, we are not only losing the meaning of the red letter days on our calendars.  We are also having every day hijacked by all kinds of different interest groups so that today (June 17th) is simultaneously dedicated to eating your vegetables, apple strudel, flip-flops, cherry tarts and a particular brand of root beer.  How are pondering or celebrating these material things supposed to benefit anyone, except perhaps the healthy daily discipline of eating vegetables?
   While the examples cited here may seem innocuous, I originally began this post in reaction to the Social Media created day that encouraged people to send nude photos of themselves to a friend.  I did not want to search its exact name because I didn't want to add to its popularity.
   What happened to celebrating a day simply because "this is the day the Lord has made"?
   One way to assess a culture is to look at what it celebrates and how it does so.  What observations have you made about the shift in special days?