Sunday School and Poker
Recently I visited an adult Sunday School class in a nearby town. It was, well – unusual, surprising, and helpful to my understanding of some of our current culutural divides. In this class leadership is shared among the members. Folks volunteer and can schedule their time as “teacher.” Greet Idea with lots of benefits. You can learn about musical instruments, Buddhism, jogging, or one of the Biblical Prophets. The class is filled with thoughtful and faithful people. It is in my mind one good model of excellence in congregational life. It is a place of sharing and care. One quickly can tell that there is much mutual affection in the group as there is an abundance of teasing and laughter. As John Wesley put it, there is a generous dollop of “watching over one another in love” stirred into the weekly fellowship. All to the good.
It is also a place where the divisions and distortions of our current political situation are offered. Among the many points of view, the many topics covered, sometimes a heavy dose of MAGA partisanship is brought to the lectern by the volunteer teacher. I visited one Sunday morning when the Gospel-linked understandings of faith got more than a little garbled by Fox News “truths.”
That’s okay, good even. I knew that there would be open conversation and a range of perspectives in this class. Here is an opportunity for dialogue and the gentle corrections possible through friendship. I have often thought that Sunday School classes and post-church-parking-lot-conversations serve as a seedbed for improved democracy. I saw some of that in the class that day. I also witnessed the ways strongly held beliefs or ideological frameworks can disfigure the core message of Jesus of Nazareth.
I knew that members of the Sunday School class cared for this good man, filled with worrisome opinions and muddled prejudices. They knew of his real-life challenges. They were neighbors to one another. They offered each a place of respect. We all face challenges, whether betrayal, addiction, loss of health or loss of a spouse. We all know the dilemmas of fractures with friends or family. We all face loss of health or opportunity.
The volunteer teacher that morning proclaimed that from his studies, there was no guarantee the scriptures were the authoritative word of God, or that Jesus ever told the Good Samaritan story. He then offered that the best framework for life is found in a poker game. “Each person at the table is dealt a hand at birth; that is the hand we play in life.” The cards one is dealt limit options, but he said this “will also offer some opportunities. The idea is to play the hand you are dealt as best you can when sitting at the poker-table-of-life. Trying to help people can only hurt them if they haven’t been dealt the right cards.”
Wow!! Quite a framework. Quite a set of assumptions, all wrapped at the edges in the class-warfare encouraged by the Trumpian politics of our time. In A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemmingway writes: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” I prefer the answer Jesus gives to the question “And who is my neighbor?” It begins, “There was a certain man…”
Pondering this in recent weeks, I come to two conclusions:
- There is no coherence to the MAGA movement. It is polyform, a muddle of prejudice, half-truths, wishful thinking, grievance and a struggle for self-esteem. As much as it may claim Christianity as source, it is often (mostly?) untethered from the Gospels. It is also thickly covered over, cocooned, if you will, by the belief that others are cheating, getting something they don’t deserve. Interestingly, it is a modern Gnosticism, – a belief in a special knowledge each individual may garner by watching the correct rightwing television or a scouring of questionable internet sites.
- Such gatherings at this Sunday School class, and other venues where diversity is welcomed and where all are respected, are all too rare. These places are a most needed antidote to our current social/cultural/religious divides.
I will plan to return to this class – in part because all the other Sunday School classes I know of near me are filled with folks who all think alike. I guess this is the poker hand I have been dealt.