Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Take Me to Church, Tell Me a Story: Slice of Life #15

In her link to this week's Slice of Life, Elizabeth Moore writes:  If you're new to our community, you'll love reading what other educators have written--these are not just links to whatever was already on our professional blogs for the day. These are little pieces of creative writing. We are teachers practicing what we preach!
Elizabeth's invitation begs the question: What is a story? and What is creative writing? I thought: Am I getting this whole Slice of Life thing wrong? After all, the Two Writing Teachers Blog targets elementary and middle school teachers. I'm a bit of a squatter!

As a high school teacher teaching primarily seniors, I'm not much of a creative writing teacher. The stories I tell in this space typically fall into the nonfiction genre, and to characterize them as creative nonfiction takes quite a stretch of one's imagination. 

The real-life stories often intertwine with various narrative forms. Biblical parables and the importance of biblical allusions have occupied my mind in recent days. 

This past Sunday I attended church. As a child regular church attendance--Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night prayer meeting, every revival service, and vacation bible school--controlled my life. Like the fixed point of a compass, my life moved in a circle from one church activity to another. I even attended and graduated from a Southern Baptist University, and continued the pattern of church attendance into my adult life--until I divorced in 1994. 

This past Sunday I attended church. My son Corey came for a visit and his faith means much to him. Knowing the important space church holds for Corey, I offered to go, so we went to the service at Chubbuck United Methodist Church. 
I drive past the little white church each day on my way to and from school. I walk past it when strolling with my dogs. On Sunday I walked through the church doors for the first time. 

Since the pastor was out of town, a member delivered a short sermon based on Mark 4: 26-34. The passage tells the parable of the mustard seed, and as the speaker shared, I thought about the story's application to teaching. We teachers cast out seeds and await their germination. We rarely see the harvest of our sowing. Yet in April our system of education forces us and our students to endure the indignity of state mandated testing.  These tests constitute the educational equivalent of premature harvesting of a crop. 

Biblical stories live in the texts of American literature., too. To understand our culture, our heritage, and our literature, we must know and understand bible stories. Writing in The American Adam, R. W. B. Lewis says that Thoreau 

was among the first to see Christian literature as only the purest and most inspiring of the fables about the relation of man to nature and about the infinite capacities of the unaided human spirit. The bible...was the finest poem which had ever been written; it was the same in substance as Homeric or Hindu mythology, but it was richer in metaphor. The bible spoke more sharply to the human condition. This was why Thoreau, like Whitman, could employ the most traditional of religious phrases and invest them with an unexpected and dynamic new life. (22)

American writers have employed religious metaphors, retellings, allusions, imagery in their writings throughout American history. Here are just a few:

  • William Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom!
  • John Steinbeck: East of Eden
  • Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon
  • Herman Melville: Moby Dick
  • Flannery O'Connor: "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
  • T.S. Eliot: "The Waste Land"
I'm currently reading All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and can't help but think about Christ's wandering in the wilderness as I contemplate the travels of John Grady Cole and his desire to save Jimmy Blevins.  The novel challenges romantic ideals about the west ingrained in our collective psyche. Similarly, the parable of the mustard seed invites us to consider the seeds we sow and what they need to germinate. Simply, biblical stories, regardless of one's personal faith, present opportunities for us to think about life. 

Next year I'll be teaching AP Literature and Composition. I wouldn't be doing my job if I neglect to teach students biblical allusions. Without knowing the stories from the bible, the literature we study will be incomplete. Sure, I could give students a list of allusions, perhaps this one from Quizlet, but an incomplete story, like a sermon without scripture, rings as nothing more than "sounding brass and tinkling symbols."