The cramped office for a dozen teaching assistants as usual buzzed with a debate. Then one our colleagues sailed in and announced, “Hey, everyone! SIGOPS accepted my paper!”
This was a big deal. “Way to go!” “Congratulations!” “Excellentness!” “Autograph!”
The applause died down. Grinning evilly, one of the crowd inquired:
“If you’re so smart,” he asked, “Why aren’t you rich?”
Minutes before, we had been chatting how two of our former students were running a multi-million software corporation. Meanwhile, we their teachers competed for the office coffee plate so we could heat our ramen and Chef Boyardee.
From this smart/rich snark a tradition was born.
People looked forward to playing the target role. The target would dramatically announce an accomplishment: “Hey,everyone! I aced Springer’s midterm!”
Those nearest the celebrant would begin: “IF YOU'RE SO SMART...”
Then everyone would chorus: “WHY AREN’T YOU RICH?”
In the classroom, Dr. Blackwell asked for a volunteer to complete a proof. Reaching a quick QED the presenting student wheeled, fixed us with a grin, and prompted, “If I’m so smart?” Several reflexively responded, “WHY AREN'T YOU RICH?” Later, we explained things to the puzzled professor, and he had a hearty laugh.
Perhaps you have had similar perspective-broadening questions. For example, I hope from studies and sermons, from reading and reflection, from prayer and practice that I gain wisdom. If I were wise, I'd avoid troubles. But I have not avoided troubles! So why bother with studies, prayer, etc., etc.? Maybe I should save myself work and frustration, per this parental advice:
Homer: Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try.
Bart (growling): ahmmm.
Homer: No matter how good you are at something, there's always about a million people better than you.
Bart: Gotcha. Can't win, don't try.
Homer and Bart aside, people don't always fail. Even if you are not number one, you may get adequate compensation for your work. Even schoolwork is not a waste of time if you dream, as Bart and most boys do sooner or later, of a career in professional sports. I have cruelly mentioned to middle-schoolers that NFL rules require that pro football players must be college graduates. I can count on the boys going slack-jawed and moaning a bit. That's the sound of a broken heart. I've gone on to observe that not every seed grows, but if you don't plant, you get zip, nada, nothing. Don't try, you die.
"All those who compete in the games use self-control so they can win a crown. That crown is an earthly thing that lasts only a short time, but our crown will never be destroyed. So I do not run without a goal. I fight like a boxer who is hitting something— not just the air." (Paul, 1 Corinthians 9)
If I myself do not expect riches or fame from my study, what is my purpose as an occasional Bible school teacher of the Surge Community Church?
Some Christian education packages relentlessly challenge the kids to accept Christ. My aim is less hard-sell. I aim with each meeting to increment each kid’s reasons to trust Jesus.
Thus, for much of the last year we viewed short segments of the Matthew DVD. The words in this are just the words of the gospel of Matthew. Within that constraint, actor Bruce Marchiano portrays Jesus as someone who genuinely enjoys being here! What do you know, Jesus likes people!
We supplemented Matthew with The Gospel of John DVD. This summer we enjoyed The Book of Acts, part of the same series, supplemented with short bits from the new, well-produced, but violent miniseries The Bible.
As we began each Sunday, usually we reviewed. Jesus came. He helped people. He showed us what God wants. He died. He rose. He is alive!
With Acts, the review continues: Why do we think that Jesus is not fiction like Harry Potter or Iron Man, but real? Because Jesus’ students and friends gave all their time just to tell people that Jesus is alive. They got beat up to tell people that Jesus is alive. They even died because they wanted to tell people that Jesus is alive.
As we begin a lesson, I list the characters and what they do. Often I accept volunteers or assign roles for an impromptu melodrama. We view the video or read. Then, we re-enact what we saw or heard, perhaps reading lines from the Bible. For example with the Good Samaritan story, I had to assign the leading role of Good Sam. The kids wanted the more ham-worthy roles of those energetic robbers, the groaning victim, and the long-suffering donkey. It doesn't hurt that our acting troupe meets in the State Theater green room. In any case, participation builds engagement. Engagement builds memorable lessons.
When possible I first spotlight stories, then abstract a principle or two, and finally mention a word or phrase that tags these concepts. This sequence is backwards from traditional classroom lectures, but effective. Thus we can look at the boy who shared his bread and fish, then "freely you have received, freely give", talk about generosity, and talk about being generous in school and home. Some lessons have been on memorization, and I expect to return to that soon. Jenga, Twister, mazes, and word puzzles offer a change of pace in some lessons. Carrots, grapes, bread, and Gator Aid have fueled this work without I hope distracting from Sunday lunch.
Many have not yet committed to trust Jesus. Still, a secondary aim of each class is to identify and encourage godly attitudes and habits. This autumn we aim to explore several such virtues such as controlling the tongue. My hope is that basic virtues will help the kids survive to accept Christ! I aim for them to grow in wisdom, to merit respect, and to be a help and encouragement to others. I want the lesson idea to be portable if only via behavior, such as encouraging others rather than ridiculing others. As I point out to them, every day these kids reach and influence people I will never meet.
In associating with these kids, often I do not feel smart. But frequently I feel very, very rich.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.