Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The University of Mary Nicholson: My Mother

This Sunday is the Feast Day of All Mothers. Well, actually that isn’t the real title of the holiday, since Mother’s Day is a secular holiday. However, even though the Church failed, in all its wisdom, to think of it first, we do know and celebrate the importance of the sacred office of Mother. “Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise…” (Ephesians 6:2).

I believe parenthood is a sacred office. Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) believed it was imperative that parents accept and fulfill their divine roll as teachers of the faith within their homes. His fervor for this model of Christian education led him to be look upon the Sunday School movement of the early 19th century and religious education in public schools with some concern. He was not necessarily opposed to those models of Christian education, but was keenly aware of the human propensity to abdicate these responsibilities to the Church and local communities. Our public schools have been burdened with teaching our children about sex, morals, discipline and matters of faith in the last century as we have become very much aware that in the vast majority of homes throughout our nation there is little focus on such topics.

Mother’s Day is not just a celebration of giving birth, but a celebration of the office of maternal teacher. One doesn’t need to have a biological or a “forever family” to fulfill the role of mother. However, for those who do, the responsibility of teaching the faith and molding young children into responsible adults is paramount. Throughout my own ministry, people have often complimented my undergraduate and graduate schools for their obvious success in teaching me Scripture and the foundations of the Christian faith. Sometimes, those who do not know me, will ask, "What school taught you the most about Scripture?" My response is, "The University of Mary Nicholson."

Yes, dear friends, each night after homework, my mother would pull out the Bible Flash Cards. Bible Flash Cards were those little note sized cards similar to the ones from which we learned our multiplication tables and verb conjugations. Computer software and those little "Kid Komputers" we see in Toy stores have replaced the ancient medium of Flash Cards, but the discipline can still be fruitful. When the Sunday School teacher assigned me the task of memorizing at least one of the four possible memory verses from that week's lesson, the University of Mary Nicholson required me to memorize them all. Of course, she always made it fun. For each verse I would get an ice cream cone or the privilege of drinking a Coke in place of milk with dinner. For those of you who know me, her success is apparent. Other topics of study where things like, "name the Patriarchs...and their wives," "list the fruits of the Spirit," "who were the three Kings of the unified Kingdom of Israel." Sure, some of the ladies in the neighborhood would critique such methods with comments like, "isn't it more important that little Isaac learn that God loves him," or "kids are forced to learn so much at school, requiring him to learn trivial things like the list of Patriarchs seems stupid." "The University of Mary Nicholson" was not deterred by such commentary and we forged on with the lessons of the week.

My studies began as a small child when she would read bedtime Bible stories to me. Sure, I liked to look at the pictures, but in the process of I was learning our heritage of faith. We would be driving down the road and I would see a pile of stones where a road crew was working and my Mother would retell me the story of Abraham building an altar to sacrifice his son, Isaac. That was one of my favorites as that was also my name. Interestingly, hearing about things like child sacrifice or being confused about what the word “sacrifice” meant didn’t emotionally scar me. She allowed me to live with questions. Not always knowing or understand the answers was a part of the learning process.

When I was in High School, the teaching continued. The Flash Cards were not used anymore and the style of faith education transitioned from content to application, but the teaching of the faith continued. Don't get me wrong, I rebelled. "Mom, this is juvenile, I don't want to think about these things." It was at those times that the Principal and Dean of Student Conduct would step father, Billy Nicholson. "Your mother is supposed to teach you these things, now show her the proper respect."

Conversations about relationships, sex, morals, the benefits of hard work, sportsmanship, fair play, honor and respect all were taught within the paradigm of the faith. You see, it was those lessons about the Ten Commandments, the Patriarchs and their wives, the list of Kings, the Beatitudes, the Fruits of the Spirit that served as the foundation for application of the faith. I knew the basics, the foundations and it was strong enough to support the building of the next level of faith. Abstract thinking, application, reasoning and the ability to not only think, but to think theologically were all possible because I had memorized John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Acts 2:38.

I have to be honest. When I was completing my studies in college and the professor would relate his point to the great Confessions of the Church with the Apostle Paul's themes in Romans, I understood what he was saying. My classmates, on the other hand, were at a disadvantage. Phrases and themes like "the Good Confession," "the Proverbial Woman," "the New Jerusalem," and "an Emmaus experience" were all very familiar to me, whereas those who had not attended "The University of (their Mother's name here)" sat with blank stares.

As a Minister who has served the Church as both licensed and ordained for 17 years, I now see the harvest of a generation for whom religious instruction was not present. My peers are now the parents. They have a deep desire to teach the faith to their children. They understand the importance of faith training in the home, but unfortunately, they don't know the faith themselves. I wouldn't be very good at teaching rocket science, because I don't know anything about rocket science. If my child wanted to learn about rocket science, I would have to turn them over to someone else. The same thing has happened to our children. We don't know the stories of the Bible, the history of the Church or the foundations of our faith, so we look to others to fill the void. Sunday School is helpful, but even Sunday School curriculum publishers have had to accommodate to both the level of Biblical knowledge as well as the time commitment of most Sunday School teachers across the nation. One publisher of Sunday School curriculum was quoted as saying, "Modern day Sunday School lessons are geared to a Sunday School teacher preparing for his or her lesson while driving to Church on Sunday morning."

There is much work to be done. Not only do we have to maintain the level of Christian education for our young people, but we also have to be attentive to the remedial instruction of our adults. We can't afford to wait. I suspect that my mother learned as much, if not more, from simply reading the bedtime Bible stories to me. I am certain that the Bible Flash Cards taught her the memory verses too. Granted, Bible Flash Cards are interactive, whereas "Kid Komputers" are not. My suggestion is to bag the "Kid Komputers" and dig the Flash Cards out of the Church Supply Room's bottom cabinet drawer. You must bring your Children to Sunday School and Church. The parents need to stay too. Your kids will learn what is important by watching the efforts of their parents. If Sunday School isn't important to the parents, it won't be important to them.

Churches too, need to remember that teaching themes of sacrifice are best done when the folks remember the story of Abraham and Isaac. Lessons on diligence in study and work are best learned when we remember Jesus' story of the men who built their houses on sand and on rock. Pastors can help. Sunday School teachers are vital. However, a good harvest of well informed, properly trained adult Christians require the selfless effort we have come to realize is essential in the divine office of Spiritual Mothers and Fathers.

his week, the Church and our secular society will appropriately celebrate the efforts and labor of the mothers and all women who are worthy of our honor for their sacrifice to love and serve. Thank your Moms for their gift of love to you. Thank those women in your life that taught you, disciplined you and helped make you the person you are today. Honor their labors and the memory of the mothers who have passed into eternity by making a covenant today. Pray with your children, read the Bible to them everyday, look for opportunities in every day life to relate life to our Christian faith. This Sunday, at our Church between 19th and 20th Streets on Winchester Avenue in Ashland, Kentucky, we will honor all who serve God’s family as spiritual mothers. Thanks be to God for the gift of Mothers.

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