One of the drawbacks to living in a rural community in Northwest Oklahoma is that there is very little competition for just about anything. This includes choices in Houses of Worship. Living in larger cities, I used to enjoy going to shul on Friday nights and attending church on Sunday. For unexplainable reasons, the weekend always seemed to start out better when going to shul, and that uplifting feeling just carried on until Sunday night. In the event of needing to work some times over the weekend (which happened a lot in the larger cities), then there were more options available to me when I could go to worship.
But here, there are no Rabbis nor synagogues, and churches in the area have very little competition. So, if you get tired of the church musicians performing the same pieces of music they did a couple of months ago, you’re stuck just hearing the same things over and over again. (You just get more and more tired of the same pieces of music. Thank goodness the pastor has a fresh sermon every week!) Or, a notable area of repetition at church is when Christian holidays roll around, the Sunday School material takes a break from its current area of emphasis to give an overview of the holidays pretty much saying the same thing, year in and year out.
My husband teaches an elderly adult Sunday School class at our local church on a fairly regular basis, and one surprising area of variety his students have enjoyed learning more are about the Jewish roots of Christianity. Most of the people in his class grew up, married, raised children, married off their offspring, and eulogized their loved ones in the church. The unique aspect to his class is that since there is so little local competition among churches, these lovely folks have been attending this same church for 70 to 90 years. Every week, he works energetically and enthusiastically to bring out new aspects to scriptures which he knows his class participants have studied for decades for their spiritual edification. They, in turn appreciate his efforts.
Since he has taught Sunday School since he was in his thirties, he has seen a lot of trends in the Sunday School curriculum (a.k.a. “the quarterly”) which our church regularly buys for each class for each new quarter of the year. For example, there has been a “dumbing-down” of the literature as Americans are less and less Biblically literate. Another thing is that over time, the curriculum seems to avoid more and more controversy in moral areas One of the things that bothers me the most is if there is any teaching from Tanakh on the Jewish Holidays, then the quarterly is always 6 months out of phase. For example, when it actually was Purim a couple of weekends ago, the quarterly writers could have drawn examples from the book of Esther to make their teaching points. But, no, there was nothing about Purim – instead there was a vague reference to the Feast of Tabernacles (i.e., Sukkot) and Jesus’s impulsive disciples who wanted to built sukkot for Moses, and Elijah. Last year, when it was Shavuot, the quarterly talked a little bit about Hannukah as it was observed 2,000 years ago.
Why this is the case is really not very apparent. It’s not like Evangelicals ignore the Torah’s teaching about the sacred, G_d-ordained Jewish holidays. While evangelical Christians may not celebrate the holidays (this trend is changing with some groups for a few minor holidays, though), they do learn what the holidays actually are. Plus they learn the Biblical history behind the holidays and the traditional meanings of Jewish customs. I am guessing that the Sunday School curriculum writers must write the quarterlies 6 months in advance of when they’re published and used. So, whatever Jewish holiday is concurrent with the writers’ efforts and mental framework are fresh on their minds when they compose the lessons.
One of the biggest impacts made on my husband’s class happened two Spring seasons ago when we made graham cracker and cake icing sukkot. (Just like I learned to do at Hillel with their ladies’ group when I went back to college for my second bachelor’s degree.) I think we were studying on one of the observances of Sukkot documented in the historical section of the Bible. Everybody loved it – the ladies liked making and decorating their own graham cracker sukkah and the men enjoyed eating them – you can’t beat that combination! A lot of grandmothers in the class claimed the uneaten ones to take to their grandchildren “because they [were] just so cute!”
But, making these edible sukkot stimulated one of the most dynamic discussions with very thoughtful and lots of sincere, culturally-sensitive questions related to the holiday, kosher sukkah-building, and the Biblical subject matter of the lesson. The class was fascinated with the discussion on the mystical aspects of planning for patriarchs and prophets to come visit anybody’s sukkah during the holiday. Honestly, most in the class had never heard about this possibility or even considered that mystic visitations could happen in a to-be-coming feast.
So, Evangelical Sunday School material writers – we know that you are all friends of Israel and the Jewish people – you don’t need to prove that with us. Your awesome magazines for the Sunday School teachers on archaeology in Israel and other parts of the Middle East already demonstrate your love for the lands and peoples of the Bible. Now is your time to “put your money where your mouth is” and include teaching on the Jewish holidays to occur within the true context of the Jewish calendar year! It is a statement to those who oppose the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist more than anything else. You would be standing in solidarity as a witness to the world that you support the same values as Judaism and the people of the only Jewish state. And, I know you have a ready and willing group of students to learn about Jewish holidays from you.
As an evangelist’s wife once said to my church youth group during a rally whenever she wanted to challenge us to new levels of spirituality, “I double-dog dare you to do it!”
Happy holidays to everybody!