Thursday, September 20, 2007

Help me prepare a Christianity Cheat sheet for young UUs.

This week in YRUU, I’m teaching. In reading some of my cases for school, I’ve noticed over and over that certain Christian stories are referenced in a way that suggests everybody should know what they mean.

As our youth mostly weren’t raised to get all the implications possible in a short references to say, the Tower of Babel, I thought I would put together a Bible story cheat sheet of biblical stories you need to understand to function in our culture. Right now, I’m thinking of summarizing each story in a few sentences, then giving a few sentences about the story’s typical cultural interpretation as I understand it.

I will stick it up here afterwards so Chalicessuers can use it for themselves, too.

So, please, give me some bible stories that I should make sure the youth know about...



Anonymous said...


I'm all for training youth in Biblical literacy. But I think instead of summarizing the passages for them, you could actually reprint short passages and invite them to give their own interpretation.

In some cases, a story is popularly understood one way, but scholars and ministers offer other interpretations. Youth should read the key passages for themselves.

These are some of the passages from the Hebrew Scriptures that come to my mind:

Psalm 23
Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3)
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3)
Noah's Ark/The Flood (Genesis 6:11-8:22)
Parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-30)
"For everything there is a season" (Ecclesiastes, 3:1-3:8)

And from the New Testament:

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
The Salt of the Earth/The Light of the World (Matthew 5:13-14)
"Turn the Other Cheek" (Matthew 5:38-5:42)
"serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24)
"the parable of the sower" (Matthew 13:18-13:23)
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-15:32)
Mary & Martha (Luke 10:38-42)

There's also some short books in the Bible that you may not want to reprint in full, but that are often referenced:

Ruth and Naomi

Chalicechick said...

My concern was that that would be too long. I will, of course, include the textual cites so they can look it up for themselves.

Will try it with the actual text and see how long it is.


UUpdater said...

In theory common reference might produce common searches. The list here seems a good set to begin with (and trim):

One of the more common references in the software industry is David and Goliath when a start up takes on some company like Microsoft.

fausto said...

The Tower of Babel is in Genesis 11. I forget which verses, but it's only a few lines even in the original.

I'd add to what Shelby mentioned:

-Abraham leaving Ur
-Sodom and Gomorrah
-Abraham and Isaac
-Isaac, Jacob and Esau
-Jacob wrestling with the angel
-Joseph and his brothers/the Coat of Many Colors
-Moses' birth
-Moses and the Burning Bush
-Moses and Pharaoh
-the Passover
-Sinai/the Ten Commandments
-the Golden Calf
-the 40 years in the wilderness
-the conquest of Canaan
-Rivalries with the Canaanites and Philistines
-Naomi and Ruth
-Elijah and the Baal priests
-Elijah and the still, small voice
-Elijah and Elisha
-the Ark of the Covenant
-Judges vs Kings/King Saul
-David and Goliath
-David, Saul and Jonathan
-David and Bathsheba
-David and Abasalom
-Solomon and the Temple
-Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
-Solomon judging the two mothers
-the Psalms
-the Proverbs
-the partition and decline of Israel, and Babylonian exile
-the return from exile
-the the prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, and themes of separation, redemption, and justice
-"Ezekiel saw the wheel"
-the Valley of Dry Bones
-Belshazzar's feast and the "writing on the wall"
-Daniel in the lions' den
-Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
-the expectation of a "Messiah"
-John 1
-the Luke nativity narrative
-the wedding at Cana
-John the Baptist
-Jesus' baptism by John
-the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount
-Jesus' healing miracles
-Jesus as religious reformer/conficts with Temple authorities
-the beheading of John
-God represented as "Father"
-the Woman at the Well
-Mary Magdalene
-the parable of the talents
-the betrayal of Judas/arrest of Jesus
-the trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate
-the choice between Barabbas and Jesus
-The crucifixion
-the empty tomb
-the appearances on the road to Emmaus and elsewhere
-"Doubting Thomas"
-the ascension
-Pentecost (Acts 2)
-Stephen's martyrdom
-Paul's conversion
-Paul's travels, letters and ministry to the Gentiles
-I Corinthians 13
-the later Roman persecutions
-the Revelation to John

Joel Monka said...

To pick which stories to cover, you might want to browse the children's picture books at your local bookstore- they will have the stories most referenced. Another source might be the home-schooled section.

Have you considered sending all your YRUU charges off to a Jesus boot camp? When they come back, they'kk know all the stories, and have a better appreciation of UU!

Anonymous said...

Umm; I think Fausto's list isn't long enough. Fausto, when will you learn to give more of yourself? Sheesh.


Chalicechick said...

You know, Fausto, for a guy who argues with LinguistFriend a lot, you certainly have a lot in common with him.


Jamie Goodwin said...

You know... I could see this working with maybe like 10 passages/references. I am an adult chiristian and if someone handed me a sheet with more than 10 I would say thanks and promptly forget about it.

fausto said...

Hey, hey, you said:

certain Christian stories are referenced in a way that suggests everybody should know what they mean. ...I thought I would put together a Bible story cheat sheet of biblical stories you need to understand to function in our culture.

All of mine, and more, fit that description. Yes, it's a long list. UUpdater's (which I only noticed after posting mime) is even longer. But the Bible is so full of stories and memorable phrases, and our Western culture is so infused with them, that the list will have to be long if it's going to serve the purpose you describe.

If you wanted to omit all the Old Testament material and focus exclusively on the Christian-only material, you could pare it down. But that would cut out a lot of real substance. For example, you can't teach MLK Jr. effectively ("I've been to the mountaintop," "I may not get there with you, but I've seen the Promised Land," "Let justice run down like water") to kids who don't already have some familiarity with Exodus and the Prophets.

As for LinguistFriend, if we didn't have so much in common, we probably wouldn't be able to find much to argue about. ;-)

UUpdater said...

Yeah, the list I referenced was long, but that's why I said it would likely need to be trimmed, and was a decent starting point - not an end point.

It's gonna be a fuzzy line, but like Jamie said I would opt for shorter rather than longer list. I think you can funtion in this culture without knowing "Abraham leaving Ur".

And if my kids hear "in the belly of the whale" and think it's a reference to Pinocchio it may not be that bad of a thing.

Lilylou said...

Though there are many Hebrew scriptures stories, I think the parables of Jesus are an important core piece to know. They describe moral situations and wisdom that are foundational to Christianity. Of course there are some pretty esoteric ones that would be tough to unpack (famous seminary term, there), but the Good Samaritan and similar stories are ubiquitous.

LaReinaCobre said...

Although my previous comment was good-natured, it wasn't very helpful. So I'll try again.

Maybe you can do a poll - hand out a sheet with most of the suggestions and find out what they're most interested in. You know, expressions or allusions they've heard, but never quite understand.

Or, just pick the ones you're most interested in.

You can always make another list of ten later. Perhaps one day there will be multiple pages to choose from.

If I had to choose ten Bible stories that I most often hear (pop culture) references made to, they would be, in no particular order:

1. Tower of Babel (see: movie Babel)
2. Miracles of Jesus, e.g. Jesus walking on water, turning water into wine (see: Bruce Almighty)
3. Golden Calf
4. Burning Bush
5. Last Supper
6. Abraham ordered to slay his son
7. Noah's Ark
8. Sodom and Gomorrha
9. Good Samaritan
10. Jesus's resurrection

Good luck!

LaReinaCobre said...

Actually, I'd like to replace my "Golden Calf" with the story of Hajar/Hagar (not sure how the Christians pronounce it).

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of getting the kids to read the stories and offer their own interpretations. You obviously can't do that with all of these, but you might do it with one or two important ones. Let them think about it, and then offer what they think and see how many different interpretations there are.
You might do the same about picking which are important: ask if they have heard of "The Good Samaritan" or "Noah's Ark" or "Turn the other cheek", etc. and then discuss a story that they have heard of. Share these long lists with them to show them how important the bible is in our culture.

UUpdater said...

Another thing that might help trim the list would be to ask people to actually give examples of cultural references, like for the Prodigal Son. If Billy Idol and Iron Maidan get the reference then it's a fair bet it's a common reference.

And I assume this would be a list you need to function. If someone makes a reference to getting someone's "head on a silver platter" you may not get the reference, but you will likely get the gist of the comment.

fausto said...

It's gonna be a fuzzy line, but like Jamie said I would opt for shorter rather than longer list. I think you can funtion in this culture without knowing "Abraham leaving Ur".

On the one hand, yeah, you have to keep it to a managelable size, and my list was more in the line of "thinking out loud" than a catalogue of essentials.

On the other hand, do kids really not need to be aware that Abraham was, according to the three of the great world religions that have most deeply shaped Western culture, the First Monotheist?

PG said...

I don't think there is a better way to state a commitment than Ruth 1:16-17. "And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
"Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."

Will you use the King James Version or one of the newer translations? I know the new stuff is supposed to be more accurate, but the language in KJV just kills me with how beautiful it is. Then again, I suppose I'm taking a more literary than religious perspective on it. Probably also why I'm the only person thinking, "Where's Songs of Solomon on this list?"

Bill Baar said...

Ruth 1:16-17... It's what Harry Hopkins quoted Churchill in 1941.

Few dramatists could match the poignant scene when Britain stood alone against the Nazi power that dominated a conquered or fawningly neutral Europe. Roosevelt sent his envoy Harry Hopkins to Churchill. At dinner Hopkins quoted from the Book of Ruth: "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people and their God my God," softly adding, "Even to the end." --From Meachem Franklin and Winston

Sad some Americans loath to keep commitments now-a-days.

Bill Baar said...

I volunteer at our committee homeless shelter for my Church as a member of the Social Justice Committee.

I spend Sat. night as a back-up for the social worker.

Some Sunday mornings I'll stay for the chapel service provide by local evangelicals. The homeless know their bible. And they argue the meanings.

If UU's think Bible literalists are unthinking, they really need to spend some time with them, first thing in the AM, over coffee, going back and forth over passages they've memorized.

It's a deep book, offering endless insights... one doesn't need to believe in God to figure that out...

There are any number of passages and stories that could be suggested here.

LinguistFriend said...

The real problem here is not how to prepare a cheat-sheet, it is what sort of background do UU children need in order to encounter Western civilization in its history, and live in a homeland in which Christianity predominates although it is being challenged? I would recommend a multi-year cycle of RE for teens in which a year was devoted to Christianity. The Bible and its historical background should certainly be part of that; good acquaintance with parts of an annotated Bible such as the 2nd ed. of the one edited by the Society of Biblical Literature,
or Harrelson's, should be part of the curriculum. Your church library also needs updating so that the students will have places to start.

PG said...

I'm frankly confused as to how one grows up in American without knowing something about Christianity. I was raised Hindu and I think I know a decent amount, at least enough to appreciate the highlights of Western civilization.

Then again, I was raised by Hindus, who are mostly pretty open-minded to other religious beliefs and stories (we had a children's book of Bible stories that I'm sure some well-meaning evangelical gave my parents);
in East Texas, among Southern Baptists and other very Bible-oriented folks;
and sent to Episcopalian school for nursery-5th grade. Liking to read 19th century fiction pretty much finished the job -- you can't have L.M. Montgomery as your favorite author and not pick up a lot of KJV. (Although her use of Ruth to Naomi is a bit inglorious, especially compared to Bill's excellent reference for Churchill; it's how a woman responds in writing to a marriage proposal that she doesn't particularly want to accept.)

LaReinaCobre said...

I think part of the issue, pg, is that these kids are currently in the process of growing up. And they may not have be completely ignorant of Christian stories, CC just wants some recommends.

And in this day and age there is a lot more to read besides the Bible. That wasn't always the case.

Also, in general we do a good job of talking *about* the Bible (and other texts) but even schools do a terrible job at going straight to the source. We live in a culture of excerpts.

Anonymous said...

It does seem a little late if the teens are only encountering the Bible now. We had plenty of Bible schooling in my UU Sunday School and by the end of fifth grade were given our own Bibles in a sort of graduation ceremony. I'm thankful for this education, it served me well. It was also augmented in public school by reading the Bible as literature in AP English; our AP English teacher was a member of my UU church, in fact.

I do have to say that as someone who has taught religion in a Southern university, where a large number of my students came from an evangelical background, that Biblical illiteracy among the young is hardly confined to liberals. More often than not I found that young adults who'd grown up in overtly Christian households nonetheless still only had the haziest idea of key Biblical stories and Christian dogmas, often with significant errors.

Getting to them when they're teenagers seems too old to me, I think UU children should be taught the Bible (we used the RVS, for the record). But you're the youth adviser so you have to deal with them at this age, too late to change their childhoods. I'm glad you're at least making an effort to help educate them now, I'm sure it'll pay off.

Here are the Bible stories I remember learning in UU Sunday School, not completely in order. Keep in mind that I'm now in my early 30s so there may well be others that we discussed but that I don't recall at this point.

The creation of the world
The fall
Cain and Abel
The flood
The life of Moses, including the plagues, leading the Hebrews from Egypt, the burning bush and the ten commandments
Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac
Jacob stealing Esau's blessing
Wrestling with the angel all night
David and Goliath
Solomon and the baby
Jonah and the whale
The general story of the Gospels, including the nativity, the Sermon on the Mount, the Good Samaritan, the temptation, the baptism by John, the betrayal in the garden, the trial and execution, and the empty tomb

Of course, much of this was conveyed through activities, not actually reading the Bible. I remember around first grade or so we learned about the flood and drew crayon pictures of the ark. In fifth grade when we focused on the New Testament I remember building a balsa wood model of an ancient Israeli home like Jesus might have lived in. A lot of teaching came outside the formal Sunday School program too. For instance we always participated in the annual Christmas pageant (being a boy I was a shepherd; the girls were angels), and there's a large stained glass depiction of the Sermon on the Mount behind the altar at my home church, so naturally we had that fixed in our minds as significant. There's also a Bible quote in large letters on the side of the church: "Love thy God with Heart, Mind, Soul, Strength, and thy neighbor as thyself." So we were nurtured in a religious culture that understood the enduring importance of the Bible, even though we were not taught to think of ourselves as explicitly Christian.

fausto said...

Jeff, Lareinacobre and I each mentioned the story of Abraham preparing his son (it's Isaac in the Bible, Ishmael in the Qur'an) for sacrifice. One of the most moving modern applications of a Biblical story that I know of is Wilfred Owens' sonnet on the meaning of World War I:

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Some might say it applies just as well right now.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that Owens' sonnet is pretty good. Never encountered it before.

Robin Edgar said...

I think this one's kinda fun!

Just grin and bear it CC. . . ;-)