Monday, October 08, 2007

The evangelist's frustration.

It really is unavoidable; a modern high school religion teacher is an evangelist of the highest order. Here are a hundred 17-year-olds; now teach them the Catholic faith. What? This job is no garbage pickup; it isn't pulling weeds; this task is by definition unfulfillable. My goal--my job description--is essentially beyond my reach and the reach of any mortal.

It would be one thing if I was only battling against the popular rational arguments against God, and if these indeed were fueled and propelled by an intellectual's search for the truth gone in an atheist direction. But what I have is a severely different monster; a beast composed of a hundred-fold irascible prejudice against religion, a lethargic miasma, an addiction to the bare minimum, a total blindness to a world beyond the narrow horizon of "bored-entertained-bored-entertained-bored". I could plow through the textbook, demand the lowest level of memorization, and succeed only in reaffirming the class's pre-existing stratification into achievers and non-achievers. But in doing so I would only be pretending to educate, thus cheating not only my students and myself but the very diocese that hired me.

How do I teach religion? I take for granted that faith is something which is not mine to dispense. But how to proclaim the Gospel in an atmosphere choked with the idealogical smog of pluralism and materialism, the pathos of presumptuous, blithe uncaring; of aloof, invincible indifference? "You want me to care? Make me." The words hang as an unspoken but heavy and real challenge, which, unanswered, muffles my voice into oblivion. Every Friday the disappointment, and every weekend the question returns, "How to cut through, how to cut through, how to cut through?"

I have confidence that my prayers will not go unanswered; and I have not forgotten how vital they are, but for this moment I am left to struggle a little longer, without answers, without epiphanies, without reassurances, and I am left only the task before me, which is grading papers.

How to I teach religion?

1 comment:

Suzanna said...

You take it out of the textbook and plunk it into the middle of their lives. Show them how the Incarnation relates to them as people and its implications. Make it as real as you can, which I think you are already trying to do if your Youtube script is an example of what you normally do in class.

You can either choose to be that boring religions teacher whose memory makes kids despise the very thought of church...or you can be Mr. Zimmerman, who taught his students how to think and at least appreciate Catholicism even if they never go on to live it.

One thing I've had to struggle with is not leading people to Christ the moment I saw them. This struggle took place in a Baptist youth group where you all but got points for the kids you brought to the baptismal pool. I realized that, if I could just get people to not hate Christians on sight, then someone else down the road may be there to have the immense pleasure to see them welcome Christ into their lives.

Remember, one person plants, one person waters, but it's God who makes it grow.