Letting God Laugh at Us (is probably a good idea)

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”
– Woody Allen

I started teaching Sunday School this year. A group of 5 or 6 wonderful, wonderful wide-eyed girls (age 7 to 12) stare expectantly at me in our small church clubhouse, every week. Every. Week.

I don’t know why they’re all girls. It just worked out that way. Since my siblings are all capital-D Dudes, this is definitely new territory.

For better or for worse, I can be a wishy washy teacher. I know it, and so do the parents. I’m a goofy, guitar-strumming, United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist, so honesty and nuance rule the day: I can teach biblical literacy. I can teach general values. But, no, I don’t know what exactly really happened, or what exactly we’re supposed to get out of these stories. I have no indoctrination-esque end goal, not really. I just teach what I understand, whatever that means. And maybe the girls will be inspired and Jesus it up and light a candle. Or maybe, they will raise their hands and shout “Shauna, that’s craziness.”

As long as they’re using their minds and their hearts at all times, it works for me.

And so it goes: Insert life lesson here. Insert scripture here. We make thank you cards. We celebrate holidays (and normal days, too). We laugh and we read and we use way too much glitter. Money is raised for charity. Songs are written.

And sometimes the lesson doesn’t quite work. Sometimes there’s apathy, or chaos, or I am overshadowed by the air hockey table. (Why is there an air hockey table, you ask? I don’t even know. Because Canada.)

“Okay girls, I’m going to turn away from you for 10 seconds. When I turn back I want to see you all sitting calmly on the couches. 1…2…”

Last week, we were starting the Christmas story. Yeah. I was worried. The whole “Mary” narrative is a difficult subject for a United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist (who really doesn’t want to explain the word “virgin” to your 8 year old). My carefully-crafted plan was to talk about how our plans and goals are good, but God is great—basically, it was this article steeped in Bible-talk.

Yeah, my plan was to talk about how shaky plans are. I’m an irony whiz, clearly.

I pulled out the markers and paper, suggesting that the girls draw pictures of their lives 20 years from now. They took to the project immediately, drawing themselves as Olympians, doctors, zoologists, geologists, rebel graffiti artists… the works. Some of them were very careful, drafting their dreams in pencil first. One was hyper-detailed and ambitious, another was just plain goofy. By the time I was ready to explain the point of the exercise, they were too excited by their dreams to really care about my message. I wrapped it up quickly:

“You guys get what I’m saying, right? No? Yes? Good. Okay.”

My plan hadn’t really worked. Their plans were strewn around the classroom in bright, goofy marker.

And somehow, it was all perfect anyways.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  I used to see these words as an invitation to avoid plans altogether.  But as I felt my classroom shake with the joy of best laid possibilities, I reconsidered.  

What’s wrong with making God laugh, exactly?  

God probably likes to laugh. Laughter is good. Silliness and vulnerability and hope are good.  

Plans are not bad in and of themselves. They’re actually kind of beautiful. Those dream-fueled drawings in my Sunday School classroom were beautiful.  Same with the laid-back, loving lesson plans. Same with your fallible to do list, daydreams, and drive for the future.

Plans happen when our gifts and dreams and brainwaves and feelings manifest into a motivational timeline. And when those plans don’t totally come to fruition, that doesn’t mean they were wrong. It just means something else became right.  It means that life is beautiful in a very different way than plans are beautiful. 

If you can be idealistic enough to plan something, but reasonable enough to not be debilitated by disappointment when that plan doesn’t work out, then do it. Do it. And then change it.  And then change it again.

For my part, I’m going to continue making and breaking lesson plans. The girls are probably going to keep dreaming and suggesting.  We’re all going to keep changing. And that’s okay. That’s okay.

We’re just making God laugh. I’m sure (S)He doesn’t mind.

 
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Taking “Canada Class” (or, how my sense of humour runs my schedule)

I am thoroughly convinced of two things: Life is a joke. And life is sacred.

Because of this, I love-love-love my education. But also because of this, I have a habit of taking courses because they sound funny.

Just funny. Not relevant to my interests (though, usually, they also fall into that category).  Certainly not relevant to my degree.  While sifting through possible electives, I eagerly dropkick away any chance at learning “something important” in favour of being able to chuckle inside my head.

Life is sacred; Life is a joke.

Last year, I took a class called “Jesus of Nazareth.” I could have taken something in my program. Or, if I felt so inclined, checked out comparative religion, the history of Christianity as a whole, or really anything with a more convenient time slot.

Nah.

Instead, I chose instead to sit in a windowless lecture hall from 4-7 pm every Wednesday, tracking the historical Jesus and wishing I could read Coptic.

Why? Because I wanted to be able to yell “I’m going to Jesus class!” to my roommate as I sprinted out the door at 3:30.

She laughed. I laughed.

Tuition well spent.

This summer, I decided to take a class called “Canadian Society” for this same reason. It’s not as funny-sounding as Jesus class, I know, but between “Canada class” and “Cold War class,” I am getting a few of the raised eyebrows and “*snort* what?!” that I so crave.

Of course, my incessant need to bring out the sacred/funny in everything isn’t the only motivator. Canada Class is also supposed to prepare me for my trip across the country in August. Not because I expect travel advice from a jeans-‘n-teeshirt wielding sociology prof, but because it relates to the whole point of my trip:  to crack the code of the “Canadian experience.”  I want to understand what it means wear my Maple Leaf with so much pride. I want to come home with a nuanced, complicated, amusing, and (hopefully) optimistic view of the country. Somewhere in there, I hope my jokes about Canadian-isms will improve.

A little bit of funny. A little bit of sacred. A whole lot of time on the train.

I pulled out the term Canadian identity while discussing my plans with Michelle last week.  “Our Grade 12 English teachers would be so proud,” she grinned, tossing me a friendly eyeroll.

This is the price I pay for hanging out with people I knew as a teenager. Michelle can pinpoint the exact childhood influence which planted the words in my mouth.  In this case, my summer plans are the victim of too much Rick Mercer, a Grade 12 English unit, and hundreds of hours spent standing for the national anthem in public school.

I’m sure studying Canadian history for several years helped, too.

So did living in the United States, answering questions on behalf of “Canada” and “Canadians.”  I leapt eagerly to represent my country, but I often fell flat. I filled my friends in on Ontario 101, disguising it as Canada 101. Sure, I had studied other areas using geography textbooks and google searches, but who am I kidding? I haven’t seen this country. I love it, it’s a part of me, I talk about it all-the-freakin-time, but…I haven’t seen it. My insights are incomplete.

I want to get it right next time.

So here I am. Taking Canada class. Taking a train across the country. Sociology is new to me, and I find it frustrating at times–I like patterns, but my brain tends to reject most large-scale generalizations.  I’m much better at finding the exception to the rule.  So I sit in fifth row, silently Wikipedia-ing counter-arguments to what the professor says (I don’t bring them up, not in a 100 person classroom, but I like to know that they exist). I wince every time someone makes a massive blanket statement or misconstrues a historical event.

But I’m learning about Canada.  I think I am, anyways.  At the very least, I’m learning how to think about Canada.  I’m learning that approaching the collective identity of a MASSIVE nation won’t be easy. Especially not in a single month.

canada
This will be interesting.

This is all to say that, yes, there is a reason behind my crazy plan to take a month off and backpack across the country.  Yes, I am doing the prep work to make it happen–and that prep work includes “Canada class.”  I guess we will see how that goes.

The prep work also includes booking train rides. This I have been able to (finally, finally) figure out.

Currently, my August looks like this:

Halifax –> PEI –> Moncton –> Quebec –> Montreal –> Toronto –> Winnepeg –> Saskatoon –> Edmonton –> Vancouver/Victoria –> Calgary

…And home in time for dinner.

Whew. Ready, set, go.

Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

I just typed a big, ugly rant into my Facebook status box.  It started with  “I know this is a first world problem and all…” and tumbled down from there. The rant was well deserved, if spoiled; it targeted my University’s summer course selection (which sucks). I think it sounded something like “afnv;fdkvldnklv;dfnvdf!!,” but now I’m paraphrasing.

I didn’t press Post. I deleted the rant.  I don’t know if that signals maturity or defeat.

My soul is pretty much owned by “learning” right now, something that clearly takes many forms–mostly interesting ones, but not always. Sometimes, it feels like  “learning” feeds my stress levels more than my brain.  My eyes glaze over, and all I can see are schedule frustrations, lost notes, dull readings, “shi-it, did I just fall asleep during that lecture?”.  This kind of “learning” is often done in temperature-controlled windowless caves;  As if not being able to see the world will somehow help us learn about it. Why is it that important places like study rooms, lecture halls, churches, government institutions and courts so often lack windows?  Are we really expecting people who can’t even see the sky or the ground to be responsible authorities on the world’s direction? 

education
This is where you are supposed to learn about the world, while totally cut off from the world. Because THAT makes sense…

Let me be clear: I don’t think that University is a bad thing, and I certainly don’t believe that I’m “too smart” for all this traditional school stuff.  I appreciate my windowless cave education, I do. Absorbing important information hand-picked by a well-studied mentor (read: professor) seems like a worthy investment.  Of course I learn things.  It’s not a grossly unproductive system; we are tested, we write stuff, and some of it does stick.

Classrooms are good. I can dig that. But if classrooms are the only place that I’m learning? Then we have a problem.

Windowless cave education is best when it is supported by side projects that supplement the “learning”–extra-curriculars, excursions, experiences. Real-world stuff.  But there are only so many hours in a day, only so many dollars in the bank account.  During school terms, I am barely able to get those forgettable papers written, juggle my minimum wage gigs, and see my friends on the side.  I never read for fun. I rarely visit museums.  I can’t afford much time volunteering, or “getting involved”, even if that volunteering will bring me closer to my interests and career goals.

I miss a lot of “learning” while I’m in school. That seems strange, doesn’t it?

I can’t help but wonder if my windowless cave education is any better than the free education I am getting right now: taking an online class through coursera, attending Library of Congress lectures, visiting the Smithsonians, volunteering at the Holocaust Museum, interning in the music/heritage industry. Even blogging (to you! right now!) is quite the experience. So is playing guitar on the rooftop, watching someone’s experienced fingers pluck the strings to a new song. Or getting lost in the city.  Or braving a conversation with someone I know disagrees with me (and loving that person all the same).

You can’t tell me this is a less profound “learning” experience than the one I had last semester, theory-memorizing and paper-writing.  I don’t mean to make the latter sound useless. Theories and papers have served me well; they just haven’t served me wholly. Windowless cave knowledge is a starting point…but if we lack opportunities to apply that knowledge, aren’t we missing something? 

Even though I haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in several months, I’m no less in education mode here than I was in the windowless cave.  Being in a new place, working, writing, dialoguing, and attending stuff–hell, I might be learning more here than I do in school.  It’s a tough comparison.  But I do wish I could bring this flexibility and motivation to find/learn/discover with me when I go back to school in May.

I’m not going to I argue that everything I do is University-calibre learning. I hope it’s not. My brain would explode.  Something doesn’t have to involve “learning” to be a good way to spend time (I love sports and music and sitcoms way too much to make that argument). I’m not saying  that every activity needs to involve a life lesson. What I am saying is that life lessons need to involve more activity.

illusion-comic-education
…not this kind of activity.

As per my last post, I am aiming to be a woman whose life involves lots of “learning”, inspired by lots of activity.  I want to be a woman with “guitar-bred finger calluses, with laugh lines and dimples, with sun-kissed shoulders and tired, blistered feet.”  I want to be a woman “who is continually educated and insatiably curious. Who speaks a couple languages, who knows her geography, and who travels lots and lots. Who knows enough to be aware of the fact that she knows nothing.  Who has about 10 questions for every answer.”

I can totally achieve that. I can.  School is going to be a part of it, obviously…so is stress, responsibility, boredom, bureaucratic systems.  I’m not rejecting it ALL; ‘Course selection was difficult this semester, so Fuck The Man!’.  That is obviously not fair.

But school can’t be all of it.  It can’t be. When Mark Twain said “don’t let schooling get in the way of your education,” he had a point.

We’re just lucky that the best teachers know it.