Saturday, September 8, 2012

Learning Outside the Family (Sunday School Edition)

The genesis of this post occurred during a discussion with some friends and acquaintances, primarily raised in homeschool families, like myself. The question involved "family integrated church," which if you have to ask, you probably don't want to know about. (Essentially, the idea that children should not attend any religious - or any other - instruction without the presence and direction of the parents.) For those who have never been involved in the ultraconservative, cult-like subsets of the Christian homeschooling movement, it probably seems a bit odd. However, on further reflection, I was struck by the parallel to what is commonly called "helicopter parenting."

I believe that, at their hearts, both movements reflect a parental anxiety that a child cannot possibly develop properly unless every waking moment is completely controlled by the parent. In the common form of this paranoia, the parent is worried that the child will fail to compete academically without a completely ridged and regimented life. Such parents are obsessed with choosing the school and teacher, the classes, the enrichment from extracurricular activities, the friends, and so on. 


In the religious, homeschool version, the fear is that a child will become a heathen if he or she hears anything but the absolute truth (as determined by the parents), and that therefore, the child must never learn anything in a situation that the parents cannot control. 

Obviously, I am using the most extreme examples on each side, and I do not wish to imply that any of my friends believe this way. I do, however, have acquaintances who fall pretty far along either the helicopter parent or family integrated homeschooler continuums. 

My goal with this particular post is to offer a different, more positive, perspective, and give some overdue appreciation to some people who were a positive influence in my life when I was a child. I am convinced that most of us will, sooner or later, have some conflict with our birth families. No family is perfect, and to be in one is to see all those imperfections up close. Thus, I think that it is important to find positive influences and relationships outside - and completely separate from - one's family. Otherwise, I really believe that it is difficult to separate the idea from the persons with which it is associated. I have known too many who rejected everything because of a bad family relationship. 

The positive perspective that a wish to bring is that those outside relationships, particularly those that felt completely separate from family existence, were beneficial to me, and have remained with me my entire life. I believe that without the friendship, mentoring, and influence I received; my life would be much poorer, more narrow, than it is. This is also not to imply any lack in my parents, who taught me much, and were undoubtedly the most significant influences in my life.

I am intentionally limiting this particular list to those who aided my spiritual journey through church and church related organizations. To list all those who mentored me in other areas - particularly music - would take several additional posts. Perhaps I will do that in the future. So, without further ado, here is the list. These are in roughly chronological order, and represent my childhood and teen years. I probably have forgotten some, and I apologize.

Myrtle: Her passion for the stories of the great missionaries of the past made the stories come alive to a young boy. Also, one of the sweetest old ladies ever.

John Y.: An ex-college-football player who naturally inspired young men. He could control a room full of rowdy boys without ever being authoritarian, and always got the best out of us in every endeavor. He also understood that a sleepover didn't actually need sleep, and coined the more accurate term, "wakeover." 


Vince: Still the best preacher for the young set I have ever heard. He never talked down to anyone, and never dumbed down a concept. And he could lead worship with just a guitar - no microphone.

Oliver: He never let a boring curriculum stand in the way of an interesting class. Those pictures from Israel combined with the detailed matching of picture, place, and story taught me so much that I remember even today.

Kent: I blame you for my love of the twelve string guitar. I also remember those extremely dry jokes and the fact that you too were an introvert. Silence is fellowship too.

Mike: The only person I ever knew who had a conversion experience as a result of seeing Jesus Christ, Superstar. I also remember the experience of tying the musical and the mystical together.

Lorna: How a middle-aged woman managed to corral thirty or so teenagers - and get them to sing in tune - is still a mystery. But we all loved her, and she loved us in return, regardless of our background or abilities.

Jamie: A man who always put his money and his person where his mouth was. He never left anything on the table, and lived what he believed. I remember participating in that Victory Outreach worship service in the armpit of Hollywood with all the down-and-out druggies. I think he scandalized a few parents with that one, but it was profoundly affecting at the time. My frame of reference was forever changed, and I can never look at people the same way after that experience. (I probably need a whole post on this one as well.)


John K.: I attribute much of what I believe about worship and the art of leading it to what I learned from John K. during my junior high and high school years. A friend and mentor in the best sense of the term.

Eden: Not so much a teacher as a mentor. One of those guys that makes everyone feel at ease. He took an awkward, introverted, geeky thirteen year old, and made him part of the group. And it wasn't just me: he was this way to everyone. He also remains a personal example of Mark 6:4. "Jesus said to them, 'Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.'"


Roland: I'm still saying "Botheration!" - occasionally in a New Zealand accent. Another person who really believed what he said, and lived it. 

Carla: A true friend, with a similarly quirky sense of humor. I learned so much about playing as part of an ensemble from her - musically too - but particularly in the social sense. To bring a diverse group together in worship and harmony is a gift. 

Again, this isn't an exhaustive list, and I know there are many who have given help and companionship to me along the way. These are those that come to mind as those who I remember when I struggle as those, often far outside of my usual frame of reference, who represent the good, and who inspire me to contribute in turn to those who cross my path. 


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