Religious Education Class

In Germany students receive Religious Education as a weekly subject and the classes are usually divided into Roman Catholic and Protestant, with a small group of ‘others’ that have instruction in another religion, or none at all.  The classes may be taught by specialized teachers and/or clergy from the local area.  I know from my colleagues in the local German churches that a great deal of their time is spent in classrooms.  The Religion teacher for my youngest daughter got in contact with me to see if I would be interested in teaching the class about the Anglican Church.  I think the words, ‘fear and trepidation’, would nicely describe my agreement to come on a Thursday morning to speak about the Anglican Church.

I spent some time going over what I might like to say.  What, in a nut shell, could be something easy enough for both the students to understand, and that I would feel comfortable speaking about in German?  Needless to say I steered away from the Doctrine of the Trinity and Atonement theology because even in English I would have a difficult time with explanations.

Well on the morning of the class I packed my laptop into the bag and my daughter and I set off on our bicycles toward school at a little before 7:00 AM.  As we sped along the bike path I came up next to my daughter and said, “we can take it slower if you want.”  To which she replied, “Why? This is my usual speed.”  Well, as we zoomed along with me clearly lagging behind we made it to the school where many of the students gathered at the front door waiting for the classrooms to be unlocked and to greet their teachers.

The Religion teacher greeted both myself, and another father who would be speaking about an ‘Evangelical Free Church’ in the area, as he worked as the youth pastor beyond his usual ‘day-job’ as a health professional.  As the classroom door swung open the other father and I were presented with the Audio Visual corner which was a nest of wires and plugs for all sorts of makes and models of computer.  Having both laptops tested out and working I graciously let the other father present first. Phew! I though, I don’t have to present first, as I was already nervous as it was.

The students were very well behaved.  A ritual of lighting a candle and passing to each person gave the students a chance to say what they were grateful for, and what concerns they may have in their lives.  I did not expect to be passed the candle, but soon found myself with it shining brightly in my hands.  I stammered out that I was glad to be here, but that I was also a bit nervous speaking German since a great deal of my work is conducted in English.  This seemed to break the ice for myself and for the students.  One student happened to be a new arrival from elsewhere in Europe and also finds learning German a real challenge. It seemed to brighten this pupils day when an adult made all sorts of grammatical errors.  Then it was my turn to feel more relaxed as the other father grasped the small candle and said that he also felt a bit nervous, so we were all a bit on common ground to begin with.

I watched with growing anxiety the first presentation which had a lot of slides and copious notes.  I began to think that I had totally underestimated what I should be doing with the class.  It was a good presentation with some questions to grill the students and I was not too sure that my work would go over so well.  The presentation was going on a long time too, and I wondered as I watched the big school clock which hung over the doorway, exactly how much time I really had before some bell would ring and students would want to change subject lessons.  Unfortunately, do to the gremlins that seem to always get into the technology, a video of a church outing did not work, so that seemed to put a spin on the mood of the class as they wanted to see, but could only hear what was going on.  That’s when my turn to present happened, and low and behold, the computer still worked for my presentation.

After a brief introduction, and having my daughter stand up beside me to help with any translation that might be useful, students arms were quickly in the air to ask questions.  I was stuck with what to do.  On the one hand if I let them talk now I may, because of nerves, loose my train of thought.  Yet, on the other hand, if the kids talk now it could be like what sometimes happens at church and an overly excited child gives an excellent second sermon about how God has been in their life, which would have the effect in this scenario of using up a lot of my time; which would mean, less speaking by me and more speaking by the kids.  In the end I quickly decided to hold off on the questions for the moment until I could at least get to the second ‘slide’.

The old Kodak slide carousel had its day, and could bore people to death over family trips and other adventures.  Now with electronic powerpoint presentations we can go on for infinitem with gigabytes of stored photos seeing possibly several hundred slides at a time.  So, I won’t bore you with the details of all seven of my slides, but I can say that I opted to have only pictures.  A picture speaks a thousand words anyway, plus no one could report me for poor German grammar.

Having briefly taught children at Christ Church Cathedral School in Victoria whilst being the Assistant Curate, I am a big believer in the pedagogical style of thinking like a child so that they learn what I want them to learn.  Images, stories and objects all help to make links from what may be called theoretical to the practical.  I may have an idea of the Anglican Church, but it just floats around as an idea until you tie it to something that a child can comprehend and then you link the idea or theory, with the practical and experienced.

Well, the photos flashed up on screen and we talked a little about each.  More and more hands were shooting into the air so I started to field questions and even got to learn some of the students names in the process.  I felt like some kind of relationship was growing and that I could really pull this off.  For me, the important picture was a photo of a Mohnschnecke a sweet desert like a cinnamon bun but with sugar and poppy seed.

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 Mohnschnecke                             (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

It is often a familiar lunch item, or treat for kids so they all have an experience.  The students all agreed with me that the best part of the pastry is the very centre.  So, the Anglican Church with all its long and winding history, its debates and traditions, the best part of it, the central thing, is that we are called to love God, and neighbour, just as God loves us.  There were lots of nodding heads.

 

My presentation wrapped up with an activity in which each student (and  the two other adult’s) in the room had to find a partner.  I know that the kids play a game in the school ground called, Michael Jackson, where you quickly clap hands together, do silly dances, and swivel your hips like you are playing with a hoola-hoop and then as you pronounce each syllable of ‘Mich-ael-Jack-son’ you swivel your feet outwards making your legs spread further and further apart with each round of the game.  The game continues until one, or both people topple over because they cannot spread their legs any further (unless they can do the splits!).  In using this fore-knowledge of a fun and silly game, I had all involved use different words, and similar actions to remember that the Anglican Church has ‘Orders’ (Archbishop’s, bishops, priests, deacons), that prayer is very central to our lives, and that reading the Bible is important.  The classroom erupted into fits of laughter as the students tried to imitate my daughter and I as we slowly approached the point of tipping over.

 

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In the end, there was a small presentation from the teacher, a round of applause from the students and a small token of thanks which is meant to be a small oasis in the hot days of summer.  I tiny message in a bottle to take with me as I left the classroom and would enjoy a more leisurely bike ride to my next appointment.

 

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Cold enough for you?

As it is the new year and the temperatures are usually in the minus numbers for the majority of the day, I am actually reminded of the autumn day I was out walking the dog in one of the nearby fields.  Most of the harvesting had been done so we could see that a man and his dog was approaching us on the dirt road that cuts through the fields.  We stopped and chatted a few minutes as our dogs played.  We had met previously and found out that the man was not German, but French and had spent a year in Montréal, Canada on some navy commando exercise.  The Frenchman was bundled up in his down-jacket, scarf and touque (winter hat-for the non-Canadian readers), and he was surprised that I was out in the blowing wind in shorts and t-shirt.

The cold has certainly set in and has been around for a long time, apparently too long for most people.  I remember that the cold weather made for a quick night out on New Years Eve.  Having a visitors with young children over New Years I ran out of the house early to buy a bunch of fireworks for our party.  In Victoria, Canada, fireworks were deemed illegal, but occasionally you would see and hear a few explosions around Halloween and New Years.  The city would put on a summertime festival of music and fireworks – a large display by Canadian standards.

While I can tolerate the cold, it appears that Germans can out do me with their appreciation for fireworks.  Having stood in line to buy 3 or 4 set packages of fireworks and spending around 40 Euros my eyes grew wider and wider with the family ahead of me in the line at the ALDI. A mother pushed a buggy full of food, whilst the father and kids had a buggy full of fireworks.  The family ended with a bill close to 400 Euros, which is a huge feat in a store like ALDI that prides itself on very low prices.  (Think 8 Euros for a child’s snowsuit).

Despite my seemingly frugal purchase of firepower, we still had a good time, and I couldn’t get through all the stuff I had bought before the kids had had enough of the cold and the lack of sleep.  Every corner on the street had small crowds of people lighting rockets, whirling, flaming, banging fireworks.  The dog hated it, but we loved it!

While New Years seems a distant memory now, themes of new year still come up in conversations, especially with those who have never experienced a German New Years (Sylvester, as it is known here).  The last feature of most German New Year’s parties is the ever present “Same Procedure as Every Year” moment as people gather around a screen to watch “Dinner for One“.  A slapstick style comedy in English, which, I am growing more convinced, no English speakers have every heard of before.

While the cold continues to take us into the minus temperatures, life in German continues to feel warm and welcoming.  Just when I think I have learned it all…you really haven’t.

Wild West (Germany)

The past few days I have trying to put some extra time into speaking and reading German.  I’ve made the unilateral decision that at home we speak only Deutsch on ‘D-Days’ meaning Deinstag und Donnerstag (Tuesday and Thursday).  All this was in preparation for a test that never materialized due to a large misunderstanding between the teachers and the students.  Now that the fear of an exam has passed, I have relaxed and begun reading English on the train ride to and from Freiburg.  The book I have just started arrived as a bit of a surprise in a package from Canada. I’m almost positive that the book is from my father as we share similar tastes in novels…well in this sort of novel at least.  Opening the first page of the book while I sat on an empty train platform gave me a shock as I struggled to read the English words having had my mind so set on German recently.  Then again, it might just be the genre that makes the reading difficult.  Here’s a sample, page 1 – opening sentence.  Let’s see how you do with it, dear reader.

“When I came down off the cap rock riding a wind broken bronc, half of New Mexico must have been trailin’ behind me, all ready to shake out a loop for a hanging.”

The famous Western author, Louis L’Amour wrote this in 1966 in The Mustang Man and as the cover tells me, there are over 270 million copies of his books in print.  I can tell you why there are so many copies in print…one reason is that L’Amour was a mustang_man_9780553276817prolific writer, the other reason is that the books are always so formulaic that you just seem to feel comfortable reading them.  At times I have been halfway through a book and realized that it is strangely familiar, but that I haven’t read it before (and sometimes you realize you have!).

Reading on the train, I felt like I had come out of the closet so to speak, as it seemed to cause a sensation with those other passengers siting near me.  “An English book!” “Cowboys!” and more exclamations were made like I was somehow invisible, deaf, or unaware of the growing excitement around me.  At least on this train ride it seems that my fellow German passengers were great admirers of Wild West stories.

I’ve now learned that there are a number of father – son/daughter camps that offer weekend getaways based on a Wild West theme. Who knew!

All in all, it is strange to have this connection with my father…and with my grandfather.  I rarely remember a time when I did not see my grandfather without a Western genre pocket book.  I am sure, judging from the collection of L’Amour books in the basement at my parents house, that we have contributed to the wider circulation of the 270 million copies sold world wide.  In the dark and dank basement, the entire series of books sits on one shelf and my father took them home after his father died.  It does feel strange at times to have an almost genetic disposition for a taste in Western novels, but it is also something to delight in as we can trade books with each other, and know that perhaps three generations have thumbed the pages of yet another old trailside yarn.