Back in the mid-Sixties, when I was in the first grade, for about an hour and a half each day all the first graders in my elementary school were separated into different reading groups. We had the Red Group; the Blue Group; the Yellow Group; and (I swear I am not making this up) the Chartreuse Group.
Of course, by about the end of the second week the kids had all figured out the pecking order of the system. The Red Group was for children who couldn’t read, or at least couldn’t read much more than three-letter words like red. The Chartreuse Group was for the kids who’d blown through their initial reading aptitude tests, were surreptitiously reading ahead (despite threats of punishment) in their other textbooks out of profound boredom and generally annoying their homeroom teachers by not staying on the expected developmental schedule. The other groups fell somewhere in between. And once you were tracked into a particular group, chances are that that’s where you stayed, all that year and beyond.
I was reminded of reading class the other day while thinking about my upcoming lay ministry retreat.
I've given myself a positive attitude adjustment about going – made easier by finally being fever- and headache-free, after three weeks, although I’m still physically exhausted – and am actually looking forward to attending. The Book of Revelation is a lot like Lewis Carroll’s Alice books; much more interesting when comprehensively annotated, especially by an engaging instructor. Our retreat in a community with which I’m familiar, so I won’t be driving around strange urban traffic configurations in terror and confusion; it’s also near a food cooperative where I can run in and grab some of my favored crunchy-granola foods and household products during our brief free time. So this retreat is a good thing.
But anyway, as I was thinking about it and about the whole lay ministry program, it started to bother me that the information we have access to in our classes is so undemocratically disseminated in the church. You have to be highly motivated to access it; you have to be part of a congregation that’s on board with the concepts of lay ministry and of extra-congregational continuing education for adults in general; you have to be recommended to enter and continue in the program; you have to have the time and money to attend retreats and weekend classes, and to obtain the reading materials.
It’s a little like the Red Group and the Chartreuse Group.
I’m not comfortable with the assumption that most people are in maybe Stage 2 of Fowler’s stages of faith so that’s where the default line, if you will, of adult Christian education should be drawn. I’m not comfortable with the idea that it’s too difficult or divisive to try and raise the biblical and theological literacy of church members above whatever pastiche of Sunday School stories, half-remembered confirmation-class lessons and pop-culture Christianity is the norm these days. I think that attitude is defeatist, and/or, in an ironic way, elitist.
Why can’t we raise the bar? Why are the only alternatives, in many congregations, the equivalents of the Red Group or the Chartreuse Group? (If there even is an alternative to the Red Group?)
I’m just asking.