Before tossing the catalog into the circular file I skimmed over the outside cover and noticed the words “fun and faith” joined together in an alliterative effort to illustrate what their catalog was all about. Well, guess what? It was all about fun and faith and how they go together. Cutesy puppets, bunnies, crosses, prayer boxes, angels, etc. – all for sale and all designed to make faith fun for the youngsters!
I thought back to my own childhood. I guess there was some of that in Sunday school when I was a boy, though that was a very long time ago! It’s called crafts. We did that back in the fifties and sixties. I know we did. When I search my memory I do recall cutting, gluing, pasting, and hoping that whatever resulted from my uncoordinated efforts would remain in one piece at least until I got it home. Then it would sit somewhere for a while. It would sooner or later disappear. Being the fourth of ten children, I was not coddled. Perhaps I treasured my Sunday school crafts (after all, I did put a bit of work into them and that ought to count for something). And it’s not that my mother wasn’t sentimental. She was just practical. She matter-of-factly threw away all of the crafts I took home – not right away, mind you – but in time she had no choice. What are you going to do with all that junk?
I can’t remember it being that much fun. Maybe the teachers enjoyed it. Or maybe it gave them a sense of accomplishment. I did what was expected of me, Mom endured the invasion of useless fun stuff that would have to be tossed, and we all grew up. Until, that is, we had children of our own and the faith is fun exercises resumed. How many hours? How many children? How many VBS gatherings? How many crafts? Can anyone count them? And where does all the fun faith stuff go? In the trash – unless, of course, you are hopelessly sentimental, or a fanatical pack rat, or you have a huge house with extra rooms. I suspect that it is sentimentality at work for most of us until we screw up the inner strength to toss it out.
I have a better idea. Let’s stop wasting time with fun faith foolishness and replace it with serious faith: faith grounded in the wisdom of God. Instead of working hard for what perishes, let us apply ourselves to teaching the children what cannot perish. I’m not talking about memorizing the Catechism or Bible passages. We should do that, too! I’m talking about doing what belongs to the teaching of little children in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, Christian Day School, or any other school where Christian children are gathered. What belongs to teaching is singing. I am talking specifically about singing the hymns they will sing in church with the grownups. The very best of these are the Lutheran chorales. They have beauty and substance. They are filled with the gospel by which we are saved. Children will learn them and love them when they are taught them at a very young age. The reason many children want only shallow little sentimental ditties is because this is what has been foisted on them by adults. Singing is not to give vent to our religious feelings. Singing hymns teaches the faith by which we are saved. This is why the liturgy has been sung. This is why hymns are sung. This is how the faith has been taught since the faith has been taught. Words wedded to music penetrate the soul. Children should be taught to sing the hymns that will sustain their faith when they are old.
A former parishioner from another town came to visit the other day. Her husband is buried in our town. She was visiting the cemetery. Engraved on the tombstone are the words: “This the superscription be: Jesus crucified for me is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation.” Her husband learned this hymn as a little boy. He sang it throughout his life. He confessed it in death. Now it comforts his wife who mourns his death. It lasts. That’s what our children need to receive: what lasts. Faith isn’t fun. It’s serious business. Those who assume the task of teaching it to the children should take it seriously.
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